Jakob Rigi on Building on What We Have Achieved So Far

Jakob Rigi is a marxist researcher focusing on peer production, who here offers an analysis of “What Needs To Be Done” in the current configuration. The text appeared in the Networked Labour mailing list.

Jakob Rigi:

“We can reach there by critically building on what we have so far achieved.

Who is the we? Answer: The current and in the making anti-capitalist social movements and individuals. Although I am very critical of Hard and Negri’s theory of capitalism I think that we can borrow the term multitude from them to name the we. We are the multitude: The multitude of exploited, the repressed, and the rebellious.

What do we have achieved so far? We have achieved three major things:

1) We have invented a new form of political organisation, that is the organisation through de-centered networks which is far more democratic and horizontal compared with previous top-down organisation. One should not counter-pose this new form of organization to face- to-face locally based organizational form since they supplement each other. This new form of organization should be counter-posed to old form of top-down structures of parties and unions. So the whole problem of organising through the net versus grass root activism is a false problem. Grass root, local and face to face activism and organisations converge into a larger force,-organization through horizontally connecting with each other through the internet and other means . I know that horizontalism has been validly critiqued but still want to keep the word horizontal to distinguish this new form of organisation from the old party and union form. Horizontalism should be critiqued and modified not discarded.

2- Our second major achievement has been to overcome the identity politics. In the wake of crises of social democracy and the Stalinism accentuated by 1968 identity politics became hegemonic among the left. One only was concerned with cultural-symbolic identities of local nature. One only fought in her own local corner. Very concepts such as capitalism and anti-capitalist struggle were dismissed as totalitarian and essentializing. The new movement starting by Zapatisto rebellion of 1994, continuing through Seattle 1999 and many other similar protests and peaking in 2011 completely changed this in two ways. First, it identified capitalism as the common enemy; second, it put forward the slogan another world is possible. The new movement combined the best aspects of the old left and identity politics. Like the old left they defined a common enemy namely capitalism and a common goal namely the other possible world. Like identity politics it celebrated difference. It was a unity in difference.

3- The third achievement has been the invention of common based peer production. Now the first two achievements being aspects of the same movement have a common history. The history of common-based peer production, on the other hand, only partially coincides with the history of the two other achievements and this happens to be to source of one of our major weaknesses.

These achievements produced in relatively short periods of time (since 1994 in the case of first two ones an in the case of peer production since 1984 when Richard Stallman launched(GNU//GPL) are immense.

Yet we suffer from the three following major weaknesses.

1-Lack of a program. While these movements courageously launched the slogan “ a new world is possible” activists had and still have a very vague notion of the contours of this possible world. Reformists took this new world to be a return to Keynesianism , a modified capitalism; more radical sections of the movement of anarchist or autonomist bent claimed that our practice prefigures what to come and when it comes we will know its shape. So, their attitude was, don’t bother about it now and let’s us only rehearse democracy and horizontalism. This theatrical practice would necessarily fail to attract millions of ordinary people. Since these people do not confuse theatre with life. The irony was that the outline of this new society was already given in peer production. The political movement was somehow peer produced (the whole rehearsal and practices of horizontalism and democracy was a form of peer production of politics) but it failed to understand historical significance of peer production and to consciously adopt it as its program for change and present it as an alternative to capitalism. So our first task is to craft a program with peer production as its core. Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis should be lauded four attempting to craft a program; but, they do not tell us how the major means of production namely land and other strategic means of production can be transformed into commons. I have a more detailed picture of my own version of this program which is not possible to discuss here. The crafting of this program must be a collective work.

