P2P and Human Evolution Ch 4
4. P2P in the Political Sphere
Chapter 4 of P2P and Human Evolution
- 1 4. P2P in the Political Sphere
- 1.1 4.1.A The Alterglobalisation Movement
- 1.2 4.1.B The ‘Coordination’ format
- 1.3 4.1.C Peer Governance as a third mode of governance
- 1.4 4.1.D Peer governance in peer production?
- 1.5 4.1.E New conceptions of social and political struggle
- 1.6 4.1.F New lines of contention: Information Commons vs. New Enclosures
- 1.7 4.2.A De-Monopolization of Power
- 1.8 4.2.B Equality, Hierarchy, Freedom
- 1.9 4.3. Evolutionary Conceptions of Power and Hierarchy
- 1.10 More Information
4.1.A The Alterglobalisation Movement
The alterglobalisation movement is a well-known example of the P2P ethos at work in the political field. The movement sees itself as a network of networks that combines players from a wide variety of fields and opinions, who, despite the fact that they do no see eye to eye on every aspect, manage to unite around a common platform of action around certain key events. They are able to mobilize vast numbers of people from every continent, without having at their disposal any of the traditional newsmedia, such as televisions, radios or newspapers. Rather, they rely almost exclusively on the P2P technologies described above. Thus internet media are used for communication and learning on a continuous basis, prior to the mobilizations, but also during the mobilizations, where independent internet media platforms such as Indymedia, as well as the skillful use of mobile phones are used for real-time response management, undertaken by small groups that use buddy-list technologies, sometimes open source programs that have been explicitly designed for political activism such as TextMob. The network model allows for a more fluid organization that does not fix any group in permanent adversarial positions, but various temporary coalitions are created on a ad hoc basis depending on the issues. A key underlying philosophy of the movement is the paradigm of non-representationality. Instead of representation, the movement has been experimenting with a wide variety of new organizational formats such as the social forums themselves. These have to navigate the tension between being a space for dialogue and socialization, and retaining efficiency in action, i.e. uniting around common projects. And this double objective had to be attained while respecting three basic horizontal constraints:
- the continued ability to extend the network and hence maintenance of diversity;
- the refusal of representation;
- decision-making by consensus only.
Contrary to previous movements in the past, who also started operating in a peer-like manner but then either 'institutionalised' themselves to survive or dissolved, the alterglobalisation movement seems to move in a opposite direction: towards a further consolidation of its radical P2P premises.
The appearance of the paradigm of non-representationality is an important social innovation that should not go unnoticed and is at the heart of the philosophical underpinning of the P2P worldview. In classic modern political ideology, participating members elect representatives, and delegate their authority to them. Decisions taken by councils of such representatives then can take binding decisions, and are allowed to speak ‘for the movement’. But such a feature seems to be absent from the alterglobalisation movement. No one, not even the celebrities, can speak for anyone else, though they can speak in their own name. Again, some movements and people have more influence than others, but none can be said to dominate or direct the movement as such. Another distinguishing feature, is that we can no longer speak of ‘permanent organizations’. While unions, political movements, and international environmental and human rights NGO’s do participate, and have an important role, the movement innovates by mobilizing many unaffiliated individuals, as well as all kinds of temporary ad hoc groups created within or without the internet. Thus we can add to the de-formalization and de-institutionalization principles explained above, another one that we could call the process of de-organization, as long as we are clear on its meaning, which refers to the transcendence of ‘fixed’ organizational formats which allows power to consolidate. What we get instead is 'shifting and dynamic structures'. However, it is important to stress that the use of flexible structures does not mean structurelessness. Peer governance uses different formats that share as a common characteristic that it aims for power to be distributed to a maximum extent.
The adherents of such movements are most often post-ideological in their approach; they stress their difference, refuse 'permanent identification' with any particular movement, but at the same time try to overcome their differences through the common action. We have evolved from a 'stamp it' militancy (from the stamps that party members used to put in a membership booklet as proof of payment) which indicated a lifelong ideological commitment, to a 'post-it' neo-militancy, where these new types of organizations do not even propose membership.
A commonly heard criticism is that ‘they have no alternative’, i.e. are not offering a precise and integrated alternative political and social program. This in fact may reflect their new approach to politics. The main demand is indeed not always for specifics, though that can occasionally be part of a consensus platform (such as ‘abandoning the debt for developing countries’), more importantly is the underlying philosophy, that ‘another world is possible’, but that what is most important is not asking for specific alternative, but rather for an open process of world governance that is not governed by the power politics and private interests of the elite, but determined by all the people in an autonomous fashion that recognized the wide diversity of desired futures. Thus, in that sense, the 'aim' of the alterglobalisation movement is nothing else than a demand for a new 'organisation' of the world, based on the P2P principles.
An important aspect of the alterglobalisation movement is the above-mentioned reliance on alternative independent internet media. Despite the overriding influence of corporate-owned mass media, groups such as the alterglobalisation movement have succeeded in created a vast number of alternative news outlets, in written, audio, and audiovisual formats. Those are used for a permanent process of learning and exchange, outside of the sphere of the ‘manufacturing of consent’ (as described by Noam Chomsky, 2002).
Of course, the new method of organisation that we described above, is not limited to movements on the left of the political spectrum, and can be found on the right as well. One often noted example is Al Qaeda, which mixes tribal, corporate but also strong network features; another example is the leaderless resistance model advocated by some on the extreme right.
4.1.B The ‘Coordination’ format
Since the mid-eighties, observers have noticed that social struggles have taken a new format as well, that of the coordination. In France for example, all the important struggles of the recent decade, by nurses, by the educational workers, and most recently by the part-time art workers (the 'intermittents'), have been led by such coordinations. Again, such coordinations are a radical innovation. They are also based on the principle of non-representationality: no one is elected to represent anybody else, anyone can participate, their decisions are based on consensus, while participants retain every freedom in their actions. Note how the coordination thus differs from the earlier hyper-democratic form of worker’s councils, which were still based on the idea of representation.
The latest struggle of the artistic ‘intermittents’ was particularly significant. These are creative knowledge workers who move from artistic project to artistic project, and who are therefore, unlike earlier industrial workers, not in permanent contact with each other. Yet their ‘network sociality’, which means they keep in touch with a variety of subgroups of friends and associates to keep informed of opportunities and for permanent collective learning and exchange, meant that, when confronted with a reform they found intolerable, they were able to mount one of the most effective mass social movements in a very short time, through the use of viral diffusion techniques. Traditional power plays by established left political parties and unions are not tolerated in the coordinations: when they happen, people simply leave and set up shop elsewhere. Thus authoritarian political organizations are seriously restrained by this format.
The coordination format aims to preserve 'difference', does not strive for 'unity' and 'centralisation' of the struggle, but achieves nevertheless 'common' goals and actions. However, in contrast with the earlier forms of 'mass demonstrations' and 'mass strikes', the coordination-led struggles are often organized in a 'just-in-time' fashion of autonomous micro-actions, often geared to the interrupting of the 'machine of the spectacle', i.e. the mass media, transport flows, and the culture industry. It is very similar to the approach of the alterglobalisation movement, which chooses heavily covered summits as focal points of action.
The alterglobalisation movement and the coordination format are not flukes, but representative of a much more general way of doing politics, which has also been called the 'network-advocacy model'.
4.1.C Peer Governance as a third mode of governance
In 3.4.A, we have used the typology of intersubjective relations by Alan Page Fiske. Two points are important here: First, no society or civilization can survive through reliance on any one mode, they have always co-existed. But we can also see that the different modes of civilization are dominated by one particular mode, and this particular mode will put its mark on all others, molding them on its own image. For example, the tribal mode of organization, the gift economy, was based on reciprocity, i.e. Equality Matching. The agrarian mode was mostly based on Authority Ranking, and capitalism is of course the society where Market Pricing becomes dominant. If there is to be a Peer to Peer Era, our hypothesis is that it will be dominated by Communal Shareholding, i.e. the institutional form of the Commons will be what is central. That the dominant form recasts the other forms to its image can be seen for example in how the common property of the Church was embedded in the hierarchical structure of the Church institution. And in capitalist society in how the hierarchical state apparatus is subsumed by the defense of private interests.
We can therefore expect that peer to peer will mold not only autonomous peer production, but also the market and the state. We therefore want to distinguish pure modes of peer governance, from the adaptation of existing governance models to the peer to peer mode.
Following Bob Jessop, we will define peer governance as follows:
"[Peer] Governance is defined as the reflexive self-organisation of independent actors involved in complex relations of reciprocal interdependence, with such self-organisation being based on continuing dialogue and resource-sharing to develop mutually beneficial joint projects and to manage the contradictions and dilemmas inevitably involved in such situations. Governance organised on this basis need not entail a complete symmetry in power relations or complete equality in the distribution of benefits: indeed, it is highly unlikely to do so almost regardless of the object of governance or the ‘stakeholders’ who actually participate in the governance process. All that is involved in this preliminary definition is the commitment on the part of those involved to reflexive self-organisation in the face of complex reciprocal interdependence."
The first aspect is to be found in the increasing amount of peer governance of autonomous groups. Peer production is not just an economic process, it is a political process, as these projects have to be managed, albeit in a distributed way. The principle of self-regulation of peer groups, which by definition create new use value for the commons, should of course not be confused with the self-regulation by the market, where individual agents are only looking out for their own interests, and not for the public good, which is of course not to say that it should be rejected in all cases. Bob Jessop insists on the difference of self-reflexivity amongst participants in peer groups, something absent in the ‘invisible hand’ of the market. Nevertheless, even for P2P groups we can envisage a role of arbitrage by the state, to make sure that P2P groups do not damage the public interests, however defined. There is still a legitimate difference to be made between peer governance as dealing with a subset of interests, and the state as guarantor of the ‘general interest’ of society as a whole .
One of the strengths of the liberal tradition today is that it speaks to the desire for autonomy of democratic subjects, who in many cases, feel this autonomy is more threatened by the bureaucracy of the state, than by the behavior of for-profit companies. Finding alternatives for bureaucratization is therefore an important part of the evolution towards P2P models.
Peer governance also has a second more expanded definition and application, as a mode of governance that can be applied in the real world, as a true alternative to the top-down and hierarchical state form of government, and can be applied whenever there are interdependent and multiple stakeholders involved. He has outlined a consensus among scholars that four conditions are required to make it applicable successfully:
“Studies suggest that there are four conditions for effective reflexive self-organisation: (a) simplifying models and practices, which reduce the complexity of the world but are still congruent with real world processes and relevant to actors' objectives; (b) developing the capacity for dynamic, interactive social learning among autonomous but interdependent agencies about causal processes and forms of interdependence, attributions of responsibility and capacity for actions, and possibilities of co-ordination in a complex, turbulent environment; (c) building methods for co-ordinating actions across social forces with different identities, interests, and meaning systems, over different spatio-temporal horizons, and over different domains of action; and (d) establishing a common world view for individual action and a system of ‘metagovernance’ to stabilise key players' orientations, expectations, and rules of conduct."
How then will the state be molded by peer to peer? Peer governance is characterized by the relational paradigm . Rather than seeing itself as sovereign master, the state must be seen as embedded in relationships, and as in need of respecting these multiple relationships. This is probably best translated by the concept of multistakeholdership. We can probably expect that the nation-state, along with the newly emerging sub- and supra-regional structures will continue to exist, but that their policies will be set through a dialogue with stakeholders. The key will be to disembed the state from its primary reliance of the private sector, and to make it beholden to civil society, i.e. the commons, so that it can act as a center of arbitrage. Despite the recent greater subsumption of the state to private interests (in the neoliberal era) – which of course has never been total since the balance of forces is not based on a complete defeat of the citizenship -- many supra-regional institutes, and in particular non-state governance institutions such as the standards bodies, but also policy-making at the U.N., already exhibit many features of multistakeholdership.
