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Podemos: the political upstart taking Spain by force

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
16th December 2014


Podemos-main
The following article, written by sociologist Carlos Declos, is the best overview I have read of Podemos’ current situation. It was originally published at Reflections on a Revolution.


Some frequent questions about the political singularity that now leads the polls in Spain. Just who are Podemos? And could they be a force for change?

In April of 2013, the far-right Spanish television channel Intereconomía invited an unlikely guest to their primetime debate show: a young, Jesus-haired college professor with an unequivocally leftist background named Pablo Iglesias, just like the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. Their goal was to corner him and hold him up as an example of an antiquated and defeated leftist past. Yet Iglesias responded to their rhetoric in a simultaneously polite but firmly antagonistic tone that appealed to both the younger generations who became politicized through the indignados movement and the older generations who did so during Spain’s transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy.

Over the following months, Iglesias and the team of academics and activists behind him were able to use this window of opportunity to catapult the message of the social movements and, most importantly, the people left behind by years of austerity and neoliberalism, into the mainstream media. Shortly after gaining access to the media, they formed the political party Podemos (“We Can”), initiating what polls are showing to be an authentic dispute for control of the Spanish government. How they were able to accomplish this in such a short amount of time will be studied in the political and social sciences for years to come.

Because it is a process that I have followed very closely for a number of years, I have often been asked by independent media-makers, academics and activists about how all of this came to be and what the implications are for movement politics. In this piece, I try to address some of the main questions I get from people who are actively engaged in the struggle for a real democracy.

Who are Podemos? Who are its leaders? Is this just another typical leftist party?

Podemos is a new political party that emerged at the beginning of 2014, initially as an alliance between the trotskyist Izquierda Anticapitalista and a group of academic “outsiders” with an activist background who had built a vibrant community through a public access television debate show called La Tuerka (“The Screw”). When I refer to this second group as outsiders, it is not to suggest that their academic output is eccentric or of a low quality. Rather, they are the types of academics who do not fit the mold favored by the so-called Bologna reforms of higher education in Europe, with its emphasis on highly specialized technical “experts” and empirical research, and its hostility towards a broader, theoretical and more discursive approach. These academics are currently the party’s most recognizable faces due to their formidable skills as communicators and their access to the mainstream media.

Recently, Podemos held elections for their Citizens’ Council, which is effectively the party’s leadership. Over 100.000 people participated in those elections through online voting. The team selected by Pablo Iglesias won by an overwhelming majority. It includes an interesting mix of academics, activists and some former politicians. For instance, Juan Carlos Monedero worked as an adviser to Hugo Chávez between 2005 and 2010, and he also advised Gaspar Llamazares of the Spanish United Left party. Íñigo Errejón is a very young and highly promising political scientist who carried out research in Bolivia and Venezuela, though prior to that he was one of the founders of Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without a Future), who had a major role in spearheading theindignados movement. Other activists from Juventud Sin Futuro include Rita Maestre and Sarah Bienzobas. Rafa Mayoral and Jaume Asens worked as lawyers for the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the highly successful civil disobedience movement for decent housing. And Raimundo Viejo and Jorge Moruno are prominent intellectuals associated with the autonomist left.

Whether or not Podemos can be considered a typical leftist party will depend on its evolution. What is clear is that they do not adopt the rhetorical and aesthetic baggage of the marginal leftist and green parties that currently decorate European parliaments. Also, in contrast to SYRIZA, Podemos did not exist prior to the 2011 wave of protests; they emerged based on a diagnosis of the movements’ discourse and demands. Much of what has made Podemos so effective in the post-2011 political arena has been their ability to listen to the social movements, while the pre-existing Spanish political parties were busy lecturing them. Yet, as time progresses and support for the party grows, Podemos is finding itself increasingly tempted to assume the structures that are best adapted to Spain’s formal institutions. Unsurprisingly, these structures are those that currently exist. Whether or not this institutional inertia can be overcome depends on the degree to which the party’s constituents are capable of maintaining tension with its leadership structure and guaranteeing their accountability.

Why did Podemos explode onto the scene in the way they did?

Podemos burst onto the political scene because they understood the climate in the aftermath of the 2011 protests better than any other political actor. For example, the role of the social networks in connecting those movements was extremely important, but a lot of people and political organizations misinterpreted that fact as support for a techno-political, decentralized peer-to-peer ideology. In contrast, I think Podemos saw the social networks as a discursive laboratory through which to build and strengthen a common narrative that they would then take to the public arena in order to maximize its impact. To put it bluntly, they were not content with memes and likes and long comment threads. They wanted to take that discussion to the bars, the cafés and the unemployment lines.

In a sense, the key to Podemos’s emancipatory potential can be summed up in a phrase popularized by Raimundo Viejo and later put into a song by Los Chikos del Maiz, a Marxist rap group that has been very close to the party’s emergence: “El miedo va a cambiar de bando,” which translates to, “Fear is going to change sides.” Currently, they are accompanying that phrase with another, saying that the smiles are also starting to change sides. Using this approach, what they have managed to do is take the insecurity and fears produced by precariousness, unemployment or poverty and, in contrast to projecting it on immigrants (which is what Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and, to a lesser extent, Beppe Grillo have done), they project it onto what they call “la casta” (the caste), which is basically the ruling class. And they have done this while, at the same time, “occupying” feelings like hope and joy.

Who supports Podemos? What segment of the population would consider voting for them?

In most of the reports I have seen or read in English, Podemos is described as a sort of outgrowth of the indignados movement, in something of a linear progression. I think this is wrong. While their message resonated far beyond their class composition, the indignados movement was largely composed of a relatively young, college-educated precariat. Their emphasis on direct action and slow, horizontal deliberation introduced something of a selection mechanism into actual participation in the movement, whereby people who were less versed in the culture of radical politics, had less time to spend in general assemblies, were not entirely comfortable with public speaking, were not particularly interested in learning new internet tools and were not willing to take the risks associated with civil disobedience were filtered out over time.

In contrast, Podemos’s access to television guaranteed contact with an older audience, which is extremely important in a country such as Spain, with its older population structure and decades of low fertility. And the types of participation that Podemos enabled (namely, ballot boxes and smart phone apps) have a low learning curve, require less time and involve fewer risks than the more autonomous politics of the indignados. Because of this, Podemos attracts a crowd that includes a much larger component of underprivileged, working class and older people, in addition to a very strong, college-educated youth demographic.

The ideological composition of the people who support Podemos is also interesting. While the bulk of the support they draw comes from people who used to vote for the center-left “socialist” party, nearly a third of the people who currently support them had previously abstained from voting, turned in spoiled ballots or even voted for the right-wing Popular Party. Furthermore, while Podemos openly rejects the standard “left-right” division that has characterised Western politics for years, surveys are showing that their voters mostly view themselves as leftists, that is, neither center-left nor far left. Taken together, this might suggest that Podemos are drawing on something of an untapped leftist imaginary, or that they may very well be redefining what it means for people to consider themselves “leftists” in Spain.

