Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy originally appeared in the Gagarin Magazine, Volume 12#2, Nov. 2011
credit: Ahmet Ögüt, Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy (2011-2012), photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33
Strategic Diagram for Non-hierarchical Participatory Radical Democracy
By Ahmet Ögüt
Why not try to create a strategic diagram for non-hierarchical participatory radical democracy? It is a kind of strategic road map that is also trying to answer the question: What is our practice actually about? When I say us, I mean all mediators: curators, artists, cultural producers, activists, political “hacktivists,” revolutionaries, ontological anarchists, historians, social scientists and so on—anybody, in short, who is trying and thinking about the possibilities of transforming the system. I thought it might be interesting to think together about this diagram from a critical perspective. It can be a kind of practice board (tabula) to exchange critical ideas. I want it to become an open source diagram, anybody can print it, add their comments or change it by hand. After that they can send it to somebody else whom they might think would like to contribute a critical response.
Who is in charge?
The diagram represents the authoritative structure as a process, not something completed and possessing a consistent speed. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt name the new hegemony “Empire” to imply a novel form of power that is beyond borders. It doesn’t consist of physical borders and is established during the collapse of nation-state imperialism. Empire, Power, System, Authority, State, Government, Status quo, etc. as hegemonic structures are often strong but slow because of bureaucracy; therefore autonomy is not so much found on a permanent basis but exists in the gaps left by the slow pace of official force. By choosing the proper speed one can disrupt a fixed worldview ever so slightly, allowing the possibility of thinking things differently. Non-hierarchical participatory radical democracy (NHPRD) as I call it here, is central to the diagram. Channels of power shape and surround N-HPRD and give life to a constructed reality that contained within the hegemonic system. Hegemonic structure is never a perfectly organized system; it has its own failures and complexity. That is why in this diagram the edges and borders lines encircling thescheme are not connected. The unconnected edges of this constructed reality as a hegemonic system represents the gaps and cracks in any given system.
What could be our strategic tools?
Time, Speed, Distance
The distance is a very important factor, because with different distances things can look or sound fictional or real, if you are far away from something it (becomes) fiction, or if you are closer to something (it appears) more real: but this doesn’t mean that the thing is fiction or real. We can use distance as a kind of tool given the fact that distance is a relative. If you are fast the distance is short and that means that you are closer to that central reality, which is why it is very important how we envision time and speed as distances collapse often to the advantage of existing hegemonic systems. As a literal example we can talk about one of the first micronation: Sealand, established in 1967. It was located approximately six miles from the coast of Suffolk, outside the threemile territorial water claim of the United Kingdom and therefore in international waters. However on October 1st, 1987, Britain extended its territorial waters from 3 to 12 nautical miles. The previous day, the founder of Sealand, Roy Bates (Prince Roy) declared the extension of Sealand’s territorial waters to be a corresponding 12 nautical miles off of its shore, so that right of way from the open sea to Sealand would not be compromised by British-claimed waters. According to general maritime policy, dividing the area between the two countries down the middle can be assumed. Britain has no more right to Sealand’s territory than Sealand has to the territory of the British coastline that falls within its claimed 12 nautical mile arc. (1) Prince Roy was one day (time) faster (speed) than Britain in extending (distance) Sealand’s territo136 rial waters. Although Sealand is not a recognized nation, it is still treated as an independent state by the British government.
Reconstructing the recent history
We don’t have so much to say about the ‘far history’ because we don’t have access to factual accounts or alternative records providing counterfactuals no longer exist, but when it comes to recent history it may be a different story. In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Jullian Assange emphasizes that what is important is someone’s right to speak and someone’s right to know, which together produce a right to communicate. He continues by saying that “the quest to protect the historical record and enable everyone to be a contributor to the historical record is something that I have been involved in for about 20 years, in one way or another.” (2) Similar to Assange’s approach to the historical record, in an interview with Önder Özengi, I myself said that we should all take initiative by individually constructing narratives that can exist in parallel and allow for a rhizomatic notion of history. (3) This is to say that our individual memories can access recent history as new potential and can be, conversely, manipulated by the status quo—by what we are collectively taught to remember.
For example, in my home country, coming face to face with the recent history of Turkey means doing so only through lapses in time. The laws that have been in effect for many years turn the recent past into the distant past. In other words, recently lived history is shelved and the process of coming into contact with history becomes a process of delayed potential. This delay or lapse in time not only systematically erases critical actors from the scene but also erases them from the social memory.