What we describe is of course an ideal state of affairs, requiring a new balance of power in society. Failing such a change, in the asymmetrical world of power relationship that we live in today, any multistakeholdership relation will be marked by such unbalances, and fail to reach the ideal of self-reflexivity in the context of equipotential relations. What can be achieved in peer groups today, cannot be achieved by extending the model to the whole of society. In the text that we are citing, Bob Jessop examines in detail the potential failure points of the interplay between peer governance and the state.
The market will also be greatly influenced (and of course already is), and will change more radically in a P2P-dominated political economy. It is a legitimate expectation, or hope, that the recent evolution from a market economy to a market society, in which every social relationship is in the process of being monetized, could partially or even largely be undone as civil society re-asserts itself. New types of businesses will emerge that embed more clearly P2P principles. It is to be expected that in many areas the authoritarian structures and practices will have to adapt, as the age of participation will want to extend the principle of self-rule to the productive sphere. As the concept of multistakeholdersship will be more strongly asserted, corporate governance will no longer be able to ignore its workers, consumers, and associated communities, including the voices of the natural environment. The increased demands for transparency, and their enablement by technology, will also impose changes in corporate behavior and structures. There are of course many aspects to this question, such as whether an alternative to the current capitalist system is possible or even desirable, but this will be discussed elsewhere.
But peer governance remains a clear alternative. If market allocation and corporate hierarchy are the governance model of the market, associated with private property; and if bureaucracy is associated with the state model of governance, then peer governance is clearly the alternative being forged by civil society. It will emerge in its pure form in P2P groups, but its associated values such as relationality (and transparency) will clearly force an adaptation of both market and the state. This is why we will say elsewhere in the text that one of the key goals of a P2P movement will be, or should be, 'For a Commons-based Society with a reformed market and state'.
The assertion of peer governance as an alternative model, either in the current situation and/or in any future commons-based society, i.e. a society that will still inevitably be marked by a pluralism of governance models consisting of peer governance/ market allocation / and what Jessop calls ‘imperative coordination’, with doses of reciprocity-based gift economies thrown in, creates a problem of ‘meta-governance’, which has also already been discussed by Bob Jessop.
He distinguishes the following levels, which we reproduce in full in the endnotes . What is important is to distinguish meta-heterarchy, i.e. the coordination of different levels of peer governance, from meta-governance as the coordination of the different forms of governance/government.
- Meta-exchange as “the reflexive redesign of individual markets", i.e. how can different types of markets and scales of market be co-ordinated?
- Meta-organisation, as “the reflexive redesign of organisations, the creation of intermediating organisations, the reordering of inter-organisational relations, and the management of organisational ecologies". We could generalize that also to the problematic of meta-hierarchy, how the different levels of local, state, supreregional and global state forms interrelate.
- Meta-heterarchy, “this involves the organisation of the conditions of self-organisation by redefining the framework for heterarchy or reflexive self-organisation."
- Meta-governance, “This involves re-articulating and ‘collibrating’ the different modes of governance… , [i.e.] the judicious mixing of market, hierarchy, and networks to achieve the best possible outcomes from the viewpoint of those engaged in metagovernance."
The respective influence of peer governance on market and state is summarized by Jessop in the following way, and echoes what we have said about it supra:
“On the one hand, market competition will be balanced by co-operation, the invisible hand will be combined with a visible handshake. On the other hand, the state is no longer the sovereign authority. It becomes just one participant among others in the pluralistic guidance system and contributes its own distinctive resources to the negotiation process. As the range of networks, partnerships, and other models of economic and political governance expand, official apparatuses remain at best first among equals.The state's involvement would become less hierarchical, less centralised, and less directive in character. The exchange of information and moral suasion become key sources of legitimation and the state's influence depends as much on its role as a prime source and mediator of collective intelligence as on its command over economic resources or legitimate coercion."
4.1.D Peer governance in peer production?
How does peer governance work in actual peer production processes, in free software/open source projects for example?
Aaron Krowne has done useful work to define the authority models at work in such projects. The models define access and the workflow, and whether there is any quality control. The free-form model, which Wikipedia employs, allows anyone to edit any entry at any time. But in the owner-centric model, entries can only be modified with the permission of a specific ‘owner’ who has to defend the integrity of his module. He concludes that “These two models have different assumptions and effects. The free-form model connotes more of a sense that all users are on the “same level," and that expertise will be universally recognized and deferred to. As a result, the creator of an entry is spared the trouble of reviewing every change before it is integrated, as well as the need to perform the integration. By contrast, the owner-centric authority model assumes the owner is the de facto expert in the topic at hand, above all others, and all others must defer to them. Because of this arrangement, the owner must review all modification proposals, and take the time to integrate the good ones. However, no non-expert will ever be allowed to “damage" an entry, and therefore resorting to administrative powers is vanishingly rare." The owner-centric model is better for quality, but takes more time, while the free-form model increases scope of coverage and is very fast. The choice between the two models can of course be a contentious issue. In the case of the Wikipedia, the adherents of the owner-centric model, active in the pre-Wikipedia "Nupedia" model, lost out, and presumable, the success of Wikipedia has proven them wrong, since the latter totally open process has been proven a success . Similar conflicts are reported in many other projects . Collaborative projects are no utopian scheme were everything is better, but subject to intense human conflict as well. A general problem still associated with FLOSS software is their lack of user-friendliness , they are often made from the biases of a development community, and may have less incentive than corporate entities, to make them customer-friendly, which is why a niche has been created for service companies such as Red Hat.
Another important aspect of FLOSS projects is how they handle 'equipotentiality'. While formal degrees have been abandoned, and open participation is in principle encouraged, most projects will over time produce a number of rules in their selection. The important aspect is that these rules are generated within the community itself, though mostly in the early phases. After a while, they tend to consolidate and they are a given for the new participants who come later . At this point, a process of socialization is crucial to eventual acceptance . The process is akin to the tradition of artisanship, which has been used in the three-degree system of original freemasonry as well: apprentice, companion (fellow craft), master. But it is implied rather than formalized.
Crucial to the success of many collaborative projects is their implementation of the reputation schemes. They differ from previous reputation-based systems, such as academic peer review, because the open process of participation (equipotentiality) precludes a systematic strengthening of reputation so that it could become a factor of conservatism (as it is in science and its dependence on dominant paradigms) and power. In the better P2P systems, reputation is time-sensitive on the degree of recent participation and the possibility of forking and of downgrading reputation grades, introduce an aspect of community control, flexibility and dynamism. See in particular the endnote on this topic, outlining the example of the NoLogo site . Reputation-based schemes are crucial because cooperation is based on trust, and they offer a collaborative scheme to indicate those who are the best contributors to the common value, while motivating everybody to use the more cooperative, and less the more baser sides of human nature."
The change in political practices has been reflected by new thinking in the field of political theory. Among the thinkers that come to mind are Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, with their books Empire and Multitude, Miguel Benasayag with his book “Le Contre-Pouvoir”, and John Holloway with ‘Revolution Without Power’.
Negri/Hardt have (re-)introduced the concept of Multitude. Unlike the earlier concept of People or proletariat, multitudes do not have a synthetic unity. They exist in their differences. What is rejected is abstract human identity in favour of the organization for common goals of concrete humanity in its differences.
Their concept is derived from the Enlightenment debate between Hobbes and Spinoza. Hobbes, pioneering thinker moving away from conceptions of divine order towards those of natural order, said that society consists of multitudes of equals, marked by different and contradictory desires and interests making them unable to constitute a society by themselves. In the state of nature, it’s war of all against all. Thus, to constitute society, they have to give away their power, to a sovereign to whom they give the power to rule and to create social order. This eventually becomes ‘uniting as a people’, in order to create a “nation-state”, with representative democracy. But the unity comes at a price, not only does inclusion in the nation-state imply exclusion of others, but within, those who partake had to give away their power. Thus, political power is transcendent vs. the immanent power of the multitude, it rules ‘over them’. It is this characteristic of modernity which is falling away today: taking his cue from the more positive description of the multitude and their desires by Spinoza, which represents a counter-trend and thus a ‘alternative modernity’, Spinoza and Negri maintain that the multitudes can rule themselves, in a fully immanent way, by themselves, refusing any transcendence of their power. Theirs is a politics without representation, centered around the notion of non-representationality.
Unlike the concept of People, which unifies but also rejects the non-People, the multitude is totally open and global from the outset. In terms of political strategy, they develop concepts like ‘Exodus’, which means no longer facing the enemy directly (in a network configuration of social movements, there is no direct enemy and in Empire ‘there is no there there’, i.e. the enemy cannot be precisely located as it is a network itself), but to route around obstacles and more importantly to refuse to give consent and legitimation by constructing alternatives in real-time, through networks. It is only when the multitudes are under direct attack, through reforms that are experienced as ‘intolerable’, that the network is galvanized into struggle, and that the very format of organizing prefigures already the society to come.
Essential components of the multitude are the knowledge workers, affective ‘service’ workers, and other forms of immaterial labour. Miguel Benasayag similarly argues that ‘to resist is to create’, and that political struggle is essentially about the construction of alternatives, here and now. Current practice has to reflect the desired future, and has to emerge, not from the ‘sad passions’ of hate and anger, but from the joys of producing a commons. The Hacker Manifesto is another important expression of this new ethos.
John Holloway frames a very similar sensibility it into a new conception of temporality. The traditional left used 'capitalist time-frames' he charges. First waiting, for the next reform, for the revolution, and 'then' all will be different. But instead of taking power, which makes 'us' become like 'them', and creates new asymmetries, we should be 'building power', combining two temporarilities: first, the temporality of refusal, the 'exodus' if you like, but simultaneously, build the world you desire 'now'. Capitalism exists not because it was once created, but because we are making it every day. He stresses that what is needed is not 'counter-power', but 'anti-power'.
Though none of these authors explicitly use the peer to peer concept, their own concepts reflect its philosophy and practice, and they are generally in tune with the themes of the peer to peer advocates (such as favouring an information commons, support for free software and open source methodologies, etc…).
A recent explicitely participatory political philosophy is being developed by a group of authors such as Mitch Ratcliffe, and is called Extreme Democracy. It is neither representative nor direct democracy but a proposal to have totally open participation in networks responsible for policymaking. The concept of 'Extreme' in this context, is related to the concept of 'extreme programming', a rapid, small-team like P2P process of producing software.
4.1.F New lines of contention: Information Commons vs. New Enclosures
Next to new forms of political organization, new conceptions regarding the tactics and strategies of struggle, the emergence of peer to peer also generates new conflicts, which are different from those of the industrial age. Just as the industrial mode of relations created the labour movement and the idea that the workers could own the means of production, the new social formation creates a movement that is favouring the common construction of an Information Commons, associated not with state property or “nationalization", but with universal common access property regimes. Positively, what binds many different social and political movements today is their focus on ‘open access’: to software code (open sources), to scientific information (open access to archives, open science), to the traditional knowledge of humanity (the movement against biopiracy), against the privatization of human life (privatization of the genome). One gets the distinct impression that our current political economy, originally designed to manage scarcity in order to overcome it, is changing into a system that seeks to permanently create artificial scarcity, in order to create knowledge monopolies and dependencies.
The key conflict is therefore the one about the freedom to construct the Information Commons,  vs. the private appropriation of knowledge by for-profit firms. which encompasses what was traditionally called the ‘public domain’, as against the private appropriation of knowledge by for-profit firms. All these different Commons-related struggle share common characteristics, and Philippe Aigrain has examined, in his book 'Cause Commune' (Aigrain, 2005), how these different forces can unite in common struggle.