What is Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements?

Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements is a tricky question to tackle. In addition to the establishment parties and the mainstream media, some people who are active in the grassroots and social movements have been quite critical of Podemos. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I think it is an issue that requires much more reflection than what I can offer here, which is entirely my opinion at the moment. But at its heart, Podemos is part of a growing exasperation with an institutional “glass ceiling” that the social movements keep bumping up against and have not been able to shatter. This exasperation is visible not only in the rise of Podemos but also in the emergence of municipal platforms intended to join outsider parties, community organizations and activists in radically democratic candidacies. In this context, people from the social movements are generally split between those who favor that type of participation and those who prefer a radicalization of non-institutional action.

The main criticism I see coming from the second group is that Podemos started “from the top and not from the bottom.” I think this is wrong. A comically low-budget local TV show and a Facebook page are not what I would consider “high” in a neoliberal chain of command. What Podemos have done is rise very quickly from there, and as they have done so, they have had to deal with questions related to institutional inertia and the autonomy of their own organization. And that is where I think critical voices coming from the social movements are right to be nervous.

While Podemos initially drew its legitimacy, structure (the Círculos they started in various cities were basically conceived as local, self-managed assemblies) and demands (a citizen-led restructuring of the debt, universal basic income, affordable public housing, an end to austerity policies, etc.) from the social movements, their intention was always to draw people from beyond the social movements. They have succeed wildly in doing so, and it turns out that the world outside of the social movements is huge. And despite the fact that they agree with the demands of the social movements, that world appears to be less interested in the social movements’ methodology than the social movements would like. This is enormously frustrating, because it confronts us with our own marginality. It is also unsurprising, because if people who are not activists loved our methodology as much as our message, there would probably be a lot more activists.

The main example of this tension is the internal elections. So far, Iglesias’s lists have consistently won with close to 90% support, and many people who have been influential in shaping the discourse of the social movements (and even that of Podemos itself) are increasingly being left out of decision-making because they are not on those lists. Once out, they discover how little influence the social networks and the Círculos actually have not only relative to that of the members who appear on TV, but also on the people who are not actively involved in theCírculos, yet still identify with Podemos enough to vote in their elections. So far, this has led to some internal accusations of authoritarianism, which I find misguided and think are kind of missing the point. I think the real problem is that we are finding that, in the present climate, people are generally happier to delegate responsibility than we suspected, at least until they can vote on specific issues that affect their daily lives.

At the same time, this propensity to delegate depends a lot on the legitimacy and trust people have in Podemos, which to a large extent was built through their relationship with the streets. So I think the influence the social movements have on Podemos is going to depend on their ability to engage in street politics in such a way that they are able to meet dispossessed people’s needs, on the one hand, and shape the public conversation in a way that forces Podemos to position itself. An example would be the PAH. Podemos cannot stray too much from their demands for decent housing because everybody knows and agrees with them. If Podemos were to stray too far from their demands, the PAH could mobilize against them or simply put out a harsh press statement, undermining their legitimacy considerably.

Where do you see this going? Could Podemos actually win the elections?

I think this is going to change Spain and Europe as we know them, no matter what. Polls are showing that Podemos have a real shot at being the most voted party in the country. Some show that they are already the most supported, and Pablo Iglesias is by far the most popular politician in Spain. If Podemos were to win, in all likelihood the Popular Party and the “socialists” would try to form a national government centered on guaranteeing order, making a few cosmetic changes to the constitution and sabotaging any chance for Podemos to ever beat them. They would also probably try to destroy any chance at something like Podemos rising again. As it stands, the establishment is doing everything in its power to discredit them: associating them with terrorist organizations, accusing their spokespeople of misconduct based on nothing, fabricating news stories. Fear really has changed sides, and it is clearly the establishment that is frightened.

In this sense, I think it’s very important for movements, and for Podemos themselves, to think of what is happening as a kind of political singularity. This is not Obama putting the Democrats in the White House. It is a group of people who have been actively engaged in the struggle against neoliberalism that have managed to turn a populist moment during a period of economic crisis into a hope for a better democracy and an end to neoliberal austerity. At least in Spain, to blow this chance could be a major step backwards for emancipatory politics, towards another long journey through the desert.

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. Currently he collaborates with the Health Inequalities Research Group at Pompeu Fabra University and the Barcelona Institute of Metropolitan and Regional Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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The return of Occupy London: this time it’s truly political

photo of Adam Parsons

Adam Parsons
29th November 2014


occupy democracy II

Occupy is back in London, UK, with a renewed focus on politics and an ambitious vision: to galvanise a mass movement for real democracy and establish a huge People’s Assembly to debate a list of specific demands for radical political reform.


This week, stalwarts of the Occupy Democracy campaign in Britain are continuing to stand their ground in Parliament Square. The heavy-handed police crackdown and evictions may have scuppered much of the plans for peaceful and creative demonstrations, but the re-emergence of the Occupy movement is a welcome sight in an increasingly unequal, stressed and disaffected city of London.

The goal of the new Occupy campaign is laudable and significant: to direct energy from current single issue struggles into “a critical mass that can radically challenge the corrupt unrepresentative [political] system”. Initially staged in solidarity with Hong Kong’s ongoing civil disobedience campaign, the aptly-named #TarpaulinRevolutionaimed to galvanise a mass movement for real democracy by transforming the Square into a civic space where activists can re-envision and rethink the fundamentals of our society, not only through protest activity but also with a programme of talks, workshops, community assemblies, music and theatre.

The original call to action makes a compelling case as to why the British political system is unable to deal with the consequences of a social crisis it helped to create. Citing the entrenched problems of the UK’s growing ranks of homeless, hungry and unemployed, it calls on all movements that have opposed the government’s anti-democratic policies to come and join the occupation. “The problem is bigger than the Tories and their austerity program”, it states. “The problem is with our whole democratic system.”

Hence the need for a genuine democracy free from corporate influence is placed at the heart of the campaign, with an aspiration to establish a huge People’s Assembly that can debate a list of specific demands for radical political reform. As the call to action concludes: “It appears that the majority are not able to use the democratic process to improve, let alone protect, the basic necessities of life. And in turn, our increasing sense of powerlessness is mirrored by the increasing power of big business over our lives. It is time we took mass action to stop this.”

The occupation began on Friday 17th October with an overnight vigil to mark the UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty, followed by an introduction to Occupy Democracy and a series of short talks by a number of activists. A programme of activities still continues despite the presence of hundreds of police officers earlier in the week, and a 2 metre metal fence that has now been erected around much of Parliament Square Gardens. On Saturday and Sunday, when the ten-day campaign may still conclude if protesters can resist further arrests, talks and workshops have been planned on the theme of ‘Solutions – what would our ideal society look like?’, and ‘Means of change – a better world is nice in theory, but how do we make it happen?’

