Enemies of such politicians and businessmen (more than the social system that the latter are an expression of), citizenists are convinced that democracy—in its most genuine, rustic form—is effectively the best possible world and that capitalism and the State can be moralised. On two conditions however: that this democracy express itself through a political rebirth modelled more on the Athens of Pericles than the Florence of Machiavelli, and with more direct participation of citizens, who must not only elect their representatives but constantly act to put pressure on them so that they really do what they were elected to do. This pressure can be exercised in the most disparate ways, without excluding the acts of ‘civil disobedience’ that are so fiele ???that they make even the most boorish reactionaries drool and receive great admiration from the movement. In a sense, it could be said that citizenism is born of delusion. In its most reformist version it is delusion for the increasing distance that separates whoever is sent to parliament from those who remain in the streets. Many respectable people—those convinced that it is power that creates and guarantees freedom, that the market must be founded on ethical principles and that military operations must respect a deontological code—no longer feel represented by a managerial class that constitutes a privileged caste and is deaf to the interests of the common people. These worthy people firmly believe in the State: the need for the State, the usefulness of the State, but they are momentarily disillusioned, convinced that the present time is not being led by competent, honest, loyal politicians. Hence their diffidence concerning professional politicians, parties or unions, whilst not abandoning the search for someone worthy of their quest. Feeling neglected, citizenists see themselves forced to come out into the streets to defend their ‘rights’. Their struggles always have precise objectives, limit themselves to saying a precise NO to a specific State project that puts their own health in danger, without in the least wanting to question the social organisation that produced it. They are not at all interested in radical revolt or subversive tension. They are honest citizens, not ‘hooligans’ or ‘terrorists’. It goes without saying that although they are prepared to carry out formally ‘illegal’ actions such as roadblocks, they are the declared enemies of violence. They cannot bear the truncheon of the cop that represses them any more than they can the sabotage of the rebel who insurges. The only acts of force they accept are the minimal, integrated controlled ones that they realise from time to time, those aimed at attracting the attention of the authorities. Such actions can even be quite spectacular at times, but they do not prevent whoever carries them out from running for the presidential elections in the future. In its least reformist variant, citizenism is the result of delusion concerning a revolution whose historic project turned out to be a failure. This project was aiming for a reappropriation of the means of capitalist production by the proletariat. Here social change could only be seen as the suppression of the usurping class, so any growth in the productive forces was seen as a step forward along the road to revolution, accompanying the real movement where the proletariat would constitute itself as the future revolutionary subject that would bring about communism and anarchy. The failure of this perspective began to appear in the first half of the twentieth century, with the defeat of the revolutions in Russia, Germany and in Spain. The latest tremor was May ’68 in France, which opened another decade of social struggles. The eighties put an end to the great storming of the heavens, marking the irremediable decline and disappearance of this project of social liberation, along with the restructuring of capital that introduced automation and put an end to the centrality of the factory and the myths linked to it. The orphans of the proletarian revolution have found a form of protest in citizenism that is capable of consoling them for their loss. Some of the ideas it contains, such as those relative to the ‘repartition of wealth’, come directly from the old worker’s movement that intended to manage the capitalist world itself, a continuity, and also a hijacking, of the ideals of another era by citizenism. That is what is called ‘the art of using up the leftovers’.
Whether it is a question of the enlightened bourgeoisie claiming transparency in public affairs, or disillusioned proletarians filling the void left by the collapse of the Berlin wall, the fact remains that the citizenists, not being able to have a common theory, at least have one ideal in common: another State is possible. If it is possible to find many, sometimes even contradictory, souls within this nebulous expanse, it is because citizenism expresses an integrated form of protestation that hopes to be able to redress the dysfunction of the economic system through an increased participation of citizens. In such a way citizenism manages to be transversal, holding together protest and collaboration. Protest spurs collaboration, collaboration gratifies protest. This explains both its successes and its certain future. It is the only form of mediation that consents ‘immediate’ even if partial victories, through collaboration with the institutions.
SOMETHING GOT LOST
Citizenism took its first steps in Italy in Val Susa with the struggle against the high-speed train. To tell the truth, in the Piedmontese valley the struggle against the TAV began more than ten years ago in quite a different way, with a few acts of sabotage against the initial works. Small actions reached the headlines with the arrest of those presumed responsible, three anarchists who turned out to have nothing to do with it. During the inquest, two of them committed suicide. The hue and cry that these events led to at the time drew attention to the State’s projects for Val Susa, generating a movement of protest that—although gaining considerable sympathy—had for the most part been circumscribed to the militant ambit for a number of years. But when the work began in earnest in November 2005 this movement managed to break down social barriers, taking on a mass character. What happened in Val Susa led to widespread enthusiasm that pushed many to believe they had finally discovered the magic formula, which need only be repeated in other contexts in order to obtain similar results. Hence the proliferation of committees, assemblies, popular initiatives against ‘noxiousness’ that are filling up the movement’s agenda all over Italy. But what is the theory behind this unbridled activism, which in July 2006 was coordinated with the Solidarity Pact and Mutual aid? The main discourse is that of the creation of a ‘new’ and ‘pure’ democracy, i.e. the citizenist discourse.
Presented by many as a libertarian text, the Solidarity Pact and Mutual Aid is a perfect example of a political document, distinguished by the ambiguity of those who are running with the hare and running with the hounds, trying to please everybody (and if the sight of many citizens venturing a foot outside the institutions cannot fail to cheer us up, what about the rebels who, in solidarity, ended up putting a foot inside them?) There are anarchists who rejoice in reading ‘THE NATIONAL PACT OF SOLIDARITY AND MUTUAL AID IS CERTAINLY NOT AN ATTEMPT TO INFILTRATE AND SUPPLANT THE POLITICS OF PARLIAMENT, NOR DO THEY INTEND TO HAVE THEMSELVES WELCOMED INTO THE PLACES OF POLITICS; THEY HAVE NO FRIENDLY GOVERNMENTS TO LOOK TO WITH FAITH; THEY HAVE NO PARTIES TO CONSIGN DELEGATES TO CARTE BLANCHE AND CERTAINLY DO NOT INTEND TO TAKE A ROAD THAT LEADS THEM TO BECOMING A PARTY THEMSELVES’, without realising that this is only stating the transversal and lobbyist nature of citizenism. Citizens are well-balanced people, they don’t want to become a party, but they want to put a certain amount of pressure on the parties. They well know that fighting in the political arena is not without unpleasant consequences. And the way to avoid such a risk is to take the form of the pressure group that is careful not to exercise power directly. That is why they do not consign ‘UNCONDITIONAL DELEGATES’, because they don’t want to have privileged interlocutors. Anyone who listens to them will do. That is why immediately afterwards it is pointed out that the Pact, ‘NOT FOR THIS FLEES POLITICS AND CONFRONTATION, AND CAN DISTINGUISH WHO OPERATES TRANSPARENTLY FROM WHO IS A SWINDLER. AT THE SAME TIME, THE MODEL IT PROPOSES IS THE ONLY METHOD THAT IS PREPARED TO ACCEPT THE ACTIVE PARTICIPATION OF CITIZENS. The citizenists certainly do not shun politics, no sir, only they no longer want to be taken for a ride, short reckonings. Far from supporting abstentionism, they preach participation. So it is not by chance if the anti-TAV protest in Val Susa, although capable of clashing with the police and disrupting the commencement of the Venaus tunnel works (a moment of rupture that disappeared from the Valsusin narration, which prefers to go on about on the more presentable popular assemblies), later ended up at the elections. The high influence of these polling stations at the last elections saw the triumph of that part of the left that had been most active in the region. So, clashes and barricades (for now?) have not increased the revolt against all the parties, in fact it has favoured some of them. And if the considerable presence of subversives in Valsusa has given the TAV opposition a particularly lively hue, the struggles that are offshoots of it elsewhere sometimes look tragicomic. In Vicenza, for example, there is a struggle against the extension of the American military base in course. The committees ‘No dal Molin’ expressly state that they are claiming ‘RESPECT FOR THE PROGRAM OF THE UNION’. Their nature as aspiring governors is such as to persuade to sponsor their initiatives under the aegis of ‘Other Commune’. With such a premise it should come as no surprise that these Committees, self-acclaimed sole legitimate representatives of the struggle against the American military base, have excommunicated the authors of a number of acts of sabotage that took place against the base last April. Taking a distance from the deeds was obviously not enough for them. Nor is it strange if all and sundry with institutional pedigrees get invited to their paying campsites, solicited to bark and growl in the name of democracy. Even less can one be indignant if during the periodic marches of protest that go through the paladin city, such as that of December 15, they assume the role of ‘firemen’, arriving to extinguish demonstrators’ intent to sabotage the walk. Stupefying if, after having supported the committees No dal Molin (with relative rubber stamp registered at the court), publicised their initiatives, expressed their solidarity, spread their slogans—evidently having lost any faith in the possibility of an autonomous intervention in a struggle against the American military base and not the struggle No dal Molin that is only the reformist expression of the latter.
As already said, citizenism took form as a political reaction from the base against the so-called ‘crisis in representation’. This reaction aims to overcome and cure such a crisis through new forms of representation. From this point of view, it places itself as the natural heir of parties and unions in the recuperation of more radical and subversive tensions. But that does not prevent the contexts in which this manifests itself from presenting elements of extreme interest, because potentially they have plenty of favourable perspectives. So it is quite comprehensible that many subversives have decided to intervene in these situations of struggle with the aim of exploiting the occasion, of radicalising the citizenist objectives, overcoming them and putting them face to face with their contradictions. But how?
This question has perhaps been underestimated. A movement, even if born on reformist hypotheses, can always go off the rails and change route. After all, it has been pointed out more than once how banality has been the calling card of revolutions throughout history. That is no doubt true, but it is not a good enough reason for initiating and supporting banality. Thanks to frequenting reformist movements with the aim of radicalising them, subversives have often ended up changing route themselves. And this is inevitable when one adapts to events by supporting their ideas instead of trying to deflect them (at the risk of staying on the edge of the ‘masses’?). Never before has this aspect been more obvious. Individual insurrection aside, today one supports the direct democracy of the people, takes part in the oceanic demonstrations they used to invite us to desert, hosts university professionists of separated knowledge that was once despised. It is no longer qualitative difference, but quantitative identity. No more radical critique intended to provoke conflict, no more swearwords, in the name of Concordia. After time immemorial, for once it was not the subversives that followed the struggles of the ‘common people’ in Val Susa, but the common people that united with the subversives in struggle. The presence of the ‘masses’ must have gone to their heads a little if, after years of maintaining the need to grasp the critical aspect of every situation of struggle with the aim of strengthening it, in the case of Val Susa this did not come about and the two conceptual corpses, the ‘people’ and ‘direct democracy’ in their various ideological declensions, were put back into circulation.
What is the people? It is a whole made up of subjects characterised by the will to live under a common judicial order. The geographical element is not sufficient to delimit the concept of a people, which requires consensus to the same law and a commonality of interests. The people is a political and historical identity that has access to narrative and memory, has a right of commemoration, to demonstrations and marble gravestones. The people is visible and sayable, structured in its organisations, represented by its delegates, its martyrs and its heroes. It is not by chance that its myth has always been caressed by authoritarians of every hue, or that it has been abandoned by libertarians for years (at least by the least lobotomised of them). Its bold exaltation in Val Susa has had as an immediate consequence: the reappearance of the syndrome of populism. This generic term stands for any political formula based on the premise that virtue resides in the people—considered a homogenous social aggregate, exclusive depositary of positive, specific and permanent values—and in its collective traditions (Val Susa as the land of the partisans…). Often the rural element predominates in populism, because whoever has stayed in contact with the land, the mountains, looks upon those who live in an urban environment with a certain degree of suspicion and hostility.
Populism is ecumenical, it excludes any class conflict because it considers the people as a homogenous mass. From the historical point of view, it tends to spread ideologically in transitional periods, as well as when there is strong tension between metropoli and provinces during processes of industrialisation because they offer a moment of cohesion and coagulation. Populist formulae rise up each time there is a rapid mobilisation of vast social sectors and intensive politicisation beyond the existing institutional channels. The call to the regenerating force of the myth—and the myth of the people is at the same time the most fascinating and the most obscure—is also latent in the most articulate and complex society, ready to materialise in moments of crisis.
All of these characteristics are present in Val Susa, exploited by the many parties that don’t want to let the chance of a general mobilisation with a certain potential escape them. Even the anarchists haven’t retreated, entrusting themselves to that libertarian populism that knows illustrious theoreticians and finds its main expression in popular assemblies. Starting from Val Susa the sensation has in fact spread that each individual can have control over the decisions that determine the destiny of our society: it is sufficient to know how to talk to others. This conviction has led to the exhumation of direct democracy, of politics in the Hellenic sense, the myth of the agora—of the civic space in which citizens can assemble informally to discuss, exchange ideas and involve themselves in profitable relationships in view of the popular assembly in which to examine common problems with the aim of reaching an agreement face-to-face. In short, that which the more broken-winded and sad anarchist militants have been defining ‘the non-statal public sphere’ for years.
