Tagged: Direct Democracy

Occupy, la deuda y los límites históricos del capitalismo

Arthur de Grave y Benjamin Tincq entrevistan a David Graeber

Es ineludible pagar las deudas contraídas… ¿no es así? David Graeber, antropólogo y figura destacada dentro del movimiento Occupy, cree que es hora de cuestionar la validez de este planteamiento moral. Graeber propone una nueva perspectiva sobre la deuda y recupera el concepto del jubileo de la deuda.

Conocido –a su pesar– como “antropólogo anarquista”, David Graeber fue uno de los primeros partícipes de Occupy Wall Street, donde creó el proyecto de Strike Debt (Tacha la Deuda), descrito por la revista Shareable como “el primer rescate financiero P2P”. Desde entonces se ha unido a la facultad de antropología de la London School of Economics. ¿Has oído hablar de los “curros inútiles”? Graeber acuñó el término en un artículo que se ha vuelto viral en las últimas semanas, y que se ha traducido a más de 14 idiomas.

En su libro “En deuda: Una historia alternativa de la economía”, Graeber analiza los fundamentos básicos del sistema económico actual, basado en la deuda y el crédito, y presenta un análisis tan perturbador como influyente en la red. Al igual que Charles Eisenstein, Graeber está redefiniendo nuestras nociones sobre el capitalismo, la deuda y el dinero, y proponiendo alternativas para un sistema mejor.

La mayoría de los economistas creen que los sistemas económicos de la antigüedad se basaban en el trueque. Tú, sin embargo, argumentas lo contrario.

¡Exactamente! Todo el mundo conoce el relato del trueque primitivo. La primera persona en divulgarlo fue Adam Smith. Tampoco le podemos echar la culpa, dado que por aquella época no contaba con ningún tipo de información etnográfica fiable sobre las dinámicas sociales y monetarias de estas sociedades. Sus teorías sobre el trueque y el intercambio directo estaban basadas en sus propias deducciones: la gente llamaba la puerta del vecino y decía: “Te voy a dar veinte gallinas a cambio de esa vaca, diez cabezas de flecha por ese arado…”. Evidentemente, en una economía como la que describe Smith, no tardarías en toparte con un gran problema: ¿qué pasa si nadie quiere tus gallinas? Así, transacción tras transacción, el dinero emergió gradualmente para resolver ese problema de falta de liquidez.

Es un cuento muy bonito pero tiene un problema: ¡es totalmente falso! Asume que las comunidades tienden a comerciar con lo que los economistas han dado en llamar “transacciones inmediatas” y entre desconocidos. No hay ningún tipo de crédito. Al examinarlo detenidamente veremos que es absurdo: digamos que tu vecino tiene una vaca que necesitas para un festín mientras que tú no tienes nada que ofrecerle… en ese momento. Pero bueno, dado que es tu vecino, lo más lógico es que tarde o temprano tengas algo que le sea de utilidad. Ahora todos sabemos que le debes algo, y puede que regrese un año más tarde para reclamarte una vaca, o incluso pedirte que tu hija se case con su hijo. De hecho, te podría pedir cualquier cosa y existen muchos motivos por los que al vecino le conviene que estés endeudado con él. Lo que encontramos en estas comunidades pequeñas son series de deudas informales. Distintos tipos de deuda y jerarquías de favores. Lo único que no vas a encontrar es un equivalente matemático exacto y esto último es lo que caracteriza al dinero.

 El trueque normalmente surge cuando se agota el dinero en comunidades acostumbradas a utilizar dinero en metálico.

Graeber

David Graeber

En conclusión, el problema no tiene que ver con que el dinero proceda del trueque, dado que el trueque normalmente tiene lugar entre personas que jamás volverán a verse. El quid de la cuestión es: ¿por qué tipo de proceso se empiezan a cuantificar estas series de deudas informales? ¿En qué contexto empiezan las personas a realizar cálculos matemáticos para obtener equivalencias perfectas? En situaciones potencialmente violentas. Imagínate una pelea de bar donde le cortan la oreja a alguien. Los códigos de conducta de las sociedades pre-estatales a menudo contaban con plazos y condiciones muy detalladas para el pago de multas por haber roto una nariz, cortado una oreja, herido una pierna, etc. En estos casos las multas impiden que se cometan otros actos violentos. Es un contexto en el que la gente exige exactamente lo que se le debe. Si alguien mata a tu hermano y no tienes muchas ganas de perdonarle, el código legal dice que te debe veinticinco vacas, pero puede darse el caso de que no tenga suficientes vacas para pagarte. Llegados aquí, vas a exigir un equivalente exacto con el que empezar a hacer cálculos.

Históricamente hablando, así es como creemos que emergió el dinero. El mito tradicional es falso: de hecho, en los primeros recuentos históricos sobre sistemas monetarios complejos de la antigua Mesopotamia, lo que hallamos es un sistema de crédito. Los sumerios no tenían balanzas lo suficientemente precisas como para pesar pequeñas cantidades de dinero; nadie llegaba al mercado con pepitas de metal. El crédito era lo más habitual dentro de las transacciones normales. El trueque normalmente surge cuando se agota el dinero en comunidades acostumbradas a utilizar dinero en metálico. La Rusia de los años noventa es buen ejemplo de ello.

En tu libro también dices que todas las revoluciones y movimientos sociales de la historia surgen a raíz de la deuda. Lo primero que hacían era destruir cualquier registro sobre la deuda. ¿Crees que estamos en una situación similar ahora mismo?

