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Essay of the Day: Anti-Leaders in Social Movements

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Michel Bauwens
21st December 2014


* Article: Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The case of autonomous grassroots groups. By Neil Sutherland, Christopher Land et al. Organization June 5, 2013

(please note embedded link above may only work after ‘searching’)

From the Abstract:

“Through the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, the idea of horizontal, leaderless organization has come to the attention of the mass media. In this article we explore radical, participative-democratic alternatives to leadership through an empirical study of four Social Movement Organizations (SMOs). Whilst there has been some writing on leadership within SMOs, it has mirrored the ‘mainstream’ assumption that leadership is the product of individual leaders possessing certain traits, styles and/or behaviours. In contrast, critical leadership studies (CLS) recognize that leadership is a relational, socially constructed phenomenon rather than the result of a stable set of leadership attributes that inhere in ‘the leaders’. We utilize this framing to analyse how leadership is understood and performed in anarchist SMOs by examining how actors manage meaning and define reality without compromising the ideological commitments of their organizations. Furthermore, we also pay attention to the organizational practices and processes developed to: (a) prohibit individuals from permanently assuming a leadership role; (b) distribute leadership skills and roles; and (c) encourage other actors to participate and take-up these roles in the future. We conclude by suggesting that just because an organization is leaderless, it does not necessarily mean that it is also leadershipless.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Movements, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics

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Michel Bauwens
15th December 2014


* Essay: Kwasi Wiredu. Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics. A Plea for a Non-party Polity

Summary:

“Wiredu discusses the use of the consensus principle for political theory and practice in Africa. The consensus principle used to be widespread in African politics, and Wiredu elaborates on the example of the traditional political system of the Ashantis in Ghana as a possible guideline for a recommendable path for African politics. For empirical data, he draws from historical material published by British anthropologists (Evans-Pritchard & Fortes et al.) and Ghanaian intellectuals (Busia et al.). According to Wiredu, a non-party system based on consensus as a central principle of political organisation in Africa could avoid the evident problems of both the one-party system and the multi-party system imposed by the West.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, Politics | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Stigmergy as a Universal Coordination Mechanism

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Michel Bauwens
14th December 2014


* Article: Heylighen, F. (2015). Stigmergy as a Universal Coordination Mechanism: components, varieties and applications. To appear in T. Lewis & L. Marsh (Eds.),* Human Stigmergy: Theoretical Developments and New Applications*, Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics. Springer.

From the Abstract:

“The concept of stigmergy has been used to analyze self-organizing activities in an ever-widening range of domains, from social insects via robotics and social media to human society. Yet, it is still poorly understood, and as such its full power remains underappreciated. The present paper clarifies the issue by defining stigmergy as a mechanism of indirect coordination in which the trace left by an action in a medium stimulates a subsequent action. It then analyses the fundamental components of the definition: action, agent, medium, trace and coordination. Stigmergy enables complex, coordinated activity without any need for planning, control, communication, simultaneous presence, or even mutual awareness. This makes the concept applicable to a very broad variety of cases, from chemical reactions to individual cognition and Internet-supported collaboration in Wikipedia.

The paper classifies different varieties of stigmergy according to general aspects (number of agents, scope, persistence, sematectonic vs. marker-based, and quantitative vs. qualitative), while emphasizing the fundamental continuity between these cases. This continuity can be understood from a non-linear, self-organizing dynamic that lets more complex forms of coordination evolve out of simpler ones. The paper concludes with two specifically human applications in cognition and cooperation, suggesting that without stigmergy these phenomena may never have evolved.”

Contact the author, Prof. Francis Heylighen Evolution, Complexity and Cognition group Free University of Brussels via http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/HEYL.html

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Featured Essay, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Using Illich for Resilient Community-Oriented Public Libraries

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Michel Bauwens
13th December 2014


* Article: Illich in the library: putting theory into practice. Dan Grace

From the Abstract:

“The purpose of this paper is to draw out critical concepts and ideas useful to understanding how the public library can help build resilient communities, particularly in relation to the challenges posed by climate change, from the theories of Ivan Illich. Resilience is identified as a problematic concept in need of critical understanding if it is to be of utility in the struggle against climate change. Critical theory is advanced as the means through which this can be achieved, being put into practice through praxis, the dialectic between theory and action. Specifically, Illich’s ideas of the commons, conviviality and false public utility are advanced as potential starting points for a process of transformational community resilience in relation to the public library.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Art and Culture | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Translating Commons-based Peer Production Values into Metrics

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Michel Bauwens
12th December 2014


* Article: De Filippi, P. (2014). [[Translating Commons-based Peer Production Values into Metrics: towards Commons–based Crypto-Currencies, in Lee Kuo Chen D. (ed.), The Handbook of Cryptocurrency. Elsevier

From the Abstract:

Commons-based peer-production (CBPP) constitutes today an important driver for innovation, social and cultural development, both online and offline, through the establishment of an alternative, commons-based ecosystem, relying on peer-production and collaboration amongst peers contributing towards a common good. Yet, to the extent that it operates outside of the market economy, the value of CBPP cannot be understood by relying exclusively on traditional market mechanisms (such as pricing). Based on empirical research on emerging value forms in the context of CBPP, we seek to achieve a better understanding of the value produced by CBPP communities, so as to come up with an alternative, universal, denominator of value that could act as an interface between the commons-based ecosystem and the market economy.

Excerpted from the introduction:

“Since the 1990s, increasing reliance on socialised forms of collaborative knowledge production (Florida, 2002, Peck, 2005), user-driven innovation (von Hippel, 2005) and shared, open, free forms of productive relations (Bauwens, 2005; Kelty, 2007; O’Neil, 2008) has raised questions about the meaning and measurement of value in Commons-based peer-production (CBPP) communities.

Academic theory is still young in this field. Scholars have looked at the values that structure online forms of CBPP (Benkler, 2006), such as Free and Open Source software (Coleman, 2012; Kelty, 2008, O’Neil, 2009), and many researchers have underlined the growing and important role of value and reputation metrics (Arvidsson, 2012, cf. Lury & Atkins, 2012). Yet – given the multi-faceted notion of “value” (discussed in section II.C) – there is, to date, no consolidated analytical framework capable of measuring the overall value of CBPP outside of the market economy.

Over the past centuries, market mechanisms have been used to evaluate the market value of a large variety of resources, and price-tag them into goods to be exchanged. The market is, however, incapable of understanding the value of non-market resources (Shiller, 2012). While such an indicator might not be necessary for the successful operation of the CBPP ecosystem, it might, nonetheless, be useful to identify a new proxy for value – other than price – so as to be able to better evaluate (and compare) the value generated by CBPP communities.

At present, a number of value metric systems have been proposed, including a diversity of reward systems and reputational rewards (see Table below). However, these systems do not stem from any systematic research on the different conceptions of value in CBPP. Conversely, considerable research has been done on reputation economies and reputation systems (Marwick et al., 2010; Castells et al., 2012), but this research has generally not been married to the practical development of any useable tools.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, Peer Production | No Comments »

How Digital Technology Found Utopian Ideology

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Kevin Flanagan
3rd December 2014


How Digital Technology Found Utopian Ideology: Lessons From the First Hackers’ Conference

By Fred Turner from the Department of Communication at Stanford University

In the mid-1990s, as the Internet and the World Wide Web went public, a utopian near consensus about their likely social impact seemed to bubble up out of nowhere. The Net would level social hierarchies, distribute and personalize work, and dematerialize communication, exclaimed pundits and CEOs alike. The protocols of the Net were said to embody new, egalitarian forms of political organization. They offered the technological underpinnings for peer-to-peer commerce, and with them, claimed many, an end to corporate power. And well above the human plains of financial and political haggling, suggested some, those same protocols might finally link the now-disembodied species in a single, harmonious electrosphere.

Individually, these predictions popped up across American culture – and ultimately, around the world – throughout the following decade. But where did they come from? And how did they suddenly seem to be everywhere at once?

I raise these questions not so much to try and answer them (oh, the pages that would take!) as to turn our collective attention backward. Over the last ten years, cyberculture scholars have examined myriad forms of social life emerging in and around the wires. Many have also turned a critical eye on the discourses of cyberspace and their ideological effects. Yet almost all have left these two tasks unconnected.

To see what I mean, consider the two dominant approaches to explaining the rise of digital libertarianism in America. In the first, scholars have pointed out that new technologies as diverse as telephones and airplanes have always generated utopian hopes (Agre 1998, 2001; Healy 1997; King 2000; Miller 1995; Sardar 1996; Sobchak 1996). “The basic conceit is always the same,” writes Langdon Winner (1997, p. 1001), “[N]ew technology will bring universal wealth, enhanced freedom, revitalized politics, satisfying community, and personal fulfillment.” In the second, critics have read techno-utopianism as the self-serving ideology of an emerging “virtual class” (Kroker and Weinstein 1994; Terranova 1996; Turner 1999; Borsook 2000; Barbrook and Cameron 1998). Some, like Barbrook and Cameron (1998), have focused on the ways in which versions of techno-utopian discourse have helped managed the structural and cultural contradictions of working in high-tech. Others, such as Kroker and Weinstein (1994), have asserted that a new, transnational class has emerged alongside networked computing machinery, and that its members have developed a techno-utopian ideology to support their class position.

Each of these perspectives has substantial analytical value. The first reminds us that the Internet and the Web were not the first “revolutionary” technologies and it invites us to compare our digital present to a steam-powered or newly electrified past. The second points to the ways that emergent social groups have turned networked computers into ideologically charged symbols and asks us to keep our eye on the ways that new media can be recruited into ongoing power struggles. Yet, despite their usefulness, neither of these perspectives explains just how digital technologies and utopian ideology came together. Instead, each reifies an analytical category – technology in the first case, class in the second – and then declares it a source of ideology. In the process, each walls off from discussion all of the social work that sociologists (Becker 1982; Berger and Luckman 1966), and particularly, sociologists of science and technology (Fleck 1979; Bijker, Hughes and Pinch 1987; Bijker and Law 1992; Latour 1991, 1993; MacKenzie and Wajcman 1999), have shown goes into the construction of both ideology and technology.

To the extent that cyberculture scholars accept these walls, they tend to become readers of ideological texts. They might study the pages of Wired magazine and rail against its technophilic, macho prose, for instance, or search contemporary computer advertising for signs of virtual class self-promotion. This is useful work, but it leaves us critical amnesiacs: with it, we can articulate precisely where we are, culturally speaking, yet we can’t say how we got here. For that, we need a historical version of what Stuart Hall has called a theory of “articulation” (Hall and Grossberg, 1986, p.45; see also Slack, 1996). As Jonathan Sterne has pointed out, cultural studies scholars have long argued that “there are no necessary correspondences” between ideologies, practices, and social groups (Sterne, 1999, p. 263). Rather, those correspondences are established by relevant social groups in particular times and places. It is these highly local, time-bound processes we need to explore. In the case of cyberlibertarianism, for example, we need to go back into the past and identify the social work that has gone into aligning emerging digital technologies with libertarian political ideals. By uncovering this work, we can relocate contemporary cyberculture in its historical context. We can trace its emergence not simply to the rise of the Net or the Web, but to negotiations surrounding the integration of those technologies into ongoing social and cultural transformations. At the same time, we can help integrate the study of technological culture into the study of culture more broadly.

To continue reading the complete essay click here -

http://web.stanford.edu/~fturner/Turner%20Hackers%20Conference%20Chapter.pdf

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Posted in Culture & Ideas, Featured Essay, Politics, Theory | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Re-Politicising Participatory Design in the Fairphone Project

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Michel Bauwens
9th November 2014


* Essay: RE-POLITICISING PARTICIPATORY DESIGN: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM FAIRPHONE? Maja van der Velden.

From the Abstract:

“This exploratory paper is a contribution to the discussion of the re-politisation of Participatory Design. After a brief introduction of this Scandinavian design tradition, the Fairphone, a sustainable and fair mobile phone, is introduced as a case to rethink design as politics. Concern for planetary destruction, as a result of climate change, motivates the discussion of Tony Fry’s notion of redirective design in the analysis of the Fairphone. Is the Fairphone just ‘less bad’ or is it paradigmatic example of an alternative technological vision? There are many lessons to be learned from Fairphone, not just by Participatory Design. Most importantly, Fairphone shows the importance of relating the things we help design to futures that become possible or impossible. Participatory Design, with its focus on democratic practices and ‘having a say’, needs to find ways to bring the voices of future generations into today’s design practices.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, Open Models | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Spectrum Regulation in the Communism of Capital

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Michel Bauwens
7th November 2014


* Essay: Spectre of the commons: Spectrum regulation in the communism of capital. By Rachel O’Dwyer.

