2011-’12: from austerity to the alternative

by Jerome Roos on January 19, 2012

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As the world burns and millions struggle to avert a precarious existence at the margins of society, now is the time to unleash the power of the imagination.

A little over a year ago, when ROAR was still a measly WordPress blog, we published a piece entitled 2010-’11: From Austerity to Collapse? In it, we argued that the ‘age of austerity’ had brought class politics back to the fore and we predicted that 2011 would be riddled with protests, violence and deepening economic trouble. But while anyone could have written that, no one would have predicted the severity of the global backlash we experienced last year.

It was largely thanks to this backlash that ROAR was able to grow as rapidly as it did. Ever since we launched the new website back in April 2011 (with massive thanks to Bojan Opacak of NinjaComm for the web design), the constant flow of breaking news from every corner of the globe virtually turned us into a full-time news desk reporting on the crisis of global capitalism and the revolutionary wave emerging out of it. It was great fun. It was also extremely exhausting.

The Global Movement Evolves

For that reason, we took a month-long break over the holidays to sit back and truly reflect on the revolution, without getting caught up in the constant stream of information slushing back and forth with complete disregard for the human need for sleep. Over these weeks, we decided upon a switch in revolutionary tactics to match the evolution of our movement, as Carlos Delclós and Raimundo Viejo recently put it, from a “protest” into a “new social climate”.

The first phase of the movement has now been successfully concluded. We have changed the terms of the public debate. We have drastically shaken the cultural hegemony of neoliberalism and the depoliticized logic of the markets. In the process, we have rattled the iron cage of liberty to which we still find ourselves shackled. Now the second phase begins: how do we move from this disastrous state of affairs to a better future? And what is the alternative in the first place?

Most of our work in 2011 was aimed at covering the world revolution, as well as providing a critical analytical framework within which to contextualize our movement. In 2012, however, we will be widening our gaze and looking forward. Our main preoccupation will be with what Pierre Laernoes just called the provision of clear content and structured solutions. In short, we want to engage in a public debate on how to lift ourselves out of this mess.

Restructuring Global Finance

One theme we expect to become increasingly important in coming months, as the global financial crisis deepens, is the transformation of the financial sector. The status quo, with recklessly over-leveraged and over-exposed mega-banks — all considered “too big to fail” — is clearly unsustainable. Over the course of 2012 we predict a number of high-profile bank nationalizations, providing unrivaled opportunities for a revolution in the global financial system.

We have long promoted the idea of nationalizing the largest and most powerful banks — not with the goal of running them publicly at the expense of the taxpayer, but rather with the goal of restructuring them into much smaller, cooperatively-owned credit unions. Not only are such credit unions much more financially responsible, they are also much less likely to corrupt the democratic process in a way that the large Wall Street and City banks currently do.

Imagining Direct Democracy

Another major theme will be how to respond to the the continued erosion of democratic legitimacy. As governments around the world continue to impose severe austerity in order to serve their corporate overlords in the financial sector, they will gradually see popular trust in ‘representative’ institutions evaporate. This will push more and more people towards the fringes of the political spectrum — either the anti-capitalist Left, or the xenophobic far-right.

Our struggles in 2012 will therefore play out at multiple levels: on the one hand, we will be fighting the power of the financial sector and the corruption of our political representatives, while on the other hand we will have to stave off the risk of a fascist backlash and even the threat posed by the ascendancy of false prophets on the Left — something we are currently experiencing with the rise of the authoritarian proto-Stalinists of the KKE in Greece.

This is why we will be paying significant attention to what a genuinely radical alternative to liberal democracy would look like. We will continue to explore the possibilities of direct/participatory democracy, not only in our writings but also through a major social experiment we spearheaded with Take The Square back in November: The Global Square, a digital platform for direct global democracy, which is currently being developed by the Occupy movement in the US.

The Future of Europe

A third theme for the coming year will be the future of Europe. With the European Dream turning into a European Nightmare, fundamental questions arise about the fate of the continent and its single currency. Can the euro survive — and should it? Can the European Union survive — and should it? Can we imagine another Europe, beyond both the provincialism of the nation state and the rootless cosmopolitanism of a federal United States of Europe?

These are crucial questions that go to the core not only of Europe’s future, but of the future of the world. After all, the failure of neoliberalism in Europe is merely the echo of the disasters of the Washington Consensus in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, while the cosmopolitan trauma induced by the euro crisis will have profound consequences for the future of transnationalism and global governance in general.

Revolutionary Strategies

A fourth theme for 2012 will center on revolutionary strategies. While the previous three themes each deal with a long-term future we wish to reach, we also need to ask ourselves how to get there. Drawing on a wide variety of revolutionary thought — from Antonio Gramsci to John Holloway — we will set ourselves the task of being confidently and constructively critical of our own movement, in full knowledge that the main challenges are still ahead of us.

One of the most exciting questions in this respect is how to use the creativity of decentralized and horizontally-networked communities to overturn the power of highly centralized and hierarchically-structured finance capital. Also, what is our relationship to the state and democratic elections? What about our linkages with other social movements and civil society in general? What is our stance on the (il)legitimate use of force in revolutionary struggles?

The Human Story

Finally, the last major theme we will be exploring centers on the human level. We want to pay more attention to the impacts of the global crisis on the lives of individuals and communities, and the myriad ways in which people respond to these challenges by transforming their identities, their consciousness, their culture, their political orientation and their strategies for survival and social change. We strongly encourage new contributions on all of these issues.

The last theme is particularly exciting because it brings together the threads of activism, art, culture, music, journalism, civic engagement and social organization that we’ve been trying so hard to weave together in the past months. It also forces us to bring the more theoretical themes of direct democracy, cooperative ownership and revolutionary strategies back to the real world level of the individual and communal lifeworld.

Unleashing the Power of the Imagination

At ROAR, we do not pretend to have any perfect alternatives or ready-made solutions to the crisis of capitalism. Indeed, we do not lay claim to any form of “expertise”. We believe that, ultimately, choices affecting humanity will have to be made collectively. So as we prepare for an exciting new year of rebellion and reflection, we would like to engage all of you in a public conversation on how to move forward and how to rise to the challenge of our times.

For thirty years, they told us there was no alternative — that the world was flat and a rising tide would lift all boats. But the rising tide was a deluge of debt, and the lifeboats have long since given way to the cold diktat of the markets. With millions struggling to avert a precarious existence at the margins of our emerging global village, the scream for an alternative becomes ever louder. As Slavoj Žižek recently put it, “the field is open.”

Now, more than ever, is the time to unleash the power of the imagination. As the great Nobel Prize-winning socialist Albert Einstein put it, “In moments of crisis, only imagination is more important than knowledge.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah Achtenberg January 20, 2012 at 05:10

Glad you had a chance for a break–but I’m glad you’re back, too! Your site is indispensable to my knowledge AND imagination in these times. Happy New Year!

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Monu January 20, 2012 at 19:05

What Deborah said. Glad to have you back! You guys have done a great job and without sites like this and their honest reporting/critical writing, all the movements that have come to fore would have been less powerful. And it is indeed important that people now begin to critically imagine and articulate alternative; though it is still necessary to push the grave necessity of radical changes and the idea that they are possible, as in the public imagination the notion that current systems are spontaneous and “natural” and not a calculated political economy still prevail.

As far as alternatives go I believe sites and groups like this should also cultivate a culture of sharing and passing on ideas and on that note I will leave this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z9WVZddH9w

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