La verdad es que sí. Moses Finley dice que, desde la antigüedad, hay una demanda revolucionaria que es constante: cancelar la deuda y redistribuir las tierras. La página de We are the 99% llevó a cabo un estudio y esas eran las demandas más generalizadas. Ya no se trata tanto de exigencias radicales de autogestión o dignidad laboral, sino de la cancelación de las deudas y la devolución de los mecanismos básicos de sustento. Es como si la deuda hiciera las veces de foco moral para una rebelión, un foco con implicaciones radicales y capaz de movilizar coaliciones que no existirían en otras circunstancias.

Por un lado, la ideología de la deuda es una de las herramientas más poderosas jamás creadas para justificar situaciones de desigualdad exorbitante y, no sólo se les da un tamiz moralmente aceptable, sino que además hacen creer que la víctima tiene la culpa. Pero cuando todo estalle, estallará a lo grande. Ha ocurrido una y otra vez en la historia de la humanidad, y creo que este es uno de los aspectos más extraordinarios de Occupy Wall Street.

Por un lado, la ideología de la deuda es una de las herramientas más poderosas jamás creadas para justificar situaciones de desigualdad exorbitante y, no sólo se les da un tamiz moralmente aceptable, sino que además hacen creer que la víctima tiene la culpa.

Los estudiantes son uno de los colectivos más grandes dentro del movimiento y lo que vienen a decir es: “somos los niños buenos, pedimos un préstamo y estudiamos mucho para entrar en la universidad. Hemos seguido las reglas. Y aquí estamos. Pero  a nosotros no nos han rescatado. Por el contrario, los banqueros –los que nos han traicionado y mentido, además de destruir la economía mundial– se han beneficiado de un rescate gubernamental, mientras que nosotros vamos a pasar el resto nuestras vidas escuchando que somos una banda de vagos irresponsables porque les debemos dinero. ¡Eso no tiene ningún sentido!”

Más interesante aún es que hace 40 años ni un obrero ni un funcionario del transporte público se hubiesen hecho eco de los problemas de un estudiante universitario endeudado. Pero hace dos años comprobamos que la clase obrera apoyó a Occupy de forma masiva. Eso sólo se puede comprender entendiendo el poder que ejerce la deuda y el tipo de indignación que es capaz de suscitar. Facilita alianzas de clase que no habrían existido de otra manera. Tras el 2008, los ciudadanos estadounidenses se esforzaron al máximo por dejar atrás la deuda, pero hay dos categorías de deudas inextricables: los préstamos estudiantiles y las hipotecas basura. Tanto los estudiantes como los pobres de la clase obrera se encontraron en una situación relativamente parecida, y por eso formaron estos lazos de unión dentro del movimiento. ¡Así de poderosa es la deuda!

En la antigüedad, si no podías devolver una deuda podían forzarte a vender a tus hijos e hijas como esclavos. ¿Está esto relacionado con tu artículo sobre los “curros inútiles”?

Si alguien te contratara para lanzar una piedra por encima de un muro para, acto seguido, ir al lado contrario para tirarla de vuelta, y así durante todo el día, nos parecería absurdo. Pues resulta que casi todos nuestros trabajos son igual de inútiles. Cuando escribí el artículo sobre los “curros inútiles” estaba hablando hipotéticamente. Yo no trabajo en el sector corporativo pero cuando hablo con gente de ese sector les veo muy agobiados y de forma muy específica. ¡Pregúntale a cualquier abogado corporativo sobre su contribución a la sociedad! Parece que hay un tipo de trauma moral muy específico como consecuencia de tener un empleo que, en el fondo, sabes que ni siquiera debería existir. Hay millones y millones de personas atrapadas en esta situación. Curiosamente, me recuerda un poco al tipo de trabajos obligatorios e inútiles que se inventaban en la Unión Soviética –justo lo que, en teoría, jamás debería ocurrir en el capitalismo. Pero, aun así, se han inventado todos esos trabajos que ni siquiera deberían existir y la gente que los desempeña es plenamente consciente de ello.

En The Economist se ha criticado tu hipótesis.  Según ellos, estos trabajos sólo existen para gestionar la creciente complejidad de la economía global. ¿Cómo respondes a eso?

Mi respuesta es muy sencilla. Hay un ejemplo perfecto para contradecir su argumento: las universidades. Están añadiendo cada vez más cargos administrativos. Más decanos asistentes, más asesores de publicidad, etcétera. Si lo comparamos con cómo estaban las cosas hace 40 años, ahora tenemos cuatro veces esa cantidad de puestos administrativos. ¿Acaso la enseñanza es cuatro veces más complicada que antes? La producción no se ha vuelto más complicada, solamente hemos añadido más capas para repartir el botín. Estos trabajos inútiles son, en esencia, un tipo de renta: distribuimos parte de los beneficios de la extracción financiera a un grupo social que recibe un salario a cambio de aparentar que anda muy ocupado.

Una de las soluciones que propones es la organización de un jubileo de la deuda. ¿Cómo lograrlo en términos prácticos? ¿Cómo construir un nuevo sistema sin caer en los mismos errores?  

DebtCuando hablo de un jubileo de la deuda, lo veo más bien como una limpieza conceptual, no una solución práctica. Si nos damos cuenta de que el dinero no es más que un acuerdo social, podemos hacerlo desaparecer o volver a crearlo, hacer lo que nos dé la gana con él. Evidentemente, nadie elimina completamente todas las deudas. Siempre hay mecanismos que deben permanecer activos. Pero no me cabe la menor duda de que hay economistas profesionales capaces de proponer estrategias factibles: gente como Michael Hudson y Steve Keen ya han propuesto modelos concretos.

