Category: English

Cooperativa Integral Catalana as a living model of open cooperativism

Stand

Enric Duran of the Catalan Integrated Cooperative has taken the time to comment on Michel Bauwens’ recent article on Open Coops, contrasting Bauwens’ proposals with the practical realities already under way in the CIC’s own forward thinking cooperativist environment. Guerrilla Translation, as a sister collective to the P2P Foundation has copy-edited Duran’s replies.

Bauwens’ summary of these proposals include four key proposals which Duran addresses below. To give some context, the four proposals are:

  1. That coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good 
  2. That coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders
  3. That coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons
  4. That coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally.

Here are Duran’s comments to each proposal.


1. That coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good 

Enric Duran: In the CIC’s second assembly, a set of general principles were approved:

Then, towards the end of 2013 the following principles were added:

I will now list some of these principles, namely those related to the common good.

From the first part:

Social Transformation

A concern for the common good and for one’s own welfare

Building an inclusive cooperative that encompasses the whole of society

Society

Social justice and equity

Sharing our practices throughout society

Political organization

Democracy: direct, deliberative, participative

From the second part :

a/ Recover common ownership for the benefit of all, with people-centered ownership and control

We have to recover the control of land and the means of production for the common good, enabling its availability through collectivization (communal ownership) for the public good.

b/ Build a cooperative system that is public and self-managed, based upon mutual aid

We work for the common good, to ensure that all of our vital necessities (food, health, housing, education, energy, transportation, etc.) are covered through a truly public system, built by ourselves and based on self-management, cooperating with one another and promoting the values and abilities that are essentially human.

c/ Liberate access to information and knowledge

We share knowledge among us all to build a greater common good.

At the practical level, we need to continue reinforcing our resources (people, self organization, money, spaces…) to expand our activity for the common good.

2. That coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders 

Enric

Enric Duran

The CIC has always included all stakeholders, as we welcome all who wish to be included. Ours in an open government model where everyone can be part of meetings and the decision making process with no need to apply for membership.

To this day, the biweekly in-person assemblies have represented the main decision-making space. At the same time, those involved in different commissions and projects — also carried out in open groups — hold more influence over their particular areas of work. People are welcome to participate in the meetings over the Internet, but in-person attendance is required to partake in the decision-making process.

We have, however, discovered the following shortcomings. The level of involvement of those members that don’t attend meetings is minimal. A possible solution would be to include and implement the use of direct democracy tools. We’re aware of the technical availability of these types of tools, but we feel that a broad social/political discussion is needed in order to assess their implementation.

We need to create ways to recognise and uphold in-person participation and involvement in tasks while also recognizing the right of participation by those who aren’t as involved, by means of votes or assessments which could be considered binding at some level. Discussions need to go straight into the CIC’s decision-making spaces.

Otherwise, at the economic level and given that there are no profits to be shared, the kind of open participation described above does not influence the general budget per se, but it could be interesting to think of other manners of economic involvement.

A way to foster this kind of economic involvement could be through a distributed benefit system tied to a simple project, something independent from the general budget. For example, we could create a kind of “fair shares for shop members and users”, where some portion of the common income is distributed among all sellers and users.

3. That coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons

The CIC is committed to the creation of commons at multiple levels.

We are involved in a number of free software projects, such as:

However, these types of commons are not conducive to monetary income, because our political views are focused on free sharing.

Therefore, these types of initiatives are financed through crowdfunding campaigns or allocations redistributed from other income streams.

At the regional level, the CIC also offers a number of immaterial services and knowledge related to juridical frameworks and legal management. We consider the legal structure of our cooperative to be a functioning commons that benefits all the projects making use of it at a minimal cost. More than 300 productive projects are already making use of this framework.

The CIC’s involvement in the immaterial sphere also includes projects related to health, education, culture, among others.This is because as a project, the CIC surpasses the traditional role of a cooperative and includes a working, self-organised and open societal model.

Regarding the production of material commons we have some labs, such as Calafou or Macus, but we need to improve their development through consolidation and reinforcement.

All of these processes also need to be economically sustainable and we have a lot of work pending in order to be connected at the global level.

This year, we have created a “technology office” to facilitate communication and networking amongst all the manufacturing projects committed to Open Source manufacturing principles.

We would, however, welcome further ties to other groups involved with the material commons to learn how to collaborate together, specially in the immaterial aspects related to this type of material creation (knowledge, designs, funding).

Additionally, we’re interested in opening a dialogue about land commons. In this area the CIC actively promotes access to land, as well as shared housing, land and working spaces. Currently, there are dozens of rural projects in Catalonia linked to the CIC where people are actively sharing their tools, knowledge and land, taking part in forest restoration practises, etc. We understand the land as a commons and we’re committed to the progressive expansion of land commons in Catalonia.

4. That coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally.

The CIC is also committed to global change at a social and political level. We are involved in some projects at the global level:

  1. integrarevolutio.net/en/
  2. radi.ms
  3. coopfunding.net/en/ (mostly local for the moment but globally scalable…)

Problem: Integral Revolution”, the name we chose to describe our project, is not easily understood at an international level, specially for speakers of non-Latin languages. It is also possible that our practises are somewhat too complex to be readily understood.

Solution: We’re thinking about combining the concept behind Integral Revolution with a more easily understood and synergistic concept, such as “Open Cooperativism.” This very article marks a first step in that direction!

We have some contacts and leads of our own, but we’re actively on the lookout for good partners throughout the world in order to have a globally organised network.

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Calafou. Image by Lisa Furness

Other improvements to think about in the process of becoming a better open cooperative

  • Providing better, local, CIC tools for the people in Catalonia.

Not only do we need to be open, we also need to seem open.

I’ve detected a problem and I feel that we need stronger ties to other, local, collectives working for the common good, as well as other general social movements and to civil society.

It’s very likely that our goals are much too innovative and different, and this causes people to have difficulty understanding what we’re really about. – People frequently confuse us with old-fashioned cooperatives. We need to partake in demonstrative actions which are accessible to most people.

  • Improving the CIC’s internal participatory economic system.

These are the types of economic transactions currently taking place in the CIC:

  • Between CIC members
  • CIC on an individual basis <-> outside CIC
  • CIC productive members ->> CIC (quarterly quotes from productive projects that trade outside the CIC)

One important aspect to consider is how to make the last arrow bidirectional.

I am thinking of introducing some type of distributed mechanism, like Fairshares, for certain projects. It would go something like this:

CIC members + outside CIC ->> CIC + CIC members

…in an automatic and decentralized way. The pilot project could take the form of a marketplace; a good, experimental space where users collaborate to create value simultaneously destined for the common budget and for anyone involved. For example, the fees for the transaction could be distributed the following way: 50% for the common pool and 50% for the users.

This could be an important initiative aimed at creating a greater awareness of open cooperativism within the CIC, while also overcoming the problem of client-provider relationships between the Commons-oriented structure and productive projects.

Guanyem Barcelona: Homage to (a viable?) Utopia

Pedrera-by-Paragona

We are living in an exceptional time that demands brave, creative initiatives. If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.”

“There was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.” This is how George Orwell described the city of Barcelona during the anarchist revolution of 1936 in his classic Homage to Catalonia. A short-lived dream that was soon to be crushed by Franco’s fascist regime.

Almost 80 years later, the City Hall of Barcelona sells a very different dream to the world. An over-developed, highly commercialized Barcelona that has become a theme park for tourists, who blissfully wander the streets of the charming metropolis, unaware of the harsh difficulties many of its citizens are actually going through. The clash between those two Barcelonas is becoming increasingly intolerable, as seen in the recent struggles over the eviction of self-organized community squat/centers such as Can Vies, among others.

However, that spirit Orwell once sensed in Barcelona never really died. The Spanish revolutionaries of today may not be fighting fascism with weapons, but they are fighting neoliberalism with real democracy. That’s what the 15-M movement is all about, a movement that is now evolving into various efforts to take people’s assemblies from the streets to the political institutions. At a national level, the most relevant are Movimiento por la Democracia, Partido X and Podemos, whose front man Pablo Iglesias was chosen by the Confederal Group of the United Left (GUE) as a candidate for the Presidency of the European Parliament, no less! Catalonia also has its own bottom-up political organizations, such as Procés Constituent (with its charismatic leader, Teresa Forcades) and CUP, which already has three representatives in the Catalan Parliament.

And now comes a new call for a democratic revolution from Barcelona itself, by way of a platform named Guanyem Barcelona [Let’s Win Barcelona], launched by a group of the city’s intellectuals, cultural workers and activists. Among the latter is Ada Colau, who is well known in Spain as the spokeswoman for PAH, a countrywide movement that aids victims of home evictions by banks. Even though Guanyem Barcelona’s aim is to win the next municipal elections, set for May 2015, it is not a political party as such. Rather, it’s an invitation to existing social movements and political organizations as well as regular citizens to converge around four fundamental objectives:

1. To guarantee basic rights and a decent life for all.

2. To foster an economy that prioritizes social and environmental justice.

3. To democratize institutions and allow people to decide what kind of city they want to live in.

4. To meet an ethical commitment towards citizens.

Here is our English translation of the inspiring Let’s Win Barcelona manifesto (also shown on the Guanyem Barcelona website):


We are living in a time of deep changes. Taking advantage of the economic crisis, the financial powers have launched an open offensive against the social rights and conquests of the majority of the population. However, the longing for real democracy is becoming stronger and stronger in the streets, in town squares, online and also in the ballot boxes.

Over the past few years, numerous citizen movements and initiatives have denounced the scam we are being subjected to and have demonstrated the inability of old-school politics to respond to people’s needs. But these initiatives have often come up against the arrogance of the elites, who feel immune, who won’t correct their mistakes, and who now want to impose a second Transición so that nothing changes.

We cannot afford another institutional blockade from above that leaves us without a future. We need to strengthen, more than ever, the social fabric and the spaces for citizens to self-organize. But the time has also come to take back the institutions and put them to work for the majority and the common well-being.