According to the Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark, the deeper reason and underlying common logic between these different struggles is the struggle for control of both information (as intellectual property) and the vectors of information (needed for distribution), between those that produce information, knowledge and innovation (the hacker class, knowledge workers), and the groups that own the vectors (the vector class), through which its exchange value can be realised. This same vision of a class struggle between the producers of information and those that want to resell prepackaged bits of it for sale back to consumers, is shared by Joel de Rosnay who speaks of ‘pronetarians vs. infocapitalists’.
The last 30 years have indeed seen an enormous extension of Intellectual Property Rights, resulting in a severe weakening of the Scientific Commons, a variety of detrimental social effects, while new developments threaten the development of a free culture. Cognitive capitalism is centered around the accumulation of knowledge assets, and has altered the classic cycle of consumption and production. In the industrial economy this cycle was described as conception-production-distribution-consumption. In this economy, over time, competition would arise, making the products cheaper, forcing corporations to become either more productive or invent new products. In the new economy, the cycle is better described as conception – reproduction of the informational basis – production – distribution – consumption. The informational basis, whether it is software, cultural content, or material products such as seeds in agribusiness, molecules and gene sequences in the pharmaceutical industry, are protected through information property rights. The aspect of production and distribution is no longer central, and can be easily outsourced. This mechanism has now extended to vast sectors of the 'material economy' with companies such as Nike and Alcatel as companies that are essentially divested of material prodution, but are centered around their knowledge and other immaterial assets (essentially 'branding')
Through this mechanism of IP protection, super-profits can be maintained, common pools of knowledge are destroyed and appropriated, and innovation is slowed down. In agribusiness, seeds lose their productive qualities after a generation, rendering farmers completely dependent, while inflated prices created debt cycles. With GMO's, an era of total dependence of agriculture towards agribusiness is set in motion. In pharmaceuticals, the inflated prices of medication are one of the key factors of the crisis of the welfare state, while millions of patients are excluded from appropriate care, especially in the South. A 2001 study of Doctors Without Borders showed that only one percent of the molecules being studied concerned the most prevalent diseases in the South (malaria, TBC, etc..) The most well-known case is of course the controversy around AIDS treatments, where millions of patients are unnecessarily dying because they are not allowed access to generic drugs. The software patenting which originated in the U.S. and has been copied in Europe makes it now possible to protect ideas and any logical sequence (which includes business processes) and is widely seen as an impediment for further innovation, since it excludes small companies who lack the means of taking the licenses, whileleading to an explosion of litigation. American reforms which have allowed universities to privatize and patent their scientific knowledge and have severely endangered cooperation amongst scientists. Finally, exploding prices of scientific publications have rendered access to scientific knowledge more difficult. At the core of the conflict over IP are also deeply differing ideological conceptions of cultural creation. IP proponents see creation in terms of market, with creators investing time and capital into cultural products destined for the marketplace, and with the motive and incentive being the profit protected by IP rights; proponents of the Information Commons have a more social vision of creation, seeing how every creator is dependent on the community of creators that preceded and exists alongside of them. IP by restricting access to the common pool, impedes creation and innovation.
It is this intensive effort at the private appropriation of knowledge that has created different movements of resistance. The free software movement, the movements of farmers against biopiracy in seeds and animal and vegetal types, where Western corporations are privatizing the fruits of thousands of year of communal cooperation; the movement of patients and developmental organizations for access to reasonably priced medicines and medical knowledge; the movement for free access to scientific publications, are all related reactions to these New Enclosures. Slowly, ever larger segments of the public started to realize that the new forms of Intellectual Property were no longer based on a compromise between the interests of consumers, creators and publishing intermediaries, but had been extended to favour information property monopolies, who were also threatening to own and control life itself.
At the same time as the existing Information and Scientific Commons were threatened, the internet has created an enormous bottom-up movement, through peer production and knowledge collectives, through microcontent and generalized knowledge exchange of millions of people, thereby creating a new Information Commons. It is the merger of the concerns of the already existing resistance groups, and the realization of the meaning of the process of peer to peer content creation, which is at the core of a new political movement associated with the peer to peer social formation, inspired by the vision of a re-invigorated Commons. By extension, this realization has led to connections with those forces protecting the already existing physical commons (water, air, transportation systems), and the surviving common property forms in the South, which are still strong amongst some native peoples. Both type of movements are similarly concerned with resistance against the extension of the movement towards private appropriation and the market.
A crucial development to bring all of this to generalized public consciousness, especially amongst the new generations, was the development of filesharing. A process that always existed amongst groups of friends, that of sharing cultural enjoyment and creation, is now extended in scope by technology. This endangers the intellectual property system which favours large monopolies, much less the authors and content creators which are at a disadvantage in the current IP system. Moreover, the P2P system of music distribution is inherently more productive and versatile, and more pleasing to the listener of music than the older system of physically distributing CD’s. It is around this development that the regressive nature of cognitive capitalism has been most glaring since it has led to an all-out war against its own consumers.
Indeed, instead of building a common pool for the world’s music, and finding an adequate funding mechanism for the artists, the industry is intent to destroy this more productive system, and wants to criminalize sharing by punishing the users, and even by attempting to render the technology illegal. This would have the effect of not stopping so-called illicit usage, but of stopping the general movement of sharing of cultural content, even the autonomously created one. Another strategy is to incorporate control mechanisms either in software (where it can be hacked and circumvented, but that is made illegal as well), or in the hardware (digital rights management schemes). While the users and producers of free culture are battling the attempts at the enclosure of culture by large 'vectoralist' corporations, many are working at offering solutions that both protect the use of culture, and make it possible for creators to make a living.
Also the forces arrayed start from diametrically opposed paradigms. For the entertainment industry, IP is essential to promote creativity, even though the current system is a ‘winner-take-all’ system that serves only a tiny minority of superstar artists. For them, without IP protection, there would be no creativity. But as P2P processes demonstrate, which are extraordinarily innovative outside the profit system, creativity is what people do when they can freely cooperate and share, and hence IP is sometimes seen as an impediment, impeding the free use what should be a common resource. But what the Commons movement aims at is not abolishing IP, but restoring it to its original intention, i.e. a social compromise that combines the interests of user communities, creators of content needing to make a living, and the reasonable retribution of intermediaries which serve in production and distribution. It seeks to undo the landgrab that has taken place in the last thirty years, and to remedy the grave social problems that have been created (such as the lack of access to life-saving medications) by this one-sided appropriation. It seeks to avoid that new steps are taken in that process of appropriation, refusing that life can be controlled by private interests, and that cultural life would be the subject of restrictive licensing and built into the technology itself. Lastly, it aims to create the conditions that foster the healty development of a strong Commons.
In the meantime, while this political struggle continues, the forces using peer to peer are devising their own solutions. It started with a legal infrastructure for the free software movement, the General Public License, which prohibits the private appropriaton of such software. It continued with the very important Creative Commons initiative initiated by Lawrence Lessig, who also supported the creation of a Free Culture advocacy movement. And it also expressed in the continous technological development of an infrastructure for cooperation and sharing.
4.2.A De-Monopolization of Power
How to explain the emergence of such P2P networks in the political field?
It reflects new cultural values, the desire that authority grows from engagement and expertise, and that it is temporary to the task at hand. It reflects the refusal to give away autonomy, i.e. the rejection of the transcendence of power as defined by Toni Negri. It reflects the desire for self-unfolding of creative potential.
Networks are incredibly efficient: they can operate globally in real-time, react and mobilize around events in the very short term, and offers access to alternative civic information that has not been massaged by corporate-owned mega-media. In a political network configuration, the participating individual retains his full autonomy.
Politically, P2P processes reflect a de-monopolization of power. Power, in the form of reputation that generates influence, is given by the community, is time-bound to the participation of the individual (when he no longer participates, influence declines again), and can thus be taken back by the participating individuals. In the case where monopolization should occur, participants simply leave or create a ‘forking’ of the project, a new path is formed to avoid the power grab.
There is an important counter-trend however, and it concerns the scarcity of attention. Because our time and attention are indeed scarce in a context of information abundance, mediating portals are created, who collate and digest this mass of information. Think about Yahoo, Google, Amazon, eBay who exemplify the process of monopolization in the ‘attention economy’. But the user community is not without power to affect these processes: collective reaction through opinion storms are activated by abusive monopolistic behavior, and can quickly damage the reputation of the perpetrator, thereby forcing a change in behavior in the monopolistic ambitions. Competing resources are almost always available, or can be built by the open source community. But more fundamentally, the blogosphere practice shows that it is possible to route around such problems, by creating mediating processes using the community as a whole. Thus techniques such as folksonomies, i.e. communal tagging, or reputation ranking, such as the ‘Karma’ points used by the Slashdot community, avoid the emergence of autonomous mediating agents. The blogosphere itself, in the form of the Technorati ranking system for example, has found ways to calculate the interlinking done by countless individuals, thereby enabling itself to filter out the most used contributions. Again, monopolization is excluded. What is the mechanism behind this?
For this we have to turn again to the concept of non-representationality, or what Negri calls immanence. In modernity, the concept is that autonomous individuals cannot create a peaceful order, and therefore they defer their power to a sovereign, whether it be the king of the nation. In becoming a people, they become a ‘collective individual’. They lose out as individuals, while the unified people or nation behaves ‘as if’ it was an individual, i.e. with ambition for power. It is ‘transcendent’ vis-à-vis its parts. In non-representationality however, nothing of the sort is given away. This means that the collective hereby created, is not a ‘collective individual’, it cannot act with ambition apart from its members. The genius of the protocols devised in peer to peer initiatives is that they avoid the creation of a collective individual with agency. Instead, it is the communion of the collective which filters value. The ethical implication is important as well. Not having given anything up of their full power, the participants in fact voluntarily take up the concern not only for the whole in terms of the project, but for the social field in which its operates.
Anticipating our ‘evolutionary’ remarks in section 4.3, we can see the above examples as illustrating the new form of protocollary power, which is becoming all-important in a network. The very manner in which we devise our social technologies, implies possible and likely social relationships. The protocols of the blogosphere enable the economy of attention to operate, not through individual actors that can become monopolistic, but by protocols that enable communal filtering. But when used by private firms such as Yahoo and Google, they may have a vested interest in skewing the protocol and the objectivity of the algorithms used. In the blogosphere, protocols are also important since they imply a vision: should everyone be able to judge, and in that case, would that not lead to a lowest common denominator, or should equipotency be defined in such a way that a certain level of expertise is required, to allow higher quality entries to be filtered upwards?
4.2.B Equality, Hierarchy, Freedom
How do P2P processes integrate ‘values’ and ‘social relation’ typologies such as equality, hierarchy, and freedom?
Cornelis Castoriadis gives an interpretation of Aristotle on this issue: equality is actually present in all types of society, but it is always ‘according to criteria’. (this is so because a society is implicitly a form of exchange, and thus in need of comparative standards for such exchange). It is over the criteria of exchange that social and political forces are fighting. Is power to be distributed according to the merit accorded to birth, according to military exploits, according to commercial savvy shown in economic life, to intelligence? This distribution then inherently creates a conflict with the egalitarian demands that is equally constitutive of politics and society. The distribution itself creates an exclusion and resulting demands of participation.
In the modern sense, equality is defined mostly as an equal right to participation in the political process, and as an ‘equality of opportunity’, based on merit, in the economic sphere.
Similarly, hierarchy was based in premodern societies based on ‘authority ranking’ which depended on fixed social roles, and on the competition within these narrowly defined spheres (warriors competing amongst themselves, Brahmins competing through their knowledge of sacred scripture). The command and control hierarchy is fixed amongst the levels, somewhat flexible within the levels. In modern society, theoretically, hierarchy in power is derived from electoral choice in case of political power, through economic success in case of economic power. In theory, it is extremely flexible, based on ‘merit’, but in practice various processes of monopolization prohibit the full flowering of such meritocracy.
World-systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein defines three important political traditions according to their position regarding equality/hierarchy. Conservatives want to conserve existing hierarchical relations, as they were at a certain point in time; liberals are in favour of a selective meritocracy and stress the formalized and institutionalized selection criteria; democrats are in favour of maximum inclusion, without formal testing. Thus, in the early modern system, conservatives were against elections, liberals were for selective census-based elections, democrats for general suffrage.
How does peer to peer fit in this scheme? P2P is a democratic process of full inclusion based on the idea of equipotency. It believes that expertise cannot be located beforehand, and thus general and open participation is the rule. But selection immediately sets in as well, since the equipotency is immediately verified by the work on the project. Thus there is a selection before the project, and a hierarchy of networks is created, where everyone finds his place according to demonstrated potential. Within the project, a hierarchy is also immediately created depending on expertise, engagement, and the capacity to generate trust. But in both cases the hierarchies are fluid, not fixed, and always depend on concrete context, the precise task at hand. It’s the model of the improvising jazz band, where everyone can in turn be the soloist or the trendsetter. Reputation is generated, but constantly on the move. Peer to peer is not anti-hierarchy or even anti-authority, but it is against fixed hierarchies and ‘authoritarianism’, the latter defined as the tendency to monopolize power, with a will to perpetuate itself and deprive others of resources that it wants for itself. P2P is for equality of participation, for a natural and flexible hierarchy based on real merit and communal consensus. The fact that P2P recognizes differences in potential, and thus natural hierarchy, does not preclude it from treating participating partners as equal persons. Research from within the synergistic tradition, which studies the practicalities of cooperation, has verified a remarkable fact. In free and synergistic cooperation, those groups function best, which treat their members ‘as if’ they were equals. Therefore, the recognized hierarchy in reputation, talent, engagement, etc. does not preclude, but if requires an egalitarian environment to blossom.
Some authors, like David Ronfeldt and John Arquila of the Rand Corporation, claim we are moving to a ‘cyberocracy’, where power is determined by the access to the networks. While there is indeed a digital divide that can exclude participation, it is important to stress the flexibility inherent in P2P networks, which undermines the idea of ‘fixed and monopolistic cyberocracies’. Another author, Alexander Bard in Netocracy, argues that capitalism is already dead, and that we are already rules by a hierarchy of knowledge-based networks. At this stage, these are not very convincing arguments, but there is one scenario in which they can become possible. It has been described by Jeremy Rifkin in ‘The Age of Access’. But this scenario of ‘information feudalism’ is predicated on the destruction of P2P networks. Cognitive capitalism in indeed in the process of trying to increase its monopolistic rents on patented digital materials, a strategy which is undermined by the filesharing and information sharing on the P2P networks. If the industry succeeds in its civil war against its consumers, by integrating Digital Rights Management hardware in our very computers, and outlaws sharing through legal attacks and imprisonment, then such a scenario is possible. At that time we would have only private networks for which a license has to be paid, with heavily restrictive usage rules, and no ownership whatsoever for the consumer. This is indeed a scenario of exclusion for all those who will not be able to afford access to the networks. Just as in the feudal structure, where 'serf' farmers did not own the land they were working on, we will not own any immaterial product anymore, we will just have severely restricted usage rights, and certainly not the right to share. But we are far from that situation still, and personally, I do not think it is a likely scenario.
At this moment, P2P is ‘winning’ because its solutions are inherently more productive and democratic, and it is hard to see any social force, be it the large corporations, permanently sabotaging the very technological developments that it needs to survive. More likely, barring a scenario of a collapse of civilization and a return to barbarity, it is more likely to see a social system evolve that incorporates this new level of complexity and participation.
One element I have yet to mention is the freedom aspect, which seems obvious. P2P is predicated on the maximum freedom. The freedom to join and participate, to fully express oneself and one’s potential, the freedom to change course at any point in time, the freedom to quit. Within the common projects, freedom is constrained through communal validation and consensus (i.e. the freedom of others). But individuals can always leave, fork to a new project, create their own. The challenge is to find affinities, to create a common sphere with at least a few others and to create effective use value. Unlike in representative democracy, it is not a model based on a majority imposing its will on a minority.
Despite the fact that Peer to Peer reverses a number of value hierarchies introduced by the Enlightenment, in particular the epistemologies and ontologies of modernity, it is a continuation and partial realization of the emancipatory project. It is in the definition of Wallerstein, an eminently democratic project. Peer to peer partly reflects postmodernity, and partly transcends it.
4.3. Evolutionary Conceptions of Power and Hierarchy
Japanese scholar Shumpei Kumon has given the following evolutionary account of power. In premodernity, he says, power is derived from military force. The strong conquer the weak and exact tribute, part of the produce of the land, labour (the corvée system). Rome was rich because it was strong. In modernity, military force eventually loses its primary place and monetary power takes over. Or in other words, the U.S. is strong because it is rich. Its productive capacity is more important than its military might, and the latter derives from the former. It is commercial and financial power which is the main criterion. In late modernity, a new form of power is born, through the power of the mass media. The U.S. lost the war, not because the Vietnamese were stronger militarily, or had more financial clout, but because the U.S. lost the war for the hearts and minds, and lost social support for the war effort. With the emergence of the internet and peer to peer processes, yet a new form of power emerges, and Kumon calls it the Wisdom Game. In order to have influence, one must give quality knowledge away, and thus build reputation, through the demonstration of one’s ‘Wisdom’. The more one shares, the more this material is used by others, the higher one’s reputation, the bigger one’s influence. This process is true for individuals within groups, and for the process among groups, thus creating a hierarchy of influence amongst networks. But as I have argued, in a true P2P environment, this process is flexible and reversible to a much larger extent than in the previous systems.
According to the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, premodern systems, including the early modern classical era of the 18th century, are characterized by the motto ‘make die or let live’: the sovereign has the power of life and death, but does not greatly interfere in the life of his subjects, which is ruled by custom and the divine precepts of the spiritual power. In modernity, Foucault sees two new forms of power arising: disciplinary power and biopower. Disciplinary power starts from the point of view that society consists of autonomous individuals, which are in need of socialization and ‘discipline’, so that they can be integrated in the normative framework of capitalist society. Biopower is the start of the total management of life, from birth to death, of the great mass of the people. The new motto is therefore, said Foucault: ‘make live, let die’.
His contemporary Gilles Deleuze noted a change though. In mass-media dominated postmodern society, which became dominant after 1968, disciplinary institutions enter into crisis. What is used is the internalization of social requirements through the use of the mass media, advertising and PR, with control mechanisms in place, which focus on making sure the right results are attained. But the individual is now himself in charge of making it happen. Power has become more democratic, more social, more immanent to the social field, "distributed throughout the brains and bodies of the citizens" (Negri's Empire, p. 23). Philippe Zafirian, in his Temps et Modernite, further re-interprets the work of Deleuze by applying it to the workplace and calls the new power, the power of modulation, 'control by modulation'. Instead of tightly describing and dividing jobs, and controlling their debit, as was the case in the 'modern' factory system and in particular in the Fordist/Taylorist period, the focus is now on 'objectives' and 'deadlines'. Both the manager and the work are constantly evaluating and self-evaluating their ability to conform to the high-pressure objectives and deadlines, but are 'free' in how to attain it. Zafirian uses the metaphor of the 'elastic': you can pull it in different directions, within it you are free to go about, but there are indeed limits that cannot be crossed.
In any case, Deleuze already prefigured, so many years ahead, the emerging dominance of distributed networks (rhizomes). If Foucault was the philosopher and historian of power of modernity, then Deleuze and Guattari can be considered to be the early theorizers of power in the network era. However there is a danger in missing important developments, radical innovations even, if we conflate the post-1968 under the one heading of postmodernity, since that would miss the accelerated growth of peer to peer processes, which started only in the 1990's, after the popularization of the internet. Perhaps future historians will date a new era that began in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall indicating the moment when the free flow of information began to destroy the most authoritarian regimes. In the figures below, I explicitly distinguish the postmodern era, from the emerging peer to peer era.
The P2P era indeed adds a new twist, a new form of power, which we have called Protocollary Power, and has first been clearly identified and analysed by Alexander Galloway in his book Protocol. We have already given some examples. One is the fact that the blogosphere has devised mechanisms to avoid the emergence of individual and collective monopolies, through rules that are incorporated in the software itself. Another was whether the entertainment industry would succeed in incorporating software or hardware-based restrictions to enforce their version of copyright. There are many other similarly important evolutions to monitor: Will the internet remain a point to point structure? Will the web evolve to a true P2P medium through Writeable Web developments? The common point is this: social values are incorporated, integrated in the very architecture of our technical systems, either in the software code or the hardwired machinery, and these then enable/allow or prohibit/discourage certain usages, thereby becoming a determinant factor in the type of social relations that are possible. Are the algorithms that determine search results objective, or manipulated for commercial and ideological reasons? Is parental control software driven by censorship rules that serve a fundamentalist agenda? Many issues are dependent on hidden protocols, which the user community has to learn to see (as a new form of media literacy and democratic practice), so that it can become an object of conscious development, favouring peer to peer processes, rather than the restrictive and manipulative command and control systems. In P2P systems, the formal rules governing bureaucratic systems are replaced by the design criteria of our new means of production, and this is where we should focus our attention. Galloway suggests that we make a diagram of the networks we participate in, with dots and lines, nodes and edges. Important questions then become: who decides who can participate, or better, what are the implied rules governing participation (since there is no specific 'who' or command in a distributed environment); what kind of linkages are possible. On the example of the internet, Galloway shows how the net has a peer to peer protocol in the form of TCP/IP, but that the Domain Name System is hierarchical, and that an authorative server could block a domain family from operating. This is how power should be analysed. Such power is not per se negative, since protocol is needed to enable participation (no driving without highway code!), but protocol can also be centralized, proprietary, secret, in that case subverting peer to peer processes. However, the stress on protocol, which concerns what Yochai Benkler calls the 'logical layer' of the networks, should not make us forget the power distribution of the physical layer (who owns the networks), and the content layer (who owns and controls the content).
The key question is: do the centralized and hierarchical elements in the protocol, enable or disable participation? This is shown in the following account of the development of the theory and practice of hierarchy, submitted to us by John Heron in a personal communication. In true peer to peer, the role of hierarchy is to enable the spontaneous emergence of 'autonomy in cooperation':
There seem to be at least four degrees of cultural development, rooted in degrees of moral insight:
- autocratic cultures which define rights in a limited and oppressive way and there are no rights of political participation;
- narrow democratic cultures which practise political participation through representation, but have no or very limited participation of people in decision-making in all other realms, such as research, religion, education, industry etc.;
- wider democratic cultures which practice both political participation and varying degree of wider kinds of participation;
- commons p2p cultures in a libertarian and abundance-oriented global network with equipotential rights of participation of everyone in every field of human endeavour."
Heron adds that "These four degrees could be stated in terms of the relations between hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy.
- Hierarchy defines, controls and constrains co-operation and autonomy;
- Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere only;
- Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere and in varying degrees in other spheres;
- The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous emergence in the initiation and continuous flowering of autonomy-in-co-operation in all spheres of human endeavour"
Nature of Power
Military & Religious
Force & Custom
Land & People
Commercial & Industrial
Disciplinary & Biopower
Industrial & Financial Capital
Financial & Mediatic
Control Society & Manufactured Consent
Financial & Media
Money & Celebrity Game
Protocollary & Memetic Opinion Storms
Reputation-based De-monopolization vs. Attention Monopolies
Compilation by Michel Bauwens
Degrees of Moral Insight
Relationship between hierarchy, cooperation, autonomy
no rights of political participation
Hierarchy defines, controls and constrains co-operation and autonomy
political participation through representation
Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere only
political representation with varying degrees of wider participation
Hierarchy empowers a measure of co-operation and autonomy in the political sphere and in varying degrees in other spheres
equipotential rights of participation of everyone in every field
The sole role of hierarchy is in its spontaneous emergence in the initiation and continuous flowering of autonomy-in-co-operation in all spheres of human endeavour
Compiled from a text by John Heron
From all of the above, we can conclude that hierarchy does not disappear in peer to peer processes, but that it changes its nature. Hierarchy, or authority ranking as it is called by Alan Fiske, takes on new forms such as peer governance, servant leadership, multistakeholdership.
