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Jose Ramos:

Autonomism is an important alter globalization discourse: among the protest movement, as critique of the World Social Forum process, as an important source of counter-forums, and as contrast to neo-marxism. One of the central contributions of autonomism to the alter globalization project is the development of a culture of horizontalism. The rejection of hierarchy, the emphasis on carving space outside of the dominant political economy, instantiating ideals through micro life-worlds, the mesh networked nature of the collaboration and deliberate employment of swarm tactics in protests and occupations, the deliberative nature of decision making in encuentro style gatherings - these are enduring legacies.

We can see, for example, this influence through the Occupy movement's assembly process, where voting and representation are substituted by dialogue, resonance and consensus agreement.

What complicates a simple analysis of autonomism is the fact that the anti/alter globalization movement (of which I consider Occupy an expression) exists in conditions made possible by the network form, as argued by Manuel Castells. Whether one is looking at al-Qaeda, the American militia movement, Zapatistas struggling for indigenous justice, these movements are made possible by the network form and the network capabilities they make possible.

Castells writes:

The contradictory diversity of [the global justice] movement would make it an impossible collective actor, except under the condition of its existence as a network. This is why the movement is the network, and this is clearly distinct from being a network of movements. (Castells, 1996, p. 156)

One can argue from here then that the network form that makes a global struggle / project viable requires a cultural counterpart, and this came to be seen as a culture / ideology of "horizontalism". From this vantage point, then, autonomism is not only a distinct ideological movement, it is actually a strong 'meme' deeply woven into the very fabric of the global movement / project. Hence Occupy movement assemblies resemble Zapatista assemblies, even if their participants to not recognize this. Adbusters is extensively autonomistic in orientation and Anonymous' symbolism and practices also seem to resemble this orientation.

I have extracted a part of my thesis below that deals more specifically with horizontalist cultural formation, which is deeply associated with autonomism, which may be helpful:


The ‘Battle of Seattle’ in 1999, in which a rainbow coalition of diverse actors came together to shut down the WTO meeting, is often credited as the beginning of an ideologically diverse anti-globalisation movement. In fact, resistance to neo-liberalism prefigured the Battle of Seattle by decades. Protests against IMF / World Bank efforts to introduce or maintain SAPs, (which accompanied TNC acquisition of privatised resources), emerged in South America, Africa and Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, in the ‘countries that have been most deeply impacted by globalization’ (Smith, 2008b, p. 15).

Protests against the G6 / G7 (now G8 / G20) group of countries date back to before the World Economic Summit meeting in Versailles in 1982, which have been continuous and ubiquitous for almost 30 years (see Appendix P). However the defeat of the MAI in 1998 (Goodman, 2000) and the disruption of the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 signalled a new level of integration between counter hegemonic actors. First was an emerging willingness between very diverse groups to work together against a ‘common enemy’ and toward shared interests, through tactical resistance to neo-liberal initiatives. Secondly was a new integration between Northern and Southern spheres of activity. Since the Battle in Seattle in 1999 a ‘summit hopping’ protest movement has continued to disrupt international meetings, with varying degree of success and failure in cities such as Genoa, Melbourne, Washington DC, Prague, Quebec, Barcelona, Chiang Mai, Zurich, Hong Kong and many other locales (see Appendix Q). (See the account of G20 Convergence in this thesis as one example.)

Anti-globalisation protests drew inspiration and knowledge from the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatistas launched their armed struggle on January 1st 1994, the first day of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as a statement against racist treatment by the Mexican state, and against the threat posed by corporate globalisation to their livelihoods. Their strategic ‘global framing’ through new media approaches communicated a prismatism that prefigured the WSF(P) – theirs was a local struggle and a planetary one, a 500 year struggle against colonialism and racism as well as a contemporary one. Their uprising catalysed international solidarity, which culminated in 1996 in the First Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism (Steger, 2009, p. 102). Their savvy use of (digital) media, poetic culture jamming, and extensive networking prefigured the ICT intensive strategies used by the anti-globalisation movement (and AGM) (Castells, 1996). They were dubbed by the New York Times as the first ‘postmodern revolutionary movement’ (Gautney, 2010, p. 40). Zapatismo as a cultural formation was also foundational, leading to the formulation of key organisational ‘hallmarks’ in the nascent AGM which defined ‘the network as one without formal membership or leadership, and emphasized a shared commitment to decentralized, autonomous (independent) modes of organization and opposition to capitalism’ (Gautney, 2010, p. 40). Their ideas for a post neo-liberal world that contained organisational diversity and pluralism, a horizontalist utopianism, clearly prefigured the utopianism of the WSF(P) (Smith, 2008b, p. 20). The Zapatista inspired Peoples Global Action (PGA), a network which emerged from the 1996 encuentro in Chiapas, became an important cornerstone of the new network processes in the anti-globalisation movement (Gautney, 2010, p. 40). The WSF(P) contained organisationally what the AGM expresses culturally: a movement toward a diversity of struggles in relationship, rather than a unitary movement with a set agenda. Tormey explains the cultural logic of horizontalism this way:

The movement not only resists neoliberal capitalism, but incorporation into an ideology and movement dedicated to overcoming neoliberal capitalism. Symbolic of this double-negation, this Janus face of the movement, was the issuing by Marcos in 2003 of a declaration entitled ‘I Shit on all the Revolutionary Vanguards of this Planet.’ (Tormey, 2005, p. 2)

Thus one of the key historical shifts that links the WSF(P) to the AGM is a movement away from fixed agendas or singular visions, whether from the left or right of political persuasions. The AGM contains a diversity of actors despite political differences, struggling to work together. Culturally, the AGM expresses resistance to assimilation into any single ideology - indeed its epistemological diversity stems from the inherent ontological diversity of its construction. The WSF(P) addresses the challenge of this social complexity through a variety of strategies, open space approaches and an espoused inclusivity (via an ideology of ‘horizontalism’), which is explored in the next section, and problematised in the concluding chapter.


While autonomism can be said to be an 'energy' that permeates the global movement / project, it has its advocates and more distinct proponents. As such, trenchant critiques have been leveled at autonomist principles, see for example:

In my thesis, I argue that the global movement requires greater coherence and organization, drawing from peer to peer movement principles of 'diagonality'. A purely horizontalist orientation, which disowns leadership, embodied responsibility, as well as sequential and programmatic social development, cannot wage an effective struggle to create another possible world in the face of hostile and ruthless state and market forces. Autonomism thus needs to be mixed and fused with other alter-global / world-changing modalities and energies, as if smelting a new alloy from diverse metals.

Response by Michel Bauwens

While I welcome the emergence and growth of horizontalist movements, and welcome their capacity for rapid and massive mobilization, I also share the concerns expressed by Jose Ramos and others mentioned above. My key take would be that any principle that is considered as an absolute, becomes in itself problematic. For example, in the relational grammar of Alan Page Fiske which I used in my own theorizing, there is a recognition that the four intersubjective modalities have always co=existed, but under different modalities of dominance; and actually, we could argue that we see historical shifts of such dominance. For example, from the Authority Ranking of feudalism, to the Market Pricing of capitalism. And of course, we argue that such a shift is in the process of being undertaken today, from the dominance of Market Pricing, to the dominance of Communal Shareholding as the main mode of value creation and sociality. But that doesn't mean it is the only mode, only that it is the core of the new model. My belief is that there is a distinct danger to absolutize horinzontalism and p2p-ism. To give an example, while I like unconferences and Barcamps, does that really mean that it is the only modality for conferencing, and there is no room for listening to experts in a classical manner; or, that we like and practice peer-learning, does that mean than any form of mastering a discipline through 'followership' should be abolished? So we have to be open to the fact that any modality has both advantages and disadvantages, and that the clever use of 'diagonal' or 'hybrid' forms may be optimal.

A few specific weaknesses that I fear are present in radical horizontalism are the following:

- consensus may lead to lowest-common denominator unity and therefore suppress and 'mainstream' alternative approaches; my take on Occupy is that the consensus unity is partly responsible for its relative defeat and for the resulting fragmentation, of all the submovements that wanted to go further than the Occupy agenda.

- the Assembly format seems to require too heavy continuous investments in human effort, and seems to decay after a few months, devolving in the hands of the more radical minorities.

- the new movements seem to have an ability to mobilize rapidly and often massively, but their staying power seems questionable; especially in terms of human solidarity when faced with material hardship.

So my general core is to see p2p and the commons, and 'horizontalism', as a core aspect of the new modalities, but not as the only one.

Our approach should be integrative, and still take into account long-term movement building, the construction of more lasting institutions that are able to provide more long-term support, etc ...

Response by Jose Ramos

I very much appreciate your response Michel. The theme that is emerging for me is the development of hybrid and integrative pathways that re-own elements of previous development periods in healthy ways. I am thinking in particular of several dis-ownments that I feel are prominent in the culture-ideology of horizontalism. The first disownment is the disownment of the profit motive. I think this is breaking down now with the emergence of the “creative” class of social entrepreneurs thriving in niche areas within cosmopolitan cities. The second dis-ownment is the dis-ownment of political and hence state power. The idea that social change and the ideals and intentions of social change makers are invariably corrupted within or by the political process, and that it is entirely outside of this political process where change is enabled. Without overstretching the metaphor, this allergic reaction to these two types of power, political and economic, is one of the core internal barriers for a global movement for the commons, that needs to be resolved.

Indeed, collaborative networks of change, what I like to call "social ecologies of alternatives," are fundamentally hybrid and prismatic forms that attempt to straddle and yolk together multiple forms of power, economic, political and cultural, etc, in virtuous modes of reciprocation. Some have called this counter hegemonic public spheres (Martin Weber). I like the term "ecology of alternatives" because many of the alternatives are political and economic in nature, and not simply about challenging the cultural hegemony of existing market-state capitalism. Whether named counter publics or ecologies, the key points really is that alternate structural synergies of power which combine elements of verticalism and horizontalism, but which are fundamentally commons oriented and auto-generative, need to developed which are resilient in the face of the predatory and cannibalizing forces of accumulation.

What I would like to ask you to comment on is exactly this challenge and this new movement towards hybridity and integration among diverse organizational forms (network, corporation, cooperative, institution, community), and the new pathways and directions you find most valuable in moving us beyond the polarities of horizontalism an verticalism, toward diagonalistic modalities that re-own power in healthy ways. In your opinion and experience, what are the new theories, frameworks, models or examples for integrating across organizational forms, re-owning their healthy aspects, which re-own power while not disowning inclusive and democratic human empowerment.

Final Response by Michel Bauwens

I find the complex of dis-ownment very important. In integrative theories, that want to include all aspects of reality in their understand, it is often said that systems of higher complexity integration take over through a process of 'transcend and include'. But what is often forgotten is that new systems also 'forget' and dis-own not just pathological elements of earlier systems but also healthy ones. Hence, like in capitalism, we may transcend positive premodern aspects, while including some of their pathologies.

I find it indeed important to fully integrate the healthy aspects of previous systems, but also to consciously process the pathological aspects ; this means not denying them, but recognizing them, and to have processes in place to 'mitigate' them. However, in my understanding this is precisely what P2P Theory and practice does.

For example, peer production is motivation-agnostic. This means that it does not rely on altruistic motivation, but allows different motivations to be used for the common good, not as a unconscious byproduct of activity, as theorized by the invisible hand of liberalism, but as a conscious element of social design. Think of the design of the p2p currency Bitcoin, which does not deny self-interested motives. In Linux, even a selfish motivation to solve a personal tech problem, co-creates the code commons. Similarly, it does not deny the individual, nor even individualism, as it creates even greater individual freedom than in earlier system, by enabling permissionless contributions.

I would like to briefly mention that my own brand of P2P Theory is rooted in a very similar integrative approach, and my understanding of the P2P tranformation derives from it. In an early article for Integral Review, I explain my own methodology, inspired by Ken Wilber’s “integral”, “AQAL” framework; and you can also find a similar explanation in my original 2006 manuscript, P2P and Human Evolution. Briefly, this integrative methodology posits that ‘reality’ always has both subjective and objective aspects, and also always individual and collective aspects. This means that individually, we have a psyche with subjective intentionality which has real effects on the world; and we have a body that has an objective material reality. These are not separate realities, but aspects of a same complex reality. Similary, every individual being belongs to a collective system, a intersubjective cultural system, which co-determines our ways of thinking/feeling; and various inter-objective systems (like the economy, etc..) that similarly co-determine our realities. Each aspect or sphere is marked not just by simple determinisms, but also by emergent properties. Thus, chemistry brings a new logic to physics, biology brings a new logic to chemistry, the psychic brings yet a new level of relative autonomy, i..e. they have downwards causation just as much as they are co-determined through the upward causation of the more fundamental layers. This approach allows us to avoid both ‘gross deterministic approaches’, such as vulgar materialism, but also the more subtle reductionisms that are now in vogue, such as those coming from the system sciences, and which may reduce intentional beings, to dots in a network.

There are of course other integrative frameworks, such as those of Roy Bhaskar, Sarkar, Negri, Stiegler, and many others, and I'm quite critical of the "neocon" turn that was taken by Ken Wilber and many of his followers. So we need a 'progressive integralism' or 'left integralism', with a clear emancipatory motivation. P2P Theory is an expression of this approach, as applied to a particular object of understanding. Whatever integrative framework we use, it is important to have one, and to use it to avoid reductionisms, dis-ownments, etc .. Then, though collective dialogue, we can be alerted to our own blind spots.

Source: Peer production in an integral and intersubjective framework. Integral World, 2006. Retrieved from