Evidentemente, tendríamos que mantener las pensiones. Uno de los aspectos más pérfidos del neoliberalismo es que coacciona a la gente a ser cómplice del sistema debido a la privatización de los fondos de pensiones. Tenemos que regresar al sistema de pensiones públicas. Pero eso son detalles técnicos que creo que podemos solventar si tenemos a la gente apropiada trabajando en ello. Los problemas económicos no son tan difíciles de resolver, aunque no se puede decir lo mismo de los políticos.

Si hablas con gente sincera de la clase dominante, verás que saben perfectamente que tarde o temprano habrá algún tipo de cancelación de la deuda. No hay manera de evitarlo.

Si hablas con gente sincera de la clase dominante, verás que saben perfectamente que tarde o temprano habrá algún tipo de cancelación de la deuda. No hay manera de evitarlo. La pregunta es: ¿cómo se va a realizar? ¿Será de forma honesta, donde los gobernantes admiten que van a cancelar las deudas, o van a encontrar alguna forma de ingeniárselas para volver a engañarnos? A lo largo de la historia hemos visto ejemplos de ambos. En la antigua Mesopotamia las cancelaciones de la deuda se empleaban a menudo para evitar estallidos sociales y preservar las estructuras básicas de la autoridad. Pero no olvidemos que la democracia griega y la República romana también fueron resultado de la quita de deudas. Es crucial que, en vez de discutir sobre si va a haber una cancelación de la deuda o no, hablemos sobre cómo va a llevarse a cabo.

En mi opinión, no hay manera de mantener el sistema financiero existente sin socavar los principios básicos del capitalismo. Creo que el capitalismo ha llegado a los límites de su potencial histórico. Lo único que me preocupa es que el siguiente sistema sea aún peor.

¿Crees que la descentralización del proceso de creación de dinero sería un buen punto de partida?

Ya hay mucha gente experimentando con monedas sociales y complementarias y veo en ello mucho potencial. Está claro que no es la única solución, pero me parece un elemento esencial dentro de cualquier solución. Antes de descartar el dinero por completo, creo que habría que experimentar con nuevos tipos de dinero. Jamás nos libraremos de él por completo. Pero si el dinero, en esencia, no es más que un cupón de racionamiento, creo que es preferible racionar lo menos posible y, como poco, eliminar el dinero en ciertos aspectos de la vida.

Pero el dinero está tan enraizado en nuestros cerebros…

La gente adopta distintas formas de dinero cuando no les queda otra: si el sistema monetario existente colapsa, hay que hacer algo. En épocas de quiebra económica puede pasar cualquier cosa.

A todo esto, ¿qué te parece la idea de una renta básica universal e incondicional para toda la ciudadanía?

La idea esencial detrás de la renta básica es que, dado que todos estamos produciendo valor constantemente, se vuelve necesario desligar el concepto de productividad del lugar de trabajo. Si proporcionas una renta básica emites un mensaje muy poderoso: nadie se quiere quedar ahí sentado sin dar palo al agua; confiamos en que busques una actividad provechosa. Este concepto del trabajo como algo moralmente intocable es una de las herramientas más detestables que ostenta el poder, y no hace sino agravar el fenómeno de los curros inútiles.

La verdad, es que el capitalismo ya ni siquiera se justifica a sí mismo. Se supone que es un sistema que mejora la calidad de vida de los pobres, haciendo que las desigualdades sean aceptables. Pero ya no es así. Se supone que produce más seguridad. Pero tampoco es así. Se supone que fomenta la democracia. Pero esto ya no ocurre. Todas las justificaciones positivas clásicas ya no son pertinentes. Ya sólo quedan los argumentos morales: que trabajar es bueno y que las deudas hay que pagarlas, no hay alternativa. Hemos llegado a un punto en el que estos argumentos sólo conducen a la autodestrucción del sistema. El barco se está hundiendo por sobrecarga de trabajo y de deuda.

Has estado muy activo en Occupy Wall Street desde sus principios. En su reciente libro ‘Swarmwise’, Rick Falkvinge compara el Partido Pirata [sueco] a Occupy. Una de las mayores diferencias que señala es que no tenéis ni líderes ni demandas específicas. ¿Cómo obtener resultados sustanciales con un liderazgo totalmente descentralizado?

Pero si en Occupy teníamos muchísimos líderes: ¡más de 100.000! La verdad es que todo depende de la estrategia. Tenemos una estrategia a largo plazo: estamos intentando transformar la cultura política. Para lograrlo, hay que crear nuevas instituciones, nuevos hábitos y nuevas sensibilidades. Esto es un objetivo ya ambicioso de por sí. Pero también supone dejar de centrarse en resultados concretos e inmediatos (aunque esto no excluye que no los alcancemos por el camino). De hecho, apostamos por una estrategia basada en deslegitimizar.

Me gusta utilizar la analogía de Argentina: lo que acabó con el reino del FMI en Latinoamérica fue el impago argentino. Antes de que el gobierno de Kirchner llegara al poder, se sucedieron tres gobiernos distintos, cada uno de ellos derrocados por levantamientos populares. El propio Kirchner tampoco era un radical, sino un socialdemócrata bastante apaciguado. Pero tuvo que hacer algo radical porque el movimiento social deslegitimizó por completo a toda la clase política. La gente empezó a organizarse y a crear su propia economía alternativa. Es un ejemplo perfecto de no necesitar la clase política para nada pero, aun así, seguir obteniendo resultados políticos.