In order to prove that we can do things differently, we need to proceed step by step. And the first step is to begin with that which is closest to us: the municipal sphere, our city, our neighbourhoods.

Barcelona is a decisive place to promote this much-needed democratic rebellion. First of all, because it already has an associative and activist network that is capable of carrying out ambitious projects for change. And secondly, because a democratic rebellion in Barcelona would not just be a merely local phenomenon. It would connect with many other related grassroots efforts to break away from the current political and financial system. In Catalonia, in Spain as a whole, and in Europe.

Because we believe in the right to choose, we want to choose, here and now, what the Barcelona we need and yearn for should look like.

We want a city that fosters the honesty of those who govern it and prevents a mafia-like collusion between politics and money. We must end the accumulation of political positions, limit salaries and terms, advance transparent agendas, and establish efficient mechanisms to control public officials. We want a new ethical contract between citizens and representatives.

We need to find a way to stop and reverse the insulting inequalities that have developed in recent years. We want a city without home evictions or malnutrition, where people aren’t condemned to live in darkness or to put up with abusive increases in the price of public transport. Access to housing, education, healthcare and a basic income should be guaranteed rights for all, not privileges that only a few can afford.

We want a genuine metropolitan democracy, which obligates political representatives to lead while obeying. A decentralized democracy with direct elections of each district’s councilmen and -women, with social oversight of its budgets, where citizens help to make joint, legitimated decisions through proposals and binding referendums.

We need a Barcelona that is welcoming but also willing to stand up to powerful lobbies from the financial, real estate and tourism sectors. We need institutions that promote a social economy and the creation of sustainable jobs. Public contracts must meet social justice and environmental criteria.

We do not want a city that sells its urban heritage to the highest bidder. We want institutions that recover the democratic control over its water supply, that implement fiscal measures and city planning that put an end to land speculation and promote environmentally sustainable energy and transport policies.

Many of these initiatives are supported, and have been for some time, by social, neighbourhood and union movements as well as by various political organizations. But we won’t be able to carry them out without the involvement of broad sectors of society.

Rescuing democracy from the powers that have kidnapped it is a difficult and ambitious, yet thrilling, challenge. It requires creating new tools for social coordination and political intervention, where organized citizens and those who are beginning to mobilize can meet. Both people who have been fighting for some time and those who feel cheated but are longing to become excited about a common project.

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People signing the Guanyem Manifesto.

That is why we are launching this civic platform. To build a joint candidacy that represents the majority, with the aim to win. A candidacy that inspires enthusiasm, that is present in neighbourhoods, at workplaces, in the cultural community, and that allows us to transform institutions to serve the people.

We don’t want a coalition or a mere combination of political parties. We want to stay away from the old party logic and build new realms that, while respecting each organization’s identity, transcend the arithmetic sum of the parts involved. We believe that our city meets the necessary conditions to make it possible.

There is no magic formula to solve the difficulties we will come up against on the way. We will have to ask questions as we move forward, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do so. Our most successful experiences show us that, if we organize around specific objectives and practices, we can reach goals that may have seemed impossible.

Despite the harshness of the financial crisis, a historic opportunity has cracked open, which we cannot and will not fail to seize. We are living in an exceptional time that demands brave, creative initiatives. If we are able to imagine a different city, we will have the power to transform it.

We invite you to discuss this together on June 26th. For us, for those who tried before us and for those who are yet to come. It’s time to prove that it is possible to build a different city. It’s time to win Barcelona.


The much anticipated June 26th meeting was in fact a resounding success. About 2000 people of all ages and walks of life attended, overflowing both the main hall and the overflow area with hope and enthusiasm. Representatives of the above-mentioned social movements and political parties were also present. And not just those from Catalonia. Even top members of Podemos travelled from Madrid to Barcelona for the occasion, a sign that this initiative may well encourage other Spanish towns and cities to follow a similar path for their own upcoming local elections [1].

One of the most applauded lines in Ada Colau’s empowering speech was her vision of converting Barcelona’s beautiful concert hall El Palau de la Música (a symbol of modernist architecture that has, sadly, become a symbol of the “mafia-like collusion between politics and money” as well) into a people’s self-organized cultural center. An image reminiscent of when the Barcelona Ritz Hotel restaurant was converted into a communal dining room back in Orwell’s day (see minute 5 of this video).

The term Orwellian has become synonymous with the totalitarian, centralized government the author envisioned in his later novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. But Orwell not only had nightmares. He had dreams, dreams of “equality and freedom”. Don’t we all?

Note: [1] Since this article was written, several Spanish cities have already started their own “let’s win” initiatives, including Ganemos Madrid, Ganemos Sevilla, Ganemos Málaga, Ganemos Valladolid, Ganemos Las Palmas, Ganemos Almería, and Ganemos Toledo.

Original article and translation by Arianne Sved – Guerrilla Translation!

Images: Linocut (inspired by Gaudí sculptures on the roof of La Pedrera, Barcelona) by Michael Paragon. Photo by an anonymous member of Guanyem. 

This translation has also been published in Occupy.com

A Charter for Democracy

guardared

Movimiento por la Democracia

Whatever happened to the 15-M Movement? Where did Occupy go? Three years after the groundbreaking revolutionary ruptures of 2011, violent repression and media invisibility have relegated these thriving movements to a grey area. The perception seems to shift between mainstream derision and niche-group interest. Occupy’s roots have spread out and sprouted a multitude of initiatives, though perhaps the source inspiration is not always publicly recognized. But in Spain, the popular experience of austerity – the murderous palliative prescribed as a cure for the crisis – and the resulting political movements in reaction have been giving the lie to the mainstream narrative that 15-M is a “has been”.

The movement undeniably lives. Its form has been mutated, re-imagined, distributed, and coalesced into a swarm of activity and hacks to the system. We live here, we see it every day. These initiatives are not as easily seen, defined – or, for that matter, targeted – as a physical occupation may be; yet they permeate the hegemony, creating new possibilities and spaces. You need only look at the recent EU Parliamentary election results to see how Spanish voters have reacted to austerity and debt – and how that reaction contrasted strongly with that of some other European nations. One of the most important evolutions of 15-M is undoubtedly the “Movimiento por la Democracia” (Movement for Democracy).

Unsurprisingly, the Movement is hard to define. It clearly targets the political arena without desiring to become a political party itself. Their “Charter for Democracy” is an inspiring, thorough text on what politics should be. It proposes a politics for the people: squarely grounded in environmental realities and social justice, based on the Commons, defended from corporate interests and neo-liberal dictates. The Charter was written collectively through nearly 30 different workshops throughout Spain held over the span of a year, with the collaboration of some 200 individuals.

As Movimiento por la Democracia expresses, “It isn’t finished. We don’t want it to be finished; we want it to be a living document, in a constant state of discussion and production. We think it’s a good summary of the main demands the citizenry has put on the table over the last few years – our needs and desires. Now we need your help. The Charter can only make sense when shared widely, so it can stir extensive debate. If you find it interesting, we ask you to share it on Social Media, send it by email or get it into people’s hands in a thousand different ways. We ask you to comment on it, debate it, refute and if you like it, make it yours”.

To that end, we’re proud to present the Charter for Democracy in English for the first time, complete with its beautiful original illustrations by Clismón. Our role in this translation was something like post-production. We took the time to bring it together, polish and clarify it, to do service to the volunteer labor that went into the translation (see below for full credits). It’s serious reading, and essential reading for anyone passionate about true democracy and commons-based governance. As they say, please read it and, if you want to, make it yours.

Carta_por_la_Democracia_1pag-1red

A CHARTER FOR DEMOCRACY

This Charter was born of a deep malaise: lack of prospects, mass unemployment, cuts in social rights and benefits, evictions, political and financial corruption, dismantling of public services. It was drafted in reaction to the social majority’s growing lack of confidence in the promises of a political system devoid of legitimacy and the ability to listen.

The two-party system, widespread corruption, the financial dictatorship imposed by austerity policies and the destruction of public goods have dealt the final blow to a democracy long suffering from its own limits. These limits were already present in the 1978 Constitution. They can be summarized as a political framework that neither protects society from the concentration of power in the hands of the financial groups, nor from the consolidation of a non-representative political class. This political framework has established a system which is hardly open to citizen participation, and unable to construct a new system of collective rights for our protection and common development. This is evident in the fact that, despite some very significant public demonstrations, the demands of the vast majority of the population have repeatedly been ignored.

Faced with this institutional stonewalling and the growing separation between the rulers and the ruled, it seems there’s only one way out: a deep expansion of democracy based on citizen control over political and economic power. Surely, since what’s left of democracy is constantly shrinking and attempts at internal reform would only mean repeating the same mistakes, we must take a chance on changing the rules of the game – a democratic change, geared toward returning to society the effective decision-making ability over all which concerns it.

Chaos and dictatorship are not the only alternatives to the current democracy. A democracy created among all people is possible – a democracy not reduced to merely voting, but founded on participation, citizen control and equal rights.

This Charter emerged from the desire to contribute to this process of democratization. In this sense, it contributes from a place of joy, from the energy of citizen mobilizations, from politics happening outside political parties, speaking in first person plural and trying to build a life worth living for everyone. No doubt the impetus is democracy itself. People have the ability to invent other forms of governing themselves and living together. This text was created with the assurance that today’s struggles are the basis of the coming democracy.

As this is a proposal of democratization, this Charter is presented as an unfinished, long-term construction project, openly inviting anyone to participate. This charter isn’t meant to be a political program or an exhaustive catalogue of rights, nor does it pretend to be a static State model. Given our investment in democratization, it simply points towards the basic, necessary elements needed to reconstruct a new institutional model that is open to the collective needs, proposals and capacity for self-governance that has recently found its voice throughout streets, squares and networks. Seen this way, the participative, deliberative process we yearn for matters as much as its content, which should always be a faithful reflection of the proposals and aspirations of the citizenry.

In essence, this Charter calls for opening a new process of debate, leading to a political and economic restructuring to guarantee life, dignity and democracy. It’s presented here as a contribution towards establishing a new social contract, a process of democratic reform in which the people — the “anyones”— are the true protagonists.