It is certainly not by chance that the Greek term for assembly is ecclesia [church]. If the most perfect organisation in the universe can be called God, the nexus between politics and religion comes to the fore. Less evident is the attractive force that exercises itself on whoever has the intention of subverting this world from top to bottom. The monstrous aberration that induces men to believe that language was born to facilitate and resolve their reciprocal relations leads them back to these collective meeting-places, where one discusses how to face the problems of life. That these affairs are lived differently between those present, that the discussion cannot be equal until the capacity of the participants to dominate the assembly is also so, that the minority has no reason to accept the decision of the majority… all that is only to be pointed out when one does not frequent the agora. As soon as one enters, even on the spur of events, the perplexities fade away. However there are still some who persist in considering this effort of uniting individuals in a community and supplying them with something to share, to make them equal, to be despicable. Because hypocrisy pours forth. The same hypocrisy that, after overlooking the slaves that allowed the ancient Greeks to deliberate uninterruptedly, after dismissing the amorphous and anonymous plebeians unworthy of belonging to the people, today predisposes one to omit the fact that human beings can join in agreement to renounce these worlds—for sensitive worlds devoid of supermarkets and dreams, thoughts, relations, words, love.???
The idea that equality is given by identity, by common adhesion to a vision of the world, predominates in political reason, just as it does in religious faith. We are all equal because we are citizens of Society or sons of God. The opposite possibility, which has also blossomed throughout time, that the general harmony of Humanity can be born of the division of individuals pushed to infinity is never taken into consideration. Either we are all identical, or everybody is different. In the assembly that brings everybody together reason— Logos—is evoked through discussion. Talking, reasoning, arguing, problems melt like snow in the sun, conflicts disappear, agreements are drawn up.
But how many compromises, how much moderation, how much realism is required to reach common agreement, to suddenly discover that we are all brothers?
So, after criticising the idea that one can refer to a science of social transformation, after stating that no laws preside over social events, after denying the illusion of an objective historical mechanism, after clearing the field of all the fetters that obstruct free will, after having sung excess, repudiating any kind of calculation, one goes back to picking up a ruler with which to measure the steps. One counts the participants in initiatives, controls the media coverage obtained, continually weighing up pros and cons. Obviously the passions were not so bad after all, desires were not so unbridled, interests were not so far off.
Nor does one see why direct democracy, the mediation between the different forces in the field that come forth during an insurrectional rupture (as has happened historically) should become an ideal to realise here and now in collaboration with mayors, assessors and various kinds of politicians with their backs put against the wall by deluded citizens. Direct democracy is a false ideal. With its older sister Democracy, it shares the fetishism of form. It maintains that the manner of organising a collective discussion preexists the discussion, and that this method is valid anywhere, at all times, on every occasion. To defend direct democracy, oppose it—as ‘real’ democracy—to false representative democracy, means believing that our authentic nature can finally be revealed if one frees oneself from the constrictions that are weighing us down. But to free oneself from these constrictions presupposes such a transformation that at the end of the process we will no longer be the same, or rather, we will no longer be what we are in this pit based on power and money. It is not possible to reach the unknown by known roads, just as one cannot reach freedom through authority. In short, even admitting the possibility of setting up effective direct democracy, an objection would continue to exist: whyever should a minority conform to the will of a majority? Who knows, perhaps it is quite true that we are living in a continual and terrible state of emergency. But it is not a question decreed by power in the face of its own rules—law is a pure lie invented by the sovereign, which is not held to be consistent with his lies—but of the individual concerning their own aspirations. And not living as one would like to live. And not saying what one would like to say. And not acting as one would like to act. And not loving as one would like to love. And having to go down day after day, to compromises with the tyrant that sentences our dreams to death. Because here it is not a question of winning or losing (obsession typical of the militant), but of living the only life that we have at disposition and living it our own way. Little gestures and common words can hold together rivers of crowds and packed streets: but can these gestures, these words, be found outside ourselves, only to satisfy a new sense of belonging to a community? Unless one doesn’t want to give white paper to everybody, to then inform them that it is to wipe their arses with?