PGA Strategy

 Conclusions on the strategy debates

author: the tired - 04.09.2002

Yesterday a session was organised to reach some conclusions on the strategy debates that were held on Sunday. The different debates had to be presented in a somewhat coherent document that would be presented as a strategy paper. Still the outcome was not expected to be a definitive ‘PGA policy’. It was more seen as a potential reference document.

In order to refresh our minds each debate was briefly summarized during the first hour of the session. That would also facilitate the discovery of threads that reemerged in the different discussions on Sunday. If one conclusion could be drawn immediately, it would be the lack of gender-specified discussion. The decision was taken to set up a special working group on gender to eventually address the issues.

We know a large range of strategies discussed have not been included herein. There was no point in reproducing the answers to the six questions again, and the choice was made to address three tendencies that emerged in the strategy reports:

  1. Outreach, intervention in real social dynamics, local action and global strategy, visibility
  2. From Welfare State to Control State
  3. Private Property vs. the Commons

These themes were further discussed in seperate working groups, using the data the initial debates and focussing on present and future actions. We present them in this article.

Intervention in real social dynamics

The first working group observed that over the past years our movement came to recognize that the relations with our respective communities will be of decisive importance in the deepening of our struggles. This common process was abruptly countered by the events in Genoa and on the 11th of September. One year later, the issue of ‘outreach’ to the wider society emerges again within the ranks of our networks.

These community relations are the fundamental building blocks of any social transformation. A process whereby people identify opportunities to create new social structures that are capable to confront existing capitalist institutions in order to further hollow out their functioning. These new forms of ‘counter-legitimacy’ could gradually take over present-day political formations. Capitalism is a social relationship and building autonomous space allows us to decontruct this and experience our own non-capitalist social relationship. But it is not enough to build autonomous space: we must continually relink this to our everyday surroundings, to the capitalist environment in which we create and recreate our lives. Only then can we protect the 'counter-legitimacy' that we build.

This proces requires the continuous questioning of our activist identities, breaking down the culture and language of the movements to recognize our integration within society. An activist identity that is too strong alienates the activist from her/his surroundings. Divisions between activists and non-activist can be addressed, for in our (ideal) organising all people are ‘active’. We can approach our environment in a supportive way rather than a patronizing one.

The need for the localisation of resistance should not hold us from adopting global strategies. PGA should take responsibility in formulating these. Some projects from different groups participating in the PGA were discussed. These initiatives effectively connect local activism and global strategies. We recall the social centres, European Social Consulta, No Border camps, Global Days of Action and different (permanent) caravans.

From Welfare State to Control State

Political activists in Europe and world wide, independent from actual actions, have been victims of different forms of repression. It sometimes seems that a strategic balance is lacking in our reactions to this, although all actions are important. We eventually need to think about how to balance the energies of our response.

Repression is an integral part of the apparatus of social control which can touch everyone, not just political activists. The process of repressing aims at creating division within society in order to distract from tensions between the powers-that-be and people created by systems of exploitation and domination. There is a process of stigmatisation, marginalisation and criminalisation of particular individuals and groups (encompassing political activism, gender, race, nationality and many other issues). This is used to justify repression and social mechanisms of control to the wider society. Once these mechanisms of control are established, they can then be used against others in other situations.

Repression itself can take place at two levels: firstly by having institutions which manage 'the problem' – be it prisons or hospitals or benefit systems, depending upon what 'the problem' is; secondly, by removing power from the people in order to deal with problems there is a need for further repressive measures for new problems. Furthermore, these mechanisms are presented as an integral part of a 'welfare state,' by representing repressive institutions and processes with a human face, that help, correct and educate. In parallel, increasing resources from the 'welfare state' are invested in repression (jails, police, security) and the other mechanisms of the state are slowly integrated into the strategy of control (benefits becoming conditional, education). With the added context of privatisation, profit becomes another incentive for maintaining and reinforcing the systems of control.

Some recommendations regarding future organizing and stances were suggested during the working group session.

Within the PGA network there have been many instances of political activists fighting repression. Some examples are the creation of legal support groups, prison solidarity, within and outside prisons, and prisoner support campaigns and the providing of temporary or permanent autonomous spaces which are free(er) from repression than is otherwise possible within the current state. These are all ideas that should be continued and developed.

Private Property and reappropriation: towards tackling capitalism as a social relation

The anti-capitalist actions of the recent years (mainly in the framework of counter summit or global days of action) have addressed capitalism by attacking the legitimacy of multilateral institutions (WTO, IMF...), banks, multinational corporations etc. These tactics have been successfull in raising awareness, generating social debate around capitalism and power structures, but have often failed to address capitalism as what it is: a social relation.

