State of the radical political action movement in the Netherlands
We are the Autonoom Centrum (AC) political collective from Amsterdam. In this article we will discuss the state of affairs of "the movement" in the Netherlands based on our experiences and general ideas within our structure. This will definitely not be objective. We will begin by giving some background on the AC. We will then discuss the direct action movement in the Netherlands. This will include its history over the last 25 years, its present shape and how it has been effected by the anti-globalization movement.
The Autonoom Centrum was founded in the late eighties by a number of activists who came out of the political and social movements of the late seventies and early eighties. These activists were initially active within the squatters' movement and later in areas like the anti-militarist, anti-apartheid, anti-racist and anti-nuclear movements.
By 1983 these movements had passed their high points. We felt an increasing need to develop a more structured, more long term political activism, instead of running from one direct action to another where much was decided by the hype of the moment. In 1986 we squatted a shopfront in Amsterdam on 'national squatting day' and began an activist centre there. This consisted of an information centre combined with a daytime cafe and was specifically aimed at the neighbourhood. The intention was to use that space to work together on direct actions and to have discussions. In 1989 the decision was made to partly close the cafe and the info centre because many people were focusing on the consumer-oriented aspect of the space rather than the informative-political aspect. The latter aspect was of course the core group's main purpose. After 1989 we continued as a political action centre with a fixed group of people working there daily.
Based on the traditions of the movements we came from certain things have remained unchanged. Core notions are: personal responsibility, doing your own work, independence, outside parliamentary structures, basic democracy, direct action, combining local struggle with international processes, interaction between practice and theory, gathering knowledge about the topics of direct action and activities. Furthermore we have always found it important to remain critical of ourselves, to willingly have everything open to discussion, and to stop activities that don't produce enough results. In other words, don't get caught in a rut but try to keep the initiative, accomplish innovation and admit that we are in a continual process. From 1992 to around 1998 we allowed the ties with the movement to grow weaker and aimed more externally. We began to network with various groups and individuals such as critical intellectuals, churches and certain trades (see 'Movement after 1997').
During those years we became increasingly active regarding migration and exclusion. We campaigned against detention centres for refugees, the Koppelings law which excludes illegal immigrants from public services, mandatory identification and deportation of refugees and people without identity papers. We campaigned intensively on these issues and were eventually considered to be the 'specialists' in the Netherlands. We were consulted about this specialty and the mainstream media also invited our comments on related policies. During this time we had many positive experiences with, among others, religious organizations and academics.
From 1997 we re-established closer ties with what you could call "the movement". We also decided to become less specialized and to shed our one-issue nature as a group campaigning for the rights of migrants. We became more active in other areas, notably 'vrijplaatsen' (free places) and globalization.
History since the late seventies
Though we are seeing less cultural diversity due to increasing globalization, differences in the political situation in the Netherlands, Italy and other European nations have shaped resistance movements accordingly. It is therefore important to look specifially at the Dutch background to gain insight into the way Dutch resistance takes shape. The Netherlands are a relatively young nation. The Kingdom of the Netherlands originated in 1813 and there wasn't a clear feeling of being Dutch among the population until the second half of the 19th century. The area that is now the Netherlands, had for centuries been made up of cities in close proximity, strongly geared towards commerce. These factors along with the issues of water management (the waterships) and therefore the polders (landfill areas) necessitated a quick search for consultation and deliberation in unavoidable cases of conflict. This culture of talks and the consensus model is to this day characteristic for the Netherlands.
Until around 1970 the Netherlands were characterized by the so-called pillarization. Society was made up of strictly separated belief systems, so called 'pillars'. There was a protestant, a catholic, a socialist and a conservative pillar. This separation continued throughout all facets of society, such as the broadcasting systems, unions, club life, etcetera. During elections most people voted for the party that belonged within their pillar. Only after 1970, when a process of de-pillarization started to take place, did we see a politicizing of conflicts no longer connected to the pillars, specifically between unions and employers. However, in the early eighties the culture of talks and consensus again got the upper hand, resulting in the much praised 'polder model'. This model is based on economic politics agreed upon by unions, employers and political representatives aimed at economic growth. It consists namely of permanent wage control and the sanitizing of government finances. The Wassenaar agreement of 1982 between the leaders of the most important employer- and employee organizations is seen as the impetus of this wage control. The consensus or talk-model between employers, employees and government can also be seen between various interest groups and the government. The 'polder model' has acquired a broader meaning. This results in ideology moving more and more into the background and polarization disappearing.
