Noam Chomsky and Ken Loach criticise University of Birmingham suspensions
In an open letter, signed by 40 people and published by the Guardian, they criticised the University of Birmingham‘s actions as being “at odds with freedom of speech“. They demanded the immediate reinstatement of the students, who were among 13 arrested during the demonstration at the university last month.
“We believe that the suspensions seen at the University of Birmingham are further evidence of the contempt for freedom of expression, both political and academic, in the contemporary university,” they wrote.
The signatories, also include former secretary of state for international development and Birmingham MP Clare Short, who said: “These suspensions are at odds with freedom of speech and the right to protest, setting a threatening precedent for how dissent is dealt with on campuses across the country.
“We condemn these suspensions in the strongest terms and call for the immediate reinstatement of the students affected.”
Their intervention comes amid growing tensions between student activists and the management in some universities, who have clashed over what the protesters called the “marketisation of education”. The protesters want to see an end to cuts and privatisations of university services, and a return to free access to education.
The Defend Education Birmingham activists who occupied part of Birmingham University’s campus said they were part of a peaceful protest and were unlawfully kettled by police, who demanded their personal details in exchange for release. But the university argued that their protest was not peaceful and caused damage to property. West Midlands police have also insisted that the protesters were detained as part of a criminal investigation, not kettled.
Deborah Hermann, 21, who studies European politics, society and economics was one of the students suspended, along with Simon Furse, 22, Kelly Rogers, 21, Emily Farmer, 20 and Pat Grady, 21. She said the university’s stance “shows the wider picture; the repression of the protest shows why the protest is so important”.
She added: “It is unjust, I have been treated very unfairly. I know the university doesn’t care about me, they just want to intimidate students. They always put out statements saying that they really support peaceful and legitimate action, but they don’t in practice.
“They try to stop any kind of protest. Anything we do, they call it illegitimate. Instead, they have just repressed us. In 1968, students occupied the same Great Hall as us. It was emotional, but incredibly frustrating to be there doing the same. Then the police came. It is clear the university doesn’t care about our opinions whatsoever.”
Edd Bauer, a campaigner with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “The reason we see oppression is because [the university management’s] ideological positions are weakly supported. They have no choice but to resort to the stick. It is their only answer because they have no political argument.
“The university is telling people not to protest and threatening them. Their message is that anyone who wants to protest, anyone who wants to occupy buildings, ‘We will have you arrested, we will suspend you and cut you off from education.’ We are seeing that all over the country.
He said that the student movement he is part of is protesting against “more corporate universities”.
In 2012, the University of Birmingham was criticised by human rights groups – including Amnesty International – over an injunction it sought to pre-emptively ban protests. Its actions were described as “criminalising” sit-in protests and were called aggressive and censorious by Amnesty, Liberty and Index on Censorship.
A University of Birmingham spokesman said the institution respects the right to protest peacefully and within the law and said that students have a “variety of ways” of making their concerns known.
The spokesman said: “Whilst peaceful protest is part of university life, the university will not tolerate behaviour that causes harm to individuals, damage to property or significant disruption to our university community.”
The spokesman added the Defend Education Birmingham demonstration “included defacing buildings and property, throwing smoke bombs and fireworks, smashing down doors, damaging historic buildings including Aston Webb and the Old Joe clock tower, and injuring staff”.
Ljubljana – Prejemnik velike Prešernove nagrade za opus, pisatelj Vladimir Kavčič, je v zahvalnem govoru opozoril na težavno stanje Slovenije in na nevarnosti, ki jim je v takšnih okoliščinah izpostavljena slovenska kultura. Govor je v Gallusovi dvorani Cankarjevega doma večkrat sprožil velik aplavz in ga v objavljamo v celoti.
Po vključitvi v gospodarski sistem EU in v evro območje je Slovenija izgubila več kot tisoč večjih gospodarskih družb. Praktično vsa večja gospodarska podjetja in številna manjša. Število brezposelnih delavcev je naraslo na 130 tisoč in se bo še povečevalo. 300 tisoč prebivalcev Slovenije se je znašlo na robu revščine in ne mine dan, da ne bi bili opozorjeni na številne lačne otroke, kar je civilizacijska sramota brez primera. Odraščajoča, izobražena in strokovno usposobljena mladina pa je ostala brez možnosti zaposlitve in brez vsakršne življenjske perspektive, medtem ko številni socialno povsem neodgovorni lastniki kapitala milijarde evrov povsem zakonito umikajo v davčne oaze ali izrabljajo za zasebni luksuz.
