Schechter: Why IOPS… What is it? Who is in it? Is it a new type of think tank? What are its goals and values? Why are people taking part?
Albert: IOPS, International Organization for a Participatory Society, is an effort to gather sufficient membership to establish a new organization, built on local chapters and national branches, that would move to being formal and actual rather than interim, at a convention some time in the future.
IOPS emerged from a poll the web system ZNet conducted that revealed surprisingly high support for commitments embodied in the interim statement of vision and organizational features that is now guiding IOPS creation and the period up to founding at a convention.
At the moment, only a month old, IOPS has about 1450 members in 76 countries. It has a guiding Consultative Committee for addressing issues that may have to be decided in its early period, before it has well developed internal membership and collective self managing means of making decisions. This committee has 48 members from countries around the world, including many notable folks such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, and others.
Some of IOPS defining attributes are giving priority attention to all sides of social life and their interrelations, including, for example, economy, polity, kinship, culture, ecology, and international relations.
Also, seeking new broadly conceived institutions for these areas that deliver an end to all hierarchies of wealth, power, and status – whether based on class/economy, gender/age/sex, race/ethnicity/culture, politics/power – and attaining societal solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, stewardship, and peace.
Also, there are priorities regarding the features of the organization itself, in particular, having it reflect the values and aims of the future in the present – including facilitating and giving respect to dissent, and facilitating and highlighting the importance of participation and self management.
IOPS is definitely not a think tank, though of course part of what will occur in IOPS is members enlarging their own awareness of options, developing their insights, and communicating to others. But, mainly, the aim of IOPS is to grow and empower its membership and to develop programs of struggle that are national and international, thereby uniting and helping provide aid to and even overarching aims for diverse kinds of activism, including enlarging the numbers of people who are seriously and capably involved in conceiving and seeking a new world – not just verbally, or in thought, but by their participation in struggles for change as well as in construction of programs and relations among people that embody the seeds of the future in the present.
Schechter: Can/will "outsiders" be taken seriously by elite decision makers? How do we translate ideas into political demands and practical models?
Albert: If you mean would existing elites in societies around the world see IOPS as some kind of worthy ally in enacting policies, no – not at all. IOPS will be seen as an enemy by existing elites in societies around the world because IOPS is about eliminating the conditions that make them elites. IOPS is about redefining economic, political, and social relations so that all people have control over their own lives, as well as equitable means to live them well and fully, rather than some elites dominating decisions and having vast wealth.
IOPS will, we can reasonably predict, once it is large enough to have self managing ways of arriving at shared aims, favor policies and also entirely new social relations that elites will find literally incomprehensible, insane, and, in any case, very much the opposite of their own inclinations.
However, if you mean, will people who are used to making decisions and having others follow their lead without having input, but who join IOPS because they support its formulations, take other members in IOPS seriously including realizing that in IOPS all will have self managing say rather than those with initially high confidence and more experience monopolizing power – yes, I think they will, not least because they will have to, because IOPS is structured to ensure those outcomes.
More generally, moving back to considering relations to elites in society, the way an organization like IOPS will pursue and make advances and finally be part of winning a new world will have nothing to do with society's elites respecting its insights and desires and enacting them for that reason, but will have to do, instead, with society's elites having no choice but to comply with demands for changes or to suffer even more grave defeats than they suffer by giving in.
This means IOPS, and this goes for movements more generally, will have to generate sufficient support – both numbers of activists and depth and clarity of commitment they have – so that in struggles over future directions, IOPS desires for the vast populations it serves will steadily more often trump the desires of elites for the narrow and small sectors of population they serve.
Creating program, at least in very general terms, is not all that complex. The substantial difficulties arise in particular contexts. What does one want in the long term? What does one want that can sustain sufficient desire and support now, to be attainable in the shorter run? How do we demand and seek the short run gains in ways that add to the long run prospects?
For example, in the struggle for peace now, for a shorter work week, for immediate economic redistribution, for different investment policies, for affirmative action, against foreclosures, for daycare and medical care more generally, for immigrant rights, for an end to drones, for new energy policies, for peace, and so on – how do we act so as to yield enlarged and enriched consciousness in society writ large and in activists as well, so that people want still more gains and understand the parameters of seeking it? And how do we act in ways that yield new organization, new commitments, and new mechanisms, so we do not just celebrate immediate victories we win and go home, but, instead, upon winning some gains we immediately set out to win more gains in a trajectory of changes leading toward massive support for a new society and, eventually, in ways that create the infrastructure and then melt into that new society?