From the mid-seventies onwards there was intensified dissent between unions and employers as well as a strong growth in the number of political/social movements. The most important ones were anti-militarism including draft dodgers, anti nuclear activism, squatting and second wave feminism. In the early eighties these movements expressed themselves with many actions and direct confrontations were not eschewed. This resulted in the defence of squats, blockades of nuclear plants and many radical actions such as the theft of official documents.
Simultaneously these movements fanned out to anti-apartheid, anti-racism, environmentalism and other issues.
There were two exceptions: the 'stop the neutron bomb' movement, which was mainly supported by the CPN (Communistische Partij Nederland) and the peace movement, mainly supported by church groups, against the placement of cruise missiles. Both became large movements but were in part final attempts to mobilize the diminishing CPN as well as the emptying churches. The peace movement, which in the mid eighties was able to organize demonstrations of between 300.000 and 400.000 people was entirely focused on a lobby towards national politics. However when the decision to place cruise missiles was made anyway the peace movement was left empty handed. The majority of this movement rapidly melted away. Unlike these two, the other movements were mostly separate from existing political parties, had basic democratic principles, leaned towards direct action, turned away from strongly ideological discussions and displayed a strongly practical attitude and had the ability to organize actions which could be very creative and unpredictable. The practical attitude and an aversion for too much discussion and analysis definitely has a positive side. It was at this time the small scale infrastructure which in part still exists today was built.
There has always been a distaste for too much theorizing and abstraction in the Netherlands. To an extent this also goes for the AC. A theoretical debate with a high salon level among people with an academic education using terms which demand previous knowledge and study, will certainly have its value. However it is questionable how much value it contains for us as activists. There certainly is a lack of political depth and analysis in the Netherlands, but we believe that debates should be accessible to many, especially to the people who actually participate in the active struggle. On a European level parts of the movement have always had problems namely with theoretical discussions like the ones in Germany and Italy. In any case the theoretical level in our own structures goes too far for many people and we are of a more practical nature. Dogmatism is also a rare occurrence in the Netherlands.
The state reacted differently to the various direct action movements. In some cases the state reacted with overt repression. In other cases, such as squatting, the state made attempts to encapsulate the movement and gave in by buying up many squats. In the case of the anti nuclear movement, eventually no new nuclear plants were built. This way the government regained the initiative. From 1985 we witnessed a fast downward spiral in direct action movements. In part resistance had been 'bought off'and pulled into structured talks with the government, incorporated. In part, most movements focused too strongly on one issue and lacked an integral radical political vision of society. The automatic use of violence and the fight against repression also caused the movements to move ever further away from the general population.
Another important factor is that after 1985 there was a growth of both prosperity and strong individualization. It is easy and tempting after a few politically active years to get a good and interesting job. During the nineties, increasing wealth and accompanying consumerism seemed to know no boundaries. A small part of the population was poor but the largest part by far belonged to a comfortable middle class.
All this had consequences for the way radical protests occurred and took their shape in the Netherlands. There was little continuity and barely any political current. Theoretical debates rarely took place. In the early eighties, for example there were large basic democratic structures, namely in the anti nuclear movement. There were basic democratic groups in many towns and cities. There was squatting in many places and squatters consulting hours, often combined with a bar/meeting place. This created a fine mesh network and infra structure of local direct action groups. In a few years time these movements have almost entirely vanished. Experiences gained back then are barely known now. The talk-consensus society means that direct action movements are not only confronted with (hard) repression, but that criticism is partly assimilated and absorbed. Therefore many short term successes have been achieved. However no radical long term changes were made. Capitalism and economic globalization are barely opposed in the Netherlands and as noted before eventual resistance against them has little continuity.
What remains from the eighties are research groups, free radio stations, alternative zines and media, political bookshops and public spaces. Any deeper common structure or vision however are lacking.
The situation now
The Netherlands have had a 'purple' cabinet for the last eight years, meaning that the two largest parties in the cabinet were the social democrat Partij van de Arbeid (red) and the right wing liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (blue). This cabinet has seen to it that political differences have almost entirely disappeared. The famous 'polder model' has made any serious debate impossible. Politicians have also started acting increasingly as company managers. Privatizations, causing a de-politicized society in which dissatisfaction grows because problems continue to exist with no real solutions forthcoming.