It’s time for the citizens to appropriate public institutions and resources, in order to ensure their defense, control and fair distribution. In the public squares and networks, we’ve learned something simple and conclusive which will forever change our way of being in the world. We’ve learned that yes, we can.

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Rights and Guarantees

A democracy worthy of the name requires universal recognition of a wide constellation of rights related to all areas of public life and social reproduction. The decline in access to benefits and social services, the plundering by the financial dictatorship, and the dismantling of public welfare systems by austerity policies in recent decades have all significantly undermined the means of effectively exercising these rights. Similarly, access to many of these rights is conditional upon nationality and employment status, which has ended up producing major exclusion. Moreover, the subordinate nature of social rights in the current Constitution has not allowed sufficient development of certain fundamental issues such as housing, employment and income.

In short, both the inherent limits of the current system and the impotence of the Spanish political regime in protecting the most basic of rights are strong enough reasons for the creation of a new institutional system of rights and guarantees that enable caring, the development of our lives, and access to political life.

This Charter puts forward a common starting point for defining a new system of rights. Today, these rights have arisen from the demands and struggles of society itself, and expressed through its multiple forms of organization and participation; as such they are the highest expression of the act of democracy.

These rights redefine social relations, the production and distribution of wealth, and relations between nation-states according to a concept of the human being as a subject with the right to autonomy, but still in deep interdependence with the common space s/he inhabits. To this extent, these rights oppose being characterized as merely individual attributions. These rights must be recognized from both a universal as well as a singular dimension.

In order to guarantee these rights, we require an institutional framework that recognizes and promotes access to an active and democratic political life, and the recognition of the right to collective and direct participation as a real opportunity for the expression of the citizens’ desire to decide on everything which significantly affects the community. This framework should also be fully inclusive; one that accepts that we live in a global world, and acknowledges people’s right to migrate and/or settle where they see fit, in order to live life fully. A framework that could safeguard a life – our own – which, being interdependent, requires protection. This would comprise institutions specifically designed to ensure social reproduction, while neither delegating care labor to particular social groups nor permitting the privatization of that labor. A framework which also guarantees and extends all the rights already recognized in existing frameworks, constitutions and declarations of human rights, and which also recognizes the environment wherein life takes place as a rights-holder that should be carefully defended. This framework must, in the end, recognize society as a source of rights, therefore it must be considered open and under constant construction.

The basic principles which inspire a new, robust Bill of Rights with a guarantee of institutional means are:

  • Universality. All residents will have the same consideration and access to resources that guarantee the effective exercise of their rights.
  • Singularity: Recognizing that there are realities, forms of organization and a diversity of needs, different types of rights must be taken into account, including specific forms of recognition as well as human resources and economic requirements, to the extent that we must preserve such diversity.
  • No regression. Public authorities are not entitled, once these rights are recognized, to interpret them restrictively or to reduce them.
  • Equality. Given that all rights — civil, political and social — are fundamental to the development of people’s lives, the relationship among them must be protected and cared for with the same constitutional and legal guarantees.
  • Multi-institutional and democratic guarantee. Rights should not only be guaranteed by jurisdictional means but also through citizen participation and extra‑institutional organisms created by the persons entitled to the rights themselves. The social participation in the recognition, extension and guarantee of rights through the institutions of direct election and citizen intervention procedures must be explicitly admitted.
  • Financial sufficiency. The development of these rights must be ensured with the necessary economic means. These means will be provided by fiscal reform measures established in the following paragraphs of this Charter.

Finally, it is understood that a subject of rights is also a subject of responsibilities, insofar as she or he is part of a community built around a common project. These responsibilities extend to the environment we inhabit, and include accepting the responsibility to care for it, protect it and enable its reproduction, and in doing so, our own. Such responsibility involves all citizens, but is distributed according to the differences of wealth and ability. Carta_por_la_Democracia_1pag-12red (1)

Political Democracy

The crisis has shown that the decisions of the political class are increasingly controlled by financial interests, and therefore, that democratic Government is conditioned by private enterprise. This situation has lasting repercussions, having provoked a major crisis of legitimacy and representation, aggravated by a state of continued corruption and underscoring the serious lack of existing democratic control.

In any case, the limits of the political system are not recent; rather, they’re structural. These problems can be summed up as: bipartisanship; one-party government in most autonomous communities; difficulty creating new political options; media monopolies; and, especially, the enormous legal difficulties in reforming a Constitution which, moreover, has never been approved by most of the current population.

This is compounded by the fact that political parties – the major players in political life – have turned into a self-serving class, primarily geared towards its own propagation. Without a doubt, institutional obstacles to direct participation hamper the imagination and formation of a political framework founded upon the direct involvement of ordinary people in public affairs..

The decline of the current democracy manifests itself in neglecting the demands of different sectors of society, thus magnifying the distance between legislated policies and what the people say they need. This growing gap between the rulers and the ruled results in the democratic deficit of a system that has prioritized governability over representation and respect for minorities.

The limits of the current democratic system cannot be resolved from the same position from which they arose. Therefore, in order to establish a true democracy, an overhaul is needed.

This Charter advocates a form of democracy capable of returning decision-making power concerning the fundamental aspects of life back to the population. A democracy based on participation in social and political life, one which enables joint decisions on how we want to live. It is, therefore, a wager on a new political agreement built in an open way and with the active participation of citizens. A new agreement based on the recognition of society’s capacity to organize, create institutions, and self-govern.

The construction of this democracy requires a series of agile, effective, and transparent mechanisms articulated on different levels and geared towards both deepening direct participation and the control of delegation, via representation, as deemed appropriate.

Some actions that could give shape to a new democratic political system are as follows:

1. Democratization of public authorities

  • Control of representation. Revocable mandates by a social majority and absolute transparency both in public accounts and the actions of the various organs of Government. Tightening of controls and penalties related to corruption, and the development of independent supervisory authorities with competence over different public institutions. Economic and temporal limits on political appointments: salary caps; an incompatibility regime before, during and after the appointment; and effective limits on the duration of the mandate.
  • Democratization of the internal functioning of the parties. Transparency in party financing, clearly democratic internal statutes, and autonomy of the vote of representatives to ensure the internal plurality of organizations.
  • Reform of the electoral representation system. Removing privileges accorded to parties in the assignation of representatives; modification of lists system; eliminating minimum quota of proportionality; mechanisms of recognition and respect of minorities, as well as balance between the different territories.
  • These mechanisms for democratization, openness and citizen control will be extended to other areas of collective representation, such as social and labor organizations, as well as the media, given their relevance in public life.

2. Recognition and extension of the ways of participation and direct democracy

  • Recognition and expansion of direct democracy tools, such as popular legislative initiatives, referendums and virtual tools of participation.
  • Recognition of citizen control instruments in all areas of the main branches of government, as well as on public accounts. The recognition of such instruments requires transparency laws and the development of flexible mechanisms for public hearing. Recognition of other social organizations acting as control mechanisms or political representatives.
  • Developing mechanisms for collective deliberation: Favoring the development of methodologies for democratic deliberation, both virtual and analog, that promote shared decision making. These mechanisms will be essential in the development of new legislations and their budgets.
  • Extension of the mechanisms enabling direct participation at all administrative levels, and management of public goods and common assets such as school boards, health councils, labor councils as well as local, regional and inter-regional councils.

3. Recognition of popular constituent power as the ultimate source of the constitution and the powers of the State

  • Promotion of a model of open constitutionalism which allows reformation of constitutional standards from below, prevents foreseeable constitutional stonewalling, enables citizen reform initiatives and promotes permanent deliberation.
  • The autonomous, independent forging of institutions for the self-regulation and development of rights generated by the social structure itself will be recognized and favored.

A mature political democracy will not only allow for the real and effective separation of the different powers of the state, but also for direct citizen control of the latter. According to this charter, the judiciary, state police, and security forces will also be subject to the same requisites of transparency, democratization and citizen control. Its ranking heads shall not be chosen by political representatives but directly by the citizenry itself.

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Economic Democracy

A democratic society cannot be conceived without the guarantee of the necessary material support for the development of a dignified and politically active life. A democratic society without a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be conceived.

The high unemployment figures, the widespread insecurity, the spiral of evictions, the debt slavery condemning a large part of the population, the privatization of public services, the enormous concentration of wealth and the subordination of public economies to banking interests all point in the opposite direction: inequality and economic subordination of the many (99%) to a few (1%).

The current democracy as well as the constitutional guarantees on which it is based have been completely ineffective in avoiding this situation. None of the mechanisms set out in the Constitution of 1978 – social rights, labor rights, public initiatives in the economic sphere and the subordination of the wealth to the social interest, among others – have been able to protect society from economic and financial interests. Neo-liberal policies have prevailed above any other criteria, including the common good. This despoilment is most evident now, in the midst of the crisis.

This Charter intends to recover the social resources which have been privatized and concentrated into a few hands, in order to make them available for a real democratic process. Thus, the framework proposed by austerity politics will not be accepted. Never before has there been so much wealth, but rarely has this been distributed so poorly and under such undemocratic and unfair criteria. Therefore, a full review of the functions of economic policies is required, in order to prioritize of the welfare of the population over private, financial and corporate profit. A real, and not just formal, recognition that the laws of the market must always be subsumed to the social functions of the economy is essential.

With the aim of promoting economic democracy, this charter considers five basic pillars:

1. Financial democracy

Financial wealth will be considered as a common resource, upon which the citizenship must have the capacity and ability to influence. “Who regulates are the people, not the market” is the maxim that inspired this point. To do so, procedures will be established for democratic decision making on the debt contracted during recent years, as well as on financial and real estate assets in public hands derived from the restructuring of financial markets and the banking sector. To this end, the following measures are proposed:

  • Citizen Debt Audit. This proposal allows distinction between those debts which are legitimate and those which are not. This audit will be articulated as a social process of democratic and financial education, whereby citizens may acquire greater capacity for decision making and control over the financial economy.
  • Creation of public utility institutions, with financial and real estate assets resulting from successive restructuring. These institutions, under strict democratic control, will serve the promotion of economic equality and social development.