Slovenska politika, ki naj bi skrbela za vzdržno socialno stanje svojih državljanov in zaščito nacionalnih interesov pa s težkimi milijardami davkoplačevalskega denarja rešuje oropane banke, da bi še naprej počenjali isto, kar so počenjali doslej. Za oživljanje gospodarstva in za zmanjševanje brezposelnosti pa ne naredi niti koraka. Slovenija se je spet znašla v položaju, ko ni več sposobna preživeti lastnega prebivalstva. S trebuhom za kruhom morajo spet odhajati številni njeni državljani, predvsem mladi, v katere so bila vložena velika sredstva, nimajo pa možnosti, da bi svoje delovne sposobnosti uporabili doma in v skupno korist.
V takšnem brezperspektivnem gospodarskem stanju bosta v kratkem ogrožena tudi slovenski jezik in celotna slovenska kultura. Razprava o nujnosti univerzitetnega študija v angleščini se je že začela. Evropski program, ki študentom omogoča neoviran prehod z univerze na univerzo po mnenju njegovih snovalcev pomeni velik napredek, zahteva pa skupen jezik. Slovenci smo svojo univerzo dobili šele po prvi svetovni vojni, v Kraljevini Jugoslaviji. Ob njeni stoletnici, kot kažejo aktualna prizadevanja, pa na njej ne bi več predavali v slovenskem jeziku. V gospodarskih družbah, ki jih vodijo tuji lastniki, že zdaj prevladuje raba tujih jezikov in slovenščina bo v prihodnje vse bolj postajala lokalno narečje za popoldansko rabo.
Ob takšnih razvojnih trendih bodo postajale odveč tudi druge nacionalne kulturne ustanove nosilke slovenske etnične identitete. In kakor je splošni civilizacijski model privedel do stanja, da gospodarska rast sploh ne bo več mogoča, se zna zgoditi, da tudi slovenstvu na najvišji stopnji njegovega razvoja in afirmacije, ne bo več kaj početi. Od nas samih je odvisno ali se bomo za hip ustavili in se vprašali, kaj sploh hočemo, kakšna naj bo naša kulturna in civilizacijska prihodnost.
Ali se bomo še naprej prepuščali zunanjim tokovom, kot se prepuščamo sedaj, in se bo z nami zgodilo, kar se pač mora zgoditi? Kot smo slišali, se nekateri naši politiki že veselijo okrepljene prenovljene Evropske unije, ki se bo razvijala v smeri Združenih držav Evrope. To se bo seveda zgodilo po meri njenih največjih in najmočnejših članic. Dobrodošlo pa bo tudi našim, ki bodo dobili položaje v Bruslju. Tam namreč mimogrede, ne da bi prevzemali kakšno posebno odgovornost, postanejo milijonarji. Zato ne preseneča, da je ena sama naša stranka evidentirala kar 42 kandidatov za evropskega poslanca, nima pa niti enega kandidata za zdravstvenega ali gospodarskega ministra doma.
Kaj o prihodnosti EU menimo državljani, ni še nihče vprašal. Vstavimo se torej za hip in razmislimo, kakšno prihodnost pravzaprav pričakujemo, kakšna naj bi bila po naši meri. Ali svoj jezik, svojo kulturo in nazadnje tudi takšen praznik, kot je Prešernov dan, sploh še potrebujemo? Če ga, čemu naj služi? Smo sposobni svojo prihodnost oblikovati na svoj način, v spoštovanju svojih zgodovinskih vrednot in pridobitev ob enakopravnem priznanju teh tudi drugim? To je sedaj vprašanje. Hvala.
žal ni razvidno, kdo je poimenski avtor vašega pisma, zato se na vas obračam kot na Filmsko iniciativo. Ne glede na to, da se je letošnja strokovna komisija PS odločila, da poleg odstopne izjave ne bo dodatno pojasnjevala okoliščine odstopa, saj je po statutu zavezana k molčečnosti, pa sem se odločil, da vaše pismo vseeno potrebuje razlago, če si kot ustvarjalci zares želimo delovati v klimi, ki bo zdrava za vse.
Za začetek bi rad poudaril, da ima vsako stanovsko združenje legitimno pravico lobirati za boljše pogoje delovanja na vseh področjih. Vseeno pa velja opozoriti, da gre pri Filmski iniciativi za umetnostno združenje, od katerega se že načelno pričakuje, da bo to počelo po principu gentlemanskega bontona, sploh kadar to počne javno. Jaz in ostali člani komisije pa pri tem nikakor ne mislimo biti kolateralna škoda.
V svojem pismu ste navedli, da gre pri letošnjem odstopu komisije za svojevrsten paradoks, saj komisija bojda ni kompetentna, da bi razsojala o prispelih predlogih s področja avdiovizualne umetnosti. Še več, ko bo naslednjič odstopila komisija, naj odstopi vsaj “prava”.”
Potrebno je vedeti, da Prešernova nagrada in nagrada Prešernovega sklada nista izključno stanovski nagradi, temveč se podelita posamezniku, katerega presežno delo prepoznata tako stroka kot tudi širša akademska javnost, ki ima lahko z dotičnim poljem umetniškega ustvarjanja nagrajenega posameznika posreden stik. Zato sta nagradi najviši državni občeumetnostni priznanji. Razumem, če bi problematizirali našo sestavo komisije pri svojih izključno stanovskih nagradah, recimo pri nagradah Festivala slovenskega filma ali Festivala dokumentranega filma. Vendar ne gre za to.
Ko že razpravljamo o kompetencah: nisem vedel, da smo igralci tako minoren del filmske umetnosti, da jo ne znamo ali ne zmoremo kvalitetno artikulirati, da bi se do nje strokovno in kritično opredeljevali. Oba igralca v komisiji se aktivno in profesionalno (ne ljubiteljsko) ukvarjava z avdiovizualnimi stvaritvami, kolikor to dopušča čas in prostor v katerem se je znašel slovenski film. Nagrajenka Prešernovega sklada in predsednica letošnje strokovne komisije Nataša Barbara Gračner ima celo več filmskih stanovskih priznanj kot jih ima marsikateri priznani slovenski filmski ustvarjalec. Tudi oba magistra dramaturgije Tea Rogelj in Primož Jesenko sta s svojim študijem na AGRFT globlje spoznala metode scenaristike, filmske teorije in zgodovine filma. Nagrajenec Prešernovega sklada Jani Virk pa je tako ali tako urednik igranega programa na RTV Slovenija. Torej letošnja strokovna komisija le ni svetlobna leta daleč od avdiovizualne obrti, kot to v pismu želi predstaviti Filmska iniciativa.
Jasno, strokovna komisija po statutu PS pokriva več področij, ki so med seboj sorodna in prepletena, zato je njena sestava raznolika, letošnja izbira članov pa (glede na zgoraj našteto) verjetno primerna. Samo poimenovanje strokovne komisije je v pristojnosti UO Prešernovega sklada ali Ministrstva za kulturo in ne strokovne komisije.
Naša komisija je vsakič po načelu pravičnosti podala UO enakovredne predloge na pobudo različnih stanovskih organizacij in posameznih predlagateljev z vseh umetniških področij, ki jih je pokrivala. Vedno v soglasju. Kadar do soglasja ni prišlo, je predlagala drugega kandidata, tudi z drugega področja.
Zanimivo, da se je Filmska iniciativa letos odločila diskreditirati člane komisije, saj so ti v skoraj isti sestavi (namesto Nataše Barbare Gračner je komisiji predsedovala Ženja Leiler, namesto Mihe Nemca pa je letos v komisiji Samo Strelec) lansko leto predlagali za nagrado Prešernovega sklada filmskega režiserja in predstavnika Filmske iniciative Metoda Pevca za dokumentarni film “Aleksandrinke”, ki je nagrado po odločitvi UO tudi sprejel!”
Kje je bila takrat Filmska iniciativa s svojimi javnimi pomisleki glede strokovnosti komisije? Zadovoljno pomirjena je licemerno uživala sadove stanovskega vrtičkarstva.
