Party or movement, party and movement, or neither?

In early 2016, with the BREXIT referendum approaching, I joined a group called DIEM25. DIEM stands for the Democracy In Europe Movement and 25 stands for the year 2025. Ultimately, to put it short and sweet, DIEM25 is a progressive, some would say radical and utopian, movement struggling for reform of the EU. The goal is to shake the EU, gently, compassionately, but firmly and in doing so, save the EU from itself. 

I was attracted to the movement largely because I found the message of optimism and hope so exciting. DIEM25 was founded as a pan-European cross-border network of democrats. We came together because we recognised and accepted that there are problems with the EU as a political structure but also, importantly, because we were, quite frankly, terrified by what was seen by so many to be the answer to these problems, namely, misanthropy, nationalism and xenophobia. We don’t believe that the political landscape will look any prettier if we tear down our channels of cooperation and interdependence and replace them with the walls, fences and suspicions of the nation state. As mentioned the ’25’ in the name stands for the year 2025. It is our goal to have achieved something of real substance by this point, whether that be dramatic achievements in the form of transparency, or the realisation of a so called European New Deal. We were and continue to be, fully aware that this goal of 2025 does not allow us very much time but honestly, we don’t really think we have very much time. Indeed the warning from Noam Chomsky couldn't have been clearer when he said that DIEM25 is "the only hope for Europe". Even with a very shallow, superficial browsing of the news, it seems almost everyday we are provided with yet more evidence of how, if we don’t act quickly and seriously, the EU will very soon violently disintegrate. If that happens there is a very good chance that Europe will fall in to a dark depression and it won’t take long for the war drums of nationalism to be heard again.

In recent times this sense of urgency and optimism though has, in my opinion, been fading out. A debate has been raging now for some time as to whether or not DIEM25 should have in some way shape or form a political party wing and the subject has been, surprisingly to me, somewhat controversial. I am confused by some members’ rejection of the idea. After all, it was always spoken about that DIEM25 should aim to build a strong European-wide network that can collaborate and cooperate in order to achieve our political goals. Admittedly there may have been no specific mention of a party but there was also no talk specifically against it and so I personally imagined that there would ultimately at some point be multiple DIEM25 groups and parties working with each other to actually achieve and enact ‘our’ goals. Yanis Varoufakis himself, when introducing DIEM25 in 2016, criticised the Left for not having built up as quickly or as efficiently, the kind of strong, EU-wide alliances and networks the Right has. However, rather than simply urging quite diverse and naturally, self-interested, political parties from all around Europe to cooperate, it always seemed a much smarter and indeed much more efficient move to me, to create a spider’s web of unified, Europe-wide or even, ultimately, global, political groups and parties, all moving in the same direction, working with the same manifesto and sharing the same core values. 

It seems however, that this wasn’t the understanding or position that all members of DIEM25 took. I have now even heard of members who supposedly will leave DIEM25 if a party is formed. This is very, very sad and the thing I find most sad is that I have yet to hear any strong arguments about why becoming a party, in some way shape or form, would be a particularly bad thing to do. Furthermore, I haven’t heard how anyone plans to enact the actual policies we debate on without some form of political wing. I joined DIEM25 and I thought others did as well, because of a desire to actually achieve all the things we discuss in our workshops, not because I just like meeting up week after week, month after month and talking. I thought we wanted to play our part in helping to improve society and help stamp out the suffering we see all around us.    

Something you often hear is that we shouldn’t have an organised political wing to the movement because it will mean that we won’t be able to work with people from outside our party any longer. It’s true, it’s great that DIEM25 is able to bring together different voices from all around Europe and discuss the issues we’re facing. I don’t however, really see why this would necessarily stop were DIEM25 to have parties branching off from it. It’s not unusual for members of different parties and movements to come together to discuss and debate particular subjects or issues. Granted, we might not get them to join in with us at specific election campaign events but there are plenty of non-party voices, whether they be from NGOs, unions, think-tanks or the various activist circles, that could take their place. Outside of election campaigns though, I don’t see why members and representatives of other parties wouldn’t take part in a multi-party platform with us in debating specific policies, such as, universal basic income, transparency within political institutions and the protection of the environment just to name a few. In countries where there are parties who share the goals and values of DIEM25, maybe a progressive collaboration and cooperation could be officially formed so that we don’t have to ‘compete’ against each other, all these things will not even begin to happen though if we are to continue being too scared to even begin the conversation. 

