Leiden: Disc.paper on strategies for action

spanish summary

[you can download this paper as .rtf document at

2nd European Conference of Peoples' Global Action
Leiden, 31 August - 4 September 2002

Discussion Paper on Strategies for Action

This document is the result of conversations at the NoBorder camp in
Strasbourg, where it emerged that many people desired an emphasis on strategies
during the PGA conference. This was seen as involving thought about ways to (1)
continue confronting power and face the current wave of repression, (2) relate
the opposition against power structures with proactive efforts to create
alternatives, and (3) strengthen and widen our networks. This document is aimed
at kick-starting debates on analysis and action proposals around these three
key dimensions - as part of an on-going discussion, rather than an attempt to
reach consensus.

This paper presents some analysis and questions for the debate - but we
stress that it only reflects the ideas and opinions of the people who wrote it or
criticised it (people from different countries who found time for this
discussion in Strasbourg or later through email lists). It has no intention to be
comprehensive, objective or representative; in fact, we hope that it is just
the opposite, in order to encourage other people to develop their own
analyses and suggestions and to share and debate their ideas with others. If
possible, we ask people to do this in writing before the conference, in order to
give local groups the opportunity to consider diverse points of view in their
preparatory debates. The forum http://pga.squat.net/phorum/list.php?f=8 (part
of the forum for the conference, http://pga.squat.net/phorum/) and the

caravan99atlists.riseup.net mailing list

can be used to share your thoughts with
others before the conference. To post new texts in the strategies section of the
forum, go to http://pga.squat.net/phorum/post.php?f=8

This paper was mainly prepared as input for the specific discussions on
strategies and tactics. However, we also invite you to consider its content as it
relates to discussions in other thematic workshops during the conference.

We invite everyone to distribute and discuss this document outside of the
'usual' networks and communication channels. We should try to reach out
particularly to sectors which are negatively affected by unequal relations of power,
but are not very much involved in our networks (such as women's groups and
self-organised refugees and migrants, sex workers, homeless people, etc). We
also invite people to translate the document into as many languages as
possible, especially non-Western European ones, and post them in the forum.

1. Confronting Power and Facing Repression
Since the Zapatista uprising, the combined efforts of different emancipatory
networks rapidly challenged the established political culture, by exposing
the violent and undemocratic nature of market forces and representative
democracy. Through direct action, civil disobedience and global communication and
coordination, the networks successfully defied capitalism and 'democratic'
representation, thus eroding the source of legitimacy of Western power
structures. This in turn strengthened and cross-fertilised existing processes of
emancipatory social change all over the world.

After Genoa and the attacks of 0911, however, the source of legitimacy of
power is changing radically. We are returning to the old days of rule by fear,
scapegoat politics and muscle (especially in the USA) although with a
democratic façade. There is no sign of opposition from most of the Western
population, and often these changes happen with their participation and support. The
imagery related to the so-called 'war on terror', which links security,
nationalism and 'culture', provides a perfect scapegoat for the social tensions
provoked by economic restructuring. It legitimises aberrant laws to isolate and
criminalise people on the basis of skin colour, nationality, religion and
political activity, enabling the state to widen its immense range of tools for
surveillance and social control. The racist panic is also used to strengthen
military budgets and legitimise as many geostrategic wars in the South and the
East as demanded by the 'enduring freedom' of Western economic interests.

The response from the global emancipation networks to these developments has
been quite limited. Although there have been very good examples of the
opposite, we are still a long way from appropriately responding to what might be
the most important change in patterns of domination since the end of the II
World War. The good news is that we have not been paralysed and different
mobilisations since Genoa and 0911 have sent a strong message of continued
resistance. But if we really want to have an impact we need to do a better job at
attacking social fear. By this term we mean the manufacturing of collective
insecurity and the continuous construction of enemies and threats, which is used
by power structures to legitimise themselves and produce a popular demand
for ever tighter security, militarism and control, targeted especially against
those who were already oppressed and excluded.

An important advantage for us is that, in spite of the success of
fear-manufacturing mechanisms in the West, capitalism is being questioned, and opposed,
by growing numbers of people all over the world. The challenge is how to
continue nurturing this opposition while relating it to other forms of
oppression (racism, sexism, etc), fighting against social fear, and surviving the
growing repression that we are facing.

Possible questions for debate
* How do you evaluate the effects of the anti-capitalist mobilisations and
actions of the last few years? How do you think things changed after Genoa and
0911? Are we having an increasing or decreasing impact on public opinion,
and why? What do you think struggles against power and repression will be like
in the near future?
* How can we attack the self-legitimisation strategies being employed by
power structures?
* How can we improve our capacity to communicate with sectors of society
that perceive themselves as 'non-political' and buy into fear-engineering
policies? How can we increase our 'cultural flexibility' to improve our
communication with them? What forms of action and communication can we use to overcome
the limits of demonstrations and direct actions?
* How can we approach the crisis of the electoral system? And the rise of
the far right?
* How do we protect ourselves from the growing repression and
criminalisation, and react in cases of extreme harshness, such as in Genoa?
* How can we increase the exchange of technical capabilities and
organisational experiences?
* Do you want to talk about summit-hopping or are you bored to death of the
* Do you want to talk about violence-non-violence or are you bored to death
of the subject?

[Since the war against Iraq is likely to start in a few months, and is also
likely to provoke tremendous tensions and maybe even attacks in Western
countries, it would also make sense to start preparing our responses to it.]

2. Building Alternatives
The global days of action and counter-summits of the past years have had an
immense impact. But even when the novelty and success of these mass protests
gave them the guise of an unstoppable tidal-wave, it was already clear to
most people involved that we cannot build new social relations through protest
alone. The idea that solutions would somehow emerge by themselves from the
dynamic of ever-growing protests was questioned from the beginning by many
within our networks, and increasing numbers of people have been experimenting with
ways to supplement protests with sustained initiatives advancing concrete
social struggles.

With the clear failure and thorough discrediting of both
parliamentary-reformist and vanguardist options, there is increasing awareness that in order to
affect meaningful transformation we need to combine a growing confrontation
with power structures with a renewed emphasis on building autonomous
alternatives. This strategy is one by which people in different contexts and struggles
identify opportunities to extract energy, resources and meaning out of
existing social relations and put them into building new ones. The image then is
one of many autonomous but connected attempts to hollow out existing
structures, while at the same time creating, expanding and strengthening new diverse
patterns of social relations. Perhaps, the European Social Consulta
(www.europeanconsulta.org) could become a tool to help us advance strategies in this
direction. There will of course always be an important role for global actions
and issue-based campaigns; in fact, protests and alternatives should
reinforce each other in a long-term process of emancipatory social transformation.

In fact, there is no clear-cut distinction between confrontation against and
alternatives to the existing system. Democratic, non-hierarchical,
non-commodified alternatives need to maintain their active confrontation with existing
power structures in order not to be incorporated or marginalised - and as
soon as they reach a significant dimension they will suffer at least the same
degree of repression as mass protests, if not more. They will never have a
real chance to become strong enough to pose a real threat to the system without
engaging actively in the struggle against it, but at the same time they may
offer us a more coherent, credible and self-reliant basis to struggle from.

Possible questions for debate:
* Do you see this analysis as relevant? What sort of social change do you
envision, and how?
* What role(s) do you think that these alternatives can play in challenging
the existing social order? What are their limits? Does it makes sense to
concentrate our efforts in building them? If not, what are the implications?
* How can we move from symbolic fringe actions (even if there are 300.000
people in them) to transforming society at a more fundamental level?
* How can autonomous alternatives become relevant to wider sectors of
society? How can we encourage large numbers of people to self-organise alternative
social relations and link up with networks of struggle?
* How could the Social Consulta be an adequate tool for these objectives?
What other tools we need?
* How do we maintain a balance between the construction of decentralised
alternatives and the confrontation with global oppressive structures? How can we
avoid repeating the mistakes of the huge alternative movements
(cooperatives, etc.) that grew up around the workers movements of the XIX-XX centuries and
ended up coopted by the market and/or the state, or bankrupt, and with them
the illusion and energy of millions of people?
* How can we avoid losing the cross-fertilised, heterogeneous and
ever-changing nature of globalised struggles and social relations? How do we avoid
retreating into excluding and restrictive local identities, as many communes did?
* How do we encourage people involved only in 'lifestyle politics' to look
at the broader picture?
* What role should high-tech play in our struggles today? And in the
alternatives we build?
* What should the role of PGA be in the construction of decentralised and
autonomous alternatives?

3. Cooperation within and outside existing networks
The success of our actions so far has been based on two factors: (1) the
combination of a great diversity of discourses from emancipatory struggles in
all continents (social, environmental, indigenous, feminist, etc), and (2)
forms of articulation, action and communication that make our networks immune to
most of the problems that have plagued 'leftist' struggles for a long time:

* The collective articulation of global days of action has been based on
decentralisation and autonomy; on spaces and tools for communication and
coordination among people who think, act and speak for themselves. The rejection of
any form of collective identity for the networks, of centralised finances, of
permanent representatives towards media, of mandated mediators towards the
institutions and of any other source of power, made it structurally impossible
to 'divide', corrupt, domesticate, co-opt or behead the networks, and gave
us an unprecedented degree of operativity and dynamism.

* The combination of diverse participatory forms of action (artistic forms
of expression, direct action to destroy capitalist symbols, civil disobedience
etc.) made an unambiguous statement of rejection of global power structures,
seriously eroding their legitimacy and drawing public sympathy. The attempts
of the state and media to criminalise our networks had, until Genoa, the
opposite effect than intended: rather than isolating, dividing and weakening us,
they made our struggles more visible and attracted new people to the actions
and networks.

* The attempts to create diverse and decentralised means of communication
have been an important step towards producing self-organised, flexible and
dynamic systems that help to facilitate participation and reduce predictability.

We expect that all participants at the PGA conference agree on the need to
maintain and improve these forms of articulation, action and communication -
not just because they define the way in which the network operates and relates
to other networks, but also because their great results they have had in the
last years. However, there are some important questions to discuss. Here are
some examples:

* PGA and similar networks in Europe and North America have connected mainly
people who come from so-called autonomous groups (squats and social centres,
self-organised environmental or solidarity groups, anarchist collectives,
post-ideological action groups, etc). The active participation of people who
are most directly affected by the structures of power which we confront
(self-organised refugees and migrants, women's groups, homeless, sex workers, etc)
has been quite limited. This contrasts sharply with the situation in Asia,
Latin America and the Pacific (and to a much lesser degree, also in Southern
Africa), where the participation has so far mainly come from large movements of
the most oppressed people (peasants, indigenous peoples, women's
organisations, etc) - although in Latin America and the Pacific there is also an
increasing participation from local autonomous groups. It is true that there are not
many movements of oppressed people in Europe, and even fewer that work
according to principles of decentralisation and autonomy, but we seem to be doing a
bad job at working together even with the ones that we are already in
contact with.

* Beyond the 'organised' groups and movements, there are huge numbers of
people who challenge the existing order on a daily basis - for instance,
applying low-intensity invisible techniques in their jobs to constantly defend and
reinvent more humane ways of producing, crossing borders without permission,
using graffiti or drums to bring life into grey suburbs, shoplifting in large
malls, etc. Sometimes some of them come in contact with our networks (through
social centres mainly) but most of them seem not to be very interested in or
aware of what we do. At least part of the reason for this must lie in our
ways of doing things and relating to each other: how we perceive and present
ourselves, how we communicate, what sort of things we do (and fail to do), how
we do them, etc.

* In most actions and events in which PGA has played a role, it has so far
deliberately maintained a low profile. This has been done in order to avoid
creating too much of a 'collective identity', for such a thing could have
transformed the nature of the network from a tool for communication and
cooperation into a political subject of its own (the opposite of working on the basis
of decentralisation and autonomy). The idea was to concentrate the visibility
and protagonism in the local groups doing the actions, and those that used
PGA in their name have been asked by the convenors to find another one, since
nobody can speak on behalf of PGA. While this is all very good and coherent
with PGA principles, our intentional low-profile has provided a great springing
board for power-hungry representatives of centralised organisations to
present themselves in mainstream media as 'speakers' of the 'anti-globalisation
movement' (whatever that means), while PGA remained only visible to insiders.
If we want, it should be possible to combine a deliberate lack of collective
identity with a collective effort to achieve more visibility for PGA. But do
we want that? Would it be a dangerous step? Do we need it?

* In the last years, several media-oriented organisations have been created
in order to capitalise on what the media inaccurately calls
'antiglobalisation movement'. Since their purpose is to attract as much good (corporate) press
and institutional attention as possible, they generally don't oppose
capitalism and centralised power; instead, they propose to manage them differently.
Some of them don't hesitate to participate in the criminalisation of our
networks to get better media coverage. However, they have been able to appeal to
and attract many sound and genuine people who knew no other way to get
involved in 'the movement'. Many of these people have more radical positions than
their respective organisations, but have also developed a strong sense of
collective identity and 'belonging' to them. So even if the relationship with the
leadership of these organisations is bound to be conflict-ridden, maybe our
networks should try to relate in more positive terms with their members - or
maybe not?

* A particular case is the World Social Forum, a diverse and heterogeneous
media-powered event/coalition (where there are some good organisations and
movements) that was created by some sectors of the old left, of social democracy
and of mainstream NGOs in order to present themselves as the moral guides of
the 'anti-globalisation movement'. The WSF has broadened the so-called
'anti-globalisation movement' and given it a 'respectable' public image,
accelerating the delegitimation of neoliberal ideology, and thus of power. On the
other hand, mainstream media and social democratic parties are positive about the
WSF due to its legitimising role, since the 'alternatives' that it proposes
to neoliberalism are still based on capitalism and bureaucracies (global,
national or local). In any case, the WSF and its offspring (like the ESF) are a
major meeting point for people and organisations that might not have found
other ways to link up with 'the movement'. There will be a special workshop in
the Leiden conference to organise a parallel space during the upcoming
meeting of the ESF in Florence, and there should also be a separate paper to
prepare for it.

These are some issues for discussion on this topic, you might think of
different ones. You might totally disagree with our analyses, we'd be glad if this
was the case, since this text is aimed precisely at encouraging debate. We
of course do not expect any consensus to come out of the discussions, the only
intention is to foster the exchange of ideas around these topics, which will
hopefully give raise to internationally coordinated initiatives on specific
aspects of our work.

Appendix: on a more fundamental note
All the topics for discussion presented in this paper are based on the
assumption that we all agree on the need to reach out to ever growing sectors of
society and to construct a process of broad social change in Europe. But for
this to happen, we need to become a 'mass movement', not in the sense of
integrating 'the masses' in 'our' struggle, but in the sense that increasing
numbers of people take control over their own lives through diverse means and
according to their own ideas. But can we become a mass movement in Europe in the
foreseeable future? What are the consequences if we think that we can? And if
not? [We think that we can, otherwise we would not waste our time writing
this paper, but some people might not agree, and that is also a legitimate and
coherent position.] Do we want to give it a try, or shall we concentrate on
more tangible, immediate things?

Doc.discusion estrategias de accion

En la página http://pga.squat.net/phorum/read.php?f=8&i=30&t=22 está el
'Documento de Discusión sobre Estrategias de Acción' preparado para contribuir a
la discusion en la conferencia europea de la Accion Global de los Pueblos,
que comienza así:

Este documento constituye el resultado de conversaciones en el Campamento
contra las Fronteras en Estrasburgo, durante el cual se vio claramente que
much@s deseaban profundizar el tema de las estrategias durante la conferencia de
la AGP. Esto concierne una reflexión sobre maneras de (1) continuar
enfrentándonos al poder y respondiendo a la represión creciente, (2) relacionar la
oposición a las estructuras de poder con esfuerzos activos para crear
alternativas, y (3) estrechar y ampliar nuestras redes. El principal objetivo de este
documento es de suscitar debates sobre análisis y propuestas de acción en
torno a estas tres dimensiones claves - integrándose en una plática que ya
existe, en vez de aspirar a llegar a un consenso.

Este documento presenta nuestro análisis y varias preguntas para este debate
— pero subrayamos que todo ello refleja únicamente ideas y opiniones
de las personas que lo escribieron y criticaron (gente de diferentes países
que encontraron tiempo para esta discusión en Estrasburgo o en las listas de
correo electrónico). No tiene la intención de ser un documento completo,
objetivo o representativo; de hecho, esperamos que sea lo contrario, para que
incite a otra gente a desarrollar sus propios análisis y sugerencias, así como a
compartir y debatir sus ideas. Si fuera posible, solicitamos a la gente que lo
haga por escrito antes de la conferencia, para brindar a los grupos locales
la oportunidad de considerar diversos puntos de vista en sus debates


In the page http://pga.squat.net/phorum/read.php?f=8&i=30&t=22 you'll find
the spanish translation discussion paper on strategies for action that was
recently sent on this list.

European PGA Conference Leiden | PGA