Llegó un punto en el que los políticos eran tan odiados por todos que ni siquiera podían ir a un restaurante. Tenían que ir disfrazados o la gente les tiraba comida. Llegados aquí, la clase política no tuvo otra opción sino enfrentarse a la mismísima idea de que las instituciones políticas ya no tenían relevancia alguna en la vida del pueblo. Tuvieron que tomar una decisión radical que no hubieran tomado bajo otras circunstancias. Esta es la estrategia básica que estamos siguiendo con Occupy: en vez de impulsar candidatos y hacer reivindicaciones, estamos creando un sistema político propio capaz de funcionar sin políticos y que los políticos nos demuestren que aún tienen algún tipo de utilidad.

En vez de impulsar candidatos y hacer reivindicaciones, estamos creando un sistema político propio capaz de funcionar sin políticos y que los políticos nos demuestren que aún tienen algún tipo de utilidad

Norteamérica ha llegado a un punto de inflexión con Occupy. En Estados Unidos tenemos un largo historial de represión de movimientos sociales pero, históricamente, los movimientos que se han reprimido más violentamente han sido los de la clase obrera o los de personas de color, no los de blancos de clase media… O no sin provocar algún tipo de escándalo por parte de la izquierda moderada y la progresista (pensemos en la época de McCarthy, las protestas estudiantiles de los 60 etc.). Está claro que Occupy fue un movimiento muy diverso, pero también había muchos blancos de clase media y se llevaron sus palizas como todos los demás.

Pero esta vez parece que no le importaba nadie: las alianzas regionales entre los liberales y los radicales están rotas. Por otra parte, creo que hemos logrado más en dos años que cualquier otro movimiento social que se me ocurra en la misma cantidad de tiempo: la idea de clase social y del poder basado en clases ha vuelto a la agenda –a esto se refiere el eslogan “Somos el 99%”– y hemos denunciado la corrupción inherente al sistema político estadounidense. Hemos cambiado el ámbito político: recordemos que, al planear su campaña, Mitt Romney veía su trayectoria financiera de Wall Street como algo positivo… En Nueva York ya estamos empezando a ver las consecuencias políticas: Bill de Blasio, quien tiene toda probabilidad de ser el próximo alcalde, apoya a Occupy. Parece que nuestra estrategia está funcionando después de todo.


Guerrilla Translation/Relacionado:https://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/factory-e1383171595590.jpgEl desempleo es la cura de todos los malesPaul B. Hartzoghttps://guerrillatranslation.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/strip-curros-inc3batiles-e1383341047312.jpgEl fenómeno de los curros inútilesDavid GraeberGuía práctico-utópica del inminente colapso/ David Graeber


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Strength and Power Reimagining Revolution

deshaucios_OLmoCalvo_Diagonal-585x390Image by Olmo Calvo

Amador Fernández-Savater

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!

Original text in Spanish

How is it possible that fifty people can stop a forced eviction? Not just once, but over and over again (as many as six hundred times). This question has been on my mind for a while. During the 25-S protests in Madrid 1, we saw for ourselves that the police can evict any number of protestors from anywhere. So, exactly what sort of strength allows those fifty people to stop a foreclosure eviction? What does it mean to have strength, if it’s not quite the same as having power (physical, quantitative, economic, institutional, etc.)? The following is my attempt at an answer that, by no means, fully exhausts the question. That is to say, there’s room for more answers and, above all, to keep asking the question – this, I believe, is the most important thing.

War of Position and War of Maneuver

I’m veering offroad for a bit before heading back to the highway, that being the question of how a handful of people have the strength to defend a home. Let´s look at the debate on the meaning of revolution carried out in Marxism between the two World Wars, where we’ll focus on the approach favoured by the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. At first it may seem like an odd jump, but it concerns a debate that is markedly contemporary, that the past doesn’t quite “pass”; it’s a rich deposit of images and knowledge, prone to updates and renewed sense-making from the perspective of our present problems and necessities.

Gramsci enters the debate making a distinction between a “war of maneuver” and a “war of position”. The concept of class struggle as war, described in military strategy terms, was prevalent in the Marxism of the time. What’s more, Gramsci was writing from Mussolini’s prison, and continually obliged to come up with new metaphors to evade censorship. Paradoxically, his use of cryptic and elusive language, rather than classical Marxist vocabulary, made Gramsci’s work a thousand times more useful as a source of inspiration for future readers.

Okay, so, the key features of the “war of maneuver” are: speed, limited appeal, and frontal attack. Gramsci makes his arguments via Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”, George Sorels’ general strike, Rosa Luxembourg´s worker insurrection and, particularly, the Leninist power grab. These images of revolutionary change clash, time and again, with European and Western reality: the bloody repression of the Spartacist movement in Germany (1918), the disbanding of worker’s councils in Italy during the Bienno Rosso (1919-20), and so on. To avert a predictable sense of frustration and to keep actively aspiring to social change, we have to reimagine revolution.

Writing behind bars, Gramsci reflects that the war of maneuver can only succeed where society is relatively independent from the State, and civil society (ie., institutions interrelated with State power: justice, media, etc.) is basic and unstructured, as was the case in Russia. By contradiction, Western Europe’s civil society was extremely solid, and acted as an “entrenchment and fortification to protect social order. It seems as if economic catastrophe has decisively breached the enemy position, but this remains a superficial effect, for behind it lies an efficient line of defense”.