2- And this brings us to the second major weakness of our movements which is the fear of taking power and expropriating the expropriators. This fear and incapacity was elevated to a virtue not only by anarchists but also by major Marxist radical thinkers most notably Alan Badiou, John Holloway and Antonio Negri. In spite of their differences all three argued that we do not need to touch the state. Negri was arguing that the multitude was creating communism independently from state and capital. Anarchists and these thinkers shared the following proposal: We don’t care about capital and state, we build our own life autonomously form state and capital. But how can you do that when the earth as the principle productive force is already owned by capitalists? Are you going to produce another earth? Or migrate to another planet? The autonomist exodus from capital can be only an exodus to another planet, since capital has conquered all aspects of life on the earth. Earth must be free from capital, but capitalist character of the earth is guaranteed by the state. No autonomous life is possible unless we free the earth from capital and therefore must confront its guardian namely the state. To make a long story short the expropriation of capitalists and abolishing of their state must be a major plank of our program. Related to this we should present the peer to peer form of governmentally which is already operative in both peer production and social movements as a new form of governance. This, while not a state, is an adequate form of governance on all levels (local, regional and global). I call the fear of taking power and expropriating capitalists as a Soviet syndrome. Things did not go wrong in the USSR and elsewhere because they took the power and expropriated capitalists but for the reason that the new power perpetuated the class rule in a new guise. So it is time to put an end to the Soviet syndrome. And in this point our program is different from that of Syriza’s and Corbyn’s who entertain the delusion that they can conquer the capitalist state from the inside and then use it for socialising means of production. So, they are “Stalinists” in a new guise, since they are statists. Their socialism will be inevitably a form of capitalism or a new class rule.

3- Our third weakness which also has to do with the Soviet or more correctly a Leninist syndrome namely the syndrome of vanguard party was our aversion to political organization. The aversion of activists towards corrupt/authoritarian Stalinist and social democratic parties and related forms of unionism, and top-down structures of Trotskist and Maoists parties which foster conformism are certainly justified. Yet, the necessity of a political organisation like the First International is indispensible for advancing an anti-capitalist revolutionary struggle. The main aspects of this organisation are : a) its program; and b) its form. Its form is must be that of peer production. It must be a distributed network of distributed networks. In a way the movements so far have invented this form. What is lacking is continuity in both time and space. We need an organisation which globally unify around a common program and consciously continues to exist in order to propagate the revolutionary program. Its permanence and its global reach are important. How, its different sections coordinate their actions and relations is an open question and is up to them. Each section can modify the general program as it fits its own conditions and interests. Yet, the universal and long term interests of the movement as a whole must come first.

Now let’s assume that we have the program and the organisation. Then how do we proceed towards our final goal?

The answer is: by participating in and being part of all small and big progressive struggles on all corner of the planet, supporting their progressive sides and critiquing their limitations. Propagating our program among participants, we shall try to convince them to adopt it as their own, to modify it and to develop it further. And we will learn from them and accordingly change our program and organisation. Expanding peer producing communities and supporting them will be a major aspect of our activism. But this should be a component of a political revolutionary struggle and not merely a form of entrepreneurial activity that aims at making profit. For example those of us who live in the UK should support Corbyn’s candidacy and reforms that he proposes but explain to people that these reforms although good do not change the nature of capital and its corresponding oligarchy. We need a social revolutions that abolishes capital and state and establishes peer production and the will of multitude.

Now, assume that we have a global well entrenched organisation which consists of thousands of smaller organisations which is supported by millions of people in different countries. And assume further that in a country where most social movements are united around our program which enjoys the support of the majority of population there is a revolutionary situation. Revolutionary situation is a situation in which the ruler cannot rule as they used to rule and the ruled do not submit to their rule anymore. In this situation mobilising the broadest number of people we will occupy not merely parks and squares but the main sites of economic and political power. Will abolish private property and the state and replace them with peer to peer forms of the production of goods, meaning and social relation.

What is the difference of this form of take-over of power with that of Syriza’s and Corbyn’s. They do not question the premises and the legitimacy of the capitalist state which is an oligarchical form, since, it is money that decides. (Just look how APEC is sabotaging Obama’s nuclear treaty with Iran by publishing ads and bribing journalists and intimidating congress men. Obama recently confessed that he found himself powerless against the power of money.) Then, they think that they will try to outsmart capitalists and change this oligarchical state to a socialist one. A project that social democracy tried and failed. The crashing of Syriza by German bankers is a good lesson for those who think that they can outsmart capitalists on their own playground. They can extract concessions from capitalists in certain circumstances, and this is not a bad thing, but such concession will never change either the nature of capitalist society or the oligarchical state.

In our case the new power is not a power in the conventional sense but the materialisation of the collective will of the multitude. It is a power to. It is only against only those ex exploiters who try to revive the conditions of exploitation. Those ex exploiters who accept the new order will be welcomed into it as anyone else.”

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