Tagged: Commons

A Charter for Democracy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Prehispanic 2.0 – Latin America’s P2P Roots

This short piece, written by Bernardo Gutiérrez, defines and describes a number of traditional terms and practices, originating in Latin America’s indigenous cultures, which find their mirrors in the modern P2P and commons lexicon.  This piece originally appeared on Yorukubu.


The native peoples anticipated the much-touted sharing economy by a few centuries. While the current global crisis pushes capitalism towards an irreversible mutation, our vision of a post-capitalist future is remarkably similar to the pre-capitalist origins of indigenous America.”

The sharing economy is on the rise. Crowdsourcing (the externalization of process to multitudes working online) is on the lips of every guru. Crowdfunding, or collective financing, is making its mark in areas like culture. The P2P Society, as presented by respected figures like Yochai Benkler and Michel Bauwens, is more horizontal and participatory, goes beyond strictly economic returns, and may be the light at the tunnel of oppressive, dark capitalism.

The commons, the common good and common resources are all the rage; co-working is no longer a passing fad, but a real thing. Of course, there are those who’ll only give credit to these new practices/realities when they’re recommended by a Silicon Valley icon, and only if they’re accompanied by an English name.

Here’s the paradox: Words like “the commons” already exist in Spanish, and have existed since Antonio Nebrija published the first Spanish dictionary in 1492. And, surprise: If we look at Pre-Columbian American traditions, we can see that the indigenous people were already practicing forms of crowdfunding, crowdsourcing and other 2.0-era participatory dynamics. The arrival of African peoples, with their strong collective traditions, also turned America (particularly Latin America) into a spectacular commons-based territory. Pre-capitalist America was as cool and chic and 2.0 as it gets, right? And it still is. The native peoples anticipated the much-touted sharing economy by a few centuries. While the current global crisis pushes capitalism towards an irreversible mutation, our vision of a post-capitalist future is remarkably similar to the pre-capitalist origins of indigenous America.

A warning to skeptics: I’ve cooked up a quick overview of some of the terms and collaborative practices of Latin America’s indigenous communities. Anyone can remix this or complete the list as they like; without a doubt, it’s just an approximation.

Tequio: Tequio is a very popular type of work for collective benefit in the Zapotec culture. Community members contribute materials or labor to carry out construction work for the community. This could take the form of a school, a well, or a road. An individual can never be the sole beneficiary of tequio. It has a touch of crowdsourcing, a little crowdfunding and a lot of commons built into it. Tequio is still practiced in some Mexican States. In the State of Oaxaca, tequio is protected by state law. There are other terms for similar practices such as “gozona”, or, “a mano vuelta” (changed hands) labor.

Potlach: Indigenous tribes in the Pacific Northwest carried out an exchange ritual that is, in practice, identical to the peer-to-peer file sharing of the Digital Age. Potlach, as used by the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Kwakiutl peoples was P2P through and through. Potlatch isn’t exactly barter. The communities distributed food (principally seal meat and salmon) and wealth to other tribes that hadn’t had a plentiful season. Here’s an important detail: some European colonizers became remarkably rich thanks to potlatching. The same as those superstar artists who, according to some studies, benefit from file sharing amongst users, even though some insist on calling it piracy.

Guelaguetza: The guelaguetza tradition, from the Mexican State of Oaxaca, can be described as cross between a potlatch and a tequio. The term describes “a reciprocal exchange of goods and services”. Its practice is woven from the reciprocal relations that tie people together. It’s the starting point for family and even village and territory-wide cooperative networks. The guelaguetza also evolved to a syncretic sort of celebration held in the town of Oaxaca.

Minga: Minga is a Quechua term defining an ancestral mechanism for collective work that’s very common in Ecuador and the north of Perú. The common objective is always more important than any individual benefit. Collaboration trumps competition. In effect, it’s 100% reminiscent of crowdsourcing or a commons-based economy. It’s no coincidence that Cultura Senda, a collective for the promotion of networked cultures, has held workshops in Quito called “Open Minga”. Minga, according to Cultura Senda’s own description, “implies the challenge of overcoming selfishness, narcissism, mistrust, prejudice and jealousy; the misfortunes that regularly allay collective work and social mobilization.” In fact, “it implies learning to listen and to comply, while making proposals”.

Ayni: Ayni is a term with a meaning that’s closely related to minga. It describes a system of work and family reciprocity among members of the ayllu (a community working on collective land). It is commonly exemplified in the sharing of tasks such as agriculture, shepherding, cooking or house construction. The tradition is still alive, not only in many peasant communities, but among the mestizo populations of Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. Any Time Bank or hours exchange system, such as those of the Spanish 15M movement, could, in essence, be described as an ayni.

Mutirão: This is originally a Tupi term used in Brazil to describe collective mobilizations based on non-remunerated mutual help. Wikipedia’s Brazilian Portuguese definition for mutirão is very telling: “An expression originally used in field work for the civil construction of community houses where everyone is a beneficiary and offers mutual help through a rotating, non-hierarchical system”. It’s often used to describe collective, unpaid actions such as park, street and school maintenance. There are plenty of words that also describe this sort of communal action: muxirão, muxirã, muxirom, muquirão, putirão, putirom, putirum, pixurum, ponxirão, punxirão and puxirum.

Córima: The Rarámuri people of Mexico’s Chihuahua mountains use the word “córima” to describe an act of solidarity with someone who’s having trouble. Not offering córima to someone who needs help is considered both a breach of an obligation and an offense. The definition could also describe “the practice of the common good”. It’s not really related to charity, as the Rarámuri are as far removed from Catholic morality as you can get. The utmost authority overseeing all village decisions is a community assembly, much like what we’ve seen in the 15M movement, Occupy Wall Street and Mexico’s #YoSoy32.

Maloka: Maloca (or maloka in Portuguese) is an indigenous communal house found in the indigenous Amazon region of Colombia and Brazil. These are cohabited by different families. They share their workspace, like any modern co-working space. Property is collective, as in Europe’s squatter communities. They live, in effect, by and for the commons. At night, the maloca becomes a knowledge center where stories, myths and legends are told. The tents present at Tahir Square in Cairo, in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol or in Zuccoti Park, New York during Occupy, are the modern techno-digital versions of the Amazon’s collective houses.

Article translated by Jane Loes Lipton and Stacco Troncoso – Guerrilla Translation!

Images by Ministério da Cultura Brasil under Creative Commons license

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Beautiful Fences

In this short piece, Leonidas Martín (of Colectivo Enmedio, among other things) talks about the paradoxically subliminal yet strong social control imposed by state-directed urban design and re-design, the possibly surprising causes and effects of that control, and some heartfelt speculation on art’s role in recovering the nature and purpose of our cities. If you like this piece, you’ll love 12 Inspired Actions to Outsmart Repressive Situations and Laws, co-written by Leonidas Martín and Amador Fernández-Savater. This piece originally appeared on the Enmedio blog.


LEO 1

Polideportivo Raval (where metal plates were installed in the windows to prevent anyone from sitting down)

Since the day it first opened, the windows of my neighborhood gym have been a gathering point for neighbors. They’re right at street level, and they’re big. Lots of us had sat on their deep windowsills for many years, most of all the Pakistanis who live in the surrounding area. Note that I said, “had sat”, because ever since Barcelona’s City Hall installed some giant metal plates, no one sits there anymore. The gatherings and chit-chats are over. “Keep it moving!”

Saying “metal plates” might make you think of something like those iron gates which restrict access to someplace, or the spools of barbed wire you often see along the borders. They’re nothing like that. The metal plates they’ve installed at my gym are lovely. They’re designed by a young architect, one of the many young architects that work for City Hall, and they’re perfectly integrated with the structure of the building. The window glass, the ledges and the plates complement each other like parts of a Franz Joseph Haydn symphony. In fact, I’m sure that if anyone passed by there today – anyone who didn’t already know what these windows had been, and what they were used for – they wouldn’t notice anything strange. And that’s what’s so interesting.

It’s a given that movement within city spaces has never been free; architecture and urban design have always directed it. But unlike the fences, bars, and walls that once were used to restrict and channel our mobility, this contemporary urban furniture is all but invisible. Before, regulating the behavior of bodies in space and directing what to do and how to do it required very visible elements. Today, however, it seems that this kind of indoctrination calls for something altogether different – going unnoticed, or only minimally. And with hardly a change to the landscape, it serves its repressive purpose – or does it one better.

It isn’t always like this; there are still places where these urban elements controlling bodies in space are crystal clear. You only need to have a look at the southern border of Europe to get the idea. In Ceuta, for example, the walls and the barbed wire aren’t hidden under any pretense whatsoever; in fact, it’s just the opposite. In these places, the urban elements are clearly visible. They have to be. Their effectiveness depends in large part upon their visibility. An undocumented immigrant who wants to enter Europe must plainly see the material obstacles he’ll run up against, the things blocking his entrance. Presumably, one would think twice after seeing things like that.

Floral Spikes

Floral spikes

But this piece of mine isn’t set in any of those locations. What I’m talking about here is other places, where the immigrants who already crossed those borders end up. I’m referring to those cities where they come to seek their fortune: particularly, those cities which profit from advertising themselves almost like commercial brands. Cities like Barcelona, Paris or London. In these places, the devices dictating behavior go virtually unnoticed. They’re integrated into the visual matrix of the city itself, hardly perceptible, serving to uphold the aesthetic values and morals associated with that city, while hiding their primary function – directing the mobility of the people.

The plates installed outside the windows of my gym are far from the only example of this kind of urban installation designed to prevent unwanted situations and social behaviors.  The city-brands are full of these elements; low hedges and bushes, strategically located to prevent people from making themselves at home in public places; magnificent wrought iron fences blocking access to restricted areas; exquisite spikes preventing people from laying down where they shouldn’t; geometric forms in noble materials placed in corners to dissuade people from getting cozy where they oughtn’t…endless urban designs which, as in the E.A. Poe story “The Purloined Letter”, are right in front of everyone, yet pass unnoticed. We come across these things a thousand times, but we never see them, or, at least, we never see their true, hidden purpose.

Elegant spikes

Elegant spikes

At first glance, these elements could seem irrelevant, just little urban bits not worth considering. But as I see it, these fragments represent – although slyly – the spirit of the economic and political model which created them: the spirit of the market. A spirit which sets everything in motion (people, cities, countries, works of art…) under the criteria of the one and only law: extract the most profit possible from any human activity. This spirit is everywhere; it affects us all and all that surrounds us. The immigrants themselves, as mentioned earlier, were driven here by this spirit. It’s what set them in motion, the power that has pushed them over the walls, dodging barbed wire. “Motion” here doesn’t imply freedom, far from it. All movement prompted by the spirit of the market must always be conducted and occur under the law it imposes. Otherwise, this mobility could deviate, resulting in a non-consumer-economy objective – and that’s a risk the market can’t take. In this sense, the metal plates at my gym, or other similar urban elements, are the grease which helps to run the indoctrination imposed by the spirit of the market.

The behavior of the citizens, as with the identity of a city, is not something to be taken for granted. Instead, it’s one’s own actions, and the changes these acts make to the social fabric, are what create behavior. These actions and behaviors could be, a priori, infinite. To limit them, to make them respond to a certain spirit, takes a lot of creativity. Right here is where the role of an artist comes into play – or has this not always been the artist’s task, to bring a touch of common sense to something that has neither pre-existing logic nor order (as Oscar Wilde said, “…to teach Nature her proper place”)? It comes as no surprise, then, that it’s the artists, the architects, and the designers who are in charge of translating into form (urban furniture, in this case) the one commercial law and its objectives. They do it because it’s what they know how to do, it’s how they make their money. But they also do it because they’re more concerned with form, with those aspects that lie at the heart of art itself, than with the end-uses derived from their work. And they do it for one more reason.

