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Can we turn Netarchical Platforms into worker-owned businesses?

photo of Stacco Troncoso

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

Spanish lawmakers to kill CC licensing

photo of Guy James

Guy James
17th October 2014


image by argazkiak.org

image by argazkiak.org

As usual, Spanish politicians react with fear and repression when confronted with the effects of new ways of sharing information: they are preparing a new law (to go with the ones restricting crowdfunding and services like AirBnB and Uber) to tax those who wish to share information freely. The pattern appears to be: existing industry feels threatened, lobbies government, government passes legislation to hamper innovations. The individual merits of each new service can be argued but anyone who knows the way the conservative government in Madrid generally thinks and reacts, we can be pretty sure they do not understand the milieu in which they are attempting to act.



“…all Spanish newspapers are haemorrhaging readers, consistently report revenue losses to the tune of millions of euros a year and many are already technically bankrupt.”
“…The idea that law will compensate for these losses is laughable. What isn’t so funny is the chilling effect on the free dissemination of information it will have.”

Read more…

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Copyright/IP | No Comments »

Video of the Day: Bruce Sterling on Design Fiction

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
12th October 2014


Bruce Sterling and his iBook

“[...This] is gonna kinda hurt: In the startup world, you work hard and you move fast in order to make other people rich.”

Don’t miss this outrageously inspiring video, where Bruce Sterling proceeds to break the hearts of a few thousands wannabe venture capital baiters at last year’s NEXT Berlin conference for “digital forethinkers and tech experts”.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Featured Content, Featured Video, Media, Politics, Technology, Videos | 2 Comments »

What is the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership?

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
31st August 2014


“The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership is a trade deal between the EU and the US – and is anything but harmless. The deal boosts corporate power and endangers people and the planet.”

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Videos | No Comments »

Algorithms have consequences: What happens to #Ferguson affects what happens to Ferguson

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th August 2014


Excerpted from Zeynep Tufekci:

“No Ferguson on Facebook last night. I scrolled. Refreshed.

This morning, though, my Facebook feed is also very heavily dominated by discussion of Ferguson. Many of those posts seem to have been written last night, but I didn’t see them then. Overnight, “edgerank” –or whatever Facebook’s filtering algorithm is called now?—?seems to have bubbled them up, probably as people engaged them more.
\
But I wonder: what if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure.

Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?

This isn’t about Facebook per se—maybe it will do a good job, maybe not—but the fact that algorithmic filtering, as a layer, controls what you see on the Internet. Net neutrality (or lack thereof) will be yet another layer determining this. This will come on top of existing inequalities in attention, coverage and control.

Twitter was also affected by algorithmic filtering. “Ferguson” did not trend in the US on Twitter but it did trend locally. [I’ve since learned from @gilgul that that it *briefly* trended but mostly trended at localities.] So, there were fewer chances for people not already following the news to see it on their “trending” bar. Why? Almost certainly because there was already national, simmering discussion for many days and Twitter’s trending algorithm (said to be based on a method called “term frequency inverse document frequency”) rewards spikes… So, as people in localities who had not been talking a lot about Ferguson started to mention it, it trended there though the national build-up in the last five days penalized Ferguson.
Algorithms have consequences.

I’m not quite sure that without the neutral side of the Internet—the livestreams whose “packets” were fast as commercial, corporate and moneyed speech that travels on our networks, Twitter feeds which are not determined by an opaque corporate algorithms but my own choices,—we’d be having this conversation.

So, I hope that in the coming days, there will be a lot written about race in America, about militarization of police departments, lack of living wage jobs in large geographic swaths of the country.

But keep in mind, Ferguson is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.

And despite a lot of dismal developments, this fight is far from over, and its enemy is cynicism and dismissal of this reality.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What happens to #Ferguson affects what happens to Ferguson.

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Media, Open Standards, P2P Rights, P2P Technology | No Comments »

Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
27th July 2014


Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde's prison conditions immediately

Peter Sunde

Our friend Nadia EL-Imam, from Edgeryders has alerted us to this important campaign. Please read the article below and  add your signature to the petition.


Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately

I am suffering tremendously – socially, physically, as well as psychologically – by the shortcomings of [the prison,] Västervik.” ~ Peter Sunde, aka Brokep

Peter is most famous as Brokep, co-founder and spokesperson of the Pirate Bay. But his impact extends far beyond file-sharing. He also worked tirelessly to support creators through the payment system/social site, Flattr, and is bringing encrypted messaging to the masses through the app, Hemlis.

But now he is suffering in the restrictive conditions of Västervik prison, poorly suited to a non-violent offender accused only of “crimes” related to copyright infringement and fighting for a free and open internet. 

Peter requested a transfer to a lower security class prison, specifically Tygelsjö, that would be more appropriate for his situation and would also allow him to be closer to his family, hopefully making his imprisonment more bearable. But weeks later, the Swedish authorities have not made any move to accommodate his request.

Peter has also requested access to food that he can actually eat. Prisons are required by law to provide a diet that respects prisoners’ beliefs, however the prison diet at Västervik is so severely lacking in vegetarian and vegan meals that Peter has lost at least 7 kilos (~15 pounds) in just a few weeks. Healthy vegetables and plant-based meals are a very simple request, but there has been no effort to accommodate his dietary needs. Peter is clearly suffering serious physical and psychological stress because of the lack of nutrition available to him.