Jaz osebno sprejmem vašo žogico glede sestave strokovne komisije (da v njej sodelujejo dva igralca, dva filmska režiserja, montažer, direktor fotografije in scenarist), ki bi bila pripravljena odgovorno zavzemati estetska stališča do uprizoritvenih umetnosti in videno znala tehtno argumentirati. Seveda, če bi jo sestavljali tisti priznani člani, ki redno spremljajo uprizoritveno umetnost vsaj toliko, kolikor spremljamo avdiovizualna dela člani letošnje strokovne komisije.
Vam pa žogico tudi vračam : pozivam vas, da se kot stanovsko združenje strokovno opredelite do dokumentarnega filma “Pedro Opeka, dober prijatelj” režiserja Jožeta Možine, saj tega v svojem pismu niste storili. Tako bo lahko naša bodoča razprava vsaj jasnejša.
In še : Jože Možina je prejemnik letošnjega najvišjega državnega priznanja s področja avdiovizulane umetnosti. Verjetno javnost ne pričakuje preveč, če ga v kratkem povabite k častnemu članstvu vaše iniciative in ostalih filmskih združenj?
Saša Tabaković, bivši član strokovne komisije PS
Kako to spremeniti?
There is no alternative
Governments now answer to business, not voters. Mainstream parties grow ever harder to distinguish. Is democracy dead?
Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. His latest book is The Political Economy of Trust (2009).
Last September, Il Partito Democratico, the Italian Democratic Party, asked me to talk about politics and the internet at its summer school in Cortona. Political summer schools are usually pleasant — Cortona is a medieval Tuscan hill town with excellent restaurants — and unexciting. Academics and public intellectuals give talks organised loosely around a theme; in this case, the challenges of ‘communication and democracy’. Young party activists politely listen to our speeches while they wait to do the real business of politics, between sessions and at the evening meals.
This year was different. The Italian Democratic Party, which dominates the country’s left-of-centre politics, knew that it was in trouble. A flamboyant blogger and former comedian named Beppe Grillo had turned his celebrity into an online political force, Il Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement), which promised to do well in the national elections. The new party didn’t have any coherent plan beyond sweeping out Old Corruption, but that was enough to bring out the crowds. The Five Star Movement was particularly good at attracting young idealists, the kind of voters who might have been Democrats a decade before.
Worries about this threat spilt over into the summer school. The relationship between communication and democracy suddenly had urgent political implications. The Democratic Party had spent two decades suffering under the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s stranglehold on traditional media. Now it found itself challenged on the left too, by internet-fuelled populists who seemed to be sucking attention and energy away from it.
When Bersani started talking, he gave a speech that came strikingly close to a counsel of despair
The keynote speaker at the summer school, the Democratic Party leader and prospective prime minister Pier Luigi Bersani, was in a particularly awkward position. Matteo Renzi, the ‘reformist’ mayor of Florence, had recently challenged Bersani’s leadership, promising the kind of dynamism that would appeal to younger voters. If Bersani wanted to stay on as party leader, he had to win an open primary. The summer school gave him a chance to speak to the activists in training, and try to show that he was still relevant.
I was one of two speakers warming up the crowd for Bersani. The party members and reporters endured us patiently enough as they waited for the real event. However, when Bersani started talking, he gave a speech that came strikingly close to a counsel of despair. He told his audience that representative democracy, European representative democracy in particular, was in crisis. Once, it had offered the world a model for reconciling economy and society. Now it could no longer provide the concrete benefits — jobs, rights, and environmental protection — that people wanted. In Italy, Berlusconi and his allies had systematically delegitimized government and undermined public life. The relationship between politics and society was broken.
Bersani knew what he didn’t want — radical political change. Any reforms would have to be rooted in traditional solidarities. But he didn’t know what he did want either, or if he did, he wasn’t able to describe it. His speech was an attack, swathed in the usual billowing abstractions of Italian political rhetoric, on the purported radicalism of both his internal party opponent and the Five Star Movement. He didn’t really have a programme of his own. He could promise his party nothing except hard challenges and uncertain outcomes.