I would like to add a few words about the Saturday Mothers of Turkey, who have been searching for their lost children for years, and the 103-year old Nana Berfo. During Turkey’s military coup in 1980, while Nana Berfo’s home was under siege her son, Cemil Kirbayir, was arrested. She hasn’t heard from Cemil since. Nonetheless, she still holds out the hope that he may return to her one day, and for thirty years, she has kept her door open in case he returns home. I don’t see this prolonged wait as a helpless or moot gesture. Nana Berfo has turned this memorializing ritual into a part of her daily life, which thereby fights against the powerful force of forgetting that inevitably occurs over time. (4) In 2005, for the 9th Istanbul Biennial, Michael Blum made fictional museum project A Tribute to Safiye Behar. This artwork managed to generate a public conversation that was previously taboo within the context of the official historical record of modern Turkey. According to Blum’s story, Safiye Behar was born in Pera, Istanbul, in 1890. She studied Marx, Proudhon and other socialist and anarchist writers. She became a well-respected labor organizer and public speaker, supporter of the Free-Thinking Movement and an advocate of women’s rights. Eventually, she became the first English translator of Nazim Hikmet. (5) The most curial statement of Behar’s story was that Blum claimed that she had a relationship with Mustafa Kemal over a period of three decades. The artist asserted that, although her role has never been aknowledged publicly, she was the inspiration of many of Mustafa Kemal’s reforms in the 1920’s. Blum’s work consisted of a reconstruction of Safiye’s original apartment and a comprehensive display of personal and official documents, photographs, letters and books. This was a quite controversial work that raised many questions in part because many people took it is a true story (at least for a while). (6)
Constructed reality is a kind of fiction manipulated by the status quo. Given this reliance on fiction, we can still find ways of productive possibility of fiction in reality. Fiction can create a moment of illusion when we can change the appearance of reality for a brief instant. This may not last long, but still that special moment can shift the processes of reality as it is usually constructed. In 1938, 21-year old Orson Welles famously caused a public disturbance when he directed and narrated The War of the Worlds as an episode of the American radio drama anthology series that aired nightly over the CBS Radio network. The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated “news bulletins” reporting that an actual alien invasion by Martians was in progress. Immediately following the broadcast, newspapers such as New York Times indicated that many radio listeners were in panic, taking Welles’ radio drama as fact. Later print journalists took the opportunity to suggest that radio was a dangerous medium due in part to its new potential to fictionalize reality as it is routinely constructed over the airwaves. (7) Image Fulgurator, by scientist, activist and artist Julius von Bismarck is an impressive example of what we are talking about. The Image Fulgurator is a device that can physically manipulate other people’s photographs in the act. Fulgurator operates via a kind of reactive flash projection that enables an image to be projected on an object exactly at the moment when someone else is photographing it. His intervention is an inconspicuous distortion taking only a few milliseconds for its intervention. He, for example, projected an iconic dove painted by Belgian Surrealist Rene Magritte on the Mao Zedong portrait at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He also projected the image of a crucifix on the podium where Barack Obama gave a speech in Berlin in the summer of 2008.