This is no way for the prison authorities to treat any person in their care. The excessive restrictions are especially shameful for a non-violent offender like Peter Sunde. The Swedish Ministry of Justice, which oversees the Prison and Probation services, must act immediately to lift the disgraceful conditions he is being kept in and to relieve his suffering by:

  1. Transferring him to a lower class prison and
  2. Providing sufficient nutrition for a plant-based diet.


More information, descriptions of prison conditions, and Peter’s request for transfer:
https://www.aftonbladet.se/debatt/article19207648.ab (Swedish)
http://torrentfreak.com/losing-weight-pirate-bay-founder-requests-security-downgrade-140703/

And more on Peter’s other projects:
Hemlis – https://heml.is/

Flattr – https://flattr.com/

Photo Credit: Simon Klose

Click here to sign the petition

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Campaigns, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Events, Open Calls, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Save the Teatro Valle Commons in Rome!

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
14th July 2014


The three-year occupation of Teatro Valle in Rome is now legendary:  a spontaneous response to the failures of conventional government in supporting a venerated public theater, and the conversion of the theater into a commons by countless ordinary citizens.  Now the mayor of Rome is threatening to end the occupation, evict the commoners and privatize the management of the facility.

It’s time for the international community of commoners to take a public stand against this very real threat. The mayor has summoned Italian law scholar Ugo Mattei to meet with him on Monday to negotiate a resolution. In advance of that meeting, Mattei and Salvatore Settis, President of the Advisory Board of the Louvre Museum in Paris, have prepared an international petition calling on the mayor to back away from his proposal and to allow this historic experiment in commoning to continue.

Below is a copy of the petition.  You can express your support by sending you name and affiliation to Ugo Mattei at matteiu /at/ uchastings.edu.

A number of human rights scholars around the world are keenly interested in Teatro Valle.  Noted human rights scholar Anna Grear alerted the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and Environment that “the attempted denial of popular ‘ownership’ of ‘place’ is fundamental to the cultural and material enclosures enacted by privatising and controlling agendas.”  She added that “closing down an important, even iconic, example of a fundamentally vernacular, community-based engagement with place (a vibrant, evocative commons) is entirely consistent with the deeper logic visible in moves such as the attempt to control the world seed supplies and breeds, to extend the corporatisation of the social spheres, to privatise urban space in ways that shut ordinary human beings out of them in central and important respects.”

For more on the backstory of Teatro Valle, here is a previous blog post on the occupation from February 2013.  Below is the petition now circulating.  Sign it!

The commons “Italian Style” must continue their experimentation! An International call to protect the Teatro Valle Foundation from Eviction.

Since June 14 2011, a community of artists and militants has transformed the Teatro Valle, the oldest and most prestigious in Rome, then at high risk of privatization, into the “Teatro Valle Occupato,” one of the most advanced experiments of merger between political struggle and performing arts in the current world. A trust-like legal entity, the “Fondazione Teatro Valle Bene Comune,” was created in the interest of future generations, with a membership of almost 6,000 people by a genuinely new process of cooperation between some well-known jurists and the Assembly of the occupants. While a notary has recognized the Foundation, the Prefect of Rome has denied its moral personality on the assumption that possession was not a sufficient title on the Valle premises.

Nevertheless, in three years the occupation, though formally never authorized, has succeeded in becoming a new institution of the commons, studied by scholars worldwide and the object of many publications. Because no authority in Rome has ever asked the occupants to leave and the municipality has paid the energy bill (roughly 90,000 Euros per year), it would be difficult to deny that the occupation was largely tolerated (even by the previous post-fascist major). Certainly the occupants have taken very good care of the ancient Theater, including paying for small renovations, and have  generated three years of exceptionally interesting shows, performances, meeting, educational programs that the population could attend on the basis of a donation system according to the possibilities of each one. The Valle experience has also inspired similar actions to protect theaters and public spaces through Italy; it is promoting a nation-wide experiment of codification of commons institutions involving some twenty of the leading academic lawyers in Italy; it has produced its own shows performed Europe-wide and has attracted to the Valle some of the best-known artists and intellectuals in Europe.

The European Cultural Foundation, among others has granted the prestigious Princess Margritt Award to the Teatro Valle and the ZKM of Karsrhue has devoted to that experience a stand in a recent major International exhibition on social movements worldwide.

After the European Elections last May, possibly as a consequence of an ill-conceived legalistic stance by the new Government, early negotiations to settle the dispute concerning the title to the Theater have been suddenly terminated as the Assessor of Rome responsible for culture in Rome has been removed and not replaced. As a reply to the Foundation request to resume negotiations, the new major of Rome, a member of the ruling Democratic Party and a well-known academic doctor, has released two days ago a statement asking the occupants to leave, threatening police intervention and proposing a public auction to privatize the management of the space.

This cannot happen! The city of Rome, as a cultural center of the world deserves a better solution to the Valle issue. We strongly plea the Italian political authorities to look for a method which facilitates rather than repressing institutional and cultural experiments to run the commons.

Ugo Mattei, Professor, The University of California, Hastings and Università di Torino.

Salvatore Settis, President of the Advisory Board of the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Please sign this international petition with affiliation.


Originally posted at bollier.org

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Campaigns, Cognitive Capitalism, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Original Content, P2P Foundation, Politics | No Comments »

The Former CIA Spy Who Discovered the Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
3rd July 2014


Robert David Steele

A few weeks ago, The Guardian ran a profile of Robert David Steele, a former CIA spy who discovered the commons more than two decades ago and never looked back. Steele, a former U.S. Marine and CIA case officer who spent 18 years in US intelligence, is now, improbably, a vigorous advocate of “open source everything” – the title of his latest book. He brings the zeal of a convert to the mission of promoting the commons and open-source alternatives of every stripe.

