Congratulations to the Pirate Party having won an astounding 8.9% in the Berlin elections.
As I wrote two weeks ago, this is their moment of relevance, the emergence of Information politics as a mainstream political topic. Having 15 Piratenpartei representatives in the local government will certainly be of direct material benefit to activists fighting against software patents, for network neutrality, online security and privacy, etc, and that is a development to be celebrated.
Modern politics has become a politics of identities and causes. Major parties construct identities, these identities function as Legitimization Brands, not so much tied to specific social outcomes, but rather to specific personalities, representations, framings and forms of apology.
People vote for a party because that’s the kind of person they identify as: the kind of person that votes for that party and imagines themselves having the essentialized, yet drifting, characteristics the party markets as their image. Party membership is just another consumer identity.
The interests of the State and it’s ruling class doesn’t change from election to election, and the elected politicians of the ruling party’s job is to represent the policies demanded by the ruling class to the people that support them. The election is a market survey, designed to identify which Legitimization Brand will most effectively deliver public support.
The political policies of the major parties are formed byway of the campaign contributions and lobbying of the holders of the major economic power, not by the interests of the voters whose support they deliver.
Political resistance is limited to activist movements, which occasionally manifest as minor parties, the Greens and more recently the Pirate Party are such manifestations.
As minor parities, they are not integrated into the ruling class system, but rather represent the social power of movements around specific causes. These parties retain relevance to the degree that they are primarily the representatives of the activist social movements they emerged from, when they grow beyond being minor parties, like the Greens have in Germany, they become integrated into the ruling class, and begin representing ruling class interests.
The reason this happens is that as representatives of causes, they have no mass appeal.
The social power they can mobilize, although often visible and noisy, is not enough to propel them beyond the political fringes, yet maybe enough to attract attention from the same economic powers whose contributions and lobbies animate the major parties, and are thereby transformed into Legitimization Brands, like the other major parties, trading in the support of their now expanded constituencies so long as their legitimacy survives.
The masses are not interested in causes, at least not enough to mobilize around them.
And for very good reason, understanding complex causes like environmentalism and information politics seem complex and abstract to people, more concerned with their everyday lives. Activist campaigns often focus on the misdeeds of corporations and States. Most people feel unqualified to comment on it, and are therefore not so compelled to try to unravel the storms of claims and counter claims, accusations and apologies, all the rhetoric that drives such polemics. These are not their concerns, forming an opinion on such issues does not help in the daily challenges they face in their private lives. And the solutions presented are not clearly implied by their own conditions, thus they are happy to have these concerned administered for them, which the Legitimizing Apparatus is happy to do.
What’s missing from modern politics is, well… politics.
The traditional parties formed around the emerging power of different economic classes. Specifically from the interests of those who derived their incomes from the different Factors of Production, namely Land, Capital, and Labour.
Conservatives are called conservatives not because they have delicate sensibilities when it comes to sexuality or have regressive views of gender and racial roles, but because they wantwd to “Conserve” the system of Nobility, were elite families retained power and led society. Which, due to their superior genetic heritage, they were, aledgedly, uniquely able to do, and as they had done for centuries.
The primary economic power of the Conservatives come from those that controlled the land.
The Liberal are called Liberalis, not because they emerged as a movement of people who believed in being a little less uptight and a little less xenophobic, but rather because they represented the emerging Capitalist class, they believed that the State, meaning at that time, the Nobility, should let them conduct their businesses as they see fit, and not intervene in the market.
The primary power of the Liberals came from those that controlled capital.
As Capitalism triumphed, and Feudalism disappeared, Liberals and Conservatives became not so much representatives of different classes in conflict, but rather competing brands to market the interests of Capital to the masses. Both parties represent only slightly differing views on how markets and governments aught to be run, and in whose interest.
Labour Parties began as dissenting, activist parties, formed by groups of political intellectuals such as the UK Fabians. They were minor parties that had grown out of the workers’ movement.
Yet, the workers’ movement was different from the types of causes we have seen emerge more recently.
The workers’ movement was not fuelled by intellectual appeals to abstract technical concepts, and was not focused on the reported conduct of remote corporations or states, but on the direct conditions and interests experienced by workers, and workers were legion.
Their cause was not based on morality or belief, but on the conditions of their daily lives. What’s more, the platforms were directly implied by their conditions, they were not administered beliefs, but known facts. Workplace safety, wages, working hours and other matters of direct interest to workers did not require subscribing to one ideology or another to understand.
The workers movement, because of its class basis, did not need to rely on campaign contributions and lobby to have power, because the workers were the masses.
The power of the worker’s parties came from control of labour.
However, this language of Landlord, Capitalist and Worker emerged in quite a different era. The Power Loom was the driving force of industry, Nobility controlled the land and the State, and being a worker in early industry was torturous, inhumane, and importantly, most workers were direct-producers. The value they created took the form of stocks of goods that where literally taken from their hand and into the possession of the Capitalists, who became their owners and profited from their circulation, while the workers where left with nothing more than that which their subsistence demands so they could toil another day. Workers knew their class interests. The exploitation of labour was not a theory, but a felt, daily experience. There demands where not opinions, but terms of struggle.
The workers’ movement won many of these struggles. Working conditions and hours where improved as a result of fierce battles between workers and capitalists. This began to make the demands of workers’ parties less pressing, more marginal and abstract, while theories of value and economy developed further, the immediacy of the issues fell away.
More and more workers became non-direct producers, working in administrative or technical fields that did not directly produce stocks of goods, appropriation of the product of their labour became not a felt and observed experience, but yet another theory, something about which one could have an opinion, but no longer something that was a uniting term of struggle.
All the while the most oppressive and harsh conditions were relegated to the margins of society or even to other ends of the world, with whom the great body of workers in developed society had no relationship at all, or if any, then as yet another cause.
Politics has vanished and in it’s place is a marketplace for legitimization.
The commodity has become the voter themselves, delivered by a consciousness industry made up of parties, public relation firms and other agents of economic power.
In the absense of organized opposition, Capital has reshaped society towards it’s own interests. Where the owners of productive assets have increased power and freedom, unchecked by any kind of political contestation, and the masses are subjected, administered, and controlled. Workers are just another economic input, like energy and natural resources, who matter only enough to ensure reliable supply. Capital is spreading poverty, social stratification, environmental degradation and war with impunity, checked only by the economic and natural limits of such outcomes, and able to socialize or transfer the costs even when such limits are exceeded and catastrophe ensues.
To make politics relevant, to challenge and contest the interests of Capital and to represent the interests of the masses we need workers to once again unite in their common interests and make their social power felt.
Yet, workers’ politics is now failing because workers do not identify as workers, and thus any appeal addressed to workers is unlikely to achieve results. As the economy has moved on from the simple model of production that classical language was born in, so must the language of class politics. The workers are no longer direct witnesses to the product of their labour being ripped from their hands and hoarded by the Capitalist. Many people may hate their job, or their boss, but as the production of value is more abstract and remote, they do not feel that their boss is taking anything from them, rather they feel they are being given something, their job and their paycheque, etc. It is not in the workplace that the appropriation is felt, but rather after work, when they go home to pay their bills.
We can’t mobilize the masses as workers, but we can mobilize them as Debtors.
Debt is not simply a cause to build awareness and support for, it is the felt condition of the masses, who are struggling to pay their bills, who are frustrated and angry and who demand representation which no mainstream party will give them.
The time has come for The Debtors’ Party.
Join the initiative to found an International Debtors’ Party. So far, the resources are small, come help us build a movement.
– Facebook group: http://bit.ly/debtorsfb
– irc channel: #debt on irc.oftc.net
– wiki: wiki.debtorsparty.org
With your help, much more to come.
Debtors of The World Unite!