This is an important reason why during the last elections so many people voted for the new right wing populist party Lijst Pim Fortuijn. During the elections in May 2002 this LPF was three months old, yet they became the second largest party in the Netherlands.
The sudden rise of the LPF was accompanied by a newly visible aversion to most of the traditional parties as well as the ruling political and cultural elite and media. This has hit the political establishment like a bomb. Among other things it has lead to complete confusion among the moderate left.
The realization which had been repressed by 'purple' has dawned that the intellectual and cultural elite reside in an ivory tower. It is also significant that an immense complacency reigns among the establishment, media and intellectuals. They are deeply convinced we live in a democratic liberal society free of any fundamental problems despite a few minor details which need to be solved. People who make critical comments regarding this viewpoint place themselves outside of the discussion. Postmodern theories also support the idea that supposedly more contradictions like 'left' and 'right' remain.
A growing reaction to problems connected to migration and the multicultural society, is a feeling of being under threat. Many people feel that the peace and order on our 'little island of civilization', the Netherlands, is being disrupted. In essence, visible conflicts in society are being seen as a threat from outside to 'our civilization' rather than as a result of, or inherent to that same society.
At this point most political parties have placed themselves off-side. This also goes for Groen Links, which originated from left wing political parties (Communistische Partij Nederland CPN, Pacifistisch Socialistische Partij PSP, Politieke Partij Radikalen PPR, Evangelische Volks Partij EVP) who during the seventies and eighties were partly in contact with direct action movements. Green Left has deteriorated into a party for mostly left wing intellectuals and has been completely incorporated into the politics of power. At this moment left wing intellectuals are sitting with their hands in their hair and in great insecurity. Groen Links as an opposition party has been unable to profit from the discontent and has suffered losses themselves. The only left wing party with election gains is the Socialistische Partij which has slowly but steadily continued to grow by building the party on a local level.
The right wing politics implemented now in 2002 by the new cabinet have lead to fast polarization. The opposing interests which had been covered up by the enormous prosperity, are now coming to light again. There is no more room to expand and because of the deteriorating economic climate the right wing policiticians will be unable to implement the 'polder model'. They will instead have to face confrontations with various groups.
It is quite possible that through all this the political debate will be rekindled and more space will emerge than before enabling us to form alternatives and connect people with a counter-movement on a global level. The same could be seen in Genoa during the large demonstration against the G8, where criticism of Berlusconi's right wing goverment coincided with protests against globalization.
Movement after 1997
The Autonoom Centrum (AC) has, as noted above, during the nineties all but withdrawn itself for over five years from what refers to itself as 'the movement'. In the early nineties we found this movement to be an increasingly inwardly focused subculture. We, the AC, however chose instead to forge more ties with academics, intellectuals, neighbourhood activists and other specific tradespeople like teachers and doctors. Together we fought against legislation which excluded illegal immigrants. During these attempts we realized there are many people with whom we share ideals. This forms a basis for cooperation, however most people don't have time to be politically active. In other words: the AC had to instigate and maintain activities and campaigns. People are 'locked up' regarding time but also regarding interest. Priorities of the mainstream population fall into a pattern of work, children, cultural and other pleasures in their leisure time.
Not long before Seattle, in the summer of 1997, a Eurosummit took place in the centre of Amsterdam. It was a good time to ascertain to what extent a radical direct action movement still existed in the Netherlands.
During that Eurosummit the necessary infrastructure including an action radio station, lodging, all day information centres was successfully organized. But the number of both direct actions and their participants remained very limited. There was indeed the large demonstration for which the Europe-wide call up had been sounded, unions, political parties and many NGO's participated, but on the days of the summit itself resistance remained limited to two larger actions: a so-called jubilation demonstration and a second demonstration organized by the AC. The former consisted of hundreds of people singing, jubilating, shouting and rattling pots and pans at the hotels where the government officials were sleeping. The latter consisted of an annex siege of the border prison for asylum seekers in Amsterdam. Besides direct actions there were also a number of demonstrations and fairly well attended counter summits (shadow conference), in which more traditional NGO's also took part. During this summit there was, by Dutch notions, harsh repression. A few hundred people who were suspected of belonging to a group which might instigate harder actions were locked up under very bad conditions.