2. Tax reform

The object of the reform entails the promotion of a broad redistribution of expenditures and benefits, so that a formal equality is also a guaranteed real material equitability with access to common and public goods.

  • Major proposals: the restoration of the principles of proportionality and escalation for both labor income and corporate profits; the implementation of new taxes on financial transactions and higher taxes on capital income; the decrease of indirect and consumption taxes, and prosecution of tax fraud. Tax reform will be based on a criteria of equality and equal tax treatment, as well as territorial solidarity.

3. Common and public goods

Privatization processes have shown that public administrations have not protected public resources against attempts at appropriation by private interests. The social recovery of these goods, as well as the democratization of their management, must guarantee their accessibility by the population as a whole.

  • All goods and basic infrastructure needed for the reproduction of life, political participation and the normal function of the economy will have the status of public-common goods. These public-common goods shall include: education, health, housing, security, transportation, information, and justice; important natural resources including water, atmosphere, soil, oceans, coasts, rivers and riverbanks, forests and natural areas of ecological and aesthetic importance; and major roads, highways, interchanges, railway infrastructure, ports, and the like.
  • Strategic resources and sectors of the economy, such as communications, energy, or mineral resources, will be reverted to a condition of public–common resources. The administration of those resources will be subject to a strict public and democratic control.  This will effectively reverse the tendency towards privatization that has been promoted in the last decades.
  • Public-common assets shall neither be alienated nor sold by public administrations. Being public-common property, they are considered the property of all persons residing in the Spanish State.
  • Public-common assets shall be managed in a democratic way, regulated and governed both by mechanisms of citizen participation and expert communities required for each case.

4. Promotion of the Social Economy and Democracy in Economic Relations

This Charter promotes citizen participation in business-related decision-making processes, especially in matters which could be crucial to the common interest. In addition, economic activity will be subordinated to criteria of integral profitability, i.e. social, environmental and economic.

  • It encourages the development of a new business model based on the principles of the social economy, cooperativism, and respect for the environment.
  • All companies should progressively organize around the following principles: equity, respect for the environment, transparency, and sustainable development. Equally, controls over wage distribution in companies will be observed, forestalling the present model of speculative accumulation and extravagant salaries, while rigorously vetoing the increase of precarious labor.
  • The fundamental principles of labor rights will be observed: the right to work freely or in exchange for just compensation; the protection of workers in situations of dependence; the right to rest and to retire; the right to autonomy and to dignified lives independent of wage labor, along with the right to strike, to form unions and to freely associate and assemble.

5. The expansion of social protection, the recognition of common resources, and the right to a dignified life

Our current system of Social Security is principally funded by income tax contributions and is only inclusive according to criteria of national legal identity. In a globalised context, where employment is scarce and non-remunerated work is seen as essential to the production of wealth, migration has become an elemental necessity for an impoverished population. As such, the prior bases of our system of social protection have proven to be increasingly inefficient and less inclusive.

An expansion of the pension system to comply with just and sufficient standards is required. Another requirement is an expansion of the support mechanisms and infrastructures for collective caretaking, which presently falls almost exclusively on families (particularly, women). Child-rearing duties are a collective responsibility with the following two requirements: the necessary budgetary development and allocation, and the creation of common infrastructures.

The production of non-GDP quantified wealth (in areas such as research, study, cultural, informational or communicative production) shall also be acknowledged through mechanisms for the recognition of all such non-remunerated wealth (such as a Basic Income), along with the creation of all the necessary infrastructures for the development of such mechanisms.

This new system of guarantees will be financed by the proposed measures for fiscal reform, especially through the taxation of financial profit and its circulation, while also reducing the proportion of income tax.

portada-ética-cívica-red

Territorial Democracy

The current financial and economic crisis has shown the weakening of democracy at every level, as well as the fragility of territorial wealth-sharing mechanisms. The dictates of financial governance through austerity policies have established an extraordinary geography of inequality, plunging some countries and regions into the economic and social abyss.

The result is an important territorial split opening up both at the European level and in the Spanish state. In Europe, the absence of democratic intervention mechanisms and the crisis of sovereign debt have created a growing rift between a protected center and an increasingly impoverished periphery. In the Spanish state, the heavy indebtedness of municipalities and regions is leading to the dismantling of social protection systems and the sale of many public goods.

Both cases show a growing loss of territorial solidarity and the legitimacy of government institutions. This threatens a collapse that can only be addressed through a complete institutional reorganization based on democracy and territorial stewardship.

This charter invites discussion for a new territorial agreement at all levels, based on a radically democratic model. It is based on the assumption that decisions about the management of resources and services should be developed at the minimum level of the territorial unit, and forms of the distribution of wealth must be organized within the larger Commons to ensure equity between the territories.

In this way, it is intended to minimize the inequalities between them, compensating for the inequalities generated by models of territorial jurisdiction.

The new territorial agreement model shall be the result of democratic consultation and cooperation among the various territorial units. It should acknowledge the widest possible plurality, and build itself up from its residents’ right to democratically decide on their belonging or not to the different territorial units.

Territorial Democracy will be based on the following principles.

  • Joint responsibility and equality. Membership in the political association involves the acceptance of certain rules and communal constitutions, as well as the acceptance of a taxation system and a communal budget sufficient to correct social and territorial inequality. The new tax system shall be based on progressiveness and fiscal equity.
  • Subsidiarity. The management of resources and services as well as decisions on matters of public interest must be reduced to the minimum territorial unit in which it is most accessible to those residents responsible for such management or decisions. All services that can be better managed at smaller territorial scales will be managed at this level.
  • Financial autonomy and sufficiency. Each territorial unit must have an appropriate budget for the provision of those services for which it is responsible. This budget will be autonomously administered by the democratically managed citizen organisms established for this purpose. Moreover, this budget will not only be guaranteed by its binding resources, but additionally by territorial compensation mechanisms established at different territorial scales. Autonomy in the management of said budget does not exempt those territorial units from the provision of certain services and fiscal obligations to the supra-territorial treasury.

The institutional development of the different territorial scales will be carried out starting from the following principles:

1. Deepening of political democracy: self-government

  • To reclaim and develop all areas of participation and decision at every scale, building on the aforementioned formulas: the democratization of public powers and the extension of citizen participation and direct democracy mechanisms.
  • In accordance with the subsidiarity principle there shall be an inclination, whenever the scale of the processes and resources involved allows, toward developing local and direct democracy at a scale closest to the people, i.e., local governments and towns.
  • The democratic re-founding process is proposed not only at the Spanish State level, but also for the rest of the territorial scales.

2. Acknowledgement of the different scales and territorial realities and solidarity among them

  • The forms of political union which may result from these democratization processes shall take as their aim the rejection of the current forms of territorial competition, as well as wealth redistribution at all levels; from the supra state levels, to those which are immediate to people, such as townships.
  • European Union. The establishment of real fiscal, budgetary and banking cohesion directed at the practical elimination of the growing economic and social inequalities between countries, as well as of the controlling interests of the financial sector.
  • The Spanish State, the current autonomous communities and whichever territorial entities that shall arise from the territorial constitution processes. The principle of fiscal equity shall be accepted, the existence of a joint budget, and the wealth redistribution according to the equitable methods of the territorial distribution.
  • Municipalities. Financing and budgets, besides being subject to strict citizen control, will be guaranteed by distributive mechanisms accorded at the highest scales (regional, state-level and European Union) so as not to be dependent on property and land speculation.

3. The European scale of the process

  • In the European sphere, a new constitution shall guarantee all the fundamental rights for every part of the Union, the political participation possibilities, the share-out conditions and the distribution of wealth, and a thoroughly democratic political structure.
  • In the case that these minimums would not be guaranteed by the European Union, the various comprising territories could develop new territorial alliances from their own constituent political processes, in order to guarantee the previously mentioned principles and therefore their own collective survival.

*

This translation has also been republished in:

 


Guerrilla Translation/Related:Overcoming the Shock DoctrineSoy PúblicaIntegral Revolution/ Enric DuranPhyles and the new communalism/ David de Ugarte & Carla Boserman

 

Financial Crisis Or Monetary Crisis?

Digimoney

Image by FarmZoo

Spanish economist, author and complementary currency activist Susana Martín Belmonte exposes the false assumption that has led to a fundamentally misguided diagnosis of the current financial crisis; the false assumption being that money needs to exist before it can be lent, when exactly the opposite is true. After years of research into the global monetary system, Martín Belmonte concluded that what is needed is a healthy, alternative monetary and financial system that favours the real economy rather than the speculative economy. In this piece, she lists several proposals to that end, including her own, which she calls “R-economy,” a monetary system based on nominative digital money created free of interest.


The real challenge is monetary reform; creating a monetary and financial system that, beyond being a liquidity stopgap in the current situation, transcends the circumstantial to become structural.”

For the past five years, all we have been talking about is the financial crisis, its causes and its potential solutions. One of the issues that has become clear is that the financial crisis was triggered by the irresponsible manner in which financial institutions lent money during the period of 2001 to 2007. This applies to both the investor’s profile and the purpose of the investment, which was mostly real estate speculation.

All we need to do is look back at the predictions made by those who foresaw the 2008 crisis. They all warned us about the danger of the large debt bubble that was being created. Among them, economists such as Steve Keen, Nouriel Roubini and Dan Baker, experts from Spain’s central bank, or the environmentalist Ramón Fernández Durán, to name just a few.

It has also been proven that, with the exception of a few countries like Greece, this huge debt bubble was mostly made up of private debt. Such is the case of Spain, the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Therefore, the crux of the matter lies in the criteria used to assign private credit, why they are wrong and how they could be improved.

When we think about debt, we mentally visualize a saver depositing his or her money in a bank and an investor borrowing money from a bank. This is where the misunderstanding begins. We assume that money being lent already exists, but that assumption is wrong.

Most people don’t know how money is created. This fact is nonetheless eluded, as if it were a minor detail. So when discussing the way money of unknown origin is lent, it is assumed that money already exists, because logic dictates that you can’t borrow something inexistent.

Money Exists Because It Is Lent

sh23_fr20.tifHowever, reality is often counterintuitive. Money is not lent because it exists, but rather it exists because it is lent. Most of the money in circulation today is created through loans made by the banking system. Lending is how nearly all money is created: bank money. The financial system is part of the monetary system, which is why the monetary system is so important. But the essential issue of how money is lent is not questioned, because starting from this false assumption (banks lend money that already exists) it is easy to accept all the justifications regarding how loan assignment works, which are just as false: savings have to be transferred to investments, a bank’s role is to act as an intermediary between savings and investments, savers must be paid interest in order to incentivize them to lend their money… All these ideas, which are not based on reality, are still used as the fundamental reasoning in diagnosing and proposing solutions to the financial problem. It is no wonder that the resulting proposals are not solving anything.

To illustrate in more detail how wrong overall public opinion is regarding the way the credit system works, we will mention, for example, Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof, two economists from the International Monetary Fund who have, independently, written an article called The Chicago Plan revisited, in which they propose a new monetary system. In their article they detail how the current system works, and we quote:

“In the current financial system […] changes of a nation’s broad monetary aggregates depend almost entirely on changes in banks’ willingness to create deposits. But bank deposits can only be created (or destroyed) through the creation (or destruction) of bank loans.”

“The key function of banks in modern economies […] is not their largely incidental function as financial intermediaries between depositors and borrowers, but rather their central function as creators and destroyers of money.”

“The often-heard prescription that in order to generate adequate levels of investment the economy first needs to generate sufficient savings is fundamentally mistaken. Because the credit system will generate the saving along with the investment [when lending money].”

Solving and preventing financial crises requires applying alternative criteria to money lending (creating). Such new criteria are much easier to conceive if we do away with the false principles mentioned above and consider the real possibilities available, which are much broader than they may seem. Those possibilities are already being specified in proposals to reform the monetary system such as the one we have just alluded to.

‘R-economy’

The proposal I put forth is called R-economy. It is a monetary system using nominative digital money (account entries that are accessed through telematic means), which is created free of interest in order to nourish the production economy, allowing us to build a non-speculative real economy. This proposal is explained in detail in my book Nada está perdido. Un sistema monetario y financiero alternativo y sano (Icaria, 2011) [Nothing is lost: An alternative, healthy monetary and financial system].

Other initiatives propose monetary reform via the creation of parallel or complementary currencies. In 2012, Thomas Mayer, former chief economist of Deutsche Bank, proposed creating a parallel monetary system to solve the problems affecting peripheral countries in the European Union. His proposal for Greece, specifically, is a parallel currency called GEURO, which is explained on page 65 of this document published by the BVMW (German small and medium-sized business association).

Several economists, including Thomas Mayer, have signed a declaration in which they defend the creation of parallel or complementary currencies as the solution to problems facing troubled economies in the euro zone. But this trend is not just the result of monetary problems in the euro zone. Alternative currencies have traditionally provided a solution in times of monetary scarcity. In Switzerland, there is a currency called Wir, which has been operating since 1934, when a group of Swiss business owners launched it as a way to fight the Great Depression. Today it is used by over 60,000 local small and medium-sized businesses. There are studies that attribute the stability of the Swiss production economy to this currency.

Brazil’s central bank decided to support the creation of complementary currencies, after realizing the beneficial effects of a social currency created by an association in the region of Fortaleza, later named Banco Palmas. The city of Bristol in the UK has also launched a parallel currency called the Bristol Pound. The mayor of Bristol opted for receiving 100% of his salary in this currency.

Cryptocurrencies

Besides this mostly social trend, whose purpose is to find monetary solutions in the context of a recession, there are also other innovative monetary solutions that deserve a separate category. Most notable are the so-called cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, which is created by decrypting computer codes. They are P2P currencies with the ability to escape government control, in which the social component is reduced to the acceptance of being a part of the community that uses them. More information in this article

Susana Martín Belmonte

Susana Martín Belmonte

And we must not forget corporate currencies, which predominantly pursue profit for the companies that create them. Amazon has created the Amazon Coin for the consumption of applications and services related to the Kindle Fire. Facebook and the Second Life virtual environment also issued their own currencies in the past. Air miles and loyalty schemes that enable customers to earn exchangeable points for products, as a result of consuming a series of products or services of a particular brand, are also parallel monetary systems, and this trend is growing.

In spite of the fact that lack of liquidity is currently the prime reason for using alternative currencies, the real challenge is not just to fill the liquidity gap the real economy is suffering from at the moment. During the run on Argentinian banks, known as el corralito, the country generated numerous exchange schemes with complementary accounting units. Few of them have survived, unfortunately, and the formula for assigning credit continues to be the same in most of the world. This formula has proven to be the cause of the Great Recession we find ourselves in. The real challenge is monetary reform: creating a monetary and financial system that, beyond acting as a liquidity stopgap in the current situation, transcends the circumstantial to become structural, by establishing a different way of assigning credit, a different way of creating money that does not cause financial crises, recessions or any other problems that today’s monetary system generates, which I have not described in this article.

Article translated by Arianne Sved and Susa Oñate – Guerrilla Translation!

Original Spanish article published in Alternativas Económicas 

DIWO Co-op: Do it With Others, and make a co-op while you’re at it

GT badges

DIWO Co-op is a worker-owned co-op located in Madrid, Spain. They’re a sister-co-op to Guerrilla Translation, and they’ve continually delighted us with their friendship, advice  – and, hey, some kickass Guerrilla Translation badges like the ones featured above! We wanted to return the favour, so we’ve been translating and copy editing the static content on their English site.

Recently, they were featured on the Spanish TV program, “La Aventura del Saber“. This program forms part of a larger project, “La aventura de aprender“, which analyses the ways in which communities learn from each other and give back to the Commons.

The following video will be both familiar and inspirational to anyone who has ever been involved in a cooperative enterprise. In the interview, our beloved DIWOIDS Mamen Martín and Rosana Fernández talk about cooperativism and different forms of collaboration in contrast to individualism, and the differences between traditional enterprises and co-ops. Don’t miss Mamen’s tale about the financial advisor that urged them *not* to become a co-op because “they’d lose control of their company”, and their reaction.

The DIWOIDS misspoke twice during the interview, resulting in two small boo-boos. The original 15 M march was in 2011, not 2012; they also flubbed a point at the end while talking about the role of the coop’s general assembly. Those errors have been miraculously healed in our subtitle track! Amazing! All in the interest of clarity and accuracy. After the vid, we’ve included some of the info from their website.

Hit the “close captions” button at the bottom right to active our English subtitles for this vid.

We have some exciting plans coming up with DIWO for this fall, namely the launch of DIWOShop, in collaboration with Freepress Coop,  where we’ll be providing free translation and promotion services to a selection of ethical and environmentally-oriented enterprises. Watch for that! But don’t worry, we’ll keep you informed.

The following is extracted from DIWO’s website:

DIWO/We are:

diwo coop is a worker owned co-op specializing in custom button/badge production and other kinds of merchandise for distribution. The co-op is made up of people with various professional backgrounds. We formed our project to help promote communications by and for groups, organizations and companies working for the common good and aimed at building more ethical and sustainable societies. We created diwo coop in 2012, building on and including our previous project, platypusLab, because we’re convinced that collaboration is the best way forward from the current situation of widespread precariousness.

DIWO/We do: 

platypusLab, specializing in badge/button production and distribution of customized merchandise since 2008, became part of diwo coop in 2012. We distribute within the EEC all of the following, among other items:

– Custom button badges
– Custom and neutral lanyards and accreditation holders
– Event security wristbands
– Textile screen printing
– Custom coffee or beer mugs

merchandising

 

 

 

The Madrid P2P Commune

Here’s our translation of Bernardo Gutiérrez’s love letter to his home city, a place that’s still surprisingly alive and vibrant in the midst of the austerity meltdown affecting southern Europe. 

montaje-copia

Amidst the nebulous boomerang of history, the 20s live on as a red postcard of a burlesque cabaret in Dadaist Berlin. The 40s bring back an echo of immigrant tango dancers in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The 80s’ vinyl soundtrack is filled with screaming punks from #post-industrial London. And the 2010s will be remembered for its occupied squares, vibrant streets and political-cultural creativity. It will be symbolised by Madrid. In a few years’ time, some will recall the tumultuous political situation, the police brutality or the unemployment, but the image that will go down in history is a vigorous, intensely social city with an open, cross-cutting, oblique, politicized public space connected to the world. The 2010s will be synonymous with a city that was self-governed by its citizens, driven by a gust of social innovation and unparalleled dynamism. The postcard, scattered with raised hands, will read: La Comuna de Madrid.

Madrid’s Communemore spread out, diverse and cosmopolitan than the Paris Commune of 1871will be remembered as the birthplace of communication-action, action-thought, thought-prototype. Madrid as effervescence in the streets and on the web. Madrid as a territorial collective imagination and breeding ground for techno-political projects, processes and actions. Madrid as a glocal people’s lab that looks to the world while including it at the same time. But it’s not all assemblies, actions and protests at the Madrid Commune. This city, whose network weaves across the whole of Spain, is also hatching a body of theory around these new practices. A bastard, remixed, promiscuous theory. A practice theory. “The commons has become an area of exchange, where the traditional commons meet free culture,” says researcher Adolfo Estalella, contextualizing his text in Madrid. And herein lies a little secret.

Since the late 90s, the Madrid free culture movement has become intertwined with social movements at squat centres such as El Laboratorio. While Berlin squatters remain rooted in punk aesthetics and conventional anti-fascism, the thirty-odd squat social centres in Madrid (Centros Sociales Ocupados) are creating a new horizontal, aggregate, online world. A new world imbued with hacker ethics that distorts the frontiers between off- and on-line, blurring the borders between countries and nation states.

These social centres are different. They are extensions of the occupied squares of spring 2011. Centres that merge the notions of inside and outside. Centres whose actions reach every urban space. Sure, Madrid had never had so many squat social centres, but the quantity isn’t what makes this new era in the city unique. What does La Comuna de Madrid taste like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like?

Captura-de-pantalla-2013-05-31-a-las-09.47.36

Image: illustration by @Ciudad_basura y @maralpel for the #OPENmadrid seminar by ThinkCities.org

On the one hand, some of these venues transcend the definition of a squat social centre. They are more than that. They’re something different. The most paradigmatic example is La Tabacalera, an old factory handed over by the government to social movements in the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapiés. La Tabacalera, which defines itself as a self-managed social centre, is a space that would fit into the partner state theory developed by Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. The Esta es una plaza [This is a square] process, a self-managed park supported by a collective blog, has also had the consent of public authorities for many years. The partner state puts the governance of its spaces at society’s disposal. A networked, peer-to-peer, person-to-person society that self-organizes outside official institutions, but without rejecting them. This is what is happening at the Madrid Commune.

On the other hand, the spirit of the 15-M movement is creating a new kaleidoscope that is erasing the conventional squat from our collective imagination. From Patio Maravillas to La Morada in the neighbourhood of Chamberí, or the socio-cultural, liberated, self-governed centre El Eko in the area of Carabanchel, Madrid’s new social spaces are aggregate, diverse, plural, hybrid. And they don’t revolve around the old epicentre of “anti-system” antagonism. They are inventing and prototyping new worlds without having to frontally destroy today’s world. They build things, connections, processes, without antagonism. And the participation is much more intergenerational than it used to be some years ago. Madrid’s so-called Yayoflautasthe elderly of the 15-M movementrehearse theatre plays at La Tabacalera, for example. The relation to technology has become far more intense as well.

In all these spaces, we see glimpses of the new world written in jargon and acronyms. An interesting text by Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas [Breeding Ground for Citizens’ Initiatives] in Madrid uses terms like DIY (Do it Yourself), CO-, #, WIKI, MIDDLE-OUT, PRO-, P2P, DIWO (Do it with Others), SLOW-, CROWD-, DIT, @, OPEN, NET- or BOTTOM-UP to describe the new realm that is emerging in the city. Jargon and acronyms are commonly used in digital culture in an attempt to define horizontal, cross-cutting, networked, collaborative practices. So, what does the Madrid (P2P) Commune taste, sound and smell like?

An imperfect definition of a P2P (peer-to-peer) city would go something like this: a city whose nodes (streets, squares, parks) can be interconnected without passing through the centre. Person2Person. Square2Square. Park2Park. At the Madrid P2P Commune, the nodes/neighbourhoods have been reconnected using a logic distinct from that of city centre vs. outskirts. One of the great innovations of the Madrid P2P Commune lies in its open-air spaces. The 15-M movement’s early TomaLosBarrios initiative, which moved the Puerta del Sol encampment to neighbourhood assemblies, strengthened the already existing Comuna.

Ever since the late 90s, the skin-shedding has been gradual. All the 15-M movement has done is multiply and speed up the process. The Madrid P2P Commune began to take shape with the urban recycling/redefining of BasuramaZooHausLeft Hand Rotation or Boa Mistura. And with Zuloarks’s free license, low cost, temporary process-furniture such as the superbench or #Savethedinosaur. And with urban interventions by Todo por la Praxis, with their guide to Self-governed Urban Voids and their physical hacks such as the Guerrilla Bank. And with neighbourhood fabric regenerations by Paisaje Transversal. And with post-it galleries on walls and bus stops by La Galería de Magdalena.

The 15-M movement—the unavoidably common screensaver—invigorates the squares with political thought and action. A hundred political assemblies are held at Madrid’s P2P Commune today. The street, according to Adolfo Estalella, is not just the place where politics is exercised but also the political method itself. Henry Lefebvre’s “right to the city” is reborn day after day in Madrid, constantly mutating and recycling itself in the streets and online.

The above mentioned project Esta es una plaza paved the way to the hybrid city (digital networks + physical spaces). The Twittómetro, which took Acampada Sol assemblies from Puerta del Sol to the Internet, or the real time map of #Voces25S, created that digitalogical, physital, cybrid watercolour painting. Madrid’s P2P Commune is a city made of atoms and bytes, both virtual and analogical. Madrhybrid, as in a profusion of citizens’ streamings on PeopleWitness (a project born in Barcelona), or people wandering the city streets as they communicate with WhatsApp groups in real time, or a ThinkCommons.org session, where a virtual gathering of people from around the world is screened at a physical location.

The living city dreamt up by American Jane Jacobs, an icon of the humanization of urban planning, inhabits the hybrid P2P Commune of Madrid or the hashtag-action #BarriosDespiertos [awoken neighbourhoods], or initiatives such as El paseo de Jane [Jane’s walk], an urban walk-movement aimed at weaving together human networks in neighbourhoods. Madrid’s P2P Commune is a lively, bastard, interracial, profound, poetic, sexy postcard. University professors occupy the public space with 500 classrooms in just one day, including streaming and online coverage. And strangers meet in parks, squares or blogs at Desayunos ciudadanos [the people’s breakfasts].

Image: El Campo de Cebada

Image: El Campo de Cebada

So, what does Madrid’s P2P Commune taste-sound-smell like? Like the social life at El Campo de Cebada, recently granted the Golden Nica award by Ars Electrónica in the ‘digital communities’ category, El Campo de Cebada is an outdoor space, transversely and horizontally governed by its neighbours, where permaculture, beta architecture and free culture blend with an inspiring intergenerational-racial-cultural coexistence. At Madrid’s P2P Commune, the question isn’t so much what to do but how to do it. That’s why the city-world is devoted to the new concept of how-toism: the crux of the matter lies in the transversal, inclusive, interdisciplinary, heterogeneous processes and methodologies used.

Madrid’s P2P Commune is copyleft (free to copy). Its squares are copyleft. Anybody can sit down and talk, film it, share it with the world. Film your square. Copy it. Upload it to the MediaTeletipos cloud. The self is reborn in the we. Much to the annoyance of fanatical neoliberal individualism, this P2P Commune is DIWO: a Do it With Others, collaborative city. Fundación Robo isn’t a person. There are no leaders, no faces. It’s just us. The songs are collective. They are tranferable. In DIWO Madrid, the classic Bici crítica—a collective bike ride with no particular destination—transmutes into the Plano de Calles Tranquilas [map of quiet streets] or into a bar and co-working space called La Bicicleta, which began as a crowdfunding project. You can’t do it alone. You can with friends.

In the Madrid of the 80s narrated by singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina, “the sun was a butane gas heater” and there were “syringes in the lavatory”. Unemployment. Junkies. Beer-drinking rock. At the Madrid Commune, there is unemployment, but the trans-, the co-, the inter-, the plural take precedence. So does the RAM Culture, a new cultural paradigm based on exchange and relationships rather than accumulation. Do it with others. Share books at Bookcamping.cc. Exchange your time at the NOCKIN bank. Share an Internet connection with your neighbour at WIFIS.org. Drink free knowledge at the Traficantes de Sueños bookshop/publisher. Lose yourself on a hacker sightseeing tour at the Loginmadrid project, where each local person functions as a password that allows the visitor to explore different neighbourhoods. Madrid’s P2P Commune tastes-smells-sounds like serendipity, random encounters, open culture, cross-over innovations.

In the early 90s, Madrid was still that “sea of tar, domain of the state” that the heavy metal band Barón Rojo ranted about. A #PostMetropolis divided into a centre filled with institutions and a working-class periphery emotionally disconnected from the heart of the city. Today, Madrid’s P2P Commune is a maze of interconnected public spaces that grows and mutates on the margins of governments and institutions. It shares ideas, it co-creates. It doesn’t rely on the Establishment, but doesn’t antagonize it either.

The city is simply reborn without asking for permission to occupy its inert or vacant spaces. At the San Fernando market in Lavapiés, for example, books are sold by the kilo at La Casqueria and vegetables coexist with free software. The city reconfigures itself crosswise, cross-border, asymmetrically. At open seminars such as Hack the Academy Studio, where academia tears down its walls and allows citizens to participate. At La Mesa Ciudadana [The Citizens’ Table], experts, amateurs, architects, artists, multidisciplinary networkers and city hall technicians get together to cook-think.

Image: Arquicómics workshop on the relation between architecture and comics.

Image: Arquicómics workshop on the relation between architecture and comics. 

Madrid’s P2P Commune is the birthplace of the concept Extitución [Extitution]. If institutions are organizational systems based on an inside-outside framework, extitutions are designed as areas where a multitude of agents can spontaneously assemble. Liquid, flexible, inclusive, itinerant, post-it extitutions. Extitutions such as Intermediae, forged with free software and transversal participation, which sometimes holds its meetings-debates at the Matadero, but also at various other urban locations. Extitutions such as MediaLab Prado, which offers its body to communities, cooks open science, yawns multiple prototypes, transforms citizens into sensors (see Data Citizen Driven City) or its façade into a shared, recoverable, playable screen.

Spanish poet Antonio Machado once described Madrid as the breakwater of every Spain. In the 2010s, Madrid is a revamped breakwater of every square, continent, language and network. Toma la plaza. Take the square. Nationality is irrelevant. La Comuna’s area of debate is the world. Within the hyperlocal there is a global beat. People protect immigrants from the police. In common spaces—whether it’s La Tabacalera, El Campo de Cebada or MediaLab Prado—multiculturalism is the rule. And a growing galaxy of intercultural projects based in the city, such as Lab Latino, Inteligencias ColectivasRed Trans Ibérica or Curator’s Network, connect affect networks throughout the planet by developing projects in other countries.

If this ungovernable city of layers—multicultural puzzle; national, micro-macro-cry—were governed by bright politicians, they would have already turned such effervescence into the “Madrid brand”. Madrid would be reliving La Movida all over again, a cooler Movida than that of Almodóvar. Or a Movida 2.0, designed to attract tourists, which would end up watering down the initiatives.

All the better if nobody takes over the narrative. Let it be a volcanic co-creation with no name. An almost invisible, choral, subterranean river. Let Madrid’s P2P Commune be a soft, yet constant, breeze; let it be rhizome; an ocean where glocal affect navigates amidst the macroeconomic storm. Let La Comuna P2P de Madrid be at least barely understood a few decades from now. Let it go down in history as the first stone, the prototype that—square by square, word by word, concept by concept—gradually replaced the old world without anyone even noticing.


Article translated by Arianne Sved, edited by Susa Oñate – Guerrilla Translation!

Original Spanish article 

This translation has also been republished on:

GUERRILLA TRANSLATION – 2014 OUISHARE AWARD WINNERS

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OuishareFest was a blast, we really did have a great time. My overall impression is that both polarities present –  i.e., venture capital-funded, “P2P in the front / shareholders in the back” platforms, and real commons-oriented P2P initiatives – have grown stronger, yet aren’t confrontational. It was good to be able to criticize the former in a constructive way and be listened to respectfully, quite glad about that!

And, the big news from our point of view – WE DONE DID IT!

OUISHARE SNAPS COMPOSITE

Perma-grin flashing Guerrilla Translation founder Stacco Troncoso hanging out with (from l to r) Enric Senabre, from Goteo, Gloria Davies-Coates from Common Libraries, David de Ugarte from las Indias, Helene Finidori from the Commons Abundance Network, Josef Davies-Coates, from United Diversity and Neal Gorenflo, from Shareable, Etienne Hayem from Symba and with de Ugarte and Gorenflo redux.

Out of some 130 or so nominees, Guerrilla Translation won, along with our friends in Common Libraries, Symba and two other very interesting projects.

Speaking of “we” – that includes you. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us, promoted us and supported us.

Special mention to the Open Value Network, who were also nominated. As we’re part of the OVN, we feel that they’ve also been awarded through us.

The picture up top there, of me on stage, is by Sharon Ede, and it may be the part of the speech where I raised the subject of “…Competition in the Age of Communities = Not so good”, mentioning that we use Loomio, participate in the OVN, work very closely with Goteo…the list goes on.

I also felt there was a big difference between our project and other initiatives with a lot of venture capital behind them. I think that one of the conditions was that you couldn’t have been funded by more than 1 million € to enter the awards. Hah! Our funding so far has been bananas (thanks!), sweat equity and lots of passion. These are, of course, personal observations and, overall, I’m overjoyed.

It was a great 3 days and the conversations (and hugs) have been unforgettable. Special thanks to Dalma Berkovics for organising everything and taking care such good care of us.

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The Three MusquePeers: Tiberius Brastaviceanu from Sensorica and the Open Value Network, Eimhin David Shortt from the P2P Foundation and Get Local and Stacco Troncoso, from the P2P Foundation and Guerrilla Translation

Thanks also to the entire P2P Foundation extreme-Funk-dancing posse (here’s a small taster of that!), and, above all, the love of my life AM for being the grooviest co-conspirator (and kickass video editor, the video pitch was her work).

OuiShare!
Now, about that Spiderman incident…

OuishareFest

Article by Stacco Troncoso – Guerrilla Translation!

Guerrilla Translation Interview for Ouishare Fest 2014

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Originally published on the Ouishare Fest 2014 Blog

Please go to the Ouishare voting area and support us there. NOTE – all you need to do is enter your email address and a “capcha” code – there’s no weird registration process (so it’s easy and non-creepy). And, if you’re among the community of people who plan to be at Ouishare Fest in Paris, you’ll see us there.

Guerrilla Translation is proud to be among the nominees for the 2014 Ouishare Awards. If you’re not already familiar, Ouishare is an organization that, in their own words, “is a think and do-tank with the mission to empower citizens, public institutions and companies to create a collaborative economy: an economy based on sharing, collaboration and openness, relying on horizontal networks and communities.”  The following short interview was originally published on the Ouishare Fest 2014 Blog, and we hope it helps explain more about our project and long-term vision.

What got you started with your initiative?

We all belong to at least one community. The intersections between our communities make the world seem a little smaller every day. But the lack of a shared language is still a major barrier between people and communities who would otherwise share ideas and collaborate on common solutions to widespread problems.

Guerrilla Translation was born of a love of sharing. The world of information has changed with the Internet – we share access to a tremendous and ever-increasing information stream. And everything else seems to be changing rapidly, too – in our economies, food and energy industries, and political systems, just to name a few. In order to be an active part of these changes, we have to operate in community.

Guerrilla Translation is building bridges between cultures, starting with Spanish and English. We select written and video pieces with a focus on constructive change and long-range analysis, translate them, and share them.  We’re connecting authors with new audiences, and people with new ideas, shared through technology but created in a very personal, artisanal way. We feel strongly that translation is best handled not by software, but instead, by committed and passionate translators working together to achieve the highest level of professional quality in our work.

What are your hopes for the rest of 2014?

GT Ouishare Awards 2014For the rest of 2014, we’re committed to growing our model through team building, and plan to expand our services and form a cooperative. We work closely with the P2P Foundation and will continue our efforts with them in developing an innovative publishing model within the commons-oriented sphere. Our own webpage is also about to undergo major changes in design, including a more reader-friendly interface making the material in each language easier to find.

Finally, we’re very proud to be included in the Ouishare competition among friends and associates from our own communities, and feel that if we all stand to benefit from the opportunity to share what we’re doing, and learn from each other, we all win.

 

Phyles and the new communalism

las indias montage 2David de Ugarte & Carla Boserman

An illustrated history of the biggest changes in our time: the globalization of the small and the reemergence of empowered communities.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most people were only identified by the real communities they were part of. An average European saw scarcely a hundred different faces in their whole life. The small, local, real community, with its barely-monetized agrarian economy, gave each person an identity that allowed him/her to understand who was who in the social system, and what role each one was playing in the production of everyone’s well-being. This is still the dominant identity in a good part of the rural world in developing countries.

But when the mercantile economy and the market, in larger settings, brought together production and consumption, a good part of the things that you consumed no longer came from your immediate surroundings; the result of your labor could travel hundreds, even thousands of kilometers, and tens of thousands of people already lived in cities. The old (real) identities no longer explained what we were for others, and what our work meant for them.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, there appeared the seeds of what, two centuries later, would become the great imaginary identity of the industrial world: the nation. The nation had the new dimension of the state and the market, and allowed each one to imagine him/herself as part of the joint effort that kept afloat the economy in which they and their own real community lived. The world of nations was the world of the Industrial Revolution, but also that of the ascent of the large representative democracies and of nation-states. The world understood itself as a puzzle, as the sum of pieces, which were territories, states, and markets.

But at the end of the Eighties, the breakdown of the Eastern bloc and the collapse of the USSR changed the map of the world. The Western governments realized that, in reality, their businesses had symptoms that were alarmingly similar to those that led to the Soviet collapse. Part of the answer to the over-scale of their big businesses consisted of enlarging markets by reducing barriers to commerce. In 1993, the European Community became the European Union with the signature of the Maastricht Treaty, which consecrated market unity; in 1994, the free-trade agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada was signed; and in 1995, the World Trade Organization was finally founded, after nearly 42 years of waiting and fruitless negotiations.

The greater freedom to purchase and sell anywhere the world, on principle, led big businesses to look for better and cheaper providers in developing nations.

Up until then, the key to Big Business had been integration — doing all the processes themselves — but little by little, value chains were broken: multinationals began to focus on design, technology and marketing, outsourcing production to smaller businesses scattered all over the world. The phenomenon is known as “breaking value chains.”

But in the ’90s, Internet use started to spread massively. The global network of information and communication started to look more and more like a distributed network.

The appearance of low-cost airline companies, and the drop in travel costs in general, accentuated this tendency even more.

In just a few years, the social impact was tremendous. In 1999, the anti-globalization movement appeared, bringing together and coordinating activists via the the Internet. This led to thousands of protesters from the five continents uniting in Seattle.

That same year, Ali Baba.com was born, a portal of small industries that soon passed 20 million businesses, which would become the best-known face of Chinese internationalization, letting the world know about thousands of new, low-cost products, from electronic book to the vuvuzela.

The unity of globalization and networks allowed the “small” (including both countries previously considered “underdeveloped,” as well as SMEs, or small-to-medium enterprises) to begin to play on a new global board, and in many cases, to displace what had been an overwhelming hegemony of multinationals and rich countries in the market. We went from globalization to “globalization of the small.”

But “globalization of the small” is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to the new emerging powers. In general, what is appearing are models of the direct economy. In reality, it’s just the effect on the market of the move to a world of distributed networks, where everyone can connect and trade with everyone else, wherever they are, without intermediaries.

But, what happens to identity in a world like this? How will it evolve? In the direct economy model, the market is global, and each everyday product brings together work done on different continents. This is how national identity begins suffering from the same problem that created it. It no longer provides a satisfactory explanation of what our work has to do with the welfare of our real community, a real community that also includes those transnational virtual communities we are part of and which we care about more and more. In that sense, the nation has become too small to fit us.

But, on the other hand, it’s also too big for us. In the end, what matters to us is the real community formed by our families, our surroundings and the people that we share conversation and learning with on the Internet. Real people that the Internet, on the one hand, and the crisis of imagined identities on the other, have put at the center of the way we understand the world.

But, what’s the alternative? Everyone knows and is part of conversational communities on the Internet, and that can give us a good clue. There are three big differences between the networks born of conversations on the Internet and those born of living or working in the same place. The first is a question of costs: the cost of leaving a virtual network is low, while that of leaving a city or a town is high.

The second is a question of choices: on the Internet, we form networks with those who interest us because the conversation interests us; however, it’s hard to choose the neighbors and workmates in the community one was born in.

The third has to do with distance: conversations on the Internet are delimited by languages that we each use, not by where the participants are. When virtual communities are formed, they share an identity of their own based on the conversation, context and knowledge that they develop. How could we not feel that virtual communities are liberating? We don’t remain in them because we feel obliged, or because the cost of leaving them scares us; we form them with those who interest us — their passports don’t matter. Only what you say and contribute counts.