During the conference some interesting developments and suggestions in political discourse and forms of actions have been put forward generally tackling one of the fundamentals of capitalism: private property. These actions defend free access (freeshops, freedom of information, open source, free access to public transport...), practice "stealing" or reappropriation (YoMango type actions) and reclaim public space.

Ideally, stealing and reappropriation campaigns should also deal with the issue of overconsumption.
Sometimes activists also need to have a careful look at the products and they must differentiate between goods coming from a multinational and those coming from smaller companies that could include struggles of workers to improve their working conditions.

But should a reappropriation of State structures take place? In terms of addressing the struggles against privatisation, these should raise the issue of direct democraticly controlled commons vs. State controlled commons. As privatisations go ahead, the welfare State is also increasingly shifting to a Control State, we experience how structures like schools, hospitals or public busses are used in the repression against social movements (Goteborg, Genoa, current repressive laws in France...).
For example Activists in London have attempted to maintain a nursery that had been closed down due to privatisations, and run it in self managment. They successfully opened it up as community centre doing children activities. But had a lack of resources and support to sustain the activity in the long term.

Besides that, the third working group also briefly discussed a few areas and examples that have been addressed around Europe:

Patriarchy and the capitalist system inside ourselves

The Patriarchal Culture we have been living in since a few thousand years is a culture based on competition, power and domination over other people. In this society men are the ones who have the educational and structural facilities to be competitive, gain power and dominate other people (women first of course...). These values of power and domination are deeply rooted in everyone of us, and are also the very values on which the capitalist system has been able to build itself and get ever stronger. It means that the enemies we usually try to confront in the streets is indeed inside everyone of us. We could destroy as many G8 summits, multinationals, states, world banks as we want, we would surely end up recreating exactly the same type of society as long as we don't confront the patriarchal culture we keep inside ourselves. Fortunately the different feminist analysis of the last decades have given us all the tools we need to find out the way we personally express these values of power and domination in our behaviours, social relations and daily lives (from the way we speak to the way we use technology). Learning from it would actually give us the possibility to confront the way we oppress women but also give us the chance to attack capitalist society at its roots.
Patriarchy is not only about women being oppressed. As men we also have to understand how much the patriarchal culture makes men suffer as well and how it prevents us to emancipate ourselves and build different social relationships. We're obviously agent as much as victim of the way we always have to keep being competitive, strong, feel the need to dominate over other people even inside our collectives and spaces. But we're usually afraid to question it because it constitutes us and gives us roles of power. Many of us European activists involved in our different collectives are white middle class boys educated to feel strong, confident with their ideas, analysis, able to speak loud and fight to show we know better than others. It makes us feel good "meeting competitors". Same for facilities into different technical areas as building, repairing, computer works. Other people and especially women suffer from a culture and education that usually prevent them to gain all these nice patriarchal capacities and often feel quite disempowered by the supposedly different activist's world and ways of working.
A few illustrations of patriarchal activism: in our actions and the mythology we build around it, we keep on glorifying the most spectacular, most confrontational, and all the situations on which male heroes can put themselves on the stage of activism. Even if some forms of efficiency (meaning achieving in a good way what we aim for) can be good, we should be aware that the typical male way of looking at efficiency (getting things done as quick as possible by people who know best how to do it) is often disempowering for other people, especially women. The same goes with trying to do as many different spectacular events as possible, one immediately after the other, instead of building long-term sustainable campaigns on one issue.

The pseudo-importance of the gender issue in PGA-related groups and activities. We always say that we're anti-sexist but in reality we don't spend much time working concretely on the issue of patriarchy. Anti-sexism in our movement presently looks more like a superficial folklore than real concrete focus. We usually let women take the few anti-sexist initiatives. It leads to the fact that many women who want to struggle against patriarchal society give up gender mixed actions, groups and movements as PGA.

The gender issues should be a central problem within all our collectives: why are we mainly male, white middle class men doing this action? What will we practically do to change that and create a comfortable space for others? Are we willing to take time for that?
We can state that differences between men and women are only the product of our socialisation. A first thing to do is to define and confront the ways these differences are used by some people to dominate others. Another thing is to reckon that there are positive and negative elements in both men’s and women’s specific qualities and that we need to build a society where the positive ones could be equally shared and mixed.
Men and women should be able to do whatever they find emancipating for themselves and others without any gender specificity, subverting the whole society by producing a lot of cultural tools (novels, films, theatre..) and direct actions that celebrate and give a picture of a culture without gender.

Let's dream!

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