Those questions can inform clear thinking about program. Of course, assessing the conditions we confront all around us to decide which demands and which programs can successfully attain sufficient support to be won, now, and to decide which ways of arguing for those gains and organizing support will have the desired impact on future aims, is specific, contextual, and difficult – and good answers will differ, as well, in many respects, from country to country.
Schechter: Is IOPS modelled on other existing initiatives?
Albert: Yes and no. IOPS arises, I think it is fair to say, from a long line of activism stretching back to the new left movements of the sixties, and then further still. It tries to embody positive lessons of past successes but also to learn and alter in light of critical insights about past failures.
However, the actual defining features of IOPS, for example its multi issue approach that doesn't elevate any one key dimension of life above the rest and its specific institutional visionary commitments, as well as its very high focus on respecting internal dissent, haven't often been combined similarly, I think, but, in any case, need new expression and organization now.
Schechter: How important is the emphasis on "Participatory" Is it inspired by the call for participatory democracy 50 years ago.
Albert: The word has two purposes in the name, at least the way I think of it – and of course others may have their own read on this. First, it bears very much on the vision for what IOPS favors in place of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and authoritarianism. Thus the aim IOPS supports is called, in its very name, during this interim period – and even this could change – "participatory society." The sought values and institutions are very much consonant with and even dependent on the idea of generalized participation, equal and fair participation, and especially self managing participation, in the circumstances and conditions of our lives.
Additionally, however, in IOPS the word participatory has another connotation as well. To join IOPS one only needs to feel allegiance with its defining statements. However, over time, the organizational aim is that whatever little time and energy members may have for organizational activities and actions at the outset of their becoming members, as time passes and IOPS grows their involvements will also grow. IOPS will have to deserve and win that kind of participation even from its own members, but its members, once IOPS does begin to prove its worth, will hopefully deliver.
A significant part of the logic of IOPS is that social change, much less winning new societies and a new world, depends not only on a huge tally of people wanting such change, but also on very large numbers of people becoming steadily more confident and committed to helping conceive and enact such change, as their circumstances permit. IOPS sees itself, in that regard – and the IOPS defining statements make this particularly evident – as providing its own members a better life, better relations, and mutual aid consistent with their becoming able to give more time to winning real change, even as IOPS also seeks similar gains for people in the larger societies all around us, as well.
So, yes, I think IOPS is consistent with the calls made, decades back, for participatory democracy, but where that call was largely understood as a pretty vague desire bearing on people's relations to political life, in IOPS the desire for participatory self management, is made more substantive by giving it visionary and immediate institutional form and by having it bear not only on political life, but also on economics, culture, kinship, and really all sides of life.
Schechter: Is IOPS just using digital technology or will it morph into a transnational movement?
Albert: There is now a web site – which is, as you say, digital technology – which makes it easy to learn about IOPS, and, if interested, to join it. The site is at http://www.iopsociety.org/
There one can read about the early history of IOPS, its origins and early steps, and also assess the vision, mission, structure, and program commitments of the interim project, see the list of members of the Consultative Committee, and see the various blog posts and comments, forum exchanges, and members projects that are already emerging in large numbers.
So the IOPS effort certainly has a digital display – but the aim is that IOPS will have chapters in cities all around the world, and when it gets big enough, even multiple chapters in large cities, which will in turn federate into city and then into national chapters, and then in turn federate into the international organization.
I think we can predict that the local neighborhood or city chapters will meet face to face on some regular schedule that makes sense given where they are, and given who they are, and given the conditions they are dealing with, and given that people will not only have "non digital" relations that way, but also ties to all kinds of shared local programs, activism, and also life enriching social connections and undertakings, as well.
Then, moreover, the same would occur in whole cities, regions, and countries – though with less frequent meetings, and presumably at larger scales. Indeed, an international convention to found IOPS as a no longer interim but as finally an actual organization, with its own internal decision and other mechanisms and activist programs, etc., all extending beyond the current defining documents however IOPS membership determines, would be a first instance of perhaps a yearly major international face to face gathering.
What is hopeful is that already, in under a month, there are people involved in 76 countries, some countries with many more members than others, of course. From having started in English only, as of May 1, translations of the site into ten languages are in place which will hopefully propel things dramatically. The online system, the digital aspect, makes it easy for people to find others in their areas and to contact them to set up meetings, and this is already happening in many places. It gives local chapters their own online sites to administer, with the content feeding as well into national and international sites they are part of.
Of course no one can know how IOPS will play out. But I think if everyone who on first visiting the site and reading the defining documents says to themselves, well I really like that, I would be really happy if this organization were to become huge and highly active, and while I am worried that it might not, or that it might grow stale, or that it might degenerate, or whatever – still, I am going to join, and I will lend however little or much time I can to getting others to join too and to my becoming conversant with and able to present the defining features, and able to act in light of them – then IOPS will become both very large and very capable fairly quickly.