Cactus

Cactus

In the world we live in, each of us goes it alone in society. No intermediaries. A stranger among strangers. This emboldens a “me” full of pride, ready to believe he’s almighty. But it also encourages a “me” ready to fall at the feet of any effigy that crosses his path. A “me” ready to take on the world, but beaten by fear and loneliness. So this young architect designs the metal plates which later get installed by City Hall in the windows of my gym, because he feels lost in some incomprehensible hieroglyphs. This young architect looks at life as characters in Kafka’s novels do. He knows not who decides things, nor to whom he may turn in search of justice or help. For him, to live is to be dragged along by a mysterious force whose sheer power and great size reveals his own utter helplessness.  This is the starting point from where our young architect designs the metal plates which serve to prevent immigrants from gathering in the street.

Each time I go for a swim at the gym, I wonder – what would it be like, an art that could break this damned aesthetic statute that prevents gathering? An art open to a dynamic concept of life, where our surroundings are created in direct relation to constantly changing behaviors? What would it be like, an art that stood up to established forms of behavior, and able to adapt to new ways of life, ones we’ve been seeking for a long time? And what about a form of urban design which, instead of concealing repression, organized our shared world? Because this, and nothing else, is a city: the organization of our shared world.

Article translated by Jane Loes Lipton and Stacco Troncoso – Guerrilla Translation!

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Overcoming the Shock Doctrine

Soy Pública

Lately, we’ve been talking about the techniques of manipulation used by the government and mass media, regarding the privatization of public education, and all public benefits.

In these first months of legislature, the better part of this manipulation has been aimed at rendering us into a state of shock, after which, intimidated and paralyzed, we would not react against the losses of rights brutally imposed on us. The measures, announcements and declarations of the autonomic and central governments are meted out to us day by day, gradually, like a poisonous drip of constant anxiety.  Relentlessly, the media – in some cases, better to say “propagandists” – continues their tireless preaching, like a disheartening echo of bad news from on high (from the council of ministers or the rating agencies).

Naomi Klein explains in her book, “The Shock Doctrine”, how neo-liberalism, unable to convince people by means of argument (since these neo-liberal measures are essentially anti-people), has only been able to impose itself via coups d’etat, declarations of war, situations of catastrophic natural disaster, or other traumatic phenomena, leaving the public in the grip of anxiety and fear.

And what, if not fear, are they trying to inoculate us with in this country? Fear of losing our jobs, for example, or of never again being able to find work, or of being offered nothing more than exploitation, plain and simple; fear of losing the right to healthcare,l or being unable to provide adequate education for children; fear of ending up foreclosure victims, sleeping on the street; fear, finally, of being unjustly arrested for peacefully protesting at a demonstration.

In this article, we examine how the shock doctrine takes effect on us under the name “learned helplessness”. But also, how we can escape this state of despondency if we learn to correctly attribute the causes of our malaise.

Learned Helplessness, a weapon of mass destruction

It’s true enough that the powers that be treat us like dogs, or at least like the dogs in Seligman’s experiment.

At the end of the Sixties, psychologist Martin Seligman carried out the following experiment. Inside a lab cage, a dog was exposed to a series of unavoidable electric shocks. Meanwhile, in a different cage, another dog would be able to interrupt these shocks by pressing a lever. Later, both dogs would be situated over an electrified surface from which they could escape by simply jumping over a barrier. The dog that had been able to control the electric shocks would jump the barrier, while the other dog, instead of looking for a successful exit from an adverse situation, stayed, passively bearing the shocks. This dog had “learned” his helplessness. Why waste the energy trying to escape from the negative stimuli when you know (really, more like believe) that you can’t?

Learned helplessness leads to depression. Not doing anything, because you think it’s all useless.

In the following video, we see a teacher inducing learned helplessness on a group of students through a simple activity.

From this we can infer that, given the current power of media propaganda, it’s feasible to induce a state of depression in large sectors of the population. Thanks to this video, it’s easier to understand why the victims of Nazi Germany accepted their deaths with little resistance, in much the same way that abused women often accept their fate with resignation:

To activate English subtitles, press captions button at the lower right

It’s terrible, isn’t it? But not as terrible as realizing that this inoculation by way of learned helplessness is, precisely, what’s being done to us. Right now. They’re trying to convince us to passively accept the loss of our rights and the privatization of public services with no resistance or protest. The slogan is: it’s useless no matter what we do.

We, like the dogs in Seligman’s experiments, are submitted to shocks, better known by their euphemisms “adjustments” or “cuts”. These shocks are apparently unavoidable, no matter how many times we go on strike, take part in informative actions or protests. Furthermore, many protesters become victims of unjustified arrests and preemptive prison sentences, hardly compatible with fundamental human rights.

Greece, which has suffered this commons-stripping for far longer, has seen depression spread like wildfire among the people. The suicide rate has skyrocketed. In his article entitled “¿Y si no hiciésemos nada?” (And what if we didn’t do anything?), philosopher Amador Fernández-Savater echoes this desperation that has taken hold of the Greeks.

More than 10 general strikes in Greece, but has anything been achieved? Alexandra-Odette Kypriotaki has taken part in the movement since 2008, only to move to London with that very question in mind. “In my country, you can’t even find a job as a waitress”, she told me. I met her in a meeting organised by thinker-activist Franco Berardi (Bifo) in Barcelona. Her presentation there was as evocative as it was challenging.

Reflecting on the underlying logic of conflict and protest, both impotent in preventing social devastation, repression and destruction, Alexandra proposed a new start from a different angle. “Neither fighting nor confronting, but deserting; neither demanding nor pleading, but unfolding, here and now, the world we want to live in. Neither taking action nor mobilising, but giving ourselves over to abandon. Turning our weakness into strength.”

Capitalism demands from us a constant disposition towards desire, contact, production. Where time is permanently occupied and under pressure to deliver results. Nowadays, being happy, optimistic and positive is obligatory. We must constantly project the image of knowing what’s up, that everything is going fine, it’s all under control, and we’re strong. But, doesn’t political activism often demand the same? Struggle, results, a ready answer for everything, constant high morale, rejection of the meek, doubtful and melancholic…

Couldn’t we muster up an army of the weak, the clumsy, the ignorant? The rallying cry could be, “Yes, we’re depressed, so what?” The program: “I don’t know”. The strike, doing absolutely nothing, not even mobilising ourselves. Do nothing day… Wednesday, then Thursday and so on.”

The figure of the helpless punisher

Arbitrary electric shocks, administered at regular intervals and beyond our control. Shocks, or the looting they call “cuts” or “deficit control”. Psychological abuse, bordering on the limits of, what just a few months ago, would have seemed like dystopian fiction: “IMF Requests That Pensions be Lowered Because of “The Risk That People Will Live Longer Than Expected”.

Rating agencies, international organisms (IMF, WB, OECD, WTO) in service to the financial elite, the European commission and the ECB… they all subject us to a series of demands and adjustments, gradual though inexorable. Of course, we are assured there is nothing we can do. On the other hand, cases like Iceland are silenced in the mass media.

What is the role of our leaders in this situation? Simply, to be efficient executors of this pillage ordered “from above”. “We have to do what we have to do”; “The European Union demands it from us”; “We must increase confidence in the markets”, etc.

There’s no point labelling the politicians who carry out these tasks as “evil” or “sadistic”, although it’s often tempting, given some of their statements. In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt expressed her concept of the banality of evil: a mediocre Nazi civil servant like Adolf Eichmann was perfectly able to perform mass murders, not out of cruelty, but simply because he acted from within the rules of the system he belonged to, without reflecting on his acts. What Eichmann did was expertly carry out orders given from superiors, just as politicians in government do with the mandates of those representing the interests of financial capital. And they are unable to question the rules they follow, having been blinded by the tenets of the dominant ideology, neo-liberalism, which additionally legitimises the fact that these same leaders – or their friends and family – profit from it in ways which we would consider immoral, thanks to the loss of social rights of the citizenry and the privatization of the public sector.

Adding insult to injury, the government can even present itself to public opinion as mere victims of learned helplessness. This is typified by phrases like “I’d like to do something else, but I can’t do anything; the orders come from above. If I acted differently, the consequences would be much worse”. These selfsame heads of state become public models for learned helplessness. And, as we well know, the best way to lead is by example. This was the case when former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was called by Barack Obama. But now, with our current president, Mariano Rajoy, this phenomenon has been so exacerbated that he himself has become a living example of helplessness and weakness, with his cheat sheets at public appearances, his absences, his gestures and actions. Here we see him in the Senate, running away from journalists eager to ask him about the latest budget cuts in education and healthcare:

In conclusion, what these politicians are showing us by “playing helpless” is that our country is no longer sovereign, but subject to the orders of those truly in charge: the famous “markets”. So why not be honest and consistent, and simply resign, and let Spain become a protectorate of financial capital just like Italy and Greece? Perhaps our role within the shock doctrine has not yet been totally fulfilled. We’re still not fully subject to learned helplessness. But how can we prevent it from defeating us completely?

Better living through attribution

To fend off learned helplessness, Seligman applies Fritz Heider’s attribution theory. In Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, he studies three dimensions or characteristics of the attributional style, also called causal attribution:

  1. Personalisation: whereby internal or external causes are attributed to good or bad events. Either I feel guilty when I do something wrong “because that’s the way I am”, or I’m able to externalise the problem and hold myself responsible for making changes. This dimension is related to self-esteem. Attributing bad events to external causes increases immunity to learned helplessness.
  2. Permanence: the duration, stability or instability in time which we attribute the causes underlying good or bad events. Extreme examples are expressed through discourse in the always – never poles. Thinking that the causes behind bad events are stable, permanent or even definitive, makes us more vulnerable to learned helplessness.
  3. Penetration: how many areas in our lives are affected by our good or bad luck, whether these causes affect us globally or specifically. Expressed through discourse in the all-nothing extremes.

On the other hand, in their paper on learned helplessness and its immunisation in human subjects, José Ramón Yela Bernabé and José Luis Marcos Malmierca also refer to the importance of our controllability of events.

1) Depersonalisation: the problem lies in the situation, not within us

Another strategy used by the powers that be to trigger learned helplessness is encouraging us to blame ourselves for what is happening. We’re told that we’ve “lived beyond our means”, when in reality, the means allowed to those at the bottom were well below the standards of a decent life, as evidenced by low wages and the lack of basic resources such as housing.

Geographer David Harvey offers his systemic explanation for what is happening. According to him, we’re living through a process of accumulation by dispossession. With the fall in wages since the 70s, increases in profits are being absorbed by the capitalist class due to the privatization of common goods, the financialization of the economy, the management and manipulation of the crisis, and the uneven redistribution of resources. The author gives an overview of the current crisis in the following video:

Authors such as Vicenç Navarro have pointed out that the lack of resources amongst popular classes has provoked rising debt levels, and not the other way around. Had we enjoyed a public policy defending universal access to decent housing, people wouldn’t have gone into such levels of debt, and the housing and credit bubbles that led to the crisis never would have occurred.

So, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that the blame for this “crisis” (accumulation by dispossession) is ours. We must get beyond the mass media information overload, and analyse the underlying causes of the current social, economic and cultural model so we can help mitigate the harmful effects, and even propose new and different alternative models.

2) The crisis is also a crisis of the dominant economic paradigm

Regarding the stability of the source of our problem, we must ask ourselves: can this accumulation by dispossession go on forever? Are we now at the endpoint of history? Far from it. Many have pointed out that we are living through a global crisis in capitalism owing to ecological limits which impede the model of infinite accumulation and growth. The late Spanish ecologist Ramón Fernández Durán has, like many others, indicated that the predictable depletion of fossil fuels will lead to the collapse of our civilisation.

The documentary “The Story of Stuff” does a fine job of describing the human and ecological limits of the current mode of production:

So, instead of worrying about what’s happening, shouldn’t we be looking for alternatives already?

3) Opportunities for emancipation

Regarding the penetration of the problem; is our entire being negatively affected by this pillaging of the Commons?

While the crisis/scam is undoubtedly affecting a good portion of our lives, due to unemployment, ever worsening public services and the loss of human rights, it’s also worth remembering that there is life – a lot of life – beyond the crisis.

Now is the time to explore new ways of relating to ourselves, to others and to our environment. The time to look for new modes of life.

This economic model, even at its peak, was still the cause of dissatisfaction. Beneath the surface of consumerism, mutated into a pyramid scheme thanks to the abundance of easy credit, lurked a modern version of King Midas. Everything touched by the model was converted into goods, right down to our lives and the most intimate corners of our minds.

Alienation has never reached such extremes. While in the times of Fordism and mass production, the worker was alienated during his or her work time; nowadays, capital extracts profits from the totality of our lives.

The Commons, that which we all share, is what’s being “expropriated” by some, the 1% of the population, to keep on accumulating capital. Advertising appropriates our common culture to invade our brains with consumer programming. We relate to others under the criteria informed by rentability, and we ourselves become merchandise to be sold off in the labour market or when we try to draw benefits in our personal lives.

The part of our lives affected by the crisis is, therefore, miniscule compared with everything that this crisis of the system can offer us:

The best way to increase happiness is through interpersonal relationships. Fostering cooperative relationships instead of those based on competition. All that’s given shall not be lost.

Not allowing cognitive creation (our thoughts, arts, and knowledge) to be expropriated from the common intellect by means of so-called intellectual property; an illegitimate appropriation that answers to the interests of big corporations dedicated to the production and distribution of cultural and technological products.

The promotion of commons-based economy, where instead of rentability, value resides in a model of cooperative enterprises dedicated to improving both society and the environment.

Ending the predominance of financial economy over productive economy. Overcoming the scam that is the private issue of money as debt which enslaves persons and peoples through its mechanisms.

Rallying for initiatives such as basic income, so that people may work freely, and not be forced to work for subsistence. Natural resources are a common good.

And, to complement this basic income, why not propose — as F.D. Roosevelt did in his day —  a wage ceiling, to be taxed at a rate of 100% once surpassed? As J.J Rousseau wrote in The Social Contract, “…in respect of riches, no citizen shall ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself.”

Value ecological proposals such as degrowth: consuming less, manufacturing less, designing totally recyclable objects and using less energy. Developing local economies.

Constructing autonomous distribution channels independent from the large-scale distributors that control practically all commercial activity, from production to retail.

Reconstruct the public sphere in a truly democratic manner, with the participation of everyone and as equals.

The future is, partly, in our hands

Finally, what is our capacity for control of our situation? In the previously cited article, Yela Bernabé and José Luis Marcos Malmierca argue that, in order to immunize ourselves from learned helplessness, the best thing is to have encountered neither success nor failure exclusively. Be conscious that there are things which we can control, and things which we cannot. As Epicurus remarked: “We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not to come.”

There are many examples of resistance to accumulation by dispossession that have triumphed in the world, such as the water in Bolivia or the insurrection in Chiapas. Never forget that history is mostly written by those above, who are happy to remind us only of the defeats suffered by those who struggled for emancipation.

Here in Spain, despite the clumsy first steps of a child learning to walk, the 15 M movement has obtained some notable successes as well as international projection. It has raised awareness about the root of our problems among a large sector of the population, it has put together very diverse social movements and it represents an excellent starting point for the development of cooperatives and solidarity networks.

Of course, we will make mistakes, but errors are what make us wiser.

Acting to open possibilities

In summary, faced with the fear that surrounds us, we must always remember that what is happening is not our fault, that the crisis is a crisis of the current economic model –  which is not stable, it is anything but stable – and that this change can be an opportunity for a new, more humane world, free from the tyranny of money and other goods.

And, above all, let us never forget Alain Badiou’s teaching: we must act. Our actions do not have to fall within what’s possible; instead, the action itself can open up a new space of possibility. “A subject is a point of conversion of the possible into the possible. The fundamental operation of the subject is to be at the point where something impossible becomes a possibility”.


Guerrilla Translation/Related:https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/unity-without-convergence-e1383342540180.jpgUnity sans Convergence/ Madrilonia/@PinkNoise RevDisneyland: An Immunized UtopiaJuan Domingo Sánchez EstopStrength and Power: Reimagining RevolutionAmador Fernández-Savater

Towards a Material Commons

Cooperativism, Peer Production and community venture funds for the Commons. KMO from the C-Realm Podcast, interviews Michel Bauwens, Dmytri Kleiner and John Restakis

Can commons-oriented peer production be applied to material production? Will activists and contributors to the commons always be forced to work within capitalist structures to subsist while investing their available free time in volunteer activities? How can we create socially-oriented companies without the start-up capital to fund them? Is there a model that will allow us to make a living, produce goods and services and even compete with the dominant hegemony?

In this fascinating conversation hosted by KMO from the C-Realm Podcast, Michel Bauwens, Dmytri Kleiner and John Restakis tackle these questions, and arrive at a series of proposals combining new models of social co-ops with commons-oriented peer production and systems for collective financing.

bauwens_restakis_kleiner

Michel Bauwens, John Restakis, Dmytri Kleiner

KMO: You are listening to the C-Realm Podcast, I am your host, KMO, and I am joined from Quito, Ecuador, by Dmytri Kleiner, Michel Bauwens, and John Restakis, so I’ll introduce you each individually. Dmytri Kleiner, this is our second conversation, although his first appearance on the C-Realm Podcast. He is a venture communist and the author of the Telekommunist Manifesto. Dmytri, welcome to the C-Realm Podcast.

Dmytri: Thank you, KMO.

KMO: Say just a little bit more about yourself. Don’t say anything about what brings you to Ecuador, though, I’ll ask you about that in a moment.

Dmytri: I’m a member of the collective called Telekommunisten. We make artworks that investigate the political economy of information, and especially the ways the Internet and social media has developed. As part of doing that, there’s a lot of writing that goes along with it, including the Telekommunist Manifesto, which looks at the history of copyright, and the history of networks and communication platforms from a materialist perspective.

KMO: And Michel Bauwens, you are back on the C-Realm Podcast, you are the founder of the P2P Foundation, and you’re working to achieve the commons-based society that can operate within a reformed market and state. Welcome back to the C-Realm Podcast.

Michel Bauwens: Thanks, it’s an honor.

KMO: And also John Restakis, the author of Humanizing the Economy, Cooperatives in the Age of Capital. John welcome to the C-Realm podcast, and please tell us a bit more about yourself.

John: Right, I have been involved with the cooperative movement, primarily in Canada, over the last 18, 19 years or so.  Up until this summer I was executive director for the BC Cooperative Association, and I have been involved with writing and lecturing around cooperative economies and globalization. I’ve done a lot of work around co-op development, both in Canada and internationally, paying a lot of attention to the evolution of the cooperative model, for the creation of a new kind of market as a response to the failed neoliberal paradigm that we’re living through at the moment.

KMO: Michel, let’s start with you. You are all three in Quito, Ecuador, as invited speakers for a conference there. If you would, say a little bit about the conference, and why the conference organizers invited you in particular, what you bring to the table for this discussion.

Michel: John and I are working on something called the FLOKSociety Project. FLOK means free, libre, open knowledge society. It’s based on a speech that Pres. Rafael Correa gave some months ago where he asked young people to work and fight for open, commons knowledge-based society. Three official organisms signed an agreement, the Ministry of Knowledge, and the SENESCYT which is like an open innovation in science secretariat, and the postgraduate University of the state, called EIAN. These three asked us to provide a transition program to move Ecuador towards a commons-based model. I’m the research director and John Restakis is a research stream coordinator about institutional innovation. The other thing is the conference which you asked about, called Minga. It’s about technological sovereignty. Now that we know that everything we do is monitored and surveilled, especially by British and American intelligence, the questions are, is there anything we can do about it, is there anything we can do to preserve our privacy, protect our communications from systematic spying? And both Dmytri and I are speaking in the conference. I’m introducing the FLOK society to this public of quite committed free software activists here in Ecuador. Dmytri, do you want to add something about the conference?

FLOKSociety website

Dmytri: Sure. I’m here as a member of the free software community. I’m a developer, and have been for a long time. I introduced a critical analysis within the community which often feels that technology can solve all our problems. There is a very common attitude of the free software community that all we need to do is code better software and we can overcome things. So the reason we can’t defeat Facebook is that we simply haven’t coded a better thing. I don’t understand the problem in those ways, I understand the problem politically and economically, in that the modes of communication we use are very tightly coupled with the modes of production that finance them, so I was invited here to express that opinion in this group.

Michel: John do you want to add anything?

John: Just to say that, I’m part of the research team that Michel just outlined for the FLOK society project. I’m not actually participating in this conference, I’m not a techie by any means and I’m having a hard time just following the conversation when I go to one of those things. I’m focused on the policy formation around this transition to a new, open knowledge and commons-based economy, and that’s the research work I’m doing here. Perhaps I can pitch this back to Michel, and ask if you can provide the framework for the conversation we’re going to have, kind of an echo of what we talked about the other day.

Michel: I’d like to start with outlining the issue, the problem around the emergence of peer production within the current neoliberal capitalist form of society and economy that we have. We now have a technology which allows us to globally scale small group dynamics, and to create huge productive communities, self-organized around the collaborative production of knowledge, code, and design. But the key issue is that we are not able to live from that, right?

Michel Bauwens

The situation is that we have created communities consisting of people who are sometimes paid, sometimes volunteers, and by using open licenses, we are actually creating commonses – think about Linux, Wikipedia, Arduino, those kinds of things. But what is the problem? The problem is I can only make a living by still working for capital. So, there is an accumulation of the commons on the one side, we are effectively producing a commons, but we don’t have what Marx used to call social reproduction. We cannot create our own livelihood within that sphere. The solution that I propose is related to the work of Dmytri Kleiner – Dmytri proposed some years ago to create a peer production license. I’ll give you my interpretation of it; you can only use our commons if you reciprocate to some degree. So, instead of having a totally open commons, which allows multinationals to use our commons and reinforce the system of capital, the idea is to keep the accumulation within the sphere of the commons. Imagine that you have a community of producers, and around that you have an entrepreneurial coalition of cooperative, ethical, social, solidarity enterprise.

The idea is that you would have an immaterial commons of codes and knowledge, but then the material work, the work of working for clients and making a livelihood, would be done through co-ops. The result would be a type of open cooperative-ism, a kind of synthesis or convergence between peer production and cooperative modes of production. That’s the basic idea. I think that a number of things are happening around that, like solidarity co-ops, and other new forms of cooperative-ism. I would like John to briefly explain what that means.

John: First I should just mention that as I said earlier, I’ve been involved in the co-op movement, both in Canada and internationally for the last 17 or 18 years or so, but I’m relatively new to what I am calling the new commons movement. It’s largely through the interaction with Michel and others from that sphere that I’m becoming aware now of how extensive and vibrant this new commons movement is. So, the question for me has always been how to reimagine and reinterpret the cooperative model as a response to the current crisis, and beyond, that we’re living in at the moment.

John Restakis

Historically, the cooperative movement goes back long way, and it’s achieved enormous successes all around the world, both in the North and South. But it hasn’t had much of a direct connection to this emerging commons movement, which shares so many of the values and  principles of the traditional cooperative movement. One of the issues I’m interested in addressing is how to bridge this gap between the cooperative movement internationally, and the international commons movement. There is very little dialogue between those two. I think there is a need for convergence between the traditional historical cooperative movement in this new form of commons, which is finding its voice now as a new way of thinking about social relationships, production relationships, developing new kinds of economies, as Michel just outlined.

This reinterpretation of the cooperative model as a particular form can add a lot of stability and strength and power to the commons movement. As far as I can see, it’s still largely a technology movement. There’s also a lot of peer-to-peer work going on, but it’s not very well versed around issues like cooperative organization, formal or legal forms of ownership, which are based on reciprocity and cooperation, and how to interpret the commons vision with a structure, an organizational structure and a legal structure that actually gives it economic power, market influence, and a means of connecting it to organizational forms that have durability over the long-term.

Michel: I’d like to add something. I experience this on a human level almost daily. The young people, the developers in open source or free software, the people who are in co-working centers, hacker spaces, maker spaces. When they are thinking of making a living, they think startups. They have been very influenced by this neoliberal atmosphere that has been dominant in their generation. They have a kind of generic reaction, “oh, let’s do a startup”, and then they look for venture funds. But this is a very dangerous path to take. Typically, the venture capital will ask for a controlling stake, they have the right to close down your start up whenever they feel like it, when they feel that they’re not going to make enough money. They forbid you to continue to work in the same sector after your company has failed, and you have a gag order, so you don’t even have free speech to talk about your negative experience. This is a very common experience. Don’t forget that with venture capital, only 1 out of 10 companies will actually make it, and they may be very rich, but it’s a winner-take-all system.

There is a real lack of knowledge within the young generation that there are other forms of enterprise possible. I think that the other way is also true. A lot of co-ops have been neo-liberalizing, as it were, have become competitive enterprises competing against other companies but also against other co-ops, and they don’t share their knowledge. They don’t have a commons of design or code, they privatize and patent, just like private competitive enterprise, their knowledge. They’re also not aware that there’s a new way of becoming more competitive through increased cooperation of open knowledge commons. This is the human side of it, and we need to work on the knowledge and mutual experience of these two sectors. Both are growing at the same time; after the crisis of 2008, we’ve had an explosion of the sharing economy and the peer production economy on the one side, but also a revitalization of the cooperative sector. Before Dmytri intervenes, I would like John to talk about the solidarity co-ops, and how that integrates the notion of the commons or the common good in the very structure of the co-op.

John: Historically, cooperatives have been primarily focused around providing support and service to the members. Cooperatives, which are basically a democratic and collective form of enterprise where members have control rights and democratically direct the operations of the co-op, have been the primary stakeholders in any given co-op – whether it’s a consumer co-op, or a credit union, or a worker co-op. That has been the traditional form of cooperatives for a long time now. Primarily, the co-op is in the service of its immediate members. That has changed over the last 15 years or so, particularly in the field of the provision of social care.

Cadiai Socil Coop, Bologna

Social co-ops emerged in the late 70s in Italy as a response to a market failure within public services in Italy. Groups of families or users of social services, primarily originally from within a community of people with disabilities, decided to organize cooperatives as a better way of designing and providing services to themselves. This is a very different model from the state-delivered services to these people. What was really fascinating about the social co-ops was that, although they had members, their mission was not only to serve the members but also to provide service to the broader community. And so, they were communitarian, community service organizations that had a membership base of primary users of that service, whether it was healthcare, or help for people with drug addictions, or whatever.

These social co-ops have now exploded in Italy. I think they have taken over, in a sense, the provision of social care services in many communities under contracts to local municipalities. In the city of Bologna, for example, over 87% of the social services provided in that city are provided through contract with social co-ops. These are democratically run organizations, which is a very different model, much more participatory, and a much more engaged model of designing social care than the traditional state delivered services. The idea of co-ops as being primarily of interest in serving their own immediate membership has been expanded to include a mandate for the provision of service to the community as a whole. This is an expansion of this notion of cooperatives into a more commons-based kind of mission, which overlaps with the philosophy and values of commons movement. The difference, however, is that the structure of social co-ops is still very much around control rights, in other words, members have rights of control and decision-making within how that organization operates. And it is an incorporated legal structure that has formal recognition by the legislation of government of the state, and it has the power, through this incorporated power, to negotiate with and contract with government for the provision of these public services. One of the real strengths of the cooperative form is that it not only provides a democratic structure for the enterprise – be it a commercial or social enterprise – but it also has a legal form that allows it to enter into contract and negotiate legal agreements with the state for the provision of public services. This model of co-op for social care has been growing in Europe. In Québec they’re called Solidarity co-ops, and they are generating an increasing portion of market share for the provision of services like home care and healthcare, and it’s also growing in Europe.

Sollievo social-healthcare coop, Bologna

So, the social economy, meaning organizations that have a mutual aim in their purpose, based on the principles of reciprocity, collective benefit, social benefit, is emerging as an important player for the design and delivery of public services. This, too, is in reaction to the failure of the public market for provision of services like affordable housing or health care or education services. This is a crisis in the role of the state as a provider of public services. So the question has emerged: what happens when the state fails to provide or fulfill its mandate as a provider or steward of public goods and services, and what’s the role of civil society and the social economy in response? Social co-ops have been part of this tide of reaction and reinvention, in terms of civic solutions to what were previously state-designed and delivered public goods and services. So I’ll leave it at that for the moment, but it’s just an indicator of the very interesting ways in which the co-op form is being reimagined and reinvented to respond to this crisis of public services and the changing role of the state.

Michel: Before introducing Dmytri, I’d like to reiterate one of the key problems that maybe Dmytri’s proposals will be able to solve. John has been explaining public services, but what about material production? This is where the issue arises: we have commonses of knowledge, code and design. They’re more easily created, because as a knowledge worker, if you have access to the network and some means, however meager, of subsistence, through effort and connection you can actually create knowledge. However, this is not the case if you move to direct physical production, like the open hardware movement.

What we see in the free software movement is that there are democratic foundations like the Apache foundation or the Gnu foundation, which means that the community has its own organization. In hardware, we don’t see that, because you need to buy material, machines, plastic, metal. Some people have called the open hardware community a “candy” economy, because if you’re not part of these open hardware startups, you’re basically not getting anything for your efforts. Dmytri’s offering us a vision of a commons of material means of production which I’d like him now to explain. He uses what I think is a bit provocative as a concept, the concept of “venture communism”. You think about venture, you think about venture capital, right?  Dmytri, can you tell us what you mean?

Dmytri: In the 90s, I was part of the anarchist-communist, anti-globalization movement. At the same time I was also making a living as an IT consultant in a very dotcom-fueled environment. I was a really big believer in what we now call peer production. We didn’t have these terms back then, but what we now call peer production, which attempts to describe the ways that people cooperate on networks, or within free software. I envisioned this transforming our social relationships worldwide, and achieving the age-old dreams of anarchist-communism. But that all came crashing down in the early 2000s, with the dotcom bust, and the George Bush administration’s massive crackdown on protests, from Seattle, Québec City, Miami. All of a sudden, the unstoppable-ness of our movement seemed to be stopped, it seemed to be something that I couldn’t believe in anymore.

I quickly realized that this network that we were building – the Internet and the free software community – was largely enabled by our jobs for the dotcom bubble, for capitalism.  It was being funded by venture capital. Realizing that venture capital wouldn’t fund the anarchist-communist social relationships that we believed were embedded in these platforms, it became clear that we needed something else. So I called that something else “venture communism”, with the intention to study what that might look like, and how we might achieve it. I originally encountered Michel after seeing some talks by Benkler and Lessig at the Wizard of OS 4, in 2006, and I wrote an essay criticizing that from a materialist perspective, it was called “The creative anti-commons and the poverty of networks”, playing on the terms that both those people used.

Lawrence Lessig y Yochai Benkler

The basis of the criticism in both cases was that they were describing peer production in a way that was very different from our conception. We didn’t have this term, this term came from Benkler, but we were talking about what we thought was the same thing. They conceive of peer production, especially Benkler, as being something inherently immaterial, a form of production that can only exist in the production of immaterial wealth. From my materialist point of view, that’s not a mode of production, because a mode of production must, in the first place, reproduce its productive inputs, its capital, its labor, and whatever natural wealth it consumes.

From a materialist point of view, it becomes  obvious that the entire exchange value produced in these immaterial forms would be captured by the same old owners of materialist wealth that existed before, after, and during. This was the beginning of my dialogue with Michel. I argued for a different definition of peer production, rather than as something that is inherently immaterial, I defined it as independent producers collectively sharing a commons of productive assets. That definition of peer production is much more compatible with anarchist-communist, anarchist-syndicalist roots, and also better describes the peer-to-peer technologies that inspired the term “peer production”.

So, to try to explain what “venture communism” is, which is my own project, predating the term “peer production”, but very relevant to it. I think we’re talking about the same thing, even if I was using different terms. As a technologist, I was also inspired by the functioning of peer networks and the organization of free software projects. These were also the inspiration for venture communism. I wanted to create something like a protocol for the formation and allocation of physical goods, the same way we have TCP/IP and so forth, as a way to allocate immaterial goods. The Internet gives us a very efficient platform on which we can share and distribute and collectively create immaterial wealth, and become independent producers based on this collective commons.

Henry George

Venture communism seeks to tackle the issue of how we can do the same thing with material wealth. I drew on lots of sources in the creation of this model, not exclusively anarchist-communist sources. One was the Georgist idea of using rent, economic rent, as a fundamental mutualizing source of wealth. Mutualizing unearned income is essentially what that means in layman’s terms. The idea is that people earn income not only by producing things, but by owning the means of production, owning productive assets, and our society is unequal because the distribution of productive assets is unequal.

Even within the cooperative movement, which I’ve always admired and held up as an example, it’s clear that the distribution of productive assets is also unequal. The same with other kinds of production; for example, if you look at the social power of IT workers versus agricultural workers, it becomes very clear that the social power of a collective of IT workers is much stronger than the social power of a collective agricultural workers. There is inequality in human and capital available for these cooperatives. This protocol would seek to normalize that, but in a way that doesn’t require administration. The typical statist communist reaction to the cooperative movement is saying that cooperatives can exclude and exploit one another, and that solution is either creating giant cooperatives like Mondragon, or socialist states.

Silvio Gessell

But then, as we’ve seen in history, there’s something that develops called an administrative class,  which governs over the collective of cooperatives or the socialist state, and can become just as counterproductive and often exploitive as capitalist class. So, how do we create cooperation among cooperatives, and distribution of wealth among cooperatives, without creating this administrative class? This is why I borrowed from the work of Henry George and Silvio Gesell in created this idea of rent sharing.

The idea is that the cooperatives are still very much independent just as cooperatives are now. The producers are independent, but instead of owning their productive assets themselves, each member of the cooperative owns these together with each member of every other cooperative in the Federation, and the cooperatives rent the property from the commune collectively. This is not done administratively, this is simply done as a protocol. The idea is that if a cooperative wants an asset, like, an example is if one of the communes would like to have a tractor, then essentially the central commune is like a bond market. They float a bond, they say I want a tractor, I am willing to pay $200 a month for this tractor in rent, and other members of the cooperative can say, hey, yeah, that’s a good idea,we think that’s a really good allocation of these productive assets, so we are going to buy these bonds. The bond sale clears, the person gets the tractor, the money from the rent of the tractor goes back to clear the bonds, and  after that, whatever further money is collected through the rent on this tractor – and I don’t only mean tractors, same would be applied to buildings, to land, to any other productive assets – all this rent that’s collected is then distributed equally among all of the workers.

So, the unearned income, the portion of income derived from ownership of productive assets is evenly distributed among all the cooperatives and all the stakeholders among those cooperatives, and that’s the basic protocol of venture communism.

Michel: Okay, Dmytri, just to make sure I understand it right, it’s like a basic income, right? In the sense that you have your wage, because you work, and then in addition you get this rent from all the productive forces held together by all the members of this economic unified cooperative production?

Dmytri: Exactly. Whatever productive assets you consume, you pay rent for, and that rent is divided equally among all members of the commune. Not the individual cooperatives, but the commune itself. This means that if you use your exact per capita share of property, no more no less than what you pay in rent and what you received in social dividend, will be equal. So if you are a regular person, then you are kind of moving evenly, right? But if you’re not working at that time, because you’re old, or otherwise unemployed, then obviously the the productive assets that you will be using will be much less than the mean and the median, so what you’ll receive as dividend will be much more than what you pay in rent, essentially providing a basic income. And conversely, if you’re a super motivated producer, and you’re greatly expanding your productive capacity, then what you pay for productive assets will be much higher than what you get in dividend, presumably, because you’re also earning income from the application of that property to production. So, venture communism doesn’t seek to control the product of the cooperatives. The product of the cooperatives is fully theirs to dispose of as they like. It doesn’t seek to limit, control, or even tell them how they should distribute it, or under what means; what they produce is entirely theirs, it’s only the collective management of the commons of productive assets.

Michel: Dmyitri, I think your theory has three constitutive elements, one is the venture communism, what are the two others? Can you briefly recall your idea of the peer production license, which I mentioned at the beginning?

Dmytri: Yes, first part is related to my critique of Benkler, and the peer production license comes, well, it predates it, but it enters this conversation between us through my critique of Lessig. The three constituent parts of venture communism were developed in speaking  to a lot of people involved in cooperatives and economists. On paper this would seem to work, but the problem is that this assumes that we have capital to allocate in this way, and that is not the case for most of the world workers. So, how do we get to that stage? And that’s where venture communism becomes an umbrella, venture communism being only one constituent element, the other two being counter politics and insurrectionary finance. The idea of counter politics is that there is a long-running feud in the communist community and socialist community and, actually, the activist community generally: do we express our activism through the state, or do we try to achieve our goals by creating the alternative society outside…

Michel: …pre-figurative politics…

Dmytri Kleiner

Dmytri: …pre-figurative politics, versus statist politics. And with the idea of counter politics, I’m trying to show that this is actually a false dilemma, because the idea of pre-figurative politics presupposes that we have the wealth in order to create these pre-figurative enterprises, these pre-figurative startups or co-ops or whatever. My materialist background tells me that when you sell your labor on the market, you have nothing more than your subsistence costs at the end of it, so where is this wealth meant to come from?  I believe that the only reason that we have any extra wealth beyond subsistence is because of organized social political struggle; because we have organized in labor movements, in the co-op movement, and in other social forms. We have fought for this, so that we now have more than our subsistence. And this is the reason that we can’t even consider pre-figurative solutions. To create the space for prefiguring presupposes engagement with the state, and struggle within parliaments, and struggle within the public social forum.

What I propose in counter politics is that we don’t think of engaging in party politics, as in the sort of classic Leninist party idea, that we will take the state, that we will impose new social relationships from the top down, and we will go through an intermediary stage of socialism, and we will finally achieve communism. This is a very problematic conception, and I’m not very hopeful that that kind of solution would work. Instead, we should think that no, we must engage in the state in order to protect our ability to have alternative societies, in order to protect the benefits that we have now, in order to protect the public services and the public goods, and the public benefits. We have to acknowledge that there are certain social functions that the state provides that are socially necessary, and we cannot do without them. We can only get rid of the state in these areas once we have alternative, distributed, cooperative means to provide those same functions. Just because we can imagine that they can exist doesn’t make them exist. We can only eliminate the state from these areas once they actually exist, which means we actually have to build them. We  have to create alternative ways to provision healthcare, childcare, education, to deal with human frailty and economic cycles, all these kinds of social functions the state provides that are socially necessary.

Michel: Okay, so what about insurrectionary finance, that’s your third…

Dmytri: There’s a strange corner of the activist community that’s called alternative economics, and this is almost held in the same disdain as conspiracy theory by most activist groups. Everybody thinks, oh, yes, alternative currencies and alternative kinds of things are kind of irrelevant to the social thing. What I mean by insurrectionary finance is that we have to acknowledge that it’s not only forming capital and distributing capital, it’s also important how intensively we use capital. We have to understand the role of money, the role of debt, the role of economic interactions, and how to model them in order to create a more intensive use of capital.

If you understand the capitalist economy, everybody knows that the amount of money in the economy is greatly expanded through economic things like loans,  securities, and various economic means where capital, especially finance capital, is used more intensively than it otherwise would, sometimes dangerously so. I’m not proposing that the cooperative movement needs to engage in the kind of derivative speculative madness that led to the financial crisis, but at the same time we can’t… it can’t be earn a dollar, spend a dollar. We have to find ways to create liquidity, to deal with economic cycles, and so we have to look at alternative economics in order to do that. And sometimes even not-so-alternative economics, as we’ve talked about before.

Paradoxically, I’m rather inspired by Michael Milken and the corporate raiders of the 80s that are famous for making junk bonds. They were sort of the financial side of the industrialization of the West, and their mechanisms were to issue junk bonds, low rated bonds, use these funds to buy corporations that work undervalued, and then basically strip the assets –   the land, the capital, just strip them down, close them, sell of the assets, repay the bonds, keep their huge profits, and rinse and repeat, as it were, over and over again.

The Junk Bond King, Michael Milken

And this to me is really interesting, because, on one hand, it’s horrible what they did, and the legacy of the damage that the corporate raiders had is pretty large. But on the other hand, it’s kind of inspiring because they did things the organized left hasn’t been able to do, which is takeover industrial means of production, right? So it seems to me that we should be inspired by that, and we should think, well, if they can take over these industrial facilities, just in order to shut them down and asset strip them, why can’t we take them over and mutualize them? It becomes even more ironic once you understand that the source of investment that Milken and his colleagues were working with were largely workers pension funds. It was actually the savings of workers –  achieved through social struggle as we’ve talked about before. Unions got together and struggled against the bosses to allow workers to save, which was already struggle one, then they put these savings into pension funds –  and then Milken and his followers sold their bonds to these pension funds and used this money to destroy the factories that the workers were working in.

Michel: I think it’s maybe time for John to make some comments on Dmytri’s ideas.

John: A couple of thoughts come to mind around the idea of venture communism – it’s great term by the way – and a new model for pooling, based on the capture of unearned income. It’s a very suggestive model, there are close models to this that are already being used by cooperatives to share machinery. For example, I know for example in Québec, there is a particular form of co-op that’s been developed that allows small or medium producers to pool their capital to purchase machinery and to use it jointly. It doesn’t have exactly the form that you’re talking about, which is this kind of bond issue, which is a very interesting idea, I’d love to see that applied.  The other idea I liked was trying to minimize a management class, within these systems. I know this varies from co-op to co-op and federation to federation, but I do know that in these kinds of shared pool systems of both capital and equipment, that the organizations that are put in place for the management of these systems are, by comparison to other forms of control, much more lean and accountable because they are accountable to boards of directors that represent the interests of the members. But I take your point around that. So, very interesting idea.

The second point that comes to my mind is around this tension that you described within the left, and among activists. It’s a tension around their relationship to the idea of the market, and to capital for that matter. I’ve run into this repeatedly among social change activists who immediately recoil at the notion of thinking about markets and capital, as part of their change agenda.

I think what was most revelatory to me around the cooperative movement was that I used to think of the same way. The most important lesson I took from my contact with the cooperative movement was a complete rethinking of economics. I had thought previously, like so many, that economics is basically a bought discipline, and that it serves the interests of existing elites. I really had a kind of reaction against that. When I saw and understood that cooperatives were another form of economics, a popular form of economics, it completely shifted my perception around what social change entails, with respect to the market. One of the things I think we really have to do is to recapture the initiative around vocabulary, and vision, with respect to economics.

Dmytri: Absolutely.

John: And a key part of that is reimagining and reinterpreting, for a popular and common good, the notion of market and capital. And that’s what cooperatives, among other kinds of systems, do. They reclaim the market. I think that’s a fundamental task, in terms of educating and advocating for a vision of social change that isn’t just about politics, and isn’t just about protest, it has to be around how do we reimagine and reclaim economics, and how do we develop forms where markets actually belong to communities and people, not just to corporations. Traditionally markets were not just a property of corporations and companies, and capital wasn’t just an accumulated wealth for the rich. Capital can be commons capital, it can be a commons market, and we need to come up with forms and models that actually realize that in practice, and that’s what the peer-to-peer movement is, that’s what the cooperative movement is, and we need to find ways of conjoining those two.

Dmytri: I agree.

FLOKSociety invertigator, Janice Figueredo

Michel: I agree too, and I think this is a really nice way to start our conclusion, just to make another reference to the project here in Ecuador. I think in many countries now, there are ministries of the social economy, of the solidarity economy, but they’re always seen as kind of marginal add-ons. I think what we’re potentially  talking about here is to make the social economy hyper-productive, hyper-competitive, hyper-cooperative. The paradox is that capital already knows this. Capital is investing in these peer production projects, and cooperatives are not yet massively turning that way, so this is what we have to achieve. Part of the proposal of the FLOK society project in Ecuador will be to get that strategic reorganization to make the social economy strategic, not just as an add-on to an existing neoliberal format. I think we’ve pretty much finished, but I just wanted to mention that the end of our discussion in the bar, I proposed that the P2P foundation, which has a co-op, would also try to create a seed form for what Dmytri proposes. I hope that they weren’t drunk when they were saying that, but John and Dmitri actually said they would cooperate (laughter). So, KMO, maybe you have a last question? I think that we’re nearly at the end of the allotted time.

KMO, host of the C-Realm Podcast

KMO: Well, we are at the end of the allotted time, I have been taking notes and I have a lot of questions (laughter). What I’ll have to do is get each of you on Skype individually in the coming weeks, and put my questions to you one-on-one, because I think that there’s at least three episodes worth of questions that I have here.

Michel: Yes, it’s very dense and I apologize to your listeners, l hope it wasn’t sleep inducing! but this is strategic, we’re talking about the DNA of the system, and I think that’s why it’s so important that we had this occasion to actually talk together and compare our perspectives.

KMO:  Well, I’m very happy to of been a party to it, and I’m looking forward to re-listening, because I know I’ll be taking a lot more information from the recording that you’ve made as as I listen to it and edit it for a one-hour podcast. Dmytri Kleiner, Michel Bauwens, and John Restakis, thank you very much for all the work you’re doing, and for participating on the C-Realm Podcast.

Michel: I also want to thank Bethany Horne, for facilitating this encounter, and Clara Robayo from Radialistas.net


Guerrilla Translation/Related:Venture Communism and Technological Miscommunication: a Conversation with Dmytri Kleinerhttps://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/globalp2p-e1383342891247.png#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the NetBernardo Gutiérrez


This trancription has also been published at:

Venture Communism and Technological Miscommunication: a Conversation with Dmytri Kleiner

https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/dmytri-kleiner_main1.jpgKMO, from the C-Realm Podcast, interviews Dmytri Kleiner

This interview with Dmytri Kleiner, conducted by KMO for his C-Realm Podcast, was transcripted by Guerrilla Translation at KMO’s request. The audio was, unfortunately, unusable for the podcast because of background noise, but the resulting interview was too good to not to share. The following is re-posted from the C-Realm blog

KMO: You are listening to the C-Realm Podcast, I am your host, KMO, and I’m speaking with Dmytri Kleiner, venture capitalist and miscommunications technologist. Dmytri, welcome to the C-Realm Podcast.

Dmytri: Thank you, but that’s “venture communist.”

KMO: Did I say “capitalist?”

Dmytri: [chuckles] It’s an easy mistake.

KMO: You know, I’ve read the phrase “venture communist” several times in the past few hours in preparing for this interview, and yeah… it just rolled out “venture capitalist,” didn’t it?

Dmytri: [chuckles]

KMO: So, Dmytri Kleiner, “Venture Communist” – what does that mean?

Dmytri: Well, it’s sort of the name of a research project I started awhile ago. My background comes from the social justice movement of the 90s. I was part of some of the kinds of hacker groups that eventually became things like Indymedia, and stuff that we called technology affinity groups. At that time there was something going on called the dotcom boom, that you probably remember. A lot of us who were part of these hacker affinity groups supporting activist projects were working for these dotcoms.

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Dmytri Kleiner

As the social justice movement began to fade, along with the dotcom boom itself going into bust, it became very clear to me that this was very problematic. These truly liberating and revolutionary communication platforms were not going to be funded by capital. And so, if venture capital wasn’t going to fund them, then we needed some other way to fund them. This is where the term originates from. It originates from the simple aversion to venture capital. If venture capital won’t fund what we need to do, then we have to create venture communism. And so, venture communism itself began as a research project. And over time, there has been some development of the concept, but I usually mean the term in the very broad sense. I have my own proposals that you’ll find in the manifesto and other texts for what approaches to venture communism might look like, or what a venture communism may be like, but I also use the term in a very broad sense that could include other ways of collectively forming the communication capital that we need.

KMO: I’ll just tell you a little bit about my relationship to capitalism and the dotcom period. I worked in customer service for Amazon.com from 1996 to 1998 and got some pretty decent stock options. When I sold them, I made more money with one phone call than I did in all the rest of my life selling my labor by the hour. I made that one call to the brokerage and said, “Exercise all of my options and sell the shares,” and I got about $660,000 with that call.

Dmytri: Wow…

KMO: Had I waited and made the call six weeks later, I would have made about $3 million.

Dmytri: Oh, wow.

KMO: And in hindsight, I’m so glad I didn’t wait. The money let me do what I wanted to do for many years, but then it ran out. By then I had moved to Arkansas where I was trying to start a homestead farm. That’s where I was living when I ran out of money and had to go back to work in my mid-30s, with a nearly decade-sized gap in my resume. There was not a lot of opportunity, really, in Berryville, Arkansas, in the early aughts. Well, I had a big change of heart, because, before that, I had been very much libertarian, politically. I had been a techno-utopian, a trans-humanist, and a Singularitarian. Those are meme complexes that tend to attract one another.

Dmytri: Sure.

KMO

KMO: Rarely are trans-humanists particularly critical of capitalism, or even cognizant that there might be something to criticize. And so, having to basically start again in my mid-30s, working really horrible jobs in sales – I started selling cell phones, and then I got into insurance, which is a really, really ugly business – my political views changed, and eventually my techno-utopian views gave way as well.

Now, I’m actively critical of capitalism. But I’m trying to articulate that criticism in such a way that it does not trigger an automatic ideological, reflexive rejection of what I have to say. Because, for so many people in this country, particularly in the middle of the country, the word “capitalism” just means “our side.” It represents everything that is right and good. Capitalism is synonymous with prosperity, and communism means totalitarian, evil dictatorship that brings austerity, and slavery. So, I’m trying to be very careful with my terms, but let me encourage you to say as much good as you can about the concepts of communism and peer to peer networks.

Dmytri: Well, I never imagined myself to be speaking to the masses or making an argument to the masses. From the beginning, I always considered myself to be an artist and to be somebody who had technological skills that could be of use to activist movements. So, I was never particularly concerned with the words that I used, and actually, I’ve always been rather attracted to strong or provocative language from “pirate” to “hacker” to “communist.” But, actually, now that I have, over the years, taken on a more “contributing to theory” kind of a role, I think that it’s quite important to continue using the word “communism”.

When I had my post-social justice, post-dotcom disillusionment, I started really engaging on a lot of forums where actual economists and political theorists participate. A little bit outside of the hacker community, in this sort of infoshop politics of “reclaim the streets,” and one thing that really frustrated the people that I was communicating with was that I wasn’t using any kind of language they recognized.

When you work in any kind of technical field, whether it’s computers, whether it’s politics, whether it’s economics, there is an established dialogue going on, and if you use the language that everybody else is using, that makes it a lot easier to communicate, to share ideas, and to really be very precise about what arguments you’re making. And so, I learned that I should understand the classical language, and that I should be able to use it.

A lot of people who like my work over the years that come from similar backgrounds as yourself, and they were reluctant to use the word “communism.” They would say, “Ah, this sounds really interesting, I like what you’re saying, but do we have to use that word? That word is so horrible and off-putting”. But, actually, that word connects you to hundreds of years of research and struggle and theory that goes far deeper and far broader than my own work does. So, by not just making up some random word – like what was it, “venture community-ism” was one of them, and other kinds of things – and by sticking to the word “communism,” it might connect you to that theory as well.

Another thing I think is really important is to understand that anything can go wrong. Anything can go badly. So even if we make up new words, it doesn’t mean that we will somehow protect ourselves from possible negative outcomes. By using the word “communism,” it is implicitly understood that negative outcomes are possible, because we have actually seen them. In using that word, we do it without naïveté. We use it with the understanding that it’s not necessarily problem-free.

KMO: I heard you say in a presentation, that when you use the word “communism,” you are talking about a theoretical society; one that has no historical example.

Dmytri: That’s true, but there are historical examples of people who tried to achieve it.

KMO: But there has never been a nation-state that embodied communism in the way that you’re describing it.

Dmytri: Well, there’s never been a nation-state that claimed to have achieved communism.

KMO: I think that’s an important point that American audiences in particular would find unfamiliar. Here, the Soviet Union is held up as the archetypal example of communism.

Dmytri: Right, but not a single leader of the Soviet Union would ever have claimed to have achieved communism.

KMO: I have been reading your “Telekommunist Manifesto,” and there’s one sentence from early in the manifesto that I think we could probably spend the rest of our time together just unpacking. So, let me read that, I’ll even read it twice, and then I’ll ask that you explain it piece by piece. You wrote, “The Internet started as a network that embodied the relations of peer-to-peer communism. However, it has been reshaped by capitalist finance into an inefficient and unfree client-server topology”.

So, let’s start with just the first part. “The Internet started as a network that embodied the relations of peer to peer communism”. Say more about that.

Dmytri: Well, for many of us in activist circles, in hacker circles in the 90s and some even before (that had access), the Internet didn’t just represent a new technology. It represented something that could have very broad social and political implications, in that, when you use the technology, especially the classic platforms of the Internet, – email, IRC, USENET, and the original classic platforms of the Internet – they didn’t mediate between users. All communication between users was based on mutual configurations. So therefore, if your computer and my computer agreed to exchange information with each other, we could do that without the mediation. Every intermediary node operated under the end-to-end principle, and just allowed us to communicate as if we were talking directly to each other. So this was very much a society of equals.

The “classic Internet” had this kind of ethos of sharing, like we really believed at that time that the Internet was uncensorable. We had this idea because of the topology, and because of the peer-to-peer nature of the communication tools we were using. But of course, what we didn’t fully realize back then, is that this Internet was very tiny.

The “classic Internet” had this kind of ethos of sharing, like we really believed at that time that the Internet was uncensorable. We had this idea because of the topology, and because of the peer-to-peer nature of the communication tools we were using. But of course, what we didn’t fully realize back then, is that this Internet was very tiny. It felt big to us, but it was really very tiny. It was mostly developed by universities, by NGOs, by the military, and other organizations, and the people developing it were developing it for use value, which is an important distinction in economics.

The people who were making things like email, make USENET, like IRC and Finger, were not making them so they could sell them for exchange. They were making them in order to use them. So it really embodied a communist ethic of “from each to each.” The people creating technology wanted to use and share it with everyone that needed it.

But of course, this can’t scale very much, in order for a communication system to be used by the billions of people on the planet, it can’t be entirely made by university students, NGOs and some military contractors. When the Internet became commercialized, it became commercialized by venture capital, and venture capital invests money not for use value but for exchange value. This means that when a venture capitalist provides money, he or she does so under the pretext that they will make more money in return. This is different from a use value Internet. It becomes an exchange value Internet. In order to capture exchange value, the network had to become less free. An internet that allows users to do whatever they want presents very limited opportunities for capitalists to earn profit.

In order to charge prices, communications could be centralized through areas where prices can be charged. And so, there you have the re-architecture of the Internet from what it was back then, based on peer-to-peer software like e-mail, IRC, USENET, Finger, and so forth, to what eventually became called social media, or, briefly, Web 2.0, which is where web applications were developed to mimic the kinds of interactions people were having on the real peer-topeer social media platforms of the early Internet, but in a client-server fashion reminiscent of the original capitalist online platforms like CompuServe, and the original AOL, where all users connected through a central point. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and other sorts of things used this same model, and by doing so, they were able to make a profit model based on the capture of user data and control of user interaction.

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Dmytri Kleiner

KMO: This will be a little bit of an aside, but just for my own personal curiosity, when I first started using the Internet, I was a graduate student at the University of Missouri in the early 1990s, and I used IRC, email and USENET, and I also got into listserv discussion groups, but I’m not familiar with Finger, what is Finger?

Dmytri: Finger is like status updates, you have a text file in your home directory, two text files actually, .project and .plan, and you could put your status updates in there, like you might do on Twitter now and then people could check what you are doing.

KMO: Hm, I wonder how I missed it?

Dmytri: You probably had one. People could Finger you.

KMO: Would you say what you mean when you describe the current state of the Internet as being, “an unfree, client-server topology”?

A free, open source, distributed micro-bloggin platformDmytri: Yes. That is because the current state of the Internet is based on big, centralized services like Facebook, but that’s not all that’s possible. You can still use Finger on the modern Internet as long as you still have TCP/IP to the house, which is, of course, not guaranteed. For one of Telekommunisten’s artworks in 2010 we made a clone of Twitter. It was a microblog based on Finger to show that these ideas have been around since the beginning of the Internet and that the kinds of things being made by modern social media platforms aren’t new in the sense of what kind of use of media they are proposing. The only thing that’s new about them is how they want to capture profits. Finger has existed since the 70s in a distributed fashion that nobody could make a profit on because nobody could control it. Twitter is, of course, very central. It requires millions and millions of dollars in funding. Because it can capture lots of data it can make a business model around monetizing that data and selling it to advertisers and other parties.

KMO: And later in your manifesto, you wrote, “No social order, no matter how entrenched and ruthlessly imposed, can resist transformation when new ways of producing and sharing emerge”.

Dmytri: Right.

KMO: And yet, new ways of producing and sharing did emerge with the early Internet, tools which you described as being very peer-to-peer and communist in structure. And yet it was resisted. That transformation was seemingly hijacked and redirected toward things that are very favorable to the preservation of inequality, a class system and commoditized art, and all the distasteful aspects of the modern Internet.

Dmytri: Well, that’s because, as I elaborate more in the section that talks about peer production, Benkler and stuff like that, is that we haven’t actually achieved peer production on any kind of massive level. If you look at what happens with the early Internet and free software, you see that what was going on was not a new mode of production, but just a very unique kind of distribution of an existing form of production at its core. The problem with free software and free networks is that they can’t capture any exchange value as we discussed already. And so because they can’t capture any exchange value, they cannot finance their own material cost of the upkeep of the people that take care of them. The networks and the programmers and the engineers, and all the people that contribute to the development of free software and free networks need sustenance. And that sustenance, then and now, still comes from capitalism. That, I think, is the point. A true mode of production can’t be resisted, but we haven’t actually seen peer production emerge as a real, significant form of production. For that to happen, we have to have material assets in the commons as well as immaterial assets. So long as the composition of the commons is entirely immaterial, they will not be able to sustain its material upkeep.

The networks and the programmers and the engineers, and all the people that contribute to the development of free software and free networks need sustenance. And that sustenance, then and now, still comes from capitalism. That, I think, is the point. A true mode of production can’t be resisted, but we haven’t actually seen peer production emerge as a real, significant form of production.

KMO: Is there any point in trying to request that the state serve the ends of a peer-to-peer society, or is the state completely at odds with that by definition?

Dmytri: There are a number of threads in the overall strategy that I think are necessary. On one hand, we need venture communism, which means independent, federated entrepreneurship along communist principles. But on the other hand, the state does exist, and I believe that we can’t just imagine that we live in a future state-less society. We have to understand what the state provides now, and we have to struggle within the state as a theater of struggle as well, to get what we can out of it. So I would say yes, but that it really depends on where you are.

In principle, if you look at public funding for other kinds of media, like film, television, and movies, in many cases there’s been quite significant public involvement in the development of those media. So, do I think that there is the prospect for public involvement in funding of social media for a positive impact? Certainly, but, in an era where we’re still not out of the neoliberal phase of history, in an era where governments don’t even want to pay for schools and housing and education and roads, the idea that they will suddenly become interested in paying for social media seems unlikely. So, it doesn’t seem to be a prospect that I have a lot of confidence will actually come about, though it could come about, and if it did, it could be positive. Perhaps, especially in areas that are trying to assert their independence from global neoliberalism, like South and Central America for instance, perhaps they will understand the public need to finance social media in the same way that they finance their broadcast media and their film media.

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Sousveillance. The Art of Inverse Surveillance February 8th – 9th, 2009, Aarhus University, Denmark.

KMO: Just last night, I was reading an essay by David Byrne, of the Talking Heads, about Spotify, streaming music, and the emerging situation in which all the money changing hands for streaming music is basically going to record labels. Not only are they selling the songs of their artists to the streaming services, but they are also in exchange, for the listing the music companies catalogs, they are getting a stake in services like Spotify, but that artists get very little, even though it is the creativity and passion of the artists whih create value of the end users. The contribution of the artists is absolutely vital and integral, but they get very little of the proceeds.

For example, this past summer, Daft Punk had a song that was so popular that even people who don’t pay follow the music business or make any effort to seek out new music would recognize it – “Get Lucky” is the song – and their Spotify revenues for this, which had been downloaded or streamed hundreds of millions of times, was $13,000 each. They are the megastars of streaming media right now, and the amount of money that they received was less than one would make flipping burgers at McDonald’s. And so, we’ve got this emerging structure where the assumption is that the artists themselves are expected to work a day job somewhere, and then, in their spare time, struggle and produce art which enriches corporations. I’m just wondering what way forward you can envision, and what’s actually worth the time and effort trying to bring it about, because I’m largely of the opinion that trying to request that corporations and governments stop their current collusion and help artists is probably a silly way to invest one’s energy, and I’m wondering about a viable way forward.

Dmytri: I think, in most places, I would agree. Though, as I said, I think in some places it’s more viable than others, but here in the Western world, I think that it wouldn’t be the best use of energy. You had John McChesney on the program, and I’m sure that my view is not so different than his.

The answer, as it’s always been, has been the organization of workers towards ownership of the means of production. It’s no surprise to me that artists are being squeezed out of the profits made by Spotify and other online streaming corporations, because, you understand that artists are paid for their labor value, not the value of what they produce. The value of what is produced is captured by the people that own the means of production and distribution. They are the ones who are going to capture the value, so, unless artists own their own means of distribution and production, they can’t hope to capture the value that is so produced. So the only real way forward is to have not Spotify and iTunes, but organizations made up of the people who actually make the music involved in the production and distribution of media, and to have those owned by the workers themselves.

KMO: I understand that, but I find it an unsatisfying answer. (laughter)

Dmytri: Yeah, I know, it’s the same answer we’ve had for a couple of hundred years.

KMO: Yeah…

Dmytri: It’s not a sexy new answer, but, unfortunately the basic economics makes it so.

KMO: Well, the very central point of McChesney’s message is that we are approaching or perhaps in the midst of what he calls a “critical juncture,” which is a convergence of crises in which a disruptive new technology, a legitimacy crisis around current institutions and economic turmoil all come together. When that happens, we get a moment where there is a possibility to make institutional changes which are sweeping and long-lasting, and it seems that our side, so to speak, is not as focused on capturing the opportunity of that moment, that critical juncture, as the capitalists are. They seem quite poised to take advantage whenever these opportunities open up.

Dmytri: Of course. And, you know, that’s very difficult to combat, because they have the accumulated wealth to be able to weather the storms. So, in a way, crisis serves a role in capitalism as well. It allows the stronger capitalists to squeeze out the weaker capitalists, because capitalism is competition even among the capitalists. The capitalists aren’t only struggling against us, but also struggling against each other.

KMO: And so, it’s no good to try to become a sort of minor, beneficent capitalist, because the larger and sociopathic capitalists will just outcompete you and reduce you back to the worker who is paid not for the value of what he creates before his time, basically.

Dmytri: Absolutely, that’s right. And I think it’s important to understand that capitalism is not a choice for capitalists either, because if you’re capitalist and you invest your capital in such a way that it fails to create more capital, you cease to be a capitalist, right? So, capitalists are just as much trapped within the capitalist system as everybody else.

KMO: But it’s a much more well-appointed cage that they inhabit than most everybody else inhabits (laughter).

Dmytri: Certainly, but it’s not that even if any individual or bunch of individual capitalists suddenly had an epiphany and decided to abandon their exploitive ways, that that would be a threat to the system itself. That would only be the opportunity for other capitalists to squeeze them out.

KMO: Although it seems that the capitalists who had this emerging sense of consciousness and esprit de corps and identification with people and other classes of society, if they had this awakening moment, but they also realized what will happen if they act on it overtly, they might, if they were clever (and they must be clever to be where they are), continue to use the language which pacifies the other capitalists, while working subtly and behind the scenes to implement improvements and some movement toward social justice.

Dmytri: I don’t think language actually has much to do with it. I think the only people that are queasy about radical language are people who position themselves on the left, because they feel that being portrayed as a radical will weaken their position. I think that the people in power are not particularly concerned with language, and you can see that very often if you look at media campaigns. We’ve seen all kinds of revolutionary language, and even revolutionary figures from historical events used in advertising, used to promote and describe capitalist products. So, of course the film industry uses these themes and figures quite liberally, and it’s funded by capitalists.

I don’t think that the capitalist has to make a semantic argument to his peers, I think they have to be successful. I think, in the end, they have to capture profit. And it doesn’t matter how they capture the profit. If they do capture it, they become successful. And that’s also very interesting.

I don’t know if you’ve read any of the work that I’ve done on macroeconomics, which is much more recent than the manifesto. It still consists of just random blog articles rather than a more substantial text, but there are a couple of ideas that I’m fleshing out, and they don’t have names as catchy as “venture communism,” but I think that they’re interesting ideas. The great Polish economist, Michał Kalecki, created an equation to separate profit and consumption by class, which is to say, by workers profit and by capitalist profit. This equation allows you to see the relationship between capital and labor within the profit model. Using Kalecki’s equation as inspiration, I tried to take an approach where I look at modes.

https://i1.wp.com/networkcultures.org/wpmu/weblog/files/2010/10/Screen-shot-2010-10-21-at-14.00.10.pngOne major problem that I have with a lot of progressive theories that you hear casually within the anarchist community and the communist community is this idea that communism is something that happens in the future, that it suddenly happens as an epiphany, where societies are transformed magically from the old society to the new society, and everything is completely different. I don’t think that this is the case. I think we have communism right now, as well as capitalism right now. If you look at the kinds of relationships we have in our day-to-day lives, we have relationships that are ruled or dominated by exchange value, but we also have relationships that approach the communist relationships of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” “From each, to each”, as I like to summarize it. And we experience these relationships among our friends, within our families, within intentional communities, and also within some of the emerging peer-production forms, like free software and information sharing, and things like that.

What we have is multimodal environment, and I think we need to look at the economy as having multiple modes of production happening at all given times. I don’t think it should be our objective to try to figure out how we can flip from one to the other, but how we can increase the kinds of producing and sharing that we think are beneficial and want more of and decrease the amount of producing and sharing that happens at ways that we think are destructive and not beneficial, and that we want less of. We need value to flow from one mode to another, this is what I’m thinking of, inter-modal value flows.

What we have is multimodal environment, and I think we need to look at the economy as having multiple modes of production happening at all given times. I don’t think it should be our objective to try to figure out how we can flip from one to the other, but how we can increase the kinds of producing and sharing that we think are beneficial and want more of and decrease the amount of producing and sharing that happens at ways that we think are destructive and not beneficial, and that we want less of. 

One kind of these flows is something that I’m calling “substantiation”, which I’ve already been told is a horrible term. The idea of “substantiation” is that there are certain forms of investment that benefit individual members of a class, while hurting the class as a whole.

One example of substantiation is workers supporting capitalists when they buy capitalist securities in their pension funds. Individual workers that buy the securities could very well benefit, but the class doesn’t, because, overall, it cedes more power to capital. The capitalists take that investment and use it to expand capitalist control of the means of production and their own political strength. So, even though funds may benefit the individual workers who invested in them, they hurt workers as a class.

Now, I think that we can also find examples of things that are going the other way. I think free software for instance is a good example of that. If you are capitalist whose business depends on software as an input — in other words, you don’t sell software but you need software in order to produce whatever it is you produce — and you capture your profit elsewhere in the circulation of that final product, so capital is an input to your production, you therefore invest in free software, and by doing so you may yourself benefit, because you get help from the community and cheaper and better software to use in your own production. But, the capitalist class loses, because the sale of software licenses is broadly damaged, is lost as a way to make profit for the capitalist class. So, even though in both cases the individual members of the class are benefiting, this kind of value flow hurts the class in general. These are just a couple of examples of the kind of thinking we need to develop further. We need to figure out how value flows between the different modes that are existing at the same time within the contemporary economy, and what kinds of methods and institutions and practices can we introduce and promote that will cause value to flow from exploitive means to liberating means.

KMO: I think I follow you, but would you summarize your last line of reasoning?

Dmytri: I think that it’s helpful to think of the society that we live in as not being either capitalist or communist, in essence, that it’s helpful to think that within our society we have many modes of production going on at the same time. We have capitalism. We have communism. We have all kinds of hybrid and alternative forms going on. But we have a lot of different kinds of social relations. So, what we need to do is think about that in a compositional way. We need to think about what kinds of ways of producing and sharing are already going on right now, that we could develop more broadly, and how can we move and make value flow from the more exploitive modes to the more liberating modes.

This is what I was trying to get at with the idea of substantiation. These modes are coexisting and drawing off each other, and so just as much as we are benefiting the capitalists with our production, because everything that happens within commons-based production right now as being captured by capital, because the commons is still largely an immaterial commons. But likewise, by contributing to that immaterial commons, the capitalists are also helping us. So, value is flowing. We need to think strategically and ask how can we reduce the loss and maximize the gain. We need to conceptualize how to structure the kinds of productive forms which enable a sustained and positive long-term exchange away from capitalism.

KMO: Well, Dmytri Kleiner, it has been a pleasure talking to you, I look forward to future conversations, and thank you very much for participating on the C-Realm Podcast.

Dmytri: Very nice talking to you as well.

Medialab Prado: 10 Years of Social Innovation

The following article, written by our good friend Bernardo Gutiérrez, looks at MediaLab Prado, a very special hybrid space in our hometown, Madrid. This translation features additional original content by the author (not originally published in the Spanish media article), citing MediaLab as one of the spaces where the initial gestalt of the early 15M movement was collaboratively created. It has subsequently been republished in Shareable magazine, and the website for The 2013 Economics and the Commons Conference.

MediaLab PradoImage adapted from an original at Nómada Blog

It seems that “lab” is the word making the rounds amongst innovation buffs these days . Maybe the term “laboratory” isn’t the most appropriate analog, given that its dictionary definition, “a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific research, experiments, and measurement may be performed”, falls short in describing the present day use of “lab”, and what these spaces are about.

This divergence of terms originated with the foundation of the first Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in 1985, a space characterized by its convergence of technology, multimedia art and design. However, in recent years, MIT’s model seems obsolete and at a standstill, especially when compared to a newer and more relevant generations of labs. Madrid’s MediaLab Prado, currently celebrating its tenth anniversary at a new location -la Serrería Belga– stands out as the premier reference points for labs worldwide.

So, what is a lab, exactly? A technical laboratory? A multidisciplinary space open to the public? Rather than nailing down one definition, it may be better to observe some of these labs worldwide, and notice the local idiosyncrasies. Any city eager to reinvent itself and adapt to the networked society invests in an urban lab, such as the Laboratorio Procomún in Rosario, Argentina. Cultural centers like, for example, Ljudmila Media Lab (Liubliana, Slovenia) are currently mutating into places where the artistic paradigm goes beyond art objects.  Digital art spaces, such as the prestigious Eyebeam in New York, are recycling themselves following collaborative models. All of the above share a common source of inspiration: Medialab Prado Madrid.

This could likely be said about many other institutions, labs, universities and cultural centres around the world. Any city would be proud to host something like a Medialab Prado. What is it about this media lab’s DNA that makes it so desirable in areas as diverse as technological innovation, culture and civic participation?

Captura-de-pantalla-2013-04-18-a-las-07.12.11The key to MediaLab Prado’s success may be held in a definition first proposed by José Luis de Vicente: “it’s a community incubator”. In fact, both words, “community” and “incubator”, have been the trend amongst Silicon Valley circles and community managers alike. It’s also worth noting that, as terms, they are seldom seen together. And, as Juan Freire and Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí express in their book “Manifiesto Crowd”, in the age of networks, innovation walks a different path. “The factories that were churning out companies in the 20th century are dead. The 21st century is witness to the birth of spaces for collective innovation”. An incubator lacking a community will never be enough. This is the reason why a lab – both in its physical and digital realms – needs to be an open platform. And that is precisely why MediaLab Prado has become such a a relevant space for coexistence, innovation and mutual co-creation.

MediaLab Prado is both a physical and a digital platform. Physically, it’s a space where anyone can walk in, while online it functions as a laboratory for connecting ideas. MediaLab Prado is an interdisciplinary workspace for creation and innovation. And here’s an important detail: its strength doesn’t reside in its own programming, put together by stewards and specialists. It lies instead in the various working groups, projects and encounters collectively cooked up by the citizen communities who frequent Medialab’s headquarters, or participate in its digital channels. Every Friday, for example, there’s an open lab where anyone can collaborate with anyone else in the creation of new projects.

Another defining feature is its focus on prototyping – another digital culture and IT term. Prototyping culture doesn’t seek definitive or finished products; instead, it prefers to function in a transparent and collective  manner, employing open projects in a constant, citizen-fueled process of improvement. All in all, MediaLab Prado has become a catalyst for culture, technology, networks, science, education, and innovation.

Evidently, MediaLab Prado’s official areas of competence are both necessary and relevant. Interactivos? (a laboratory for creative and educative technological applications) Visualizar (data and citizenship visualization) or its Commons Lab (transversal investigation centered on the Commons) are clear international reference points. Additionally, self managed working groups, such as “Funcionamientos: Diseños abiertos y remezcla social” (Functioning: Open design and social remixes) or “Género y Tecnología” (Genre and Tech) are just as influential. MediaLab Prado cannot simply be described as a  “Cultural Centre”, as it is so much more than a building populated with works of art or technological infrastructures. It’s a connector, a hub, a platform for the collective intelligence that is transforming industry, economics, technology, education and art throughout the whole planet.

In fact, it’s been one of the citizen hubs where civic activism slowly forged the 15-M/ Indignado movement that heralded Occupy Wall Street and the global revolution. To give an example, in early 2011, while Spanish mass-media ignored collectives such as Democracia Real Ya or Juventud sin Futuro, the Redada Encounters in MediaLab Prado transformed an incumbent and collective -as opposed to hierarchical- form of web activism into a palpable phenomenon. Open code practices, now essential to modern activism, have always been central to MediaLab Prado.

Serreria Belga

The challenges in this new chapter in MediaLab Prado’s history are undoubtedly many. One of the most important will be channeling corporate innovation and navigating new economic paradigms. At a time in which The Economist, no less, dedicates its front page to the sharing economy, MediaLab Prado is in a better position than many. By developing its own trajectory, it could well become a great catalyst for the future networks of innovation, open culture and citizen intelligence that will soon be needed in Europe. In fact, connections established within MediaLab Prado in these last few years have given rise to projects and citizen start-ups such as MLP, Play the Magic, Open Materials, Hackteria, Lummo, Muimota, Máster DIWO, Ultralab and Data Citizen Driven City, amongst many others. Certain working groups, like IoT Madrid (Internet de las Cosas) or exhibitory projects such as Impresoras 3D: Makerbot y Reprap clearly lead the way to the future.

Living at a time when most of the world’s population is concentrated in cities, urban innovation may well be MediaLab Prado’s greatest challenge. It’s no coincidence that some of the most influential labs in the world, such as CityLab in Cornellà, Barcelona or the BMW Guggenheimlab in New York, are focusing their efforts on urban innovation. This is the reason why Medialab Prado’s new location at the heart of historic Madrid is so essential. Its urban vocation is most evident in working groups such as Ciudad y Procomún, the new Ciencia Ciudadana (Citizen Science) station or projects like Hacer barrio or Quality Eggs.

The history of Barrio de las Letras -or “writer’s district”- where Medialab Prado is currently located, is another key facet. The scientific institutions of the 18th Century were responsible for the first major developmental push in Madrid, which then led to the expansion of Barrio de las Letras. During this time, the city witnessed the construction of the Botanical Garden, the Astronomical Observatory, the Academy of the Sciences (which now houses the Prado Museum) and the General Hospital (currently housing the Reina Sofía Museum) and the “Gabinet de Máquinas” a demolished Industrial Engineering museum from that era and situated quite close to the old Army Museum. All of this frantic building activity took place in less than 3 decades. MediaLab Prado´s new location in the Serrería Belga, an old abandoned industrial building, is another telling metaphor of an industrial era that left so many urban carcasses in its wake.

In summary, the conversion of an old,  abandoned, industrial space into an citizen innovation lab in the same area where literature and science flourished in centuries past, is a promising metaphor indeed. MediaLab Prado is one of the closest examples of the new Partner State proposed by Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. A State which guarantees the necessary space and resources to activate a P2P society’s collective intelligence for the improvement of the Commons.

The Path to the RealWorld™

@Ciudadano_Zer0

“World War III will be a global information war with no division between civilian and military participation.” (Marshall McLuhan, 1970)

My associates at Informa’t! BCN have proposed that I write about the War and the Internet. How online communication is changing offline politics and, specifically, how social media is structuring new forms of social conflict in the wake of the #15M Movement. In other words, they’re asking me how these “get-a-job you dirty hippie!” types go about waging their digital war. How, lacking any means, you can conquer, hold and make use of the political hegemony these social movements, the opponents to the Spanish regime and pro-democracy activists, have on the Internet.

Enthusiasts of the Internet as both political tool and battlefield, and I count myself among them, are fond of making grand statements such as: “this will change everything”, “it’s tyranny’s greatest nightmare”, or “the Internet is not just a tool, it is an epoch in history”, convinced that it’s the greatest weapon that we — those at the bottom — have ever had to defend democracy and defeat the enemy. The Internet is what Lawrence of Arabia must have been dreaming about all along. But observing the effects, day after day, isn’t enough. There’s a parallel struggle wherein we, day after day, have yet to convince our analogue colleagues and sceptics alike that these effects are not only real, but that what happens on the Internet doesn’t just stay on the Internet.

In daily practice, or at least in my daily practice, this is the digital divide that worries activists to no end, and this is what the debate is all about. There are two spaces: Internet and the RealWorld™, and many perceive them as discrete, separate compartments. Dividing them, they must imagine an unbridgeable chasm “while not everyone has Internet access”. In my opinion, this argument is the equivalent of what, in an old-style conflict, would have been expressed as: “stop using radio communications, not everyone has a radio receiver”.

I suspect that “Taking our fight to the streets and away from the keyboard” or “Forget about Twitter, come out to the streets” are just slogans. Are you telling me these people don’t know that there’s Internet on the streets too? How do they think anyone’s going to know about what’s going on at street level if there’s no one to tweet about it?

Then there’s those who say that people tend to stay at home because they can watch the protests streamed directly to the comfort of their living rooms. Do you think they’ve noticed that their argument is suspiciously similar to the one often repeated by the musical industry? That every time you download a song, that’s a song you haven’t paid for?

Me, I think that the Internet is an unbeatable way to get to people who don’t have Internet. That’s the way it’s always been, from the origins of marketing and in two-step flow of communication theory, and that’s how it should be in guerrilla marketing. Fashion campaigns aren’t geared to influence boys and girls, but to influence boys and girls who influence boys and girls. Political marketing campaigns don’t seek to convince voters, but to convince voters who convince voters.

Pizarro 1 didn’t know how to read. But Cortés’ strategy was read to him, he cloned it and that was his grand tactical advantage. In the same manner, parents keeping their offspring away from the influence of television by disallowing them to watch television don’t realise that TV’s influence on the child originates with his peers, not the TV set. That’s how culture and human social behaviour work, and that’s how they’ve always worked. We live within networks because we’ve evolved within networks. Regardless of whether you’re connected to the Internet or not, the culture you live in is connected to the Internet, as a fish is connected to water.

Ideas change the world. I know this because I’m monitoring it in real time, day in, day out: Some ideas are born on a Saturday at 5 a.m. in that seedy, but authentic, dive that is 4chan. The following day, a few discuss the idea in the skyscrapers of Reddit as they work in their offices. Someone who’s seen it hoists it up to the cover of Menéame 2. Once past the bottleneck of Menéame’s shantytown filters, it automatically spreads over the vast fields of Twitter. That same night, it will be all over the walls of the suburbs of Facebook, where more people will see it than in any of the previous stops. Staying there is not the objective, though. If you only make it up to here, you’re not achieving true virility, just a very broad type of endogamy, but endogamy all the same. You still have to get to the RealWorld™, because that’s where the rest of the world is.

When you see the idea has spread to WhatsApp 3 groups, you’ll know it’s just about made it. There’s one last stop: the old and eternal email chain letters that serve as the gateway to the Internet. Everybody who’s on the Internet has an email account. Congratulations! You’ve now arrived at the RealWorld™ by making the reverse journey from the Internet. The idea you’ve fought for has triumphed over its enemies. People are talking about it in the street and down at the bar.

There’s shortcuts. For example, we can take an aspect of our agenda via Twitter (whether its healthcare, education, housing, rights, democracy…) and make it leap from the Internet to paper media in one step. We’re obviously not using Twitter just to spread memes amongst Twitter users. Getting a Trending Topic has never been the objective, the objective is to rewrite the agenda. That’s a shortcut we take every day. There’s another shortcut between Menéame and TV newsrooms. I’d like to write about all of this in another occasion.

Depending on the idea and the strategy, traversing this route can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few years, but I’ve always observed a marked constancy along the way. If there’s a divide between the Internet and RealWorld™ it isn’t more insurmountable than the divide between Twitter or Facebook, or the English speaking or Latino blogospheres, to give a couple of examples.

It was all over in Barcelona on the #15J, 2011, at 1600 hours 4. We had fallen into the trap. Mass media had criminalised the protest in Parlament and public opinion had shunned our action. By 1500 we had been wiped from the streets and were at the keyboards, desperately deploying for a last ditch computer counterattack. By 1900, this video was out. Just minutes after making the front page of Menéame, it spread over Twitter and, within the hour, started getting plastered all over the walls of Facebook. The next morning I overheard two old people talking about the video at the entrance to the supermarket. I don’t know how it happened, but I can guess: Not every person in the world is on the Internet, but every person on the Internet is out in the world. Simply put, those pensioners live with people who are connected, and that’s more than enough. Not only did we make it through that day but, since then, and going through #QueSoyCompañeroCoño 5, the concept of the provocateur has gone beyond protest circles and is now part of global political culture. It’s an example of an idea that made it.

In my opinion, the RealWorld™ is just another layer. But, out of all the interfaces, it’s the one with most users, more bandwidth, better graphics, and it’s the only one in which you can have a beer.

http://informatbcn.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/nodosmultinivel.pngMap of the descent to the RealWorld™ as imagined by @toret Source: DatAnalysis15m

1. [Francisco Pizarro, 16th century Spanish conquistador best known for his conquest of Perú, and for initiating the decline of Inca culture. See here for more.]

2. [Basically, a Spanish take on Reddit’s system of upvoting stories and links. Here’s their site.]

3. [Whatsapp is an instant messaging smartphone application that’s insanely popular in Spain. See here for more.]

4. [On June 15th, 2011, thousands of protesters in Barcelona physically blocked access to the Catalonian Parliament where a series of austerity cuts were about to be voted on. See here for more.
]

5. [Hashtag which, translated, means, “I’m one of yours”. It refers to a viral video of an infiltrating policeman, dressed up as a violent protestor and getting arrested during the 25th September 2012 protests in Madrid while he pleads his allegiance. See this article for more.]