Here is how Joseph Rost defines leadership in the new collaborative era:
“The first is that the activities be influential, that is, non-coercive. The second is that the activities be done by people in a relationship. The third is that the activities involve a real significant change. And the fourth element is that the activities reflect the purposes of the people in the relationship, not just a single person. All of these standards insure collaboration rather than the notion that leadership is a great leader doing great things."
Similarly, another author on leadership, Jeffrey S. Nielsen distinguishes ‘rank thinking’, from ‘peer thinking’:
"I define rank thinking as the belief that only a few in any organization should be given special privilege to monopolize information, control decision-making, and command obedience from the vast majority either through coercive or manipulative power. Peer thinking, on the other hand, is the belief that everyone in the organization should have equal standing to share in information, participate in the decision-making process, and choose to follow through persuasive means. Peer thinking assumes that we each have equal privilege to speak and an obligation to listen. Peer-based organizations create a space—an arena—where we come to recognize and respect one another as equal participants in organizational life."
- I use the concept of alterglobalisation
for the movement that emerged during the WTO Seattle protests, is
concerned with global social justice, and organizes the Social Forums in Porto Alegre and other cities;
alterglobalisation means the fight for another form of globalisation,
rather than simple opposition against it, as the term anti-globalisation would imply.
- The networked format of the alterglobalisation movement, note 1:
Here is a quote by Immanuel Wallerstein , ‘world system’ theorist and historian, on the historic importance of Porto Alegre and its network approach to political struggle:
“Sept. 11 seems to have slowed down the movement only momentarily. Secondly, the coalition has demonstrated that the new antisystemic strategy is feasible. What is this new strategy? To understand this clearly, one must remember what was the old strategy. The world's left in its multiple forms – Communist parties, social-democratic parties, national liberation movements – had argued for at least a hundred years (circa 1870–1970) that the only feasible strategy involved two key elements – creating a centralized organizational structure, and making the prime objective that of arriving at state power in one way or another. The movements promised that, once in state power, they could then change the world.
This strategy seemed to be very successful, in the sense that, by the 1960s, one or another of these three kinds of movements had managed to arrive at state power in most countries of the world. However, they manifestly had not been able to transform the world. This is what the world revolution of 1968 was about – the failure of the Old Left to transform the world. It led to 30 years of debate and experimentation about alternatives to the state-oriented strategy that seemed now to have been a failure. Porto Alegre is the enactment of the alternative. There is no centralized structure. Quite the contrary. Porto Alegre is a loose coalition of transnational, national, and local movements, with multiple priorities, who are united primarily in their opposition to the neoliberal world order. And these movements, for the most part, are not seeking state power, or if they are, they do not regard it as more than one tactic among others, and not the most important.”
The 'maillage' in the Argentine social movements:
Here is also a description by Miguel Benasayag (10) of the type of new organisational forms exemplified in Argentina:
“Les gens étaient dans la rue partout, mais il faut savoir quand même qu'il y a une spontanéité «travaillée», pour dire ce concept là. Une spontanéité travaillée, cela ne veut pas dire qu'il y avait des groupes qui dirigeaient ou qui orchestraient ça, bien au contraire. Quand arrivaient des gens avec des bannières ou des drapeaux de groupes politiques, ils étaient très mal reçus à chaque coin de rue. Mais en revanche, une spontanéité «travaillée» en ce sens que l'Argentine est «lézardée» par des organisations de base, des organisations de quartier, de troc...
C.A. : Lézardée, c'est un maillage?
M.B. : Oui, c'est ça, il y a un maillage très serré des organisations qui ont créé beaucoup de lien social. Il y a des gens qui coupent les routes et qui font des assemblées permanentes pendant un mois, deux mois, des piqueteros. Il y a des gens qui occupent des terres...Donc cette insurrection générale qui émerge en quelques minutes dans tout le pays, effectivement elle émerge et elle cristallise des trucs qui étaient déjà là. Donc c'est une spontanéité travaillée; c'est à dire que quand même il y a une conscience pratique, une conscience corporisée dans des organisations vraiment de base. C'est une rencontre du ras-le-bol, de l'indignation, de la colère populaire, une rencontre avec les organisations de base qui sont déjà sur le terrain. J'étais en Argentine quelques jours avant l'insurrection. et il y avait partout partout des coupures de routes, des mini insurrections. Et ce qui s'est passé, c'est qu'il y a eu vraiment comme on dirait un saut qualitatif: les gens en quantité sortent dans la rue et y rencontrent les gens qui étaient déjà dans la rue depuis très longtemps en train de faire des choses. Et cela cristallise et permet de faire quelque chose d'irréversible.»
- Networked format, note 2:
This analysis is confirmed by Michael Hardt, co-author of Empire, the already classic analysis of globalisation that is very influential in the more radical streams of the anti-globalisation movement:
“The traditional parties and centralized organizations have spokespeople who represent them and conduct their battles, but no one speaks for a network. How do you argue with a network? The movements organized within them do exert their power, but they do not proceed through oppositions. One of the basic characteristics of the network form is that no two nodes face each other in contradiction; rather, they are always triangulated by a third, and then a fourth, and then by an indefinite number of others in the web. This is one of the characteristics of the Seattle events that we have had the most trouble understanding: groups which we thought in objective contradiction to one another—environmentalists and trade unions, church groups and anarchists—were suddenly able to work together, in the context of the network of the multitude. The movements, to take a slightly different perspective, function something like a public sphere, in the sense that they can allow full expression of differences within the common context of open exchange. But that does not mean that networks are passive. They displace contradictions and operate instead a kind of alchemy, or rather a sea change, the flow of the movements transforming the traditional fixed positions; networks imposing their force through a kind of irresistible undertow.”
- Counternetworking strategies bv the security services:
A report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has paid particular attention to the innovative organising methods of the alterglobalisation protesters, and to their use of technology: internet before and after the event and cell phones during the events. It concludes that with these innovations, established police powers have great difficulty to cope:
"Cell phones constitute a basic means of communication and control, allowing protest organizers to employ the concepts of mobility and reserves and to move groups from place to place as needed. The mobility of demonstrators makes it difficult for law enforcement and security personnel to attempt to offset their opponents through the presence of overwhelming numbers. It is now necessary for security to be equally mobile, capable of readily deploying reserves, monitoring the communications of protesters, and, whenever possible, anticipating the intentions of the demonstrators."
“Protestors at last week's Democratic National Convention had a new tool in their arsenal – a text messaging service designed just for them. "TXTMob," as the service is called, allows users to quickly and easily broadcast text messages to groups of cellphones. The system works much like an electronic b-board: users subscribe to various lists, and receive messages directly on their phones. During the DNC, protest organizers used TXTMob to provide activists with up-to-the minute information about police movements and direct actions. Medical and legal support groups also used TXTMob to dispatch personnel and resources as the situation demanded. According to TXTMob developer John Henry, over 200 protestors used the service during the DNC. TXTMob was produced by the Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA), an art and engineering collective that develops technologies for political dissent. The IAA worked closely with the Black Tea Society, an ad-hoc coalition that organized much of the protest activity during the DNC, to design the system. According to a Black Tea member who chose to remain anonymous, "TXTMob was great! When the cops tried to arrest one of our people, we were able to get hundreds of folks to the scene within minutes."
(http://amsterdam.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0408/msg00003.html ; see also appliedautonomy.com for the makers of the program)
- The refusal of representation as inscribed in the Porto Alegre social forum charter:
«Les rencontres du Forum social mondial n’ont pas un caractère délibératif en tant que Forum social mondial. Personne ne sera donc autorisé à exprimer au nom du Forum, dans quelque édition que ce soit, des prises de position prétendant être celles de tous les participants. Les participants ne doivent pas être appelés à prendre des décisions, par vote ou par acclamation, en tant que rassemblement de ceux qui participent au Forum, sur des déclarations ou propositions d’action qui les engagent tous ou leur majorité et qui se voudraient être celles du Forum en tant que Forum. Il ne constitue donc pas d’instance de pouvoir que peuvent se disputer ceux qui participent à ces rencontres, ni ne prétend constituer l’unique alternative d’articulation et d’action des instances et mouvements qui en font partie» (art. 6).
- Representation can occasionally be used, but only as a temporary technique amongst others:
"There are different sorts of groups. Spokescouncils, for example, are large assemblies that coordinate between smaller ‘affinity groups’. They are most often held before, and during, large-scale direct actions like Seattle or Quebec. Each affinity group (which might have between 4 and 20 people) selects a ‘spoke’, who is empowered to speak for them in the larger group. Only the spokes can take part in the actual process of finding consensus at the council, but before major decisions they break out into affinity groups again and each group comes to consensus on what position they want their spoke to take (not as unwieldy as it might sound). Break-outs, on the other hand, are when a large meeting temporarily splits up into smaller ones that will focus on making decisions or generating proposals, which can then be presented for approval before the whole group when it reassembles. Facilitation tools are used to resolve problems or move things along if they seem to be bogging dow!n. You can ask for a brainstorming session, in which people are only allowed to present ideas but not to criticize other people’s; or for a non-binding straw poll, where people raise their hands just to see how everyone feels about a proposal, rather than to make a decision. A fishbowl would only be used if there is a profound difference of opinion: you can take two representatives for each side—one man and one woman—and have the four of them sit in the middle, everyone else surrounding them silently, and see if the four can’t work out a synthesis or compromise together, which they can then present as a proposal to the whole group."
- Decision-making by consensus
"Le consensus s’est imposé dès le début comme la seule procédure de décision envisageable au sein des instances de décision d’un espace de coordination regroupant des organisations hétérogènes dans leurs fonctions, leurs procédures de décisions internes, leurs origines sociales et géographiques et le nombre de leurs membres. En l’absence de référentiel, aucun critère ne peut s’imposer pour périmètrer l’espace des participants ni leur conférer des grandeurs différenciées. De sorte que chaque organisation, qu’elle que soit sa taille, son origine géographique, son objet social, son positionnement politique, dispose potentiellement d’un même poids. Cependant, l’expression du consensus ne signifie pas unanimité."
- Radicalisation of P2P principles within the alterglobalisation movement
"Il est cependant possible de dégager un mouvement d’ensemble dans les multiples aménagements institutionnels qui ont été apportés aux structures de gouvernement des forums. C’est en effet vers une radicalisation des principes de fonctionnement en réseau que s’oriente actuellement la plupart des choix d’organisation effectués par les promoteurs des forums mondiaux et européens : auto-organisation des événements, procéduralisation des règles de coordination, pluralité des stratégies d’action issues des différents espaces des forums et transformation des forums en lieux d’expérimentation des alternatives sociales et politiques."
