When the gods dance...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Conciatori eviction: crackdown on the commons continues

Conciatori eviction: crackdown on the commons continues

Posted: 19 Jan 2012 03:38 PM PST

The eviction of the oldest social center in Florence this morning is yet another instance of a worldwide crackdown on public space and civil liberties.

By Frank O’Connor, Markos Vogiatzoglou and Donagh Davis

This morning, Florence witnessed the most recent instance of the international clampdown on public space and civil liberties. The city’s oldest and historically most important social center, Progetto Conciatori, in the heart of the Santa Croce neighborhood, was forcibly evicted by the Italian police.

The expulsion brought to a close thirty-two years of cultural, social and political activities that had rendered Progetto Conciatori a beacon of autonomous civic organisation and direct democracy, and a fount of cultural innovation. It offered legal services to immigrants, and provided crèche facilities and a variety of courses ranging from multimedia skills to yoga to the local community.

This is a concrete result of the wider rubric that strives to delegitimize the concept of public space and its collective deployment for the common good. This development prioritizes the commercial over the civic, and under its aegis, all that is not conceived of in monetary terms of profit and loss is condemned as a historic anomaly inhibiting the inexorable drive to further “progress”.

It has taken an ominously concrete form in the clampdown on the Occupy Movement across the United States — a clampdown that has quashed the dissenting voices emerging from these shared, public, ‘Occupied’ spaces, through intimidation, sometimes brutal violence, and mass arrests.

Here in Europe, things have taken an analogous turn in a slightly more nuanced fashion, combining the deployment of police repression with judicial amendments that criminalize any attempt to defend the concept of public space. In the United Kingdom, the right to protest has been undermined by draconian policing tactics like the practise of “kettling”, as well as by recourse to traditional tools such batoning defenceless demonstrators.

However, Britain’s long and shameful past of police excesses has recently enjoyed ever-increasing judicial backing, as evidenced in the recent High Court ruling that the Occupy London encampment be evicted at the behest of the City of London. The notion of public space was further weakened by the Court’s decision to criminalise squatting, thus prioritizing property rights over the basic right to housing.

This tendency to dismiss the collective good for the purported necessity of facilitating corporate capitalism is clear in the attempt to promote the PIPA and SOPA legislation in the USA. Once again, access to public space, this time a digital one, is at stake, and one should not wonder why thousands of websites went offline on January 18th in protest. The first major “digital strike” is definitely a step forward, yet many things remain to be done in order to reverse this co-ordinated attack the global elites and their local lackeys are orchestrating.

Focusing back to the local level, the events of this morning are a regrettable further step in the realization of Mayor Renzi’s vision of Florence as “la citta delle vetrine, della moda e dello shopping” — the show case city of fashion and shopping in Italy. His fantasy Florence could well become the superficial wonderland of luxury shops and glittering window displays that he envisages, but it is already well on its way to becoming the city where housing rights are denied, where unsightly immigrants and the poor are pushed to the urban periphery, far from the sight of the tourist hordes and from the socio-cultural wasteland of stylised consumption.

The Progetto Conciatori was the last bastion of resistance to this homogenization of culture and the marginalization of dissenting voices in the city center. Although this incident could be dismissed as minor in the scale of the wider political tumult across the globe, it is these small battles that must be fought in order to preserve the spaces where alternative visions of the world can be formulated.

The authors are members of the Collettivo Prezzemolo and researchers at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

2011-’12: from austerity to the alternative

Posted: 19 Jan 2012 12:24 PM PST

As the world burns and millions struggle to avert a precarious existence at the margins of society, now is the time to unleash the power of the imagination.

A little over a year ago, when ROAR was still a measly WordPress blog, we published a piece entitled 2010-’11: From Austerity to Collapse? In it, we argued that the ‘age of austerity’ had brought class politics back to the fore and we predicted that 2011 would be riddled with protests, violence and deepening economic trouble. But while anyone could have written that, no one would have predicted the severity of the global backlash we experienced last year.

It was largely thanks to this backlash that ROAR was able to grow as rapidly as it did. Ever since we launched the new website back in April 2011 (with massive thanks to Bojan Opacak of NinjaComm for the web design), the constant flow of breaking news from every corner of the globe virtually turned us into a full-time news desk reporting on the crisis of global capitalism and the revolutionary wave emerging out of it. It was great fun. It was also extremely exhausting.

The Global Movement Evolves

For that reason, we took a month-long break over the holidays to sit back and truly reflect on the revolution, without getting caught up in the constant stream of information slushing back and forth with complete disregard for the human need for sleep. Over these weeks, we decided upon a switch in revolutionary tactics to match the evolution of our movement, as Carlos Delclós and Raimundo Viejo recently put it, from a “protest” into a “new social climate”.

The first phase of the movement has now been successfully concluded. We have changed the terms of the public debate. We have drastically shaken the cultural hegemony of neoliberalism and the depoliticized logic of the markets. In the process, we have rattled the iron cage of liberty to which we still find ourselves shackled. Now the second phase begins: how do we move from this disastrous state of affairs to a better future? And what is the alternative in the first place?

Most of our work in 2011 was aimed at covering the world revolution, as well as providing a critical analytical framework within which to contextualize our movement. In 2012, however, we will be widening our gaze and looking forward. Our main preoccupation will be with what Pierre Laernoes just called the provision of clear content and structured solutions. In short, we want to engage in a public debate on how to lift ourselves out of this mess.

Restructuring Global Finance

One theme we expect to become increasingly important in coming months, as the global financial crisis deepens, is the transformation of the financial sector. The status quo, with recklessly over-leveraged and over-exposed mega-banks — all considered “too big to fail” — is clearly unsustainable. Over the course of 2012 we predict a number of high-profile bank nationalizations, providing unrivaled opportunities for a revolution in the global financial system.

We have long promoted the idea of nationalizing the largest and most powerful banks — not with the goal of running them publicly at the expense of the taxpayer, but rather with the goal of restructuring them into much smaller, cooperatively-owned credit unions. Not only are such credit unions much more financially responsible, they are also much less likely to corrupt the democratic process in a way that the large Wall Street and City banks currently do.

Imagining Direct Democracy

Another major theme will be how to respond to the the continued erosion of democratic legitimacy. As governments around the world continue to impose severe austerity in order to serve their corporate overlords in the financial sector, they will gradually see popular trust in ‘representative’ institutions evaporate. This will push more and more people towards the fringes of the political spectrum — either the anti-capitalist Left, or the xenophobic far-right.

Our struggles in 2012 will therefore play out at multiple levels: on the one hand, we will be fighting the power of the financial sector and the corruption of our political representatives, while on the other hand we will have to stave off the risk of a fascist backlash and even the threat posed by the ascendancy of false prophets on the Left — something we are currently experiencing with the rise of the authoritarian proto-Stalinists of the KKE in Greece.

This is why we will be paying significant attention to what a genuinely radical alternative to liberal democracy would look like. We will continue to explore the possibilities of direct/participatory democracy, not only in our writings but also through a major social experiment we spearheaded with Take The Square back in November: The Global Square, a digital platform for direct global democracy, which is currently being developed by the Occupy movement in the US.

The Future of Europe

A third theme for the coming year will be the future of Europe. With the European Dream turning into a European Nightmare, fundamental questions arise about the fate of the continent and its single currency. Can the euro survive — and should it? Can the European Union survive — and should it? Can we imagine another Europe, beyond both the provincialism of the nation state and the rootless cosmopolitanism of a federal United States of Europe?

These are crucial questions that go to the core not only of Europe’s future, but of the future of the world. After all, the failure of neoliberalism in Europe is merely the echo of the disasters of the Washington Consensus in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, while the cosmopolitan trauma induced by the euro crisis will have profound consequences for the future of transnationalism and global governance in general.

Revolutionary Strategies

A fourth theme for 2012 will center on revolutionary strategies. While the previous three themes each deal with a long-term future we wish to reach, we also need to ask ourselves how to get there. Drawing on a wide variety of revolutionary thought — fromAntonio Gramsci to John Holloway — we will set ourselves the task of being confidently and constructively critical of our own movement, in full knowledge that the main challenges are still ahead of us.

One of the most exciting questions in this respect is how to use the creativity of decentralized and horizontally-networked communities to overturn the power of highly centralized and hierarchically-structured finance capital. Also, what is our relationship to the state and democratic elections? What about our linkages with other social movements and civil society in general? What is our stance on the (il)legitimate use of force in revolutionary struggles?

The Human Story

Finally, the last major theme we will be exploring centers on the human level. We want to pay more attention to the impacts of the global crisis on the lives of individuals and communities, and the myriad ways in which people respond to these challenges by transforming their identities, their consciousness, their culture, their political orientation and their strategies for survival and social change. We strongly encourage new contributions on all of these issues.

The last theme is particularly exciting because it brings together the threads of activism, art, culture, music, journalism, civic engagement and social organization that we’ve been trying so hard to weave together in the past months. It also forces us to bring the more theoretical themes of direct democracy, cooperative ownership and revolutionary strategies back to the real world level of the individual and communal lifeworld.

Unleashing the Power of the Imagination

At ROAR, we do not pretend to have any perfect alternatives or ready-made solutions to the crisis of capitalism. Indeed, we do not lay claim to any form of “expertise”. We believe that, ultimately, choices affecting humanity will have to be made collectively. So as we prepare for an exciting new year of rebellion and reflection, we would like to engage all of you in a public conversation on how to move forward and how to rise to the challenge of our times.

For thirty years, they told us there was no alternative — that the world was flat and a rising tide would lift all boats. But the rising tide was a deluge of debt, and the lifeboats have long since given way to the cold diktat of the markets. With millions struggling to avert a precarious existence at the margins of our emerging global village, the scream for an alternative becomes ever louder. As Slavoj Žižek recently put it, “the field is open.”

Now, more than ever, is the time to unleash the power of the imagination. As the great Nobel Prize-winning socialist Albert Einstein put it, “In moments of crisis, only imagination is more important than knowledge.”

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