Part of the difficulty of setting up PPS-UK has been that the initial members did not know each other before hand and even within this group of people there where different levels of understand which have taken time to work through. Although important progress has been made between these initial members, with regards to getting to know each other and clarifying a shared approach to organising, at the same time new members have joined PPS-UK, again with different levels of understand, which has perpetuated the above highlighted difficulties.
On Saturday 26th February the Birmingham chapter of Project for a Participatory Society – United Kingdom (PPS-UK) hosted a gathering of members to discuss issues relating to the organisation. From this meeting it became clear that there are two, rather fundamental, issues relating to PPS-UK that need to be clarified –
- The identity of PPS-UK – where we came from and how we organise.
- The expectations of PPS-UK members – what we do on a day-to-day basis.
It seems that some people have joined PPS-UK without really understanding what we are about, where PPS-UK came from, and what it means to be a members. Given that our approach to organising is new it will take a while for people to get their heads around it, so this is understandable to some extent. However I also put this confusion down to a lack of effective communication by the founder members (myself included).
In the hope of clarifying the situation I would like to make a short statement relating to the two bullet points above.
Serious organising requires a comprehensive program for social transformation. Such a program is completely lacking on the left – which is surely one of the main reasons why we are having such a limited impact on how society functions. Most progressives attempt to organise around vague notions of democracy, justice, equality etc. Whilst these are fine values it is unclear how a serious program for social transformation will emerge from this approach to organising. This is why we take a different approach.
PPS-UK was inspired by a specific body of work that built on the successes and failures of past revolutionary efforts (Marxist and anarchist) and has been in a constant state of further development and refinement from the 1960’s onwards.
The approach to organising that we utilise goes far beyond nice sounding values and principles – although this does make-up a part of what we do. Our attempt at developing a serious program is based around three key organising concepts –
A) Knowledge – developing a good understanding of how social systems work today.
B) Vision – developing models of compelling alternative social system.
C) Strategy – developing realistic strategy to get us from A (society today) to B (our alternative vision).
With regards to organising strategy is everything! However, it is our belief that good strategy needs to be informed by both knowledge and vision. The knowledge helps to keep us in touch with the realities on the ground whilst our our vision ensures that any successful changes that are made to society, as a result of our activities, move us in the right direction. Strategy, informed by our knowledge and vision, is what for PPS-UK constitutes a program for social transformation.
That said, this raises the additional question of, how best to develop knowledge, vision and strategy? Different theoretical approaches will go about this in different ways. Likewise, different organisations that are based on these different approaches will go about this in different ways. To help us develop our program PPS-UK uses a conceptual framework called Liberating Theory.
Liberating Theory helps us to understand social dynamics and historical continuity and change. We can use this framework to develop a good understanding of how social systems work today (knowledge). But, we can also use this framework to develop compelling alternative social system (vision). The alternative social systems that have been developed so far are –
- Participatory Kinship
- Participatory Economics
- Participatory Politics
- Participatory Community
The combination of this participatory knowledge, vision and strategy developed within the Liberating Theory framework is what gives PPS-UK its unique identity as a British organisation. It is this work that inspired the founding of PPS-UK.
However, it is important to understand that all of this is only intended as a starting point for organising and is not presented as a finished product. PPS-UK is open to further development and growth. But it is also important to understand that such development and growth can only really take place as part of a participatory democratic process. For this to occur we first need a fully functioning organisation (possibly on an international scale?). So until such a time any proposed development to the theory, vision and strategy can only be discussed informally in venues such as the IOPS group forum.
PPS-UK has been set-up to help bring together people who are serious about organising for radical-progressive social transformation. It is assumed that people who choose to join PPS-UK will want to participate in some way or another. Joining and doing nothing makes membership meaningless. Joining and organising with others as part of the above program can make a very big difference. Such activities can give real meaning to peoples lives and there is no reason why it can not also be fun – at least some of the time.
As (I hope!?) the above makes clear the day-to-day organisation of PPS-UK is informed by our vision. This means that members of PPS-UK advocate self-management which in turn also means that PPS-UK is a self-managed organisation – members have a say in decisions in proportion to how much they are affected by the outcome of that decision.
People can get involved in PPS-UK activities in two ways:
- They can initiate a new or join an existing local chapter.
- They can initiate a new or join an exist project.
Both projects and chapters are self-managed. Members can get involved in projects and / or chapters by making either –
- a commitment of time and energy in running a project and / or chapter.
and / or
- by making a financial contribution to a project that they like and / or to their local chapter.
The details of how much time and / or money members are expected to contribute is to be determined by the activists involved in that project / chapter in line with PPS-UK’s commitment to self-management. Also in line with our commitment to self-management members of local chapters can, where appropriate, communicate with other members of other local chapters in order to make decisions at the regional and National levels.
All members have voting rights. However, there might be people who want to get involved in PPS-UK but don’t fully understand what we are about and how we organise. These ‘supporters” should be allowed to participate in PPS-UK activities and whilst doing so should strive to gain an understanding of how PPS-UK functions. However during this period supporters should not have any voting rights until they decide that they would like to have full membership and have demonstrated a reasonable understanding of how PPS-UK organises.
I hope that has helped to clarify what PPS-UK is about!
For an in-depth account of Liberating Theory read Michael Albert, Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Robin Hahnel, Mel King, Lydia Sargent, Holly Sklar, “Liberating Theory”.
For a shorter introduction to Liberating Theory read Chapter One of Robin Hahnel’s “The ABC’s of Political Economy”.
For a general introduction into participatory vision and strategy read Michael Albert’s “Realising Hope”.
For online information visit ZNet's ParEcon and ParSoc pages.