Last weekend will find itself an entry in political history over here in Germany. In the state of Saarland, the country’s Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) won 7.4 percent of votes and entered the federal state parliament. Up north, the state party conference for North Rhine-Westphalia elected 42 candidates for the upcoming state elections and found a successful end, after a dragging start – more than 150 party members wanted to be voted onto the candidate list.
In Saarland, the Piratenpartei not only entered state parliament after running for election the very first time, but it also managed to attract thousands of non-voters and first-time voters. In the same election, Germany’s free democrats, the FDP, suffered staggering losses. The FDP dropped from 9.2 percent to a mere 1.2 percent, far below the five percent threshold necessary to enter a state parliament.
On Saturday, nearly four hours were spent discussing and voting the election rules; a further nine hours later party members had voted in a team of four top candidates. The following day was spent screening the remaining candidates for list spots five to 42.
Press reports were a mixed bag. On the one side, journalists were scratching their noggins and coming up with various ideas about how the Piratenpartei managed to jump from zero to 7.4 percent the first time the party stood for election in the economically decrepit Saarland. On the other side, reporters were wondering how the hell party members were able to make a rational decision on who to elect on a list for the upcoming elections in North Rhine Westphalia. After all, the candidates running for the top team only had three minutes to present themselves, and one minute for the following spots.
Large portions of the press appear rather clueless to the inner workings of the Piratenpartei. Criticisms of the voting procedure of the North Rhine-Westphalia’s party conference was a good example. The limited, three to one minute timeframe candidates had to present themselves led a lot of outsiders to raise the question how rational decisions on who to vote for can be made.
Established political parties do not comprehend the grass-roots process of the party and are bewildered by the recent successes. Most politicians repeatedly stress they use Facebook and Twitter, are net-savvy and the like. However, they are entirely missing the point.
What is overlooked is that the greatest part of decision-making in the Piratenpartei is internet-based. Party members can discuss and make amendments to papers and proposals in real-time, using a platform called Liquid Feedback. Party members, as well as those wishing to run for any office, can create an online profile on the party’s wiki site. They are encouraged to do so. Members can ask candidates questions online and candidates answer them online. Twitter is also used – Pirates tweet to and fro enthusiastically. Party members can inform themselves before any conference takes place – instantly.
Thanks to the networked organisation, a short timeframe is all that is needed for candidates to present themselves at party conferences. Party members vote on whether or not to pose further questions. This seldom takes place, yet will definitely occur if the candidate is controversial. This happened during the state party conference. One candidate running for the election list for the federal state had to answer questions concerning anti-Semitic remarks he made in a mailing-list – he received no votes. Another member was accused of bullying his peers in the party’s local group in Cologne, only to face a similar fate.
This networked structure and organisation allows the Piratenpartei to involve each and every member in the democratic process, regardless of space-time constraints, making it possible to apply crowdsourced intelligence. It enables the Piratenpartei to fulfill its ideal of Basisdemokratie: grass-roots politics allowing everyone to be involved in any process. All members can vote for candidates, without delegates.
Apart from the networked nature of the Piratenpartei, the political topics central to the party also attract new members and voters. Topics include civil rights both on and offline, net politics, social justice and egalitarianism, education policies and the involvement of the greater whole in the democratic process.
The existing social system is heavily criticised. The so-called Hartz IV social benefits system is viewed as being too little for too many, and as imposing restrictions on civil rights and liberties of Germany’s unemployed, the weakest members of the state.
The Piratenpartei offers a solution – the bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen (BGE), a system providing an unconditionial basic income. This is to be financed through the redistribution of wealth and an overhauled tax system, allowing all citizens to participate in their pursuit of happiness and opportunity. Social exclusion due to economic constraints would be negated.
Germany’s industry manufactures its products in an utterly efficient manner, allowing the country to produce high-quality goods for low costs. Higher efficiency in production also means far less jobs across various sectors, creating a systemic problem. After all, who will buy products, when hardly anyone makes them? Thanks to rapidly increasing automation, what was once a more or less philosophical question is now relevant.
An unconditional basic income would provide citizens the means to not only participate in society as consumers, but also the opportunity to actively create and produce goods, be they tangible or intangible. Freeing citizens to create and produce would furthermore provide a basis for future wealth. This all stands in stark contrast to a benefits system creating dependency. As a side-effect, it would also raise demand and consumption in Germany itself, improving the major exporter’s rather one-sided trade balance.
As for net politics and civil liberties, the Piratenpartei has established parties running and making their voices heard all over the place. One of the greatest boons for the party was the utterly inept and uninformed handling of the digital sphere by established parties. In recent years, various laws were proposed either as parts of election campaigns or due to lobbying, which would have drastically curtailed freedom of use in the internet and civil liberties pertaining to informational self-determination. Germany’s digital natives went up in arms, further strengthening the base of potential voters of the Piratenpartei.
One prime example was a proposal to block access to sites containing child pornography with a stop sign – instead of deleting such content and prosecuting the purveyors of such material. The proposal was also superfluous, as there are already existing processes in place.
There are many other reasons for the success of the Piratenpartei, such as an erosion of trust in established parties and politicians to deal with current and future problems in the Information Age we are now all living in. Whatever the case, the attractiveness of Germany’s Piratenpartei is constantly growing, as well as its member base.
Open, transparent processes and the desire to apply these to the political system as a whole, alongside a grass-roots democratic process using networked methods and platforms allowing people to participate in as high a degree they wish in finding political solutions to complex problems, will remain the driving forces for the party’s increasing popularity.
And this is why the author became a member a month ago.