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Why DiEM25 ist the Most Important Political Organisation and Why I Just Left it

Friday 20 July 2018, by mond


I write these lines not in order to put any blame on anyone but in order to help people understand what happened and help the organisation learn from this.

Many people today realize that there needs to be changes but a lot of them lack the understanding of what exactly is wrong and how to fix things. And a lot of them fall for the propaganda of the right-wing.

DiEM25 has as its goal to create a new constitution for the EU until 2025. To save the idea of the EU, fight against the nationalism within the EU and also fight for the rights of refugees (#Let_them_in campaign). We do not want boarders within the EU but neither do we want them around the EU. We do not want to replace nationalism within the EU with a euro-nationalism.

Now these ideas are not popular these days and many political organisations have choosen to move to the right and give in to the racist and nationalist propaganda, in order to avoid loosing voters to the right. The social democrats have been doing this for a long time now. Instead of fighting against the right-wing propagnda they included it into their programs. Even left wing groups today are moving into this direction and include a dose of racism and nationalism into their rhetorics.

Sara Wagenknecht from the German "Die Linke" is a prominent example of this dispiteful trend.

DiEM25 so far, was a group that tried to counter this development. Instead of giving in to the right wing propaganda we wanted to counter it: Develop ideas, arguments and campaigns to dispel the propaganda of the right. DSCs need to be places where such discussions can be openly held in a friendly and comforting way.

On top of that DiEM25 was a truly transnational effort: Instead of a loose collection of national groups DiEM25, from the start, was envisioned as a transnational organisation.

Now why did I just leave the organisation?

Up until a few month ago, DiEM was on a good track to fulfill the above promise. But then things started to go wrong, at least here in Austria.

I will try to explain why this could happen below. In the end we had a lot of people coming from the "Liste Pilz" - which is kind of the Wagenknecht-Wing of the Austrian Greens. Pilz was clearly to the right of the Greens: He campagined with more or less open anti-islamism and help up "homeland" and "national" values. His internal program initially had the title "Austria First" and came with headlines such es "Europe is Full".

You have to let this sink in for a moment: At the same time while people where drowning in the Mediterianian Sea, Mister Pilz had the Idea that it would need turn towards the right wing is what is needed.

But of course there is the possibility that some of the fans of mister Pilz supported him for other reasons then the latent racism. E.g. his misogynist views. In the online forums of Austrian newspapers we often found his supporters mocking the gender-neutral writing style ("binnen-I"). Both the racism and the antifeminism is completly incompatible with DiEM25s principles, still the Gang of Pilz-Fanboys has managed to successfully hijack DiEM25-Austria.

DiEM25 in Austira has become a place where it is likely that one gets ridiculed and antagonize for expressing core ideas of DiEM. Open boarders? "We need borders - because people are different". or "Let us not be too radical in our support for refugees" is what you could hear in a DiEM-Group meeting in Austria.

This is not an organisation where I want to be part of.

Sure, there are more explicitly right-wing groups in Austria then the "Liste Pilz". So some still think: in the end it is better that the moderate Pilz people get the vote then the more openly racist and nationalist political parties. But the problem is: each time someone on the left tries this political strategy, the right only gets stronger. The message that the public gets is: See the hate mongering of the right was right all along because even the "left" now repeats their arguments. So in the medium and long term the populist strategy is a disaster.

The socialdemocrats are the best example - more and more of them are in favor of running coalition governments with the FPOE (the most extreme right wing party with a lot of Nazi followers).

So how did DiEM-Austria get into this mess?

In order to be successfull an organisation needs to be able to deal with different views. Plurality should be seen as strength. On the other hand: If things are too diverse, then it will just result in infight and productive political work will no longer be possible.

DiEM25 tried to get this right from the beginning: Everyone who wants to become a member has to declare that they are on the ground of the "DiEM Manifesto" and also roughly in line with the Progressive Agenda (7 Pillars on various topics). This way it should be guaranteed that we are roughly on the same page, while still allowing a diversity views and backgrounds.

Now the Manifesto is rather long and not everyone who joins seems to read it. Most people who are interested in DiEM seem to prefer to show up at a DSC meeting and check out the spirit there. This procedure will still work as long as the DSC (local DiEM group) is functioning well: enough room for political discussion and enough members who are able to communicate what DiEM stands for and what its goals are.

At some point the DSC-1 in Vienna switched to the mode of "who ever shows up: anyone is welcome and we do not care about their political motivations". Within a few month the group was dominated by Pilz people who then attracted other Pilz Fans to form a new group. (Since the "Liste Pilz" group was in disarray people there turned away and where seeking new political groups - obviously they assumed to be welcomed at DiEM) At the end they also managed to hijack the formation of a national comitee in Austria.

As the "Liste Pilz", due to their participation in the national election, is known to Millions of people in Austria we should expect an influx of their fans into DiEM within the next weeks. Thus the populist Pilz-doctrine will dominate DiEM in Austria).

Everything is not lost yet

When an official NC board is founded, the members have to be approved by the transnational DiEM organisation (every member worldwide has a vote). So if enough people care about DiEM the right-wing-populist group could be voted out. Also the transnational CC (coordination committee) could still step in. Yet the longer the current situation is in place, the more likely it will be that it will be hard correct the course, as genuine members are leaving and Populist Pilz fans are coming in.

What should be learned from this?

While the situation in austria is dreadful, there are things to be learned for the organisation that go beyond that case.

If situations like this are handled in a similar way in other countries, then DiEM will loose much of its biggest assent: Its transnational character and will fall appart into diverging national groups.

So there are two issues at hand: First people joining without knowing what DiEM stand for and without understanding whether they stand on the ground of the Manifesto and then there is the issue of diverging DSC groups and even diverging national groups.

Also there is the issue of where and how to excatly draw the line between the pluarality of views and heterogenity that we cherish and positions and views that DiEM does not accept. The challenge here is also to do this in a way that is unambiguous but simple enough that potential new members can find out about this easily.

While I think that the current position of that line: One has to be fully on the ground of the Manifesto and roughly in line with the Pillars is fine, it is obvious that this does not fulfill the "simple and unambiguous" criterion.

Measures that could be taken:

  • Try to get a condensed version of important hallmarks from the manifesto and the pillars.
  • It might help to formulate some point in a negative way: Instead of declearing what we stand for we could also declare what we do not stand for.
  • The question of using populism ("adopting positions not because we think they are right but because we think they are popular") is one of the points that should be explicitly handled in such a document, as there is hardly any possible middle ground here. And where you have positions where there is no middle ground - all discussions around it will get stuck.
  • Encourage DSCs to have longer political discussions with newcomers where they get to know them but also where the newcomers learn about the goals of DiEM.
  • Encourage DSCs to have more political discussion regarding DiEM25 overall mission and not only participating in narrow discussions on narrow topics regarding new pillars.
  • More interaction between DSCs. E.g. The current process of forming new pilars where DSCs submit some suggestions that are then centrally compiled does not foster discussion between DSCs.
  • DSCs could have (maybe randomly assigned) 1 or 2 sister DSCs where they are encouraged to exchange political opinions. Ideally not from the same country.
  • A good knowledge of participatory democracy is necessary. So that people understand how to bridge differences (E.g. a refusal to discuss political positions - as it was seen with the Pilz-People - is not a good start) but also to understand which kind of fundamental differences are not easy to bridge at all.
  • NCs might mitigate the problem of DSCs going astray but they could also amplify it, when the bias is then transferred to the national level.
  • The current way of electing NC members is not efficient: Even with short introduction text and videos it has hard for members of other countries to really find out where the candidates stand. Most people will give the candidates the benefit of the doubt. One way could be a "voting advice application" (VAA) ("wahlkabine", "wahl-o mat") type of system, where candidates position themselfs within a range of questions and voters could find out how much they are alligned with their views before they cast their vote. (This might also help in CC elections).

    At the end of the day, technical changes can only get you so far, what of course is needed is to keep the spirit alive in people. To fight for a common, social and humanist Europe. As for myself I will lead this fight outside of DiEM as I am not willing to be in an Organisation where I have to justify why I do not want people to drown in the Sea.

    Franz Schäfer (Mond), July 2018.

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