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Archive for 'Empire'

Book of the Day: The New Ecopolitical Nations

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th September 2014


* Book: Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation. by Ignasi Ribó. Mycelia Books, 2012

This summary description is followed by a review and an excerpt:

“A new world is emerging under the rusted structures of the nation-state. Catalonia, Scotland, Quebec, Flanders, the Basque Country may soon be sovereign and independent states. The process of breaking up the large Western states into ecologically and socially meaningful political communities may have just started and could lead to a more democratic and sustainable world system. In Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation, the Catalan author Ignasi Ribó develops a new and original theory of the nation, in order to show that there is indeed a real alternative to the model of the nation-state and to the modern project of building increasingly larger states. The habitat-nation, founded on the inhabitants’ deliberate choice of living together and on the ecoliberal principles of justice, could well be the theoretical framework for this new world that is just starting to emerge, both in Europe and in America. ”

Review by Mike Menser:

“Ignasi Ribó’s Habitat is an engaging treatise focused upon one of the most pressing questions facing the global ecological movement: what is the appropriate political unit for fostering the social cohesion necessary to respond effectively to the ecological crisis? Should we be hyperlocalists intensely protecting every intimate inch of our everyday life? Green statists pressuring our presidents to bring about a sustainable economy? Or nomadic cosmopolitans, linking together across any and every boundary in an attempt to make a truly global, multi-everything eco-community?

Ribó rules out all three. States are too focused on securing sovereignty via militaries and/or markets to be socially sane, much less ecologically sound. Hyperlocalists cannot have a big enough impact, and cosmopolitans lack the embedded commitments needed to foster trust and cooperation. Instead Ribó calls for an approach that will make left progressives uneasy and right wing conservatives puzzled: ecological nationalism (85) grounded in the principles of autonomy, reciprocity, care, and friendship (134). The argument goes as follows. To solve the ecological crisis we must live sustainably. Sustainability means living together with other humans and nonhumans so as to be able to preserve and reproduce all those conditions necessary for our collective survival. After a jaunt through some evolutionary biology, Ribó focuses on intersecting the ecological, social and political dimensions of cohabitation (the economic is not addressed). The place of cohabitation is “habitat.” The mechanisms by which we come to operate in a habitat are “habits.” Human beings are, fundamentally, in a sort of ecological Hume-an twist, bundles of habits. Indeed, all organisms are complexes of habits. There is no great chain of being composed of beings with distinct essences, but rather a number of bioregional assemblies of different ways of being in the world: habit-complexes with different modes of obtaining energy, perceiving, reproducing, dwelling, fending off prey, and so on (124). But even if humans are members of the great earth community, we are dissimilar, since we form deliberative political communities in order to pursue the good life. Humans choose to live together.

This seemingly trivial tenet—what Ribó calls “cohabitation”—constitutes the basis for his ecopolitical view. In order to live together, we need to foster habits that promote the trust necessary for coexistence. The project then is not about (cultural) identity or citizenship (my relationship with some abstracted state-based demos), it is about everyday life and the bonds we develop with our cohabitants, all those who make the systems and institutions I require for my life, and autonomy, possible. Ribó writes, “Wherever a particular bioregion, that is, the geographical coincidence of a biological and a social community, is able to uphold these effective relations of justice founded on the habits of autonomy, reciprocity and friendship, we can properly speak of a habitat-nation” (98–9). According to Ribó, examples of such places are Basque Country, Spain [sic], and the Scandinavian states. The distinctiveness of these places arises not from abstracted relationships to the state (e.g., the notion of citizenship) or transcendental moral orthodoxy of rational persons, but the commitment of the inhabitants to each other and to their place. According to ecopolitical theory, on the contrary, the political community should be articulated from meaningful social communities “bound to a certain natural habitat” (192). The foundation of the community is friendship, the “deliberate choice of living together” (192–3). This does not require common language or religion, but is instead based upon the norms necessary for just cohabitation: autonomy, care, reciprocity, and friendship.

Such units are just when they recognize the freedom of inhabitants (the principle of autonomy), as well as the obligations that arise because of our interdependent contributions (reciprocity). But what really makes these units work is friendship, which gives them a coherence born of trust that also allows for the development of the capabilities of said inhabitants with respect to their desires and aims (the principle of care). The boundaries of the system needed for the just reproduction of our society we call the habitat-nation. Ribó then makes a moral argument for a just inhabitation utilizing an unusual reconstruction of a Rawlsian framework with a dose of Aristotle. What does justice as fairness look like in the habitat-nation? In Ribó’s reconstructed “original position,” not only do we not know our economic position or natural talents, we do not know our species! We could be “humans, starlings or martians”. He writes, “It would make much more sense therefore to conceive the original position as a hypothetical meeting of indeterminate individuals who know they will inhabit the political community resulting from their contract, but are unaware of the natural, social, or specific characteristics within this community”.

