The DiEM25 breakout session at the Another Europe is Possible Event in London, May 2016. Was this my moment to sign up?
Finally, here was a political movement I could unequivocally subscribe to: a transnational association of cosmopolitans, progressives and committed anti-xenophobes standing in clear opposition to the neoliberal policies which are crushing my generation’s dreams and aspirations. Working across borders to save Europe from the abysmal prospect of a post-modern 1930s steeped in nationalism and economic depression? Hell yeah, sign me up!
And how convenient it is for a fiercely political, yet inherently lazy millennial, to become part of DiEM25: one click and you are a comrade. A truly revolutionary digital act, accompanied by the warm, fuzzy feeling of instant gratification, which we usually only experience when our latest summer BBQ selfie breaks the 50-likes barrier!
As a historian of revolution, the next logical step seemed obvious to me: collective organisation and ideological consolidation must be followed by concrete action. What better cause to begin with than fending off the imminent threat of Brexit? However, it was crystal clear that no Eurosceptic would have their mind changed by a parasitical EU invader like me – even worse, a German one – who is clogging up the UK university system and is genuinely determined to steal well-paid jobs from hard-working Englishmen. Thus, clandestine infiltration of the VoteIn campaign with radical progressive values seemed the only viable option at hand and entailed the sweet prospect of being able to rub shoulders with the ultimate iconoclast, the progressive superhero of our time – #VforVaroufakis.
Rather disappointingly, however, the London rally of ‘Another Europe is Possible’ on 28 May confirmed my worst fears regarding nascent political movements. While the panellists collectively argued a clear-cut case against the scaremongering of “Britain Stronger in Europe” and for a positivist defence of the Four European Freedoms that Britons and rest of the-EU citizens enjoy, the assembled popular base lost no time in jumping at each other’s ideological throats almost immediately. “The MOMENTUM movement”, a middle-aged Green ex-councillor from Barnet vociferously complained, as soon as the floor was given the word, “has systematically worked to suppress dissent and seeks to dominate left politics in this country.” Harking back from the other side of the room, a black rights activist accused the campaign of wilfully sweeping the issue of minority rights under the rug. From unconditional basic income, over trade union participation, to transgender equality: every single minor leftist grievance was laid out at great length – usually preceded by a self-aggrandising curriculum vitae of the respective speaker’s activism career and followed up by an aggressive attack on somebody feeling even more disadvantaged than his predecessor. It was a truly Python-esque scene and one would have been utterly unsurprised if cries of “Splitters!” and “Help! I’m being repressed!” had suddenly echoed across the room.
Of course it would be cynical and unfair to outright discount the longing for utopian visions of complete social justice and total equality, which were expressed at this gathering: these visions have proven to be the driver of political mobilisation for protest movements around the globe, from Podemos in Spain over the Nuit Debout protests in France to the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US. But nobody gains anything if ideological squabbles lead to a regressive renewal of the inherent tendency of the left to consume itself with endless infighting and indefinite division into ever-smaller factions. This is neither the time, nor the place to indulge in the sort of internal bickering, for which we, leftwingers, have been rightly ridiculed since the nineteenth century. The task at hand is enormous and we must not waste time by clinging to bygone nostalgic dreams of socialism as a viable economic model or by getting side-tracked by the luxurious post-modern sensitivities, we, the urban elites, supposedly ‘suffer’ from.
The general situation is pretty dire right now: the western world is rife with feelings of profound political disenfranchisement and in more than one European country quasi-fascists are either on the brink of taking power or are already forming the government. Our adversaries have managed to get a head start by tapping into the popular reservoirs of discontent, filled with the losers of the post-2008 depression and those who perceive themselves as such. The nationalists and xenophobes have developed a seductive narrative in which we, the evil multiculturalist elites, have been seeking to economically exploit the toiling peoples by facilitating the influx of cheap labour through mass migration and in which the resurrection of “national sovereignty” will return a golden age of economic protectionism and cultural revival.
