DiEM25 workshop in progress opposite Bozar, September 9, 2017, Brussels. Anja Schurman. All rights reserved. What is the purpose of a movement such as DiEM25? A question not to be taken lightly; a very fundamental question indeed, and impossible to answer quickly – certainly not within a meagre five hours. But in this room many brave people are present, and precisely this question was submitted to a delegation of over a hundred members last Saturday, during DiEM25’s first World Café, where more than eighteen nationalities are represented.
The workshop, presented as a series of mixed-table-discussions, is the start of an ongoing dialogue about DiEM25’s purpose and values; and more practical questions such as, how can we communicate our intentions to a broader audience, and how do we organise ourselves in a sustainable manner? Here we find people trying to understand one another, to develop constructive debate, to take into consideration the full scope of modern politics.
But by far the most pressing item on the agenda proved the most basic: what could be the purpose of DiEM25? In dealing with this tangled issue, more questions arose: is giving power back to the people the final goal, when power to the people can ostensibly backfire, as in the recent cases of Poland and the UK? So can we trust ourselves? Or do we need to solidify around a set of values?
The goal should not be merely to prod people into reacting (through referenda or propaganda), as this can lead to emptiness, meaninglessness, and fascism; but to present people with a vision for Europe and themselves that’s truly radical; that’s not a mere reaction to populist politics; one that frightens politicians across Europe, for this is the sign of a truly revolutionary proposal.
But who will implement this vision? Is it possible to challenge politicians from within the system? Furthermore: will creating a European consciousness be enough to prevent (civil) war, and the torture of countries such as Greece and Ireland by the ECB?
How these questions should be asked, answered, and by whom they should be answered – all is up for debate. Democracy is a phenomenally intricate process, as is soon shown by this workshop. Nonetheless here we find people trying to understand one another, to develop constructive debate, to take into consideration the full scope of modern politics.
Within the main discussion, there is one visible division. On one end we see the pragmatist, who wants to handle the situation practically; on the other side we see the idealist, who clings to absolute values and wants to protect the organisation’s purity. Both are justified and both are important in accomplishing DiEM25’s mission: to democratise Europe by 2025.
The pragmatists think of DiEM25 as a practising political organisation, and therefore wish to support policies and parties that already have acquired wider support — in the way Momentum has supported Jeremy Corbyn lately, DiEM25 should for example advocate a reconsideration of Brexit. In addition, they would prefer to develop concrete policies such as the European New Deal, and they want to take these policies to the ballot box themselves, or even better: get politicians elected to implement them. Without such a visible electoral politics, DiEM25 would be exclusively confined to exerting its influence through a European demos, or populace, which does not yet seem to exist.
For some members however, this is a bridge too far. They wish DiEM25 to support certain policies, but their implementation should be left to others, because the acquisition of the necessary political power for their implementation would most likely corrupt the organisation.
The undiluted idealist regards any form of politicisation as dangerous; attaining political power on a ‘you are with us or against us basis’ will become DiEM25’s main objective, and certain political groups will be excluded. But without such a visible and tangible electoral politics, DiEM25 would be exclusively confined to exerting its influence through a European demos, or populace, which does not yet seem to exist or is at best emergent; their main objective being the creation of this demos.
This internal division perfectly exemplifies the apparent dilemma that the left needs to overcome, and manifests itself most strongly in questions around whether DiEM25 should remain solely a movement, or develop electoral politics as a major tool in its arsenal, via an electoral wing. As a movement, DiEM25 has the opportunity to solidify around a set of radical values, transcending traditional classification, which encourages people with different political backgrounds either to join or join forces with us. But how does one influence policy without participating in the system? On the other hand, how does one develop a sustainable and innovative vision whilst being part of the system? The answer must be some version of a dual approach: to become both party and movement.
The politician is subject to popularity (which is a market force) and therefore populist tendencies. With all purely political manifestations, one risks creating a power base without a vision to structure the use of this power: precisely this situation creates the conditions for electoral discontent and fascism. To be merely a political party will lead to internal division, classification, and therefore polarisation. It will also encourage rivalry with political strands and traditions that we may need as closely collaborating allies to isolate the most dangerous and powerful forces that currently hold sway. The idealist on the other hand is bound to his moral territory, and therefore lacks the mobility or praxis to undertake any concrete and swift action when necessary. Decisiveness is the realm of the politician; vision that of the idealist. They need each other to succeed. DiEM25 is capable of supplying both sides of this equation. The left needs to become pragmatic, whilst at the same time nurturing its idealism.
But how? By allowing for ambiguity to exist. If the left is sincere in its critique of the polarising right, it should first and foremost stop polarising its own peoples and policies. DiEM25 should withdraw itself from all market forces, and should focus on creating an elastic system that will allow for an ambiguous, and both sentimental and rational vision for Europe. One needs the idealists’ values to create a strong vision; a vision that’s not merely a reaction to the right agenda; a vision that transcends such partisanship. One needs also the political decisiveness and agility — and the power that comes with it — to implement and influence policies directly. If the left is sincere in its critique of the polarising right, it should first and foremost stop polarising its own peoples and policies.
DiEM25 carries within it the unique potential to create such a two-faced, transnational and progressive union: but to do so, it will need the cooperation of every individual it aims to unite. These individuals in turn need to be willing to relax their ego, to suspend the ongoing debate that derives from this ego, and to sacrifice themselves to a bigger cause.
We need to allow for ambiguity to exist. When we agree by and large, we must move forward. When we have no severe objections, we must align. This is without a doubt one strength of the Nationalist International.
Progressives must plan to be members of the masses. They must be willing to say: ‘I agree by and large with this plan, and will therefore devote myself to the advancement of this cause. I will set aside my personal trivialities and opinions, for I acknowledge the importance of a strong and united progressive international.’
The crucial question that now needs to be answered by DiEM25 is: how to connect those who do not wish to be bound? DiEM25 needs to respond to some of the most difficult political questions ever: how to persuade people who despise boundaries to form activist groups? How to unite those who do not wish to be classified? How to take a stand alongside those who cherish their own detailed views so much? How to politicise people who refuse to take a stand when the time is right?
The start of an answer was given by ways of this workshop, where its organisation received a gesture of good faith from over a hundred members. The organisation is willing, its plans are solid and there’s a visible, vibrant longing for change. Whether or not this is a historic moment will depend on its membership: it will depend on their ability to overcome their pride, and their ability to unite.
But I too am in danger of losing myself in trifling reflection. We should consider the general situation here — and it is surely most promising. The European left has started the process of its unification, and preparations were made here, in Brussels, on September 9, 2017, in a chamber afflicted by terrible accoustics. But that was of no consequence. Those who attended had already said everything by means of their presence: ‘we are prepared to overcome our pride; we are the European demos.’
Screenshot: DiEM25 workshop in preparation opposite Bozar, September 9, 2017, Brussels.