(By way of) Introducing the Project of a Charter for Europe
by Francesco Salvini & Raúl Sánchez Cedillo (Fundación de los Comunes)
To think Europe as a space to be invented, to be drawn up, to be constructed. This is the collective exercise that brought us to Madrid some months ago, to rethink Europe as a territory whose political, institutional and productive definition rests in our hands, or in other words, in the protagonism of social struggles and political creation from below, passing through our everyday ways of doing things.
It is in this sense that the space we created in the *New Abduction of Europe, an encounter that took place in the Museo Reina Sofia in February and March 2014, was a place for working on these problems with new methods and tools for discussion and reflection. A place where we could collectively imagine – in the midst of an urgent and complex situation – a world within which many worlds fit, as the Zapatistas used to say. In other words, we gathered to rethink practices of the political imagination within the European situation, starting from the territory of making (making society, making the common of human beings) rather than from ideological organization or the diffuse elaboration of slogans. For this we used a series of tools that allow for the construction of a transeuropean political *techné, common to many, different and a priori discordant subjects.
One of the preliminary and unfinished outcomes of this space of political cooperation has been the Charter for Europe, which you can find below. What makes for the novelty of this process started last March in Madrid is the networked writing of a charter and its attempt at collectively elaborating on the central problems for political organization and agency outside the representational sphere. Beyond the exhaustion of the possible, and starting from a positioning both challenged by and rooted in recent experiences, we explored the affirmation of democracy as neologism and common starting point for rethinking Europe. A democracy that we can only reappropriate together, on the one hand by denouncing the self-negation 'from above' as practiced by a European governance manifestly servile to corporate (essentially financial) and international geopolitical interests. And on the other hand, by affirming that the crisis of representative democracy is also a crisis that comes from below, from the mobilizations that shook the Medditerranean and Europe since 2011, proclaiming without any doubt that the only way to make democracy real is for us all to become its protagonists – all of us who inhabit the European space, all of us who cross it, all of us who experience it.
The concept of 'charter' has in fact always been present in the minor and radical traditions of doing politics in Europe. It is an enunciative body that doesn't shut off the normative field, but rather opens up to unexplored territory, to spaces of rights that constitute themselves through the irruption of a transitory and unfinished 'we' which is nevertheless capable of affirming its force and of breaking with the established game. As we know, 'charters' represent a tradition linked to historical forms of counter-power that oppose themselves to autocratic and absolutist forms of state power. This tradition has only formally and officially been integrated into the tradition of the constitutional state, and explicitly opposes itself to the monopoly of political and normative power, in its absolutist as much as jacobin versions. Since the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, the charter-form has been the key device (and institution) in the expression of majority counter-power. So were the revolts of German peasants in the radical proliferation of condemnations of the Empire's and Holy Roman Church's corruption. The chartist mobilizations in 18th century England and the union revolts across Europe have also been key in the permanent tension towards disarticulating the mode of capitalist exploitation in the industrial era. And the charter-form has reappeared in recent years, in the revolts on mediterranean squares as well as in mobilizations for the right to mobility and the defence of social rights, which are historically linked to an implicit social pact – the historical programme of building a welfare state – which today, with considerable sarcasm, is seen as a threat to stability, to the economy and ultimately also to democracy.
This dispositive of political enunciation – at the same time situated and mobile, on the one hand pertinent to processes of organization from below and on the other hand capable of invading the domain of laws and of the state – takes on increasing importance and efficiency with respect to the current historical situation where European elites display their corruption and distance to everyday experiences of the 'crisis', as well as for the topicality and promises of what with the Spanish 15M has come to be called technopolitics.
This organizational potency has again come to show its possibilities as well as limits in the process started last March in Madrid. It has been a space where we were able to strengthen the force of horizontal assemblary practices, through collective writing tools that allow us to distribute enunciative power and work more efficaciously. The production of a first charter draft within which we introduce the problems and tensions of the contemporary European space has led to the constitution of a virtual production space based in the democratic force of hypertextuality, through wikis and pads that allowed us to keep the tensions and discussions surrounding different points and subjects of the Charter for Europe alive, while at the same time tracing points of convergence and one of agitation, declaration and intervention in common.
