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IOPS Interview for Global Info Media


An interview with two IOPS members: Jason Chrysostomou (J.C) and Michael Albert (M.A) by Edi Terlaak, conducted by email, for the main Dutch activist website www.globalinfo.nl

1) Suppose a radical campaigner against arms trade hears about IOPS and says to you: “We don’t need a global organization for radicals. Local groups should focus on a particular issue and then we’ll see where we end up.” How would you respond?

M.A
When people locally address some issue, great. To win they must of course raise social costs high enough that elites give in rather than enduring those costs. When such a campaign has support from broader regions, that makes it more possible. When such a campaign spreads and is mirrored in many countries, so much the better. Imagine fighting against arms trade or a war in a little town – or, rather, in a region, or in a whole country. Make it the world – for arms trade in particular, that would be vastly better. Not to mention each effort learning from and even being aided by the others. However, while IOPS will undoubtedly be involved in many such efforts, IOPS is ultimately about changing institutions so that we have a better world – and that entails a larger, stronger, and much broader focus than a single issue – another benefit.

J.C
I would answer, firstly, that I don’t see fighting against the arms trade as a local issue, but in any case, working on local issues and campaigns becomes far more effective when we are connected to others in a supportive wider network of people with common values and aspirations. Within IOPS we can imagine there being many self-managed projects and campaigns initiated by members working on particular areas of interest but all happening with a longer term shared aim of addressing the underlying structural root causes of injustice and oppression.

2) Maybe we do need an international organization, but is it really necessary to build it from the ground up? I have talked about IOPS with people at the occupy camp in Groningen (the Netherlands). They wondered why we need IOPS if there are occupy camps around the world. Why not connect these people under the occupy banner?

M.A
IOPS has particular commitments. If these camps, and other efforts, expressed similar commitments, and united, that would be wonderful. But they haven't. And in fact, the occupy movement includes folks with many many orientations. So, with IOPS, people in Occupations, and really in all other aspects of left activism, can join if they so desire. The people developing IOPS are of course from a great many occupations and other efforts. The issue is, do IOPS vision and organizational commitments resonate with people. If yes, then being in it makes sense. It is not true for all activists or leftists or occupiers – many have different views. But IOPS most certainly grows out of the experiences, recent, and past.
 
J.C
I see Occupy as a broader movement, or platform for people with diverse beliefs to come together, resist, and share ideas, and, whilst I will certainly continue to be involved with Occupy activities here in London, IOPS, however, is not the same thing. IOPS is being formed as an organisation with a clearly defined mission or purpose, a set of ideas of where it wants to go, and is organised in a federated international structure of self-managing local, regional and national branches.

3) Okay, let’s say I accept that an international organization has benefits and that IOPS has the required features to be that organization. But let’s also say that although I agree with the broad vision, there are some specifics that I don’t agree with. For example, why did you rule out all versions of market socialism in favor of some form of participatory planning?

M.A
The reason for that is just like the reason for ruling out private ownership of the means of production. We reject capitalist ownership because we do not want a class of owners lording it over the rest of the population. Having private ownership structurally guarantees that, in the eyes of IOPS, and for that matter, all socialists. Okay, IOPS ruling out market socialism is ruling out – in the view of the IOPS vision – a system in which a class that monopolizes empowering work lords it over the rest of the population. Having markets structurally guarantees that (and also ecological disaster, among other horrible implications), in the eyes of IOPS, and thus that appears in the IOPS vision.

J.C
The IOPS vision statement rejects “market competition and top-down planning in favour of decentralized cooperative negotiation of inputs and outputs” because competitive-markets and top down planning violate our values of solidarity, equity, diversity, ecological stewardship and self-management. To get to the long term vision will involve taking many gradual steps along the way, but steps that take us on a path towards replacing competitive markets with an economy that allocates resources in a way that is consistent with our values.

4) Perhaps I’m not entirely convinced by that reply. If so, what possibilities would I have as an IOPS interim-member to change the ‘final’ vision statement?

M.A
This is very hard to answer – because – well, who knows. That is, until there is a convention, the statements will stand as they are. They are guides and conditions for joining. At a convention, things will be made actual, I guess we might say, but still not permanent. Growth and change are welcomed – literally as a core part of IOPS definition. At the same time, having debates about whether we should pay attention to racism, say, is not going to be welcome – of course we should, it is not debatable for IOPS people. How to pay attention, that is where differences and debates will arise. I can certainly imagine people in IOPS wondering about the possibility of using markets for allocation, and discussing it, and perhaps even a majority changing that plank, or the plank remaining and a minority persisting in the organization despite disagreeing about it. But, my own feeling is joining if one is a staunch advocate of market socialism is probably not a good idea. It would mean one was joining knowing one simply wanted to alter one among very few defining features. Sort of like joining a socialist organization if one is strongly for private ownership. But, if one agrees on almost everything and has doubts about something, that is different. That would be my take on it, anyhow.

J.C
A more thorough analysis of how markets and central planning violate our values and an exploration of the viability of alternatives requires a far longer discussion. However, because IOPS is an interim stage, the norms for making changes to the vision or other core documents of the organisation will be decided by interim members at the founding convention.

5) You stress that face-to-face decision-making is essential. Yet when it comes to national or continental decisions, that approach would seem to be environmentally harmful and to disadvantage those who cannot cover travel expenses. Why not decide via the internet in such cases?