As The Guardian’s Nafeez Ahmed writes, Steele discovered the virtues of open source software in the early 1990s and quickly began proselytizing the “Open Source Intelligence” paradigm to US military and intelligence sources and to US allies in dozens of countries. Steele saw (and sees) open source knowledge as the key to discovering the truth, assuring social legitimacy and moving ahead intelligently:

“Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realise such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth — all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the ‘utopia’ that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach.”

Suffice it to say, the CIA and its intelligence peers were not persuaded by such views, notwithstanding its embrace in 2005 of its collaborative intelligence version of Wikipedia, Intellipedia. Open source everything is another matter, apparently, because of the democratic accountability it would require.

I don’t know Steele, but I’ve seen his videos and dipped into his writings, and he seems to bring a deep intelligence and big-picture perspective to analyzing our global and civilizational problems. His self-stated goal is to hasten “the transition from top-down secret command and control to a world of bottom-up, consensual, collective decision-making as a means to solve the major crises facing our world today.” That’s a description from his book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust.

Steele is a prolific reviewer of books for Amazon, which may explain why he pestered me several times, as a stranger out of the blue, to re-post on Amazon my positive blog post about historian Peter Linebaugh’s book on the commons and enclosures, Stop, Thief! I did. That’s the kind of energy and zeal that Steele brings to his mission of promoting commons-based solutions in all their variety.

In the words of The Guardian’s Ahmed, Steele provides “an interdisciplinary ‘whole systems’ approach [that] dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises.”

Ahmed called Steele’s book “a pragmatic roadmap to a new civilisational paradigm that simultaneously offers a trenchant, unrelenting critique of the prevailing global order. His interdisciplinary ‘whole systems’ approach dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises.”

Steele continues:

“We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making. Power was centralised in the hands of increasingly specialised ‘elites’ and ‘experts’ who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted.”

Today’s capitalism, he tells Ahmed, is inherently predatory and destructive:

“Over the course of the last centuries, the commons was fenced, and everything from agriculture to water was commoditised without regard to the true cost in non-renewable resources. Human beings, who had spent centuries evolving away from slavery, were re-commoditised by the Industrial Era.

“For Steele, the open source revolution is inevitable, simply because the demise of the system presided over by the 1% cannot be stopped – and because the alternatives to reclaiming the commons are too dismal to contemplate. We have no choice but to step up.

“My motto, a play on the CIA motto that is disgraced every day, is ‘the truth at any cost lowers all other costs’”, he tells me [Ahmed]. “Others wiser than I have pointed out that nature bats last. We are at the end of an era in which lies can be used to steal from the public and the commons. We are at the beginning of an era in which truth in public service can restore us all to a state of grace.”

A remarkable story of a singular advocate. Here is a YouTube video of a recent presentation by Steele.


Originally published at bollier.org and featuring additional commentary by Steele.

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Media, Open Access, Open Content, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, Politics | No Comments »

Putting the “Sharing” Back into the Sharing Economy

photo of Guy James

Guy James
27th June 2014


Adam W. Parsons of www.sharing.org

Adam W. Parsons of www.sharing.org

Adam W. Parsons of www.sharing.org, writing for dissidentvoice.org, provides a clear explanation of the encroaching enclosure of the commons and tendency for existing social relationships to become monetized, ironically under the monicker of the ‘sharing economy’, and suggests ways in which true P2P sharing matrices can be strengthened.

 


Far from promoting communitarian values, providing an answer to overconsumption or increasing social equity, for example, a growing number of critics attest that sharing-oriented business models are taking us in the opposite direction – such as by undercutting unionised labour, benefitting from unfair competition, encouraging de-regulated and precarious employment, and even by robbing cities of vital public money.

In recent years, a new kind of economy based on the age-old practice of sharing is flourishing across North America and Europe, and is now rapidly spreading in popularity throughout the Middle East and other world regions. Human beings may have shared since time immemorial, but information technology and peer-to-peer networks have given rise to an innovative trend in modern societies – the sharing economy, which enables people to ‘share’ various goods and services with their peers in everything from cars and bikes to food, office space, spare rooms, even time and expertise. Countless articles and reports have now evaluated the many social and economic benefits of accessing rather than owning resources, while many proponents of the sharing economy uphold the potential of sharing as a social change strategy and ‘a call to action for environmentalists’. Indeed a growing chorus of pioneers within this self-professed social movement hail it as an approaching transformation of society on a par with the industrial revolution, and ‘the defining economic story of the 21st century’.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Commons, Crowdfunding, P2P Business Models, Sharing | 1 Comment »

Essay of the day: Wu-Ming on Beppe Grillo and the 5-Star Movement

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th June 2014


Beppe Grillo

Over here the situation is very bad, and people abroad are completely disinformed about it. Every day we read nonsense and bullshit on Grillo by people who completely ignore the reactionary, authoritarian nature of his movement. A harsh reality is biting our arses and we need to send a message in a bottle right now. 

So begins a fascinating long form essay published by the Italian writers’ collective Wu Ming in their resurrected-for-the-occasion blog. The essay is over a year old but no less relevant now, especially in light of the recent European election results. Beware of easy populism and the misappropriation of the terminology of the commons.


[A week ago a prestigious British magazine asked us for a long piece on Grillismo. We wrote it and submitted it, but there was some misunderstanding, and they edited it too heavily for our own taste. We clarified the matter with them, but at that point we were way beyond the deadline and the issue went to print without our contribution. Too bad, but no grudge held. The piece was too long - almost 5,000 words - to submit it to any other mag or newspaper, let them do all the editing all over again and have it published in a reasonable lapse of time. Over here the situation is very bad, and people abroad are completely disinformed about it. Every day we read nonsense and bullshit on Grillo by people who completely ignore the reactionary, authoritarian nature of his movement. A harsh reality is biting our arses and we need to send a message in a bottle right now. In the end, having no other possibility, we decided to publish the piece on this ugly, obsolete, long neglected blog, which is in bad need of complete reconstruction and a new start, but even in its present form is better than nothing. Of course it isn't as authoritative as that London magazine, and potential circulation is ludicrous in comparison, but what else can we do? Please feel free to copy our analysis and republish it wherever you want. Thanks.]
-

«Marriage is a bond between a man and a woman. How can you institute marriage between two persons of the same sex? Why not marriage between three persons then? Why not marriage between you and your animal? Some people have a strong relationship with their animal, would you allow them to marry it?»
(Francesco Perra, 5SM candidate at the recent national election, 8 June 2012 )

There is much confusion in other countries about what has been taking place in Italy in the past five years – the era of Late Berlusconism – and what is going on after the latest national election. At the time of writing, nobody knows what government Italy will have. No stable government can be formed without the vote of confidence of the Five Star Movement, the political organisation led by former stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo and web marketing guru Gianroberto Casaleggio. The 5SM, which stood for national election for the first time, gained 25.5% of votes for the Chamber of Deputies and 23.8% for the Senate.

Dario Fo

Dario Fo

Several Left-wing and progressive commentators tend to look with a certain sympathy to the Five Star Movement. They heard that evenDario Fo, a famously leftist Nobel Prize Winner, endorsed Grillo during the campaign. They think that Grillo’s fiery, pied-piperesque speeches are just a bit of theatre – he used to be a comedian after all.
Indeed, news from Italy are baffling as usual, but in the end, many have the impression that the 5SM is a populist movement oscillating between the progressive and radical quarters of the political spectrum. A movement having features in common with other anti-austerity movements and mobilisations across southern Europe (Portugal, Greece, Spain, Slovenia).
People who make that assumption should – literally – know better.
Trouble is, many Italians should know better too.

Simone Di Stefano: «Are you an antifascist?»
Beppe Grillo: «This question doesn’t concern me. 5SM is an ecumenical movement.»
(Conversation between Grillo and one of the top leaders of neofascist party CasaPound,11 January 2013 )

Some of you may have Italian friends who used to place themselves to the Left and recently chose to vote for the 5SM, or even become 5SM activists. We bet they didn’t tell you about the more right-wing aspects of the movement, because you’d certainly ask them: «I beg your pardon? You’re doing political work side by side with fascists? You’ve joined a movement that rejects the very notion of antifascism? A movement that wants to abolish trade unions?! You voted for a guy who praises Ron Paul and US-style ‘libertarianism’? Mate, what’s wrong with you?», and they’d have to scramble for self-justifications.

«Before it degenerated, fascism had a sense of national community (which it took directly from socialism), the highest respect for the state and a will to protect the [institution of] family.»
(Roberta Lombardi, 5SM member of Parliament, 21 January 2013 )

Your friends are probably aware of those aspects, but either underestimate them or instantly remove them, because they’re too disquieting. Such is the disgust toward «the old political system» that criticising a «new» movement is deemed as a manifestation of pedantry and intellectual luxury: «First of all, let’s give a shoulder push to the rotten political establishment, then we’ll talk about Grillo’s faults. We can’t afford that now!»
To us, this is a very dangerous approach.

1. How rancour towards «The Caste» helped prevent social conflict

La castaMany factors can explain Grillo’s success. The Zero years were a decade of social devastation, in which social movements encountered thundering defeats, while Late Berlusconism was fostering cultural and moral bankruptcy with the complicity of the long-discredited «centre-left».
Then, at the beginning of the new decade, the Euro crisis hit us between the eyes.
During the summer of 2011, the capitalist class and the European Central Bank decided that Berlusconi’s government was completely dysfunctional and unfit to enforce the «necessary» austerity measures. Despite a vast majority in both branches of Parliament, with a sort of legal coup the «centre-right» government was replaced with a «technical» government led by Mario Monti, a neoliberal economist long associated with Goldman Sachs and the Trilateral Commission.

Monti’s government was supported, albeit grudgingly, by both the centre-right and the centre-left. To tell the truth, the centre-left gave the impression of supporting Monti lessgrudgingly than the centre-right. In the end, the Democratic Party appeared more responsible than Berlusconi for the aggressive austerity measures which worsened the condition of the working class and the lower middle class in 2012. Something similar happened in Greece, where Papandreou’s Socialist Party was more strictly associated with cuts than the right-wing party New Democracy was.
The difference is that Greece witnessed mass demonstrations and general strikes against austerity, the IMF, the European Central Bank and so on, whereas in Italy social discontent was channelled toward a different target: the so-called «Caste».

«The Caste vs. the Honest People» is the most powerful conceptual frame in today’s Italy.
The Caste: How Italian politicians became untouchable is the title of a best-selling book written by two journalists, Gian Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo. It was published in 2007 and covered the ways in which national and local politicians used taxpayers’ money to become parasitic oligarchs. The book’s title provided the perfect metaphor to frame the debate on politics into a new version of a classic right-wing dichotomy: «ordinary people» are «clean», whereas «politicians» are «dirty». Indeed, they are not only dirty, they’re the biggest problem in the country. Let’s get rid of politicians, and everything will be ok!
The fact that politicians are in office precisely because the good ordinary people repeatedly voted for them is rarely mentioned.

Flavio Briatore

Flavio Briatore

«The Caste vs. the Honest People» proved to be the perfect diversionary narrative. Anger and frustration were channelled toward members of parliament, their salaries, public funding to political parties etc., all of which are real but lesser problems of the system. Meanwhile, austerity measures and eurocratic neoliberal policies were ravaging society, encountering no opposition. Unlike in Greece, Spain and Portugual, there was no mass movement fighting back.
It goes without saying that the real «caste» – the caste of millionaires, top CEOs, financial speculators and the likes – didn’t pay any price for the situation they had created. We even heard such tycoons asFlavio Briatore making anti-Caste statements, slagging off politicians and so on.

To name but one concrete consequence of the «Caste vs. the People» frame, this depoliticising narrative made the idea of a «technical» government acceptable, indeed, even desirable. Public opinion was brought to believe that a government with no politicians would be better than any traditional government. That’s why Mario Monti took advantage of an extended «honeymoon period» and was able to pass draconian acts that impoverished the majority of the population.

The «Caste vs. People» frame was activated in the political debate slightly before the 5SM came into existence, and paved the highway for it.
What Grillo and Casaleggio did on their own was extending the concept of «Caste» to include almost all civil servants, whom the 5SM rhetoric turns into mere parasites. In one of his most infamous blog posts, Grillo demanded that «tens of thousand of public employees [be] laid off». As Rossana Dettori – a leader of CGIL trade union – correctly pointed out, behind the phrases that Grillo uses in an abstract way (eg «public employees») there are hospitals and emergency rooms, firefighters, schools and kindergartens, social services for the elderly and the gravely ill, «as well as democratic institutions which ensure that such services keep working».

Truth is, Italy’s public sector has the highest rate of union enrollment and activity. 78.79% of public employees take part to the election of their workplace union representatives (RSU). Therefore, the real targets of Grillo’s invective against public employees are trade unions. He called for the utter«elimination» of trade unions more than once.

2. Mock «anti-austerity», mock radicalism

Not that Grillo doesn’t mention capitalism, the faults of bankers etc. He does it. However, there’s no peculiarity in that part of his discourse, he simply revives all the cliches of European right-wing populisms. The issue is framed in a simplistic neo-nationalist way: «real» capitalism (ie productive capitalism) is described as good because it is rooted in the territory, whereas financial economy is degenerate because it’s in the hands of evil transnational cliques and lobbie groups. Since the Euro is the main cause of the present crisis, if Italy leaves the Eurozoneand gets rid of politicians and kicks «tens of thousands» of (unionised) employees out of the public sector, then we’ll have the conditions for entering a new golden age.

Gad Lerner

Gad Lerner

We all know that there’s often an antisemitic streak underlying this kind of talk about «nationless» enemies. Is it a coincidence that antisemitic tirades and insults are frequent in the below-the-line section of Grillo’s blog? In November 2012 a guest-blogger on beppegrillo.it attacked Gad Lerner, a Jewish journalist who dared criticise Grillo, by calling him «Gad Vermer».Verme is italian for «worm», a classic insult in the antisemitic repertoire.

The most important thing to say about Grillo’s «anti-austerity» and anti-financial stance is that it’s just a façade. It’s a joke. At the end of the day Grillo is a multi-millionaire, for Christ’s sake!
Whenever a conservative populist movement is voted in office or takes over, their «anticapitalist», anti-finance rhetoric evaporates very soon and they end up administering the present state of things, financial capitalism included.

Maybe that’s why Jim O’Neill, the retiring chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, recently wrote:

«I find the [Italian Election] outcome quite exciting because it seems to me for a country whose GDP has basically not changed since EMU started in 1999, something big needs to change. Maybe this election outcome and the peculiar mass appeal of the Five Star movement could signal the start of something new?»

Did we say «Goldman Sachs»? A few days ago, Grillo stated that the 5SM parliamentary groups were willing to vote for a new «technical» government including no politicians, because they would never vote confidence in any political government. They were even willing to support a «Monti Bis», a second Monti government, albeit with a limited mandate and strictly controlled by the new parliament. After months spent calling the premier «Rigor Montis», Grillo implicitly said that the former international advisor for Goldman Sachs is the «lesser evil» compared to political parties.
It was just a fleeting glimpse of naked truth, then the former comedian changed position one more time. Now he’s saying that he wants to conquer «100% of parliament» so «citizens become the state» and the movement «will no longer need to exist», which of course doesn’t mean anything but is good for causing a sensation.

[N.B. The last political leader to conquer 100% of Italian parliament and overlap his movement with the state ended up hanging upside down in a Milan square. It happened twenty-six years too late, but nowadays things happen faster, you know, there's the Internet and so on. Jokes apart, Grillo should study the history of his country before making such provocative statements, they aren't known to bring good luck to anyone.]

In case you still cling to your prior impression that Grillo’s movement is anti-austerity and radical, or at least a force for concrete change, why not take a look at what 5SM has been doing in the towns and cities they administer? For example, let’s look at what mayor Federico Pizzarotti did in Parma.
The key point of Pizzarotti’s campaign was opposition to the construction of a big incinerator whose impact on the environment and the health of citizens was considered catastrophic. In June 2012 Grillo himself stated: «They will never build that incinerator, if they want to build it they will have to step on the mayor’s dead body!». When journalistMarco Travaglio asked Grillo about the penalties the city would have to pay to contractors and subcontractors, he gave this answer: «Let’s not be silly: If paying the penalties is obligatory, we’ll find a way to pay them.» Well, the incinerator was turned on on 3 March 2013. The city couldn’t pay the penalties. Nobody had to step on Pizzarotti’s corpse.

During his campaign, Pizzarotti also promised that he wouldn’t raise the house tax and the boarding charge for public kindergartens. After he was elected, he raised both and explained: «We couldn’t do anything else». Like any other politician.
Now he’s planning to cut the salaries of city employees.

3. Right-wing influences on the Five Star Movement

Guglielmo Giannini

Guglielmo Giannini

Grillo’s rhetoric is chock-full of elements that can be traced back to different right-wing traditions, which he and Casaleggio meddle into a toxic jumble.
The most recognizable tradition is that of European conservative populism. In France this approach is known aspoujadisme, after its main 20th century promoter Pierre Poujade. In Italy, we usually call it qualunquismo [which we could translate as 'anyoneism'], after a mass petty bourgeiois movement founded by playwright Guglielmo Giannini in 1946.
Another tradition is US «libertarianism» / «anarcho-capitalism»: Ayn RandRon Paul, that kind of stuff. This influence is detectable in several parts of the 5SM programme. One of the movement’s most known representatives, Vittorio Bertola, explicitly stated «I like Ron Paul».
Of course, in Grillo’s rants we can also find the usual set of Thatcherite tropes and cliches which have become commonplace all over the West.
All these traditions have some basic features in common, one of which is hatred for trade unions and, generally, for the workers’ collective organisation and conquests, like national contracts etc. This hostility permeates all of Grillo’s speeches.

The reason why it is such an ungrateful task to expose the right-wing elements of Grillo’s rhetoric, is that confusionism is an intentional strategy. Grillo repeatedly screams that «there are no Left and Right anymore!». Meanwhile, he and Casaleggio skillfully intersperse the right-wing elements with left-wing ones, reproposing buzzwords, concepts and claims they hijacked from the previous social movements. These concepts are reprocessed, they receive a treatment that strips all articulations and leaves them void of all content. The most striking example is «direct democracy».

4. Direct democracy, Führerprinzip and character assassination

Despite all the talk about direct democracy or online liquid feedback, the 5SM is a top-down organisation with no intermediate bodies between Grillo and Casaleggio and the populace of fans/activists. Every major decision is taken by those two wealthy sixty-somethings, and «direct democracy» only amounts to calling on the base to approve it in a tele-plebiscitarian way.

In the 2011-2012 period, the 5SM of Emilia-Romagna (the region whose capital is Bologna, the city in which we live) was stormed by a wave of expulsions. «Dissidents» like Giovanni FaviaValentino TavolazziFederica Salsi and many others dared question the absence of internal democracy. As a consequence, they were kicked out and exposed to angry online mobs. Expulsions were decided by Grillo and Casaleggio and communicated to the world by short posts on beppegrillo.it.
Local activists expressed solidarity with the expelled and organised meetings in which the majority voted in favour of readmission, but their vote was completely overruled by the two bosses.
The final step was the use of the Internet to slander the expelled in all possible ways. «Loyal» grillini devoted their time and efforts to disrupting all online conversations in which anyone defended the «traitors» and criticised Grillo and Casaleggio for their clearly autocratic behaviour.

Federica Salsi

Federica Salsi

5SM local leaders seem to have no hesitation in using «lynching» as a positive concept. On 2 March 2013Andrea Defranceschi, 5SM representative at the Emilia-Romagna council, stated: «If some of us betray the movement, the Internet will lynch them.»
By «lynching», of course, Defranceschi means the character assassination of dissidents. If anyone dares disagree with Grillo and Casaleggio, their reputation must be destroyed, and this destruction shall continue long after the expulsion. These people cannot be simply left alone, their blog or Facebook page must be bombarded with derogatory comments every day. In a matter of few months, local councillor Giovanni Favia shifted from being revered as the very incarnation of 5SM values to being described as the vilest traitor. And if the dissident is a woman, sexist insults will rain on her: «whore», «bitch» and the rest of the repertoire. That’s what happened to Federica Salsi.
This is a clear manifestation of cult mentality and, in fact, the 5SM is often described as a cult. It is often compared to Scientology. Scientology rejected the comparison.

You may ask: how can Grillo and Casaleggio get away with all that?
Well, it’s all written in the movement’s  «Non-Statute».
The «Non-Statute» is a very short text which, for years, has been the only written document regulating the movement’s internal life. It mainly says that the 5SM’s name and logo arethe sole property of Beppe Grillo and that the movement’s «headquarters» are located on Grillo’s weblog, beppegrillo.it.

If you already think that the 5SM notion of «online direct democracy» is bizarre to say the least, well, wait, you haven’t seen anything yet! We suggest you to watch a sort of video-manifesto which Casaleggio authored and produced in 2007. It’s entitled Gaia: The Future of Politics. «Creepy» is the right adjective for the anarcho-capitalist future Casaleggio enthusiastically envisions.