The years following Seattle saw an increase of activism. In particular there has been a significant increase in the number of direct actions concerning radical environmentalism. There has also been an increase of direct actions in the areas of animal rights and gene technology. Among aspiring Dutch activists, the events in Seattle have resulted in rising hope for a movement and a feeling of "belonging to something". A heightened sense of global activism is also perhaps due to the fact that movement is almost entirely absent in the Netherlands.
Initially, the AC did not recognize the importance of Seattle. The demonstrations there seemed neither spectacularly large nor effective. However, beyond the demonstrations themselves, Seattle represented the starting point of world-wide, cohesive direct action/activism. This was a concept that had been growing for years, finally culminating in Seattle.
In addition, an immediate result of Seattle was that the criticism of globalization was suddenly taken seriously. Mainstream media finally began covering the opposition to globalization resulting in more people speaking out. Specifically in the Netherlands, there have been some encouraging changes since Seattle. For example, participation in visiting European summits has grown. Also, an Indymedia centre was set up in Amsterdam., including a rising network of internationally oriented activists who, according to us, have little local connection.
At summits following Seattle, for example Prague, Götheborg and Genoa, organisations such as the International Socialists (IS) displayed high profile mobilisation. Groups such as the AC, were less prominent due mainly to a lack of structure. Furthermore there is little left-wing or union activity in the Netherlands. The AC and others feel the need to maintain distance from groups like the IS because they adopt a hierarchical structure and dogmatic leftist ideology & methodology.
In the summer of 2001, the AC went to Genoa. We felt that this G8 summit was symbolically significant and we expected sizable resistance against it. It was clear to us that Genoa would relay the message that resistance in Europe was as big as in the US. It was also clear that Genoa would be a cross-roads in activism. We expected that Genoa would be the end of a (first) phase of resistance initiated in Seattle. We realized that by this time the state had countered the large scale protests through both publicity and in the streets. Therefore, we expected that after Genoa, we would see a decline in the power of resistance and the return of the initiative to the state. The number of participants from structures like ours from the Netherlands was rather small: only 30 to 40..
After Genoa we wrote an article for discussion, partly about the repression-trap which again people are falling for all too easily. An exerpt from this:
"We understand that during the various summits people try to break through police lines in order to disrupt meetings. These actions also included people who aren't directly involved in that. It is clear that the growth of the resistance against the economic globalization, which does not limit itself to written critiques, is seen to be very threatening by 'the powers that be'. After Seattle you can bet your boots that various police and security services have received orders to do everything to break the resistance. This is certainly because for the first time those in political power also feel personally touched because they can no longer get together unhampered.
A tried and tested method is to disassociate the people who commit direct actions from those that don't (yet). The level of violence imposed by the police in Italy can in part be explained by the neofascist political climate, but indeed also by the movement's growing strength in numbers. The discussion about violence is the means to split the movement. This also explains the firing of tear gas into a large demonstration, the raiding of the media centre and the school, the reign of terror in the streets, etc.
People must be intimidated to prevent them from attending demonstrations. Violence must become the main topic of discussion within a movement. More and more we will start to believe we ourselves are entirely responsible for the violence. It is that discussion which has already broken up so many movements.
However we musn't only think in terms of conspiracy theories because it is quite possible that there was indeed a situation of panic among the politicians as well as the police during the G8.
It is clear that not all violence used by demonstrators is related to political strategy or principles. Types of violence have also been used by demonstrators which has been condemned by pretty much everybody. We being there ourselves, can also do something about this. Here we have a responsibility. We shall have to assume more responsibility at 'our own' direct actions to prevent unwanted vandalism and behaviour and thereby create more protection from police provocateurs. This does demand that the movement implements some sort of basic conditions by which everyone shall have to abide. Conditions within which there specifically will be room for diversity and where not everyone will have to agree to each others' means.
Self criticism, certainly among radical groups, isn't always a given. More action will have to be taken against violence as an end in itself, against people who use violence irresponsibly.
Eventual violence will always have to fit with the political goals we set, goals aimed against globalization and for the building of alternatives.
The trap radical groups can fall into is for the political struggle to narrow itself down to the struggle against repression. More demonstrations, more violence, more counter violence, it is a dead-end street."
