NEW AGREEMENTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD/ EN ESPAÑOL: A PIE Y EN BICICLETA
THE M15 WALKS AND BIKES
Translation by Sylvia Maria Valls
“Let’s get together! We are the ones we were waiting for.”
The Hopi Nation’s Chiefs
Oraibi, Arizona, 2000
In his work, Ivan Illich (1926-2002) described the failure of industrial institutions such as in education, medicine and transportation,1 when they exercise a radical monopoly over people’s lives and limit their autonomy and freedom; institutions that become ends in themselves, differing in their objectives as means towards the satisfaction of humanity’s physical and spiritual needs. This is how –Illich maintained-, modern society’s educational institutions make you dumb, medicine makes you sick and transportation paralyzes you.
Generally speaking, his analyses fit other social entities as well, such as political parties that centralize personal participation in public life, binding people to the periodic exercise of the vote and this with the objective of maintaining their own party oriented interests in relation to power and to their adherence to economic ideologies --a control that reaches out to labor unions and other areas of social organization as well. The modern world, then, delegates unto parties the radical control of political participation by its citizens, turning the progress of democratic systems into fiction.
As the French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943) wrote in her essay “Note for the Suppression of Political Parties2 –a contribution to the reconstruction of her country once the European war would be over-, these organizations, turning away from acting merely as means for procuring the public good, become ends in themselves instead, directing their efforts towards strengthening the harmful monopoly they exercise. They play a travesty, in effect, upon democratic life since they undermine collective well-being by dividing citizens among themselves and generating results that are contrary to their proposed objective. To pretend that the monopoly exercised by political parties is democracy’s prerequisite is only one more myth of contemporary society.
DEFYING THE WALLS
Radical monopolies are, in fact, social agreements limiting the rights of the majorities whose vulnerabilities, nonetheless, rely upon the outreach of their perverse social effects. Modern revolutions have amounted to no more than the substitution of one radical monopoly over another, using preferably violence as an instrument towards transformation. And this is precisely the challenge facing the new social movements that have emerged around the world since the end of the last century, starting with the struggles of indigenous communities in various regions of Latin America, including the most recent ones in the Arab countries, in Iceland, in Greece, Chile and in Spain with the revolution of the M15 indignados –those who are fed up-- and its remarkable international influence. That is to say, building new social agreements that will substitute the power of radical monopolies and, consequently, install the full exercise of the values and principles of a real democracy.
The short and intense record of the M15 Movement has meant, no doubt,
a leap forward in defying, without qualms of any sort, the validity of the old agreements, offering intelligent answers to their contradictions and failures; the result, probably, not only of the bewilderment the movement has caused from the beginning within the traditional political spheres but in the face of its own strength as well. A movement, hence, that deals with social unrest by proposing new agreements emerging from free participation and from collective knowledge, thereby opening deep fissures in the walls that political parties and their ideologies impose.
CITIZENS WITHOUT FRONTIERS
The M15 proposals change our perspective as to political participation by citizens in public life, linking social action not only to specific principles, methods and strategies but also to new definitions of social space, of citizens and time. The M15 in effect is an autonomous movement without any symbolic national identification, its principal headquarters to be found in the street or in the city’s public square, the neighborhood and townships. It is equally formed by groups of persons interconnected amongst themselves who not only call for their rights but who assume responsibilities while beginning to recognize one another as co-creators of their own social reality. They make up, in fact, a collectivity that writer Sylvia Valls has referred to as ecological citizenship;3 that is to say, active citizens who perceive national problems from a global perspective while defending the importance of local autonomy as they decide on matters of public life and common problems. Valls maintains, besides, that survival in our planet will depend upon implementing a similar type of citizenship throughout the world.
The M15 objectives are equally independent of the coercion that time imposes, dictated as it is by party concerns with their voting calendar; a level of autonomy that does not limit, of course, its proven capacity for responding to the challenges that short term events require. Time, no doubt, is an important ally for the movement’s expectations as to its growth, dialogue, organization and the collective creation of new knowledge. An ancestral principle of wisdom and sustainability of the Hopi people advises that one take the necessary time to weigh each important decision, taking into account their impact upon the next seven generations; a commitment, no doubt, that ecological citizenry must assume as co-creator of a new world at the personal, local and global level. The M15 has decided, hence, to move using its feet and to bike.
