Activism

Councils and Revolution: Participatory Democracy in Anarchist Thought and the New Social Movements

By Shmuel Lederman

Anarchism is often considered to have inspired the New Social Movements emerging in the last few decades. The 2011 mass demonstrations in Spain, Israel, the United States, and other places seem to confirm that what is often called “new” or postanarchism indeed inspires the visions and practices that characterize the new social movements — in particular, the call for, and the prefiguration of a more direct, participatory democracy. However, this inspiration is also characterized by an important loss: the lack of a systematic attempt to envision what participatory democracy would actually look like and how it would function. Such attempts were an important legacy of the “old” anarchist tradition, in the form of workers’ councils. The political philosopher Hannah Arendt gave them an important and largely neglected political meaning. This legacy should be reconsidered and reinvigorated by scholars and activists who are interested in anarchism and/or the new social movements.

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