IOPS for You?

Written for teleSUR English, which will launch on July 24

Over two years back, a poll about features that a new revolutionary international organization might have was posted on the web site ZNet and garnered considerable positive interest. Queries to many folks seconded the interest, so a project to create a new international organization with features that the poll takers ratified was begun.

An international consultative committee (ICC) was established including many prominent activists and writers. They were mandated to help with choices which, however, pending the effort becoming a fully functioning organization, would be kept to a bare minimum and only pursued when overwhelmingly simple and uncontroversial.

An IOPS web site was created. Initial commitments and definitions were established based on the poll results. Everything was understood to be interim until there could be a convention to finalize a working structure and principles.

The result was called IOPS – International Organization for a Participatory Society.

IOPS was aggressively promoted on the website, ZNet, and, as a result, IOPS membership grew from zero to about 2,500 quite quickly. Then, by grassroots enlistment efforts IOPS grew more slowly to currently include over 3,500 members. Some chapters formed and a few of those developed campaigns or worked on campaigns that other activists were already carrying out.

For me, a question arises.

By now, why aren’t there 50,000 members and a 100 or so chapters? Undoubtedly many factors have played a role.

For example, there were certainly some mistakes by those who worked on IOPS in its early days. However, I suspect that a far larger problem was and remains mostly skepticism, and even defeatism, among members themselves, and more broadly at large. People doubted that IOPS would succeed and reasoned, why join, or, if you do muster the energy to join, why give it much time?

At the outset, I felt there were a huge number of people who would. I thought if they heard about the broad commitments defining IOPS they would support them. I still think that was true then, and is also true now.

I also thought, that of all those who liked the IOPS commitments, nearly all would agree that if there were an organization based on the commitments, it would be a very large and perhaps even a giant step forward for activist clarity and unity around the world. I still think that that was true then, and is true now, as well.

Did alternative media cover this undertaking? With the exception of ZNet, barely at all.

Did prominent activists and intellectuals with an audience write about this effort, celebrate it, and try to contribute to people relating to it? Again, barely at all.

So, we had skepticism, plus relative invisibility. And that is a poisonous mix for growth and creativity.

Of course, there is another possible explanation for IOPS being less successful, at least so far, than I and others anticipated. Maybe there wasn’t widespread agreement with the commitments. Maybe I was wrong thinking that people would agree that having an international organization, with national branches and local chapters, based on those worthy commitments, would be a great step forward.

So, broadly speaking, which is it? Is IOPS relatively small because people don’t like the idea per se? Or is it relatively small because people assume IOPS will fail and therefore decide that it is not worth their time, or don’t even know it exists at all?

I can’t know for others, but we can each know regarding our self. Visit the IOPS site. Consider the defining commitments and an introductory video, and more, if you like. See what you think.

If I were standing there with you, after you read through and thought about the defining commitments, and I asked – are you ready to join – what would you answer?

If you would answer yes, then I would anticipate your joining. If you would answer no, is it because you don’t like the commitments, or is it because you are skeptical the project will go anywhere so you figure why bother?

What if you said yes, I like the commitments and I will join – and I then asked, will you now talk to people you know about IOPS, seeking their involvement? Will you try to hook up with others in your city to create a chapter? Will you, to the extent that you write or speak in public, at least in part write or speak about IOPS? In that case, how would you answer those questions? Would you answer, yes, sure, I will do those things? Or no, I won’t? And if you would answer no, I will not do those things, would it be because you felt that such actions would be worthless even if they succeeded, or would it be because you wouldn’t want to fail at such actions, or to be publicly accountable for having tried, or simply that you are really busy, and the payoff doesn’t seem to warrant taking even a little time from other pursuits?

What is interesting and worth considering is that answering these questions when the organization really exists, and answering them hypothetically before it existed, seem to be quite different. I say that because the poll we put up that eventually led to the organizational project ebing undertaken included questions about whether those who said they would join, would work to build it. Of those who answered at all, which was over 3,000 people, about 95% said they would join either immediately or as soon as they could verify the effort was serious, and almost all of those who said they would join also said they would try to enlist others to do so. It hasn’t happened.

In a recent interview I was asked what I thought were the most important or critical tasks for revolutionaries to accomplish in the next five or ten years. Here is how I answered:

No one ever knows, in advance, what is most important for achieving justice  in some period. Still, my opinion would be that in five or ten years, to have hope of attaining a new society short of nearly apocalyptic collapse of the societies we now live in, we will need to have built at least one massive international organization, with national and local chapters, including millions of participating members, and that has clear vision, broad program and strategy, and that is heavily and tirelessly engaged in winning gains now and developing consciousness, commitment, and organization conceived to win more gains tomorrow, and ultimately, to win a new world.

Do you agree that to do that is, if not the most important task we face, at least a very important one?

If you do agree about that, do you see some better approach to building such an organization than the IOPS project? And are you trying to aid that other approach?

If not, doesn’t that imply that even if you are far from sure IOPS will succeed, you ought to lend a hand to IOPS?

Again, you can see the IOPS site, anytime, to judge all these matters for yourself.



  1. Jonathan N November 21, 2014 4:36 pm 

    I think IOPS has not moved forward where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, because there is no on the ground organizing project. The proposal for IOPS came from intellectual forces and IOPS has been pushed almost exclusively as a concept. That’s just not enough, in my opinion.

    Radical organizations need to grow out of mass struggles.

    IOPS could grow in the Bay Area if it was associated with leading an on the ground organizing campaign that united folks. However, if IOPS has yet to be founded, how can it decide on an organizing campaign?

    This is a chicken and egg kind of problem.

