How dare they? They dare and as if undisturbed they go on. Who are they? They are certain elites who shamelessly transgress each political, moral social and economical rule in order to make profit. For some it’s pure about profit, others do it to gain power. Because they get a kick out of it. Briefly speaking: it’s a game. A game they like to play and the fact that they create victims doesn’t concern them at all. Their profits are growing, worldwide, despite the crisis.
It is crisis for the common man, not for these elites. They played a crucial role in the most recent crises of capitalism. Crises which Karl Marx has predicted as being inherent to capitalism in itself.
Has capitalism reached its end? Is it a case of neo-liberalism dying, as we hear stating here and there? I don’t think so.
It is striking how little capitalism is been taken seriously, or rather: how low the threat that it means to society has been estimated. It shouldn’t be that way, because when we take a look at history, there hasn’t been any system that dynamic. It is thanks to this dynamic that capitalism could save and maintain itself.
Does that mean that there is nothing we can do against it? That we should not think of and work towards alternatives? This is the question today in this debate: what do we do now?
Action is needed.
Well, to me it’s obvious: we need to get into action.
– Because more and more people end up in poverty and become excluded from society; the inequality has never been greater and this inequality keeps getting larger.
– Because the new proletariat is growing daily. Cities fill up with people searching for a better life, people who eventually end up in marginality.
– Because more and more newcomers, refugees don’t know anymore where to find the means to build a life and end up in that same marginality.
– Because almost half of the global population has to survive with less than three dollars a day, while the elite often doesn’t know how to spend their millions of dollars. Like the king of Spain who goes out hunting elephants while his people perish.
Today we have plenty of reasons to be outraged. We have plenty of reasons to stand up and resist and to engage the battle against the current neoliberal capitalistic system.
Things are moving all over the world. But because of the size of the crisis today and because of the even worse prognoses, a lot more should be happening.
The actions of the Indignados, the Occupy-movements, the miners and even the retirees in Spain, Greece, US, Chile, Canada are admirable. But they are not easy to organize and they remain limited to certain groups, isolated from the rest of the population. A broad movement is lacking. On top of that the international cooperation is merely zero, despite the modern means of communication- and transportation.
Better organization and more international cooperation would make the actions more visible and much more effective.
The struggle of the students in Canada and Chile, the battle of the miners in Spain, the strikes and the different alternative systems in Spain and Greece are the positive examples.
But I also see all kinds of actions which I not always can and want to support. Actions that I welcome as far as they add to the raising of the awareness of people, but that at the same time leave me with mixed feelings. I am not going into detail on this now, but who was here last year could listen to the introduction by Dominique Willaert (a lecture that you can also read at dewereldmorgen.be) with the central question: “Is social battle degraded to a festive event agency?” I largely agree with his analysis. The difference lays in the commitment. I see commitment as something positive. More on this further in my argumentation.
About one thing we agree: action is needed. Action for the sake of action, I don’t believe is a good idea. Each action has to bring across a clear and unambiguous message to be effective.
Information precedes action
That’s why I think that we have to inform people about what’s going on. That’s why I am happy with books like the one written by Peter Mertens, a book about the crisis of society, which found its way to the charts between the cookbooks of VTM- and other chefs.
We have to bring across critical information about what’s going wrong and why, through as many channels as possible.
This is a multiple challenge.
First of all we have to formulate a sound analysis and find the channels to inform people about our analysis.
A second challenge is to formulate the criticism. Constructive criticism. We have to search for alternatives and if we find that they don’t exist, we have to invent them and make them possible. Not an easy task but merely one we can no longer ignore if we wish the people to get along with our story.
Here is where I see a role to play for the intellectual elite, for the activists, for people who commit themselves on different levels or who are on the battle, in theory or in practice.
‘Intellectual’ is not a dirty word for me. Social change in my opinion is impossible without the engagement of intellectuals.
Summarized: informing people and at the same time working towards a constructive alternative, I believe to be essential to awake peoples awareness and to change. If there is no individual and collective awareness we are standing at the edge of nowhere.
To inform and to make people aware is leading to politicization. Almost everything is about politics while we live in times where the practitioners of politics have been silenced by the economic, financial and other power elites. And the individual person has come to believe that politics has no meaning at all. Our society is a depoliticized society. If we want to fight for more social justice, for more equality, for more global solidarity and for globalization of human rights, than we must politicize the people.
Who underestimates the importance of politicization in my opinion is not doing the right thing. The state is depoliticized and mainly busy with daily management, not with policy. Politicians discuss about minor matters concerning daily life like smoking or not smoking, how we have to eat, our psychosocial well being, and so on.
Also the civil society organizations are nearly fully depoliticized. As well as the people. An example: when my students were asked who they have voted for in the last elections almost 60% replied they voted for Bart De Wever. To the question why, nobody came in their answer further than ‘he is quiet funny’, ‘he is a lot on TV’ and ‘he is the smartest man in the world’. The latter referring to a popular TV quiz he once won.
Participation, empowerment and organization
As I have said before, there are many forms of action, but I still wait for actions for and by those who need them the most: the socially excluded. Those who are exploited, who live in poverty. The billions of people who have to give it a shot for less than two dollars a day. The precariat, the new proletariat (call it as you wish), that isn’t considered to be part of the system; while the system is responsible for the conditions these people live in.
I believe that this is what our focus should be at. Like Marx in his time focused on the working class. The new proletariat is a class that has not much to lose and can move into action and fight. But a lot of work and energy needs to be invested in them, for they are not informed, not aware and not organized. Again: here is a role to play for the intellectuals to co-operate with these people and to inform them in order for them to become aware why they are in this situation and to search together which concrete actions they can take in the battle against the system that suppresses them.
