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TPP and TTIP-Free Zones are being created by communities across the US and EU

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
23rd November 2015


Reposted from Citizen Action Monitor, TPP-Free Zones are being created by communities across the US and EU.

Why aren’t Canada’s political, social, labour and environmental NGOs jumping all over this initiative?

Margaret Flowers“You can join communities that are rejecting these rigged corporate ‘trade’ deals that are being negotiated in secret and will undermine our ability to pass laws that protect public health and safety and the planet by organizing to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone. Details below.”Margaret Flowers

On a related note, The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based NGO has, since 1995, been doing magnificent work with communities to establish Community Rights – such that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability. They have worked at the local municipal level to establish Community Rights. Communities that have established Community Rights ordinances have faced legal challenges from corporate and states. In response, CELDF has recently begun building on grassroots organizing to drive change to the state level, bringing together communities from across states to build State Community Rights Networks. For more information, visit the CELDF website by clicking on the about linked name.

Returning to TPP-Free Zones, so far no Canadian communities appear on the world map of TPP-Free Zones. To access this map, click on the following linked title. The repost below includes a link to this map as well as all the other details and links to affiliated information sources.


Communities Reject Rigged Trade, Create TPP/TTIP-Free Zones by Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance, October 4, 2015

Note: You can join communities that are rejecting these rigged corporate ‘trade’ deals that are being negotiated in secret and will undermine our ability to pass laws that protect public health and safety and the planet by organizing to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone. Details below.

As negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) inch toward completion, resistance to it and the other rigged corporate international treaties, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade-in-Services Agreement (TiSA), is escalating.

  • A transAtlantic week of protests against the TPP and TTIP are planned from October 10 to 17. Visit Trade4People.org to learn more. Actions will be posted on Flush the TPP.
  • There will be protests in Miami at the end of October during the next round of TTIP negotiations. Details are not yet confirmed, but they will be posted on the Flush the TPP “Actions” page.
  • And during the APEC meetings in the Philippines in November, there will be protests in Manila and Washington, DC. Click here for information about the DC mobilization.

A powerful form of resistance is underway in communities across the United States and the European Union – people are passing resolutions opposing these ‘trade agreements,’ which are actually international treaties that should not be allowed to fast track through Congress, to create TPP and TTIP-free zones.

In the European Union, activists are working to pass 10,000 such resolutions. In collaboration with the public service union, Unison, Global Justice Now, is providing helpful materials. Global Justice Now reports:

“It’s not just the UK. In Austria, Germany, France and Belgium there are significant numbers of TTIP Free Zones being declared by local authorities. When EU and US negotiators in Brussels leave their meetings they immediately walk out into the Brussels municipality which is itself a TTIP Free Zone.

There are 39 ‘no TTIP’ councils in Spain and a good covering in Northern Italy. This is a Europe-wide movement of local resistance to the corporate power grab that TTIP represents.”

During the fight to stop Congress from passing Fast Track legislation that will be used to rush these agreements through Congress, cities from Seattle, WA to Madison, WI to New York, NY passed resolutions against Fast Track. Labor played a big part in making these successful. Now, new resolutions are underway in more cities with the goal of 100.

On October 8, a resolution will be voted upon in Miami, FL, potentially making it a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone before the next round of TTIP negotiations there. Click here for details.

Organizing a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone is a great way to raise awareness of the ways that these secret rigged corporate deals will directly impact our communities. From the prohibition of “Buy America” practices to the new powers for corporations to sue over public health and safety laws that interfere with their profits to the outsourcing of jobs, lowering of wages, reduction of food safety and raising the costs of health care, the TPP and TTIP place corporate profits over protection of people and the planet.

Here is more information on how to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone from the Alliance for Democracy:

“If you, our un-elected representatives, create this corporate-driven monstrosity and then go to Congress for a rubber stamp, WE WILL NOT OBEY.”

Which cities have gone TPP/TTIP/TiSA Free?

This map shows which US cities and counties have passed TPP Free Zone ordinances or resolutions against Fast Track, TPP or other pending trade pacts like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

It is time to make our municipalities “TPP Free Zones,” following in the footsteps of the successful resistance to an earlier trade agreement, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which was defeated in 1998 thanks to a global grassroots campaign.

  • Click here to download a .pdf of our TPP Free Zone pamphlet. Print it on legal-size paper, or read the text online here.
  • Click here for a model municipal law to make your community a TPP Free Zone.
  • Click here for some pointers in getting a TPP Free Zone law passed.

What is a TPP-Free Zone?

AfD Co-Chair Ruth Caplan explains how local organizing for “TPP-Free Zone” laws can help defeat this so-called “free trade” agreement while supporting global civil society movements for economic and environmental justice and local democracy.

Educate for action: Our Fall 2012 issue of Justice Rising focused on international resistance to corporate global trade agreements, including the TPP. To read it online, click here. If you’d like to a copy, contact us at afd, The Alliance for Democracy or call 781-894-1179.

There’s more information, videos and resources on our TPP page.

Questions? Ideas? Resources? We’d like to hear from you. Contact the Alliance for Democracy office at afd (at) thealliancefordemocracy (dot) org, or 781-894-1179.

Lead image by Backbone Campaign


Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Movement, P2P Rights, Politics | No Comments »

Video: Cesar Hidalgo on the Meritocracy and Topocracy of Networks

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st November 2015

Markets operate through networks of agents, but how democratic are they ?

Cesar Hidalgo has mathematically calculated, that it would take between 17,000 and 22,000 connections to have a true meritocratic network, i.e. where merit is correlated to contributions ; otherwise we have topocratic networks, where your merit depends on your place in the network.

Watch the video here: (and hang on, Cesar speaks fast)


Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Economy and Business, P2P Hierarchy Theory, Videos | No Comments »

A critique of Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism: on the danger of over-emphasizing the positivity of networks

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th November 2015

Excerpted from David Beer:

“I think there are some good reasons for us to hesitate before placing networks at the epicentre of any postcapitalist future.

One potential problem we might have is with Mason’s attempts to differentiate between networks and hierarchies. This is something he does frequently in his book. As a result, networks’ disruptive capacities take on an important and functional role in Mason’s vision. In many ways, networks, as a central part of a range of technological shifts, become the key mechanism for the transformations central to postcapitalism. What is crucial here is that networks are seen as providing an alternative to hierarchies.

Mason (212) suggests, for example, that ‘the main faultline in the modern world is between networks and hierarchies’. He adds that ‘everything is pervaded by a fight between network and hierarchy’ (144) and that ‘everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy’ (xix). This somehow suggests that either networks can exist in a form that is not hierarchical or, perhaps, that they are by their very nature non-hierarchical. The question is whether either of these is actually the case.

Despite their appearance, networks often contain hierarchies. Despite their appearance, networks often contain hierarchies. Much of what we know about contemporary decentralised networks would suggest that they are not free from hierarchies. Just to pick one quite superficial example, if we look at something obvious like social media then Klout scores and other means of measuring influence and amplification are designed to reveal those very hierarchies. Networks are not flat, they are 3 dimensional, they have a z axis. Decentralization, then, is not necessarily equivalent to empowerment or democratisation. It may not even give people the voice that it appears to give them. Instead we are all left howling into the wind, with a few select voices getting heard above the din. We should instantly wonder why it is that those few voices get heard, is it something about what is being said or is it potentially a product of the particular hierarchies afforded by these media infrastructures and their apparently equally distributed chances of communication.

Jodi Dean is even more negative in her understanding of these decentralised networks. Her argument is that the there is a lot of noise and very little listening going on within social media. She calls this ‘communicative capitalism’. Her point is that the communications we engage with in these networks are all part of the capitalist system of which those networks are a key component. Even where we appear to be resisting, questioning or, as Mason suggests, ‘rebelling’, Dean’s point is that we are merely contributing to the maintenance of communicative capitalism. What we say has little value other than to the system to which we are contributing content. Here the network is not seen to offer any alternatives, it merely serves to reinforce neoliberal capitalism. And then we can add to this David Hill’s recent observation that such communicative capitalism promotes precarity, fragility and exacerbates individualism.

The question this poses is that if networks are indeed both hierarchical and central to contemporary capitalism, then how do they fit into a vision of postcapitalism? What if, rather than offering opportunities for alternatives to be fostered, these networks are in fact cementing existing social hierarchies? If we are to engage in imagining the future of postcapitalism, as Mason suggests we should, then we will need to reassess the role of networks within that future. Seeing networks as somehow offering a space outside of existing power dynamics rather than as a central part of them is something that needs to be questioned. If we look at it in this way, then perhaps capitalism has not, as Mason (xiii) claims, ‘reached the limits of its capacity to adapt’. If capitalism is embedded so deeply within the structure of these networks, then I wonder how easy it will be to rely upon them to engineer or enact postcapitalism.

What if, rather than offering opportunities for alternatives to be fostered, these networks are in fact cementing existing social hierarchies?To add a further dimension to these arguments, we might also reflect on the power of the infrastructures of these networks. We need to think about the way that these infrastructures shape the circulation of data and information, we need to consider the politics of circulation that is at play. Algorithms – the decision making parts of software code – now play an important role in the formation of networks and in the flow of information around those networks. Algorithms order, rank and recommend. They decide what is visible to us amongst the unfathomable masses of information. Think here about how Twitter’s recommendations of who to follow might shape the network itself. We are more likely to encounter and perhaps connect with those who are recommended to us, simply because they are more visible to us. Then last year’s stories about the manipulation of Facebook news feeds also revealed how algorithms are responsible for the things we discover or know about. So we need to think of how the networks and the flows of information around them might be products of the infrastructures that afford and intervene in those flows.

Mason sees the openness of information as being important in a postcapitalist world. Which makes good sense. But what we have said already would suggest that contemporary networks might well be the source of what he calls the ‘asymmetry of information’ – with companies using what they know about us to pursue value. Mason understandably suggests that postcapitalism would require us to stand against such asymmetry in information access, but we have to wonder if the networks that are now in place are more likely to preserve and even exacerbate this problem. Social media networks, for instance, are designed to extract information about us for commercial ends. This would suggest that decentralised networks don’t necessarily provide an alternative to this asymmetry of information, in fact they may frequently be the very means by which this asymmetry is achieved. This would make them an unlikely antidote to the protectionism that surrounds information and data.

We can extend this politics of circulation to Mason’s (269) suggestion that in planning for a postcapitalist future ‘we should use the new breed of simulation tools to model every proposal virtually before we enact it for real’. Here we can imagine how certain types of accumulated data will be drawn into certain types of software based systems and the algorithms will then enact certain types of models in simulating the future of the social world. In other words, the very act of modelling the future is itself performative – it will bring about the futures that are modelled into the coding of the software, which will in turn be informed by the type of data that has been selected from the archive. There is the potential for powerful and obdurate social norms and inequalities to be modelled into these simulations.

So not only will this politics of data circulation shape the interactions and communications within networks, it may also then come to determine our imagined futures. This is what Louise Amoore calls the ‘politics of possibility’. Amoore’s work in this area is concerned with understanding the way that data and algorithmic processes are used to imagine futures. These imagined possible scenarios are then used to determine current decision making. Walter Benjamin once wrote of the way that history is filled with ‘the presence of the now’, in this case our futures will be imagined through our understanding of the present. Simulations are not neutral imaginings of outcomes.

All of this is not to suggest that Mason’s vision of postcapitalism is somehow faulty, rather it is to argue that we need to reflect further on the role of networks within that vision. Rather than providing answers, networks present something of a foreboding obstacle for postcapitalism. Some tricky navigation is required. Without this, a focus on networks might lead us towards something that looks like postcapitalism but which actually conceals the same old power dynamics, hierarchies and inequalities. I just wonder if this focus on the promise of decentralized networks will actually mean that we are unable to escape the logic of capitalism, particularly as the very processes of power distribution, information asymmetry and hierarchy are frequently realised and maintained through these networks. As we are at the point that Mason calls the ‘design stage’ of postcapitalism, it may be a good moment to revisit the potential role of the network.”


Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, P2P Books, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat of Consumption

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th November 2015


From the abstract:

“We challenge the prevalent opinion that consumption does not seem to matter as much as production and defy the fetishism of industrial work. We explore the implications of the premise that under conditions of cognitive capitalism consumption dictates what production does, when and how. We explain that in a post-industrial global society and economy fashion, branding, instant gratification of desires, and ephemeral consumer tastes govern production and consumption. The London (commodity) riots of August 2011 send us a warning that consumption and cognitive capitalism are asphyxiating in the structures and norms of industrial capitalism that are still in place.”


Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Featured Essay | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Disenclosing the Crises of Imagination and Power

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th November 2015

* Book: Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power. By Max Haiven. Zed Books, 2015

Excerpted from the introduction by Max Haiven:

“In Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power (Zed Books, forthcoming), I argue that this sense of futility is the residual effect of the way capitalism ‘encloses’ not only our time, our communities and our environment; but also our imaginations. Enclosure here is a metaphor borrowed from the process by which medieval peasants were dispossessed of their common lands and forced to rely on wage labor for survival. Throughout the book, I argue in various ways that this enclosure of the imagination is something that occurs not simply at the level of the individual mind, but at the level of social and material relationships.

Overcoming fatalism, futility and cynicism, then, is not simply a matter of ‘thinking differently’ — although education remains a key part of the transformative process. Instead, the radical imagination and the ability to dream of and build towards different social horizons beyond the fog of capitalist unreason, depends on doing differently; on creating alternatives spaces, times and modes of reproducing ourselves, our communities and our world. This is a process of ‘commoning,’ of building living alternatives not in the sense of future utopias, but in the sense of radical models and zones to reproduce our relationships and our lives based on shared values.

In the first chapter of the book, I argue that in order to do this we need to re-imagine the idea of value and pay attention to the way capitalism isn’t just a system for stealing economic value from workers, from the environment and from communities. It is also a system that drives and depends on the transformation of how we imagine social, cultural and moral values (as individuals and as communities). The system’s reproduction, in turn, corrupts and undermines the reproduction of our own lives as we become increasingly overworked, privatized, alienated and enclosed in debt. In this way, capitalism’s inherent and recurrent crises are externalized onto individuals and communities.

In order to overcome this vicious cycle, we need to reclaim value. This doesn’t just mean redistributing social wealth in its already materialized form. It also means taking back our collective creative cooperative capacity, no longer lending it to the reproduction of capitalism but instead directing it towards the constant rebuilding of a society based on the values of solidarity, equality, individuality, empowerment and peace. In the second chapter, ‘Publics, Commons, Occupations’, I suggest that to do so we blend a concept of the commons with a concept of the public. In addition to more socialist strategies, which promise a public system based on state-managed social reproduction, and anarchistic strategies, which advocate a radical horizontalism where social reproduction is held in common, I suggest that we need to imagine ways to make the commons public and the public common.

We can imagine the struggles against austerity today, characterized by the strategy of occupations, as having two simultaneous dimensions. The first is an attempt to create new commons of social reproduction outside the command and control of capital, including new and rekindled forms of community care, horizontal and grassroots democratic decision-making and local production. The second is a double attempt to (a) defend and reclaim public institutions (schools, hospitals, public works) from the market by reclaiming them in the name of the public; and (b) increasingly democratize and render these institutions common, so as to avoid the enclosure of ostensibly public bodies by bureaucracy and crypto-capitalist models of ‘efficiency.’

* The Enclosure of the Imagination

In chapters 3 and 4, I seek to show how the capitalist crisis of the imagination played out in two influential spheres. In ‘The Crisis of the Financialized Imagination’, I argue that financialization is a unique means by which capitalism’s economic, political, social and cultural power is synchronized; plunging us into a world of greater inequality, ramped-up neoliberal austerity, precarious labor and ubiquitous debt. I try to show that finance reveals a fundamental dimension and contradiction of capitalism: capital, money and financial assets are all, essentially, figments of our collective imaginations, yet they have terrifyingly real power. This is one way in which capitalism, as well as the struggle against it, relies on the imagination. Financialization, which preys on everyday debt and credit as never before and drives an economy based on otherworldly abstractions of value, transforms our imaginations of who and what is valuable and, in turn, relies on that very transformation.

In ‘Within and Beyond the Edu-Factory’, I take the fate of the neoliberal university as a case study: a space where the imagination is disciplined and shaped in the interests of capitalism’s reproduction. In turn, the university’s transformed imagination enables and applauds the neoliberal disciplining of the university itself. The transformation of the university from an elitist ivory tower into an institution primarily tasked with chaining young people to insurmountable debt is not simply about government cuts to higher education in the age of austerity; it is about the constriction of social reproduction and the relentless reproduction of capitalism more broadly. Yet, because of this, the university is also a space of possibility, experimentation and resistance. While its overarching paradigm is one of the enclosure of knowledge and the foreclosure of the future, it can also be a laboratory or nursery for the radical imagination and for experiments in reproducing life otherwise.

* Remembering the Commons

It is with this idea in mind that chapter 5 focuses on ‘The Enclosure of History, the Debt of the Past, the Commons of Memory.’ Here, I expand on some of the more conceptual and theoretical themes in Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power; notably the tension between our collective, cooperative, creative powers and the way they solidify into durable commodities, things, institutions and social conventions. For me, this is the most important question of the politics of the imagination: the way it forms into patterns and processes which, in turn, shape the flows of the imagination; and the way this process can lead both to the rigidities of hierarchy, exploitation and oppression and to the radical possibility of change and revolution.

In chapter 1, this theme arises in terms of the way values are transformed into economic ‘value’; the way the processes of social cooperation are conscripted into the reproduction of oppression and exploitation. In chapter 2, the theme emerges in the tension between the idea of a horizontal, democratic ‘commons’ and the need for more durable, structured ‘public’ institutions. In chapter 3, I explore this in terms of the power of largely ‘imaginary wealth’ and the way financialization’s economic and political power relies on and helps to feed its social and cultural authority. In chapter 4, I explore the way the university — as an idea and as an institution — is a material site of struggle over what is imaginable and over the politics of the imagination writ large.

In chapter 5, I turn to memory and its importance. Not only does memory reveal the past; it is also an intimate and important part of the way we reproduce our lives and our society in the present, and the way we, together, forge our futures. Rekindling the hopes, dreams and passions of past generations of radical struggle is critical both because it can lead to better strategies for change now, and because it answers to the ‘debt of history’: the way that past events haunt the present and the way the hoped-for utopias of past revolts animate our dreams today.

I explore how mainstream history erases these radical legacies or conscripts them into the service of rationalizing today’s status quo as inevitable, contributing to the sense of universal fatalism and futility that reproduces capitalism in the imagination and in material reality. I also try to suggest that the ‘commoning’ of memory is not about creating a different authoritative version of history, nor about abandoning all hope for historical accuracy. Instead, it is about creating intentional spaces and times to bring memories together as a way to reproduce our lives, our relationships and our social order based on common values; to bring the past to bear on the present in order to create different futures.

* The Radical Imagination

At issue here is the politics of the imagination and the power of creativity, not as we are accustomed to imagining them, as personal possessions, but as shared or common capacities. In chapter 6, I try to show that the very idea of creativity itself has been enclosed, made to serve the reproduction of capital and to conscript the imagination to the services of privatization, profit, consumerist individualism and gentrification. Today, we’ve seen the promise of creativity used as a carrot to entice us to invest our hopes, skills, passions and energies in a capitalist system that does not reflect our values or meet our needs, and which in fact undermines creativity in any meaningful sense. I conclude by re-imagining creativity in a way that doesn’t valorize individual genius but, instead, makes us aware of how all creativity — even when it is expressed in individual pursuits — is both the product and the producer of our shared lives; a fragment of our collective, cooperative, and common labors.

Likewise, in chapter 7, I approach the question of the radical imagination. Tracing the idea and the ideal of the imagination from ancient times through European colonial modernity and into the present, I suggest that the value of the radical imagination is not simply its capacity to make us think differently; but the way it feeds and is fed by forms of cooperation. As with the process of ‘commoning’ memory, I want to frame the radical imagination not as a thing some people possess, but as something we do together. The radical imagination emerges from our experience of non-capitalist values in the fabric of our lives, and in turn can inspire and shape the struggle to render those values common and militant.

The politics of the imagination are paramount today; but these politics are not simply about dreaming up future utopias or developing sophisticated critiques of the status quo. We need to develop a dialectics of the imagination. In Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power, I aim to show how, in a very specific way — and in the context of today’s struggles within, against and beyond austerity — the imagination is a process of collective doing. More generally, I also aim to demonstrate how the imagination creates reality and how reality in turn shapes the imagination. I want to make plain that, because of this dialectic relationship, the crisis of capitalism (or, really, capitalism’s multiple, overlapping crises) is also a suite of crises on the level of the imagination itself. And I set out to illustrate the fact that overcoming both sets of crises (those of capital and those of the imagination) demands the intertwined work of rekindling common values; imagining social relations and the future otherwise; and, in a militant and radical way, building powerful alternatives and social movements.

The fatalism and sense of futility that pervade the imagination today and that facilitate the reproduction of capitalism are, existentially, something of a defense mechanism. I believe that on some level, most people know that the capitalist game is rigged, that it is destroying the planet, that it is making us miserable (or soon will), and that it must be stopped. The cynicism, obtuse skepticism, blithe ignorance and individualistic sensibilities that might be bemoaned by activists and militants today are, in actuality, the allergic reaction of a sort of psychic immune system. To the extent that we can ignore or turn away from the systemic implications and ramifications of capitalism (and our own participation in it); to the extent that we can insulate our imaginations from the severity of its crises; we can imagine that our own individual lives (and perhaps those of our loved ones) can be meaningful, fulfilling, painless and happy. To the extent that we recognize and acknowledge the everyday and global-scale tragedy of capital, we must, if we are decent people, dedicate ourselves to a lifelong struggle.

* The Struggles Ahead

Let me hasten here to note that I am not suggesting that capitalism is merely a state of mind. Nor am I arguing that overcoming capitalism is simply a matter of withdrawing our imagination. Capitalism is a material system of wealth and power that perpetuates itself through its co-optation of our labor. But it is also a system driven by a ruling class that controls the major societal tools and infrastructure, and that uses its wealth and power to control governments. Overcoming capitalism will, inevitably, require the reclamation of collective wealth from the ruling class, and that requires material struggles, mass movements and, probably, some level of violence. More accurately, the endemic violence of class struggle — which today is experienced by the working classes largely as the misery of poverty, overwork, debt, imperialism, racism and patriarchy — needs to be redirected towards the authors and beneficiaries of the system.

In my desire to explore the tensions between value and values, I am not seeking to make a moralistic argument against capitalism — such arguments are far from necessary. Rather, I am trying to gesture towards a historic circumstance of struggle today. I seek to show that in contrast to the dynamics of class struggle and capitalist accumulation of a century ago, the system is more invested than ever in preoccupying and enclosing our sense of self and of the future; our hopes, dreams and aspirations; and our capacity to imagine. As such, the possibilities of meaningful solidarity and class struggle depend on the politics of the imagination. The imagination is a material process: it emerges from and informs our capacity to cooperate and labor together, and as such is at the core of the reproduction of value. If we can understand capitalism as a system based on the reproduction of value, the role of the imagination cannot be gainsaid.

As capitalist crises deepen under today’s new regimes of austerity, the desire to reinforce our ignorance, apathy and fatalism becomes stronger. As the contradictions of the system grow ever more pronounced, they put greater and greater strain on the veneer of capitalist ideology. And yet we should never expect that this strain will lead to the emergence of the radical imagination. Indeed, without the hard work of organized and purposeful anti-capitalist agitators, it will more likely see the rise of what we might call the reactionary imagination: the forms of religious fundamentalism, ethnic nationalism, backlash racism and right-wing vindictiveness that, today, mount on the horizon of politics around the world.

As I explore in chapter 1, these movements — animated by a pathological attachment to idealized, punitive and excessive ‘values’ (i.e. family values, Christian values, Western values) — conscript the imagination much more easily and readily than the more complicated but more radical ideas I have tried to summarize in the book; and which can be found in the politics of anti-racism, socialism, feminism, queer liberation movements, ecological justice struggles and anti-capitalist politics.

The years to come will be defined by struggles over the imagination. But these struggles will, themselves, be defined by the ability of various groups and factions to make radical values a reality. A revolution is not made of good ideas, but rather by good ideas materialized in social spaces. Solidarity is not a matter of having the right political ideals and sympathies, but of building real, tangible relationships. This is not to discount the importance of theory and reflection (otherwise, why would I have bothered to write such a book?); but it is to say that the struggles to come — like the struggles throughout history — will succeed to the extent that they preoccupy themselves with the dialectic of imagination; and the way the imagination as a shared capacity grows out of social cooperation, alternative building and the establishment of new commons. And, likewise, it is only in the soil of these cooperative ventures, these lived alternatives, and these new commons that the imagination can find root and withstand the vicious storms to come.”


Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Featured Book, P2P Books, Politics | No Comments »

Two criticisms of Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalist Theses: underemphasizing finance and overemphasizing infotech

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th November 2015

From an extensive and must-read review by Ann Pettifor:

* On the illusory naturalism of Kondratieff cycles

“My main beef with Mason’s book is that rather than define this period as one that was man-made – designed largely by the genius John Maynard Keynes and his Cambridge colleagues – Mason defines this period as a “Kondratieff upswing on steroids”.

Once again the implication is that this period of full employment, of science-led innovation, high productivity…high wages, consumption keeping pace with production, benign inflation and marginal speculative finance (p 86-7) is described as something beyond human agency – akin to the cycles of the moon.

Neoliberals too like to dismiss this age as beyond our present-day ken. Neoliberals too would like us to feel impotent in the face of day’s rapacious financial capitalism. But as the Golden Age proved, we are not impotent. And we are not the subjects of periodic, abstract cycles. The Golden Age was constructed, designed and implemented by a group of economists who congregated at Bretton Woods in 1944 and that were led by John Maynard Keynes and his American competitor, Harry Dexter White. (The striking thing about the conference was that only one banker was allowed to attend – and only because President Roosevelt regarded him as tame enough not to present a threat to the proceedings.)

Keynes and colleagues were confronted by a form of capitalism that had wrought massive destruction of lives, livelihoods and nations. They were surrounded by the wreckage of war, but were not intimidated by the scale of the challenge they faced in confronting, subordinating and managing global finance capitalism.
Nor should we be. We are not, as Mason suggests, the passive subjects of inexorable and inevitable cycles or Kondratieff waves of capitalism. We are masters of our own destiny – if only we (and professional economists) had the courage to identify, name, subordinate and manage the global finance sector – as Keynes and others have shown we can. ”

* Mason is over-emphasizing infotech and underestimating the role of finance

“While Mason does of course discuss the finance sector, he makes infotech the main driver of the changes we are witnessing today.

I beg to disagree. Far from ‘mutating’ in cycles of 50 to 500 years, the finance sector is today growing exponentially before our very eyes, with only the occasional financial crisis to arrest that growth. This is partly thanks to the rise of infotech, but infotech in the service of finance, not as its driver.
The last financial crisis (2007-9) turbo-blasted the sector into a new fantastic growth phase. Not only was Haute Finance bailed out, it also insidiously attached itself more fully to states – and wrested guarantees and protection from these governments, their taxpayers and their central banks.
And while this particular group of capitalists may worship at the shrine of Adam Smith and Ayn Rand, they nevertheless demand and expect taxpayer-funded guarantees and protection from the discipline and losses imposed by market forces.

Despite its detachment from the “real” economy of production, the global finance sector has succeeded in capturing, effectively looting and then subordinating governments and their taxpayers to the interests of financiers. Bankers and financiers now effectively control the public utility that is our monetary system. They can gamble and speculate on global markets without fear of losses or the fear of being disciplined by ‘the invisible hand’. They know their institutions are Too Systemic, or Too Big To Fail.

They are today’s Masters of the Universe – and they do not feature largely in this book.

Like so many others Mason takes the structure of the internet as a model for the evolution of capitalism and speculates that capitalism will evolve into a system in which hierarchies are flattened, machines are free and we’re all far more collaborative.

But Mason’s techno-utopianism is fundamentally about the production side of the economy. Yet, as he well knows, there is more to the economy than production. There is consumption – and Mason’s view of today’s sharing, networked and connected world may just as well be defined as collaborative consumption.

And then there’s the rentier sector of the economy – earning rent from assets (particularly financial assets like debt) effortlessly.

The last two sectors are not fully addressed in the wide sweep of this book.”


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Essay of the Day: Digital Labor and the Anthropocene

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Michel Bauwens
16th November 2015

* Talk: Digital Labor and the Anthropocene. McKenzie Wark | Digital Labor and the Anthropocene. Ed. by Marvin Jordan.

The following is excerpted from a transcript is taken from a recent talk delivered at the Digital Labor conference presented by The New School.

By McKenzie Wark:

“Viewed from inside the bubble of New York, the paradox of digital labor these days is the way that tech enables the over-development of under-development. Technologies are shaped by the struggle over their form. It was not given from an essence that the digital would end up as control over labor rather than control by labor. But in the current stage of conflict and negotiation, the over-development of under-development seems to me to describe a tendency for labor.

In any case, labor isn’t the only class struggling in and against the digital. I still think there is a difference between being a worker and being a hacker. I think of hacker as a class category: there is a hacker class. Hackers are those whose efforts are commodifed in the form of intellectual property. What they make can be turned into copyrights, patents or trademarks.

The hacker class is distinguished by a few qualities. It usually means working with information, but not in a routine way. It is different from white-collar labor. It is about producing new arrangements of information rather than ‘filling in the forms’.”


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UN Special Rapporteur: “Copyright might run counter to human rights”

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Stacco Troncoso
11th November 2015


Extracted from TechDirt. You can read the full article here.

Back in March, Tim Cushing wrote about a rather remarkable report from the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, in which she warned that copyright might run counter to human rights. As if that weren’t enough, Shaheed is back with another bold attack, this time on patents. As the summary to her report puts it:

There is no human right to patent protection. The right to protection of moral and material interests cannot be used to defend patent laws that inadequately respect the right to participate in cultural life, to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, to scientific freedoms and the right to food and health and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Patents, when properly structured, may expand the options and well-being of all people by making new possibilities available. Yet, they also give patent-holders the power to deny access to others, thereby limiting or denying the public’s right of participation to science and culture. The human rights perspective demands that patents do not extend so far as to interfere with individuals’ dignity and well-being. Where patent rights and human rights are in conflict, human rights must prevail.

The report touches on many issues previously discussed here on Techdirt. For example, how pharmaceutical patents limit access to medicines by those unable to afford the high prices monopolies allow — a particularly hot topic in the light of TPP’s rules on data exclusivity for biologics. The impact of patents on seed independence is considered, and there is a warning about corporate sovereignty chapters in trade agreements, and the chilling effects they can have on the regulatory function of states and their ability to legislate in the public interest — for example, with patent laws.

Read the rest of the article here.


Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Peer Property | No Comments »

The danger from and reasons for the emergence of Death Star Platforms

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Michel Bauwens
8th November 2015

Excerpted from Neal Gorenflo:

“Bill Johnson of StructureC3 referred to Uber and Airbnb as Death Star platforms in a recent chat. The label struck me as surprisingly apt: it reflects the raw ambition and focused power of these platforms, particularly Uber.

Uber’s big bet is global monopoly or bust. They’ve raised over $8 billion in venture capital, are on track to do over $10 billion in revenue this year, and have over one million drivers who are destroying the taxi industry in over 300 cities worldwide. They’ve done all this in just over five years. In fact, they reached a $51 billion valuation faster than Facebook, and plan to raise even more money. If they’re successful, they’ll become the most valuable startup in history. Airbnb is nearly as big and ambitious.

Platform coops are the alternative to Death Stars. As Lisa Gansky urged, these platforms share value with the people who make them valuable. Platform coops combine a cooperative business structure with an online platform to deliver a real-world service. What if Uber was owned and governed by its drivers? What if Airbnb was owned and governed by its hosts? That’s what an emerging movement is exploring for the entire sharing economy in an upcoming conference, Platform Cooperativism.”

Why is this happening ?

“Uber signifies a new era in tech entrepreneurship. Its leaders express an explicit ideology of domination and limitless, global ambition. In fact, the global tech sector may be one of the most powerful stateless actors on the world stage today. And Death Star platforms are the tech sector’s avant garde.

Death Star platforms deftly exploit today’s growing economic insecurity and political vacuum. Their business model relies on precarious 1099 contractors. They mix technology, ideology, design, public relations, community organizing, and lobbying in a powerful new formulation that’s conquering cities and users around the world. They wrap themselves in the cloak of technological progress, free market inevitability, and even common good. As a result, cities allow them to break their laws with surprising frequency (Uber and Airbnb are simply illegal in most cities). Weak city governments either drink the Kool-Aid or struggle to contain them.

Millennials, who Pew Research described as detached from institutions and networked with friends, may be Death Star platform’s most ardent users. 50% of millennials are political independents, a huge increase over prior generations. And while Millennials are detached from traditional institutions, they increasingly connect through Death Stars. Most use these services and implicitly accept their ideology as Death Stars mask the complexity of their services—and their politics—behind slickly designed apps. As a result, they along with many others unknowingly join a movement with totalitarian goals, all for the sake of often negligible income, savings and convenience. It’s scary but understandable. US Millennials suffer from the highest debt and lowest employment of any generation since the Great Depression. Not to mention that Death Stars often deliver a better service. I use them occasionally too.

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and leading sharing economy venture capitalist (VC), epitomized this ideology in a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled, “Competition is for Losers,” in which he encourages entrepreneurs to establish monopolies. Marc Andreessen, another leading sharing economy VC, wrote a similar op-ed in the same publication three years earlier titled, “Why Software is Eating the World,” in which he declared that there was no industry that couldn’t be disrupted by web technologies.

Behind the bombastic rhetoric are powerful real-world drivers. There are sound, if not self-serving, reasons for these VC’s bold calls to action. A technology gold rush dramatically larger than any before has only begun to unfold, and Thiel and his ilk have the most to gain. Jeremiah Owyang’s Collaborative Economy Honeycomb infographic shows a large and growing universe of companies challenging dozens of major industries. Indeed, a recent IBM survey identified corporate executives’ top fear as the Uberization of everything. Zipcar founder Robin Chase believes that everything that can become a platform, will become a platform. If so, then the sharing economy is just the tip of the spear. Silicon Valley could become the power center of the world, with its leaders joining the small-but-growing ranks of stateless, above-the-law plutocrats.

That’s a big claim, but not out of the realm of possibility. There are some compelling leading indicators.
There’s a surface explanation, but much more below that. Technology startups are building platforms to compete in nearly every brick and mortar service sector, and on a global basis. These platforms coordinate economic activity, but do not need to own the key physical assets or employ any of the end-service providers to profit. Uber owns no cars and employs no drivers, but has decimated the taxi business in San Francisco.

With incredibly low costs, global reach, scientifically developed user interfaces, and massive funding, Death Star platforms have a shot at duplicating this kind of success in every major city and service sector around the world. This has VCs salivating. The multitude of incumbents spread across many industries and geographies that play by the rules face steep odds against the lawlessness, network effects, and focused power of Death Stars.

At a deeper level, fundamental changes in the startup world are underway. Tech startups have to venture into the brick and mortar world as the low hanging fruit in information-intensive industries has been picked. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and more have established their global monopolies. Tech must leave the nest, and its newest startups can because it’s significantly faster, cheaper, and less risky to start companies than before.

The assembly line creation of technology startups has been largely perfected. Silicon Valley’s VC-driven ecosystem has significantly reduced the considerable cost and risk of starting a venture. Funding is at record levels. There’s large corps of professionals who specialize in building startups. The technology is also cheap, meaning that startups need significantly less funding than before…unless they want to “disrupt” a brick and mortar industry.

These new dynamics explain Uber. Uber didn’t raise record amounts of venture capital to develop a new technology. Their technology is pedestrian. Most of it was developed by taxpayer-funded US government programs decades ago. They have combined old technology in a new way, but that’s relatively cheap to do. The $8 billion they’ve raised is to establish a global monopoly—in the real, physical world—in as short a time as possible. That takes a lot of marketing and lobbying muscle, and that’s really expensive.

What are indicators of the Death Star platform’s rising political power? Uber’s David Plouffe, formerly President Obama’s campaign manager, literally besieged Portland’s mayor, ultimately forcing him to create a favorable policy. Bloomberg’s “This is How Uber Takes Over a City” gives an eye opening account Uber’s strong arm tactics. As of this writing this, Airbnb is running an $8.3 million campaign to defeat a San Francisco voter proposition (Prop F) designed to limit Airbnb’s negative impact on the city’s skyrocketing housing costs. This lobbying activity is just the tip of the iceberg. Uber and Airbnb are using a good bit of their $10 billion+ collective war chest to hire a global army of lobbyists. In their language, they’ve put “boots on the ground” in hundreds of cities.

This is a big departure from the past. Tech investors used to avoid startups with significant regulatory risk because there were plenty of better, less risky opportunities. That’s not the case anymore. Now tech investors must and can take on the physical world.

Moreover, the huge investment raises and regulatory friction add up to much more than the sum of their parts. It’s like 1+1=10. The more money Death Star platforms raise, the more press and customers they get. The more they break the rules, the more press and customers the get, which enables them to raise even more money. Taxi drivers strike? Jackpot! And the cycle repeats. It’s a blitzkrieg. It’s shock and awe entrepreneurship. It’s the sound of a new hegemonic bloc coming to power.