The strength of this model rests in its openness and therefore in the capacity not just to define a common – that's to say some shared and strong approaches that are neither a sum of opinions nor a set of 'common minimum conditions', but the invention of a perspective that runs through and transforms all the differences and singularities involved – but above all to let the depth of this common be inhabited by all possible differences and compositions. What's at stake is a technical invention – born not out of our small virtual Madrilenian laboratory, but in the mobilizations of the last cycle of global uprising, starting from the occupied squares and networks of Tunisia and Cairo – which can help us respond to the problem of organization, being as many and different as we are in inhabiting Europe. This invention constitutes a space not just to think another world but to make it here and now: it is the only possibility to realize democracy as an innovative event with a deep impact on the world order.
Still we must not forget that these are tools whose efficacy is based on the democratization of their use, key to the everyday and molecular construction of a society that's in movement and traversed by technopolitics – a society capable of organizing itself through distributed tools beyond any of the fetishism, elitism or 'virtualism' that weighed down on recent applications of digital and telematic tools on political action.
What about next steps forward? The truth is nobody wants to remain testimonial about this situation. There's something uncanny about the way both right and left, eurosceptical and europeist critiques of the EU's current predicament practically contribute to the feeling that nothing can't be done but acknowledge the likelihood of darker ages for the continent. If not by the completely unexpected insurgencies in Greece and Spain in 2010 and 2011, radical critique minorities throughout Europe would have been completely overwhelmed by the fatal combination of technocratic austerity Europeism and aggressive anti-EU nationalism with the background of a looming austerity-caused stagnation reaching even the richer core of the historical EU. And the fact is that in spite of that there's still a great deal of puzzlement and bewilderment among the agents of radical critique that emerged during the late 1990's and early 2000's, as if the twisted syntax of the post-2008 financial crash landscape had left us comfortably numb, or forced us to grip to the desperate tone of the utopian icons of the 1930's radical critique. This is no time to play no Benjamin's Angelus Novus part. We should get rid of our inveterate typecasting as sophisticated Cassandras of the impending European catastrophe. It is high time to strongly contribute to the building of original intellectual-artistic-political assemblages and take to the European mainstream squares and networks. It makes no sense to ponder nervously without end on the foreseeable resiliency of the democratic buttresses of the EU or of any alleged underlying European democratic red-lines. They have already been sold out. The race is already on.
So the main question now as far as the here introduced Charter is concerned is whether it can be used and developed to enlarge and enrich the incipient process that has crystallized around the New Abduction of Europe meeting. This is something that should not only concern the worried individuals and groups, but the very European cultural institutions as well. The current North/South and East/West divide inside the EU runs counter any real advance along those lines, in spite of the always emptier and meagre rhetoric and programs of the EU Commission. The European cultural institutions should be able to problematise their inner and outer contradictions with regards to the mainstream agenda in order to become one of the heads of the a newly-born European democratic hydra. We guess that's what L'Internationale is meant for.
Translated from Spanish by Manuela Zechner
Charter for Europe, 1.2
(1) We live in different parts of Europe with different historical, cultural and political backgrounds. We all continuously arrive in Europe. We share experiences of social movements and struggles, as well as experiences of creative political work among our collectivities, on municipal, national and transnational levels. We have witnessed and participated in the rise of multitudes across the world since 2011. In fact, the European 'we', we are talking about here, is unfinished, it is in the making, it is a performative process of coming together.