- Profile of the neo-militants of the alterglobalisation movements
"Ce que je voudrais d’abord préciser c’est que les néo-militants ne sont pas particulièrement attachés aux structures associatives au sein desquelles ils évoluent. Des organisations comme AC!, ou la plupart des collectifs de sans-papiers ne proposent aucune procédure d'adhésion à leurs militants. Le néo-militantisme remet en fait sur le devant de la scène, l'individu en tant qu'acteur autonome et singulier et s’écarte des anciens modèles d'organisation fondés sur des principes d’adhésion totale. Je ne sais pas si on peut véritablement dire qu’Internet sert au recrutement... En tout cas, l’une des spécificités de la communication sur réseau est de mettre en lien des personnes qui appartiennent à des espaces sociaux (et géographiques) dissemblables. Internet créé une espèce de solidarité technique et offre de nouvelles potentialités relationnelles à partir desquelles peuvent se tisser ponctuellement des alliances inédites. Le point commun des néo-militants est leur capacité à se mouvoir sans se laisser arrêter par les frontières. Les liens les plus recherchés sont à cet égard ceux qui autorisent le franchissement d’espaces au sein desquels les connexions étaient peu développées… Le recours aux réseaux télématiques rentre quand même en résonance avec certaines caractéristiques des nouvelles formes de militantisme que sont l’individuation des formes d'engagement et la volonté de s'associer en toute indépendance. Internet permet une implication personnelle limitée, souple, facilement maîtrisable et circonstanciée, dont la suspension momentanée ou définitive n’engendre qu’un faible coût de sortie. Il autorise surtout l’enrôlement de personnes qui n’auraient pu trouver leur place dans le fonctionnement des groupements militants traditionnels fortement structurés. Les rapports entre les militants s'effectuent de moins en moins à partir d'un sens hérité, c'est-à-dire en fonction d'un enracinement en rapport à une identité ou à un territoire, mais selon un mode électif fondé sur une modalité de partage communautaire non-territoriale ou a-territoriale susceptible de s'exprimer, il est vrai, via l'Internet."
(Fabien Granjon, interview in NetPolitique.net newsletter)
Book: L'Internet militant. Fabien Granjon. Apogee, 2001
I believe the 'stamp it' vs. 'post it' comparison comes from Michel Maffesioli, but have not been able to locate it.
- the P2P principles of the alterglobalisation movement
"in North America especially, this is a movement about reinventing democracy. It is not opposed to organization. It is about creating new forms of organization. It is not lacking in ideology. Those new forms of organization are its ideology. It is about creating and enacting horizontal networks instead of top-down structures like states, parties or corporations; networks based on principles of decentralized, non-hierarchical consensus democracy. Ultimately, it aspires to be much more than that, because ultimately it aspires to reinvent daily life as whole. But unlike many other forms of radicalism, it has first organized itself in the political sphere—mainly because this was a territory that the powers that be (who have shifted all their heavy artillery into the economic) have largely abandoned.
Over the past decade, activists in North America have been putting enormous creative energy into reinventing their groups’ own internal processes, to create viable models of what functioning direct democracy could actually look like. In this we’ve drawn particularly, as I’ve noted, on examples from outside the Western tradition, which almost invariably rely on some process of consensus finding, rather than majority vote. The result is a rich and growing panoply of organizational instruments—spokescouncils, affinity groups, facilitation tools, break-outs, fishbowls, blocking concerns, vibe-watchers and so on—all aimed at creating forms of democratic process that allow initiatives to rise from below and attain maximum effective solidarity, without stifling dissenting voices, creating leadership positions or compelling anyone to do anything which they have not freely agreed to do. The basic idea of consensus process is that, rather than voting, you try to come up with proposals acceptable to everyone—or at least, not highly objectionable to anyone: first state the proposal, then ask for ‘concerns’ and try to address them."
- Al Qaeda as global networked guerillas, by David Ronfeldt
"As many analysts have noted, the new information media are enabling terrorists and insurgents to augment their own communication and coordination, as well as reach outside audiences. The online media also suit the oral traditions that tribal peoples prefer. What merits pointing out here is that the jihadis are using the Internet and the Web to inspire the creation of a virtual global tribe of Islamic radicals — an online umma with kinship segments around the world. This can help a member keep in touch with a segment, or re-attach to a new segment in another part of the world as he or she moves around. Thus the information revolution, not to mention broader aspects of globalization, can facilitate a resurgence of intractable tribalism around the world. Al Qaeda and its ilk are a leading example of this."
See the Global Guerilla blog for the most thorough continuing analysis of globalised networked terrorism, at http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/
Martin Shubik, in his paper "Terrorism, Technology, and the Socioeconomics of Death" conludes that "rapid technological improvement and global information transfer (part of a larger context of interconnectivity) has produced a spike in the ability of small groups to produce mass casualties." See http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cp/p09b/p0952.pdf
- P2P organising (i.e. leaderless resistance) on the extreme right:
Here’s an example of P2P organising at the extreme right, related to what is reportedly one the fastest growing radical religion today, the Odinists:
“Today, the number of white racist activists, Aryan revolutionaries, is far greater than you would know by simply looking at traditional organizations. Revolutionaries today do not become members of an organization. They won't participate in a demonstration or a rally or give out their identity to a group that keeps their name on file, because they know that all these organizations are heavily monitored. Since the late 1990s, there has been a general shift away from these groups on the far right. This has also helped Odinism thrive. Odinists took the leaderless resistance concept of [leading white supremacist ideologue] Louis Beam and worked on it, fleshed it out. They found a strategic position between the upper level of known leaders and propagandists, and an underground of activists who do not affiliate as members, but engage instead in decentralized networking and small cells. They do not shave their heads like traditional Skinheads or openly display swastikas.”
- An analysis of the coordination format in France by Maurizio Lazzarato in Multitudes, at
http://multitudes.samizdat.net/article.php3?id_article=1446; Futur Anterieur magazine, the predecessor of
Multitudes magazine, has dedicated a special issue to analyzing this format, at
- Miguel Benasayag on the new forms of political and social struggle:
“C'est pourquoi nous pensons que toute lutte contre le capitalisme qui se prétend globale et totalisante reste piégée dans la structure même du capitalisme qui est, justement, la globalité. La résistance doit partir de et développer les multiplicités, mais en aucun cas selon une direction ou une structure qui globalise, qui centralise les luttes. Un réseau de résistance qui respecte la multiplicité est un cercle qui possède, paradoxalement, son centre dans toutes les parties. Nous pouvons rapprocher cela de la définition du rhizome de Gilles Deleuze : «Dans un rhizome on entre par n'importe quel côté, chaque point se connecte avec n'importe quel autre, il est composé de directions mobiles, sans dehors ni fin, seulement un milieu, par où il croît et déborde, sans jamais relever d'une unité ou en dériver; sans sujet ni objet.»
“La nouvelle radicalité, ou le contre-pouvoir, ce sont bien sûr des associations, des sigles comme ATTAC, comme Act Up, comme le DAL. Mais ce sont surtout – et avant tout – une subjectivité et des modes de vie différents. Il y a des jeunes qui vivent dans des squats – et c'est une minorité de jeunes -, mais il y a plein de jeunes qui pratiquent des solidarités dans leurs vies, qui n'ordonnent pas du tout leur vie en fonction de l'argent. Cela, c'est la nouvelle radicalité, c'est cette émergence d'une sociabilité nouvelle qui, tantôt, a des modes d'organisation plus ou moins classiques, tantôt non. Je pense qu'en France, ça s'est développé très fortement. Le niveau d'engagement existentiel des gens est énorme.»
Miguel Benasayag on the new 'radical subjectivities':
"Contrairement aux militants classiques, je pense que les choses qui existent ont une raison d'être, aussi moches soient elles..Rien n'existe par accident et tout à coup, nous, malins comme nous sommes, nous nous disons qu'il n'y a vraiment qu'à décider de changer. Les militants n'aiment pas cette difficulté; ils aiment se fâcher avec le monde et attendre ce qui va le changer. C'est toujours très surprenant: la plupart des gens ont un tas d'informations sur leurs vies, mais "savoir", ça veut dire, en termes philosophiques, "connaître par les causes", et donc pouvoir modifier le cours des choses. Oui, l'anti-utilitarisme est fondamental. Parce que la vie ne sert à rien. Parce qu'aimer ne sert à rien, parce que rien ne sert à rien. On voit bien cette militance un peu feignante qui se définit "contre": on est gentil parce qu’on est contre. Non! ça ne suffit pas d’être contre les méchants pour être gentil. Après tout, Staline était contre Hitler! "
- Documentation on the concept of the Multitudes
Editorial, on the 'theory of the multitude', at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3editorial.pdf ; From Capital-labour to Capital-life, by Maurizio Lazzarato, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3lazzarato.pdf ; The Entrance of the Multitude in Production, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3virtanen.pdf ; Controlling the Multitude, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3vahamaki.pdf; On the valorisation of informatic labour, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3vann.pdf
the concept of the multitude summarized:
"we can summarize the contemporary concept of the multitude as follows:
The multitude is positioned between the individual and the group; it is a "multiplicity of singularities" The multitude operates through relationality and cooperation, which establishes "the common" or a set of partially-overlapping common affects, issues, and experiences. The multitude positions itself against the social contract tradition, and therefore against the inevitability of modern sovereignty and the "state of exception" The central problematic of the multitude is the "problem of the political decision," or how the common can be constituted while fostering difference. The question the multitude asks of itself is "can the multitude self-govern?" rather than the question asked of the multitude – "is the multitude governable?" "
Y. Ichida, summarizing the concept of the "Multitude" on the Multitudes mailing list:
“In immaterial production, the products are longer material objects but new social (interpersonal) relations themselves. It was already Marx who emphasized how material production is always also the (re)production of the social relation within which it occurs; with today’s capitalism, however, the production of social relations is the immediate end/goal of production. The wager of Hardt and Negri is that this directly socialized, immaterial production not only renders owners progressively superfluous (who needs them when production is directly social, formally and as to its content?); the producers also master the regulation of social space, since social relations (politics) is the stuff of their works. The way is thus open for ‘absolute democracy’, for the producers directly regulating their social relations without even the detour of democratic representation.”
Toni Negri on the Multitudes, Difference, and the Common:
“Cet ennemi de l’Empire, que nous avons appelé «multitude», est un ennemi qui, sur tous les terrains, cultive ses différences. Or, ces différences ont une base commune, qui est d’abord le refus du commandement et de l’exploitation par le capital collectif au niveau impérial. Ce contenu de rébellions, de révoltes, d’essais de réappropriation du pouvoir vient de différents côtés, et surtout des travailleurs. La véritable opposition reste les travailleurs : le concept de multitude reste donc un concept de classe, même s’il est beaucoup plus étendu que le concept de classe ouvrière. C’est une chose que le pouvoir n’arrive pas à appréhender, car elle se transforme constamment selon les singularités qui la composent, et qu’on ne peut définir ni comme classe, ni comme masse, ni comme peuple : elle se renouvelle sans cesse..."
(original article, not full available online, at http://www.politis.fr/article1115.html)
Elicio, on the political philosophy of the multitudes
«Cette complexité sociale, nous l’appelons la «multitude» , car nous essayons d’utiliser une expression capable d’indiquer une complexité non synthétisable de la structure de la société post moderne et ses acteurs multiples. La multitude, que nous définissons comme l’expression de l’ensemble de toutes les figures de l’assujettissement de la société post moderne, a bouleversé la théorie politique et la théorie de l’organisation sociale. En effet, la multitude a comme caractéristique de ne s’identifier à aucun programme commun, à aucune «synthèse stratégique» politique. Le concept de «synthèse» est plus vécu comme une réduction de la complexité de ses expressions sociales et culturelles, comme une certaine hybridation politique, un processus de réduction de sa forcede subjectivité. Le concept de «synthèse» est vécu aussi comme un acte politique de la «perte d’identité». La perte d’identité est considérée par la multitude, comme le commencement de l’introduction des mécanismes des modifications de ses besoins réels. Dans ce cadre conceptuel, la multitude fonctionne dans la construction des processus d’organisations autonomes. Cette forme d’organisation a comme caractéristique de se déployer autour et par des micro-actions au quotidien et cherche à répondre aux besoins de la vie de tous les jours. C’est dans cette démarche que la multitude produit ses revendications et ses négociations. Pour la multitude, le quotidien est considéré comme le lieu privilégié de lutte, le lieu de vérification de l’efficacité de son action politique, le lieu du changement. L’action politique ou sociale a un sens pour la multitude si elle est capable de modifier «le quotidien» , «le présent». La lutte et l’engagement sont considérés comme des instruments pratiquespour essayer de réaliser des modifications concrètes dans la vie de tous les jours, dans un souci permanent d’élargissement de sa superficie sociale, d’hégémonie sur les pratiques socioculturelles de la vie de tous les jours. Approfondissons ce thème pour mieux comprendre l’idée de ce qu’est le «changement dans le quotidien». Commençons avec la définition de ce que sont unrapportsocial ou un acte politique.
