How are we going to get there?

IssueJuly/August 2013
Feature by Preeti Kaur

As I write, individuals and families are taking to the streets in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia. Governments globally pursue policies that lead to further inequalities and push more and more families into poverty, experiencing hunger, unemployment and illness without hope that things will get better. 

In the UK, the government’s own lawyers warn of a new ‘underclass’ unable to defend themselves and insist on their rights. Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth in England face greater unemployment than their White or Indian counterparts. The EDL (English Defence League) and BNP (British National Party) raise their ugly heads. New Labour (currently the ‘opposition’ party) has already promised continued austerity measures should they win the next election. Allegations of sexual abuse abound in diverse circles without accountability. It is in this context that I’m writing about the interim International Organisation for a Participatory Society.


Following calls from Venezuela for an international organisation, the progressive alternative media platform ZNet hosted a poll in 2011, on establishing a new organisation that would have specific characteristics, such as commitments to winning tangible improvements in the lives of people today in the movement towards a free society characterised by self-management, solidarity, equity, diversity, ecological stewardship and internationalism.

Importance was also given to developing a vision that is anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-heteronormativist, anti-sexist and so on. And to creating a body that would seek to organise as close to its vision as possible, building in ways that contained the seeds of the future in the present.

The results of the poll were overwhelmingly positive, with more than 5,000 people responding favourably. In response to this poll, the interim International Organisation for a Participatory Society (IOPS) was launched in early 2012.

IOPS was launched as an interim organisation to allow time for building from the grassroots up. The interim phase enables autonomous local chapters (connected regionally, nationally and internationally) to develop. Over the past year, much debate has taken place in online forums on the IOPS website.

For me, this is not where the most important action takes place. Excitingly, small chapters have begun to take shape in places like Kent (England), San Diego (US), and beyond.

IOPS Kent recently hosted an event in solidarity with actions in Turkey. In New York City, the Organisation for a Free Society (OFS), based on the same ideas that underpin IOPS, organise monthly public events on topical issues. OFS members have fought budget cuts and tuition hikes at universities, mobilised against war, organised in restaurants, fought against the mass imprisonment of people of colour, and worked with youth from the South Bronx to Palestine to Tibet. They have been active against the housing foreclosure crisis in New York city, and in climate crisis response efforts across the state, stood up for reproductive justice and done work to heal the impacts of sexual violence in their own communities.

In London, interim IOPS members are also members of various women’s rights networks, anti-austerity groups, solidarity networks for workers’ rights, solidarity networks linked to movements in the Global South, and to ‘theatre of the oppressed’ groups working with youth and adults all over the world.

In Birmingham (England), interim IOPS members participate in anti-cuts and anti-austerity movements.

It may be legitimate to ask the question: if we participate as individuals in various struggles, why join a revolutionary organisation?

Revolutionary role

This question informs the interim IOPS study group on the role of a revolutionary organisation.

The international aspect of the interim organisation enables discussions to take place within local chapters and between individuals across chapters globally.

The study group meets monthly via Skype to learn from previous struggles. We have looked at examples such as the FARJ in Brazil (the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro or Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro). Ideas are taken back to local chapter meetings.

From this study group, I’ve developed the hope that IOPS will become a home for revolutionaries working to develop holistic politics, vision and strategy as well as strengthening the broader movement.

Holistic politics

In understanding capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, environmental destruction, and the violent state that enforces them, IOPS ideas take from feminism, anarchism, national liberation struggles, and a modern class analysis.

The outcome is a holistic analysis where no one form of oppression is seen as more significant than another. All forms of domination and exploitation need to be radically overhauled.

In our grassroots organising work, individual members will likely confront one form of domination or exploitation. But a holistic analysis helps deepen an understanding of how different forms of oppression intersect, reproduce and reinforce each other, which can inform strategic thought within our grassroots organising work.


In the words of Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon: ‘If the revolutionary lacks the guiding idea of their action, they will not be anything other than a ship without a compass.’

The IOPS key documents include aspects of a vision for a future that is anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-heternormativist, anti-sexist and so on. There is a commitment to ensuring that lessons learned from struggles and experimentation inform long-term vision and strategy.


The vision of anti-authoritarianism and classlessness informs our strategy for building pre-figurative institutions.

IOPS is a pre-figurative political institution in that it is intended to be built from the grassroots up. It also has a commitment to organising internally in an anti-sexist, anti-racist, classless and self-managing way (to ensure individuals have a decision-making say in the organisation to the extent that they’re affected).

Local chapters are experimenting with intentional and flexible practices of participatory democracy structures internally, allowing space for active decision-making, and accountable and transparent leadership.

Building institutions that create the seeds of the future society in the present includes building workplace and neighbourhood councils, community boards, participatory socialist planning, democratic decision-making structures, and more.

To make people’s lives materially better we aspire to learn how to build the institutions of a participatory society today. Such institutions also form a base from which to build power towards destroying and replacing the oppressive institutions that prevent us from actualising our vision.

Building pre-figurative social relations overturning deeply ingrained forms of racism, sexism and patriarchy which can inform many of our relationships today, involves transforming ourselves. Oppressions we are seeking to overturn inevitably arise in our very own circles and I hope that IOPS chapters, in their commitment to building an organisation that contains the seeds of the future in the present, will create spaces to pay attention to the important internal work that needs to be in done in relation to this.

The IOPS strategy recognises that it is not sufficient to build alternative institutions that contain the seeds of the future in the present. Elites will not allow alternative institutions to replace existing ones without a fight. It is necessary to simultaneously fight oppressive systems and prefigure the participatory society we envision.

In building movements, I hope IOPS can create a space to help challenge dominant narratives, and be involved in consciousness-raising in order to lay the groundwork for collective long-term struggle.

I hope local IOPS chapters will participate in building movements ethically – getting involved to strengthen the fight for concrete victories that meet people’s needs while infusing these movements and fights with participatory processes and a narrative about what is possible, in terms of longer-term victories — putting us in the position to achieve even more. 

Topics: People power