Europeans, One More Effort If You Want to Be Revolutionaries!

I wasn't in Europe at the time, so I didn't attend the DiEM25 launch. From afar, it sounded like a typical Volksbühne event (1). But I wasn't there, and so I forgot about it again. Reading about it now though, it all sounds a bit like a joke.

Lets start with the name. I have no idea what it stands for, and I didn't look it up. "D" and "E" could be Democracy and Europe, but what do I know. At least once, they're using the term as part of "carpe diem" (YOLO avant la lettre), which is, to put it mildly, a truism. What makes it look fraudulent is the bizarre capitaliztion. And what makes it look scary is the 25. I assume it refers to the year 2025 - and not to the 25th century, or the young generation. But I have no idea why (2). All I know is that for those whose ears are still ringing with Agenda 2010 or Stuttgart 21, this is one of the most annoying names they could have come up with.

Then I went to the website. It plays music without asking me. Not immediately, but once it's done loading wp-emoji and font-awesome and jQuery and ThemePunch Revolution and handlebars and flexslider and nanoscroller and prettySocial, followed by backbone and underscore and some more wordpress junk, music will begin to autoplay. Apparently Brian Eno made it. It's pretty bad though. The first actual content that loads says: "We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. [More info] [Accept]" I really don't know. I just don't think that this is a first impression that anyone would ever want to make.

But the website also has the manifesto. Long version or short version? Turns out the long version is too short and the short version is too long. I didn't bother to do a proper diff, but some of the changes, like the variations in what's bold and what's not, struck me as a little odd. Anyway. Both begin with a statement that I think is important to make. It says: "For all their concerns with global competitiveness, migration and terrorism, only one prospect truly terrifies the Powers of Europe: Democracy!" And both end with the same list of 19 aspirational mottos that many people will share, in spirit, but which, in writing, are really painful to digest. Somewhere in between, the terror promised in the opening must have gotten lost.

Lets be clear: I don't think this movement should be judged by what it writes, but by what it does. The problem however, at least up to now, is that a lot of what it does is write. Of course, collaborative writing can fail, and that doesn't always have to reflect badly on the character of the collaborators. Even though, admittedly, it usually does.

So. I'm done with "a historically-minded Europe that seeks a bright future without hiding from its past". If my adblocker was just a tiny bit better, it would have yelped at this. If my spam filter was just a tiny bit better, I would never hear from this movement again.

I'm also done with "recognising fences and borders". Europe doesn't need more of this. It's about abolishing them, plain and simple. Because they're not "signs of weakness and sources of insecurity" (3). They kill. And even though this is a hard sell, at a time when fences are being constructed all over Europe, there is no other option. Part of the program of the radical Left in Europe must be the abolishment of the Mediterranean Sea. That's at least one thing whose existence you cannot blame on weak or insecure border politics.

And I'm done with "a peaceful Europe de-escalating tensions in its neighbourhood and beyond". This is precisely, word by word, the mode of perception that Deleuze rightfully identified as the Right (4). And it wouldn't be complete without adding insult to injury. Among the many names that Europe has come up with for the plantations, mines, battlefields, dumping grounds, deserts, jungles, death camps and exotic beaches that lie outside its borders, "neighborhood" is the single most preposterous one. Because it suggests reciprocity. It's truly obscene (5), unlike "defending our freedom at the Hindu Kush" and such, since the latter at least doesn't make it sound as if anyone from out there or beyond was invited to defend their own freedom at the Harz in return (6).

But I'm getting carried away here. Initially, none of this was my concern. And as hinted at above, bad manifestos don't automatically make for bad politics. The thing that I thought sounded like a joke was in the March 17 "update", as posted on nettime:

Every initiative needs initiators - even initiatives that seek to embrace a flat management, spontaneous order, horizontal organisation way of doing 'stuff'. We were hoping to be able to move quickly from the initiation phase (during which a number of us would get DiEM25 together) to the open source phase (where the rest of you would take over and run with it). Unfortunately, our digital platform proved unequal to the task immediately after Berlin. So, we spent a great deal longer than we wanted at the initiation phase.
We are now close to the moment of the Great Transition (to the open source phase). To the moment when DiEM25 will be able to practise that which it preaches regarding transparency. But before we get there, perhaps it is pertinent to ask everyone: HOW DO YOU SUGGEST WE GO TO THE OPEN SOURCE PHASE? WHAT WOULD THIS PHASE BE LIKE IN TERMS OF ORGANISING DIEM25 PER LANGUAGE, PER EUROPEAN COUNTRY, AND EUROPE-WISE? Let's talk about this, shall we?

It's fine to use Open Source as a metaphor, but you have to know that it's always going to turn itself against you. It's always going to bite you in the end. So no, Open Source does not mean to practice what you preach - the preaching comes later, if at all. Open Source is not a phase, it's not something you transition to, something that begins once you've fixed your "digital platform", inshallah. Open Source is born open. There is no time "before we get there", so there's no time for questions. Open Source means to commit and to release. And then we're talking. And quite inevitably, we're going to be talking a lot about who can or cannot commit to master, who can or cannot close or reopen issues, etc. That's politics. But it's Open Source, so anyone is free to fork it. And who knows, maybe someone will (7). Of course, DiEM25 doesn't know that yet, other than maybe through a faint sense of the political possibility of internal fracture, which is a threat, or a risk, or some tension in the neighborhood.

Once again though, the capitalization gives it away. What the fuck is the "Great Transition"? Hello?! Even the most favorable reading - a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Great Leap Forward, indicating that DiEM25 is *not* planning to kill 25 million people by going Open Source - is not a very favorable reading, really. Because even if it's a joke, it doesn't increase my faith in their will to transition.