“HERE EVERYTHING IS VERY DIFFERENT”
Non-violence, inclusion, horizontality, cooperation, plurality and consensus are the basic principles guiding the activities of the various commissions, work groups and assemblies of the M15. Its organizational structure, besides, dispenses with any form of individual leadership and delegates representation to what we might call legitimate collective hierarchies, a circumstance that significantly strengthens the movement in the face of the constant and progressive intimidation by political, economic and media-controlled powers. Collective legitimacy is a quality inherent to the work and accomplishments of each group, commission and assembly.
The dynamics of the M15 has given place, similarly, to the emergence of a new language that calls things by their name, substituting the traditional use of concepts and euphemisms lending themselves to confusion and the manipulation of reality. The new discourse breaks through into society in order to point out not only the true magnitude of the problems but also the creativity and effort that solutions require; a language that expresses the power of words to rethink and to create events, that is born spontaneously in the town squares and the streets and is transmitted to the world through the internet’s social networks. A language, finally, that gives an identity to the millions of anonymous persons fed-up –indignados-- with the injustice and impunity of those who govern the institutions now ruling and destroying our planet. The alternatives for social transformation, fortunately, are no longer trapped between the search for changes within the same old agreements –so that nothing might change—and the effort to build new agreements through non-violent means. The new alternatives thus released will now have their say.
1 Mailer Mattié. El fracaso del progreso industrial. http://www.nodo50.org/ceprid/spip.php?article568 In Spanish, on the failure of industrial progress.
2 Simone Weil Notes. At: http://www.institutosimoneweil.net/index.php/faq/36-texto-civ/62-notas-de-simone-weil See English translation further down.
3 Sylvia María Valls. “Betting on an Ecological citizenship and for a United Municipalities of the Americas.” http://www.institutosimoneweil.net/index.php/english/99-betting
* Mailer Mattié is an economist and writer with a strong background in anthropology. This article is a contribution to the work of the Instituto Simone Weil in Valle de Bravo, Mexico.
SIMONE WEIL NOTES: means and ends; political parties, totalitarianism and lies.
“A political party is a machine for the production of collective passion… A political party is an organization built in order to exercise a collective pressure on the thought of each one of the human beings who are their members. (. . .) The first and in the last analysis the only end of a political party is its own growth and this without any limit whatsoever. Due to this triple character, each and every political party is totalitarian in conception and in aspiration. If it is not so in fact this is only because those around it are no less so than it .
[...] The third is a particular instance of the phenomenon produced whenever what is collective dominates thinking beings. We are facing the inversion between the end and the means. Everywhere, without exception, all things that are generally considered as ends are, by nature, in essence and in a most obvious way, only means.
[...] Money, power, state, national glory, economic production, college diplomas, and many more things… Only the good is an end in itself.”
From "Notes towards the Suppression of Political Parties” published in the anthology in Spanish Profesión de fe.
I would say, equally so, that freedom as much as life itself, belongs to the order of means and that many of the seemingly insoluble “ethical” problems that we face are the result of taking both as if they truly constituted a value, a good in itself; the notion that “life is sacred” leads us to a logical cul de sac or dead end thanks to which holocaust and genocide become our daily bread: St. Augustine is in no small way responsible for having declared suicide an enemy and forced the Roman Church to take up theological arms against the wave of martyrdom of the first Christians. The latter, convinced that glory was well worth speeding up death, were in effect boycotting, with their desertion to the realm beyond. the party-oriented interests of the growing church always anxious to enlarge its ranks, exactly like any church or political party today, “animals to fatten up”.
3 Sylvia María Valls. PropuestApuesta de una ciudadanía ecológica y por unos Municipios Unidos de las Américas. En: http://www.institutosimoneweil.net/index.php/faq/36-texto-civ/83-propuestapuesta-de-una-ciudadania-ecologica
* Mailer Mattié es economista y escritora. Este artículo es una colaboración para el Instituto Simone Weil de Valle de Bravo en México.