The Abduction of Europe 1: why Europe?

This is the first of a series of blog posts we have prepared following our recent participation in the Abduction of Europe event which took place in Madrid. Here we contextualise the event politically, while future posts will look at some of the themes and movements which formed part of the event.

The Abduction of Europe was organised by the Fundacion de los Comunes, a kind of umbrella organisation encompassing projects such as Traficantes de Suenos, la Universidad Nomada, Observatorio Metrpolitano (Madrid and Barcelona) and Movement for Democracy. It was supported by the Reina Sofia museum for contemporary art. Some videos from the event are available here and we will post more asap.

The main objective of the encounter was to advance the European dimension of contemporary social movements in response to the prevailing political and economic context. Like others who attended the event, we share the organiser’s urgency in relation to the importance of constructing a pan-European social and political movement capable of transforming the agenda of debt and austerity and of challenging the hollowing out of democratic and public institutions. Europe is today the centre of capitalist command, the primary scale at which the crisis is being governed, in political and economic terms, in order to shore up the accumulation of capital and economic power by the European elite and the financial system.

But the importance of Europe emerges not just from an analysis of political economy, but also by reflecting on the current obstacles facing social movements and the left across our continent. The Spanish case is perhaps most illustrative. Along with Greece, Spain has undoubtedly witnessed the strongest cycle of mobilisations in recent years, following the explosion of what is referred to as the 15-M movement. This movement, which in many respects resembles both the ‘Arab Spring’ and Occupy, represented an extraordinary rupture with existing oppositional political practices on every level. In particular, the strongly identitarian ideological formations which had dominated radical politics (be they anarchist, socialist or autonomist) found themselves challenged by a new form of collective organisation and of thinking and practicing politics. In particular, the 15-M movement made visible and public the increasing gulf between the political institutions (elections, representation, the political party system etc.) and the people, especially the youth. The movement has played a strong delegitimizing role (what in Spain they call the ‘destituent process’), thus opening the ground for alternatives. On the other hand, the movement produced new forms of democratic practice, via direct democratic assemblies, the generation of an online peer-to-peer public sphere, and experiments with various forms of organising such as ‘distributed democracy’. The 15-M movement also galvanised some existing struggles, such as the anti-eviction movement, and played a role as a kind of incubator for the wave of struggles in defence of public service (e.g. the Marea Blanca). It is difficult to express how significant the movement has been as a ‘game-changer’ in both oppositional and mainstream politics.

And yet, the movement has had only moderate successes with regard to its core objectives: reform/transformation of the political process and, most especially, overthrowing Troika rule, austerity and debt. Although a significant number of evictions have been resisted, many vacant housing units held by banks re-purposed as occupied social housing, and the privatization of a number of hospitals in Madrid has been paralyzed, the wider sense within the movement is that the production of strong ‘movement institutions’ outside of the state and the obtaining of widespread public legitimacy and participation have not been sufficient.

Debates and discussions within the movement have focused on two key avenues for overcoming this cul-de-sac. First of all, the question of public institutions (i.e. of the state) has been reconsidered. Most tangibly, there is a widespread recognition that the movement needs to fight and to transform the institutions of the state in addition to producing movement institutions. The two main approaches in this regard are the notion of a ‘constituent’ or constitutional process (an approach favoured by Movement for Democracy), on the one hand, and the creation of new forms of political parties (with Partido X being the most important experiment) on the other.

Second of all, there is growing concern with the limitations imposed by the national scale. The role of the European institutions in the implementation of neoliberalism and financialization (via the structure of the ECB and the fiscal discipline enshrined by various Treaties) has become increasingly clear and, at the same time, the Troika’s government of the peripheral European countries, in the complete absence of any democratic mandate, have made clear that the European institutions are the central mechanisms of capitalist command in Europe and, hence, in the imposition of austerity and ‘debtocracy’. On the other hand, the national geography of the crisis has been used by the European establishment to govern the crisis. This has happened by forcing a number of smaller and less economically powerful countries to pay for the consequences of financialization. It has also happened, crucially, by limiting any possible alternative within each nation. For example, the immediate response to any proposal for change in Ireland is ‘the money isn’t there’, a response which undermines the possibility of alternatives by naturalising the deficit control mechanisms and the structure of government borrowing in Europe which are in fact the key reasons why ‘the money isn’t there’. In Greece this dynamic has played out all the more starkly: impose austerity or leave the EU. The strategy of ‘nationalising crisis’ has marginalized a left already beset by difficulties. In particular, it has made it very difficult for left wing parties and alliances oriented towards national elections to articulate a clear alternative, due to the fact that national policy choices are severely limited by the European structures around sovereign debt and fiscal discipline, the single currency and the real economic integration of member states.

Here, the importance of building a pan-European movement emerges as a key political task. Crucially, however, we have to reflect here on the relationship between the movements and the European institutions in attempting to carry out this task., and thus return to some of the debates around the state discussed above. The experiences of Spain’s 15-M movement, and to some extent the longer experience of grassroots anti-capitalist movements, tell us that it will not be enough to create movements in Europe which have their own organisational and institutional forms outside of the mainstream. It will not be enough for us to ‘do our thing’, but now up-sized to a European level. On the other hand, a European movement with the capacity and the power to bring about change is not going to emerge because activists decide it should. What is called for is nothing short of the production of a European political subject. This begs the question, how do political subjects get produced? Here we would venture that the production of a European political subject requires that we orient ourselves towards the European institutions, because it is against the existing state of affairs that political subjects take shape. Through the concrete steps of developing collective analysis of the EU, of building pan-European campaigns with clear objectives with regard to democratising the European institutions, or of intervening in the European elections, we may begin to assemble the kind of collective political subject which has the capacity to break neoliberal hegemony in Europe.

Although the ideas sketched out here are our own, they have been developed via conversations with some of the organisers of the Abduction of Europe and to some extent formed part of the backdrop to the discussions which took place there. The question of whether or not Europe is the necessary political scale and, if it is, of how to move forward was crucial in the workshops and also in the public interventions (especially those of Sandro Mezzadra and Toni Negri).

In subsequent posts on this issue, we will discuss these issues in more detail and describe some of the movements we met with there.

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3 comments

  1. […] read details of the event and some thoughts on the importance of Europe for social movements in our first post. The event was organised around four working groups, each one looking at a different dimension of […]

  2. […] power across Europe and all of them have implemented austerity programs. As we identified in the first post, this regime of financial austerity is imposed through the institutions of the European Union. […]

  3. […] attended in Madrid a couple of weeks ago. In the first three posts we addressed some of the more general themes and questions raised by the organizers and in the workshops on Europe, financialization and […]

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