In for the long haul

The limits of the possible have expanded beyond the depressing confines of market fundamentalism, writes James O'Nions

June 22, 2012
5 min read


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.

Could Europe have reached a turning point? Syriza, the coalition of the radical left, may not have won the second round of elections in Greece, but they got an even bigger vote this time around. Across Europe the anti-austerity movement is posing an increasing challenge to the parties of austerity. The new president of France was elected on a platform pushed to the left by the Front de Gauche’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In the Netherlands, the left-wing Socialist Party is running ahead of the centre-left Labour Party in the polls.

Outside the electoral arena, the Spanish 15M movement proved it has not gone away, with impressive reoccupations of a number of Spanish plazas. April saw a major protest in the Czech Republic against austerity and corruption, while Romania has seen mass popular protest against an increase in sales tax and the slashing of public sector pay.

The Blockupy Frankfurt protests are also important for a number of reasons. They represent an unprecedented attempt at pan-European protest against austerity; they are targeting in particular the European Central Bank, one of the pillars of European anti-democracy; and they are taking place in Germany, a country so far absent from the revolt.

Yet for all this, we still have some way to go. The advances for the left have been patchy, and importantly have lacked pan-European co-ordination, including commonly-produced alternatives and converging actions. From 2002 until it dwindled, the European Social Forum was an important, vibrant and well-attended space for this kind of internationalist organising, building relationships and sweeping away much parochial dust, even if it also suffered from an excess of rhetoric and political infighting.

We need to learn some lessons from that process, both positive and negative, while recognising that, ironically, the ESF never developed a strong enough focus on Europe itself in order to challenge its closed, technocratic institutions and its powerful elites.

A modest but useful ‘EU in Crisis’ anti-austerity conference in Brussels at the beginning of May proved that useful legacies of the ESF remain. This was evident from the presence of pan-European campaigning networks, for instance around the movement against water privatisation and for ‘remunicipalisation’. There was a determination to work together to better co-ordinate the movement across Europe. Now this initiative urgently needs to establish itself and incorporate significant social forces and grassroots activists, not just movement grandees and bureaucrats. Only then will it be able to call widely supported cross-border actions and raise the kind of solidarity that Greece will undoubtedly need in the coming months.

The need for common alternatives must also be worked on, even if it is no easy task. On the one hand some basic demands will have wide resonance and support: defence of public services and the social wage; taxing the rich and the financial sector; opposition to any racist backlash. On the other hand, significant areas of controversy remain. Stimulating economic growth through industrial policy is a key demand for many, but others have fingered growth as the culprit for the climate crisis and demand another solution.

The European radical left remains split over whether staying in or leaving the euro is the least-worst option. And at a more fundamental level, even those social democrats not chained to the neoliberal yoke propose merely to reformulate the class compromise that formed the original European welfare states. In doing so they ignore the fact that this post-war settlement was made possible only by the super-exploitation of the global South and the unwaged work of most of the female population. It was also a settlement which, though moderately redistributive, did not base its reform programmes on a challenge to the dominant organisation of production.

It is surely possible to overcome these differences to formulate some kind of united demands. But all the evidence suggests that this crisis of capitalism will not be short-lived. Opening up new areas for capital accumulation remains a vital goal for the 1 per cent, both through the privatisation of European public services and through the commodification of natural resources previously held in common, dispossessing the many people who depend on them.

We’re in this for the long haul, and to go beyond the current crisis, we need more than a hodgepodge of basic democratic demands and Keynesian economic management. Our movements need to start extending the experiments in assembly democracy that are taking root in neighbourhoods of Spanish cities. We must also spread the practice of creating alternatives as we resist – occupying and then transforming in all the areas of society we need to reproduce our lives, from food to free software. In this way, at least part of our common agenda can be that which emerges from our common resistance.

There is no crisis in the capacities and creativity of humanity. Thanks to the growth of movements including Occupy and the indignados, the last year has seen the limits of the possible expanded beyond the depressing confines of market fundamentalism. Now it’s time to blow those limits wide open.


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


5