I remember a party that had formed around a seafaring motif, but never made it beyond the shallowest of waters. They called it Liquid Democracy TM (8). The new European movement should try to not immediately repeat this charade. Open Source is a fetish here. The reference to it communicates nothing but the desire to cybernetically manage a social and political process, by way of technology that none of the protagonists understands or gives a shit about. And why should they? Because the labor of separation is grounded in the separation of labor, in other words: If your movement falls apart, the first sign is usually that you urgently have to delegate some stuff related to your website, or something about "Open Source".

And if you totally have to plunder Free Software metaphors, then I really don't understand why they don't just make Varoufakis BDFL. It's not the worst organizational model, and I actually still think the guy deserves some, um, credit. Seriously, I'm willing to forgive him this pile of junk that has his name all over it, and his face all over it (9). Why am I willing to? Because I think that his initial proposal had something to it. What was it? That the remaining task for the radical Left in Europe today is to save capitalism. And not just from itself, but, and increasingly so, from fascism. I'd be on board for that, since I think the question of fascism in Europe is still not decided. It's a 40% yes. So you're not going to want to sit out many more cycles of "crisis", just to find out what the European Left has to gain from a collapse of the European economy. If the question is fascism or barbarism, then maybe Varoufakis is right, and our time is best spent by trying to remind our barbarian opponents of the mutual benefits of civilization.

At least I'd find that more urgent, but also more promising, than what appears to be the main goal of this movement, namely: "transparency". The fight for transparency has already produced its own genealogy of martyrs - Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden - and their sacrifices have actually demonstrated something. Which is that a particular, century-old bond, one of the core mechanisms of enlightenment, appears to be broken. The fact that we know stuff seems to no longer enable us to change stuff. And it's not just a case of "commodified knowledge without use value", or "the leak as spectacle", or just the Guardian's fault. The problem runs much deeper than that. No-one can really explain why, but in the societies of control, knowledge no longer equals empowerment. At the same time, access to information and data processing, i.e. real time social media firehose plus neural networks, promises absolute power (modulo the still prohibitive costs of the police state required to fully exercise it, even though a lot of executive power can and will be automated). Does anyone really think that maximal transparency through voluntary self-surveillance - which is what an "Open Source" political movement proposes - is a good idea in this context? Did we reach consensus that "Open Source" is the default mode of organization for progressive politics, and that top-down transparency will be achieved by means of bottom-up transparency? (10)

My last point is about the failure modes of these two agendas. If you fail to create sufficient transparency, you will most likely never notice it. If you fail to defend society against fascism, you will.


(1) For non-Berliners: Volksbühne is famous for its unique blend of critical events, usually a very majoritarian political theater of the minorities.

(2) Anders Breivik titled his manifesto "2083". It was a much better title, because it clearly communicated the scope of his operation.

(3) Of course you can say that they are, just like you can say that holding slaves makes you look weak, or that murdering civilians creates insecurity. It is still insulting.

(4) "C’est, d’abord, une affaire de perception. Ne pas être de gauche, c’est quoi ? Ne pas être de gauche, c’est un peu comme une adresse postale : partir de soi... la rue où on est, la ville, le pays, les autres pays, de plus en plus loin... On commence par soi et, dans la mesure où l’on est privilégié et qu’on vit dans un pays riche, on se demande : comment faire pour que la situation dure ?. On sent bien qu’il y a des dangers, que ça va pas durer, tout ça, que c’est trop dément... mais comment faire pour que ça dure. On se dit : les chinois, ils sont loin mais comment faire pour que l’Europe dure encore, etc. Être de gauche, c’est l’inverse. C’est percevoir... On dit que les japonais ne perçoivent pas comme nous. Il perçoivent d’abord le pourtour. Alors, ils diraient : le monde, l’Europe, la France, la rue de Bizerte, moi. C’est un phénomène de perception. On perçoit d’abord l’horizon. On perçoit à l’horizon." (L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, G comme gauche)

(5) Just because you're so lucky to live inside a gated community, it doesn't mean you're not required to at least retain some grace. And you retain that by shutting up, not by fantasizing about the "social fabric" of your city.

(6) At the same time, just geographically, Europe would be a perfect place for the mode of perception that is the Left. Simply because Europe is not a geographical entity. There are 20 miles of Bosphorus that everyone can kind of agree on, but other than that, Europe has no borders. You have to see Europe outside-in, and you can. A European Left would know more about Vladivostok.

(7) Actually, someone should do it immediately. It can be parody, it can be a joke, that's not a bad thing. Fork it as DAiM24 (24 is a much better number than 25!), try to get sued for trademark infringement by Kraft, ride on a huge wave of free publicity. Do something confusing. And don't forget that you're doing the master branch a service. It can only get better by having to deal with this.

(8) "Die Leute sind so selbstbewußt, selbstsicher und gut aufgelegt. Sie beherrschen die Straße und meinen darum, daß sie die Welt beherrschen. In Wirklichkeit irren sie sich doch. Hinter ihnen sind schon sie Sekretäre, Beamten, Berufspolitiker, alle die modernen Sultane, denen sie den Weg zur Macht bereiten... Je weiter sich eine Überschwemmung ausbreitet, umso seichter und trüber wird das Wasser. Die Revolution verdampft, und es bleibt nur der Schlamm einer neuen Bürokratie. Die Fesseln der gequälten Menschheit sind aus Kanzleipapier." (Franz Kafka)

(9) - wrong motif, wrong framing, wrong composition, wrong depth of field, wrong image format... lets just admit this is wrong, ok?

(10) Do we know this? Do we have data on this?