How do pro-Grillo leftists or former leftists react when someone points out these serious problems?

5. Fascists in Grillo’s (and Berlusconi’s) Fatherland

Before answering that question, it is necessary to make clear that the vast majority of both 5SM activists and sympathisers do not come from the radical Left. Most of them are quite young and have no previous political experience (or even position);  others come from the right and even the radical right.

In several areas of the country, the backbone of consent for the 5SM is formed by people who previously supported Berlusconi, the xenophobic Northern League, and in some cases utterly neofascist parties such as New Force and Tricolour Flame. In 2012, when the 5SM won the election in Parma and managed to elect Federico Pizzarotti as mayor of the city, the biggest chunk of votes (25.9%) came from people who had previously chosen the Northern League.
After all, Grillo’s and the 5SM position on immigration and minorities is very close to that of the NL. We quote from one of his blog posts , its title was «The Desacred Borders» and was published on beppegrillo.it in october 2007:

«A country cannot PASS THE BUCK TO ITS CITIZENS in dealing with the problems caused by tens of thousands of Roma gypsies coming to Italy from Romania. Prodi’s objection is always the same: Romania is in Europe. But what does ‘Europe’ means? SAVAGE MIGRATIONS of jobless persons from one country to another? Without knowing the language, with nowhere to put them up? Every day I receive hundreds of letters on Roma gypsies, it’s a volcano, A TIME BOMB, and it must be defused… What is a government that doesn’t guarantee the safety of its citizens good for?… The borders of the fatherland used to be sacred, politicians have desacred them.»

Last but not least, Casaleggio himself is a former sympathiser of the Northern League.

According to attorney Vincenzo Forte - an ex-leader of the neofascist Italian Social Movement and now a supporter of Grillo – three of the new 5SM MPs and one 5SM senator (all four elected in Lombardy) have a radical neofascist background. Forte didn’t reveal their names but added:

«These are not isolated cases, it’s a much more vast, deep-rooted phenonemon, a carefully organised strategy to penetrate Grillo’s movement. This strategy is being carried out with maximum discretion by local neofascist groups. »

The 5SM has no ethical or theoretical defence against this, because Grillo and Casaleggio have staunchly refused to adopt antifascism as a differentiating value. Grillo wants the movement to be «ecumenical» and antifascism «doesn’t concern him».

Silvio Berlusconi after too many facelifts.

It is far from incomprehensible that many fascists, berlusconesand leghisti are now looking to Grillo. Not only they like many of the things he says, but he also embodies their idealtype of the Strong Man mesmering enthusiastic crowds. To these people, Berlusconi and Bossi were no longer strong/fascinating enough, for they became too compromised with «old politics« and «the Caste». That’s why these angry petty bourgeois are making an emotional investment on someone they see as a new leader.
Moreover, there are deep similarities between Berlusconi and Grillo. They are both living testimonies of how the 1980s entertainment and television industry reshaped Italy’s national life. Journalist Giuliano Santoro wrote a very interesting book about this, it is entitled Un Grillo qualunque: Il populismo digitale nella crisi dei partiti italiani [A Grillo whatsoever: Digital populism in the crisis of Italian parties].
As a matter of fact, one cannot fully understand Grillo if s/he didn’t understand Berlusconi. Three years ago, in a piece for theLondon Review of Books, we easily predicted that after the fall of Berlusconi there would be a Berlusconism-without-Berlusconi. Nowadays things are even worse, because Berlusconi «fell» but is still around and 29.1% of voters have chosen him for the umpteenth time. As a result, we have both old, classic berlusconism-with-Berlusconi, and a new kind of berlusconism without him. Giuliano Santoro wrote that «Grillo is the continuation of Berlusconi by other means.»

6. TINA, TITA and the 5SM’ «neitherism»

Now let’s focus on those leftists and ex-leftists who are – critically or uncritically – giving their trust to 5SM. We want to focus on them for two reasons:
First, it is important to understand what consequences the Left’s absence or bankruptcy can have during a crisis like the current one;
Secondly, we have noticed that the representation of Grillo’s movement among radicals and progressives abroad is more or less a synthesis of the two typical discourses uttered by Italian pro-Grillo radicals – only with much less information available.
We call these discourses «5SM TINA» and «5SM TITA».

These days, each time we talk with veterans of yesterday’s struggles who voted for the 5SM, and try to reason with them, the most likely words we manage to extract from their mouths is:

«Yes, I do know it’s an ambiguous movement. I’m not at ease with everything they say and do. Yeees, yes, their agenda is partly neoliberal. Their statements on migrants are unacceptable. I don’t like the blend of populism and corporate jargon either. I’m suspicious of the personality cult surrounding Grillo, and the role played by Casaleggio isn’t clear. I agree with you, there’s more than a little bit of fanaticism within the movement. I did see pro-5SM trolls in action on the Internet. I agree with you, those mass expulsions make me think of 1937 stalinist purges. Do you think I’m blind? Of course I see that fascists are also joining… And yet some of the 5SM claims and proposals are exactly the same that we’ve been making for years! Their program includes the «citizens’ income», the defence of commons, ecology… I know many decent people who’ve become 5SM activists. Maybe we can tactically use the 5SM in order to smash the old political system, they’re doing that, aren’t they? Nobody managed to do that before. Why not try and see what happens after the shoulder push? There Is No Alternative anyway. The left is dead.»

