“Another World is Possible” (Slogan of the World Social Forum)
“Out of the same background came three major things: fascism, Bolshevism, and corporate tyranny.” (Noam Chomsky “Class Warfare”)
The Project for a Participatory Society – United Kingdom (http://www.ppsuk.org.uk) was started in early 2006. It was set-up to help bring together social justice activists who are interested in developing and organising around participatory knowledge, vision and strategy. It is open to anyone who wants to work towards creating meaningful democratic social systems in the political, economic, kinship and community spheres.
PPS-UK is made up of 3 main components –
“Our Basic Organising Framework” – This document is set out to answer any basic questions that people may want to ask about PPS-UK and to serve as an elementary guide for participants. It lay’s out and clarifies organisational features. These features determine the fundamental character of the organisation.
Activist Networks – This facility allows people to make contact with others who are interested in developing projects and ideas relating to participatory society.
Projects – Activities are initiated and run by PPS-UK activists. There is no leadership spoon-feeding activists campaign ideas or delegating tasks. All projects respect and operate within “Our Basic Organising Framework”.
The fundamental challenge facing the Left today is revitalisation. Our assessment of and conclusions to what actually caused the demise of the left in the first place will shape our approaches to this challenge.
For example, if we conclude that the demise of the Left can be explained satisfactorily by factors external to our ideology (for example Rightwing propaganda and/or state violence) then we simply have to organise in the usual way to try to build popular resistance. This conclusion requires no serious reassessment of Leftwing theory and practice.
However if we conclude that in addition to these external factors there are also important internal factors that have to be taken into account then this means that we need to change the way in which we organise. It means that, if we are to be successful in revitalising the left then we need a radical rethink of our vision and strategy.
Unfortunately much of the traditional Left seems to have drawn the first conclusion. There seems to be very little interest within Leftwing circles for an honest examination of our history in the hope that something better may develop out of the process. Instead of any genuine radical-progressive spirit guiding the Left the usual dogmatic assertions are put forward. The outcome of this is a continuation and reinforcement of factions within the Left- all ironically taking place under the banner of “solidarity”.
To continue down this road guarantees only one thing – that the popular movement we all desire, want to help build and be part of will remain nothing more than a fantasy.
Fortunately however, a small (but growing) group of genuine radical thinkers have risen to the challenge of reassessment and have made very impressive progress. This reassessment usually goes under the general heading of “participatory visions and strategy” and it was this work that inspired the setting up of PPS-UK. What follows is a brief explanation of the thinking behind this process.
The Need for Popular Knowledge
In fairness to the Old Left we have to acknowledge that they are very good at at-least one thing. That one thing is telling everyone (or more realistically anyone who will listen) how terrible and unjust the world we live in is. The Old Left gets 10 out of 10 for this!
I say this both sincerely and sarcastically –
Sarcastically, because the Old Left perpetually use the approach of “telling people how bad things are” as a method of consciousness-raising and recruitment despite its rather limited success.
Sincerely, because I think making this knowledge popular is a very important part of the work we need to be doing.
The problem really is this. It is true that the world is a terrible and very unjust place and we can’t just ignore this because it is too painful or depressing to face up to. But if this is all we have to say – or if this is the main thing we have to say – then people are not going to be attracted to our organisations.
So in addition to building peoples knowledge about how society really works we also need to balance this with positive aspects within our campaigns.
The Need for Compelling Vision
One positive aspect we could embrace is that of vision – and yet this is almost universally ignored or rejected out of hand by the established Left. But it’s hard to understand why this makes any sense. Ok, there are dangers that go along with developing vision – for example it could become too prescriptive and stale – but whilst this is a good reason to be careful when working on vision it certainly is not a good reason to stop working on vision all together. And anyway the positives of developing good vision far out-weigh these concerns.
As already mentioned one such positive is that we need vision of what our alternative society could look like “tomorrow” to balance out the negative views about society “today”.
We also need to know (at least in some detail) what our long-term goals are because this helps to inform and guide our short-term objectives. So when we get involved in reform campaigns we can formulate these in such a way as to fit them into our overall campaign for social transformation. The basic argument is that without long-term vision it is very hard to know if we are even on the right path at any given moment.
But perhaps most of all we need compelling vision to convince people that what they are working for is worth the effort.
The Need for Realistic Strategy
But this is not the end of it! We also need a way of getting us from where we are today, to our preferred future society. Again this is not something that the traditional Left were very good at. In fact the strategies employed by the Left (and still advocated by dogmatic Old Left organisations today) can be generally described as dysfunctional. I say this simply because they say they want to go towards a certain goal (say classlessness) and yet they tend to go in a different direction (towards a new form of class society or reproducing the old class hierarchies).
Now a lot of the Old Left tries to tell us that this happened because of circumstances that were outside of their control – like civil war or pressure from foreign countries – and of course these circumstances did not help. However this is only half of the story.
If we think of classlessness again, most Left organisations (whether revolutionary or reformist), organised hierarchically and with a division of labour as part of their strategy. Naturally enough this resulted in the people at the top/centre of the organisation monopolising the empowering tasks whilst the people at the bottom/periphery are left to do all of the disempowering tasks. Not surprisingly this kind of organising strategy resulted in the creation of new forms of class dominance and not classlessness. The important point here is that this occurred because of internal factors – hierarchical organising, division of labour – and that even under the most idyllic circumstances this was always going to be the case using this organising strategy.
PPS-UK organises around 3 core concepts –
A) Knowledge – developing a good understanding of how social systems work today.
B) Vision – developing compelling vision of alternative social systems.
C) Strategy – developing realistic strategy to get us from A (society today) to B (our alternative society).
It is felt that this approach and the ideas contained in participatory vision and strategy offer much more hope for radical-progressive social transformation than those found in traditional Left ideology.
It is also felt that established Left ideologies have very little to say of any worth with regards to vision and strategy and that what they do have to say can only be learned from in the negative sense. In the end it was the combined thoughts and feeling of a deep dissatisfaction with established Left-wing theory and practice in parallel with the inspiration produced by participatory vision and strategy that lead to the desire to set-up the Project for a Participatory Society here in the United Kingdom.