And whether we like it or not, the right-wing populists have rapidly surpassed us in effectively employing technology to spread their divisive messages: just look at the slick, high-quality Youtube propaganda produced by the “Génération Identitaire” pan-European neo-fascists, the success of the social-media-savvy PiS youth movement in imbuing young Poles with right-wing values, or the staggering amount of vile, racist hate spilled out against refugees on Facebook by “Pegida”-sympathisers in Germany every single day.
How on earth are we supposed to convince the disgruntled masses of Europe to not only refute the advances of the nationalists, but to turn around and put up a fight for the democratisation of the European Union – an institution that has continuously been presented to them as the very source of their misery and which they have been taught to loathe and despise – if we are stuck in a childish game of “People’s Front of Judea” vs. the “Judean People’s Front”?
Now is the time to leave the ideological bickering behind and start thinking strategically. Now is the time to draw up a battle plan, which outlines concrete steps to actively counter the populist propaganda. Manifestos and declarations are all well and good to satisfy our own desire for a little bit of revolutionary spirit, but let’s not beat around the bush: nobody will read them, except for future historians seeking explanations for the miserable failure which is inevitable, if we do not get our act together.
The immediate challenge for the DiEM25 movement is to take rapid, radical and pragmatic steps in order to actively include its potential audience into the discourse. We need to ask ourselves: who do we want to address and how do we reach them? It seems more than dubious to assume that we will be able to exert any major influence on the ‘white van men’ of Europe, the aged petty-bourgeoisie, who have already formed strong opinions on how the EU is to blame for all their miseries.
Rather, we should focus all our efforts on those depoliticised millennials, for whom European cosmopolitanism is a non-negotiable everyday reality, but who have been fooled into buying the vague promises of neoliberalism by the enormous socio-economic pressures resting on their shoulders. The first BBC debate on the Brexit referendum vividly illustrated how little effort it takes to remind apathetic young voters of the European benefits and freedoms which they take for granted and which they are not willing to give up. It was astonishing and encouraging to observe how the young pro-EU audience members, not the politicians on the panel, managed to sway more than half of their undecided contemporaries from “I don’t know” to a “Yes” vote in only 60 minutes of debate.
This should be our primary concern right now: bursting the European millennials’ self-constructed bubble of apolitical individualism and injecting them with a healthy sense of rage about the chances they are being denied by the neoliberal powers that be. It can be rage about being forced to survive on the pension of your elderly Greek parents, because the Troika’s nonsensical austerity policies have caused youth unemployment to skyrocket to over 50 per cent. It can also be rage about being robbed of workers’ rights by politicians from the very generation who enjoyed the period of greatest prosperity and security Europe has ever seen, just to satisfy Wolfgang Schäuble’s Machiavellian desire to force France into fiscal submission. Or it can be the rage of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish youth about being barred from travelling, studying and working freely across the EU due to the jingoistic delusions of some Little Englanders, who think they can resurrect a British Empire 2.0.
In order to accomplish this political feat, however, we must refrain from repeating the same old mistakes of the left and look into the future. This means reappropriating the digital strategy created by the right-wing populists and turning their hate-spilling propaganda machine into an assembly-line of hopeful agitation. We do not need to apply the labels ‘revolution’ or ‘socialism’ to our project, if that sounds too 1890s to my generation. Who cares what it is called, as long as the result is the same? Instead we should recruit as many marketing gurus, digital creatives and social media magicians as possible to our side, so that they can help us to package our message into as many cat videos, goat remixes and laughing baby compilations as we can possibly come up with.
In fact, these people are already coming to our events, because they believe in the same ideals – they just never get a chance to speak due to all the bickering. Contrary to initial reports of young people’s apathy in the EU referendum, it has recently been proven that we disproportionately voted for the European project. Let us now leave behind the antiquated rhetoric and squabbles of the Left and mobilise millennials across Europe in a creative and media-savvy way to fight for a vision of a fairer, even more cosmopolitan future, which we see rapidly being destroyed by the irrational fears of our elders.