M.A
I am not sure what you are referring to. There would certainly be internet mediated national and global decisions, of course. Or, if there were lots time to give, perhaps tallies locally, then tallied nationally. But it would certainly not be the case, once established, I would think – that all national decisions would require everyone getting together. That would be both impossible, and unwise, as you indicate.

J.C
The commitment for the political vision is to create institutions that facilitate participation in decision making and utilizing diverse means to achieve self-management. The diverse means could include deliberating and tallying preferences via face-to-face, delegation or via the internet.

5a) So let's focus on the founding convention then. For this purpose you envision that people come together physically at one place, right? In that case, if I don't have any money to spare, or if I don't fly as a matter of (ecologically inspired) principle, is there a way in which I could influence the convention's decisions? 

M.A
Like many other things one can ask now, there are no complete much less binding answers, because there are no decisions as yet. I can guess possibilities, but that is all it is, me guessing. Suppose there are dues for many months, or for a year – by thousands, and maybe many thousands of members – begun sometime in the future, and then continuing. I would imagine one thing the funds would be put to is ensuring that some people are able to attend a founding convention from each chapter, at least. One can also imagine that at least some votes at a convention are taken only after consultation of those present with those absent, who are attending some local gatherings, and in online contact, at the same time. Surely, much of what happens at a convention will be based on an agenda, known in advance, and about diverse proposals, also known in advance – so that all can develop opinions. Then, at a convention, what happens is those opinions come into contact, there is deliberation, and at some point there are decisions by agreed means. But also what happens, perhaps in some respects mainly what happens, is that people get to meet, making contacts across borders, and to develop more direct, personal, familiarity and understanding with one another, and trust. New ideas spring up due to this meeting of members, new ways of interrelating. And so on.

But these and indeed all the answers in this interview, are just some quick thoughts from one person, replying to your query – and no more than that. What IOPS becomes will be up to its members, hopefully growing in number and also in shared confidence in IOPS values and priorities, including the convention, whose attributes and mechanics and agenda will, I would hope, emerge from deliberations beforehand, once there are enough members, diverse enough, so that their taking up this responsibility is consistent with having a self managing organization…not just of a few initial members, but of all involved.

6) Anyway, if the procedure is democratic I’m willing to accept its decisions. Still, before I invest time and energy in IOPS, I would like to have some assurance that not just any collection of individuals can claim the name. For example, if a local chapter of IOPS pulls off a media stunt because of its fight against the hidden invasion of aliens, can it be expelled?

M.A
Well, I agree with you. Sure. It will need to be possible to "defend" the organization against usurpation of its name and dignity by silly or malevolent actors. When people join now, they are pledging to the defining statements – which should by their implications rule out such behavior. For now the main thing to be doing, in any event, is to grow to a scale, with a degree of internal trust and mutual aid, and local organization – in time – and discussion of future inclinations and possibilities, to be able to carry off a worthy convention to settle on definition, structure, and also initial program. After that, yes, I agree that in rare case, and if the organization has merit it will indeed be very rare – expulsion may make sense, so that IOPS would need means to do that.

J.C
The IOPS decision making value is a little more specific than using the term democratic. The norm is ‘self-management’, defined as decision making influence in proportion to the degree you are affected by a decision. It bears on your question, because whilst local chapters will be making decisions about things that only affect them and pursuing their own agendas and strategic goals, whilst going under the IOPS banner, their activities need to be consistent with the overarching IOPS framework – the shared vision, mission, structure and programmatic commitments that all members subscribe to when joining. If there are instances of individual members, chapters or projects violating these, then it reflects on the organisation and there will need to be norms established for deciding what to do in these situations, which may include revoking membership.

7) Alright then, you convinced me to join. However, I am already in a local group that has aims similar to those of IOPS. Before we disband and merge into IOPS we want to see evidence for thinking that IOPS is in it for the long haul. Can you give such evidence?

M.A
No. That is impossible. There is will to achieve that, I believe, but no one can sensibly guarantee success. And if you have such a local organization, why entirely disband? If it really is pretty much IOPS locally, and everyone agrees, then it could become a chapter of IOPS, from wherever it is located, but keep its own name. If IOPS dies, you could live on. If what you have is not really a chapter – say it is more about a single campaign – but many of you would like to have a chapter – then those folks should join IOPS and create one. But why disband something that is quite different. If there is no time for both, then I think your caution is warranted. Given the benefits of something national and international, in your position, I guess I would say join, create an IOPS chapter, but if it goes bad, be ready to fall back…but I would certainly understand a more cautious approach.

J.C
In fact, I am in a similar position. I work with a project that was setup a few years ago with very similar aims to IOPS – a kind of precursor to it, based in the U.K, called PPS-UK. The position we have taken is to continue our project for the meantime in tandem with IOPS, whilst also joining IOPS as interim members in order to help build it and influence its creation. Our group will likely merge into IOPS over time, but it is important to remember that IOPS is still at a creation stage and by joining you are helping to build it and make it happen. If you examine the IOPS organisational description, and believe, as I do, that IOPS has huge potential in becoming an effective international organisation that can win a better future society, then we should make it happen. It will require hard work. The ingredients are there. However, this is just the beginning.

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