Moving beyond ‘anti’ to a common vision

One of the talks on Friday by John Hilary of War of Want particularly resonated with these themes, and emphasised the necessity for the emerging ‘movement of movements’ to move beyond reactive protest and articulate a collective vision of change. Drawing on the concluding section of his recent book, Hilary outlined what he terms three principles of convergence that indicate a means for moving beyond neoliberal capitalism and towards a better world: popular sovereignty, common ownership and social production.

Together, these principles reflect the growing spirit of inclusive activism that no longer focuses on a position of ‘anti’, and instead embraces the many alternatives and new visions that are out there today. This includes, in Hilary’s words, the many opportunities we are now seeing for “common ownership, sharing, and new understandings of the commons where we all participate, we all own it and we all control its future.”

A video of the talk can be viewed here, but it is also worth transcribing below Hilary’s discussion of these three principles and how we all need to ‘decommodify our worldview’ and look towards a future that is no longer dominated by the profit motive, which will mark the true liberation of peoples and societies.

“…The last thing I wanted to focus on was how we can learn from what people have achieved in other countries around the world in terms of fighting for a better future. Because I don’t know how you feel but for me it feels that we’re constantly fire-fighting, we’re constantly reacting and resisting to the things that they throw at us. If it’s not an austerity programme it’s a bank bailout; if it’s not a bank bailout then it’s another slashing of welfare benefits; it’s another swathe of unemployment coming in from the public sector. If it’s not that it’s a whole raft of other trade deals, it’s another set of austerity measures dropped down on us from the European Union.

What we’re saying is that we need a change, so it’s not just about us reacting all the time, but it’s about us putting in place new structures, new ideas and new policies, new thoughts that can challenge that for the future. And we’ve seen that not just in Spain with Podermos rising up, in Greece with Syriza, in all of the great, great election victories that you see in democracies across Western Europe where they are beginning to challenge from the left. But we’ve also seen that in Latin America where social movements have risen up and they have created political challenges to the elite – political challenges which have swept away the old elite, and created completely new dispensations for the future – new ambitions, and new aspirations to try and overcome their past, and to create democratic paths away from capitalism. And that sort of move is what we desperately need here. And you can put that around three basic principles, which when you read all of the different programmes of an alternative from across the world, it always seems to crystallise around three particular things.

The first of these is popular sovereignty, and that means reclaiming democracy not just to the national level of governments, which was the thing when we were talking about this 15 years ago and everyone was saying ‘Globalisation is a great threat; we need to reclaim power for our national sovereignty’ – no, we need to take it much, much deeper and restore democracy at its roots; popular sovereignty. And you can look to the examples of those countries like Iceland or Tunisia or Equador or Bolivia, which have completely re-written constitutions in order to be able to give the people’s aspirations top billing. You can also see it in countries like Venezuala where they have local municipal committees, workplace committees, bringing people in to the democratic space and building from the grassroots. You can see it in the economic policies of restoring power to cooperatives and other collective engagements of people, so that they take control of the economic space as well as the political space.

So that concept of popular sovereignty could not be more relevant here in Parliament Square, looking across at an institution which denies us that say, it denies us that participation. So I think the first thing we have to work out in our structures [is] how can we reclaim that space. Not just in demonstrations and actions, but much more [in terms of] going through all of the processes that we take part in; whether you’re members of trade unions, whether you’re members of local residents associations, whatever clubs or [forms of] participations you have, pushing that political message through. So, one: popular sovereignty.

The second big, big issue here is common ownership. If you don’t own the means of production, if you don’t own the commons, if you don’t own and have rights over public services, you can never turn them back to your advantage. And we know that this is so important because the first wave of enclosures that the neoliberal programme brought in was a new wave of privatisation; privatising water, privatising education, privatising health, privatising anything they can get their hands on and not letting it go back into public hands in the future. And that again is another of the really important threats from these big trade deals.

We know already that our government is selling us down the river when it comes to all those things. If we ever get another government in where we want to try and reclaim those powers, if they’ve already been put into a trade deal you can’t get them back. And we want them back, we’ve seen the type of opportunities for common ownership, sharing, and new understanding of the commons where we all participate, we all own it and we all control its future. You see that on the internet, you see that in car pools, you see that in the massive cooperative movement that lives around the world, you see that in workers collectives, the solidarity economy, the social economy, all of these different models which are still going towards the same basic aim of common ownership and control.

So number one popular sovereignty, number two common ownership, and the final one is social production. Production not for profit, not so that value can be whisked away by the 1% and stored in their Swiss bank accounts, but production which is there for social need and not treating us as commodities in the system, not treating our public services as commodities, not treating the basic commons that we know and we use as commodities. And that decommodification process starts with each one of us. It starts with our rejection of the logic of capitalism. It says that we want a world that is not dominated by the profit motive. We want a world where we produce things for need, not for profit; for use value, not for exchange.

And when we can start making that type of change, the liberation, the liberationthat that brings to people, to societies, to women who have so often borne the brunt of this neoliberal attack, that liberation opens up all the possibilities that we want for a new and better future. We cannot achieve that without a political challenge to the elite. Turning people power into political power has got to be our first step. And that’s why I’m really thrilled to be here, to be part of this merging of the movement, this ‘movement of movements’ which comes together to challenge on all these different fronts.”

Further links:

John Hilary speaking at Occupy Democracy, 17th October 2014

Occupydemocracy.org.uk

Occupy London TV [youtube]

The original call to action for democracy, by John Sinha

Democracy Action – Occupy Parliament Square

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Networks, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, Politics | 1 Comment »

Video of the Day: A Relevant Past for a Digital Age?

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
27th November 2014


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Fourth of a series of videos from the New School on Digital Labor. You can find the whole series here.

A Relevant Past for a Digital Age?

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Book of the Day: Algorithms of Capital

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hartsellml
15th November 2014


Book: Algorithms of Capital. Ed./curated by Matteo Pasquinelli.

URL = http://matteopasquinelli.com/algorithms-of-capital/

The book is based on the #Acclerationisty politics. Anyway the above link is to the Italian version. Yet most of the articles are already online in English.

 

Discussion

Orsan Senalp:

“Here is how I would formulate a part of the code needs yet to be put in algorithms:

I agree with many others who think global working class is currently making it self through ongoing and intensifying struggles. In my opinion any form of self-organisation of the global working classes needs to be, simultaneously very well grounded, transnational, and global. It also needs to be open to all the working people, so free [gratis and accessible] to enter and leave, designed as modularly integrated organized networks linking workers [including hacker-, academic-, art-, sex-. … so on workers], social-environmental-cultural-informational-sexual justice activists.

