4. P2P in the Political Sphere

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4. P2P in the Political Sphere

4.1.A. The Alterglobalisation Movement

4.1.B. The ‘Coordination’ format

4.1.C. Peer Governance as a third mode of governance

4.1.D. Peer governance in peer production?

4.1.E. New conceptions of social and political struggle

4.1.F. New lines of contention: Information Commons vs. New Enclosures

4.2.A. De-Monopolization of Power

4.2.B. Equality, Hierarchy, Freedom

4.3. Evolutionary Conceptions of Power and Hierarchy

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 . Many reports have appeared, including those described in Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs, about the political significance of SMS in organizing successful protests and ‘democratic revolutions’ . 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: 1) the continued ability to extend the network and hence maintenance of diversity; 2) the refusal of representation; 3) decision-making by consensus only . Contrary to previous movements in the past, who also started operating in a peer-like manner but then either 'institutionalized' 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. In fact, article 5 of the Porto Alegre World Social Forum charter specifically states that the movement does not ‘represent’ global civil society . 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 'organization' of the world, based on the P2Pprinciples.

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 organization 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 .