What do the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring and most recently, uprisings in Ukraine all have in common?
They could all benefit from the same solution: democratic centralism.
The solution, proposed by Professor Michael Hardt during the “Multitudes in Revolt” lecture held at Ryerson on Feb. 6, refers to “a dual relationship of the thrust from below and power from above” to counter feelings of misrepresentation by the masses, and the inability for centralized governments to carry out long-term projects.
The idea came about with regards to social and democratic movements: a response to the polarity that beautiful, popular movements are often short-lived, while “hierarchal structures that betray our democratic aspirations … are also long-lasting and effective,” like our current government structures.
In this post-election season at Ryerson, democratic centralism could very well be the answer to student dissatisfaction—and with more than 150 students, professors and activists in attendance, the solution’s link to student government seemed even more apparent.
The RSU thrives on the apathy of students. Dylan Freeman-Grist, news editor for the Eyeopener who has closely followed the RSU, reinforces this idea: As opposed to having an open forum with debate or discussion, he says, the RSU can simply feed off that apathy to maintain their position in student government.
“When you have a small group of people making all of these decisions without being accountable to anyone, you don’t have proper representation on campus,” he adds.
But blame also rests with the student body. Electoral statistics confirm apathetic opinion towards student government: In the 2014 election, the Unite Ryerson slate won every (uncontested) VP position. Only five per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot. This isn’t unusual: rarely does more than 10 per cent of Ryerson’s voter population cast their ballot.
It’s a vicious and democratic circle: Students sometimes aren’t confident in the ability of their government to represent their issues, so they might not vote for that reason. As a result, they might complain of inadequate services and representation provided by the RSU—who then dominate student government because few people even vote, let alone run for office.
It’s disappointment with this feedback loop that drew occupation and encampment movements to alter the balance of power.
But that won’t happen at Ryerson.
Hardt’s theories of strategy and tactics are killed by apathy. There can be no push for improvement in student, or any democratic government if the student population is unwilling to exert pressure on the RSU, and if the RSU is unwilling to plan long-term projects that represent the wishes of the student body.
Complaints will remain complaints.
But while Hardt is renowned for his work with political activism, extending from his days working with South American non-government organizations (NGOs), to his latest trilogy of books: analyzing and critiquing global neo-liberal power structures (Empire), defining methods of resistance (Multitudes), and redefining political terms in order to bring about social change (Commonwealth), the concepts unveiled at “Multitudes of Revolt”—including his take on democratic centralism—are still under development.
What lies ahead, then, is up to those with dissatisfactions.
Until there is a proposed action of plan, the grievances of those at Ryerson—and their social movement counterparts—will remain.