Adoptable principles, in form of the ‘code’, which can be pre-determined, as well as the coding process itself needs to be very well documented, totally open and accesible to local, workplace, neighbourhood, issue based, activist or other forms of political collectives. In a way similar to Anonymous, 15M, Occupy, Gezi. or other decentralized forms, but with more structured and open working protocols, as it is in FLOSS projects, or grassroots and worker cooperatives. It sould not be including membership, service, representation type logics that leads to reproduction of disempowerment for the involving nodes. It should not be organized by intellectual activists from out side in, and from top down towards the working class. With an opposite perspective, it should be designed by volunteer participation based on self-governing and representation principles. It should be able to put forward creative, assertive and effective direct non-violent mass action, which makes fun of and ridicule the target by allowing the formation of collective intelligence. Therefore active peer to peer self-learninig should be the core cultural production and learning principle. Instead of having teachers who must show the right and enlightented road to the candidate working class members, who needs to get a self-consciousness, a global and networked labour union should be providing working people with the access to the tools, resources and key networks that would make self- empowerment easily possible. By linking spaces where continious open exchanges take place and carry the energy from one space to other. Utilizing How to(s), Do it Yourself and Do it With Others guides, in online and real world context, by FLOSS communication tools as well as mass-action tactics it would replace top down (issue-anger-action) organizing model, which would allow self-articulation, respectful and collaborative working praxis by harmonized through peer to peer digital communication -where possible and desirable, as well as face to face and secure meetings, cultural and recreational events cultural events. It should be collaboraing with other organizations, creative and productive projects that undermines capitalist mode of production and develop the algorithms and codes of alternative modes, as operating systems that could replace capitalism. Such global network needs to grow by linking existing radical networks groups of activists, hackers, organizers, makers, DIY groups, squatters, eco-willages, diggers, immigrants, asylum seekers, solidarity networks, and so on. In a way all nodes could associate with the globally networked ties, while keeping their autonomy.

So instead of #Accelerate motto, i would suggest some thing like: “All empower one, one empower all!”

 

Contents

Links to English versions:

  • Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics by Alex

Williams and Nick Srnicek http://syntheticedifice.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

  • Reflections on the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics by Toni

Negri: http://syntheticedifice.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/riflessioni-sul-manifesto-per-una-politica-accelerazionista/

  • Mattoe Pasquinelli:

“To Anticipate and Accelerate: Italian Operaismo and Reading Marx’s Notion of Organic Composition of Capital”, Rethinking Marxism journal, vol. 26, n. 2, 2014.

http://matteopasquinelli.com/anticipate-an

“The Power of Abstraction and Its Antagonism. On Some Problems Common to Contemporary Neuroscience and the Theory of Cognitive Capitalism”,Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism, Part 2. Berlin: Archive Books, 2014.: http://matteopasquinelli.com/power-of-abstraction/]

  • Red stack attack! Algorithms, capital and the automation of the common

– by Tiziana Terranova: http://quaderni.sanprecario.info/2014/02/red-stack-attack-algorithms-capital-and-the-automation-of-the-common-di-tiziana-terranova/

  • #Celerity: A Critique of the Manifesto for an Accelerationist

Politics: http://syntheticedifice.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/celerity-a-critique-of-the-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

 

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Book of the Day: Collective Action After Networks

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hartsellml
29th October 2014


Organisation of the Organisation-less: Collective Action After Networks. By Rodrigo Nunes. PML Books (Mute / Post-Media Lab), 2014.

Summary:

“Rejecting the dichotomy of centralism and horizontalism that has deeply marked millennial politics, Rodrigo Nunes’ close analysis of network systems demonstrates how organising within contemporary social and political movements exists somewhere between – or beyond – the two. Rather than the party or chaos, the one or the multitude, he discovers a ‘bestiary’ of hybrid organisational forms and practices that render such disjunctives false. The resulting picture shows how social and technical networks can and do facilitate strategic action and fluid distributions of power at the same time. It is by developing the strategic potentials that are already immanent to networks, he argues, that contemporary solutions to the question of organisation can be developed.”

Excerpted from an earlier article on the same topic, ‘Three theses on organisation’, by Rodrigo Nunes:

It is Possible to Have a Mass Movement Without Mass Organisations

This lesson is not particularly new; it has been known since at least 1968, or since the late 1990s if we are to eschew the classical references. It is nonetheless both worth repeating and phrasing in this way, since attempting to translate the questions thrown up by the present into the language of older debates can offer more of a grip on them than merely insisting on their absolute novelty.

What matters here is not only the extent to which mass organisations (parties, unions – notable exceptions being the strikes in Egypt, and local support by unions in Tunisia) were seen as ‘part of the problem’, or simply not invited, but also the extent to which they were questioned as mass organisations. In the face of a large, heterogeneous, developing, living movement, their mobilising capacity seemed limited by comparison – and the quality of their representation too stale, too ossified, too much of a representation to matter. When masses of people rose up against the representative system and the dearth of real options it offered, unions and parties were widely regarded as representing that system itself, rather than those they notionally represent.

To say this, of course, does not tell us anything about the staying power of the movements that appeared in 2011; whether a choice not to form mass organisations will entail a progressive loss of momentum, or whether forming them will simply be divisive without bringing any gains; nor does it say anything about whether mass organisations as such are an outdated proposition.[ii] But it does say something about the state of existing mass organisations, and the potentials that reside in the encounter between widespread discontent and access to technological tools that allow for mass, multi-polar communication. It is, thus, evidently good news: mass organisations are in crisis everywhere (and this includes Latin America, from where I presently write); it is good to know that it is possible to bypass them in order to produce political effects.

It also says something about the crisis of representation, and how it will be a long time until it is solved. Some were quick to point out the ‘failure’ of movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Spain, in the sense that the forces that eventually came to power were not much better than those that were removed. There is a truly bizarre logic in this: if these movements started out by decrying how all essential decisions were outside the scope of representative democracy and all the available options were different shades of the same, to expect to prove them wrong by pointing out that what they got was ultimately a different shade of the same is essentially to corroborate their assertion. This argument can only make sense if one has already accepted the premise these movements reject – that there is no alternative to the ‘there is no alternative’ that they oppose. It fails to acknowledge how they have, from the start, set their sights on a much longer game than can be measured by electoral cycles (and which will demand a lot more from them to be achieved).

In regard to the political system as a whole, these movements are exercising – and that is perhaps all they can do at present – what Colectivo Situaciones have called poder destituyente, de-instituent power.[iv] They undoubtedly also possess a constituent power whose future and direction is as yet impossible to predict. It may result in new political forms, new mechanisms of representation, new institutions or, at the very least, new organisations. It may result in all of those at once, as was the case in Bolivia in the aftermath of neoliberal crisis. But right now, their main achievable goal is probably that of flushing the system; and not only can this not be done overnight, the sharpening of contradictions in the short term – Spain now has a right wing government elected by 30 percent of the population, while polls indicate that around 70 percent agree with the indignados, who the new government are on a declared collision course with – may lead to just that in the longer run.

 

Organisation Has Not Disappeared, But Changed

Many have observed how the obvious similarities between 2011 and the alterglobalisation moment went oddly unnoticed among the commentariat. In what concerns organisation, there is a double irony in this invisibilisation. On the one hand, the alterglobalisation moment marked the first attempt to elaborate the transformations to organisational practice brought about by new communication technologies, the internet above all. On the other, it already manifested the same tabula rasa, new dawn attitude that some adopt today: new technological conditions have changed the way we organise forever, it is all about connected individuals now, the time of hierarchical organisational forms is over. Therein lies, of course, a third irony: that, as is often the case with the modern attitude of announcing the present as a total break with the past, it appears retrospectively as an anticipation of something then still to come. The ‘new technological conditions’ of ten years ago – mailing lists, camera-less phones and Indymedia! – pale in comparison to the access to the means of production of information that we see today; conversely, today’s ‘total break’ has already been around, in some form, for ten years.

The problem is that different things tend to get mixed up in the discussion, and activist practices associated with older organisational forms – such as ‘factory floor’ or ‘door-to-door’ community organising – are lumped in with the organisational form itself. As a consequence, the argument flits from claiming that some organisational forms are no longer necessary to some forms of activism have become superfluous, and ends up producing a falsified picture of how social media have actually been put to political use.

In a well received article from late 2010 that went on to seem thoroughly debunked by ensuing events, Malcolm Gladwell drew on Mark Granovetter’s groundbreaking work in social network theory to suggest that social media are fabulous tools when it comes to spreading information and fostering low involvement forms of action (‘share’, ‘like’, ‘retweet’, ‘donate’), but are not as good when it comes to developing dependable relations, commitment and what it sometimes takes to really get an action or campaign off the ground. One of that text’s strongest conclusions was that ‘Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice, but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice’.[vi] In other words, social media are an excellent medium for weak tie activism, but the development of strong ties requires greater organisational consistency than ‘clicktivism’. As anyone who’s ever organised anything will know, it is sadly not as simple as ‘tweet it and they will come’.

My hypothesis is that, rather than contradicting this conclusion, the political use of social media in 2011 highlights a possibility underestimated by Gladwell: that, under certain special conditions, the quantity of connections enabled by social media can indeed produce the quality of stronger ones – a marginal effect that weak ties always possess that is intensified by favourable circumstances, and which we could describe as a general lowering of each individual’s participation threshold.

If one pays attention to how events unfolded, the myth of isolated individuals coming together on the randomly picked date of a Facebook event becomes shaky. Even the instance seemingly closest to the ‘spontaneous uprising’ narrative, Tunisia, is arguably best described as starting with strong ties. Mohamed Bouazizi’s shocking act of self-immolation first galvanised a small circle of friends and family who tried to make sure the information about his death, and the protests that followed, got out of the town of Sidi Bouzid. From then on the story was picked up by Al Jazeera, there was support from the local trade union branch and student groups, and longer-term activists and media critics of the government began to speak (and act) out.

The movement, in other words, was not simply from weak ties to strong ties, isolated individuals to strong commitments, the internet to the streets; but (small scale) strong ties to weak ties (more people hearing about what had happened) to strong ties (activist groups and individuals becoming involved on a larger scale) to a broader fringe of weak ties becoming strong ties as things gathered momentum. This is illustrated in the geographical spread; from the countryside to Al Jazeera, then from social media and YouTube to the capital and abroad, where each relay produced not only a greater number of informed people, but also people who became active; and it is not too much to imagine that communication among individuals was taking place not only through media, social or otherwise, but also through meetings and nascent or pre-existing organisations of different kinds.

It is well known that, for years, activist groups in Egypt had had their attempts to channel mass opposition to the Mubarak regime frustrated and repressed. Then the events in Tunisia and the viral spread of information and availability of online mobilising tools provided them with an opportunity that they seized. It is true, someone did create a Facebook event calling for the January 25 ‘Day of Anger’; this someone, however, was no random ‘concerned citizen’, but the admin of a Facebook page (‘We are all Khaled Said’) with over 400,000 followers that had existed for half a year. That admin, the now famous Wael Ghonim, attributes the idea to his collaborator AbdelRahman Mansour and the final decision to a brainstorming session over a month earlier with Ahmed Maher of the April 6 Youth Movement, in which they agreed that the Facebook page would spearhead the call, while the activist group would take care of logistics.[x] (April 6 had already mobilised for that date – Police Day – in the past.) And as the idea of a protest on that and subsequent dates caught on, it was worked out and made operational by several other already existing and then sprouting organisations and affinity groups.

The communication that enabled the Arab Spring (or 15M and Occupy) did not simply spread from one individual to the next via social media; in each case, what happened was always a much more complex relay between already established hubs – either ‘strong tie’ groups or communication nodes with a large following and credibility – and a long tail of ties with decreasing intensity, in a sort of ripple effect with many epicentres. If there can be mass movements without mass organisations, it is because social media amplify exponentially the effects of relatively isolated initiatives. But that they do so is not a miraculous phenomenon that can magically bypass quality by producing quantity out of nothing; it requires the relay through hubs and strong tie groups and clusters that can begin to operationally translate ‘chatter’ into action. As that happens, under propitious conditions, the spread of information also aids the development of strong ties down the long tail: once a friend or family member goes to a demo, or you see stirring images of one, you are more likely to go, and so on. So we can only speak of ‘spontaneity’ if we understand the new flows of information and decision making as also being necessarily routed by previously existing networks and organisations and more tightly knit affinities, and thus along the lines of previously given structures that no doubt were transformed in the process; certainly not in the sense of an ideal ‘association of individuals’ who previously existed as individuals only. This is even more explicit in those cases, such as 15M and Occupy, where there was an open, overground organising process prior to things ‘kicking off’.[xi]

Finally, it is interesting to speculate on how the beginnings of both the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are tied to death and sacrifice, of Mohammed Bouzizi and Khaled Said above all. There is no greater test of commitment, or of the strength of ties, than being ready to die. The relation between years of police abuse and violence, and then the irrepressible resolve demonstrated by protesters in those countries – the way in which the risk of taking action being the highest was turned into the most fundamental ‘strengthener’ of ties: the disposition to die together if necessary, and the solidarity that it creates – seems clear.

 

The Primary Organisational Form of 2011 was Not the Assembly

At the most evident level, the primary organisational form employed by movements in 2011 was the camp. From the extraordinary example set by Tahrir Square, the model spread to Wisconsin, Israel, Spain (where, however, it was an unplanned outcome of the 15 May demonstration); and then, after Occupy Wall Street (initially devised as a camp) and the 15 October day of global action, to the rest of the world. It was the most powerful meme, which is unsurprising seeing as it provided the most stirring images and, with Egypt, the most captivating victory.

Yet it is important to bear in mind the precise connection between form and goal that made Tahrir into a victorious symbol. For more than simply a meme, it was a tactic that consisted in concentrating the movement in one place with a very concrete, if negative, demand: that Mubarak step down. Even then, it is clear that it would not have managed to achieve its goal had the regime not realised they were losing control of several other parts of the country.

As the camp became a meme, this connection was lost. It is remarkable that the first tweet from @acampadasol – the first Twitter account of the first ‘spontaneous’ (i.e. moving from strong ties to developing strong ties along the weaker intensity long tail) camp in Spain, at Puerta del Sol, Madrid – stated that ‘we shall stay here until we reach an agreement’. Who ‘we’ was, and with whom agreement was to be reached, were things left unstated in the micro-blogging website’s peculiar syntax. By the time it got to the various worldwide ‘Occupy’ that sprung after October 15, this tie was lost. The same can be said about other related memes, such as the ‘human mic’, which started out as a practical solution to a ban on amplification at Zucotti Park in New York, and went on to become a marker of a certain ‘Occupy’ way of doing politics, even where the original impediment that had elicited it did not exist.”

About the Author

“Rodrigo Nunes is a lecturer in modern and contemporary philosophy at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Brazil. He coordinates the research group Materialismos, which investigates the resurgence of metaphysical speculation in contemporary philosophy and its interfaces with other fields such as politics, science and anthropology. He has been involved in several political initiatives over the years, such as the first editions of the World Social Forum and the Justice for Cleaners campaign in London. He is a member of the editorial collective of Turbulence (http://turbulence.org.uk).”

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The problem with Facebook “likes” and Netarchical Social Media Metrics

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Stacco Troncoso
26th October 2014


A fascinating video on Facebook’s dubious practices, which will (hopefully) make you think twice before making grandiose proclamations based on any for-profit Social Media stats.

From the notes to the original video

Evidence Facebook’s revenue is based on fake likes.

My first vid on the problem with Facebook: http://bit.ly/1dXudqY

I know first-hand that Facebook’s advertising model is deeply flawed. When I paid to promote my page I gained 80,000 followers in developing countries who didn’t care about Veritasium (but I wasn’t aware of this at the time). They drove my reach and engagement numbers down, basically rendering the page useless. I am not the only one who has experienced this. Rory Cellan-Jones had the same luck with Virtual Bagel: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-…

The US Department of State spent $630,000 to acquire 2 million page likes and then realized only 2% were engaged. http://wapo.st/1glcyZo

I thought I would demonstrate that the same thing is still happening now by creating Virtual Cat (http://www.facebook.com/MyVirtualCat). I was surprised to discover something worse – false likes are coming from everywhere, including Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia. So even those carefully targeting their campaigns are likely being duped into spending real money on fake followers. Then when they try to reach their followers they have to pay again.

And it’s possible to be a victim of fake likes without even advertising. Pages that end up on Facebook’s “International Suggested Pages” are also easy targets for click-farms seeking to diversify their likes.http://tnw.co/NsflrC

Thanks to Henry, Grey, and Nessy for feedback on earlier drafts of this video.

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Podcast of the Day: Rachel O’Dwyer on the Role of Commons in Contemporary Capitalism

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Stacco Troncoso
18th October 2014


We met Rachel O’Dwyer a couple of weeks back, at the Open Everything 2014 Convergence, celebrated in Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Ireland. We really enjoyed talking to Rachel and listening to her contributions in the Q&As and, in fact, we’re hoping to work with her in the near future. Until then, please check out this podcast, originally published as part of a series called “Contemporary Capitalism”

From the Shownotes to the Podcast:

Contemporary Capitalism is a 4 part series of talks, each part critiquing an aspect of how capitalism affects society today.

The talks were originally held in Dubzland studios, north inner city Dublin, in late 2012, and were organised by the Provisional University, a group of researchers and social activists. [www.provisionaluniversity.wordpress.com]

The series was edited for broadcast by artist and Near FM volunteer Craig Cox. [www.craigcoxart.com]

Contemporary Capitalism Part 4: The Commons

Part 4 is by Rachel O’Dwyer and is about the commons as it exists today.

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Can we turn Netarchical Platforms into worker-owned businesses?

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Stacco Troncoso
18th October 2014


facebook
In answer to the question posed in the title, I don’t think we can do much to reclaim our rights as producers of content and use value in netarchical platforms. However, we can work to raise awareness on the subject and help the shift toward real P2P platforms. This is already happening right now, with Diaspora enjoying a revival in the wake of Ello’s failed promise to deliver a true alternative to Facebook. The following article was written by John Robb and originally published in Home Free America.


“We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership… We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.”

Do you contribute to Facebook, Yelp, Reddit, or sites like that?

Most of us do contribute to some sites like this and our contributions, more or less depending on our contribution, are the reason these companies are valuable.

Our contributions are the reason people come to these sites day after day, so why don’t we get a bit of ownership for our contributions?

Lots of ownership goes to the employees.  But, nobody goes to these sites for the high quality software, elegant design, or robust hosting.  Further, all of the tech they are using is the result of innovation by other people.

Most of the ownership goes to the financing.  Yet, these sites don’t cost much to run.  A pittance actually.  The cloud makes them very cheap to operate.  In fact, the amount is so small, nearly all of the money needed to launch these sites could be raised by the customers using these sites.

We don’t get ownership because we don’t expect ownership.

We’ve been conditioned to give away our work and our patronage for free while the schmucks on Wall Street walk away with buckets of money.

There is a small glimmer of hope things might finally be changing (it’s something I tried to do back in 2010-12 and got my ass handed to me for trying to do it).

My hope is due to three things:

  1. Desire to do the right thing.  We don’t see enough of this in Silicon Valley anymore, despite the fact that all great innovations start with getting the “why” right.  Reddit’s CEO, Yishan Wong (formerly of Facebook) is doing the right thing.  He’s planning to make Reddit’s users into owners, depending on their contribution to the site.
  2. There’s a way to create a form of liquid ownership that doesn’t require Wall Street.  This new method is based on the bitcoin blockchain.  That technology makes it possible to issue ownership to contributors in a decentralized and trusted way.
  3. The combination of blockchain stock, Yishan’s example, and the experience of participants will set in motion a wave of change in Silicon Valley.  The message is:  if you want to build an online company, you better find a way to make your customers/contributors owners.

PS:  This is potentially a sea change in financing/ownership.  There’s much more to this.  Wall Street’s banksters should be worried.

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John Holloway on Changing the World Without Taking Power

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David Bollier
15th October 2014


JohnHolloway-main

John Holloway, a sociology professor in Mexico, recently gave an interview with Roar magazine suggesting how to introduce a new social and economic logic in the face of the mighty machine of neoliberal capitalism.  Holloway’s idea, recapitulating themes from his previous book and 2002 thesis, is to build “cracks” in the system in which people can relate to each other and meet their needs in non-market ways:  “We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognizing them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking confluence, or preferably, the commoning of cracks.”

This strategic approach has immediate appeal to commoners, it seems to me — even though some engagement with state power is surely necessary at some point.  Below, Holloway’s interview with by Amador Fernández-Savater. It was translated by Richard Mac Duinnsleibhe and edited by Arianne Sved of Guerrilla Translation.

In 2002, John Holloway published a landmark book: Change the World Without Taking Power. Inspired by the ‘¡Ya basta!’ of the Zapatistas, by the movement that emerged in Argentina in 2001/’02, and by the anti-globalization movement, Holloway sets out a hypothesis: it is not the idea of revolution or transformation of the world that has been refuted as a result of the disaster of authoritarian communism, but rather the idea of revolution as the taking of power, and of the party as the political tool par excellence.

Holloway discerns another concept of social change at work in these movements, and generally in every practice—however visible or invisible it may be—where a logic different from that of profit is followed: the logic of cracking capitalism. That is, to create, within the very society that is being rejected, spaces, moments, or areas of activity in which a different world is prefigured. Rebellions in motion. From this perspective, the idea of organization is no longer equivalent to that of the party, but rather entails the question of how the different cracks that unravel the fabric of capitalism can recognize each other and connect.

But after Argentina’s “que se vayan todos” came the Kirchner government, and after Spain’s “no nos representan” appeared Podemos. We met with John Holloway in the city of Puebla, Mexico, to ask him if, after everything that has happened in the past decade, from the progressive governments of Latin America to Podemos and Syriza in Europe, along with the problems for self-organized practices to exist and multiply, he still thinks that it is possible to “change the world without taking power.”

:::::::::::::::::::::::

Firstly, John, we would like to ask you where the hegemonic idea of revolution in the 20th century comes from, what it is based on. That is, the idea of social change through the taking of power.

I think the central element is labor, understood as wage labor. In other words, alienated or abstract labor. Wage labor has been, and still is, the bedrock of the trade union movement, of the social democratic parties that were its political wing, and also of the communist movements. This concept defined the revolutionary theory of the labor movement: the struggle of wage labor against capital. But its struggle was limited because wage labor is the complement of capital, not its negation.

I don’t understand the relation between this idea of labor and that of revolution through the taking of state power.

One way of understanding the connection would be as follows: if you start off from the definition of labor as wage or alienated labor, you start off from the idea of the workers as victims and objects of the system of domination. And a movement that struggles to improve the living standards of workers (considered as victims and objects) immediately refers to the state. Why? Because the state, due to its very separation from society, is the ideal institution if one seeks to achieve benefits for people. This is the traditional thinking of the labor movement and that of the left governments that currently exist in Latin America.

But this tradition isn’t the only approach to a politics of emancipation…

Of course not. In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labor by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit.

These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.). The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks.

The rejection of alienated and alienating labor entails, at the same time, a critique of the institutional and organizational structures, and the mindset that springs from it. This is how we can explain the rejection of trade unions, parties, and the state that we observe in so many contemporary movements, from the Zapatistas to the Greek or Spanish indignados.

But it isn’t a question of the opposition between an old and a new politics, I think. Because what we see in the movements born of the economic crisis is that those two things come to the fore at the same time: cracks such as protests in city squares, and new parties such as Syriza or Podemos.

I think it’s a reflection of the fact that our experience under capitalism is contradictory. We are victims and yet we are not. We seek to improve our living standards as workers, and also to go beyond that, to live differently. In one respect we are, in effect, people who have to sell their labor power in order to survive. But in another, each one of us has dreams, behaviors and projects that don’t fit into the capitalist definition of labor.

The difficulty, then as now, lies in envisioning the relation between those two types of movements. How can that relation avoid reproducing the old sectarianism? How can it be a fruitful relation without denying the fundamental differences between the two perspectives?

Argentina in 2001 and 2002, the indignados in Greece and Spain more recently. At a certain point, bottom-up movements stall, they enter a crisis or an impasse, or they vanish. Would you say that the politics of cracks has intrinsic limits in terms of enduring and expanding?

I wouldn’t call them limits, but rather problems. Ten years ago, when I published Change the World without Taking Power, the achievements and the power of movements from below were more apparent, whereas now we are more conscious of the problems. The movements you mention are enormously important beacons of hope, but capital continues to exist and it’s getting worse and worse; it progressively entails more misery and destruction. We cannot confine ourselves to singing the praises of movements. That’s not enough.

Could one response then be the option that focuses on the state?

It’s understandable why people want to go in that direction, very understandable. These have been years of ferocious struggles, but capital’s aggression remains unchanged. I sincerely hope that Podemos and Syriza do win the elections, because that would change the current kaleidoscope of social struggles. But I maintain all of my objections with regard to the state option.

Any government of this kind entails channeling aspirations and struggles into institutional conduits that, by necessity, force one to seek a conciliation between the anger that these movements express and the reproduction of capital. Because the existence of any government involves promoting the reproduction of capital (by attracting foreign investment, or through some other means), there is no way around it. This inevitably means taking part in the aggression that is capital. It’s what has already happened in Bolivia and Venezuela, and it will also be the problem in Greece or Spain.

Could it be a matter of complementing the movements from below with a movement oriented towards government institutions?

That’s the obvious answer that keeps coming up. But the problem with obvious answers is that they suppress contradictions. Things can’t be reconciled so easily. From above, it may be possible to improve people’s living conditions, but I don’t think one can break with capitalism and generate a different reality. And I sincerely believe that we’re in a situation where there are no long-term solutions for the whole of humanity within capitalism.

I’m not discrediting the state option because I myself don’t have an answer to offer, but I don’t think it’s the solution.

Where are you looking for the answer?

Whilst not considering parties of the left as enemies, since for me this is certainly not the case, I would say that the answer has to be thought of in terms of deepening the cracks.

If we’re not going to accept the annihilation of humanity, which, to me, seems to be on capitalism’s agenda as a real possibility, then the only alternative is to think that our movements are the birth of another world. We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognizing them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking the confluence or, preferably, the commoning of the cracks.

If we think in terms of state and elections, we are straying away from that, because Podemos or Syriza can improve things, but they cannot create another world outside the logic of capital. And that’s what this is all about, I think.

Finally, John, how do you see the relation between the two perspectives we’ve been talking about?

We need to keep a constant and respectful debate going without suppressing the differences and the contradictions. I think the basis for a dialogue could be this: no one has the solution.

For the moment, we have to recognize that we’re not strong enough to abolish capitalism. By strong, I am referring here to building ways of living that don’t depend on wage labor. To be able to say “I don’t really care whether I have a job or not, because if I don’t have one, I can dedicate my life to other things that interest me and that give me enough sustenance to live decently.” That’s not the case right now. Perhaps we have to build that before we can say “go to hell, capital.”

In that sense, let’s bear in mind that a precondition for the French Revolution was that, at a certain point, the social network of bourgeois relations no longer needed the aristocracy in order to exist. Likewise, we must work to reach a point where we can say “we don’t care if global capital isn’t investing in Spain, because we’ve built a mutual support network that’s strong enough to enable us to live with dignity.”

Right now the rage against banks is spreading throughout the world. However, I don’t think banks are the problem, but rather the existence of money as a social relation. How should we think about rage against money? I believe this necessarily entails building non-monetized, non-commodified social relations.

And there are a great many people dedicated to this effort, whether out of desire, conviction or necessity, even though they may not appear in the newspapers. They’re building other forms of community, of sociality, of thinking about technology and human capabilities in order to create a new life.

John Holloway is Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico. His latest book is Crack Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2010).