A troubling question regarding the grassroot level of the radical globalization in Europe is to what extent we remain isolated within our own groups. Regarding this is an exerpt from an article written for the NoBorder action camp in Strassbourg in July 2002:
"Our structures often seem like little islands within the existing society. The question is however to what extent the water between our little islands and the mainland can be bridged. There is a danger that the importance of the form will outrank the purpose. For example the format of meetings (basic democracy, of which in itself there are various models) becoming more important than reaching clear timely decisions (the purpose). We can't use a single format for meetings in every different country or culture (the same is seen in Indymedia). Another example of a sub-culture, which in our eyes has gone too far, is visible while dealing with the media. This the prohibition by activists of taking photo's both within the camp and during actions. Even at demonstrations demonstrators who wanted to take pictures were treated aggressively by other demonstrators and people threatened to pull the film out of their cameras. What do we have to hide or protect forcing us to prevent pictures being taken? The police and judiciary photograph us regardless, including with hi-tech equipment from small aeroplanes. It is a pity that many cannot take photos or videos back to their own countries and cities to give others an impression of the camp. All these affairs are insider-happenings, are unpleasant to many, and frighten people off. Then the important question is what do you present to the outside world. To us as Autonoom Centrum one of the most important questions, at a camp like Strassbourg but really concerning all our activities, is how we communicate to the outside. Demonstrations should therefore express our ideas and the more pictures taken or reports made the better. Strassbourg failed to an extent in communicating to the outside. Of a number of demonstrations, the lasting image among bystanders is of destruction and scary people dressed in black wearing balaclavas. Little attempt has been made to creatively express ideas which can of course also be very bothersome to the government. What must be prevented is for outsiders to see direct actions solely as a struggle between activist groups and government or big business. This is a struggle which they feel does not concern them. It is necessary to seek people out and share ideas and critiques. This demands 'old fashioned' leg work into the neighbourhoods, workplaces, universities and schools. More and more there seems to be an international network of activists who are barely 'rooted' locally. This was also visible at the NoBordercamp.
Do we want to create a space in which we can be ourselves or do we also want to change the rest of the world? In the first situation we will remain stuck in a subcultural phenomenon. For the second it will be necessary to become a more 'grown up'open political movement. According to us this happens too infrequently among 'our' structures. Generally we resist against and close off from all other leftist politics. When the local ATTAC distanced itself from the camp it was almost welcomed. Reactions were: "See, what else could you expect from a reformist group like that" Activism seems to radiate some form of arrogance of knowing you're right and adhering to political dogmatic 'purity'. This also makes it more difficult to reach out.
A recent meeting which tells us something about the state of the direct action movement in the Netherlands, was the PGA (People's Global Action) convention which took place in Leiden from August 31 to September 4 2002. It must be said that PGA is not well known in the Netherlands and partly because of that not of great significance. Even this, the limited participation from the Netherlands was still noticable. It was especially noticable if you didn't count those people who were invited to speak or fulfill a specific task, like the kitchen by Rampenplan or the technical realization by Theaterstraat.
It was markedly apparent at the above mentioned European meetings that there are significant cultural differences not only between various countries but sometimes within countries. It is of great importance to learn from the different ways resistance is expressed in different cultures. Instead of seeing one way as better than another, it is necessary to forge the diversity into one big, powerful movement. This however does make it more difficult to conduct actions together. As well as cultural differences there is also the problem of language. Particularly when discussions become deeper it is very difficult for many people to express themselves in English, usually the lingua franca. This leads to misunderstandings and misconceptions which can soon start a life of their own. In the future more attention will need to be paid to this both on a European and on an international level.
A last comment about the state of affairs in the Netherlands. It is notable that individualism has also struck hard among left wing activist circles. People increasingly reject directly tying themselves to a specific group and instead want to make individual choices. This also causes there to be less alliances and connections.
The nation state
Besides direct action and basic democracy the manner in which we view the role of the state is a defining trademark of structures like the AC. A radical vision also means questioning the role of the state. The moderate left and traditional left wing political parties strive to strengthen the role of the state as a democratic instrument of control over the interests of the individual. Regarding migration we wrote the following in the 'Flight Forwards' pamphlet:
"Migration in itself means something different when the meaning of nation states declines. One no longer moves from one country to another but from one value system to another, from one culture to another. Most countries in the world are not populated by one culture or one ethnic group.
Translator's note: the following I recognize as a piece I have refused to translate before, because of its inherent institutional sexism. By ignoring the use of sex/gender as one of the most present, prevalent and pervasive tools to separate people economically, physically, culturally etc., you are contributing to this problem and the denial thereof. Apart from being immoral (and extremely hypocritical, coming from a supposedly radical left wing group) this is dangerous and oppressive. J'Accuse!