    It could be possible for locals to begin organizing campaigns around issues that they think could attract activists in their area. The problem with this is that there wouldn’t be a central unifying campaign. Also, IOPS locals are few and weak.

    Perhaps an IOPS organizing committee can be set up to review and decide on an organizing campaign that IOPS can be associated with to build an on the ground reputation for the organization?

    I’ve had two possible ideas. One is building a series of local/regional conferences in which leading anti-capitalist activists and organizations, representatives of progressive mass movements, and intellectuals are invited, with the goal to deepen solidarity and collective action.

    Another idea is a participatory democracy project in which activists could push a plan for how local governments can implement more participatory forms of budgeting and policy making. This could eventually grow to include organizing plans for state and federal participatory democracy reforms.

    These are just two examples of ideas for organizing campaigns that could establish an identity of IOPS.

    I wish I could offer more of an answer as to why IOPS isn’t moving forward better.

  2. avatar
    Ed Lytwak July 14, 2014 3:24 pm 

    I am one of those people who signed up with IOPS in the beginning and also one who has done very little to move the project forward – other than respond to several polls. I can only speak for myself, but here is why. First, it was not skepticism nor defeatism that has been the primary reason I have not been more involved. And, yes I do generally agree with and support the commitments. My support is like with so many other very worthy activists projects – broad and shallow.

    My main reason for not being more involved is that I’m like most people – extraordinarily busy with living day to day and attending to the local my work and my family. I try to be informed and in the loop with as much of what is going on as I can. Bottom line however, is that there are a great deal of demands on my time and attention and I must carefully choose where I put my time and energies. I have been involved in resistance to the machine since my days in college – the late 60s and like to think that when the time for revolution comes, I will be prepared and will make commitments and participate in actions that I feel are worthwhile. I would very much like to see IOPS succeed, in as much as true self-governance is an issue dear to my heart. But, in its present amorphous state of being, IOPS is just too diffuse to warrant significant amounts of time – there are just too many other squeaky wheels that need grease.

    I would add that IOPS, is in some ways a microcosm of left activism. Activists tend to believe – even if subconsciously – that most people see the world like them and roughly think like them. Through education and consciousness raising most people can be mobilized to be active. Sadly, I don’t see it that way anymore (I’ve been an activist for most of my adult life). Activists are relatively unique people and activism a relatively exceptional approach to life. Most people’s political involvement and commitment to change is broad and shallow. To expect that a lot of people would become involved in IOPS is a prescription for disappointment. Something that is very much evident in this article.
    IOPS’s biggest mistake is believing that most people are or can be mobilized to activism and participation in self-governance. Most people do not want to be self-governing and are quite content to vote every few years for “representatives” who will then govern over and for them. This is not human nature but the way people are socialized, educated and practically function in society. It is part of the hierarchical structure of society. They want to make decisions on the little stuff of everyday life, but want others to take care of the big stuff. They may not like their lives but the devil they know is preferable to one they don’t.

    I wish that it were different and hopefully through IOPS and other horizontal initiatives things may eventually change. I also hope that we are nearing a tipping point and that transformational change will come sooner rather than later. For me, my mantra for revolution comes from the two lions in front of the NYC Library – patience and fortitude.

  3. Calisto Glen July 11, 2014 10:53 pm 

    I’m thinking of helping, but I’m first analyzing IOPS’ internal dysfunctions, if any. (Virtually any group has dysfunctions.) These are some tentative observations (which might lead to me asking questions and ultimately taking action):

    * Safety problems. Many activists don’t want to publicly identify their city. And the suggestion that you can use a fake last name… not all of us have first names like “Michael”. Plus, the moment you start releasing case studies about your workplace actions, you get paranoid that you can be traced and get fired. (Those case studies and in-depth discussions are important, for ideas on how to apply vision. Often, honestly depends on privacy.)

    * Not enough influence by traditions other than ParSoc. For example, the “discussions” look like a lot of white men mansplaining to everyone. Would this occur if there were a stronger intersectional feminist influence? One problem with ParSoc is relatively overdeveloped econ. Econ is a subject dominated by white male brocialists/manarchists even among the left. I realize that IOPS may have some mechanisms to counter this, but the dynamics are still there.

    * Not enough case-studies and links to other groups.

    * Big ambitions which make little victories look paltry.

    * Possible bias against online activism, which shows up in the upfront requirement to state your region. Online forms of activism are good training grounds for those who don’t yet feel comfortable in in-person situations.

    I hope people find me constructive and self-questioning. I often work with people to bring out their thoughts, and hope I’ll be given the same treatment. But I do feel a probability that this message will get a rather aggressive response, telling me how I’m wrong and whatnot. If that happens, I will consider that another warning flag.

  4. avatar
    Francis Yellow July 11, 2014 5:58 pm 

    Hau mitakuyepi, Greetings my Relatives,
    I have an affinity for participatory economics although my particular circumstances demand everything I’ve got, with little to spare. What I see from the non-western perspective of my ancestors’ Lifeway is that maybe you’ve enlisted the choir and they already give all they can. Another thing is that although you say you’re horizontally organized you use the wording, “bottom up” giving me the impression that there are vestiges of hierarchy to be addressed. The anthropocentric omission of speciesism is another such example. Granted you have included the environment as an issue to be adddressed but one word to represent Mother Earth and All the Life/Peoples that make an environment.
    My ancestor’s Lifeways are simply ways of kinship. My Elders called them everyday ways of Peace. I admire parecon for the humanity of its approach, Now, about the kinship human beings have with All Life, we see that human beings are the most dependent of All Life’s creatures and that we have much to learn from our non-human kindred. As it is, my People, as one of thousands of Original Peoples are undergoing wars of genocide which demand our utmost. We wish you well.

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