Originally posted at bollier.org

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An intro to Diaspora

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Stacco Troncoso
12th October 2014


“Maybe Diaspora was born just before its time, and maybe now, people will realize what a gift has been given to us by the Diaspora founders and the community that continues to build, create and maintain this project.”

I’m overjoyed that the Ello hype-machine is currently reviving interest in Diaspora and decentralised networks that set themselves apart from the netarchical giants. Here’s an excellent first person introduction by Diaspora contributor Birch, which was originally published on her blog.


I joined Diaspora a few years ago, in 2011. I had migrated to G+ when it came out and shortly afterwards the #nymwars started up. Many people were unhappy that Google was forcing ‘real names’ onto people. Many bloggers and people who were known primarily by nicknames had their accounts shut down.

Meanwhile, a group of young men from NYU were already working on something amazing that people had heard about but weren’t quite sure how to join.

People weren’t familiar with this ‘decentralized’ thing. And admittedly, most people who wanted to own their content and have better privacy, etc., weren’t tech-savvy enough to start their own ‘pod’ of Diaspora. All pods interconnect with one another, and many pods started up as a group effort for a few friends to run their own, but some big pods started up also — Diasp.org, Poddery.com and others. These were open to the public to join. Diaspora had their own as well, called joindiaspora.com. However, it proved to take a very long time to get an invite to, 1) because of the sheer volume of people wanting to join and 2) the team wanting full stability at their end before letting everyone in. These other pods took the load off from that.

The downside, however, was that people waiting on an invite from JoinDiaspora didn’t necessarily know about all the other pods unless they were following the Diaspora project. In reality, what the largest percentage of the population did was request an invite and then just wait (and eventually forget). As time passed, they assumed Diaspora never happened. (I still meet people that say “hm, I wonder what ever happened to Diaspora?”

Luckily, there was a vast number of people following the progress quite closely, and the ability to join other pods – rather than wait on the core pod to get all the invites out – became much more common knowledge during the #nymwars of Google+.

I came across a conversation on Google+ about Diaspora, people were talking about joining it and my first thought was:
What? It IS finished? How can I get an account? Where do I find information?

As is normally the way on social networks, info suddenly made its way round. Especially because so many people wanted to leave G+ and Facebook. That desire to avoid data mining and own content, especially while under threat of having your account shut down due to one’s name not being ‘Real Enough’, was enough to get people looking into the status of the Diaspora they had heard about.

In the beginning Diaspora was wonky.

It has ALWAYS been a community project (much more so now), and the boys from NYU were working 24/7 to get this stable for the people flocking to it.

People have a sense of ‘entitlement’, and even though something is free (TRULY free) and being offered to them out of a labour of love, there are still bound to be complaints and demands. Such was the way.

Regardless, Diaspora continued to grow.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Ilya took his own life. One of the Diaspora founders.

I won’t get into it here. This post isn’t about that. It can be read about here. But there is no shortage of grief still to this day. Most of the community suddenly really REALIZED – these are people. These Founders (like of any project) are people. As grief hit the community, I think, too, a sense of bonding began to grow. I know that I still feel very close to all those initial friends I made there, even those whom I often disagreed with.

As time passed I spent more time in Virtual Worlds, mainly Inworldz, and only spent time on social networking sites sporadically. I also began blogging more about my own personal internal journey with various things. I still logged into Diaspora, still checked in with friends, but wasn’t as active.

Then Ello came on the scene. The hype of this seemingly ‘grassroots’ type of project, and its claim of privacy, no data mining, etc., intrigued me. I joined to see how it compared with Diaspora. Whereas the news had been calling the Diaspora founders ‘Geeky, Nerds’ etc., and almost mocking their attempts, Ello was the ultimate Hipster’s dream. Pretty, retro, minimalist. Actually, the clean interface reminded me a lot of Diaspora. However Ello, at the time of my last use of it (yesterday Sept. 26th), is dysfunctional. You’d think with a Venture Capital investment it would at least have a proper search function, or reshare. Or notifications? nope.

Of course, no one realized right away about the VC investment. Full story on what Ello really is:
https://aralbalkan.com/notes/ello-goodbye/

That’s all the time I’ll waste talking about Ello, except to mention that what got me on my Diaspora rant was coming across the same ignorance as before “Hm, I wonder if Ello is going to go the way of Diaspora?” “Will Ello succeed? Or fail, like Diaspora?” I corrected a few of those misconceptions and although my comments had 50-75+ views, no one responded.

So.

On Diaspora the past few days, I have seen many new people, possibly due to the fact that people remember Diaspora now. Possibly due to the fact that they realize there is an actual TRULY free (and decentralized) option to Facebook, Google+ and, of course Ello.
So I decided to add some screenshots with some getting started tips.

1. When you join, make a NewHere post. The registration process is very simple and directs you into a good ‘Getting Started’, but I don’t think people realize how important that first post is. We follow tags at Diaspora. When anyone posts a public post with tags that I follow in it, that post gets into my Stream. Likewise, I also check JUST my tags to see what’s going on there. If you don’t have friends, and are posting privately, or without tags… no one is going to see your post

DiasporaStreaminst

As you can see above, this new member made a public post, used the NewHere tag as well as others to show interests. Because I follow NewHere, it arrived in my feed.

You can search topics in the Search bar, add a ‘#’ directly in front of the word you are searching.
diasporasearchwithtag

Along the side you can see others who share that interest/follow the tag, and of course you see the most recent posts about that topic.

There is the option on the page to Follow that tag (see above the space to enter text) and/or post directly onto that tag page about the topic.
Once you have your followed tags, you can click them from your sidebar and just see what’s going on in the topics of your choice.

diasporataginst

To search for a person instead of a tag/topic, simply put the person’s name into the search window with no ‘#’
Diasporsearchnameinstr
And there, I found Leanna <3

Now along your sidebar, you can choose to look at individual tags, and you can also choose which aspects you want to see. I can choose just Friends and see just their content, and likewise the text/posting box on that page will by default ONLY go to friends.
If you Select All of your aspects then that will be the default destination of your posts. Be sure to choose ‘public’ below your text box however if you are new and wanting to meet people via your tagged post.

diasporaaspectsinst

Now, this hasn’t been an extensive ‘how to’, but more of an overview.

If you’d like to join Diaspora, there is a list of pods that indicates if they are open or closed at http://podupti.me, run by diasp.org’s David Morley. When choosing a pod, you can see what version it’s running, if it’s open or closed, amount of time running, and what services it offers (many of them offer cross-posting to WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook).

I personally use diasp.org and feel free to look me up!
birchwind@diasp.org

I think that the sheer number of people flocking to Ello, even with its less than stellar origins and lack of function, indicate that people are really ready to move on from the data mining sites such as Facebook and Google+.

This might be Diaspora’s time to shine.

Maybe Diaspora was born just before its time, and maybe now, people will realize what a gift has been given to us by the Diaspora founders and the community that continues to build, create and maintain this project.

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