The solution that this particular movement proposes is reformative in nature, and consists of modern economic policies comparable to those of the New Deal implemented in the United States by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1936. These policies, the movement claims, will help to stabilize the situation within the European Union and expand social security and welfare with an “an Anti-Poverty, a Social-Housing and a Jobs Guarantee Program.” Members will plan for “a post-capitalist economy that is authentically liberal and open,” by “democratising the economic sphere and the introduction of a Universal Basic Dividend.” They intend to reform the banking system and end “the monopoly of banks over Europe’s payments.” Finally, they will put an end to “self-defeating austerity,” increase coordination within the European Union, and promote “green investments.” The improved transparency will strengthen democratic processes, and thus increase citizen participation in the process of decision making.
The giants of the banking, transport, energy, retail, telecommunications and technology sectors possess immense material wealth which they use to bribe officials, elected and otherwise, as well as to hire whole armies of so-called lobbyists to promote their corporate interests. This activity consists in more than just publication of data, use of the media to advance interests, and advertisements in which they promote themselves as benefactors.
These entities also have absolute control over the production and distribution of the majority of products and services on which the consumer depends. They are thus in the advantageous position of being able to forcibly impose their own interests upon the will of the people and democratic processes.
DiEM25 thus ignores the fact that concentrated power and wealth create dynamics that cannot be mitigated to any significant extent by regulations or mechanisms of public scrutiny.
At the same time, the movement's flawed argumentation is bolstered by somewhat fraudulent rhetoric. While it uses expressions that refer to a leftist, radical orientation, the pseudo-revolutionary ideals and vagueness of language and terminology seem to conceal the harsh reality behind the proposed line of action described above. The movement uses terms such as ‘creative disobedience’, which blurs the distinction between between obedience and disobedience without ever specifying exactly what a ‘creative’ stance with ‘universal oppositions’ really means when it comes to standing up to the current powers that be. At the same time, it quietly leaves open a window for potential cooperation with those powers within the existing institutional framework.
This does not mean that the founders, leaders, or members of the movement have other objectives in mind. They may very well be aimed at improving things for the peoples of Europe, at least as they see it. Nevertheless, this vague rhetoric, coupled with a weak action plan for a ‘European New Deal’ and a European Civil Rights movement (aimed this time at increased transparency and democratization), presents a misleading prospect of emancipation.
The question therefore arises: Is there any sort of movement that can create a realistic prospect of emancipation?
As we try to build alliances or movements to democratize European institutions or governmental institutions of any kind and to claim economic and political rights, it is important that these movements be founded on four main pillars:
- Understanding of the direct interdependence between the effectiveness of the democratic process and the distribution of power--in other words, of the fact that concentrated economic power will always find ways to transcend existing arrangements and to work the system so as to escape public scrutiny;
- Clear prioritization of socialist alternative with a view to a genuine complete overhaul of the distribution of power;
- Willingness to highlight the real difficulties, as well as the limitations of such an alternative;
- Commitment to the ongoing struggle for economic rights in the ‘here and now’, such as collective agreements, minimum wages, social security, political rights, and so on.
Let's consider for a moment the American Civil Rights Movement and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One of the largest and most memorable demonstrations was organized by a core of socialists who decided to turn to more politically moderate organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban Coalition in order to draw the numbers needed for a successful protest. As Malcolm X later pointed out, the March’s endorsement by more moderate groups meant that it “lost its militancy. It ceased to be angry, it ceased to be hot, it ceased to be uncompromising.”
This experience shows that it was possible for the people to exert pressure on the government to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by attracting a large number of protesters. On the other hand, the infiltration by more moderate movements and organizations came at a cost to, first of all, the socialist movement that organized the March, its radical demands and its anti-government position. The socialist cores in Europe must learn from that experience and align with DiEm25 and any other moderate movement when it comes to the demands of collective agreements, expanded social security or political rights in Europe, because only gatherings of large masses of people can win victories in the battles in the ‘here and now’.
At the same time, however, we should also learn from this experience that European socialists must draw a clear line that distinguishes DiEM25 from every radical movement by demonstrating the illusions deeply rooted in its founding manifesto.
We must also struggle to prove that, if any such movement comes into contact with power, its efforts will inevitably lead to a stalemate: either it will succumb and compromise in cooperation with the existing regime, or will lead to a catastrophic defeat (not just for itself but for the Left as a whole) and so deeply disappoint the people. We must in no way allow these illusions to bring moderation to or otherwise undermine the already weakened socialist movement as a whole.
It is worrying indeed that some of the foremost intellectuals in Europe and the United States are lending their support to such a movement, especially in the wake of the sorry outcome of the first few months of Syriza’s ‘negotiations’ in Greece in 2015, when we saw now-jaded, formerly Marxist politicians bend to the will of the European elites (albeit in a somewhat unorthodox way).
To be ‘empirically wrong’, so obviously and time and again, about the dynamics, ideological foundations and potential of such movements is suggestive of a self-destructive tendency. This is a result of the flawed interpretation offered by most intellectuals regarding the results of Syriza’s ‘negotiations’ in the recent past: Syriza’s ‘defeat’ tends to be attributed to the lack of external support or to the bureaucracy of the European institutions, while in reality it was entirely the result of the party’s weak ideological and strategic foundations, which were evident from the moment it first formed. We need to recognize that the results of such movements, if they do come to power, are predictable, because they do not feature the basic characteristics that are capable of effecting long-term change and of engaging in what Professor Erik Olin Wright calls ‘eroding’ the system we call, in a word, ‘Capitalism’. It is time that we arrive at this conclusion on the basis of experience, if not intuition.
People need to understand that DiEM25, just like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain, is a reformist, moderate movement that lacks a clear ideological basis and which is certainly not of a piece with the radical European Left. Then, and only then, will collaboration with these kinds of movements on specific issues of the ‘here and now’, for restricted periods of time, become beneficial.
At the same time it must be repeatedly stressed that, whether they mean to or not, if such movements gain access to power, they end up serving as lifeguards of the very elites and bureaucracy that they see themselves as fighting, and thus ultimately deceive those large segments of the population who really are fighting for better working and living conditions.