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I have a right to express my anti-capitalist views, said a schoolboy arrested in the anti-WTO, anti-Railtrack fracas at London’s Euston station. Thanks to the audacity of thousands of diverse activists like him, being ‘anti-capitalist’ is back on the mainstream agenda again. Newscasters no longer say it with a sneer. What is needed now is practical thinking about alternatives, starting with a form of democracy that resists being co-opted and corrupted by capitalism.
It was revealing to see the grotesque paramilitary-style effort to keep the World Trade Organisation completely sealed off from public access, symbolising dramatically the extent to which governmental institutions have become separated from the people they are supposed to represent. While on the other hand we have witnessed the persistence of popular support for Ken Livingstone against some of the most determined manoeuvres this government has ever engaged in. This proves that ordinary people are doggedly determined to win back some power for themselves. That these two events coincided served as a vivid reminder that it is no longer enough to ‘think global and act local.’ We need to both think and act at both levels simultaneously.
Social movements are doing that already. The Brazilian landless movement occupies local land, marches on the federal capital and sends a mass delegation to international summits to block further deregulation of trade. The Exodus collective organises locally while also hosting activists from around the world at its Luton farm. But what about governmental and parliamentary institutions – the institutions of representative democracy, as distinct from the participatory democracy of DIY social activists? Do we even want or need such institutions? After Seattle, one is tempted to agree with the anarchists that state institutions have so thoroughly discredited themselves that we can no longer rely on them for anything.
One problem unresolved by anarchism is distribution. We need government institutions of some kind, both globally and nationally, because they are necessary for a massive redistribution of wealth if the majority of the world’s people are to enjoy real autonomy and self-determination. For example, a massive transfer of resources is the only way to unite the legitimate concerns of US trade unionists over child labour and the immediate needs of poor families in India and Africa.
Official OECD aid, for instance, has declined in recent years from 0.7% to 0.3% of GDP; merely raising it to the modest Development Decade target of 1% could provide families in the South with a basic income, in exchange for which they would promise to send their children to school – as has already been done in the Brazilian cities governed by the Workers Party. In the EU, a very significant move towards transnational redistribution was taking place; shamefully, the British government is forcing a compromise. The original European tax plan shows the way to what is needed globally.
But institutions with the power to redistribute on the sort of scale that is necessary will need to be strong; how can they be kept genuinely democratic and accountable? How do we avoid having state institutions that claim to act for the people but exclude us from effective control? This is where participatory democracy is so important. We need co-government, a sharing of decision-making and responsibility between representative and direct democracy.
Experiences across the world show that where radical social movements converge with left parties – or sections of left parties – with a foothold in power, a new effective democratic government is possible. Democratic institutions with a participatory base can have the necessary moral authority to call concentrations of wealth and power to account, and the necessary administrative capacity and political clout to carry out redistributive reforms of real scope and bite. Such sharing of power between parliamentary and direct democracy locally and globally is surely one alternative for ‘anti-capitalists’ to explore.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali