* Book: Blockchain Radicals. Joshua Dávila. Repeater Books, August 2023
1. Joshua Davila:
"Over the last decade, blockchains and crypto have opened up a new terrain for political action. It is not surprising, however, that the crypto space has also become overrun by unscrupulous marketing, theft and scams. The problem is real, but it isn’t a new one. Capitalism has ruined crypto, but that shouldn’t be the end of it. Blockchain Radicals shows us how this has happened, and how to fix crypto in a way that is understandable for those who have never owned a cryptocurrency as well as those who are building their own decentralised applications. Covering everything from how Bitcoin saved WikiLeaks to decentralised finance, worker cooperatives, the environmental impact of Bitcoin and NFTs, and the crypto commons, it shows how these new tools can be used to challenge capitalism and build a better world for all of us. While crypto is often thought of as being synonymous with unbridled capitalism, Blockchain Radicals shows instead how the technology can and has been used for more radical purposes, beyond individual profit and towards collective autonomy. Joshua Dávila is an expert on blockchain technology and the creator of the The Blockchain Socialist blog and podcast."
2. David Morris:
"The book is essentially a long exploratory essay, working to flesh out Dávila’s fundamental belief in crypto as a tool for organizing non-state social and economic alliances, from mutual aid groups, to bail funds, to new models for funding technology development.
Dávila says that, up to now, he has had a much harder time pitching his peers in politics on the promise of blockchain and crypto.
“If you try and talk about crypto stuff in a left-wing forum, you’ll get banned,” he told me. “I was constantly accused of being a scammer. I assumed we could just have a grounded conversation, but I found out that wasn’t really possible.”
"Blockchain Radicals" pushes back against this sort of reductive condemnation of crypto. What’s most ironic is that these dismissals have come most often and loudly from neoliberal centrists who long to fall back into the warm embrace of institutions (such as, very recently, notoriously repressive intelligence agencies).
These centrists have seemingly spread their knee-jerk, ironically uncritical dismissal of cryptocurrency as a fraud from snout to tail as a corollary of their talent for masquerading as justice-oriented progressives—an easy enough task in the American political context. Dávila characterizes these responses to crypto, including catastrophizing about crypto’s energy usage without addressing broader systemic issues, as a liberal “moral panic.”
"Blockchain Radicals" can function partly as a deprogramming manual for those waylaid by this skewed and deceptive just-so story. Crucially, the book includes concise, workable, and open-minded introductions to basic crypto concepts like proof of work, smart contracts, non-fungible tokens. (NFTs) and distributed apps, as well as historical briefs on, for instance, the creation of Litecoin and "the DAO" hack. These are well-marked, and so easy to skip if you don’t need a refresher, but crucial for anyone who has spent years dismissing blockchains with a sneering hand-wave instead of substantive engagement."
"The radicalism of crypto will be obvious to the truly crypto-pilled, regardless of political orientation. Over the past decade crypto first invited, and more recently forced, reconsiderations of basic concepts like money, banking, investment, borders and even the nation itself (Dávila repeatedly pushes back against Balaji Srinivasan’s "Network State").
One of the broadest “radical” potentials Dávila ascribes to crypto is its ability to redefine, and maybe revivify, “the commons.” Historically, European and other feudal or tribal societies were organized around an agricultural “commons” shared by a community. New land and labor regimes led these to be cut up into hierarchical private holdings (a process later known as "enclosure") between roughly the 18th and 20th centuries.
In its later stages, this restructuring was justified with the false and racist narrative of “the tragedy of the commons.” This trope has since become a rationale for all kinds of profit-juicing privatization initiatives, including modern patent and intellectual property regimes that can restrain the advance of technology.
In this light, crypto's fundamental structural reliance on open-source software development may be one of its deepest radical tendencies. Dávila also describes crypto as enabling new kinds of digital commons that leverage new mechanisms for shared property and incentive design. That’s just one aspect of the broader potential he sees for bottom-up economic engineering via blockchains.
Dávila also proudly embraces more in-your-face crypto-radicalism: he unapologetically lauds crypto’s potential for circumventing unjust laws.
He shares my awestruck admiration, for instance, for Kazakh developer Alexandra Elbakyan, an information insurgent on par with Aaron Swarz or even Edward Snowden. Through her 100% against-the-law site Sci Hub, which I am linking here, Elbakyan has for more than a decade been liberating publicly-funded scientific research from the vampiric grasp of fundamentally corrupt, rent-seeking “publishers” like Elsevier. She’s pushing back against one of the most glaring perversions of the common good by capitalist enclosure of public property—and Bitcoin has made that effort sustainable.
Concrete proposals, projects, and tendencies are explored throughout "Blockchain Radicals." They can even seem prosaic, at least for anyone who hasn’t directly faced the challenge of building them with pre-crypto tools.
Possibly most interesting is the potential for DAO-like structures and smart contracts for building new kinds of cooperative businesses. As boring as it may seem, a huge barrier to building new economic models is simply bookkeeping, trust and coordination. For instance, I lived in collectively owned housing for many years as a student, which was great for keeping costs down. But it required a lot of commitment and mutual trust, especially when it came to managing collective funds for things like house repairs and taxes."