(a republication from February 2006)
Excerpts from a transcript of a video interview with Christoph Spehr.
This interview sets out very clearly the criteria to which contemporary forms of cooperation must abide by.
1. Free Cooperation vs. the Old Utopias
“Political utopia, utopian thinking today has to differ from most of the stuff we are familiar with as political utopias. I think, the first important thing is that it has to be non-prescriptive. Most utopian thinking is prescriptive in the sense that it dictates people what to do. The idea behind it is that if you set up proper rules, then society will run okay. But these rules have to be respected, of course, it’s like a cage built by the author of the utopia, and then you can put people in, and they have to follow the rules, and then it will work. And this, I think, is something that is not acceptable today and can never be a free utopia. So you have to build your utopia on the fact that people do what they want, you cannot impose your ideas of the right consciousness, of right and wrong, you cannot rule out some desires, some actions as wrong, this is what you have to do. I think this is very important. I think it is also necessary that utopian thinking is not elitist in the sense that you have an elite that has the right consciousness, the right knowledge, a group of decision-makers, of scientific thinkers that can define for others what is the real case, but you have to build utopia on an equal community, where it does not matter what people have read and what theories they are acquainted with. Yes, it has to work with different people and they have to have the possibility of participating on an equal basis. They should not be excluded, access to this utopia should not be restricted by the question where people, where a person comes from. I also think that today political utopias can no longer be hierarchical. By this I do not want to stress the point of hierarchy and organization, but a hierarchy of main stuff and minor stuff, of the fields of the social that are seen as important and others that are seen as not so important – which is typical of classical utopias. In fact, we know a lot of utopian thinking that says: “The core business, what we call economy, is what big business does. Is how tools are made, and other aspects like raising children or doing creative work, acting together in a modest and proper way are minor stuff and have to follow the rules of the others. And I think this is illegitimate – because it is always combined with a hierarchy between different people doing different stuff in these utopian societies – and a clear case of inequality. So one could say you have to bring utopia back to the kitchen. It has to work there and the rules of the kitchen have to be the rules of bigger cooperations – not the other way round. Everything that people do together is a kind of cooperation because they share work and they use the work and the experience and the bodily existence of others – also historical and direct and indirect ways. And though there are two extremes, free cooperations and forced cooperations, most of what we know in most societies is forced cooperation.
2. Foundational rules of the new cooperation
There are three aspects that have to be taken into account if you want to build a free cooperation. The first is that all rules in this cooperation can be questioned by everybody, there are no holy rules that people cannot question or reject or bargain and negotiate about – which is not the case in most of the cooperations and organizational forms that we know. And the second aspect that has to be guaranteed for free cooperation is that people can question and change these rules by using this primary material force of refusing to cooperate, by restricting their cooperation, by holding back what they do for these cooperations, making conditions under which they are willing to cooperate, or leaving cooperations. They must be guaranteed the right to use these measures to influence the rules and that everybody in the cooperation can do this. And the third aspect – which is important because otherwise it would be just a blackmailing of the less powerful ones by the more powerful ones – is that the price of not cooperating, the price that it costs if you restrict your cooperation or if the cooperation splits up, should be …not exactly equal …but similar for all participants in this cooperation, and it should be affordable. That means, it can be done, it’s not impossible, it’s not a question of sheer existence to cooperate in this way.
3. Free cooperation and capitalism
Capitalist markets have some aspects that cannot be transferred to a free cooperation. For instance, it is unacceptable, that the more successful a participant of the market is, the more they can exclude every other participant. And it’s clear that in capitalist markets the main aspect of competition is not being better or having better ideas, but applying more force against others to produce cheaply. Of course, this cannot be an element of a market in a free cooperation.”