Another point I’ve heard more than a few times against forming a party within DIEM25, is that there are already enough political parties out there, so why create another? Well my answer to this is quite short and simple. I assume if you’re a member or supporter of DIEM25 then it’s because you think we do or could do things differently and have something new and special to offer. If you do think this why wouldn’t you want this ‘special, something different’ to be realised within our political structures and institutions as well? If you don’t think we have something special and new to offer, well, why are you actually a supporter or member of DIEM25?  

It seems there is a thread that runs through the arguments against founding a party/parties within DIEM25 and this thread is the fear to take on responsibility. I say this because I have often heard; “why can’t other parties just enforce what we want”, my response to this is why do we want to be dependant upon other parties? They can distance themselves from us at any time, abuse our policy suggestions and potentially tarnish our reputation through any problems or scandals they have within their own organisations. I don’t really understand how that could be a more attractive option than having our own party/parties that are fully accountable to, fully dependant upon and fully aligned with the movement from which they grew. 

Another example of this fear to take on responsibility and the risks that come along with it, is the worry so many seem to have of being associated with DIEM25 parties that may damage, through their election campaigns and related public actions, the reputation of all other DIEM25 members Europe-wide. It’s this kind of unjustified fear that will ultimately lead DIEM25 to achieving absolutely nothing. As I said in the previous paragraph, our reputation and image could be tarnished by associating ourselves with other external parties or organisations as well. Furthermore, this risk already exists and will always exist for a group in the public eye, that’s just the way it is. That’s a reason to have open discussions though, to have clear and strong positions and make them heard. It’s not a reason to whisper, tip-toe and shy away from making an impact. Not least because, surely, manipulation and defamation are more likely to be achieved in the latter of these two scenarios. 

My position, I have no problem stating, is that DIEM25 should consist of both an active political wing and a movement. I don’t feel that we will be able to achieve any of the things we wish to without strong hands (the political wing), implementing the ideas of the brain (the movement). I don’t think any DIEM25 parties should replace the movement. A credible party should be backed, in my opinion, by a passionately run movement to which it is answerable. However, likewise, a movement needs to be fighting (figuratively speaking) in the halls of power and policy making. In essence I echo the words of Srećko Horvat when he said back in 2014; “It is becoming more and more clear that a movement without a party is impotent, and that a party without a movement can only repeat the failures of the past. We need both.” I strongly feel that if we are to truly succeed, it’s a package deal. If we want to have a long lasting impact we must go on the offensive, we must be adaptable and flexible, we must know where the priorities lie, enter the arena of state administration and confront the issues head-on. The timing may not be perfect but the world around us is what dictates how urgently we must act, in a perfect world we would have more time, we could plan things better, discuss things longer, make decisions of what to say and when to say it years in advance but the reality isn’t like this. Indeed in an ideal world, everything would be perfect, we wouldn’t need to look for solutions to problems because there would be no problems but unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world.

Of course, we don’t have to take my preferred approach of combining the structures of a party and a movement. We could bicker and philosophise in the corner about minuscule details and every possible outcome to every possible possibility, while life goes on and all the forms of injustice and cruelty, frankly too numerous to count, continue to stain the pages of the human story. That is technically an option as well. Those who would prefer that path shouldn’t forget though, that the void they leave only helps the bigots and the conservatives to continue to direct the debate, control the narrative and ultimately come to power.

Finally I will say, it’s easy to get wrapped up in our ‘issues’ as a group but no one really cares what we do as an organisation. People have far too many issues and concerns in their daily lives, to give a second of thought to the question of how DIEM25 structures itself and certainly the collective consciousness of the world society has bigger things on its plate. It’s very easy for us, if we aren’t already, to become an irrelevance. We can very quickly become just another group that meets up occasionally, maybe even has the occasional protest but doesn’t really, ultimately, achieve anything of any great substance. It’s our choice, it will be sad if that’s the path we take but in the end, it won’t really be us that have to live with the consequences but rather all those who could really do with the help and support we could afford them. 



Written by Declan Galbraith

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