XVI: Shifting Power. When Grassroots Movements Win Elections (Athena Athanasiou, Teodor Celakoski, Marcelo Expósito & Florian Malzacher)

When activist movements gain momentum, even win elections after many years of struggle and work on the ground, there is a lot of enthusiasm – but also larger-than-life expectations. A diverse electorate with often very different expectations demands immediate and fundamental shifts of politics. The parties once in power just wait for any opportunity to attack. The former establishment uses its long-knit networks to slow down any transition. And former allies accuse the elected representatives of their compromises. So, what does it actually mean to govern, to change structures, work with a large administration, include the political base, and accomplish concrete change?
Inspired by the impressive development of the Croatian movement “Možemo!” with its landslide victory in the Zagreb city elections in May 2021, in this edition of The Art of Assembly cultural worker and activist Teodor Celakoski describes the strategies used to achieve “Možemo!’s” success and talks about the difficulties to implement new policy. Artist, activist and former member of the Spanish parliament Marcelo Expósito gives insides in the struggles, achievements, and failures of Podemos and other citizens’ electoral organizations in Spain. Drawing on the trajectory of SYRIZA after winning the general election in Greece in 2015, philosopher Athena Athanasiou reflects on the general conditions activist movements are confronted with when coming to power.

MARCELO EXPÓSITO ° The (forever postponed) dream of a real democracy

The official political discourses persist in glimpsing the way out of the crisis after each new crisis experienced during the… Read more MARCELO EXPÓSITO ° The (forever postponed) dream of a real democracy

VII: Agonistic Gatherings (Didier Eribon, Chantal Mouffe & Florian Malzacher)

The assemblies of the numerous square occupations during the last decade have often been laboratories of radical forms of democracy, experimenting with non-hierarchical structures and consensus models instead of majority voting. While watching these movements with sympathy, political theorist Chantal Mouffe emphasises also the necessity of dissensus, of an agonistic pluralism in which adversaries openly fight for their hegemonic projects. Philosopher and sociologist Didier Eribon reflects on the conditions and the limits of such mobilisations and insists on the unsurpassable plurality of movements like the gilets jaunes in France, or more recently, the massive strikes and protests against the demolition of the public sector, as well as the demonstrations against racism etc. In the 7th edition of “The Art of Assembly” Eribon and Mouffe discuss how much agonism social movements can bare and how the diversity of democratic demands should be addressed.

CHANTAL MOUFFE ° Towards an Agonistic Conception of Assembly

Paris. She is the editor of Gramsci and Marxist Theory (1979), Dimensions of Radical Democracy. Pluralism, Citizenship, Community (1992), Deconstruction and Pragmatism (1996) and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (1999). She is the author of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (with Ernesto Laclau, 1985), The Return of the Political (1993), The Democratic Paradox (2000), On the Political (2005), Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically (2013), Podemos. In the Name of the People (with Inigo Errejon, 2016), and For a Left Populism (2019).

Julia Ramirez Blanco

II: Assemblies as Backbones of Social Movements (Oliver Ressler, Julia Ramírez-Blanco & Florian Malzacher)

The General Assembly has been at the core of many social movements during the last decade: A zone of gathering, of building community, of experimenting with the way democracy can function. A space not only for trying out but living a different kind of decision making. Art historian Julia Ramírez-Blanco (Barcelona) just finished a book on the Spanish 15M movement, Oliver Ressler (Vienna) is one of the main documentarists of worldwide social mobilizations since many years. In the second edition of Gesellschaftsspiele – The Art of Assembly they reflect the crucial role of collective decision making for developing political alternatives.

Oliver Ressler "Take the Square" (2012) Filmstill

OLIVER RESSLER ° Voices to Reckon with

Assemblies provide a crucial platform for direct decision-making in any attempt to make societies more inclusive and democratic, more just and less hierarchical than those existing today. For a long time now, assemblies have also played a central role in Oliver Ressler’s films and video installations. Together with Dario Azzellini, he produced a cycle of films on factories under workers’ control in Europe. Before that he filmed the Square and Occupy movements in Athens, Madrid and New York. His latest film shows a four-hour assembly in Madrid in October 2019, where delegates from various environmental groups gathered to prepare an act of civil disobedience to foster climate rebellion.

Julia Ramirez Blanco

JULIA RAMÍREZ-BLANCO ° Assembly as Performance. The Mass Assemblies of the 15M Movement

Assemblies are normally held on a scale that allows for direct discussion and participation. However, during the Spanish protest camps of the 15M movement in 2011, massive assemblies defied these notions by blowing up scale, and also challenged the idea of a more or less fixed group that thinks about issues with a certain continuity. These mass assemblies, in turn, emphasized the performativity and the rituality. Julia Ramírez-Blanco addresses the potential and contradictions of those mass assemblies and discusses the evolution of the format toward a more manageable form in the neighborhood assemblies.