In this day and age we must no longer blindly stare at the imaginary struggle surrounding national borders, about who gets in and who doesn't. The artificial classification into "us and them" based on the nation state must be done away with. The borders that really matter, the economic, ethnic and cultural ones, form the arena which we must enter. These are borders which are both very nearby and far away. Economic borders are where prosperity is concentrated and not everyone is welcome (see translator's note). Ethnic borders are within the new "white spots" on the map where people huddle together and call themselves pure peoples. Cultural borders are where distinctions once based on race are now increasingly based on culture. Here cultural differences become excuses for segregation.
People's colour and heritage are decisive in their place in society. Culture and ethnicity indicate the boundaries of power. Without social and cultural capital it is difficult for someone to acquire economic capital and to enter into the established structures of power. Prosperity is more than ever tied to culture and less to territory."
Network and Structure
Larger NGO's continually fuel the discontent with full colour door to door flyers, and printed and televised adverts generated from professional offices. NGO's function to an extent as people's representatives, they do the work for people and represent their ideas. Responsibility is hereby handed over by the people. NGO's often have hierarchical structures. We find that we must not conduct direct actions for or in name of people, but rather with people. Furhtermore, we must instigate others to become active themselves. The most important thing is for people to regain power over their lives and surroundings. NGO's function as centres of knowledge and through their facilities can support actions or help create meeting points and structures.
Forming networks ties in well with the current culture. People want more control in their lives, as do organisations. Groups want to decide for themselves what they're for or against. We must therefore find an organizational model that respects this need for autonomy, but stimulates forms of cooperation. We must also develop structures which allow us to exchange information and the ability to contact or support each other.
Initially it is important for local initiatives to arise. During important moments, when fundamental things are at stake, people must clearly express what they will not tolerate. That cannot be organized from above.
This is connected to political ideas about society. People should be able to decide what they want locally, as often as possible. Political power should rest with small groups instead of being delegated. In small groups people need to take political responsibility sooner instead of pushing it away to a larger body.
In an article at the end of 1997 the AC sketched their ideas about structure:
"Often the goals which are at the foundation of the structure are not extensively examined. Cooperation withing a structure should for us be a result of the development within a group, and should correspond with the existing needs of the participants. It is still the case that cooperation is often forcibly sought. In this situation the focus is not the intention of the initiative nor whether the proposed form is the right one. What is important is if the power in numbers and the inability to come up with something new. Often a form of organisation is selected in which as many groups as possible can participate. A secretariat is set up and because the initiative is supported by so many groups it seems to have a lot of political power. Next, the decision making structure is installed but is not broadly supported, the work gets done by a small number of groups. As a result the political power eventually turns out to be a soap bubble, which in time bursts, because of a lack of support from the basic level of the participating groups. In some cases the continuation of the talks becomes more important than the (barely discussed) goal at its foundation. It is positive only to the extent that at least something is happening. In other cases the large number of groups leads to a moderate political stance completely aimed at the political attainability of their set goal. 'Political attainability' mostly expresses itself in the umpteenth lobby aimed at parliament. We don't (in itself) object to formulating practically attainable goals or lobbying parliament, but we do find that this cannot be the most important mission of cooperating organizations. Only occasionally do these forms of cooperation succeed in actually applying political pressure. The 'why' of this type of structure and the long term goals are almost never seriously discussed.
Our starting point is that people should themselves spring into action. They should take responsibility for themselves. It is important to offer people examples of a means to act. One of the goals of a structure should be to offer a cadre of action for others, which is useable in their own surroundings. Another goal should be to increase the batting power of the affiliated groups.
There isn't only one ideal form of working together. Depending on the situation we can choose the most ideal form of cooperation. We ourselves however do prefer networks, loose cooperating structures, where consensus is not the most important thing. This allows for a permanent exchange of ideas and experiences between organisations. Networks also offer the possibility to synchronize activities with each other, to learn from others and to stimulate creativity. Of course it is important to find a minimal basic content for cooperation. It is however not our intention to find a tight ideological cadre or a political blueprint for a new movement. We are interested in movement in itself, the reasons for it and the finding of a shared basis in a continual exchange with actual practice. Cooperation to us is not an aim in itself, but a means to increase knowledge, motivation and batting power. Thereby the participating groups should be able to maintain and develop their own character and play to their strong points. In such a network the power is not decided by the sum total but by the input and energy of all the separate groups. On the one hand it becomes clear that the activities form part of a greater whole (a certain vision or thought), on the other hand groups can get a more recognizable face. This again can stimulate individuals to join one of the organisations in the network.