However, virtual communities and identities have a large “but,” even if we compare them with the old, national “imagined identities.” By being based on conversations between people that don’t share an economy, it’s difficult for them to be “complete” identities, capable of explaining the relationship between who you are in the community, what you do for it, and the results of your work. And that…that is important for an identity.

But that doesn’t happen in the world of the direct economy. The movement started in the Nineties, in a relatively small world. Used to meeting and collaborating in a network, no small number of groups of developers began to set up businesses starting in community, maintaining their transnationality and even deciding not to have a central headquarters. This is how businesses that are famous today, like MySQL, 37 signals or Monty Program, were born.

Programming, consulting, digital publishing, graphic design, and in general all the services that can be commercialized directly via the the Internet, were the natural point of departure for these first experiments in transnational communities that begin to provide themselves with a direct economy. Today, we are seeing the birth of a whole sector of the industrial direct economy be born, but also networks global linked through productivity, from ecovillages to the first transnational cooperatives.

Being used to equality in conversation and to working in a network as peers, these transnational communities will naturally tend to experience forms of economic democracy, from cooperativism to networks of freelancers.

The result is an empowered, transnational real community with businesses organized according to the principle of economic democracy. The phyle.

That’s why phyles go far beyond the classic models born of the virtual world. Since the Nineties, the phyle has been the trend in many communities of different types, from millions of African Sufi Muridies, to conservative Christians movements like the Focolare movement, plus ecovillages, co-living, or the rebirth of the kibbutz. Community empowerment with democratic economies and transnational approaches is the key to a new communitarianism.

Why? In large part, because the traditional socially cohesive models were based on the centrality of the state or of large corporations. They are centralized models that made us depend on a single power for the basic sustenance of social cohesion.

But we must not forget that the whole story we’ve told is, for the world of big corporations, a true crisis of scales. In the 80s, neoliberal policies (securitization, financialization, social cuts) gave the first response from the state in favor of those large businesses. The ’90s bet on a model of globalization that, as we’ve seen, would turn against it with the globalization of the small. Financial deregulation and speculative financial models would provide the rest in the first decade of the new century… and the result was an unprecedented crisis, in which the State and businesses shed the “ballast” of social cohesion.

Social costs have been and will continue to be enormous, generating unheard-of increases in social and regional inequality.

That’s why community and cooperative models are returning, models based on democratic criteria, which take full advantage of the experience of transition towards models that point toward a P2P mode of production

…but also — and this is why phyles are so important in the debate — starting from a transnational logic that goes beyond solidarity and local development models.

Because, the reality is that we’re not in a battle between an old world (of nations and big businesses) and a new world (communal and transnational at the same time), but rather, we are facing the decomposition of the old world. That is why the vacuums of social cohesion are immediately occupied, on a transnational scale, in violent, criminal ways, from global Big Gangs to cartels, or Al Qaeda.

This is how the whole “new communalism,” from P2P talks to debates about the FLOK Society, including the new North American cooperativism, mutualism, or the movement of the ecological economy, represent the attempt to contribute non-universalist global solutions that are not based on imagined and abstract identities, but rather on real communities, through the development of community economies capable of sustaining well-being in a network. Resistance by the old powers to the globalization of the small and the vibrant freedom of distributed networks has left us a dramatic panorama of globalized decomposition. Within this map of reasons for pessimism, we find hope where postmodernism resists decomposition, along with the reemergence of real human community and the decline of universalism. They are more than good news: they are the foundation of a new world, and certainly, of a variety of worthwhile futures.


Guerrilla Translation/Related Posts:The Future NowDavid de UgarteTowards a Material CommonsMichel Bauwens Dmytri Kleiner John RestakisThe Path to the RealWorld™@Ciudadano_Zer0

 

When hackers and farmers join forces

P2P Foundation founder Michel Bauwens suggested this short piece for translation: an interview with Philippe Langlois, in which he discusses the world of hackerspaces and the physical application of the open-source, collaborative mentality, applied to practical problem-solving in rural settings.

Originally published in Transrural Initiatives – a collaborative magazine on the rural world – and republished in Bastamag – an independent media site that focuses on social and environmental issues – the realities this interview explores are a good example of what we can accomplish when we work together – and how much fun we can have in the process!


As artists, engineers, researchers, hackers and farmers we all asked ourselves how digital technologies could be merged with nature, heritage and agriculture. Our urban hackerspaces, including their philosophy and practices, can be seamlessly transposed onto rural areas.”

They open up areas struck by digital exclusion. They develop autonomous Internet networks in mountainous areas, install organic solar panels and let local Internet radio emerge. They can even transform abandoned water troughs into eco-jacuzzis. “Hackerspaces,” user-friendly spaces where technological tools are crafted, are spreading throughout the rural environment. Interview with Philippe Langlois, one of the founding members of the first French hackerspace.

Could you define what hackerspaces are?

Philippe Langlois: A hackerspace is a physical, autonomous place where people gather around tech-related projects. We often hear about “the evil computer pirates” in the media, but hackerspaces have nothing to do with any of that: we’re simply people who reclaim technology in a cheerful, independent and creative way. The goal is to create tools that can be reappropriated and replicated by everyone, freely distributed, and which can be modified and improved upon.

Hackerspaces originated in Germany in the 1990s, but didn’t truly develop until 2005. Since then, more than 500 have appeared throughout the world, bringing together nearly 40,000 people. These are people who originally came from the world of open source and free software 1 and transposed their methods onto the physical world, while making their technological know-how accessible.

What kind of projects do you work on? How do they fit into your broader relationship with technology?

There are projects dealing with energy self-sufficiency, collaborative mapping and digital art, as well as local plastic recycling or even site cleanup. Our relationship with technology revolves around several ideas, the first of which is to enjoy the positive process of creation. The second one is the belief that what we create shouldn’t only benefit a restricted group of people, but rather the whole of society. Finally, we don’t want to embark on overly conceptual projects: we are, above all, about doing things. The ethics that can be found in hackerspaces are based on practice, tinkering, the right to be wrong, and an all-encompassing, non-dogmatic approach.

How did hackerspaces end up in rural areas?

First of all, because it’s hard to maintain such places in the city: it’s expensive, and one needs big and stable spaces to create in. In 2010, there were some one-off events in hackerspaces (see below) like Péone in the Alpes-Maritimes, for instance. The goal, among others, was to find out whether we could create a 100% autonomous space out of nothing, in a totally natural setting. Several of these ephemeral rural gatherings ended up leading to the creation of permanent sites – “hackerlands”. There are dozens of them in France, such as the Vallé à Conques project (in Cher) or ZAP1 in Allier.

As artists, engineers, researchers, hackers and farmers we all asked ourselves how digital technologies could be merged with nature, heritage and agriculture. Our urban hackerspaces, including their philosophy and practices, can be seamlessly transposed onto rural areas. We realized that many people living in the countryside either already fiddle with digital technology, or came from that culture in the first place.

How do these hackerspaces integrate on a local level? What can they contribute to rural areas?

Rural towns often suffer abuses motivated by engineering consultancies and large corporations’ financial interests. Certain hackerlands arise as an alternative to these structures, turning into local, non-profit consultants of sorts. They meet some of the rural area’s needs – particularly digital de-isolation – by creating independent Internet networks that work in mountainous or isolated areas, setting up local, democratic servers, regional Internet radios, etc. Many of these hackerlands work on agricultural or energetic practices. They’re open spaces, where one is welcomed with no prejudice, in the spirit of working together. Some of them create reproducible, self-building modules, organic solar panels, automated greenhouses. Even jacuzzis from abandoned water troughs! Sometimes there are more temporary initiatives like experiments in agroforestry, for which sensors are built that analyse fungal activity around trees. In short, we could define these places as open, local research labs.


“A Pado loup,” an ephemeral hackerspace amidst the mountains.

Mathilde Leriche: “We want to encourage people to take action, to do things that make them more self-sufficient…A Pado Loup’s main goal was the development and democratisation of technological know-how in a rural setting”, explains Ursula Gastfall, one of the organisers of this self-managed festival, which took place for the first time from the 12th to the 22nd of August 2012, in Breuil (Alpes-Maritimes). At more than 1,500 metres above sea level, around a hundred people from various origins (Spain, Brittany, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Canada…) gathered to set up this rural, ephemeral hackerspace, after a call for proposals was broadcasted by the urban hackerspace “/tmp/lab/” in Vitry-sur-Seine (in the department of Val-de-Marne).

In the hamlet of Pado, near the village of Beuil, festival-goers swapped and discussed amidst artistic performances and workshops on electronics and experimental ecology, inspirited by the “Do It Yourself” culture. On the event’s program: building wind turbines, solar ovens and 3D printers, making free software and doing research on fermentation, as well as concerts and lighting and analog photography laboratories…all of this, right in the heart of the Alpine mountains.

“If we take a look at the etymology of the word ‘hacker’, it refers to hacking wood”, comments Ursula Gastfall. “Being self-sufficient means looking for practical solutions that meet our needs in a specific context”. In Pado, there is no water or electricity. Festival-goers put together a rain-water collection system that filtered the water before consumption, and set up solar panels – wired to batteries – to supply the electricity to the electronic equipment used for the event. “I hope that A Pado Loup will have offspring”, wishes Ursula Gastfall, “and that others will be motivated to organize events on different kinds of terrains, a challenge that will bring out the creativity and inventiveness in everyone involved”.


1. Open source designates a software development practice whereby the basic code is accessible (but not necessarily free) and therefore transformable. The free software movement promotes principles such as free access to information, mutualisation or keeping things free (of charge).


Articles translated by Travis Shearer and edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!

Proposals collected by Mickaël CorreiaTransrural Initiatives

Image sources


This translation has also been published in:


Guerrilla Translation/Related:

Towards a Material Commons/ Michel Bauwens Dmytri Kleiner John Restakis

https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/globalp2p-e1383342891247.png#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the Net/ Bernardo Gutiérrez