= a community with a set of cooperatives, a contemporary example in prototype form of the network form of Phyles
Las Indias consists of a democratic association, the Las Indias Club, the outer core; a crafts-oriented production cooperative, El Arte de la Cosas (the Art of Things), and at the heart, a egalitarian community in the form of a worker coop, Sociedad de las Indias  (the Society of the Electronic Indies).
The group is mainly based in Spain.
1. David de Ugarte:
"Precisely because there is a phyle awareness – that is, the awareness of being a community with business and not a business community or a community of people working in that business – all Indianos are partners in the two cooperatives which constitute the cooperative group.
As a result, interconnections and ideas multiply and fly: if you follow the Indianos throughout their blogs, you can see how one season they take up the tasting of natural wines as an inspiration to think about new activity lines, or how they rethink their own myths in order to talk the reasons for a new clothing offer.
Thinking about the ideas of community and interconnection, Sonia Carbajal, while commenting on her experience as a group apprentice, pointed out that one of the things which this period of reading and living alongside other had led her to was the discovery that at the end of the road lay not her incorporation not into a specific business or activity, but integration, from personal autonomy, within a community." (http://deugarte.com/gomi/phyles.pdf)
2. David de Ugarte:
"We are not a cooperative, we are a not very big phyle: we are a community who organize their economy democratically through 4 workers cooperatives, 1 NGO and the participation in 3 more projects developed by non-members.
The activities of our coops - and then the origin of our incomes - are: consultancy (Sociedad de las Indias), Psicology (Instituto Storge), Free Software programming and services (Enkidu) and business and product incubation (El Arte).
But you can see a little better the difference between a group of coops and a phyle (who own a group of coops) in our «Foundation» (a kind of Constitution of the phyle) in http://english.lasindias.com/foundation/
- Phyle's wiki http://lasindias.net
- Las Indias' Cooperative Group http://grupolasindias.coop
- Las Indias' Blog http://lasindias.com
- Las Indias' Blog in English http://english.lasindias.com
Ten Years of Las Indias
David de Ugarte:
"October second of this year will be the tenth anniversary of the Sociedad de las Indias Electrónicas, the founding business of the Grupo Cooperativo de las Indias. Even though it only had three members back then — Natalia Fernández, Juan Urrutia, and me — “the Indies,” as it soon became known, was the result of a long evolutionary process in the cyberpunk movement in Spanish. In fact, in 2002, Nat and I refounded Cyberpunk itself as an association in defense of civil rights on the net. We knew that, especially in the beginning, we would need a broad intellectual environment. The objective of the business was never to get rich, but rather to gain autonomy experiencing and living the new possibilities we perceived and theorized about on the network in a new field: the market.
It wasn’t an idealistic objective. It was result of our experience: just one month earlier, the three of us had closed Piensa en Red! [Think in Networks!], our first business. It had more than a few successes: it was the first European business that did programming for PDAs and smartphones, it created the first programs and structures for the distributed management of hospitals, and even for a satellite connection between doctors in hospitals and wounded on the battlefield. We also created the first blog written on a mobile device, installed the first wi-fi network on the peninsula (which was also public and open), and founded the second largest Iberian hosting business. But we closed. External problems with the investors revealed that not all of the twenty workers — who were also shareholders — nor the biggest investors had enough commitment to the project. We were — and still are — friends, but we weren’t a community. When it came time to make the hard choices, the majority in both groups preferred to divide up the capital and close the business. In fact, the project leaders preferred to work at other businesses with the advantage of the experience they’d earned with us. And we learned an important lesson: internal democracy doesn’t work without a true community. But three of us decided to give up our part to the less qualified workers and start over… from zero.
In 2001, Juan Urrutia had published his well-known essay “Networks of people, the Internet, and the Logic of Abundance” in the theoretical magazine Ekonomiaz. Distributed networks appeared as the basis of new P2P relationships and an ever-growing diversity. We cyberpunks recognized in this essay the basics of of the new economic theory we needed to be able to “export” the new freedoms we were experiencing on the network to new parts of life. That was when we started calling the Internet “the Electronic Indies.”
In Iberian history, “the Indies” was the name of the new territories, of the New World discovered by Columbus and soon conceived of, because of its abundance, as the “original paradise.” But precisely because it was a paradise, because it was a country that knew nothing of “original sin,” the king soon prohibited “new Christians,” who were 70% of the population, from travelling there. To be able to take a boat to the Indies, one had to demonstrate “purity of blood.” This time, we thought, we’ll find the abundance first, and not remained locked up in old borders designed by the powers-that-be.
But even though the dream was abundance, the new beginning wasn’t easy. Our three thousand and seven euros in capital weren’t even enough to pay our incorporation costs and the first month’s rent on a micro-office. The solutions we choose then were important, and gave shape to the nature of the project itself, changing our life right up to today.
The most urgent short term objective was to find clients. But we didn’t have money to buy ads, or social relationships in the corporate world. We needed new tools to talk about our experience, to show, in the darkest days of the dot-com crash, that our small business was viable, and that we had real contributions to make to traditional businesses. We looked online for business blogs all over the world… and we didn’t find a single one. There was no model to follow. We began to write, and on the seventh of October, 2002, el Correo de las Indias [the Indies Mail] was born, with Bitácora de las Indias [Log of the Indies] in the masthead. It was the first business blog in the world, and later would also be the first whose posts, thanks to a well-known publisher, would be published as a book. The blog was the way we found our clients, but, more importantly over time, the current indianos.
On the other hand, during the time when we had no clients or we had few sales, the two worker-members, Nat and I, recieved no salary. We didn’t have enough money for that. I slept in the office, Nat worked some hours outside of the Indies, and we had just enough to eat each day and pay the rent on the office and a room in a shared apartment where Nat lived. Later, when clients started coming in, we decided to take the minimum amount of money neccesary to support a normal level of consumption and comfort.
The business would be the economic structure of the community we were creating, and as such, would have all of the the sources of wealth and income; we would not have — and still don’t have — savings, properties, or personal clients. The cooperative is our community savings and the only owner of all that we enjoy. With the passage of time and the growth of the Indies’ community and economy, the first Indies headquarters appeared with the same spirit: wide-open common facilities, with accomodations and offices, personal and common spaces all as property shared among everyone. In short: economically, we’re closer to a kibbutz than to the big cooperatives at Mondragon.
Of course, the new cooperatives and businesses in the group choose their own economic system, but even now, the members of the Indias community, los indianos, are only those in the cooperatives that are part of the original system and who apply it internally as well as between themselves.
Like the cyberpunks we were, we knew that “under every communication architecture, there hides a power structure.” Understanding the power of network topologies was our principal point of differentiation, both in theory –in dialogue or as cyberactivists — and also in the market. We were conscious that the things we offered were “carriers of worlds, social projects, and moral values.” Producing and selling is also a way of changing the world. As a consultancy, we have the opportunity to bring businesses new business models, forms of internal organization and a new work ethic that really makes the difference, and then, as activists, we can apply the generated knowledge to social projects.
Later, each cooperative in the group strengthened the model. Today, the consulting business is the group’s main source of financing. And creating and organizing new cooperatives and businesses constitutes our principal activity.
This September, we’ll found two new businesses in Bilbao called Gaman and Fondaki. Gaman will make free software. Fondaki will be the first Public Intelligence business in Europe. Both will create jobs — based on a new values system, with products designed to strengthen the fabric of small businesses — for a dozen people, in the middle of the most important crisis, with the highest unemployment rates, in all of Iberian economic history.
Both foundings are the best demonstration of what “the Indies” are and what we indianos do. But above all, they will be the best possible commemoration of our tenth anniversary." (http://english.lasindias.com/the-indies-and-the-indianos-ten-years-later/)
Conducted by Michel Bauwens, Neal Gorenflo, and John Robb, with co-founder David de Ugarte:
Michel Bauwens: Explain to us what Las Indias is, and where it comes from, and what makes it distinctive?
David de Ugarte: Las Indias is the result of the Spanish-speaking cyberpunk movement. Originally a civil rights group, during the late 90s it became strongly influenced by Juan Urrutia's “Economics of Abundance” theory. Very soon, we linked “abundance” with the idea of empowerment in distributed networks. We are very clear on this point: it is not the Internet by itself, it is the distributed P2P architecture that allows the new commons. As one of our old slogans put it: “Under every informational architechture lays a structure of power.” Re-centralizing structures – as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Megaupload, etc. do around their servers – weakens us all. The blogosphere, torrents, freenet, etc. are tools of empowerment.
Cyberpunk was mainly a conversational / cyberactivist virtual community. It became transnational quickly and contributed some very good discussions and theories that helped us understand the social impact and possibilities of distributed networks.
But in 2002 three of us founded Las Indias Society, a consultancy firm focused on innovation and networks dedicated to empowering people and organizations. Our experience soon became very important in understanding the opposition between “real” and “imagined” communities, and the organizational bases for an economic democracy. After the cyberpunk dissolution in 2007, the “Montevideo Declaration” openly stated that our objective will be to construct a “phyle,” a transnational economic democracy, in order to ensure the autonomy of our community and it members.
Now, we define ourselves around five main values:
- Distributed network architectures as a way of generating abundance, empowerment, and to ensure the widest plurarchy – the maximum of individual liberties – for the members of our community.
- Transnationality (which means a rejection of national identities as well as universalism) as a consequence of putting the real community of persons who live and work in Las Indias at the center of our work
- Economic democracy as the way to build personal and community autonomy through the market
- Hacker ethics as a way to foster community knowledge generation, common deliberation, personal passion, and a collective pleasure in learning
- Devolutionism: all our production of knowledge – books, software, contents, even recipes – is returned to the commons, generating more abundance
Neal Gorenflo: What is the vision of Las Indias? What would the classic, most developed form be in the future? What are you after in terms of how it can transform individuals, interpersonal relationships, and the world?
Our vision is not a universalist one. We don't proselytize and we really believe that diversity is a desirable consequence of freedom.
But we have a vision for us – the phyle – and a wish: to see the birth of a wider, transnational space of economic democracies. We imagine networks of phyles generating wealth, social cohesion, and ensuring liberties for real people rather than the governments' power and their borders and passports.
We are not naive nor utopian. Distributed networks gave our generation the opportunity to build a new world. But this new world, based on the commons, communities, economic democracy and distributed networks isn't complete at birth. And the old world, based on the artificial generation of scarcity, corporations, inequality, and centralized networks isn't dead.
It is very symptomatic that European crisis manifests as a debt crisis. Governments are suffocating society in order to feed privileged groups – big corporations, some sectors dependent of public money – who have captured state rents or ensured it through monopolistic law. So, the main objective and the main vision now is to stop these decomposing forces in our environments.
MB: How does Las Indias work internally? How is it funded?
There are different levels of engagement and commitment. As a phyle we are really a network. In the periphery there are individual entrepreneurs with their initiatives. In the core there are the associated cooperatives, and at that core. the indianos. We differentiate between the community (the core of the phyle) and the Cooperative Group.
Indianos are communities that are similar to kibbutzim (no individual savings, collective and democratic control of their own coops, etc.). But there are some important differences like the lack of a shared national or religious ideology, being distributed throughout cities rather than concentrated in a compound, and not submitting to an economic rationality.
John Robb: What kind of coops are in the Las Indias network? What are the synergies between the cooperatives?
At this moment we have four coops: Las Indias (a consultancy dedicated to innovation and network analysis); El Arte (a product-lab where we develop products from books to beer to software); Fondaki (global and strategic intelligence for small businesses) and Gaman (educational tools and campaigns).
All of them are expressions of our members' different passions that answer different needs of our community and environment." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-future-now-an-interview-with-david-de-ugarte)
Neal Gorenflo interviewed David de Ugarte at OuishareFest 2014:
"The idea of Las Indias is that it is a community with cooperative businesses, not a community of cooperatives. It seems like a subtle point, but it’s very important: the community, and we, the people who form it, have our own logic that we have to put ahead of the pure logic of development of each business or the cooperative that makes it.
So, there is a logic and a common strategy that is built among all, as peers, based on knowledge that we develop together, and not just coordination between cooperatives.
One is integrated into Las Indias… and after supporting different cooperatives and projects, after learning and sharing, if you have an idea, and you earn money with it, you end up seeing up another… or others. And that new cooperative can be with other Indianos, or with other people from your surroundings, and you can remain in the Group of Cooperatives or go out on your own. It doesn’t matter to us. A real community varies, mutates, and transforms itself as it learns new things. The important thing is that it serves everyone’s development and creates well-being in the real surroundings, among the people around us, wherever they are. Because transnationality is another fundamental element in Las Indias — we have almost as many different passports as members."
OS: WILL THERE BE A NEED FOR ORGANIZATIONS LIKE OUISHARE OR LAS INDIAS WITHIN 10 YEARS?
What I want and see as possible is a world with phyles, more than a world of phyles. Phyles are necessary vectors to expand this whole new economy without creating new regional differences, creating spaces of well-being and opportunities to skip over borders that are more and more damaging, both socially and economically.
Will OuiShare or Las Indias be necessary? Almost certainly.We must not fall into the individualist mystification that has sterilized the concept of the market and let it impoverish our view of the network.
The traditional Mediterranean market wasn’t just a place for buying and selling. It was also a space for political and social interaction and — this is too often forgotten — the place where teachers, poets, philosophers were found with their disciples and judges arbitrated conflicts. The market is not exclusively a monetary relationship, but above all, a social and cultural relationship based on exchange, but also on donation. There’s no market without a non-market setting, without “gratia et amore” and without “love of the Art,” since Art was technique and technology, but also the community of artisans itself.
In the same way, the network is not only the relationship that unites us with the knowledge commons through communities of purpose. The network is, above all, conversation, and therefore “clumps,” preferences, choices, networks of communities that people cross out of a desire to share and be with others. The network is made up of communities that are also spaces of affections. It’s not just a network of individuals who only relate to each other “for” something. Because of this, and because our capacity to emotionally link to others is limited by time and by our own inheritance as a species to relatively small groups, always there will be groups, clumps, real communities that are differentiated in the great space of the network." (http://magazine.ouishare.net/2014/10/david-de-ugarte-p2p-production/)