In the Netherlands there is a clear increase in political activity of the radical left wing spectrum. It is however still un-structured, diffuse and hardly visible. It could be that in a short period of time, the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together and everyone will be surprised at the arising of a broader movement. Yet there are also signs that the movement in the Netherlands is still very weak.
The struggle against neo-liberal globalization appeals to a large group of people. Societal organisations and churches are also beginning to take a stance.
At this point in time there also seems to be some movement in the art world. Some criticism can be heard from the arts. It is very important to build bridges to the world of culture.
Direct actions should be aimed less at politics and more at the dominant culture, consumerism and big business. Small scale actions are needed more than mass demonstrations.
The dominant culture and consumerism often use the language of images. The old images will have to be destroyed and replaced by images of our own creation. Possibilities in achieving this goal include communication guerilla, culture jamming, guerilla expo's and adbusters. It is necessary to break into public space and to confront people with our ideas through direct actions within that space. Images and advertising are everywhere and decisive.
In the Netherlands it is important to create a structure in the form of networks between the old infrastructure left over from the eighties and the new direct action initiatives. The old infrastructure contains specialized groups with contact to other layers of society like larger NGO's, media and (local) politicians.
Right now it seems that these specialized groups with their knowledge and contacts are focused more on the media and politicians than being a part of shaping a counter movement.
It has clearly come to light that the right wing government causes conflicts in society. Internationally it also becomes more and more obvious what interests are at play. At the Johannesburg convention it became clearer than ever that big business decides what margins are left to the environment and the fight against poverty. The international court of justice will become a sham through the shady political deals between the US and various countries. The continuing conflicts in the Middle East with Iraq and possibly later with Iran and Saudi Arabia are clearly related to oil. The US would like military solutions, as Israel would for their conflict with the Palestinians, to secure their (oil) interests. The UN as an alternative seems to be well past its prime and terrorism will rise in Europe as well. All this will cause more people to feel insecure, unsafe and be afraid of the future. The question is how this fear will be translated. Can we form an alternative for people?
The polder model is clearly past its prime. The Netherlands are slowly waking from the dream of being a society without polarization, hard conflicts and ideology. It will be important to get a movement going which names the conflicts and makes it clear that searching for consensus within national borders is a thing of the past. Globalization has caused such an increase in interdependence, that answers must also be found globally. In other words: we can no longer be an island of comfort while elsewhere misery grows. The social and political polarization and the return to any specific ideology has not taken root yet, but with the current right wing cabinet it soon will.
The rising globalization movement can be a new roof under which a broader radical movement in the Netherlands can emerge. There clearly is potential for this among people and groups who now still form a diffuse entity. It will be of great importance in the Netherlands to build a structure and social connections which people can easily join. When people want to regain a grip on their lives and surroundings they will become active against the all encompassing domination and must also be part of a movement. By things like de-pillarization, individualism, services disappearing through budget cuts, and gentrification social ties have been broken. Focusing on the lower end of a society including migrants, refugees, the unemployed and others with few opportunities, we will also have to aim at the midfield, or the so-called middle class. Large amounts of people in the Netherlands belong to that group and will also, if the economic recession continues, suffer extensive blows. Within this midfield is also a large group of people with visions on for example migration, environment, peace and distribution of wealth which touch on ours and with whom we can go further. New structures and social connections must also form an alternative to the large NGO's to which people are merely connected by donating money. These NGO's and also platform-like organizations belong, just like political parties, to old style politics. The fight against globalization is not only a fight against capitalism but also a fight against political and social piramids of power. From new structures and social connections we must also provide recognition and give a face to the new politics we support. We are the only ones aiming for true globalization, the current globalization is just one in which the world is seen as a colonial source of profit for a very few.
This will have to happen by taking local initiatives. According to us it must be a basic democratic movement in which the economy serves the people with a face radiating 'for' rather than merely 'against'. Pleasure and creativity are important parts of that. In other words, there is a need for a clear identity.
The core question remains "Can we construct new, open and attractive political and social structures which appeal to the imagination and are an answer to the current globalization?" Clearly we have seen a change with the established political and social connections, including the traditional left, turning against globalization.
Representing Autonoom Centrum, Amsterdam