Gramsci critiques the “historical mysticism” (revolution as a miraculous enlightenment) and economic determinism (the supposition that economic collapse will trigger the revolutionary process) and posits a new strategy, an alternate image for social transformation: the “war of position”. The defining feature of the war of position is the affirmation and development of a new vision of the world. Each of our daily actions, according to Gramsci, holds an implicit vision (or philosophy) of the world. Revolution disseminates a new vision – along with other expressions – of the world that slowly leaks power away from the old vision to, finally, displace it. This process is described by Gramsci as the “construction of hegemony”. No power will last long without hegemony, without control of the expressions of everyday life. It’d be domination sans legitimacy, power reduced to pure repression and fear. The taking of power must, therefore, be preceded by a “taking” of civil society.

Christianity and the Enlightenment

To illustrate his argument for another idea of revolution, Gramsci offers two examples: Christianity and the Enlightenment.  It’s quite curious: he utilizes a religious reform and an intellectual overhaul as models to conceptualise the political revolution he longs for. In both examples, the determining catalyst of change is a new definition of reality.

In the case of Christianity, it’s the idea that Christ has resurrected and there is life after death. Christianity coalesces around this “good news” that filters through every crack left behind by the old pagan world. The interesting feature is that the first Christians avoided power. Instead, their actions ultimately led power to come to them, as exemplified by the conversion of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century A.D. The lesson of the first Christians would be: don’t fight directly for power, be the message-bearer of a new concept of the world, and, finally, the power shall fall (into your hands).

In the case of the Enlightenment, it’s the idea that all persons are of equal worth, as beings gifted with reason. The Enlightenment was the movement that spread this idea, in salons, clubs or encyclopediae. In the end, remarks Gramsci, once the French Revolution actually took place, it had already be won. Domination has no legitimacy because this new concept of the world has silently displaced the old, overtaking the powers of the Old Regime without them even noticing. The lesson from the Enlightened would be: the revolution is won before the revolution takes place, through the elaboration and expansion of a new image of the world.

These are the examples mentioned by Gramsci, who died in prison in 1937. But the 20th century has surely offered us other examples much closer to our own experience. Take, for example, the Gay Rights Movement. A movement both seen and unseen, formal and informal, political and cultural, that completely transforms the common perception regarding affective and sexual differences and goes on to effect legislative change. Or the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that the irresistible strength of the movement resided in overcoming the deeply internalised feelings of inferiority by confronting the opponents as equals (in civil disobedience campaigns, for example). An uprising in dignity that spurred modifications in the laws of the land.

Thus, the war of position, unlike the war of maneuver, is more an infiltration than an assault. A slow displacement, rather than an accumulation of forces. A collective and anonymous movement, rather than a minority and centralised operation. A form of indirect, everyday and diffuse pressure, rather than a concentrated and simultaneous insurrection (but, make no mistake, Gramsci doesn’t exclude insurrection at any stage, but subordinates it to the construction of hegemony). And, above all, based on the building and development of a new definition of reality. This, as explained in the words of the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis as “what counts and what doesn’t count, what makes sense and what doesn’t, a definition not inscribed in books, but on the very being of things: the actions of human beings, their relations, their organization, their perception of what is, their affirmation and search for what counts, the materiality of the objects they produce, use and consume”.

15-M as cultural revolution

Let’s return to our first scene, keeping this detour to Gramsci in mind. I think that if fifty people are capable of stopping a foreclosure eviction, it’s because, in some way, it had already been stopped.  That is, 15-M, when taken as a new social climate rather than an organization or structure, has redefined reality. What before was unseen (the very fact of foreclosure evictions happening) is now seen. What before was seen (in fact, normalized) as a “routine foreclosure of an outstanding mortgage”, now feels like something intolerable. What once was presented as inevitable, now appears as something contingent. The 15-M climate, using Gramsci’s analysis, has led the institutions of civil society to a state of crisis: policemen who disobey orders and won’t take part in evictions, judges taking advantage of any crack in the legal code to favour the foreclosed, journalists and media who empathise and amplify their messages, etc. Ultimately, fifty people in direct connection with the climate of 15-M, both in regards to the what (what they’re fighting for) as to the how (the way they fight) are not just fifty people. They are accompanied by millions, unseen. It’s what the philosopher Alain Badiou calls “a majority minority”. An agent of change: capable of infecting because it is itself a carrier.

So, going back to our initial question, we can define strength as the capacity to redefine reality: what’s worthy and unworthy, possible and impossible, seen and unseen. 15-M’s climate probably hasn’t got much power (physical, quantitative, institutional or economic), but strength, definitely. It isn’t just a social or political change, but also – above all – a cultural (or even aesthetic) transformation, an adjustment in perception (the threshold of what is seen and what is unseen), in sensibility (what we consider compatible or intolerable in our existence), and in the idea of what’s possible (“yes, we can”) 2.

The import of all this hasn’t been well understood by those who are critical of 15-M’s excessively “emotional” slant, starting with Zygmunt Bauman, the famous sociologist. What we loosely label affective or emotional – or, the unconscious base of our communal living – is precisely what moves us to consider a person who doesn’t live nearby as our neighbour anyway, and to then show up at their door to protect them from a forced eviction. The feeling that each of our lives doesn’t result in a single, isolated self, but rather, is interconnected with many other unknown lives (“we are the 99%”).

Politics isn’t, first and foremost, a matter of making allegations and raising awareness; there is no one straw that breaks the camel’s back, and what’s bad can be tolerated indefinitely. Instead, it is a sort of shedding of the skin, by which we become sensitive to this or allergic to that. Nor has it much to do with convincing (discourse), or seducing (marketing), but rather with opening all sorts of spaces to experience another way of living, another definition of reality, another vision of the world. In the struggle for hegemony, the skin – yours, mine, everyone’s – is the battlefield.

Some references:

  • The basic ideas for this text, as always, arose from conversations with friends, in this case, specially with Juan, Leo and Ema. I presented them for the first time at the 15MP2P conference.
  • If you enjoyed this text, you may be interested in these others: “Waves and Foam” or “Seeing the Invisible: On Unicorns and the 15-M Movement”
  • Guerre de mouvement et guerre de position, Antonio Gramsci & Razmig Keucheyan, La Fabrique (2012).
  • The “Antonio Gramsci’s Commitment” chapter from the book The Company Of Critics: Social Criticism And Political Commitment In The Twentieth Century by Michael Walzer, (Basic Books, 1988)
  • I think that John Beasley Murray’s arguments against the idea of hegemony being reduced to a question of ideological discourse are essential. They can be found in his book Posthegemony Political Theory and Latin America, (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2011). See here for more information.
  • The Introduction to L’Expérience du mouvement ouvrier by Cornelius Castoriadis (Union Générale d’Éditions, 1973)
  • On Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement, I found the “The Spiritual Discipline Against Resentment “ chapter from Christopher Lasch’s “The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics” (1991)  to be a very inspiring read.

1. [ “25-S” refers to the Occupy/Surround Congress protests of September 25 2012.]
2. [“Sí se puede” was originally used as the motto of the United Farm Workers and, notably, during  Cesar Chavez’s 24 day fast in Phoenix, Arizona (see here for more details). It was then taken, in its English version, by the Obama “Yes, we can!” 2008 campaign. Finally, the 15-M movement has reclaimed the phrase, back in its original Spanish form as a rallying cry to celebrate its successes. See this video, for example..]

Unity sans Convergence (Political Self-organization Models for Hyperlinked Multitudes)

15 MImage by Olmo Calvo

Madrilonia/@PinkNoiseRev

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton –Guerrilla Translation!

Original text in Spanish

The 15-M movement seems to be at an impasse, unsure of how to make use of its multiple victories and enormous public support. To break out of this situation, numerous organizations, assemblies and collectives are repeatedly appealing to the ideal of unity (amongst the political left, the movement, the “bottom 99”) as a means of reaching the necessary levels of coordination needed for standing up to, and defeating, the government and markets. However, so far it doesn’t seem like their ideals-inspired efforts have led to any noticeable improvement in the organisational capacity of the movement. Prior to the birth of 15M, it was not uncommon to see initiatives by the political left coalescing around ideals of convergence, coordination and unity, with generally poor results. Our hypothesis is that these traditional modes of political organisation have grave shortcomings, needing urgent revision. What can we do when the old ways aren’t working anymore? Do we forfeit our experience? Go our separate ways? Surrender to the idea that revolution can only be chaotic and spontaneous? Nothing could be further from what we’re about to share here.

The fact is that since the birth of 15M, we’ve spent more than two years experimenting with radically new modes of mass organization. Crowds capable of synchronizing en masse, to attack or to defend themselves at specific moments and with blinding speed; initiatives that detach from the movement at strategic junctures to then develop on their own, opening new spaces for confrontation; mechanisms capable of mobilising huge sectors of the population when they’re most needed…new forms of mobilisation that have come to stay. We’re rehearsing the mass social self-organisation methods of the future, and we’ve managed to create a scenario for hegemony and social conflict the likes of which we’d never have imagined. An understanding of the organisational models that have led us here is paramount for forging ahead.

The reductionist focus: unity as convergence.

In our opinion, most attempts to coordinate unity amongst “the movement” (or “the left”, or “pick-your-favourite-social-subject”) stem from a terribly reductionist mindset: unity as convergence. The simplest structural example would be organizations with tree-like dynamics, where decision-making and consensus-building processes are redirected to a series of increasingly centralised nodes within the overall structure, from “collective coordinating” assemblies for citywide initiatives to state level structures that coordinate the activities of local nodes. Any time convergence is mentioned, it goes hand in hand with an appeal towards promoting narrative and discourse; for example, reaching consensus on collectively created manifestos is used as an prime example of unity. In the end, it comes down to creating space that functions as the ultimate representative for the movement. A kind of centralised brain that, ultimately, both hierarchically coordinates and makes decisions on behalf of all the other spaces. The problem is that this vision of unity though convergence, within tree-like structures, doesn’t work, at least not in the hyperconnected societies of the XXI century.

Convergence can work at a reduced scale or in simple organizational structures. However, in more complex scenarios, it generally leads to heavy, slow, expensive, and high-maintenance structures. These are usually marred by rigidly determined, inside-outside distinctions that quickly face major difficulties when needing to add new participants at moments of peak activity. And yet today, despite knowing full well the limitations of this model, we are witnessing a revival of this so-called convergence. This is especially surprising when we take into account that most of the mass-scale mobilizations we’ve seen across the world in the last few year, from Arab Spring and 15M to Occupy Gezi, hardly bear any resemblance to this type of organization. On the contrary, they’re processes of coordination and synchronization of large groups without any apparent formal organizational structure. In the best of cases, centralised structures only arise when the movements are on the wane, or losing their power of assembly. Faced with this scenario, we need new modes of unity to create unifying processes in societies where technological networks grant us an enormous capacity for large-scale social auto-organization.

Liquid, de-centralised unity: a dynamic nucleus model.

How do you organise a system comprised of millions of parts, with no hierarchical structure nor centralised controlling organ? The field of neuroscience faces a similar problem. The brain is a highly distributed and interconnected organ, capable of organizing itself to enable a great variety of complex, coordinated behaviors. Hundreds of thousands of neurons in the human brain are capable of coordinating and forming a single structure, but it’s highly unlikely for this to happen by means of converging structures. Convergence in the brain isn’t a plausible scenario, as there’s no central area to centralise the rest. Besides, it has been demonstrated that models of neuronal convergence lose most of their efficacy at large scales due to problems arising from combinatorial explosion 1. An additional, and major, problem is that convergence strategies aren’t effective at adapting to new situations that require unexpectedly different behaviours (that is to say, they’re not good at improvisation).

On the contrary, the brain lacks any sort of static, centralised structure. “Unity of mind” is constituted through instances of grand-scale synchronization, whereupon different neuronal areas act transiently in coordination 2. These instances of synchronization have a limited lifespan so the brain doesn’t get stuck in a specific sync-mode. They dissolve after a certain period of time to make way for a new mindstate characterised by the synchronization of different neuronal areas (Graph 1). This mode of synchronization is known as the “dynamic nucleus” 3 and it functions in a decidedly un-convergent manner, as not all parts of the system function simultaneously. Instead, it acts as a pole of reference where different neural areas connect and disconnect at different times. Should the opposite happen and if synchronization extends uncontrollably, trapping different neural areas in the process, it can provoke serious neuronal disorders such as epilepsy attacks.

Graph 1. Dynamic nucleus as an organizational form. Different parts of the system sync temporarily to later dissolve and make way for new configurations, with no need for all parts to be constantly synchronised.

Dynamic nucleus and poles of reference in the 15M movement.

Do revolutions work like our brains do? Or, to put it another way, do we function as a collective brain when we enter a revolutionary climate? We’re still searching for answers even as new questions arise. For now, what we do know is that the mechanisms of unity in the human brain are very similar to the processes of distributed social mobilization we are witnessing. Regarding 15M, the movement has been a succession of different “dynamic nuclei” serving as poles of references during the periodic organisation of enormous processes of synchronized coordination: the summons for the initial protest by DRY, the encampments, the PAH, the Citizen Tides, the 25-S protests, etc. 4 Some of the reference poles have been global, others more local. Some have lasted weeks, others no more than a few days. Some have disappeared to rise again later, unexpectedly, and brimming with renewed strength. What they have in common is that they’ve all been capable of organising large sectors of the population — and not always the same ones — acting with coherent unity, as a great collective mind capable of overwhelming and seriously wounding the regime’s institutions.

But there remains a general perception that this is not enough. The old political parties still occupy the institutions, blocking any possible change. This is a fact, but we don’t think that the problem rests on the limits of this model of organized distribution. Rather, we think it’s a question of not having developed adequate mechanisms to act as poles of reference in a space with dynamics as particular as those of the electoral space. We believe it’s only a matter time until society organizes to dismantle the electoral space. There are, in fact, various initiatives underway with this purpose in mind.  We predict that only those who have understood the logic of distributed, networked processes of self-organisation and participation will succeed.

We’ve spent two years organising in radically new ways, and the results have been astounding. We’ve built structures that have generated total hegemony amongst the movement and over the most crucial axes of social conflict (housing, education, healthcare, democracy, etc.) Structures endowed with the sort of on-the-ground organization capable of scuttling any attempt to hide, repress or criminalize the movement. This has just begun. The same neuronal synchronization we’ve described organises itself at different nested levels, and through increasingly influential protocols of auto-organisation built on top of previous, smaller ones. We have a model of auto-organisation that works, we only need to replicate, improve and understand it more deeply, to extend it to new levels.

We’re convinced that in the coming months and years we’ll keep on seeing vast advances in forms of networked organisation. To improve on them, it is essential to keep formulating hypotheses to create new poles of reference capable taking in and coordinating other areas of conflict. To keep listening to and analysing the process, in order to identify and interpret points of rupture. Being able to experiment and strategically connect or disconnect components from our dynamic nucleus to claim victories. To construct the sort of unity that won’t get trapped in a determined configuration, but which constantly transforms to keep moving forward. We’re at an historic juncture; we’re taking the first steps towards the construction of a collective, fluid and distributed coordinated social mind. Insisting on obsolete modes of organisation is a error. We are rehearsing the methods of massive social auto-organisation of the future, and the perspectives are more than optimistic. The dying bipartisan regime is confounded and entrenched. We only have to keep syncing.

Footnotes and references:

1. [Malsburg, C. von der. (1995). Binding in models of perception and brain function. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 5(4).]

2. [Varela, F., & Thompson, E. (2003). Neural Synchrony and the Unity of Mind: A Neurophenomenological Perspective. In The Unity of Consciousness. Oxford University Press.]

3. [Tononi, G., & Edelman, G. M. (1998). Consciousness and Complexity. Science, 282(5395), 1846–1851. doi:10.1126/science.282.5395.1846]

4. [These are all groups and collectives enmeshed within the 15 -M network. Briefly:

To read about these, and many other, initiatives taking place in Spain right now, read our translation of Bernardo Guitérrez’s “Spain’s Micro-Utopias: The 15M Movement and its Prototypes”]

This translation has been republished on:

Net Parties: Who they are and how they’re different

Pirate PartyImage by Joachim S. Müller

Bernardo Gutiérrez

Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
Original article from eldiario.es

The emergence of Partido X (Spain), Partido de la Red (Argentina), Red Sustentável (Brasil) and Wikipartido (Mexico) suggests a new era in politics. Net (Internet) parties incorporate the open, horizontal and leaderless processes associated with free software and social movements such as 15M.

“The party is a platform, not an ideological stance”,  “The party is a tool used to convert the “one for many” structure, into a “many for many” conversation.”  “The party should be both a movement and a platform”, “The party aims to develop a method, not an ideology”. These aren’t mere political slogans. These are statements which define, respectively, the essence of the Wikipartido (Mexico), Partido de la Red (Argentina), Rede Sustentabilidade (Brasil) and Partido X (Spain). All four first appeared in recent months. And together they seem to pose a question to representative democracy: If the Net is changing every aspect of society, how is it that democracy remains based on 19th Century form and technology?

These four parties didn’t come out of nowhere.  In fact, they evolved from other parties, such as the Spanish Wikipartido, Sweden´s Demoex, Equo, the Pirate Party, Lista Partecipata from Italy or the Partido de InterNet. These parties, despite their differences. already shared some points in common. A big one: technology isn’t just a set of tools for spreading ideas. Technology is the new process that changes the way we work, make decisions, and communicate. For example, Equo open-sourced their program for the Spanish General Elections of November 20, 2011. Meanwhile, The Pirate Party uses a participatory, interactive program called Liquid Feedback, where each voter can cast their vote through a web of trust. Special mention goes to the Spanish Wikipartido, which, long before the birth of the 15M movement, was experimenting with building collective proposals. Using the motto “Collective Intelligence: Better Decisions”, Wikipartido proudly states in their wiki platform that “every citizen has the right to propose legislature”.

Differences

What do Net parties bring to the political scene, and what differentiates those described above? First of all, unlike Equo for example, they aren’t led by familiar faces. The Wikipartido in México clearly states that ”Any attempt to generate a new political option will undoubtedly fail if built around a personality”. Partido X goes even further. It defies persistent political self-promotion by continuing (despite criticism) to protect its members identities. The Argentinian Partido de la Red explicitly criticises thepersonalismo”  (self-promotion) of current politics in their highly recommended Web Manifesto, which states that: “#StuckDemocracy is a bargain-basement supermarket forcing the debate and election of prominent figures, as opposed to ideas”. One notable exception would be the Brazilian Rede Sustentabilidades, centered on the charisma of the popular Marina Silva, a fact which could be explained by the anthropology of the country´s affections.

Regardless, the biggest difference between the new Net parties and the old is something else: their open program. Both the Pirate Party and Partido de Internet have very specific objectives regarding Internet freedom, free licenses and participatory democracy. And Equo doesn’t try to hide its green face. The Candidatura d´Unitat Popular (CUP)  – a Net-born Catalonian Party – defines itself as “Anticapitalist, Separatist Left”. Despite this, Net parties are, above all, open processes. They are also, by choice, unfinished mechanisms. The aim is to create platforms, protocols and tools that can employed by others. Anyone can use the mechanism, regardless of the content created with it.

The Partido de Red defines itself as “a #HumanWeb without a center, sharing knowledge, experiences and wisdom”. The Wikipartido of Mexico, in the word of its founder. Alfonso Tamés, “wants to work just like Wikipedia”. And Partido X, rather than develop a full program, insists on the construction of a basic infrastructure of platforms and tools to activate the collective intelligence. Their democracy, full stop – the only item in their program – is precisely that, a process. Social software, a space for dialogue. The party-as-software equation is one of the defining features of the new bottom-up dynamic being fostered by the Argentinian Partido de la Red: “#PartidodelaRed” uses software for the construction of collective thought and the promotion of new interactions between citizens and policy”.

Another common thread is the perceived lack of ideology of the new Net parties. Traditionally, being “neither left nor right” was taken to mean being a centrist. Or anarchist, ultra right wing or apolitical. Within the new logic of the Internet, it can mean something quite different. In complex networked systems, 2 +2, as the theorist Kevin Kelly likes to remind us, almost never equals 4. Asking an old question to try and explain something new just won’t work. For example, do transparency, participation and network horizontality have more to do with the political left than the right? Santiago Siri, expert on social networks and member of Partido de la Red, drops a few clues in a recent essay: “Never before have we been the objects of one another´s attention as much as we are now, in our routine online experience (…) and that is neither good nor bad, it’s simply new”.

What about  traditional parties, aren’t they trying to incorporate Net dynamics, open processes and interactivity? Antonio Guitíérrez Rubi, in his essay The Political Party as a Social Co-Working Space complains that “the day-to-day workings of political parties are becoming less and less attractive, stimulating and creative for many citizens”. Additionally, Joan Subirats, director of the Institute of Government and Public Policy (Instituto de Gobierno y Políticas Públicas or “IGOP” in Spanish) states that certain parties, such as UPyD or Ciutadans de Catalunya, “are trying to play at  New Politics”. They claim to be neither left- nor right-leaning. Instead, their operations and ideologies contradict much of the essence of what would be considered a Net party.

In fact, traditional parties aren’t even seeing themselves reflected in the mirror of the web. They don’t understand non-hierarchical leadership. The meritocracies that emerge in free-software and networked systems are unknown to them.. One sentence from the Web Manifesto sums up the abyss separating traditional political parties from the Internet’s aggregate logic: “#Pairs are plural: not governed by adversarial logic, they seek synthesis, rather than displace the other”.

It´s possible that Net parties may never govern a country. But it’s also very possible that, before long, they may change the rules of the political game forever.

This translation has been republished on:
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