Why do social democrats such as Bersani find it so hard to figure out what to do? It isn’t just the Italians who are in trouble. Social democrats in other countries are also in retreat. In France, Francoise Hollande’s government has offered many things: a slight softening of austerity (France’s deficit this year will be somewhat higher than the European Commission would like); occasional outbursts of anti-business rhetoric (usually swiftly contradicted by follow-up statements); higher taxes on the very rich (to be rolled back as soon as possible). What it has not offered is anything approaching a coherent programme for change.
Germany’s Social Democrats are suffering, too. The Christian Democrat-led government can get away with austerity measures as long as it convinces voters that it will do a better job of keeping their money safe from the Spaniards, Italians and Greeks. And the Social Democratic Party’s candidate for Chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, is not well placed to object. In 2009 he helped introduce a constitutional measure to limit government spending, hoping that this would make his party look more responsible. He now appears like a weaker, less resolute version of his opponent, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and has 32 per cent job approval.
Greece’s mainstream socialist party, Pasok, won only 12.3 per cent of the vote in the election in June last year. Spain’s social democrats are perhaps in even greater disarray than the conservative government. Ireland’s Labour Party, a junior party in the current government, saw its vote collapse from 21 per cent to 4.6 per cent in a by-election in March.
Where they are in opposition, European social democrats don’t know what to offer voters. Where they are in power, they don’t know how to use it. Even in the United States, which has never had a social democratic party with national appeal, the Democrats have gradually changed from a party that belonged ambiguously to the left to one that spans the limited gamut between the ever-so-slightly-left-of-centre and the centre-right. It, too, has had enormous difficulty in spelling out a new agenda, because of internal divisions as well as entrenched hostility from the Republican Party.
This isn’t what was supposed to happen. In the 1990s and the 2000s, right-wing parties were the enthusiasts of the market, pushing for the deregulation of banks, the privatisation of core state functions and the whittling away of social protections. All of these now look to have been very bad ideas. The economic crisis should really have discredited the right, not the left. So why is it the left that is paralysed?
Colin Crouch’s disquieting little book, Post-Democracy (2005), provides one plausible answer. Crouch is a British academic who spent several years teaching at the European University Institute in Florence, where he was my academic supervisor. His book has been well read in the UK, but in continental Europe its impact has been much more remarkable. Though he was not at the Cortona summer school in person, his ideas were omnipresent. Speaker after speaker grappled with the challenge that his book threw down. The fear that he was right, that there was no palatable exit from our situation, hung over the conference like a dusty pall.
Crouch sees the history of democracy as an arc. In the beginning, ordinary people were excluded from decision-making. During the 20th century, they became increasingly able to determine their collective fate through the electoral process, building mass parties that could represent their interests in government. Prosperity and the contentment of working people went hand in hand. Business recognised limits to its power and answered to democratically legitimated government. Markets were subordinate to politics, not the other way around.
The realm of real democracy — political choices that are responsive to voters’ needs — shrinks ever further
At some point shortly after the end of the Second World War, democracy reached its apex in countries such as Britain and the US. According to Crouch, it has been declining ever since. Places such as Italy had more ambiguous histories of rise and decline, while others still, including Spain, Portugal and Greece, began the ascent much later, having only emerged from dictatorship in the 1970s. Nevertheless, all of these countries have reached the downward slope of the arc. The formal structures of democracy remain intact. People still vote. Political parties vie with each other in elections, and circulate in and out of government. Yet these acts of apparent choice have had their meaning hollowed out. The real decisions are taken elsewhere. We have become squatters in the ruins of the great democratic societies of the past.
Crouch lays some blame for this at the feet of the usual suspects. As markets globalise, businesses grow more powerful (they can relocate their activities, or threaten to relocate) and governments are weakened. Yet the real lessons of his book are about more particular forms of disconnection.
Neo-liberalism, which was supposed to replace grubby politics with efficient, market-based competition, has led not to the triumph of the free market but to the birth of new and horrid chimeras. The traditional firm, based on stable relations between employer, workers and customers, has spun itself out into a complicated and ever-shifting network of supply relationships and contractual forms. The owners remain the same but their relationship to their employees and customers is very different. For one thing, they cannot easily be held to account. As the American labour lawyer Thomas Geoghegan and others have shown, US firms have systematically divested themselves of inconvenient pension obligations to their employees, by farming them out to subsidiaries and spin-offs. Walmart has used hands-off subcontracting relationships to take advantage of unsafe working conditions in the developing world, while actively blocking efforts to improve industry safety standards until 112 garment workers died in a Bangladesh factory fire in November last year. Amazon uses subcontractors to employ warehouse employees in what can be unsafe and miserable working conditions, while minimising damage to its own brand.
Instead of clamping down on such abuses, the state has actually tried to ape these more flexible and apparently more efficient arrangements, either by putting many of its core activities out to private tender through complex contracting arrangements or by requiring its internal units to behave as if they were competing firms. As one looks from business to state and from state to business again, it is increasingly difficult to say which is which. The result is a complex web of relationships that are subject neither to market discipline nor democratic control. Businesses become entangled with the state as both customer and as regulator. States grow increasingly reliant on business, to the point where they no longer know what to do without its advice. Responsibility and accountability evanesce into an endlessly proliferating maze of contracts and subcontracts. As Crouch describes it, government is no more responsible for the delivery of services than Nike is for making the shoes that it brands. The realm of real democracy — political choices that are responsive to voters’ needs — shrinks ever further.
Politicians, meanwhile, have floated away, drifting beyond the reach of the parties that nominally chose them and the voters who elected them. They simply don’t need us as much as they used to. These days, it is far easier to ask business for money and expertise in exchange for political favours than to figure out the needs of a voting public that is increasingly fragmented and difficult to understand anyway. Both the traditional right, which always had strong connections to business, and the new left, which has woven new ties in a hurry, now rely on the private sector more than on voters or party activists. As left and right grow ever more disconnected from the public and ever closer to one another, elections become exercises in branding rather than substantive choice.
Crouch was writing Post-Democracy 10 years ago, when most people thought that things were going quite well. As long as the economy kept delivering jobs and growth, voters didn’t seem to mind about the hollowing out of democracy. Left-of-centre parties weren’t worried either: they responded to the new incentives by trying to articulate a ‘Third Way’ of market-like initiatives that could deliver broad social benefits. Crouch’s lessons have only really come home in the wake of the economic crisis.
The problem that the centre-left now faces is not that it wants to make difficult or unpopular choices. It is that no real choices remain. It is lost in the maze, able neither to reach out to its traditional bases of support (which are largely dying or alienated from it anyway) nor to propose any grand new initiatives, the state no longer having the tools to implement them. When the important decisions are all made outside of democratic politics, the centre-left can only keep going through the ritualistic motions of democracy, all the while praying for intercession.
Most left-wing parties face some version of these dilemmas. Cronyism is less a problem than an institution in the US, where decision-makers relentlessly circulate between Wall Street, K Street, and the Senate and Congress. Yet Europe has some particular bugbears of its own. Even if national political systems were by some miracle to regain their old responsiveness, the power of decision has moved to the European Union, which is dominated by a toxic combination of economic realpolitik and bureaucratic self-interest. Rich northern states are unwilling to help their southern neighbours more than is absolutely necessary; instead they press for greater austerity. The European Central Bank, which was deliberately designed to be free of democratic oversight, is becoming ever more important, and ever more political. Social democrats once looked to the EU as a bulwark against globalisation — perhaps even a model for how the international economy might be subjected to democratic control. Instead, it is turning out to be a vector of corrosion, demanding that weaker member states implement drastic economic reforms without even a pretence of consultation.
Let’s return to Italy, the laboratory of post-democracy’s most grotesque manifestations. Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi’s elaborate simulacrum of a political party, is a perfect exemplar of Crouch’s thesis: a thin shell of branding and mass mobilisation, with a dense core of business and political elites floating free in the vacuum within.
After the Cortona summer school, Bersani won his fight with Renzi in November last year and led his party into the general election. His coalition lost 3.5 million votes but still won the lower house in February, because the Italian electoral system gives a massive bonus to the biggest winner. It fell far short of a majority in the upper house and is doing its hapless best to form a government. Grillo’s Five Star Movement, on the other hand, did far better than anyone expected, winning a quarter of the votes. Grillo has made it clear that his party will not support the Democratic Party. Renzi has tried to advance himself again as a compromise leader who might be more acceptable to Grillo, so far without success. In all likelihood there will be a second general election in a few months.
‘We die if a movement becomes a party. Our problem is to remain a movement in parliament, which is a structure for parties. We have to keep a foot outside’
The Italian Democratic Party is caught on one tine of the post-democratic dilemma. It is trying to work within the system as it is, in the implausible hope that it can produce real change within a framework that almost seems designed to prevent such a thing. As the party has courted Grillo, it has started making noises about refusing to accept austerity politics and introducing major institutional reforms. It is unclear whether senior Democratic figures believe their new rhetoric; certainly no one else does. If the party does somehow come to power, the most it will do is tinker with the system.
The Five Star Movement has impaled itself on the other tine, as have the Indignados in Spain, Occupy in the US and UK, and the tent movement in Israel. All have gained mass support because of the problems of post-democracy. The divide between ordinary people and politicians has grown ever wider, and Italian politicians are often corrupt as well as remote. The Five Star Movement wants to reform Italy’s institutions to make them truly democratic. Yet it, too, is trapped by the system. As Grillo told the Financial Times in October: ‘We die if a movement becomes a party. Our problem is to remain a movement in parliament, which is a structure for parties. We have to keep a foot outside.’
The truth is, if the Five Star Movement wants to get its proposals for radical change through the complex Italian political system, it will need to compromise, just as other parties do. Grillo’s unwillingness even to entertain discussions with other parties that share his agenda is creating fissures within his movement. Grillo is holding out for a more radical transformation, in which Italian politics would be replaced by new forms of internet-based ‘collective intelligence’, allowing people to come together to solve problems without ugly partisan bargaining. In order to save democracy, the Five Star Movement would like to leave politics behind. It won’t work.
The problems of the Italian left are mirrored in other countries. The British Labour Party finds itself in difficulty, wavering between a Blairite Third Wayism that offers no clear alternative to the present government, and a more full-blooded social democracy that it cannot readily define. The French left has mired itself in scandal and confusion. The Greek left is divided between a social democratic party that is more profoundly compromised than its Italian equivalent and a loose coalition of radicals that wants to do anything and everything except find itself in power and be forced to take decisions.
All are embroiled, in different ways, in the perplexities of post-democracy. None has any very good way out. Ever since France’s president François Mitterrand tried to pursue an expansive social democratic agenda in the early 1980s and was brutally punished by international markets, it has been clear that social democracy will require either a partial withdrawal from the international economy, with all the costs that this entails, or a radical transformation of how the international economy works.
It is striking that the right is not hampered to nearly the same extent. Many mainstream conservatives are committed to democracy for pragmatic rather than idealistic reasons. They are quite content to see it watered down so long as markets work and social stability is maintained. Those on the further reaches of the right, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn, find it much easier than the Five Star Movement or Syriza, the Greek radical-left coalition, to think about alternatives. After all, they aren’t particularly interested in reforming moribund democratic institutions to make them better and more responsive; they just want to replace them with some version of militaristic fascism. Even if these factions are unlikely to succeed, they can still pull their countries in less democratic directions, by excluding weaker groups from political protection. The next 10 years are unlikely to be comfortable for immigrants in southern Europe.
Post-democracy is strangling the old parties of the left. They have run out of options. Perhaps all that traditional social democracy can do, to adapt a grim joke made by Crouch in a different context, is to serve as a pall-bearer at its own funeral. In contrast, a new group of actors — the Five Star Movement and other confederations of the angry, young and dispossessed — have seized a chance to win mass support. The problem is, they seem unable to turn mass frustration into the power to change things, to create a path for escape.
Perhaps, over time, they will figure out how to engage with the mundane task of slow drilling through hard boards that is everyday politics. Perhaps, too, the systems of unrule governing the world economy, gravely weakened as they are, will fail and collapse of their own accord, opening the space for a new and very different dispensation. Great changes seem unlikely until they happen; only in retrospect do they look inevitable. Yet if some reversal in the order of things is waiting to unfold, it is not apparent to us now. Post-democracy has trapped the left between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. We may be here for some time