While many will find much to disagree with in this reinterpretation, Ribó’s rendering of justice as fairness and his understanding that inequality must benefit the whole society (principle of care as applied to the habitat-nation) is his ecopolitical attempt to respect the autonomy of individuals with respect to the rest of the group. What is more intriguing is that he deems the primary good to be cohabitation: the ability to live together, with human and nonhumans. What is necessary to make this happen is not well appreciated by Rawls, or by liberalism in general, and that is friendship and care. On this note, it is worth contrasting Ribó’s Rawlsian reconstruction and political utilization of Aristotle’s philia with Sibyl Schwarzenbach’s view laid out in On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State (Columbia University Press, 2009). Schwarzenbach calls for an overt refounding and reconstructing of state while Ribó forcefully condemns it, along with political parties, and thus seems to align himself with more bottom-up or “horizontal” political movements as described in Marina Sitrin’s excellent Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina (Zed, 2012).

In sum, we have to cast off abstract moral categories such as rational persons (a fiction), political ones such as demos (an anti-ecological abstraction), citizenship, and sovereignty, and embrace the biocultural terrain of the habitat. The habitat nation is not self-sufficient; to make it the fundamental unit, then, is to require further relations and coalitions. These can be formed along the lines of cohabitation and friendship, rather than market rivalry and competition as in the interstate system (186–7). Although this will sound too ambitious or naïve to some, in the last chapters Ribó thinks strategically about how this ecopolitical transformation might take place in North America and Europe. This is one of the more refreshing and welcome aspects of the book. Ribó takes the pains to explain how his view differs from the top-down decentralization of the EU (205–7) and how it could build upon projects in places as diverse as Québec and Mexico, but he also recognizes the particular political difficulties facing the US and how they are different from those in Europe. Ribó is optimistic without being naïve. Indeed, the book begins with a short story about a small nation whose defection from a large state brought about the collapse of one of the biggest empires in human history. The country was Lithuania. What motivated this tiny nation to risk so much? A mix of ecological degradation and the desire for independence. Acting on the small scale can have big results. The implications for the global environmental movement are profound. Especially, as Ribó points out, since two-thirds of the world’s population lives not in the megastates of the Chinas and Indias but in the more human and natural-scaled Guatemalas and Nigers.”

Excerpt by Ignasi Ribó:

““This book has grown out of a previous one, written in Catalan, De la indignació a la nació (“From indignation to nation”), which was published on September 11th 2012, the same day that hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona to demand their freedom and a state of their own. It was in that book that I first developed the ecopolitical theory and the notion of the habitat-nation that I am exposing here to English readers. The original aim of my reflections was to displace the old ideology of the nation-state, which is still very much divisive in Catalonia, and to ground the nation on a new, more inclusive theoretical framework in which all individuals, regardless of their culture, their origin or their condition, even their species, could find their place in the political community and contribute to the sustainability of common habitation.

By its own nature, the ecopolitical project is not restricted to the transformation of a particular social community such as Catalonia, but aspires to become a model of universal appeal, albeit always within the limits and the possibilities of each specific community. My theory, therefore, rather than offering ready-made institutional solutions that could be indiscriminately applied to all social communities, attempts to set up the foundations that would allow these communities, if they so wish, to constitute themselves as habitat-nations and to develop their own ecopolitical institutions according to their habits and forms of habitation. For the same reason, the theory of the habitat-nation avoids any ideological or partisan ascription, focusing instead on the elaboration of a constitutional framework that could be accepted and assumed by all inhabitants regardless of their inclinations, values or political preferences.

In my previous book, I delved in much more detail into the practical implications of the theory presented here, putting forward specific mechanisms and institutions that could serve to implement the ecopolitical notions in the future state of Catalonia. While many of these reflections and proposals, which touched on political, economic and social issues in considerable depth, might be of some interest to non-Catalan readers, I have decided to exclude them from this book in order to concentrate on the more general proposals of the ecopolitical theory. As a consequence, the reader might feel that my ideas are not sufficiently fleshed out, but tend to linger for too long on the high spheres of theory. I have nothing to say against this criticism, except to invite the critics to undertake the work of elaborating those specific proposals, adapting and developing the concepts discussed in this book to meet the needs and the possibilities of their own habitat-nations. After all, a book should strive to create a sense of wonder and inspire readers to seek their own solutions to the problems, rather than giving them a creed to follow.

Whatever the actual institutions that may eventually stem from it, an unavoidable conclusion from my theory is the urgent need to redefine the geopolitical units that make up the current world, abandoning once and for all the model of the nation-state and advancing towards more ecologically and socially sustainable political communities. This book attempts to justify, both theoretically and practically, why this process is so necessary and how it could be accomplished in the present political context. But surely, as always, the world is already running ahead of our theories. The rusted structures of the nation-states, particularly the largest ones, are already showing evident signs of decay and instability. New habitat-nations may be about to achieve statehood, both in Europe and in America. A new world seems to be forging its way ahead. Let us hope that it will be so organised that we shall not regret calling it our home.”

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Posted in Empire, Featured Book, P2P Ecology, P2P Governance | No Comments »

Podcast of the Day/C-Realm: Nafeez Ahmed on Optimism in the Face of a Gathering Storm

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Stacco Troncoso
8th September 2014


Another must hear conversation between two friends of the P2P Foundation: KMO of the C-Realm podcast, and author, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed. Here’s the original post on the C-Realm website.


C-Realm_430_coverKMO welcomes author, journalist and filmmaker, Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, to the C-Realm Podcast to talk about his new novel as well as the role the that US and British foreign policy and intelligence agencies played in empowering Sunni extremists and bringing the Islamic State to power. After discussing the depressing state of affairs in the Arab world as well as in Western countries who remain strong militarily but whose economies are floundering, Nafeez describes why the emerging solar energy sector and the open source revolution leave him essentially optimistic in the face of a storm of converging crises.

Music by The Humble Grapes.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Content, Featured Podcast, Media, Open Innovation, Open Models, Podcasts, Politics | No Comments »

Video of the Day: Hong Kong’s “Occupy” Movement for Democracy

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Stacco Troncoso
7th August 2014


Reposted from Films for Action’s website, don’t miss this short video on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The Chinese government is facing what may be the most organized democratic movement in its history as more than 20 percent of Hong Kong’s 3.5 million eligible voters cast a ballot in the past week in an unofficial referendum to make this Special Administrative Region of China significantly more democratic. The huge participation came right before unprecedented July 1st protests, which saw hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers take to the streets.

The central government in Beijing has shown some willingness to compromise, promising to allow the people of Hong Kong – starting in 2017 – to choose their chief executive through universal suffrage. But Beijing has no plans to allow them the right to nominate the candidates for whom they’ll be voting for.

These protests could be a key turning-point for the largest non-democratic nation left in the world if the people of Hong Kong are able to provide a successful road map for other pro-democracy advocates in the rest of China to follow.

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Content, Featured Video, Politics | No Comments »

Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately

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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 »

Essay of the Day: Why the Soviet Internet Failed

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Stacco Troncoso
20th July 2014


Ben Peters

Ben Peters, Assistant Orofessor of Communication at the University of Tulsa, presents preliminary findings of a dissertation chapter examining why the Soviets did not succeed in building an ARPANET equivalent. In particular, he examines Soviet bureaucratic and social structures as decentralized networks, compares them to conventional critiques of centralized power, and speculates on the chapter’s relevance for modern-day practices of power distribution.

Abstract

“Why wasn’t there a Soviet equivalent to the US ARPA NET? Building on fresh archival evidence, this paper examines several surprising leads: one, that the first person anywhere to conceive of and propose a national computer network for civilian use appears to have been the Soviet cyberneticist and Engineer Colonel Anatolii Kitov; two, that Soviet economic cybernetics tried repeatedly but did not succeed in building such a network; three, that the collective failure comes in part due to unregulated bureaucratic competition and infighting over resources within the Soviet state and academy (while the US ARPANET and French MINITEL networks initially benefited from centralized state subsidy) and in part due to the untenably comprehensive and hierarchically decentralized design in vogue among Soviet cybernetists in the 1960s. The fact that cybernetics was a discursive vehicle for reform-oriented science in the early 1960s makes its failed contributions that much more culturally poignant. These and other ironies are explored.”

Read the full text here

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Posted in Empire, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Networks, Politics | 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 »

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

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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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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Crowdfunding, Crowdsourcing, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Politics | No Comments »

Establishment elites are no longer in control: the rise of global bottom-up politics

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
14th June 2014


We’re republishing interesting remarks from Immanuel Wallerstein:

“The list of countries with enduring and worsening civil strife is growing. A short while ago, the world media were highlighting Syria. Now they are highlighting Ukraine. Will it be Thailand tomorrow? Who knows? The variety of explanations of the strife and the passion with which they are promoted is very striking.

Our modern world-system is supposed to permit the Establishment elites who hold the reins of power to debate with each other and then come to a “compromise” that they can guarantee. Normally these elites situate themselves in two basic camps – center/right and center/left. There are indeed differences between them, but the result of the “compromises” has been that the amount of change over time is minimal.

This has operated as a top-down political structure, within each country and geopolitically between countries. The outcome has been an equilibrium slowly moving upward. Most analysts of the current strife tend to assume that the strings are still being pulled by Establishment elites. Each side asserts that the low-level actors of the other side are being manipulated by high-level elites. Everyone seems to assume that, if their side puts enough pressure on the elites of the other side, these other elites will agree to a “compromise” closer to what their side wants.

This seems to me a fantastic misreading of the realities of our current situation, which is one of extended chaos as a result of the structural crisis of our modern world-system. I do not think that the elites are any longer succeeding in manipulating their low-level followers. I think the low-level followers are defying the elites, doing their own thing, and trying to manipulate the elites. This is indeed something new. It is a bottom-up rather than a top-down politics.

Bottom-up politics is sometimes alluded to when the media speak of “extremists” becoming important actors, but the locution “extremists” misses the point too. When we are amidst bottom-up politics, there are versions of every complexion – from the far right to the far left, but including ones in the center. One can bemoan this, as did Yeats in one of his oft-quoted lines from The Second Coming:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

But note that Yeats is attributing the category of “best” to the old elites. Are they really the best? What is indeed true, to cite one of Yeats’s less quoted lines, is that “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

How then can we navigate politically in such an environment? It is very confusing analytically. I think however that step one is to cease attributing what is happening to the evil machinations of some Establishment elites. They are no longer in control. They can of course still do great physical harm by imprudent actions. They are by no means paragons of virtue. But those of us who wish to seek a better world to emerge from this chaotic situation have to depend on ourselves, on our own multiple ways of organizing the struggle. We need, in short, less denunciation and more constructive local action.

The wisest lines of Yeats are the last two in the poem:

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

As our existing historical system is in the process of dying, there is a fierce struggle over what kind of new historical system will succeed it. Soon, we may indeed no longer live in a capitalist system, but we could come to live in an even worse system – a “rough beast” seeking to be born? To be sure, this is only one possible collective choice. The alternative choice is a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system, also seeking to be born. Which one we shall see at the end of the struggle is up to us, bottom-up.”

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Posted in Empire, Peer Production, Politics | 1 Comment »

Eben Moglen: “Snowden and the Future”

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
14th June 2014


The ongoing Snowden revelations about NSA surveillance have all sorts of implications for the rule of law, constitutional democracy, geopolitical alignments, human rights and much else.  The disclosures deserve our closest attention for these reasons alone.  But what do these revelations have to do with the commons?

If we regard the act of commoning as a genre of citizenship – acts of voluntary association and action that are critical to human freedom and democracy – we can see that snooping by both the NSA and its corporate brethren are profoundly hostile to the future of the commons.  They violate some fundamental notions of human rights, civil freedoms and the ability of individuals to protect their privacy and thus their sovereignty.

If the market/state apparatus can digitally monitor our reading habits and telephone calls, email correspondence and purchases, physical movements and much else, then it has effectively snuffed out the sovereignty of a free people. The barrage of the successive Snowden disclosures has been followed by a relentless government propaganda war, cable TV denunciations and even attacks on Greenwald by the liberal nomenklatura (Michael Kinsley, George Packer). It’s as if “respectable opinion” did not care to note or defend the elemental human freedoms that a functioning democracy requires.

It was such a pleasure therefore to (belatedly) encounter a series of four lectures delivered last fall by Eben Moglen, a law scholar and historian at Columbia Law School, founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, and former general counsel of the Free Software Foundation.  The four talks — “Snowden and the Future” — offer one of the most eloquent and historically informed critiques of the Snowden revelations and their implications for freedom, democracy and – I would add – the capacity of people to common.

The lectures address the following themes:

  •  What has Edward Snowden done to change the course of human history?
  •  How does the evolution of surveillance since World War II threaten democracy?
  •  What does it mean that information can be both so powerful and so easily spread? In a network embracing all of humanity, how does democracy survive our desire for security?

On this blog, I try to avoid venturing into topics that veer off-topic such as, say, national security politics or election campaigns.  But I make an exception in this case because the rise of state surveillance in collaboration with the corporate digital giants has enormous ramifications for the commons movement. The NSA’s routine and sweeping surveillance not only affects our potential to think and act as commoners by installing fear and self-censorship; it seeks to structurally and permanently lock in such profound unfreedom. It makes any bottom-up citizen initiative or commons subject to absolute government control, as enabled by absolute top-down control of the Internet and all communications infrastructures:  a totalitarian growth upon a nation that has fought and died for freedom.

Free software champions have long pointed out the enormous importance of free/libre/open source software – and digital commons more generally – as guarantors of basic human rights and freedoms.  Now the reality of these assertions has been vividly confirmed.

It is a treat to see a law scholar who clerked by Justice Thurgood Marshall and has defended legal software encryption, address the meaning of the Snowden disclosures. I will not attempt to summarize Moglen’s incisive, powerful commentary, but I will offer this excerpt as a taste, and encourage you to read the entire four lectures.  It’s a long read, but well worth it:

The power of that Roman Empire rested in its control of communications. The Mediterranean Sea, which was the transit hub of every western civilization, was their lake. And across their European empire, from Scotland to Syria, they pushed the roads—roads that fifteen centuries later were still primary arteries of European transportation. Down those roads which, as Gibbon says, rendered every corner of the Empire pervious to Roman power, the Emperor marched his armies. But up those roads he gathered his intelligence. Augustus invented the posts: first for signals intelligence, to move couriers and messages at the fastest possible speeds; and then for human intelligence. He created the post-chaises, so that, as Gibbon says, those who were present when dispatches were written could be questioned by the Emperor. Using that infrastructure for control of communications, with respect to everything that involved the administration of power, the Emperor of the Romans made himself the best informed human being in the history of the world.

That power eradicated human freedom. “Remember,” says Cicero to Marcellus in exile, “wherever you are, you are equally within of the power of conqueror.”

[…snip…]

Because of Mr. Snowden, we now know that the listeners, in their aggressive effort to maintain the security of the United States by breaking anything that stands in the way of listening, undertook to do what they repeatedly promised respectable opinion in the trade they would never do.

Systematically, they attempted what they had once and for all promised many a time in the discreetest but most credible fashion to respectable opinion, which then carried their water for them throughout our world. They always said they would not attempt breaking the crypto which secures the global financial system.

That was false.

When, on September 6th, the New York Times re-entered the pursuit of journalism in this area so triumphantly, by revealing the existence of Bull Run, publishing Mr. Snowden’s various disclosures concerning both the substance of Bull Run and the National Security Agency’s discussions of it, we learned that the United States listeners had been systematically and deliberately trying to subvert the crypto that holds the international financial system together, for years. And we learned a good deal more—which we shall spend more time upon on another evening, considering carefully what we learned in this respect—we learned that their efforts had been so far only partially successful.

Within hours they had forfeited respectable opinion around the world, which had stood solidly in their corner all the way along. The recklessness of what they had done, and the danger to which it put the people in the world who don’t accept danger from the United States Government, was breathtaking.

When the morality of freedom is so thoroughly thrown away, it isn’t only the “little people” of the world who suffer, but they do.

The empire of the United States, the one that secured itself by listening to everything, was the empire of exported liberty. What we had to offer all around the world was freedom—after colonization, after European theft, after the forms of twentieth-century horror we haven’t even talked about yet—we offered liberty; we offered freedom.

In the twentieth century we were prepared to sacrifice many of the world’s great cities, and to accept the sacrifice of tens of millions of human lives, in order to secure our selves against forms of government we called “totalitarianism,” in which the State grew so powerful and so invasive that it recognized no longer any border of private life, and brought itself into everything that its subjects did. Where the State listened to every telephone conversation, and kept a list of everybody every troublemaker knew.

So let us unfortunately tell the truth as it appeared to the people who worked in the system: When the morality of freedom was withdrawn, our State began fastening the procedures of totalitarianism on the substance of democratic society.

There is no historical precedent for the proposition that the procedures of totalitarianism are compatible with the system of enlightened, individual, democratic self-governance. No one has ever previously in the history of the human race evolved an argument—and as I will show next time no argument can be evolved—that would give us any confidence in the ability of the procedures of totalitarianism to coexist with those of constitutional democratic self-governance. It is enough to say for now that omnipresent invasive listening creates fear. And I need not be Justice Brandeis to tell you that fear is the enemy of reasoned, ordered liberty.

Here are the four parts of the Moglen lectures, available in video, audio and print formats:

I.  Westward the Course of Empire 

II.  Oh, Freedom 

III.  The Union, May it Be Preserved 

IV.  Freedom’s Future 


Originally published at bollier.org

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