(2) In the wake of the financial crisis we have experienced the violence of austerity, the attack on established social and labour rights, the spread of poverty and unemployment in many parts of Europe. We have faced a radical transformation of the EU which now has become clearly the expression and articulation of capitalist and financial command. At the same time we have lived through a profound displacement of national constitutional frameworks, we have learnt that they do not provide any effective defence against the violence of the crisis, and on the contrary are responsible for the dreadful governance of the crisis (proposed). In the ruins of representative democracy, xenophobic chauvinisms, ethnic fundamentalisms, racisms, antifeminist and homophobic processes, new and old forms of fascism proliferate. We rise up against all this.
(3) Representative democracy is in crisis. A crisis produced from above, by international financial markets, rating agencies, private think tanks and corporate media. But the credibility of democracy is also questioned from below. To talk about democracy is to (re)appropriate and to (re)invent a common sense of democracy. The guarantee of rights to the commons, of the transformation of citizenship, of equality, freedom, peace, autonomy and collectivity.
(4) The 2011 uprisings across the world have rescued the living meanings of democracy. When we claim democracy in Europe we do not aim to restore the lustre of the old national constitutional democracies, but rather to invent the institutions that can catch up with the cry of "They don't represent us" spread by those uprisings. We want to claim back our belief in the self-government of the 'demos'. Hold on to this concept. Hold on to its reinvention. Hold on to its transformation.
(5) We are experiencing a post-democratic turn in Europe. National (instead of 'liberal') constitutions are being used for private interest when the Troika imposes budgetary decisions as well as social policies without democratic legitimation. Security, in a similar way, has become a central process in the emptying of significance and performance of democratic institutions. Austerity and security are prefiguring a general transformation of the role of institutions on the global level, that is rendering democracy impossible.
(6) The constitution of the people is what is at stake for us in what we term democracy. How can we re-think a democratic self-governance in pluralist and participatory experimental ways? How can we learn from the democratic practices on the squares around the globe and think of them as re-invention of participatory processes in the assembly of the many, in order to give ourselves our own rules, laws and rights? How can this process be pluralist, federalist, based on networks and assemblages, movements and relations instead of identities, functions and roles? We envision here something beyond the juridical form of democracy bound to a national sovereign. We are opening up this concept, to spread democratic practices into the social, the everyday, into production and reproduction of life. The state needs to be under scrutiny, challenged by the diffusion of radical inclusion and the invention of democratic tools from below.
(7) Democracy in Europe means for us a two-sided process in which both "democracy" and "Europe" are intertwined, (re)appropriated and reinvented on the basis of the transnational social and political struggles of the many.
(8) Nowadays, debt has become the main mechanism of both economic governance and capital accumulation in Europe. It works as a multilevel system throughout the whole society. We are witnessing how debt is affecting everyone. Workers, students, unemployed: no one is allowed to escape from the new debtfare.
(9) Debt and income are the two sides of the same coin, when the very reproduction of life is increasingly tied up with the access to credit, and hence with the rise of private indebtment. This is the most distinctive contraposition of the crisis - a contraposition between private and anonymous debtors and the many indebted. Rating agencies, bankers and financial institutions do not represent us.
(10) The struggle for democracy is about fighting against the blackmailing of public and private indebtment, hence against the policies of austerity dreadful to the many. The challenge is to transform this generalised private indebtment towards the financial few, into a common indebtment of the many towards the many. Money and finance need to get back in the hands of the democratic many. Basic income is the tool we can use for our common indebtment of the many towards the many. It is the answer to the recognition that wealth is something we produce in common.
(11) Democracy as a process goes along with the constant collective production and use of the commons. This collective production of the commons is the only way to prevent poverty and war and to create social and cultural wealth. It is a matter not only of defending the public policies that sustain education, health, culture and social well-being, but also of moving forwards towards new institutionalities of the commons as the means we produce to live together. To do that, the people of Europe have the right to organise themselves in the horizontal way of the many thereby creating and performing a new form of democracy.