That battle must be organized. If you stand up against the most dynamic system humanity has ever known, then you will have to be organized if you want to have a chance. That’s why I have a hard time with all kinds of actions ranging from Indignados, Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring. There is spontaneity needed because without spontaneity probably not much would have happened, but equally important, and I believe even more important is organization. I believe that today, the concept ‘organized spontaneity’ as Herbert Marcuse called it, can be extremely interesting and meaningful in the battle against capitalism. This is the most important thing that needs to be happening today.
Outrage and resistance
In the mean time we must try to make a difference where we can. Battle, dedication, commitment… call it as you please. I have been asked to say something about ‘How do we get from analysis to outrage and from outrage to concrete resistance?’ That’s a very interesting question which I want to answer using examples from a topic that I know well: asylum and migration.
There are little topics that are so frequently discussed in media and amongst the people. At the same time this subject is very underestimated by all political parties in this country. In their study services you can count the people who call themselves ‘experts’ on the fingers of one hand. It is a topic that especially N-VA gladly has used to recruit more votes, by constantly showing up with it in the media while no one really knew how to rebut.
I want to briefly talk about the last two major actions in which I have participated as an activist.
The first action is the hunger strike at the VUB. Very few people were outraged by their situation and how these people in our country are treated as scum. I did see a lot of outrage about the fact that they went on hunger strike. ‘Blackmail’, ‘this is not done’, ‘senseless’, was what was shouted in chorus, from Etienne Vermeersch up to and including Tom Naegels.
Together with a group of students, a priest and a doctor we have assisted those hunger strikers. To leave them to their fate was no option for us. On a daily basis we were confronted with the fact that they were mutilating themselves physically and psychologically, but it was their choice, a choice made out of desperation.
It wasn’t easy for people to engage. And why not? The way people think about hunger strikers has to do with what they read in the media. Once they have made up their opinion, you must not try to engage people to participate in actions; first you need to convince them that there is no question of blackmail.
Many activists, I call them ‘the usual suspects’ were worn-out from other actions that had yielded little to nothing, or that had demanded a high price because of standing almost alone.
But what struck me the most was the absence of civil society organizations. Many organizations receive funds (from Flanders, Belgium, Europe) or donations to work with refugees. These organizations stayed absent.
Equally absent were the political parties. Every now and then some political parties sent someone ‘to be seen’, but they never arrived at taking a stand, at taking positions and stepping up stage with it, there where it really would count. Freya Piryns of the Green Party! signed an opinion piece I had written. However when interviewed on television in ‘Terzake’ (To the Point), she put it differently.
Mine and some other peoples’ attempts to get the civil society organizations involved have failed. They refused to answer and had no intention of taking a stand that would be unpopular to the public opinion.
The second action, in which I was involved, is the one against the expulsion of a young Afghan, Parwais, who once again puts a face on the inhuman and unjust asylum policy of this country.
This case was a little different to the one of the hunger strikers. As this one was about a well – integrated boy who was even employed here, there were many more people who were outraged. And they mainly show(ed) it on Facebook. But as soon as actions are undertaken outside the social media, one already loses a large part of the sympathizers.
And then, when you do come together with a group of people, there is the question what action could be undertaken. How can you convert this outrage into action? Not an easy task, because everybody has his/her idea about it and that’s what the dialogue is meant to be for. But to bring the actions into realization as a citizen you need resources and people and those are still lacking because once again the political parties and the civil society organizations fail to show. Although it must be said that in the case of Parwais they were much more present.
Without the contribution of large and small organizations, of political parties and of the civil society organizations, not much will change. That’s why I believe that we need to focus not only on (individual) citizens but also on civil society organizations to change things. Especially when we want to change things in the short run they are very much needed.
There is an urgent need to change and it’s to these political parties and to these organizations to have this debate internally as well as externally. It is necessary that they come up with an alternative, a different discourse, to better inform the civilians that are willing to engage in the battle and to offer them support in their engagement.
The fragmentation of the organizations, the movements and the people who show up, is incredible and shows how important it is for us to work together, to get ourselves organize.
Thanks to Parwais and a number of other stories that surface there is outrage amongst a lot of people. We need to make use of their indignation! Now is the time to convert this outrage in constructive engagement. Time for a constructive contribution to our own society, because stories like that of Parwais show us that we as a society are deteriorating. Today it’s the unknown ‘other’ who must endure the injustice. Tomorrow it is someone from our own circle, or you or me.
What can we do, all of us together? What can I do against this injustice that is happening in my name? How can we take action?
I think that we as citizens can be of great meaning. The very fact that we do things together in solidarity and that we fight for justice is hopeful in itself.
I myself am busy writing, making documentaries and other forms of activism. I never would be able to do what I am doing without the unconditional help of dozens of people around me, people who re-read my articles over and again, who make corrections, translate, spread the word, and provide me with ideas and feedback.
For the sans-papiers (people without papers) dozens of people came to the demonstrations. I know many students who missed part of their exams because they refused to accept the injustice they saw happening in front of their eyes.
All those citizens who want change need support to organize themselves (i.e. on the subject of asylum and migration). There lies the importance of the support by all kinds of civil society organizations. They must take a stand and step up. May they do as they are expected to: question the politics in a critical way and not dance to the tune of the policymakers?
We need those organizations, because they have the knowledge, contacts, expertise, structures, materials and resources that are needed to organize actions and to let them succeed. They have proved this in the past. Today they are needed as much as then. The forces must be united. In a constructive engagement for justice and humanity. Together you stand stronger.
Bleri Lleshi is a political philosopher, documentary maker and activist. Currently he is working on a PhD on the struggle of the excluded and he is also writing a book titled ‘The neo-liberal penal state’, which will be published this autumn.
Translation from Dutch to English by Loesja Klimczak