From the Abstract:

“The past decade has seen a growing emphasis on the social and juridical implications of peer production, commons-based property regimes and the nonrivalrous circulation of immaterial content in the online domain, leading some theorists to posit a digital communism. An acquisitive logic, however, continues to operate through intellectual property rights, in the underlying architecture that supports the circulation of content and in the logical apparatuses for the aggregation and extraction of metadata. The digital commons emerges, not as a virtual space unfettered by material exploitation, but as a highly conflictive terrain, situated at the centre of a mode of capitalism that seeks valorisation for the owners of network infrastructure, online platforms and digital content.

Using a key example from core infrastructure, this paper will explore how controversies surrounding the management of the electromagnetic spectrum provide insight into the communism of capital in the digital domain. This paper proceeds in two parts: The first is historical, exploring how the history of spectrum management provides a lucid account of the expropriation of the digital commons through the dispossession and progressive deregulation of a communicative resource. The second considers current transformations to spectrum regulation, in particular the growing centrality of shared and commons spectrum to radio policy. Does a shift towards non-proprietary and unlicensed infrastructure represent an antagonistic or subversive element in the communism of capital? Or, if this communality of resources is not at odds with capitalist interests, how is it that an acquisitive logic continues to act?”

Rachel O’Dwyer discusses ‘virtual communism':

“The facility to leverage communicative capacities, support non-hierarchical cooperation and enable the circulation of non-proprietary content, has led a number of theorists to posit a ‘virtual communism’ (Lessig, 2004; Benkler, 2006; Kelly, 2009). This traces an immaterial space that trades in knowledge and culture, at once free from commercial subjugation and conversely capable of exerting influence on the material substrate of capital.

Such ‘virtual communism’ is, to echo Virno, ‘a communality of generalized intellect without material equality’ (Virno, 2004: 18). The underlying architectures that support the circulation of content are still proprietary. While user-generated content becomes increasingly central to the economy, the possibility of a ‘core commons infrastructure’, as Benkler (2001) calls it, is constrained by a variety of institutional, technical and juridical enclosures. The digital commons emerges, not as a virtual space unfettered by material exploitation, but as a highly conflictive terrain. The commons is situated at the centre of a mode of capitalism that seeks valorisation for the owners of network infrastructure, digital platforms and online content. This proprietary interest is diffuse, and increasingly so; it blends in a series of highly confluent mechanisms the essence of ‘the commons’ with new forms of enclosure.

Today we encounter conditions in which the core tenets of communism – the socialisation of production, the abolition of wage labour, and the centrality of commons-based peer-production – are remade in the interests of capital (Virno, 2004). These conditions imply new forms of sovereignty and political economy. This is not to say that the commons has not historically potentiated capitalist accumulation, but that we are witnessing a dramatic intensification of these conditions. In turn we are faced with a number of questions: through what proprietary mechanisms and juridical processes is the digital commons enclosed? How, in turn, is surplus value extracted from the digital commons – through what technological apparatuses, property regimes and composition of capital? Finally, what political and economic possibilities might emerge alongside the hegemony of the commons?

This paper will explore how recent controversies surrounding the management of electromagnetic spectrum provide insights into the composition of contemporary capitalism. As the communications channel for all mobile and wireless transmissions, electromagnetic spectrum is a core apparatus in the digital economy; its enclosure is part and parcel of the techniques that facilitate capitalist accumulation through production over wireless and mobile networks. This discussion proceeds in two parts: First, the history of spectrum regulation provides an account of the expropriation of communicative and cooperative capacities through the dispossession, deregulation and progressive rarefaction of a common resource. As mobile data grows exponentially, however, we are witnessing changes to the ways in which this resource is managed, with many calling for a greater communality of the radio spectrum in response to perceived scarcity in mobile bandwidth. The second part of the paper explores these emergent conditions. On one hand, it appears as though antagonisms between openness and enclosure in information capitalism prefigure a crisis in property relations that potentiate possible forms of anti-capitalist ‘exploit’ (Galloway and Thacker, 2007). On the other, it is also possible that capitalist accumulation is becoming ever more tightly organised through highly fluid and distributed mechanisms that route, not only around a direct intervention in production, but increasingly around the old property regimes.

