BY JONAS STAAL,
Founder, New World Academy
Mahal na mga kaibigan
This is the second time I have had the honor to respond to the publication “Foundation for Resuming the Philippine Revolution,” the last time being in Manila last summer during the “Human rights and Peace in the Philippines” conference.
In the spirit of internationalism, there is no paradox in discussing the importance of social, economic and political revolution in the Netherlands, a country whose wealth and privilege is defined by a long standing colonial history; the consequence being that the majority of this country have obtained the status of middle class, deeply complicit with a political and economic system that exists by grace of systemic exploitation and oppression.
This is possibly one of many reasons why the social movements from the past decade have not yet been able to develop into a substantial threat for the condition of capitalist democracy; capitalist democracy being the repressive cooptation of a revolutionary concept to which philosophers such as Alain Badiou refer to as democratism. Democratism is a political system that legitimizes itself through endless voting and poling rounds, dedicated to a hysteric form of public opinion that is meant to have every nonsensical position heard except those that might impose an actual threat to the political and economic monopolies of power that define the terrifying face of our world today.
The idea that ‘opinion’ is the core of democracy and that “dialogue” is the most revolutionary act that social movements are left with is symptomatic for the condition of democratism – as if equal access to education, equal access to the economy, equal access to health care and equal access to political representation is a question of ‘opinions’ that we can solve through mere ‘debate’ and not of fundamental and non-negotiable democratic truths.
In order to come to a fundamental, emancipatory understanding of democracy in a system ruled by democratism’s monopolies of power, we will need to break with the pseudo-humanitarian discourses that claim that it is only through pacifist means that we will come to real change. The Indignados protests in Spain, the worldwide Occupy movement and Gezi Park protests have all upheld this principle one way or another: the idea that it is through “dialogue” that we will come to change (which does not mean that these movements have not been confronted with violence in terrible ways). But dialogue only takes place when there is a level of fundamental democracy achieved. Meaning: when monopolies of powers are disrupted at a level that we can reshape on the most profound level the distribution of power and wealth in our societies.
This is what has been so deeply painful about the global kiss of death performed on the body of revolutionary Nelson Mandela, which went as far as suggesting that it was only by being imprisoned by the apartheid regime that he came to his senses and proposed reconciliation as an effective tool of rebuilding South Africa. The fact is of course that his position of negotiation was won through armed struggle, by drawing a line between the interests of a corrupt and exploitative state, and the people structurally excluded from its wealth and benefits.
“Violence is not a solution,” is the ultimate cliché of democratism – while it upholds every key position in enacting violence against its own populations when its suits its policies well. Now of course, this cliché partly rings true – violence is not a solution, but a desperate means to demand a level of equality denied by a ruling system. From the anti-Apartheid struggle, the Basque independence movement, the Kurdish movement, the struggle of the FARC in Colombia and the Filipino national democratic movement, we have seen that only through systematic struggle on all fronts, it becomes possible to redirect public discourse, and claim a space in which a form of negotiation or dialogue between equals might take place. Not in order to create consensus, but to affirm radical and equal oppositions. This is certainly no space that will be provided to us through another round of opinion polls on our favorite politician of the year.
I claim the sphere of art as a space that allows to re-imagine the project of a fundamental democracy. If art is political, it is so because of its radical imaginative potential to rethink the world anew. Only if we imagine a different future from the devastating present defined by democratism, are we able to act upon this different future in our present. But this is a future that can only become reality through progressive political alliances.
I founded the New World Academy with BAK in order to create a space for new alliances between progressive political organizations and artists. From the National Democratic Movement of the Philippines have come our first teachers, the refugee collective We Are Here our second, and the international Pirate Parties the third – continuing our program next year with other organizations to broaden these alliances. I believe it is within these alliances that we can develop an understanding of art not as a mere “project” or “protest”, but as one of the driving forces of structural struggles of progressive organizations worldwide.
“Foundation for Resuming the Philippine Revolution” teaches us the importance of profound organization, ideological understanding of the foundation and continuous urgency of anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle, and the means to move beyond passive resistance in order to demand radical equality between the peoples of this world.
Through Professor Sison and the democratic movement of the Philippines we – including me and many artists and students with me (I think we were 45 all together) –learned what the role of art, of the cultural worker, can mean more than “making capitalism more beautiful,” as artist Hito Steyerl has articulated so well. And from here, I hope that we, as the New World Academy, will be able to help transfer this knowledge to our participants in order to act this world anew.
Professor Sison, you were the first teacher of the New World Academy, and the last one to close this first semester – but I hope you will be willing to continue to be involved in our school. You are resuming a revolution, but in many ways, ours still needs to start.
Thank you professor