Here’s what’s at stake. As Detroit shaped the world in the image of the car in the 20th century through an alienating and resource intensive system of highways and suburbs, so might Silicon Valley shape the world in the image of Death Star platforms in the 21st.

If you’re outraged by the power of tech giants now, just wait until tech dominates the majority of services you depend on to live. If you’re worried about how tech companies use your personal information now, just wait until they can track you 24/7 online and off. If you’re frustrated by how tech companies wield power over you as user now, just wait until you’re algorithmically fired by a Death Star because of one random bad rating. If you think incumbents like taxi companies suck, just wait until a win-at-all-cost tech titan like Uber’s Travis Kalanick rules the roost. If the diversity of your city’s locally-owned businesses is already suffering, just wait until sterile, centralizing Silicon Valley apps create an even more boring and unresilient monoculture. If you’re worried about housing costs, just wait until every city’s housing market is like San Francisco’s, where one bedroom apartments rent for an average of $3,500 a month, the highest in the US. If you’re pissed by today’s unprecedented inequality, just wait until Death Star platforms destroy millions of jobs (Uber can’t wait for driverless cars, yippee!) while shifting more risk and cost onto providers.

Bottom line, what seems like a bad situation for the 99% today could become much, much worse tomorrow.”

What can we do about it ? See our next excerpt on Platform Cooperatives as alternatives, on the 10th.


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Essay of the Day: Framework for Critically Analysing Digital Labour

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Michel Bauwens
17th October 2015

* Essay: Digital Workers of the World Unite! A Framework for Critically Theorising and Analysing Digital Labour. By Christian Fuchs and Marisol Sandoval. Triple C, Vol 12, No 2 (2014)

From the Abstract:

“The overall task of this paper is to elaborate a typology of the forms of labour that are needed for the production, circulation, and use of digital media. First, we engage with the question what labour is, how it differs from work, which basic dimensions it has and how these dimensions can be used for defining digital labour. Second, we introduce the theoretical notion of the mode of production as analytical tool for conceptualizing digital labour. Modes of production are dialectical units of relations of production and productive forces. Relations of production are the basic social relations that shape the economy. Productive forces are a combination of labour power, objects and instruments of work in a work process, in which new products are created. Third, we have a deeper look at dimensions of the work process and the conditions under which it takes place. We present a typology that identifies dimensions of working conditions. It is a general typology that can be used for the analysis of any production process. Fourth, we apply the typology of working conditions to the realm of digital labour and identify different forms of digital labour and the basic conditions, under which they take place. Finally, we discuss political implications of our analysis and what can be done to overcome bad working conditions that digital workers are facing today.”

An excerpt from the conclusion:

“In this paper, we have introduced a cultural-materialist approach for theorising digital labour. Many approaches are idealist in that they define concepts such as digital labour, virtual work, online work, cyberwork, immaterial labour, knowledge labour, creative work, cultural labour, communicative labour, information(al) work, digital craft, service work, prosumption, consumption work, audience labour, playbour, etc., only as an externalisation of human ideas that are objectified in contents and thereby neglect that this labour is based on and only possible because there is a global division of labour, in which many different forms of labour are conducted under specific modes of production. We have used Raymond Williams’ framework of cultural materialism for arguing that we should overcome digital idealism and analyse digital labour based the framework of digital materialism.

We have introduced specific concepts for a digital materialist theory of digital labour: cultural work, physical cultural work, information work, modes of production, productive forces, relations of production, digital work, digital labour, physical digital work/labour (agricultural digital work/labour, industrial digital work/labour), informational digital work/labour. Furthermore we have suggested a digital labour analysis toolbox that distinguishes elements of digital labour processes and can be used as framework for the concrete empirical analysis of specific forms of digital work/labour. Conducting such analyses often faces the problem of what the elements of analysis are. We argue for avoiding particularistic analyses that focus only on single elements of single production processes and for conducting holistic analyses that focus on the totality of elements and networks that determine and shape digital labour. The toolkit allows analysing the totality of elements of elements of digital labour processes. Digital labour analysis should also look at how one specific form of digital labour that is analysed is connected to and articulated with other forms of digital labour that express certain organisational forms of the productive forces and the relations of production.
The world of digital media is shaped by a complex global articulation of various modes of production that together constitute the capitalist mode of creating and using digital media. The digital tools that we use for writing, reading, communicating, uploading, browsing, collaborating, chatting, befriending, or liking are embedded into a world of exploitation. Yet most of us cannot and do not want to imagine a world without digital media. So the alternative is not digital Luddism, but political praxis.

Digital labour analysis can only interpret the digital media world; the point is to change it. Change can only be good change if it is informed change. Critical theory can inform potential and actual struggles for a better world. Everyday working realities of different people and in different parts of the world look so heterogeneous, different and unconnected that it is often difficult to see what they have in common. Digital labour theory and digital labour analysis can help to identify and make visible the common and different experiences of suffering and enjoyment, pleasure and pain, security and insecurity, alienation and appropriation, exploitation and resistance, creativity and toil. It is in this respect a digital sociology of critique. But it is at the same time also a political philosophy, a critical digital sociology that helps identifying and clarifying foundations and germ forms of a better future and grounding judgements about what is good and bad in the context of digital media. Digital labour theory and analysis therefore takes on the role of a critical sociology of critique that is both at once a critical sociology and a sociology of critique (Boltanski and Honneth 2009). It analyses the reality of life under digital capitalism, contributes intellectually to questioning this mode of human existence in order to show that there is and to help realise life beyond capitalism.”


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