In March 2012, the Interim International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS) was launched with the aim of propelling activism for winning a new world. IOPS is structured as a bottom-up, international organization based on self-managing interconnected national branches and local chapters.
Currently, IOPS is in an interim stage, and by joining IOPS you become an interim member. A convention, or series of conventions, will be planned within the next year, hopefully, for membership to determine the organization’s definition in more detail. The IOPS Interim Consultative Committee, established to guide choices in the interim phase, includes Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, and Michael Albert among others.
When I tell my friends, family or colleagues about IOPS they ask about my motivations for joining the organization and express several concerns. I thought it might be useful to share my experiences in order to encourage other people to join and also to spur fellow members to express themselves publicly on IOPS! The following Q&A mirrors some of the discussions I had.
Why did you become a member of IOPS?
I believe that people can win a better world. This means I believe in the possibility that together we can get rid of poverty, imperial wars, economic disasters, sexism, classism or oppressive workplace relations.
Many different actions and strategies can lead to success. This depends on circumstances. But I do not believe that elites who dominate politics will change society for the better. If you look at history, societal change has always required organized public action. Organized slaves demanded, struggled for and won freedom. Organized women demanded, struggled for and won equal rights. Organized folks demanded, struggled for and won the rights to speak freely, vote, and form trade unions. There are so many inspiring examples. Yet, elites in power have never voluntarily given up their privileges.
Furthermore, elites are themselves highly organized and have vast resources at their disposal. Think of corporate business elites and their policy planning staff and legal activists who continuously shape society. Think of the resources that corporations put into propaganda and lobbying. Winning gains against elites requires thoughtful organization.
We want to win reformist and revolutionary measures such as equal distributions of income, lower working hours, classless work places, peaceful international relations, environmental stewardship, independent media and much more. In order to obtain such gains we need organization. That means we need broadly shared vision and strategy. We need to share resources and experiences. We need to establish institutional examples that are self-managed and classless. We need to be able to help and inspire each other. IOPS is an organizational attempt to institute such efforts and this is my motivation for joining.
IOPS has an organizational description to which members have to ascribe to. Does that mean you are part of some kind of a cult or sect?
If you join IOPS you have to agree with its mission statement and organizational description. The long-term goal of IOPS is to overcome existing oppressive institutions. This is only possible if we have shared vision in mind and strategies on how to obtain them. Therefore, IOPS envisions novel institutions that foster outcomes in accord with specific values such as self-management, solidarity, equity and diversity. The mission statement and organizational description, guided by these values, set broad visionary aims as well as policies on how members of IOPS should engage in order to win these set aims.
Significantly, IOPS does not provide detailed blueprints but leaves room for experimentation, development, discussion and dissent – quite unlike a sect. Moreover, the important values that guide our vision were not invented by IOPS. Self-management, solidarity, equity and diversity are values that have been developed and refined during past struggles by the social justice movements. Hence, if you understood IOPS as a cult or sect, which means it constitutes a group that represents distinct political beliefs, the convictions you would ascribe to are those shared by a broad spectrum of progressives and a wide margin of our population. Indeed, I find these values commonsensical and not sectarian.
In practice, underwriting the IOPS description means that you should work within IOPS in agreement with our values and goals: for instance, members have to engage in a fashion that fosters democratic decision making, transparent information exchange and an equal share in empowering work tasks in order to guarantee equity and self-management. IOPS therefore rules out the establishment of hierarchies via an unequal division of labor – an oppressive institutional feature you will typically find in contemporary political organizations and workplaces, even on the left. These are further motivations for why I joined IOPS.
And what about existing left/socialist parties, Attac or Green Peace. Why didn’t you join one of these already existing progressive organizations?
IOPS seeks new political, economic, gender and cultural institutions. Such a rationale transcends the aims of the organizations mentioned above.
For example, many parties on the left have important, albeit reformist, aims such as military disarmament or calls for full employment and progressive taxation, etc. Traditional socialist parties aim at replacing capitalism with a centrally planned economy. Attac aims at rolling back neoliberal policies by regulating the international financial system. Greenpeace campaigns on a range of environmental issues. If won, some of the changes envisioned by these organizations would alter our society for the better and bring us closer to a system in which it is possible to live in accord with the values outlined above – which is why IOPS might campaign in solidarity with one or more of these organizations, if, that is, such actions made strategic sense to IOPS members.
Yet, existing progressive organizations like these do not go far enough (or, as is the case with the traditional socialist parties’ advocacy of central planning, promote poorly conceived alternatives that systematically violate their stated values). For instance, Attac and Greenpeace propose no alternative to capitalism. They seem unaware that as long as capitalism is in place, owners and managers can use their superior bargaining power to roll back reforms and re-institute neoliberal, or other reactionary measures, that negatively impact on peoples’ lives and the environment. That is why we need a vision that transcends capitalism. After all even a reformed capitalist system will leave exploitative workplace relations, such as an unequal division of labor and authoritarian decision making, in place.
Many of the flaws in capitalism would also remain in a socialist system based on a centrally planned economy as envisioned by socialist parties. Such an economy enables a minority of the population to determine economic production and output. This will format a new class in society by virtue of people monopolizing empowering tasks within the work place and broader economy. That is why we need a vision that transcends central planning.
Rejecting central planning some left/socialist parties, and organizations like Attac and Green Peace campaign for a society that maintains an economy that is based on a market system. Again what they seem not to understand is that as long as markets are in place, whether under capitalism or socialism, there will be horrendous environmental costs that cannot be avoided via reforms alone. Markets require businesses to produce “cost effective”. This puts pressure on work places to reduce labor costs by instituting hierarchical division of labor and other cost cutting measures at the expense of the work force. Markets systematically externalize costs that get in the way of profit maximization with truly horrendous social and environmental consequences. That is why we need a vision that transcends markets.
As you can see, despite their many positive aims, left/socialist parties, Attac and Greenpeace have flaws in the visionary outlooks that guide their activism. A society based on central planning or capitalism will not be classless. A society based on market allocation will encounter environmental disasters and hierarchical workplace relations. To date, IOPS is the only organization that credibly suggests alternative examples to flawed capitalist and real existing socialist institutions. That is a major incentive for joining IOPS.
Florian Zollmann is a writer and media researcher based in Germany and the UK and a member of the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS).