Next Steps For PPS-UK
By Mark Evans at Jul 10, 2008
Behind the scenes the IT team at PPS-UK has also been busy redesigning our web site. The purpose of which is, in their words to "create an improved organisation of the content and layout of the site, to make an accessible welcome page and section for visitors new to participatory vision, and to enhance communication between existing members and facilitate more involvement and participation".
There has also been important solidarity work with other organisations, most notably with ZCom, but also with other PPS organisations that are springing up all over the world. Whilst I hope that this work continues and more people engage in such activities I would like to highlight some proposals that myself and others have been discussing and that I feel represent the next steps in the further development and growth of PPS-UK. But before doing this I would like to highlight what seems to me to be a crucial lesson from history that should very strongly inform our methods of building a movement.
It is common amongst leftwing revolutionaries to talk of "spontaneous uprisings by the masses". For example, Lindsey German of the British Socialist Workers Party writes in her pamphlet on "why we need a revolutionary party" that "History has shown, time and again, that workers rise up spontaneously ... " She also states that " workers' need a coherent theory and organisation in order to chart their way from their initial uprising to being able to run their own workers' state ... " but that this is something workers are incapable of doing themselves because "the ideas held by workers - their level of class consciousness - are uneven ..." Therefore "The task of the revolutionary party is to provide that theory and organisation." Now this notion of revolutions as "spontaneous" is crucial for those who need to justify their role as authoritarian leaders. But as Robin Hahnel points out in his study of Libertarian socialist in the run up to the Russian and Spanish Revolutions -
"The rural "soviets" that later formed the spearhead for revolution and land reform in Russian were not the creation of Mensheviks or Bolsheviks - who were virtually unknown in the Russian countryside prior to 1917 - but the fruits of decades of organising by different groups of rural Russian libertarian socialists. Nor did the rural soviets spontaneously appear from the untutored consciousness of the exploited peasant "masses" without organisational precedent. Rural soviets only appeared suddenly and acted decisively because the idea of radical land reform had been nurtured for decades in most Russian villages by Narodniki, anarchists, and cadre from the Left Social Revolutionary Party, and because village committees with battle-tested leadership already existed to form the backbone of the rural soviets."
"Far from presuming the masses would spontaneously organise their own self-rule, Spanish libertarian socialists devoted a great deal of time and energy to discussing exactly how the new society should be reorganised and how and by whom different kinds of decisions should be made."
"In other words, policies put into effect by agrarian collectives and socialised industries during the Spanish Revolution had been debated by tens of thousands of delegates in dozens of major congresses dating back over thirty years."
This is not to say that the Libertarian socialists got everything right. On the contrary, there were weaknesses in their program that are also addressed by Robin Hahnel in his book Economic Justice and Democracy and more generally with Michael Albert in their work on participatory economic vision and strategy. However these historical facts show that the notion of revolution as a spontaneous event is a myth. In reality both the Russian and Spanish revolutions were the end results of decades of organising by people whose names we will never know - a fact that undermines the role of authoritarian leaders. However these facts also strongly suggest the kind of roles played by libertarians in the lead-up to radical social transformation. As Bakunin suggested the role of the "vanguard" or "conscious minority" is to "enlighten rather than direct" the masses. It is in light of this historical lesson that the following suggestions are made.
Vision and Strategy Newsletter - (one per week)
One of the ways in which we can disseminate our ideas regarding our dissatisfaction with the present system (knowledge), our alternative proposals (vision) and our means of achieving the transformation (strategy) is through a newsletter. It may be a bit obvious but I think "Vision & Strategy" is a good name for a PPS-UK Newsletter. The content for the newsletter could be taken from the best and most appropriate articles available that particular week on ZNet. In kind we could carry an advert on our newsletter for ZCom highlighting the benefits of becoming a ZSustainer etc.
Vision and Strategy Discussion Groups - (one evening per month)
Another way of engaging with people, but this time face to face, could be by organising discussion groups within our own communities. These discussions could revolve around an issue on vision and strategy that the organisers think is of particular relevance and importance. The setting would be structured but informal so participants feel relaxed. If they are to be successful they would also need to be friendly where disagreements (even serious disagreements) could be clarified and discussed in a constructive manner. For example, organisers might choose a short article or chapter from a book which participants would need to read before attending. Organisers could then bullet point the main issues addressed in the article / chapter before asking participants for their thoughts on the subject. This would be a very good way of building knowledge and confidence in speaking in public on these topics. Alternatively organisers could show a DVD or invite someone to come and do a short talk on a relevant topic followed by questions and answers.
Sessions on Vision and Strategy - (5-7days Annually)
The first two suggestions above are relatively cheap and easy to organise compared to this final proposal. The newsletter and discussion group ideas are also targeted towards people whose level of commitment and involvement might be quite low - they may act as the first point of contact for many people. However, as people become more interested in PPS-UK they will want to develop their understanding of participatory vision and strategy to a much higher level. Obviously one of the ways they could do this is by taking a course at the new ZSchool - which again we could promote via the newsletter and discussion groups. But despite this great innovation there is no substitute for face to face discussion. Like the discussion groups, Sessions on Vision and Strategy would be friendly and constructive, but would also be much more formal and in-depth. Invited speakers with good knowledge on a particular topic would be asked to give a talk, run a workshop, participate in a debate, after which attendees could ask questions and discuss amongst themselves the issues raised.
We should seek a venue that can cater for all of our needs in one location and a location that is conducive to free and creative thinking. All food and accommodation would be covered as part of the package.
As already suggested such an event would not be cheap to organise. I estimate that to organise an event like this, and to do it well, would cost somewhere in the region of £10,000. At first this may seem like a lot of money, but if we all shared the cost it turns out to be only £100 each (based on 100 members) which is only about £2 per week each - that's less than a pint of lager! Failing this we could identify 10 committed people who would be willing to donate £1000 each. It is worth keeping in mind that, if successful, such an event could easily become self-financing which means that donors / sponsors could be paid back in full. It is also quite possible that such an event could easily generate a surplus of cash that could go into other projects like the production and promotion of DVDs of the sessions, etc. So for example, if we had 100 people attending - each paying £500 - that would generate £50,000 - that's a surplus of £40,000. Alternatively we could consider requesting sponsorship for the event from ZCom. I think that this would be a great advantage to us because Z has such a good reputation, therefore people would be more likely to attend. Once again, if successful, such an event could easily repay sponsors in full. Plus we could do additional solidarity work by giving reductions to ZSustainers - thus creating a financial incentive for attendees of the sessions to sign up as a sustainer.