For that matter, will those who write blogs and articles and give talks, and report events as dissidents and leftists, in media of the left, and in organizations and projects of the left, take a serious look at IOPS, report what they find, and relate with vigor, whether critically or supportively? In fact, will even IOPS members do that in their encounters? In short, what becomes of IOPS is going to depend on people's reactions to it, around the world, both members, and people at great distance. Will rampant skepticism about anything and everything aimed at real institutional change dull people's approach to IOPS, causing rejection without even seriously looking? Will the incredible time pressures on people interfere with paying attention, or lending a hand? Or will hope and desire fuel serious assessments that lead, in turn, to a whole lot of advocacy and resulting success? We will see.
Schechter: Are academics part of IOPS as well as activists?
Albert: Anyone who reads the defining materials and feels they support the intents can join, and all kinds of people, again, from 76 countries, have already done so. Among those I am sure that are plenty who are employed in universities, colleges, and the like. But I like to think that mostly the people from those venues who are joining will already see themselves and their efforts, intellectual and otherwise, as activist, and all the more so as they join and then become involved as their time permits.
But the reality of IOPS is that it is very much not an "academic" project. In fact, IOPS is virtually the opposite of an "academic" project. IOPS seeks the clearest possible communication, working hard to eliminate obscure and obtuse rhetoric, and most certainly it does not see itself serving the "academic" interests of elites who currently monopolize knowledge and information and empowering positions. Instead, IOPS sees itself, I think, creating conditions for all people to participate in thoughts and actions bearing on their lives – both in schools and universities and also throughout all of society.
IOPS is very much about thinking carefully, sharing ideas, and especially developing and sharing vision and strategy. But these are things everyone should be doing, not just folks with some kind of degree, or with a job that says to them – you are required to think, write, teach. We can and should all think, write, and teach – as well as learn.
And so while "academics" are very welcome, it is essential that in their IOPS activities they leave behind any "academic" habits they may have (hopefully they don't) of arcane and obscure communications, endless references to demonstrate their high learning, and other such paraphernalia of exclusion. Academics are certainly welcome in IOPS, because everyone who sincerely supports the defining documents is welcome.
In my view, however, at least nine out of ten times, real life experience plus some optimism of the will and clear communications -whether coming from folks inside or outside academia – is a much likelier source of socially useful and worthy insights than specifically academic training, credentials, and especially academic habits, not least, in how to be obscure.
Schechter: How will you relate to other political movements, do you label yourselves as anarchists or socialists or what?
Albert: IOPS is an organization and no doubt its members will not only develop IOPS policy and work to enact it, but also be involved in all kinds of other movements and campaigns they support – and that IOPS will likely support as well. Indeed, there are people in IOPS, after only a few weeks, from, I am sure, dozens of different campaigns and movements around the world – and of course, particularly from Occupy efforts all over the world.
And as to views, I am sure there are anarchists in large numbers, and also socialists in large numbers. Indeed, for the latter, many of them, probably think of participatory society as participatory socialism. And the former probably think of it as anarchist society. And I think both of them, doing that, are right, because participatory society needs to embody what is best and most relevant in the anarchist and socialist heritages. But participatory society and IOPS also need to leave behind much that isn't relevant now, or desirable, from those heritages.
So, for example, the IOPS defining documents make clear that IOPS is not against institutions per se, or against production per se, in that regard diverging from at least some anarchists. And they also make clear that IOPS rejects what has been called twentieth century socialism and many of the intellectual and organizational commitments of past socialists who were Leninist, Trotskyist, etc., in that regard diverging from some socialists.
For the most part, though, IOPS might be usefully seen, I suspect, as an attempt to bypass the morass of arguments and mutual recriminations that typically hitchhike on discussions of left history. IOPS seeks, instead, to put forth positive aims and methods and to confine the issue of membership to the issue of advocacy of those aims and methods. Yes, I believe IOPS positive aims and methods conflict with various features of past activism, organization, and vision – but that's the point. To move forward and to win a new world, rather than to debate past histories that people will disagree about the facts of, ad infinitum, IOPS thinks it is better to assess the proposed visions, aims, and methods in light of conditions that are right in front of our eyes, and, hopefully, to move forward as a result.
That said, while IOPS is organizationally as well as emotively very seriously aimed at avoiding sectarian conflict and patterns, that of course doesn't mean that in IOPS anything goes. IOPS has an emerging political perspective and it welcomes participation of those truly sharing that perspective, and also wishes those who don't share it the best of luck in their different pursuits. The idea, after all, is to win worthy change, wherever its guiding insights finally come from.