By Chris Spannos
Introduction to a multi-part commentary series exploring our present situation, the process of social transformation, and the autonomous project for a participatory society.
Widespread skepticism about the foundation of society’s structure combined with social and material crises and an information revolution seem to have placed us in a unique historical moment. Fragmenting confidence in ruling relations and defining institutions are happening on a scale suggesting that we may be experiencing what Rosa Luxemburg described as the “passage of an historic period from one given form of society to another.”
The risk of not taking current fragmentations seriously would be to under-react to this potential tipping point and its likely consequence of accelerated barbarism. Exploring potentials, pregnant in our times, for organizing against current problems and for advocating and winning support for an alternative vision of a new society will be explored in the coming commentaries.
Our social agenda should be to build a base for serious long-term social struggle that would consequentially help build what I call an autonomous project for a participatory society—the self-conscious creation of social movements and institutions producing classlessness and self-managing outcomes. Sharing a broad outline for such a society will help us make the passage from today’s society to the new one.
Assessing our period entails measuring the current moment and our ability to self-consciously change it. There is lots of analysis and commentary shedding light on current problems but not enough proposing a way out from our present dire circumstance. With further economic and ecological crises on the horizon, it is surprising that there is not more urgency expressed for radical social change.
Society’s defining institutions are being reorganized by an overwhelmingly complex array of social and material forces. Decaying ecology and economy, mass disempowerment, warped reforms, technological change, elite rule and social rebellion, are just some of those forces that we can see. But there are many that we cannot. Making our assessment more difficult is that forces inherited from previous generations and struggles make it hard to know where yesterday’s aggravations end or today’s begin.
Almost four years after Obama’s presidential election euphoria over the first black U.S. president and hope for an end to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have soured into pessimism. Tea Party organization has mobilized resentment against “big government.” Gay marriage and repeal of the U.S. military’s homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy have been put on the national agenda. The long-term underfunding and privatization of health, education, and public resources, more aptly be described as disembowelment, is on track.
Public dissatisfaction with current social conditions runs deep and is just beneath the surface. Momentary eruptions occur in everyday life as well as in more visible instances. The massive 2006 immigration reform protests, the 2008 Chicago Republic Windows and Doors workers’ occupation, and this year’s occupation of the Wisconsin capitol building are prominent examples.
Ordinarily we should be concerned about the return to normality after these events. But something larger seems to be unfolding that marks our present moment. Elite proposals to “solve” most major social problems promise to bring more upheaval—more austerity to “solve” economic crisis, more expansive timeframes for withdrawal from war and occupation. More and more people are becoming fed up. Youth and elderly both have no future to look forward to.
International signs of mass social struggle and rebellion have sprung up-one-after-another for the past few years. Last week’s London riots have come following decades of police brutality and, more recently, massive anti-austerity organizing and activism in the UK and spanning the last year. Uprisings from Greece 2008 to today, WikiLeaks exposures of central nodes of governmental abuse and power, student uprisings, the so-called “Arab Spring,” the revolt of “Indignants” (and the Real Democracy movement), and global hacktivism by LulzSec and Anonymous—have become features of our present time.
All this unfolds on a fragile global ecology. The UN Security Council is discussing the ways in which climate change will eventually cause threats to international peace and security, as droughts and floods continue to devastate, islands disappear, and nations go to war over water resources.
Ruminations on our current situation are many and diverse. To focus on one recent event, some propose that the depth and scope of social change pursued by the “Arab Spring” and “Indignant” revolts parallel the 19th Century Paris Commune—where each struggle fought to shake off autocratic rule by using an anti-authoritarian practice to usher in new “democratic” ideals and institutions.
Others have argued that the “Arab Spring” is a struggle for Enlightenment era propositions of “creative capacity of human will, reason, and freedom.” But that these propositions can be located more broadly in a “global history” including “indigenous philosophical and social traditions.”
Such analyses suggest that the enigmatic and affecting “Arab Spring” did not consciously embrace radical objectives. But, the search for harnessing control of one’s capacity and will through a horizontal practice could, ultimately, have radical consequences and call for an autonomous project that could enable the move from one mode of society to another.
The shifting centrality of the U.S. and Europe in today’s global power relations is a significant part of this current social historic moment. One of the main results of this shift is that today’s conjoined financial crisis in both Europe and the U.S. have further weakened the West’s position of bargaining power over the globe relative to China and India. Additionally, Latin American has been moving steadily along its own development path and away from U.S. hegemony.
These changes have been unfolding for decades and provide interesting platforms for assessing more recent developments. Efforts at bottom-up regime change from within Mideast countries formerly friendly to the U.S., including Egypt and others, are now also rippling in and around Israel too and with demands for far reaching reforms addressing housing, income, and redistribution of wealth.
All of these events have multivariate causes. But none guarantee the forward progression of history towards a society that is self-consciously organized to produce classlessness, self-management, diversity and solidarity and encompassing the totality of societal life. To do so would be to embark on the path of self-conscious creation of a participatory society. Arriving at this possibility from within our current social historical moment and imagining what this may look like will be explored in this multi-part commentary series over the coming weeks.
Chris Spannos is founder and editor of The New Significance (TNS). TNS is a multi-media web magazine exploring revolutionary forces for change and autonomy in the 21st Century.