(12) New institutions of the commons are continuously invented and created all over Europe to oppose the monopoly of decision of the State. Many of them are emerging in the struggles against the crisis, the austerity policies and their impact on the everyday life of the people of Europe. They are the first steps to reinvent a political and social space beyond the dichotomy of the public and the private sector that sustained the political and social space of modernity, in which the State on the one hand and the market on the other guaranteed the reproduction of power and profit. State and market failed to create the well-being of the people of Europe. Institutions of the commons break with the logic of social reproduction that have to be borne by other commoners and the commons of the world. They create collective forms of the reproduction of life that are beyond the logic of capitalisation.
(13) The institutions of the commons are based on collective decision-making and they have to grow stronger in order to have an impact on the everyday life of society to replace the dysfunctional structures of the nation states step-by-step. We have to democratise governance and national institutions of education, city development, art, research, social and physical well-being in order to provide the means for these new institutions of the commons to become real, to spread and to be sustainable. This can happen only at a transnational level, fighting the global logic of profit and understanding Europe as the space of a democratisation from below in the affirmation of the commons.
(14) The problem is not what form of State is the more appropriate for democracy, the question is how we want to be governed: Modern representative democracy is based on the idea that the many should be governed by being reduced to the few in terms of the traditional party system. Distributed democracy instead relies on the possibility of the self-governing of the people regarding the main issues of our lives in common.
(15) The prerogatives of absolute command of a separate body of professional politicians and technicians cannot be the guarantee of a political process in the general interest. We have to get rid of the idea itself of the State-as-One: The power of the One as a master and manipulator of complexity is incompatible with the practice of democracy for the many by the many. Representative democracy has degenerated into a technocratic authoritarian system, a "government of the unchangeable reality", that is relying on the administration of fear and submission.
(16) Beyond a technocratic top-down federalism, we think a democracy of the commons has to rely both on the local dimension and the transeuropean one. Natural and artifical commons cannot be "nationalised", nor can they be managed by an oligarchic technostructure. A democracy of the many can only be a distributed democracy; it can only be achieved by expanding open and bottom-up networks for the common interest. There can be no One-and-Only Power over the commons, but just a system of distributed democratic counter-powers deciding on the basis of their continuous interactions, conflicts and negotiations.
(17) A redefinition of citizenship in Europe must start from migrants' practices of crossing the borders and reclaiming citizenship beyond its nationalistic and exclusionary origins. The various manifestations of borders that we are challenging and fighting against from day-to-day reflect different situations: there are geographical and state borders, detention camps for migrants, electronic control systems, walls and barbed wires. But there are also internal controls and visa regimes. The borders of Europe now reach far beyond the geographical limits of the EU member-States, establishing an externalisation of migration controls.
(18) Physical borders are continuously contested and reshaped by the movement of those who cross and are being crossed by them. Various practices and routes bring people to enter, leave and re-enter the space of Europe. However there are also the multiple movements of the internal migrants, which express and respond to the deepening disparities and inequalities in Europe. These practices are central in contesting what is Europe today and in foreseeing what Europe may be tomorrow.
(19) Challenging citizenship in Europe is perceiving it 'from the border' itself - we imagine and practice an open, ongoing and inclusive citizenship, disconnected from the place of birth and the place of departure, independent from permanent or temporary residency in one place, not subdued to labour condition and instead grounded on a shared, open and democratic social space.
(20) We need to constantly question any position of privilege that downplays demands for 'inclusion', however this term may be contested, of anyone who experiences material constraints and differential treatment to access social rights and freedoms. Europe needs to be a project of peace, not for the security of its own borders but for the safety of economical, social and political rights.
The Charter for Europe is an open process*
(21) We want to initiate a different kind of constituent process on the basis of social and political struggles across the European space, a process towards a radical political and economic change for Europe focusing on the safeguarding of life, dignity and democracy. It is a contribution to the production and creation of the commons, a process of democratic regeneration in which people are protagonists of their own lives. In the squares and the networks we have learnt something simple that has changed our way of inhabiting the world forever. We have learnt what 'we' can achieve together. We invite people across and beyond Europe to join us, to contribute to this charter, to make it live in struggles, imagination, and constituent practices.