Pour la multitude, il n’y a pas d’acte politiquesans modification du présent. Donc, l’acte politique, devient la forme collective et personnelle de définition d’un espace social à conquérir et la définition d’une démarche à adopter pour la modification du présent. Le présent est considéré commeune fractionde la vie. Dans cette démarche le programme politique devient la construction d’un projet concret de transformation d’une fraction de la vie, c’est-à-dire de la modification du présent. Pour la multitude le processus de transition d’un rapport social à un autre est le «remplacement» d’un acte de vie (vie économique et sociale) par des gestes de liberté au quotidien. Ces gestes représentent des espaces de liberté. Des gestes et des espaces pour la construction d’un micro projet personnel : la réalisation de ses rêves. Rêves en tant que réalisation d’un désir personnel et /ou avec d’autres pour un rêve collectif (projets de transition) pour affirmer sa liberté de vivre comme on le désire. Ces actes, «la construction d’un rêve» , sont des premiers filaments (de vie autonome) qui se super posent et étouffent une fraction des micro pouvoirs de la représentation impériale. Dans cette démarche, le concept de lutte est conjugué au présent sans «futur» , «l’idée de futur» est vécue comme un concept dépassé, obsolète. Concept assimilé dans un sens de défaite.....de l’auto exploitation : l’histoire du socialisme réel ! Pour la multitude, il n’y a pas de victoire si la vie de tous les jours n’a pas été modifiée, élargie, enrichie. Si cette condition n’est pas réalisée «le rapport social» restera le même. C’est dans cette définition que la multitude considère les «partis politiques» comme des institutions de la négociation sociale, les conçoit plutôt comme les représentants des «courants d’un pouvoir unique» et en aucun cas comme une expression populaire de souveraineté. La multitude est la représentation de l’expression philosophique et sociale de la complexité du monde réel qui produit richesse et sens. Elle ne croit pas aux mécanismes de la représentation, à la délégation de ses volontés, à une représentation nationale d’élus professionnels, elle croit fermement au concept de participation. La participation est considérée comme l’antithèse de la représentation classique et s’il devait avoir une délégation de pouvoir elle serait plutôt sous la forme d’une démarche d’application d’une volonté déjà prise, donc non modifiable. Ici, le concept de délégation ou de représentation n’est pas seulement traduit sous forme négative vers les formes traditionnelles de la démocratie (député-fonctionnaire-professionnel) mais aussi sous la forme de la «délégation de la pensée» aux intellectuels. En effet, pour la multitude, un des pièges le plus redoutable est la «perte» d’autonomie dans les processus de construction de sa «pensée». Il s’agit de contrôler «sa production de sens» , sa philosophie, car une des formes les plus redoutables du pouvoir en place est la stérilisation de ses expressions culturelles. Paradoxalement, si dans le passé, pour le prolétariat révolutionnaire, l’appropriation des moyens de production était un des objectifs fondamentaux, aujourd’hui pour la multitude, l’objectif fondamental est l’appropriation de «sa production de sens et de valeur».Cet objectif se traduit par la nécessité de s’approprier des moyens de la communication sociale.
See also: Philosophie politique des Multitudes – Revu Multitudes N°9 mai/juin 2002, Exils, Paris. http://listes.samizdat.net/wws/info/multitudes-infos
- John Holloway on the building of anti-power networks
Building our own power-to is a very different thing from taking power or seizing power. If we organise ourselves to take power, to try to win state power, then inevitably we put ourselves into the logic of capitalist power, we adopt capitalist forms of organisation which impose separations, separations between leaders and masses, between citizens and foreigners, between public and private. If we focus on the state and the winning of state power, then inevitably we reproduce within our own struggles the power of capital. Building our own power-to involves different forms of organisation, forms which are not symmetrical to capital’s forms, forms which do not separate and exclude. Our power, then, is not just a counter-power, it is not a mirror-image of capitalist power, but an anti-power, a power with a completely different logic — and a different temporality…
This means not just living despite capitalism, but living in-against-and-beyond capitalism. It means an interstitial conception of revolution, in which a new world, a new communism, commun-ism, grows in the interstices of and in opposition to capitalism — a conception of revolution as the active disintegration of capitalism in which an alternative society is constructed in the process of disintegration. There are no rules on how to build a new world, no model we can follow. Here there are no certainties. It is inevitably a question of experimentation and invention. Behind the NO of our refusal of neo-liberal capitalism stand many YESes. The force behind these YESes is a drive towards self-determination. Self-determination can only be a social process, a global knitting together of collective processes of self-determination, a weaving together of councils or communes or assemblies. But it is not just a question of deliberations (of how we take decisions), it is also and above all a question of how we can organise our doing, our activity, in a way that goes against-and-beyond capital. And not just against-and-beyond capital, but against-and-beyond the law of value, against-and-beyond the market and the times and the disciplines which it imposes.
- Extreme Democracy:
"Extreme democracy" is a political philosophy of the information era that puts people in charge of the entire political process. It suggests a deliberative process that places total confidence in the people, opening the policy-making process to many centers of power through deeply networked coalitions that can be organized around local, national and international issues. The choice of the word "extreme" reflects the lessons of the extreme programming movement in technology that has allowed small teams to make rapid progress on complex projects through concentrated projects that yield results far greater than previous labour-intensive programming practices. Extreme democracy emphasizes the importance of tools designed to break down barriers to collaboration and access to power, acknowledging that political realities can be altered by building on rapidly advancing generations of technology and that human organizations are transformed by new political expectations and practices made possible by technology. Extreme democracy is not direct democracy, which assumes all people must be involved in every decision in order for the process to be just and democratic. Direct democracy is inefficient, regardless of the tools available to voters, because it creates as many, if not more, opportunities for obstruction of social decisions as a representative democracy. Rather, we assume that every debate one feels is important will be open to participation; that governance is not the realm of specialists and that activism is a critical popular element in making a just society. Extreme democracy can exist alongside and through co-evolution with the representative systems in place today; it changes the nature of representation, as the introduction of sophisticated networked applications have reinvented the corporate decision-making process. Rather than debate how involved a citizen should be or fret over the lack of involvement among citizens of advanced democracies, the extreme democracy model focuses on the act of participation and assumes that anyone in a democracy is free to act politically. If individuals are constrained from action, they are not free, not citizens but subjects."
- Overview of Information Commons Developments
The construction of the Information Commons takes many forms, the most important being the automatic process of knowledge exchange and cooperative production on the internet/web itself. But there are many specialized inititiaves to construct specialized areas, such as initiatives around access to scientific journals, the creation of specialized Intellectual Property licenses to promote it, such as the General Public License and the Creative Commons License, and a massive effort to put the world's literary and scientific book production online.
The concept of Information Commons is defined by Yochai Benkler in "The Political Economy of Commons", in Upgrade, juin 2003, vol. IV, n° 3; http://www.cepis.org/upgrade/index.jsp?p=2144&n=2179
The Free Art License, a ‘Creative Commons’ for the art world?, at http://antomoro.free.fr/c/lalgb.html; and at http://infos.samizdat.net/article301.html
The Book Commons, overview
The following excerpt is from an article putting the Google project in context. Google aims to digitize the massive collections of the main American academic and public libraries.
“Placing full text book material is not a new idea on the web. Many services, both free and fee-based, allow you to access books online. The longest running such service is Project Gutenberg, founded by Michael Hart in 1971, with over 13,000 books available. I wrote about The Online Books Page forSearchDay last year. This wonderful collection has been online for more than 10 years, and currently provides searchable access to over 20,000 free full text books. The OBP is edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, a digital library planner at the University of Pennsylvania. The Internet Archive is also digitizing books. The goal of the Million Book Project is to "create a free-to-read, searchable digital library the approximate size of the combined libraries at Carnegie Mellon University, and one much bigger than the holdings of any high school library." One publisher that offers a large portion of their new and old material available online, free, searchable, and full image is The National Academy Press. The currently offer access to more than 3000 publications. Two fee-based services include NetLibrary offers access to about 76,000 books with about 1300 new titles added each month. You can access NetLibray books through your local public or university library, often at no charge. ebrary provides access to more than 50,000 titles (books, maps, sheet music, etc). Like NetLibrary, ebrary licenses their service to libraries and educational organizations and users can login and access via any computer with web access, in most cases for free."
More information at: The Online Books page, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/ ; Netlibrary, http://legacy.netlibrary.com/about_us/company_info/index.asp; Million Book Project, http://www.archive.org/texts/collection.php?collection=millionbooks&PHPSESSID=45464c8f5c3a66d010a78ff 7efe0c5c8; Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/; Open Source Books, http://www.archive.org/texts/collection.php?collection=opensource
Political Commons projects:
The Participatory Politics Foundation, building software tools for a ‘continuing engagement with government’, at http://participatorypolitics.org/ ; Open source government projects centered around access to public information, are discussed at http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,65800,00.html?
The Budapest Open Access Initiative aims to guarantee access to scienfitic materials, at: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/boaifaq.htm ; Global Access to Health, at www.healthgap.org/press_releases/03/ ; Biological Innovation for Open Society, at http://www.bios.net/daisy/bios/15 ; overview of 'Open Biology' developments, at http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,66545,00.html ; the Science Commons initiative by Lawrence Lessig et al, at http://science.creativecommons.org/
"BIOS will soon launch an open-source platform that promises to free up rights to patented DNA sequences and the methods needed to manipulate biological material. Users must only follow BIOS' "rules of engagement," which are similar to those used by the open-source software community.” (http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,66289,00.html?)
A number of large companies are starting to put their patents in a 'patent commons', as recently advocated by IBM:
“The IBM (IBM) move is meant to encourage other patent holders to donate their own intellectual property in order to form what the company refers to as a "patent commons," a modern twist on shared public lands set aside under traditional laws.”
Open Access scientific journalis are thriving, but also have their problems, nl. it is now the authors who have to pay, at http://www.wired.com/news/medtech/0,1286,67174,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_3
- Bifo, an Italian radical writer, on the private appropriation of collective knowledge:
“The attempt at coercive privatization of collective knowledge has encountered resistance everywhere. Since intellectual labour is at the center of the productive scene, the merchant no longer possesses the juridical or material means to impose the principle of private property. When immaterial goods can be reproduced at will, the private appropriation of goods make no sense. In the sphere of semiotic capital and cognitive labour, when a product is consumed instead of disappearing, it remains available, while its value increases the more its use is shared” (Bifo, in Neuro, e-newsletter)
- On the commonality of Commons-related struggles:
Philippe Aigrain in Cause Commune: "Les médias coopératifs, les logiciels libres, les publications scientifiques ouvertes et les autres biens communs réinventent la démocratie. Comment les acteurs de ces nouveaux domaines peuvent-ils faire cause commune par-delà ce qui sépare les logiciels des ressources biologiques, ou l’art des sciences ? Comment l’information peut-elle servir les biens publics sociaux de la santé, de l’éducation ou de la solidarité au lieu de contribuer à les détruire ? Quelles alliances peut-on envisager entre les sociétés et les États, gardiens irremplaçables des biens communs épuisables que sont l’eau ou l’air ? Dans cet ouvrage, Philippe Aigrain analyse les causes et les origines d’une situation paradoxale et les tensions qu’elle suscite. Il propose une politique qui remette les êtres humains aux commandes de ces transformations.”