The aims of such a study are reflexive. If the burgeoning political vocabulary of the ‘communism of capital’ offers a critical insight into the enclosure of the digital commons, spectrum management also provides an empirical case to reflect on the theoretical underpinnings of this vocabulary. For example, much of this theory not only acknowledges correspondence between forms of the commons with capitalist accumulation, it also identifies a number of contradictions in such an alliance, whether through the socialisation of production or through the imminent crisis of an underlying proprietary logic. This paper explores how the production of artificial scarcity around electromagnetic spectrum, when situated against the growing demand for a greater fluidity of network resources, provides a lens for what are perceived to be the irreconcilable elements of the communism of capital. Does a shift towards non-proprietary and unlicensed infrastructure represent an antagonistic or subversive element in the communism of capital? Or, if this communality of resources is not at odds with capitalist interests, how is it that an acquisitive logic continues to act?”

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Featured Essay | No Comments »

Podemos as a template for the New Left

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Stacco Troncoso
11th October 2014


Mitin PODEMOS en Málaga
Joana Ramiro writing for Left Unity, describes how Podemos’ unprecedented tactics and organizational methods can reinvigorate the New Left in Europe though a wider (if not full) acceptance of P2P dynamics. You can read the original article here.


“Marketing guru Philip Kotler wrote that “the costumer will judge the offering by three basic elements: product features and quality, services mix and quality, and price. All three elements must be meshed into a competitively attractive offering.” It might sound obscene to some that I strongly believe there is much that the Left could take from this sort of advice.”

People push through in order to get into the room and reserve their seat. There is a buzz of euphoric expectation blending with rapid chatter in Castellano. This is the start of a Podemos meeting but it could have been a rock gig for all we know. When panel speakers finish their opening remarks ardent applause follows, people whoop and whistle in wondered appreciation. Credit, I suppose, has to be given mostly to the organisation at the core of it all.

Podemos is a Spanish anticapitalist party founded in January 2014. By beginnings of September it counted no less than 120,000 members and 20% ratings in the latest polls. It had elected five MEPs and is set to take Spain by storm at the next general election in December 2015. Its success is often described as part mystery, part formulaic “Twitter revolution” theory. And while it is true that Podemos reflects the political zeitgeist and has effectively built itself on the momentum of the 15M movement, there is much more to be said about its politics, strategy and exponential growth.

“I think we can emulate [Podemos] in the organising in the grassroots, drawing people in, speaking to the 90%, using social media when necessary”, Left Unity co-founder and revolutionary film-director Ken Loach tells me.

He adds another example of what Left Unity should be doing differently: “Using fresh language.”

But what does that mean?

It isn’t the first time I hear that we need to speak differently. During the build up to the British student movement of 2010/2011 I often had heated debates with members of the so-called “old Left” arguing for more Public Relations, more social media – on our side. It is well documented that uprisings don’t occur from a hashtag alone, but learning to communicate in progressive ways – even to co-opt some capitalist strategies of mass appeal – seems to be vital for any political organisation attempting to produce change in the twenty-first century.

“I think that what Podemos shows, and what other social movement groups like Juventud Sin Futuro or Oficina Precaria show, is that you can combine the autonomous, digital media campaigns with an active reaching-out to mass media”, says Cristina Flesher Fominaya, author of Social Movements and Globalization (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014).

And according to Cristina, the process of being publicly recognised as a legitimate organisation does not happen instantaneously.

“You know, it’s little by little. They didn’t just overnight end up on these morning talk shows. They established those media connections, their media savvy and catchy and interesting direct actions, and then they engaged.”

She agrees that much like corporations have adopted more democratic channels of communication – such as the social media platforms Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – to promote their products, so must social movements learn how to take over and efficiently use mass media channels for their causes.

“Alternative media is absolutely crucial, don’t get me wrong, but also engaging with mainstream media and mass media and thinking very holistically about how to combine those campaigns.”

The key lies in “retro-feeding” your message through these many avenues. It’s a process through which groups must constantly try “to keep on message and keep tweaking it and subverting and contesting”, she argues.

But what does this essentially mean?

In short it means the ways of organising that the British Left has taken for granted so far are utterly necessary but useless if not linked to two other tactics:

Firstly, the mentioned multifaceted approach to putting your message across. Leafleting door to door and holding local branch meetings is necessary, but so is blogging and writing opinion pieces for your local paper (they might be a dying breed but they are still read by thousands of people in your neighbourhood).

Secondly, keeping the message simple, clear and to the point. The Podemos programme is built on six simple aims, all based on the principle of democracy. It abides to the usual “rules and regulations” of socialist organisations – standing against sexism, racism, homophobia and all other types of prejudice and exclusion – but it gives members a clear structure of argument. It is therefore easy to understand, support and regurgitate. Unlike what some crude critics argue, the point is not to unite under the lowest common denominator, but to leave very specific alignments to debate and to group scrutiny, rather than to make them be-all end-all foundations of the organisation. Where one stands on the issue of Palestine or Scottish independence is important, but it won’t be helpful if taken outside the context of the organisation’s original purpose – to be the genuine political representation of the overworked, underpaid, disaffected 99%.

Importantly too is that these messages can be improved as the organisation grows. “Keep tweaking it” – as Flesher puts it. Political organisations today (perhaps always) have to be adaptable to the demands of the majority. As long as the principles of democracy and equality are not broken, the organisation needs to know when to talk about austerity and when to talk elections. Political parties are propaganda tools as much as they are forums of expression and activity for their members. If the people on the street – the “Polish fruit-picker and the Nigerian nurse” as Owen Jones often describes them – want more from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), then the party needs to verbalise that discontent, not pander to cronyism.

Above all, perhaps what is impressive about the Podemos strategy, and which should definitely be a lesson to us all, is its ability to embrace nuance and not to give in to black and white solutions to the problems at hand. Realpolitik is after all the art of advancing your political project when possible and giving way when necessary, without ever compromising your ethos. The Podemos European elections’ strategy was the brainchild of Íñigo Errejón, the man who said that “each country has to find its tools” to “hijack democracy”. The understanding that one needs to be flexible whilst sticking to one’s core beliefs has often been amiss on the British Left.

But don’t you need mass to attract mass?

Newton’s law of universal gravitation only applies to politics to a point. It is true that social movements and political parties can snowball once they’ve gained momentum. But where that momentum comes from and how political attraction can operate despite inexistent visible mass are points that Left Unity should think about long and hard.

Sceptics have come forward saying that unlike countries like Greece and Spain, Britain does not currently have a political movement active on the streets. There are no occupations of public squares going on, no million-strong demonstrations. This often crystallises into what I see as a misunderstanding of Rosa Luxemburg’s Dialectic of Spontaneity and Organisation (but let us leave that for another article). Crucially, we need to recognise that whilst many of these social movements and new anticapitalist parties have come out of a fortuitous sequence of events, organisations of different forms were involved in creating them from the start.

In Spain the 15M and the Indignados movement grew out of the said “indignation” of certain layers of society with a series of oppressive laws pushed through by neoliberal knee-jerk reactions of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) then in power. A cull of digital activism through the Ley Sinde, a media crackdown on strikes and workers’ protests, and the generally declining life and working conditions in the country (youth unemployment at 47% by 2011) created an explosive environment. Different activist groups started mushrooming about, some visible only online, many others on the streets too, handing out manifestos printed on A5 sheets.

According to Pablo Gerbaudo – a lecturer in Digital Culture and Society at King’s College London and author of Tweets and the Streets (Pluto Press, 2012) – the popularity of the Democracia Real Ya campaign and the momentum towards the first May 15 demonstration was seen as “an opportunity to overcome division and inertia”. Several other groups joined in the call and “200 civil society organisations, including well-established groups like the anti-globalisation group ATTAC” joined in the call for action.

Their self-description as “neither left nor right” – which Podemos echoes and which is yet another discussion to be had in another article – did not mean they were actually outside or beyond the political spectrum. Standing for democracy, equality and collective decision-making processes the Indignados movement was well to the Left of the establishment, but also permeated with left-wing activists and even organisations from the get go. Our engagement with local issues and grassroots initiatives, not by demanding to lead them, but by fight side by side with those who are part of them is essential. Much like our duty to call for action where coordinated action is needed and yet not existent. To call for united action when there are three different campaigns. And to throw our weight behind those most representative, inclusive and efficient at that.

So what needs to be done?

I am not claiming to have the answer to the perfect left-wing party in Britain – I wish I did – but I do think there are lessons to be learnt from the successes and the failures of similar projects across Europe.

I also believe that, against my better (orthodox Marxist) judgement, we need to co-opt the dexterity and shrewdness of capitalist forms of propaganda in order to make ourselves visible and heard.

Marketing guru Philip Kotler wrote that “the costumer will judge the offering by three basic elements: product features and quality, services mix and quality, and price. All three elements must be meshed into a competitively attractive offering.” It might sound obscene to some that I strongly believe there is much that the Left could take from this sort of advice.

We know that our “product” is good – it is the best, in fact. In our politics we rest the hope for a better world. A world in which there is absolute equity, equality and equilibrium. The world socialists want to build is one of greatness, not just for a selected few but for every single person in this good old world. Who could possibly not want that?

Our “price” isn’t half bad. OK, so people know that building a better world is no smooth task. People know it because creating this not so amazing version we currently have is not that easy either. But when given the option to make things better for themselves and their loved ones, people do move mountains. People have always given their lives for their children, laboured harder to feed their elderly, gone to prison for the right to vote, the right to use the same facilities, the right to stand up straight and live with dignity. It wouldn’t be now – no matter how cynical this world might seem – that people would stop being inspired by a message of progress and prosperity.

But our “service” is poor. We have interiorised our weaknesses, made to act in defence, holding on dearly to creeds and formulas like deranged alchemists. The average Joe thinks it best to stay away from the Left or to mock it for its impractical project. We – the Left – have allowed political opponents to define us by what we are not. People that demand the impossible, they said. People that want to take away from you your individual freedoms and your right to chose between an iPhone and a Nokia Lumia, they said. And now we are faced with the task to prove them wrong.

Thankfully we are not alone. We have seen that change of rhetoric happen on our very doorstep. When UKUncut came around, it positively changed the message from “people living above their possibilities” to “corporations not living up to their responsibilities”. The Occupy movement pulled a similar trick with the creation of the now ubiquitous term 99%: we cannot be made to pay for the banking crisis when what we have in our billions adds up to the same amount of what those few, clearly responsible for this mess, have in their few hundreds.

How we create that change of speech, of poise and above all of doing politics is what is now in our hands.

“It’s easier to make speeches where we denounce what is happening, the difficulty is asking the question and finding specific organisational answers”, Ken Loach pointed out to me with a smile.

But we have a growing number of people out there on the streets hungry for change. We have the examples of the rest of Europe showing us the way. We have history on our side. Nos Podemos. We Can. Let’s do it.

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Networks, Open Government, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy, Politics | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Piketty, Marx, and the Political Economy of the Internet

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Michel Bauwens
9th October 2014


* Article: Fuchs, Christian. 2014. Thomas Piketty’s Book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, Karl Marx and the Political Economy of the Internet. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 12 (1): 413-430.

From the Abstract:

“Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has resulted in a sustained political and academic debate about capitalism in the 21st century. This article discusses the relevance of the book in the context of Karl Marx’s works and the political economy of the Internet.

It identifies 3 common reactions to Piketty’s book:

1) dignification;

2) denigration of the work’s integrity;

3) the denial of any parallel to Marx.

I argue that all three reactions do not help the task of creating a New Left that is urgently needed in the situation of sustained capitalist crisis. Marxists will certainly view Piketty’s analysis of capitalism and political suggestions critically. I argue that they should however not dismiss them, but like Marx and Engels aim to radicalise reform suggestions. In relation to the Internet, this paper discusses especially how insights from Piketty’s book can inform the discussion of tax avoidance by transnational Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. For establishing an alternative, non-commercial, non-capitalist Internet one can draw insights about institutional reforms and progressive capital taxation from Piketty that can be radicalised in order to ground radical-reformist Internet politics.”

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