This is what we call the Five-Starred Leftist «There Is No Alternative» Discourse. It is based on a classical Yes/But device: people say they agree on all the critical issues, which are many, then they say something like «but» or «and yet», and even if the adversative is sustained only by wishful thinking, it wipes out everything they just acknowledged.

In short: they understand that the 5SM is a confusionist movement with a dominant right-wing approach to many key issues, but the movement’s success and the fact that some proposals have Left-wing origins make them hope this is a good opportunity to «do something».
To us, «doing something» is not necessarily a good line of conduct. It depends on what you do. Sometimes it’s better not to do anything than doing something stupid. Mistaking a right-wing movement for a left-leaning one is definitely stupid.

Other former leftists are buying whatever story Grillo and the 5SM tell them. They utter another discourse, the Five-Starred Ex-Leftist «This Is The Alternative» Discourse:

«What you’re saying is false. You believed the vicious lies that the Caste spreads around. There are certainly some racists, because the movement is open to everyone, but they’re minorities. The majority are people like you and me who want to fight the system. We’ll keep racists in check. Those who were kicked out of the movement were opportunists and infiltrators sent by the old parties. They violated the Non-Statute. Grillo is not a leader, he’s nothing other than a megaphone. The fact that he legally owns the movement’s name and logo is only a guarantee that local sections will respect the Non-Statute. I trust him. When the movement is strong enough, Grillo will step aside. Casaleggio only suggests communication strategies, there’s nothing dark or ambiguous about that. This Is The Alternative, at last! I’ve been waiting for something like this for years, don’t ruin everything with your usual criticism!»

Notice the classic faith in a «two-stage» process: in the current situation Grillo has necessarily to play a major role; later on, he will surely step aside.
In the history of communist movements, all personality cults were invariably described as merely «transitional».
In 1958 Mao Zedong famously argued that there is nothing wrong in personality cult in and of itself. It depends whether that personality represents revolutionary truth or not.
Eighty-seven year old Dario Fo, to mention but one name, was very close to maoism during the 1970s.
This mindset facilitated the conversion of former communists to Grillismo. In this way, we think they ended up on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
When did such a thing happen last time?
It happened in the early Twenties.

Programma di San Sepolcro, 1919

Exactly.
The 5SM’s catch-all programme cannot but remind us of early fascism’s Programme of San Sepolcro (1919). In those days, fascism was still a «neitherist» movement («neither left nor right») launching «revolutionary» slogans in every direction.
In 2011, when we started citing that historical precedent, many people sneered at us. Then, on 5 March 2013, Roberta Lombardi – fresh president of the 5SM group at the Chamber of Deputies – made an explicitly positive reference to the Programme of San Sepolcro in order to explain the unacceptable statement we used as one of the epigraphs of this article.

Are we arguing that, when all is said and done, the 5SM is a fascist movement?
The answer is: no.
For sure there are fascists in there, and certainly the right-wing elements of the programme are more relevant than the left-wing ones. However, the 5SM is indebted with different right-wing traditions, a part of its constituency is still on the left, and labelling the movement as merely fascist would be too simplistic.
What we’re trying to say is that, especially in Italy, confusionist «neitherism» always thrives on economic and political crisis, and a part of the Left is tempted to listen to that siren song. Those who don’t resist the temptation invariably end up on the Right, be they aware of it or not.

7. Now what?

Why aren’t foreign correspondents living in Italy saying these things? They write about Grillo every day, but they rarely provide insights on the movement’s inner contradictions. Maybe these contradictions are less visibile if one doesn’t have a deep knowledge of our national history? And yet racist, homophobic or aynrandesque statements should be recognizable in all contexts. We don’t have a clear answer for such questions.

Gianroberto Casaleggio

Gianroberto Casaleggio, co-leader and media guru of 5SM.

What’s going to happen now?
As far as «change» (that empty word) is concerned, probably much less than everyone expects. As we tried to demonstrate above, the 5SM is far from being a radical force and its programme is full of «solutions» that are actually part of the problem. Even on the very day of the election, while many commentators were jumping on Grillo’s bandwagon, we wrote that, despite its incendiary slogans, the 5SM acts as a diversionary movement and prevents social conflict from erupting. Grillo says that himself, although of course he calls conflict «violence»: «If violence doesn’t start here, it’s because of the movement».
As often happens with populist movements, Grillo’s movement will apparently destabilise national politics, but it will only ripple the surface, and in doing so it will stabilise the system. That’s why pro-Grillo excitement can be found in such an unlikely place as Goldman Sachs.

We hope that progressives and radicals who joined the 5SM, or sympathise with 5SM, or at least voted for it, understand that the tiresome «neither left nor right» stance can no longer hide all the contradictions we highlighted.
We recently wrote that «we’ll side with rebellion inside the 5SM». What does that mean?
It means that we expect these contradictions to get ever sharper, to intensify until they explode. The movement’s «Left» must overcome TINA and TITA, manifest itself in a clear way and reject both the agenda of the «Right» and Grillo’s blank, confusionist rhetoric. Internal conflict is not an implausible outcome of this phase. We must look at that process with great attention, and be there when some of the energies that Grillo and Casaleggio captured will manage to get free from that grip. Those energies can be invested into a more consistent, unambiguous, radical movement. That’s why we tifiamo rivolta, we «cheer for a riot» inside the 5SM.

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