When we start talking about Autonomy one should start with referring Hakim Bey’s TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone). TAZ is a form of nomadic agency that moves constantly in space and time. So when the authorities arrive it can be already somewhere else. In this sense it doesn’t exist on the map and is difficult to be targeted. TAZ was first put into practice on a large scale by the Cacophony Society, (8) which was inspired by the Dada, Lettrists and the Situationist International movements. Today we can talk about Flash Mob or Improve Everywhere as examples that are organized mostly via social media, although they mostly stay on the ludic side of social disturbance. In 2006 there was a group called Yuzde 52 (52%) in Turkey. They did a few controversial actions and their acts were ironic, but also taken quite serious by some. In few actions they were wearing V for Vendetta masks to symbolize their anonymous movement. At that time there was no Global Financial Crisis or Arab Spring happened yet. Now a very similarly a global movement started by groups all round the world and call themselves as 99% also often wearing V for Vendetta masks. As Naomi Klein said recently in her speech at Liberty Plaza at Occupy Wall Street, where the movement started, “being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful.” (9) When OWS started in a likeminded way as a non-violence movement with no leaders. The anonymity of the movement immediately prompts a question and J.J. Charlesworth is one of the ones asking it; In the privileging of political form over content, in their obsession with process rather than outcome, are the current movements busy turning politics into “something like an aesthetic”?(10) The question is should we have an immediate overarching dogma and do we really have other examples that are actually taking it to the next steps? In 2006, the artist group Superflex published the book Self-Organization/Counter-economic Strategies, which chronicled the many alternative approaches of social and economic organizations. It included: the Recovered Factory movement in Argentina where about 200 companies were recovered (occupied) by their workers and turned into cooperatives; the Grameen Bank microfinance initiative in Bangladesh, founded in 1974, and almost wholly owned by its barrowers; Ithaca Hours, a local currency system publicly accepted by over 900 participants, local employers and employees for goods and services in Ithaca, New York. The book focuses on many practical examples of self-organization and alternative forms of cooperation being made possible by advancements in thinking, technology and social structure. All examples in the book are independent of institutional or corporate structures, non-hierarchical and operate open to participatory decision-making processes.(11)
Ironically enough, Alexei Monroe comes up with term “The Temporary Hegemonic Zone” to analyze the strategies of Laibach Kunst one of the founding groups of the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst). The other founding groups were IRWIN, and Scipion Našice Sisters Theater. (12) Shortly after the collapse of socialism and the break-up of Yugoslavia in war, at the beginning of 1992 the artistic collective NSK transformed from an organization to a State in Time. It emerged at a moment when a radical rethinking of the nation-state was necessary, and yet it did not manifest itself geopolitically. NSK State in Time’s first temporary embassy was opened in Moscow. They also openened temporary embassies in Tirana, Zagreb and Berlin. In 1995 NSK State in Time openned their Sarajevo office where they set up a Passport Office, which over the course of the event issued over few hundreds NSK passports. The event was the best-attended cultural event in Sarajevo since the war began. This symbolic ID card later became functional. Many Bosnians actually used NSK passports to be able to go out of the country. Currently for NSK State in Time the Nigerian question has emerged. Nigerian citizens seemingly started to take the State in Time more seriously than it takes itself. They received thousands of applications from Nigeria, some in the belief that a NSK passport can provide entry into the European Union.
We can talk about gaps and lapses as a kind of strategic opportunity; and around the nucleus of power one can see the slightly less visible arrows as a kind of ecosystem; they are circulating and they are moving, connecting the strategic tools (time / speed / distance, recent history, autonomy, fiction / illusion etc.). By using these strategic tools diagrammatically one can begin to go through the actual gaps and fissures to reach the possibility of non-hierarchical participatory radical democracy in its unlimited, new and undiscovered forms. As Conor McGrady says, “Perhaps the constitution of a truly radical artistic practice today lies in its ability to intervene socially and to generate unpredictable outcomes.” (13) I would take that one step further and remove the word perhaps. Today not only artists but all self-appointed mediators should see the positive potentials of using the kinds of cracks or gaps mentioned above as inroads unsettling the hegemonic system.
1 Source: http://www.sealandgov.org/history.html
2 Excerpt from the conversation with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian
Assange and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, moderated by Democracy
Now!’s Amy Goodman. .
3 Excerpt from “Memory is not dead, but it is often comatose” a conversation
between Ahmet Ögüt & Önder Özengi. Published in the catalogue
Ricochet # 4, published by Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, November
4 Another version of this comment published in Fillip Magazine, isssue No
14, Summer 2011, Between the Scaffold and the Ruin, a conversation
between Berin Golonu and Ahmet Ögüt
5 Nazim Hikmet, was a famous poet from Turkey. He was described as a
“romantic communist”. He spent much of his life in prison and in exile. In
2009 Turkey restored the citizenship of Nazim Hikmet over 50 years after
it branded him a traitor.
9 The Nation, Naomi Klein, Occupy Wall Street: The Most Important
Thing in the World Now.
10 J.J. Charlesworth, Art Review, December, 2011
11 Self-Organization/counter-economic strategies, initiated by Superflex,
Sternberg Press, 2006
12 Thanks to Borut Vogelnik (IRWIN) for his extensive lecture about the NSK
State in Time that he gave at the Dutch Art Institute as our guest for the
seminar Situating Artistic Practice Today (Steven ten Thije/Ahmet Ögüt)
13 by Conor McGrady, The State as utopian Gesamtkunstwerk,
It is an open source diagram, which anybody can download it, add their comments and exchange critical ideas: