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!
This translation has also been published in:
Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, Neal Gorenflo of Shareable, and author John Restakis interview Catalan Integral Cooperative’s Enric Duran
- Answers translated by Stacco Troncoso, text edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
- Images by Lisa Furness and the CIC
- Read this interview in Spanish here.
In this interview, Neal Gorenflo (founder, Shareable), Michel Bauwens (founder, P2P Foundation), and John Restakis (author, “Humanizing the Economy”) speak with Enric Duran. Duran is a Catalan anti-capitalist activist, perhaps best known for his well-publicized act of “financial civil disobedience” announced on September 17, 2008, in which he described his having attained roughly half a million Euros in bank loans and subsequently distributing these funds to support anti-capitalist activist movements. As it was never his intention to pay these debts but instead to stir debate about the unfair legal advantages afforded to the powerful financial elite, he was soon labeled “Robin Banks”, and faced with a lengthy prison sentence. The resulting legal actions and his subsequent seclusion have left him living virtually underground, although he maintains selective contact and has stated that he may return, contingent on a variety of factors. Despite his precarious legal status, his work continues undiminished in the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC), which describes itself as a “transitional initiative for social transformation from below, through self-management, self-organization and networking”. Here is Enric Duran talking about his work and life.
INTRODUCTION: ENRIC DURAN AND THE CATALAN INTEGRAL COOPERATIVE
Michel Bauwens: How did you evolve from your activist Robin Hood interventions to the constructive plans for the CIC, and what are your current aims?
In fact, when I started to plan the action to expropriate the banks (in 2005), I already had the primary objective of promoting the creation of a social alternative based on cooperation and self-management. I had been planning its development since 2002, and in 2003, I took a first shot at it through Infoespai. At that time I didn’t know what we would call this alternative construction, nor what form it would take. I was, however, very clear that my disobedience action would serve to draw strength, in every sense of the word, to create something, much like what CIC is nowadays.
In 2006, we took inspiration from the de-growth movement in generating a grassroots construction process. Towards the end of 2008, that design process culminated in the concretion of our idea of what an integral cooperative would look like. Finally, the CIC was established in May 2010.
Right now, I’m still totally involved in the development of the CIC, and in trying to extend the ideas and practices of integral revolution around the world.
Neal Gorenflo: How did your consciousness change as a result of your famous action and all the public attention that followed? What did you learn and how does that inform what you do today?
My consciousness developed bit by bit with each experience, once I decided to dedicate my life to social activism in 1998. On a personal level, the public repercussions of the action made me feel more responsible and assertive towards what was still to come. It probably gave me the necessary determination to do everything I had to, in order to make the CIC a reality.
Although I’ve never been a fearful or cautious person when it comes to big challenges, the success of the action made me even more daring and decisive about what was to come.
When I started to plan the action to expropriate the banks (in 2005), I already had the primary objective of promoting the creation of a social alternative based on cooperation and self-management. I was very clear that my disobedience action would serve to draw strength, in every sense of the word, to create something, much like what CIC is nowadays.”
MB: What is your legal status, and how do you see your life in the next few years? What would happen to CIC if you were to be jailed?
Right now I have been declared a fugitive by the Spanish state, after not presenting myself in court for the trial in which they wanted to sentence me to eight years in prison. I’ve been living underground since February 2013, although I plan to emerge when we’re ready to assume the risks that this would entail.
This situation has had no effect on my full commitment to the CIC process, both at the coordination level as well as in the various working groups and several key projects.
In any case, the CIC is fully prepared to keep on going, whether I’m there or not. There are nearly 200 people highly involved in the global CIC process, and, although you can tell if someone’s missing, no one is indispensable – not even me.
PART 1: CIC IN THE PRESENT – LOCALLY AND GLOBALLY
MB: What are the peculiarities of the CIC approach in terms of governance and ownership models, and what exactly do you mean by ‘integral’?
In Spanish, “integral” means holistic, complete. That is to say, it concerns every single facet of life, and that’s what it means to us.
The CIC’s objective is to generate a self-managed free society outside law, State control, and the rules of the capitalist market.
In this sense, it’s a model for transition more than a model for society, wherein we progressively construct practices and take decisions that move us away from our starting point within the system, and towards the world we want to live in.
The governance model includes two types of general assembly: a monthly assembly on one topic we’re exploring to further our development, and a permanent assembly with an open agenda in which anyone can contribute. Those are every 15 days, so, one of every two assemblies is held within the framework of the general day of assembly.
The CIC’s objective is to generate a self-managed free society outside law, State control, and the rules of the capitalist market. In this sense, it’s a model for transition more than a model for society, wherein we progressively construct practices and take decisions that move us away from our starting point within the system, and towards the world we want to live in. In our view, what we’re doing is activism, an activism for the construction of alternatives to capitalism.”
Otherwise, our governance model is based on the decentralization of the entire organization, while at the same time striving to reinforce the empowerment of every local node, so that they can develop their own integral self-management. We also fully support the self-governance of each autonomous project (be they community, productive projects, health nodes, etc.), so they can self-organize by assembly and hold internal sovereignty for their projects, within the general common framework of the CIC.
In terms of ownership, the collectivization of resources to generate common goods is one of our lines of action. We encourage developing common properties for the whole CIC, which are managed by a sovereign assembly for every project.
Private property is one of the ways in which you can protect property, but it’s not the only one. We promote forms of communal property and of cooperative property as formulas that, to us, seem to enhance the self-management and self-organization of individuals, and which provide a great deal of strength to overcome the state and the capitalist system, as opposed to if we just defended private property. Our reasons for defending a certain type of property are always directly related to its use. We are against situations like multiple owners making profits from abusive rental contracts, while having no interest in the actual use of their land.
One of our counter-economic strategies is the collectivization of lands by means of cooperative purchase, or by donation from the individual owners. For this, we use what we call a “Patrimonial Cooperative”, which has no economic activity whatsoever, so the state has absolutely no reason to attack it with fines.
John Restakis: The decision making process, while embodying principles of direct democracy, decentralization and egalitarianism, sounds cumbersome and time consuming. How much time is required for people to take part in the permanent assemblies and for how long is it anticipated this process can last? Has participation fallen off over time?
Between the permanent assemblies and the monthly single-topic assemblies, we’d say that we spend around 16 to 20 hours a month in the big groups, while in the small groups it’s usually a lot more.
I think we’re quite satisfied with our decision-making process. Its level of participation has held up rather well over the years and, in fact, there’s even more participation now. Presently there are, on average, 50 in-person participants per assembly, while some of us participate remotely.
At the same time, the quality of the agreements is a great success, and there hasn’t been any major decision-making conflict in all these years.
Given that the majority of participants choose to take part in a project or in one concrete area of the CIC, but not of the whole, the number of participants in the assemblies doesn’t grow as much as the number of participants in some aspects of the CIC, and this number in the thousands. We also use a number of communication tools, like social networks and our mailing lists, which allow many people to contribute to the aspects they’re interested in, even if they themselves may not be physically present at the assemblies.
MB: What is the relation between the CIC and its subsidiary projects like Calafou, etc? Can you describe for us the extent of the CIC network?
Between individuals and collectives, there are some 300 productive projects, 30 local nodes and eco-networks, about 15 communal living projects, roughly 1700 individual members and collectives. And, as I said before, although it’s difficult to quantify there are several thousand participants, probably around 4000-5000 in total.
Regarding their relationship to the CIC there are three types of projects: autonomous, PAICs and public projects. I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by PAIC, these are autonomous projects based on collective initiative. What this means is that while their functioning is, in practice, autonomous and based on a sovereign assembly, there’s an ongoing reciprocity within the CIC, as the efforts taken by the whole are key to making these PAICs possible, allocating various kinds of resources to make them a reality. PAICs normally also respond to the strategic objectives of the CIC itself.
Calafou is one of CIC’s PAICS, and, at the same time, one of its most emblematic projects.
MB: Does the CIC have any international plans? What is the link between constructing an alternative, activism, and the construction of social movements?
In our view, what we’re doing is activism, an activism for the construction of alternatives to capitalism.
Since its beginnings, the CIC has been actively promoting the creation of integral co-ops worldwide, facilitating this with all the information we’ve accumulated and welcoming visitors from a wide variety of places.
At the beginning of 2013, the call to integral revolution was made public. The group promoting it is, in part, composed of members of the CIC.
In the last few months we’ve also been working on Radi.ms, a collective as well as a means of digital communication. This was launched by people connected with the CIC, in order to create a window on the worldwide integral revolution.
Our commitment to the planetary expansion of our ideas and practices will expand as much as we’re able to devote ourselves to it. Now, in 2014, we’ve set up a work group which has this objective as one of its priorities.
This work group, called “extension of the integral revolution and entanglement without Borders” would also manage relations with other social movements in our realm.
Until now we’ve had only sporadic involvement outside our usual practices, as was the case with the 15-M movement, but we hope that as we gather more strength, we can establish more stable links with other social/grassroots movements.
PART II: CIC IN THE PRESENT – ECONOMY
JR: How is the social market succeeding? What is the relation of the LETS system to it? How are the social market exchanges valuated, and is there a non-monetary mechanism to assign and track value? How is this working? What are its weaknesses, if any?
The question of local exchanges and alternative currencies has been central in the movement to build economic alternatives, even before the CIC was created. There are some 20 community currencies in circulation linked to the ecoxarxas, which are bioregional counterparts to the CIC.
Our social currency system, normally called “eco”, uses the community exchange system (or CES) for software. It has the same basic characteristics as a LETS system, adding the possibility to expand or contract currency creation by means of public accounts and dependent on assembly decisions.
We’ve basically agreed on the maximum hourly value of work done for the commons – around five monetary units per hour – but generally, in these internal markets, prices are freely assigned and the participants themselves suggest or model good collective practices.
Bitcoin’s current implementation, and that of the majority of crypto currencies, generates important social differences based on their buying capacity and the control of the means of production. So, while it’s innovative as far as freedom is concerned, it’s not at the social level. But, on its own, it could uphold the status quo, by potentially attracting the most technically able among the privileged class.”
We put non-monetary mechanisms into practice in spheres of community and affinity. Our most important innovations in this area have to do with the way we obtain the basic necessities from the market. Especially within healthcare and education, we are practising mutual, pooled systems. This means that to cover project expenses, every participant contributes according to their own economic means. This may take the form of spontaneous donations, or instead may be based on a table which takes into account both amount of income and number of dependents.
On the other hand, as far as access to food is concerned, we have a structure built around CAC (Catalonian provisioning centre) and the “pantries”, which are local supply spaces. Each of these interacts with farmers and food producers in their local area. Together, they guarantee equitable food distribution for the entire territory.
These diverse actions are supported by a second community currency we call “eco-basics”. It differs from the “eco” in that whatever currency is left at the end of the month cannot be accumulated; in other words, it can’t be added to whatever you get for the following month. This currency provides access to food, housing, and other expenses for basic necessities, according to each participant’s situation.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that we expect to launch various strategies this year, related to the development of the internal market among CAC members. We hope that this will lead to a more autonomous and resilient economic system. There are several key aspects that we haven’t been able to fully explore until recently.
JR: In the quote: “…we need to empower ourselves and pass to a co-operativist form of welfare, outdo the desired welfare state with one that relies on mutual help. The state wants us weak and helpless, we stand for cooperating in autonomy, deciding collectively on our material and non-material needs” and in other references, CIC seems to consider the state as unsalvageable and a necessary enemy of the public good. Social welfare is to be the responsibility of community-level trust mechanisms of mutual aid. However, what if one region or community is able to create these systems, and another is not? What is the mechanism that is responsible for the diffusion of social welfare as a public good in such a decentralized and communitarian model? Is the state not necessary for this?
We understand that the current political system – what they call democracy but which is actually dominated by small political and economic oligarchies – is antiquated. Trying to reform it won’t help us get to a society based on the common good.
Additionally, we hold that the nation-state model, with exclusive control of territory by means of an exclusionary political system based on an obligatory nationality, is becoming obsolete and is being surpassed and replaced by technological tools, which allow us to communicate, do business and create economic activities anywhere in the world.
New forms of voluntary organization based on the values and principles held by the participants must come to the forefront.
In any case, we accept that the state is better than nothing at all for those who don’t want, or know how, to self organize at a community and mutual aid level. Accordingly, we don’t do anything to destroy the state. We simply practice disobedience, in ways that are integral with our practices.
I’ve been living underground since February 2013, although I plan to emerge when we’re ready to assume the risks that this would entail. Right now, I’m still totally involved in the development of the CIC, and in trying to extend the ideas and practices of integral revolution around the world.”
What we’re concentrating on now is on putting into practice our conscious and open decision to self-organize apart from the state, and in making good on our sovereign right to do so without any economic or state power having the right to impede.
We understand that the best thing we can do is to make an example of our strategies for self-organization, so that a lot more people, whether it’s with this organizational model or with others yet to be created, can eventually feel and live from a place in which the state is seen as an unnecessary imposition on their lives.
JR: How does CIC interpret its political role? Is this focused entirely on constructing an alternative economy on the ground or does the political work also entail an agenda to change public policy? Is the mainstream political process of any use or is that to be rejected?
The CIC’s political role in constructing an alternative society is fundamental, but just as fundamental is to make this type of practice a political trend to be extended planet-wide. We call this an “integral revolution”, and we understand it as an across-the-board change at all levels of life, be they political, social, economic, cultural and personal, among others. We think that that is the prime responsibility for the CIC at the political level. With this in mind, our actions in relation to like-minded social movements is geared towards supporting them in their empowerment to generate emancipating, self-managing, empowering practices that go beyond merely making demands of the state.
If we decide to take any action directed toward pressuring the state, it will be strategically chosen to protect constructive projects and the people involved in them. Or, as was the case during the 15 movement, to generate consciousness and a constructive vision to people and groups involved in change-making processes.
In this regard, we can’t accept that the word “public” should be thought of as synonymous with the state, so we reappropriated this word to use in relation to everything having to do with the Commons and the fulfillment of people’s basic needs.
As far as media is concerned, above all we strive to strengthen our own means of communication and those of like-minded initiatives, as well as the related social networks. But we’ve also made a tactical decision of not refusing contact with the mass media, as long as we feel that it will be useful in getting the message out to more people.
JR: How do you prevent free riding or opportunism? Has this been an issue at the territorial level and the community economy?
As a starting point, we’re learning to treat human beings in all their dimensions, listening to each other and trying to comprehend one another in our varied behaviours. This is to say that we understand that people who may seem to be self-serving are also human beings deserving of respect and possibly in need of support.
With that in mind, we think that there was more opportunism at the beginning, when we didn’t know each other as well and there were more opportunities for mistrust to develop. As time has gone by, this is something that has been confined to its proper place, that of conflicts between people at the level of both life-space and work-space.
As the CIC generates more resources to redistribute, we can dedicate part of them to help people with their needs and with their human relations. As of now, we’re working with three levels of support: one intended for individuals with problems in any aspect of life, another for mediation within the workspace, and a third for mediation and support within communities.
MB: Do you see a convergence between the CIC approach, and the emerging p2p/commons orientations of other movements? How do you see CIC relates to the concept of commons-based peer production?
We’re more than sympathetic towards P2P movements. In fact, these values are incorporated into our organisational model, although they may appear under different names and intertwined with other organisational practices.
Commons-oriented peer production has proven to be highly successful in initiatives such as LINUX, Wikipedia and many others. We feel we’re part of this, and it has inspired many of our approaches.
It’s clearly the best method for producing collective knowledge and information, as it combines functionality and participation without hierarchy, often without a central node. The most complex thing to be dealt with is determining the level to which we can take absolute decentralization. I’m not just referring to data exchange and content creation, but to the organization of our entire society and governance model.
I’ve had debates with my peers, some beginning more than 10 years ago, about how to translate the organizational methods which with LINUX was created to other areas of social organization. This was one among all of the elements that informed the final creation of the CIC.
For example, the referenced article about P2P governance quotes Mayo Fuster, one of our friends and peers with whom we were having these debates at that time.
We have to discern and determine when the scale of P2P collaboration is global and therefore unrelated to the organisational forms affecting of daily life, and when this collaboration is local and thus the handling of day-to-day living in all its aspects becomes a central part of the discussion.
I think that the CIC experience can contribute a lot to the peer collaboration culture at a local scale.
At that level I believe that any P2P-based commercial or production perspective can take into account that, amongst all free options, there’s the option of associating with other human beings to construct the community. Otherwise, P2P would lead to totalitarian individualism, in the sense that it would create forms of social organization that would only gratify those people who prioritize their output based on individual decisions, and who do well this way. This will be the case with people who need the collective to find a function and feel fulfillment.
The question of local exchanges and alternative currencies has been central in the movement to build economic alternatives, even before the CIC was created. There are some 20 community currencies in circulation linked to the ecoxarxas, which are bioregional counterparts to the CIC. We put non-monetary mechanisms into practice in spheres of community and affinity.”
Therefore, an ideological perspective which defends liberty amongst peers must always foresee that, as part of that individual liberty, there exists the possibility of creating voluntary associations for anything that we humans are capable of collaborating in, as well as the freedom of organizing as a community and doing so outside the state, etc.
I think a social movement with the Commons as one of its primary objectives has the responsibility of generating forms of self-management capable of incorporating every person within a community, including the most disadvantaged and the weakest (children, the elderly and the sick).
Therefore, the most proactive P2P orientation has to complement common spaces from which resources can be redistributed, so they reach all people.
It could be that, up till now, a good part of the P2P movement has considered this from a theoretical point of view, but hasn’t been able to delve into it given the lack of practical examples that are working at every level to be able to forego the state.
So, what we’re trying to generate with the integral cooperative model could be a very interesting practical framework for debates related to commons-based P2P governance.
PART III: FUTURE PROJECTIONS
NG: What lengths are you going to in documenting the development and design of CIC? How can we follow along?
We have a wealth of material documenting our experience.
We’ve carried out several training courses within our integral cooperative, as well as others, to help other integral co-ops. This has been very useful in generating abundant documentation and materials that are consistently updated after every event.
The biggest disadvantage could be that many of them are only available in Catalan and Spanish, although we’re working on translating an ever-increasing amount of materials into several languages. Our webpage, for example, has been available in English and Italian since a few months ago.
We also have a number of documentaries underway which will be subtitled in several languages.
In any case, the most reliable source of continuous information for the CIC is our webpage, starting with the Spanish site, which has the most updates, followed by the English, which features part of those updates.
PART IV: CRYPTO-CURRENCIES, CAPITALISM AND THE NEXT 20 YEARS
MB: What is your opinion on Bitcoin?
The technology behind the blockchain, on top of the concept of a decentralized P2P currency, represents a great leap forward on the road to decentralization of power, and we think it holds the power to make the current banking and financial systems obsolete.
On the other hand, Bitcoin’s current implementation, and that of the majority of crypto currencies, generates important social differences based on their buying capacity and the control of the means of production. So, while it’s innovative as far as freedom is concerned, it’s not at the social level. But, on its own, it could uphold the status quo, by potentially attracting the most technically able among the privileged class.
Even so, these cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin do have a place in a transition model, as they are very useful in liberating usfrom banks and state control.
We also understand that they can be employed to quickly make us less dependent on the euro, which can accelerate our transition process to economic sovereignty. With this in mind, Bitcoin, Litecoin and Freicoin are accepted currencies in the CIC for the payment of various common services. In time, we may understand the possibilities technology has given us to create our own cryptocurrency, which will incorporate the features we feel are essential for any community currency.
For the time being, coming back to the present and the near future, some people in the CIC participate in Bitcoin’s development with projects like Dark Wallet. As this goes on, we expect to generate and network between a variety of tools, so our members may accept the currency and convert it to Euros if they want to, without having to go through banks.
MB: How do you interpret categories like capitalism, the market, and the state, and what do you want to see happen to them?
I understand capitalism as a system of domination by a minority that holds economic power, with which it controls access to resources and the means of production.
The state is a system of domination and population control which, after many imperialist phases, has in recent times produced a democracy which passes itself off on the citizenship as sovereignty, in order to maintain coexistence. But, as I said earlier, and as is well known and analyzed, this isn’t true. Presently, the state is in service to capitalism, which is an even bigger system based on domination. There still privileged caste who, by means of the accumulation of resources, have much greater power than any voter. This has only increased in light of globalization, which makes it much more difficult for any country to escape the mainstream.
The market is a form of business founded on liberty and equal opportunity, but which, throughout its history, has been manipulated in function of the very systems of domination using it.
I think that, in the next 20 years, we’re going to live through the loss of exclusivity in governance currently held by the state, and the disassociation of the concept of state as the exclusive managers of the territory. Individual sovereignty will reclaim its real meaning of complete positive freedom, which will lead to the summation of multiple sovereignties in great autonomous, thoroughly legitimate collective processes.”
Currently, the capitalist system produces market conditions that help create ever greater inequalities, providing competitive advantages which favor the big players over the small, effectively preventing the latter from staying in the game and trading freely.
The market, in the context of the state and capitalism, has become an excuse to promote and extend inequality.
On the other hand, regarding the integral cooperative, what we do is create a process for the development of another kind of society, a communal society. After going through an open assembly-based process we’ve established a political criteria, based on which, certain economic activities may form part of their integral cooperative or not.
Based in this process, we could say that the integral cooperative promotes an economy “with” a market, but it’s not a “market economy”. Within our movement, economic activity is subordinated to political process, or, put another way, the assembly takes precedence over the market.
This doesn’t mean that the assembly intervenes regularly in relation to members economic activity. Up till now are political intervention in the market has been mainly centered in criteria for accepting new productive projects and in incentives for projects which are aligned with the integral promotion… But not so much in the daily development of activities.
So, what this principle implies is that we can intervene whenever it’s suitable or necessary to do so.
MB: Where will we be in, say, 20 years ?
I don’t know where we’ll be, but I trust that we’ll be freer and more diverse, and able to choose from a great selection of life choices.
I’m convinced that we will live through a transformation of the state and capitalism as we know it today, consolidating other ways of being in society and establishing more supportive and cooperative economic relationships
I think we’re going to live through the loss of exclusivity in governance currently held by the state, and the disassociation of the concept of state as the exclusive managers of the territory. Individual sovereignty will reclaim its real meaning of complete positive freedom, which will lead to the summation of multiple sovereignties in great autonomous, thoroughly legitimate collective processes.
That very significant phrase from the Zapatistas, “for a world in which many worlds fit” will begin to materialize in the coming decades.
And, this is why we are building with so much energy right now, to get there.
This translation has also been published in:
- Reality Sandwich
- The Catalan Integral Cooperative’s website
- The P2P Foundation Blog (In two parts). Part I. Part II.
Guerrilla Translation/Relacionado:Overcoming the Shock Doctrine/ Soy PúblicaTowards a Material Commons/ Michel Bauwens Dmytri Kleiner John RestakisThe Future Now/ David de Ugarte
Neal Gorenflo, from Shareable, Michel Bauwens, from the P2P Foundation and John Robb, from Global Guerrillas, interview las Indias’ David de Ugarte
- Translated/Re-edited * by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
- Images by Las Indias and Shareable
- Read the Spanish version here
In this interview, Shareable publisher Neal Gorenflo, John Robb of Global Guerrillas, and P2P foundation’s Michel Bauwens talk to David de Ugarte, one of the originators of the Spanish cyberpunk scene, about his more recent work developing a multinational worker cooperative, Las Indias, that is a culmination of his community’s thinking and work for the last decade. Las Indias is the manifestation of a unique socio-economic philosophy that synthesizes many strains of thinking and culture including cyberpunk, anarchism, network thinking, and cooperatives – all with a Spanish twist. It’s important because it points to a possible future for those who think outside of national boundaries, and who desire or need to take control of their own economic destiny. It’s a possible future that takes the centuries-old logic of cooperatives and remixes it for the urban-centered, global network society we live in today.
Michel Bauwens: Explain to us what Las Indias is, where it comes from, and what makes it distinctive?
David de Ugarte: Las Indias is the result of the Spanish-speaking cyberpunk movement. Originally a civil rights group, during the late 90s it became strongly influenced by Juan Urrutia’s “Economics of Abundance” theory. We soon linked “abundance” with the idea of empowerment in distributed networks. We are very clear on this point: it is not the Internet by itself, it is the distributed P2P architecture that allows the new commons. As one of our old slogans put it: “Under every informational architecture lays a structure of power.” Re-centralizing structures – as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Megaupload, etc. do around their servers – weakens us all. The blogosphere, torrents, freenet, etc. are tools of empowerment.
Cyberpunk was mainly a conversational / cyberactivist virtual community. It became transnational quickly, and contributed some very good discussions and theories that helped us understand the social impact and possibilities of distributed networks.
But in 2002, three of us founded Las Indias Society, a consultancy firm focused on innovation and networks dedicated to empowering people and organizations. Our experience soon became very important in understanding the opposition between “real” and “imagined” communities, and the organizational bases for an economic democracy. After the cyberpunk dissolution in 2007, the “Montevideo Declaration” openly stated that our objective will be to construct a “phyle,” a transnational economic democracy, in order to ensure the autonomy of our community and its members.
We define ourselves around five main values:
- Distributed network architectures as a way of generating abundance, empowerment, and to ensure the widest plurarchy – the maximum of individual liberties – for the members of our community.
- Transnationality (which means a rejection of national identities as well as universalism) as a consequence of putting the real community of persons who live and work in Las Indias at the center of our work.
- Economic democracy as the way to build personal and community autonomy through the market.
- Hacker ethics as a way to foster community knowledge generation, common deliberation, personal passion, and a collective pleasure in learning.
- Devolutionism: all our production of knowledge – books, software, contents, even recipes – is returned to the commons, generating more abundance.
Neal Gorenflo: What is the vision of Las Indias? What would the classic, most developed form be in the future? What are you after in terms of how it can transform individuals, interpersonal relationships, and the world?
Our vision is not a universalist one. We don’t proselytize and we really believe that diversity is a desirable consequence of freedom.
But we have a vision for us – the phyle – and a wish: to see the birth of a wider, transnational space of economic democracies. We imagine networks of phyles generating wealth, social cohesion, and ensuring liberties for real people rather than the governments’ power and their borders and passports.
We are not naive nor utopian. Distributed networks gave our generation the opportunity to build a new world. But this new world, based on the commons, communities, economic democracy and distributed networks, isn’t completely born. And the old world, based on the artificial generation of scarcity, corporations, inequality, and centralized networks, isn’t dead.
It is very symptomatic that the European crisis manifests as a debt crisis. Governments are suffocating society in order to feed privileged groups – big corporations, some sectors dependent on public money – who have captured state rents or ensured it through monopolistic law. So, the main objective and the main vision now is to stop these decomposing forces in our environments.
MB: How does Las Indias work internally? How is it funded?
There are different levels of engagement and commitment. As a phyle we are really a network. On the periphery, there are individual entrepreneurs with their initiatives. At the core, there are the associated cooperatives, and at that core, the Indianos.
Indianos are communities that are similar to kibbutzim (no individual savings, collective and democratic control of their own coops, etc.). But there are some important differences like the lack of a shared national or religious ideology, being distributed throughout cities rather than concentrated in a compound, and not submitting to an economic rationality.
John Robb: What kind of coops are in the Las Indias network? What are the synergies between the cooperatives?
At this moment we have three coops: Las Indias (a consultancy), El Arte (our new product lab), and Enkidu (Open Software). There are also three participative enterprises that employ some 20 people.
All of them are expressions of our members’ different passions, which answer the different needs of our community and environment.
MB: How do you position yourself vis-a-vis the current global capitalist system? What alternative are you proposing?
We think cooperatives and economic democracy (a rent-free market society), hand in hand with a liberated commons as the alternative to capitalism, can be made possible through distributed networks.
But we are economic democrats, so we don’t want the state to provide the alternative to crony-capitalism and accumulation. Indeed, we think it can’t. We have to build it by ourselves, and demand the state to remove the obstacles (as IP, contracts for big politically connected corporations, etc.) that protect privileged groups’ rents from competition in the market.
The alternative will not be built through government regulations, but inside our own networks. It will not defeat the corporate organization through courts or elections, but through competition.
NG: We live in a world saturated in corporate media. How do you maintain a culture of cooperation at Las Indias in the face of this onslaught of atomizing, consumerist messages? What spiritual or cultural practices and artifacts can you point to that are especially helpful?
All of us spent many years sharing small apartments downtown, walking or going to work by bus, working in bad jobs through school and after finishing our degrees. It is not a unique condition, it is the reality of the job market in Spain, Portugal, and many Latin American countries in a wide group of middle class children of our generation.
The result of this experience for many people was a particular culture that mixed a lot of immaterial, cultural consumption – some of it provided for free, by the state – with a reduced access to consumerism compared to older people.
In 1996, I was 26 and finishing a degree in economics in Madrid. I worked in a call center earning 450€ a month, working eight hours a day from four to midnight. I spent 300€ on rent, around 100€ for food, electricity, telephone and public transport, and 48€ on an Internet connection. As you can imagine, my “leisure” time was spent around the public library, museums, the public filmotheque (classic movies were 60 cents a ticket), at cheap potluck dinners and, of course, online.
My experience was not extraordinary at all, and it’s even more common now.
This mode of cultural consumption is based on public cultural goods, cheap second-hand or popular edition books, and “cocooning.” The P2P world made sense in our everyday culture.
So, some years later our incomes increased and we earned autonomy, but for us a good living still means good broadband, access to cultural works, good museums, and good meals in comfortable but not very expensive flats downtown. None of us has a car or has bought a house.
But please don’t be confused. We don’t make a cult of austerity. We simply have a different culture, we enjoy different things. None of us has a TV either, but many of us have projectors for watching videos off the Internet.
NG: In Spain, you’re often associated with the cyberpunk movement, which was born in the US in the early 80s. How has cyberpunk influenced you and Las Indias? And how is cyberpunk relevant today?
Cyberpunk activism was strongly influenced by cyberpunk literature. Even today, classic cyberpunk works like Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net and Green Days in Brunei, and post-cyberpunk like Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, provide models for discussing subjects we think are important at this moment: distributed vs. centralized networks, economic democracy vs. corporate power, etc.
Cyberpunk taught us to discuss in a mode outside the political tradition: not around theses and programs, but around models and myths, where auto-criticism and irony were easier and dogmatism almost impossible.
MB: For me, some of the most innovative concepts in the Las Indias books were the concepts of phyles and neo-venetianism. What do these mean?
Phyle is a community that develops an economic structure based on economic democracy in order to ensure its own autonomy. The order of the terms is important: phyle is a community with firms, not a community of firms, nor a community of people who own some firms. The firms are tools for the autonomy of the community – a means, not an end – and are always less important than the needs of community members.
Neovenetianism is the ideology of those who see the creation of phyles as the natural evolution of their communities, so that this evolution, its dialogues and deliberations, would be free from the influence of the political and economic decomposition of the states and the markets they live in.
Virtual communities are by nature transnational. If they have borders, these are the borders of language. A few days ago I saw a tweet saying, “When the Canadian border crossing guards asked me where I was from, I was really tempted to say ‘the internet.’” Many people feel like that tweeter. But that causes a kind of schizophrenia: life becomes divided in two, the virtual life and the working life. Phyles reunify our lives around our intentional virtual community.
MB: What do the new concepts of the sharing economy (Shareable), p2p (P2P Foundation), the commons, and resilience (Global Guerrillas) evoke for you, and how does Las Indias relate to them?
P2P means distributed networks, commons, abundance. It’s the meaning of life!
The sharing economy means community, autonomy, commons, gift, joy, abundance again. It is the real sense of our core, the “how-to” of abundance, the way we live.
Resilience is at the same time the golden rule and the consequence of building community on a shared economy under a P2P architecture. It is our main virtue and the only thing that can guarantee survival even under increasing global decomposition.
JR: Any plans for micro-finance or a bank to speed cooperative growth?
We made a big effort to set up partnerships with mutual benefit societies and credit coops in South America. Our idea was to bring in our knowledge and criteria to create viable and productive coops, while the credits coops would attract new solid, stable members in the mid-term.
However, a series of accidents and health issues in the middle of 2012 affected our plans, and that idea had to be abandoned as the Indianos decided to “regroup” in Europe. So, we’ve had to develop these ideas in different ways for the last year and half.
In September 2012 we created Fondaki-SIP-ner, along with a dozen small industrial companies, many of them coops. Fondaki is a not-for-profit public intelligence consultancy that helps small and medium enterprises find new markets and develop new lines of innovation, two key issues for small enterprises and coops looking to face the consequences of the current crisis without destroying employment, while creating social cohesion. In January 2013 the younger Indianos founded Enkidu, the first coop created by our core group since the beginning of the crisis in 2008.
And, of course, we’re still focused on the globalization of “the small”. We think that’s one of the key issues today. In 2012, along with the Garum Foundation, we worked on the development of “Bazar”, which is free software for the creation of distributed commercial networks. It’s something we’d like to take up again, and which would complement the development of the Direct Economy, probably the most important opportunity for generating communal autonomy today.
JR: How long does it take to train a regular person in cooperative business practices? Are there plans for teaching cooperative thinking online to grow it faster?
It takes time! Unfortunately, almost everything in the mainstream culture teaches us that the world is a zero-sum game, and that markets must be ruled by jungle law. But the simple truth is that they shouldn’t be, and we, people, can make the difference.
What we’ve noticed these last few years is that one of the most destructive side effects of the crisis is how it affects people’s confidence in their own capabilities. Especially in Europe, among the generation that finished its studies post-2008, the effect is often devastating. People find it very hard to believe that the system can offer them a future when it can’t even offer them a job. But it’s also difficult to imagine your own future, an alternate endeavor of one’s own, when every other conversation, year after year, comes back to the “no future” scenario.
This is why, towards the end of 2013, we’ve re-oriented our whole communications strategy, especially lasindias.com, towards “an interesting life”. During all these years, from cyberpunk to 2012, we were characterized by striving to provide a perspective on the political significance of technology. That was also at the core of our books, from “Like a vine, not like a tree” in 2003 to “The P2P mode of production” in 2012. But now we feel the need to focus on something more basic, an ethical, empowering perspective without which the questions we’re looking to answer wouldn’t make any sense. Why would anyone want to partake in commons-oriented peer production when they can’t even imagine a future for their own community? How will anyone create or join a cooperative when they think that any collective decision-making process is something authoritative?
JR: How do Las Indias cooperatives tie into the physical community?
Our sense of community is indeed very physical on all levels. The inner circle, los indianos, try to work together as much as possible, sharing offices or houses.
The wider community, the aggregation of our families and close friends, is at the center of our concerns. I mean, it’s not only the question of time management, the possibility of spending more time with your people than in a “normal job.” The kind of security you build in a model like ours it is not only about yourself, you know that all the common resources will be ready for your family and your people if they will need it.
MB: Where will humanity be in 20 years?
I hope we will see big transnational spaces with freedom of movement and trade, instigated by networks of economic democracies building wider commons accessible to everyone.
We’ll see. I hope to see the erosion of this idea called capitalism, according to which a single production factor — capital — is the sole determinant of a company’s ownership. The reduction of the scale of production has been the one fundamental tendency that’s remained constant over the last century. As a result, capital isn’t as scarce as it was at the birth of the present economic system. In fact, as the value of production is further tied to factors such as creativity or knowledge, the entire pyramid-like organizational structure becomes ever more dysfunctional, highlighting the need for cooperative protocols in companies.
I hope we will live in a society where capitalism will be marginal but with a market that will not allow rents nor privileges, where the mix of small and ubiquitous tools of production will be furthered by big global repositories of public domain designs as innovative and popular as free software is now.
I hope that in twenty years we will be living in a transnational society, but it is not historically determined. There are a lot of agents pushing towards recentralization: IP lobbies, big Internet firms, rent seekers, state machinery, financial interests, global mafias, etc. So the possibility of terminal nationalism and statism with its social decomposition is also there.
The choice between a society of freedom, based in an egalitarian market and robust commons, and global decomposition depends of our actions in this decade.
Guerrilla Translation/Related:Towards a Material Commons/ Michel Bauwens Dmytri Kleiner John RestakisVenture Communism and Technological Miscommunication: a Conversation with Dmytri Kleiner
*. [This article was originally published in Shareable in February 2012. We contacted Bauwens, Gorenflo and de Ugarte to check whether it had been translated to Spanish or not. It turned out it hadn’t, so we proposed translating and revising the text to reflect the changes of the last two years, with de Ugarte updating his original answers and providing some new ones. This version contains both our translation back to English, and our copyediting of the updated interview. ]↩
- Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
- Image by ABCNT
- Original article, published at 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: …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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
Guerrilla Translation/Related:Venture Communism and Technological Miscommunication: a Conversation with Dmytri Kleiner#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the Net/ Bernardo Gutiérrez
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- Translated by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton– Guerrilla Translation!
- Original article at IohannesMaurus.com
I recently had occasion to visit Disneyland (Paris) with my partner and our two children. Besides the obvious thrills to be had in this vast compendium of fairground attractions, it was quite an odd experience to see this peculiar slice of America transplanted to a rural area outside Paris. The first thing that struck me is that the park sits in an empty field; I mean, it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. This reinforces the impression of Americanism, since the United States has always cultivated the (strictly utopian) myth of a country sprung from nothing, a place destined for the institution of a new society; the purest expression (or the expression of purity) of certain political and ethical principles. Disneyland is an Island crammed full of Utopia. It’s the same in Florida and California, but here, so close to Paris, that radiant symbol of Europe’s characteristic historical abundance, the contrast between the New World and the Old widens.
History is present, very present, inside Disney’s amusement park. More-or-less realistic set pieces are everywhere, evoking all sorts of periods and places: a Western town, a Hollywood neighborhood, a fairytale medieval castle looming over the main walkway, a Native American teepee village, a fantasy Arabian bazaar, etc. There’s plenty of history, but it’s all crafted from papier mâché; it’s history represented through a series of stereotypes. A timeless historical spectacle: history where time is replaced with an empty, indifferent space, unfolding an arbitrary succession of theme parks and sub-parks. History in Disneyland is history unburdened, where it’s enough to know the one or two things that will allow you to say: this is the West, this is Aladdin’s Near East, this is Pocahontas’ Indian village. Condensed this way, history becomes a launch pad into unbridled fantasy, with reality no longer an obstacle. As long as they’re defined by clichés, there’s no limit to the worlds that fit into Disney’s universe. History becomes a frame for stories, a varied range of fantasies where the reality of current America seeps through. A variety which, deprived of real dimension and all that’s beyond the scope of narrative signifiers, turns into repetition of itself.
A series of emotions awaits the visitor in this setting of timeless, unreal history. Most outstanding is the physical sensation of the rollercoaster, derived to infinity over various “thematic” set pieces, with varying levels of “risk” and various degrees of vertigo and shock. The set-up is always the same: an ascent, then a fall, followed by some often violent turns which, at times, test the limits of what one can stand before falling prey to panic. But in Disney’s World there is nothing to fear, as it’s all under control: everything is secured, just like Baghdad’s Green Zone or an occupying army’s armoured tank.
The way in which the masses are herded by gentle, even kindly, methods is nothing short of astonishing. Attracted by the “attractions”, they flock to their vicinity and spontaneously arrange themselves into queues, often quite long, which flow into metal barriers folding in on themselves to separate and contain the masses awaiting their turn. It’s reminiscent of the equipment used in slaughterhouses to guide livestock in, or to channel the flow of people though sensitive border crossings in the EU – distinguishing the chosen, with their documents and money, from the condemned who lack them. The big difference is that here it is voluntary and you pay for it. There’s something disturbing about this self-imposed order that hardly requires the use of language, with the way it channels the flow of a multitude so it becomes a mass. A curious sort of wordless self-management, mediated by metallic barriers. Temple Grandin, author and doctor of animal science as well as a high-functioning autistic, devised a series of devices for cattle containment currently being used in many livestock operations. These devices have no need for words, they only require a specific arrangement of the metal elements within which the animal is contained, and through which it can only move in one direction. Temple Grandin claims that, being autistic, she can think “in pictures without words”. Consequently, she states that, when conceiving a structure, “Every design problem I’ve ever solved started with my ability to visualize and see the world in pictures”. Without a single word and divorced from “the other” implied by language, that same other that you ask something of or give orders to, her mechanisms channel cattle and people alike, effectively and nonviolently.
The queue is essential to the ride. First of all because, after the initial stretch which flows through the metal barriers, it runs through a kind of theme-zone. Some of these are fun, like the Star Wars spaceport, where robots from Lucas’ films welcome visitors awaiting their turn, while the walls display funny travel ads for other worlds, or the recreated seaport in the Nemo attraction. It’s important for people to wait because, not counting the queues, the attractions themselves are very brief (between 2 and 5 minutes). The visitor could easily go through them all in a couple of hours. Long lines are also important because the mere existence of the queue confers value to the attraction: admiring comments are often overheard in relation to one, or even two hour queues. In market logic, the scarcer and more inaccessible something is, the more valuable – even though, in the end, it’s all variations on the same theme: the rollercoaster or its substitutes. This imitation of desire becomes the prime value factor for these rides: we want them because the other wants them, blinding us to their repetitive, even tedious, character.
The actual content of the “star” attractions, most of them variations on the experience of freefall, is an experience of terror under strict immunizing conditions. You can, for example, witness a collision between a starship and an asteroid from the cozy, safe interior of your ship: just a slight tremor on the floor, blinking lights and even a few burst of flames, rapidly extinguished by sprinklers. You can also experience freefall from the inside of an elevator, without anything really happening. The rollercoasters shove people around, spinning them 360 degrees and, oftentimes, leaving them upside down, or shaken and crashed against the vehicles’ walls due to the abrupt, fast turns. All of this on top of the sudden descents. It’s all very impressive, it’s all very innocuous. The fact is that the logic of containment is also applied here. Passengers are tied down and retained by devices that impede their movements and cushion the brunt of any possible impact. One goes through experiences which would be life-threatening under normal conditions, safely held by a tight-fitting body security apparatus. Bodies that grow into the machine as they’re protected by it: in this way you can gaze into the abyss or feel vertigo, maybe even feel a bit of terror…. free from all fear. Nothing happens in Disneyland , everything is under control. We only need trust in a charitable power that will keep our movements constrained within effective devices, keeping us amused. You can then experience the ghosts of destruction and death from a perfectly secure standpoint. The ghost, as described by Jacques Lacan, is a “window onto the real”, which is to say, to the unbearable and, in particular, to death and castration.
At the entrance to one section of the park, the worn out visitor encounters a statue of the ineffable Walt Disney, founder of this grand utopia of immunized emotion. Wearing a suit jacket and a big smile, one hand extends forward, inviting entrance to his kingdom, while the other holds the hand of Mickey Mouse. It’s impossible not to compare this image with those of Lenin and Stalin, which proliferated in the urban landscapes of the old Soviet Union, or still stand in North Korea. These societies that believe, or used to believe, in totality and the end of history, have much in common with Disney’s dreamland; as in Disney’s world, the aim is to create isolated worlds where nothing happens. Of all the insular utopias, Disney’s fantastical and commercial variant – this highly effective ideological apparatus for the fiercest of Americanisms, now successfully embedded in the heart of Europe – has outlasted and fared better than the rest. This may be due to its being surrounded by the neoliberal ocean, where some opined that history was called to an end. Let’s not fool ourselves: it’s nothing more than a ghost. Disney invites us to experience disaster without consequence, to innocently contemplate the imminent catastrophe, we are beckoned to imagine death or the end of the world. But all of these ghosts protect Disney’s utopia and the deep neoliberal ocean surrounding it from a destiny to them more intolerable than the end of the world: the end of capitalism. That is the only product they have no interest in selling us.
Special thanks to Paka McDirham, for her production work in making this translation happen
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