- Open Democracy on why patents are a bad thing
" Software programming has a relatively low financial barrier to entry. It relies on the manipulation of mathematical algorithms between one man and his machine. Progress in the sector takes place in swift but discrete steps. Each step contributes something to the art of programming: each software programme builds on the last. It is this environment – accretive, open-ended and egalitarian – that has allowed rapid progress in the software industry to enhance the utility and connectivity of the computers people use in their daily lives. In the patent-free environment, contributions to the common pool of programming knowledge come from all corners of the world, from the amateur hacker working until 4am in his bedroom to corporations leasing the most expensive real estate in Silicon Valley. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, likens reading a piece of software code to walking around a city – the expert eye will recognise “architectural periods”, little stylistic ticks that identify a piece of recycled code with a particular time, even place. Software patents take chunks of code out of this vast pool of shared knowledge and lock them down using IP law. United States case law already shows how companies can use such patents to claim ownership of code that had previously been regarded as an open standard. The effect is not simply to appropriate and centralise a shared knowledge resource, but to make it impossible to create a new programme without infringing the patent. Where software is concerned, patents obliterate progress… In effect, corporations use software patenting to secure a monopoly and discourage the entrepreneurial activity of start-ups. The result is to freeze, not foster, innovation – the very opposite of patent law’s original intention. Moreover, as intellectual property law combines with the global shift towards a “knowledge economy”, the regressive effect of such lockdowns acquires a more explicitly political dimension. The application of strong IP law is a game only the big boys, with their dedicated legal teams, can play. Knowledge, once viewed as a commons, becomes a commodity – just like land or labour in an agricultural or industrial economy – whose owners ordain themselves the new economy’s ruling class."
Some leading architects of the software sector are quite explicit about this. Bill Gates set his stall out as early as 1991:
“The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose... Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors.”
Yann-Moulier Boutang, in French, on Intellectual Property Rights and the South, at http://multitudes.samizdat.net/article.php3?id_article=1931
- The Free Culture student movement, an initiative of students of Lawrence Lessig:
“The (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and Creative Commons are doing really good work, but people our age don't seem to know about it," he said. "If we could show (students) how this is relevant to their lives, they would be really excited and involved in the movement." So, Pavlosky and other Free Culture leaders are finding clever ways to illustrate the importance of copyright in their daily lives with projects like Undead Art, which challenges students to remix the cult classic Night of the Living Dead, now in the public domain, and turn it into something new – like a zombie techno video or comic short. Participants can then mark their work with a flexible copyright license from Creative Commons so people can share the work freely and easily. These licenses allow other people to take a work and modify it however they like, as long as they don't try to make money from the new work without permission. The students also encourage their peers to get involved with legislative issues. They created Save the iPod, a site that encourages students to write their congressional representatives to stop the Induce Act.”
Lessig on the 'war against innovation', at http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/index.php?p=1247 ; see also freeculture.org and the group Downhill Battle
- Open source as a defense mechanism against private appropriation
OS initiatives are often a reaction against enclosures, as was already the case with Richard Stallman who created free software when his hacker community was being destroyed at MIT. It sometimes appears in unexpected fields, here in Yoga for example:
"It's hard to imagine that yoga, the 5,000-year-old discipline of exercise, diet and meditation, would have anything in common with the modern software industry. But a group of loosely affiliated yoga instructors based in California have embraced the philosophy of the open-source software movement in fighting a campaign by a richly successful yoga master to use copyright law to bar competitors from practicing any part of his exercise routines without authorization."
"A constellation of interests is now seeking to increase its ownership and control of creativity. We are told that these interests require new laws and rights that will allow them to control concepts and ideas and protect them from exploitation. They say that this will enrich our lives, create new products and safeguard the possibility of future prosperity. But this is a disaster for creativity, whose health depends on an ongoing, free and open conversation between ideas from the past and the present."
(from the Libre Society Manifesto, at http://journal.hyperdrome.net/issues/issue1/libresociety.html)
Open source Yoga, at http://www.yogaunity.org/
- the Berlin Declaration on Collectively Managed Online Rights
An example of a proposed solution that defends both free culture usage and author's rights:
DRM and mass-prosecution of filesharers are not solutions acceptable to an open and equitable society.
- Primary goal of copyright lawmaking must be a balance between the rights of creators and those of the public.
- Collecting societies need to become more democratic, transparent and flexible, allowing their members to release their works under open-access, non-commercial licenses.
- With the collecting societies suitably reformed, the successful European experience with exceptions and limitations compensated by levies should be reviewed for possible application to the on-line realm.
- We urge the European Commission to consider a content flatrate to ensure compensation of rightsholders without control over users.
“Under the proposed system, rights holders would license their on-line rights to a collecting society for collective representation, as they already do for many off-line uses today. This on-line collecting society would oversee the measurement of transfers of protected works over the Internet and then compensate the rights holders based on the actual use of their files by end users. The funds from which the rights-holders are compensated could be raised through any of a number of sources: voluntary subscription payments by end-users or proxies for them or levies on relevant associated goods and services, such as broadband Internet connections, MP3 players and others, in addition to the levies on blank media, photo copiers, and so on which are already collected today.”
An appeal for a new approach to intellectual property, by Greg London, at http://www.greglondon.com/bountyhunters/BountyHunters.htm
Other proposals for a P2P compatible Open Music model:
Any open music business proposal should adhere to the following five principles, if it wants to be viable against the free filesharing systems:
- Open File Sharing: users must be free to share files on their hard drives with each other.
- Open File Formats: content must be distributed in MP3 and other formats with NO digital rights management protection.
- Open Membership: content owners must able to freely register to receive compensation.
- Open Payment: users must be able to access the system using either credit cards or access cards purchasable anonymously in cash from retail stores.
- Open Competition: there must be multiple such systems which can tie into each other’s file sharing databases. It must not be a monopoly through legal design.
(http://shumans.com/articles/000033.php; see also: http://shumans.com/p2p-business-models.pdf)
- Eric Raymond: Are P2P processes 'benevolent dictatorships'?
"Eric Raymond had the same limitations in mind when he noted that open source projects are often run as "benevolent dictatorships." They are not benevolent because the people are somehow better, but because the dictatorship is based almost exclusively on the people's ability to convince others to follow their lead. This means that coercion is almost non-existent. Hence, a dictator who is no longer benevolent and alienates his or her followers loses the ability to dictate. The ability to coerce is limited, not only because authority is reputation-based, but also because the products that are built through a collaborative process are available to all members of the group. Resources do not accumulate with the elite. Therefore, abandoning the dictator and developing in a different direction – known as "forking" in the Open Source Software movement – is relatively easy and always a threat to the established players."
- Jacques Ranciere:
"Au «tumulte économique de la différence qui s'appelle indifféremment capital ou démocratie», il oppose la division comme pratique de toutes les «catégories» qui sont «victimes» de la politique, qui subissent le «tort» de l'exclusion de l'égalité. Rancière définit le politique comme la rencontre litigieuse de deux processus hétérogènes. Le premier, appelé police ou gouvernement, «consiste à organiser le rassemblement des hommes en communauté et leur consentement repose sur la distribution hiérarchique des places et des fonctions». Le second est celui de l'égalité ou de l'émancipation qui consiste dans le jeu des «pratiques guidées par la présupposition de l'égalité de n'importe qui avec n'importe qui et par le souci de la vérifier». La rencontre entre le processus égalitaire et la police se fait dans «le traitement d'un tort», car toute police, en distribuant les places et les fonctions, fait tort à l'égalité. Le processus d'émancipation est toujours mis en mouvement au nom d'une «catégorie» à laquelle on refuse l'égalité, «travailleurs, femmes, Noirs ou autres». La mise en œuvre de l'égalité n'est pas pour autant la simple manifestation de ce qui est propre à la catégorie en question. L'émancipation est un processus de subjectivation qui est à la fois processus de «désidentification ou de déclassification», puisque la logique des sujets qui portent le conflit et veulent démontrer l'égalité est double : d'une part, ils posent la question : Sommes-nous ou non des citoyens ?», et d'autre part ils affirment : «Nous le sommes et nous ne le sommes pas. »Au fond, il s'agit d'une variation fidèle à la conception la plus révolutionnaire de la politique et du conflit chez Marx : la classe comme dissolution de toutes les classes. La classe ouvrière en même temps qu'elle travaille à sa constitution contre la police qui fait tort à l'égalité œuvre aussi à sa propre destruction en tant que classe. Mais pourquoi la désidentification n'a jamais abouti dans la tradition du mouvement ouvrier ?"… S'émanciper, c'est affirmer l'appartenance à un même monde, «rassemblement qui ne peut se faire que dans le combat». La démonstration de l'égalité consiste à «prouver à l'autre qu'il n'y a qu'un seul monde». Pour Rancière, le politique est la constitution d'un «lieu commun».
- The Wisdom Game defined
"The new social game that begins to prevail in the era of informatization is the game of wisdom, in which the goal is to acquire and exercise wisdom or intellectual influence by disseminating and sharing information and knowledge. Some people call this the game of "reputation." This contrasts with old games of wealth and prestige."
- Control by modulation, Philippe Zafirian
"Gilles Deleuze, commentant Foucault, a développé une formidable intuition : nous basculons, disait-il, de la société disciplinaire dans la société de contrôle. Ou, pour dire les choses de manière légèrement différente, de la société de contrôle disciplinaire à la société de contrôle d'engagement. Sous une première face, on pourra interpréter ce contrôle comme une forme d'exercice d'un pouvoir de domination, d'un pouvoir structurellement inégalitaire, agissant de manière instrumentale sur l'action des autres. Ce contrôle d'engagement se distingue, en profondeur, du contrôle disciplinaire en ce qu'il n'impose plus le moule des "tâches", de l'assignation à un poste de travail, de l'enfermement dans la discipline d'usine. Il n'enferme plus, ni dans l'espace, ni dans le temps. Il cesse de se présenter comme clôture dans la cellule d'une prison, elle-même placée sous constante surveillance. Selon l'intuition de Deleuze, on passe du moule à la modulation, de l'enfermement à la circulation à l'air libre, de l'usine à la mobilité inter-entreprises. Tout devient modulable : le temps de travail, l'espace professionnel, le lien à l'entreprise, les résultats à atteindre, la rémunération… La contractualisation entre le salarié et l'employeur cesse elle-même d'être rigide et stable. Elle devient perpétuellement renégociable. Tout est en permanence susceptible d'être remis en cause, modifié, altéré."
- Elasticity of the control by modulation
"C'est la modulation de l'engagement subjectif qui me semble être au cœur du basculement. J'ai proposé une image simple : celui du contrôle par élastique. Le salarié peut, librement, tirer sur l'élastique : il n'est pas enfermé, il peut se mouvoir, se déplacer au gré de ses initiatives et de son savoir-faire, de ses facultés propre de jugement. Mais voici que l'élastique se tend, une pression s'exerce sur lui : une force périodique de rappel s'exprime avec intensité. Il doit rendre des comptes à son supérieur hiérarchique, qui lui-même doit, en cascade, en rendre compte à la direction de l'entreprise, qui, le cas échéant, devra en rendre compte aux principaux actionnaires. Rendre des comptes sur des résultats de performance. La force de rappel sera d'autant plus forte et violente que les résultats attendus ont été fixés à un niveau élevé, lui-même périodiquement modulable."