Movement of the Day: the Las Indias cooperative movement

Las Indias is a cooperative, a contemporary example of the network form of Phyles, i.e. a community-supportive business network. They have an amazingly interesting english-language blog which is at the forefront of p2p theorizing, and I consider them as a true sister organization to the P2P Foundation.

David de Ugarte explains what it means for them to be a phyle:

“Precisely because there is a phyle awareness – that is, the awareness of being a community with business and not a business community or a community of people working in that business – all Indianos are partners in the two cooperatives which constitute the cooperative group.

As a result, interconnections and ideas multiply and fly: if you follow the Indianos throughout their blogs, you can see how one season they take up the tasting of natural wines as an inspiration to think about new activity lines, or how they rethink their own myths in order to talk the reasons for a new clothing offer.

Thinking about the ideas of community and interconnection, Sonia Carbajal, while commenting on her experience as a group apprentice, pointed out that one of the things which this period of reading and living alongside other had led her to was the discovery that at the end of the road lay not her incorporation not into a specific business or activity, but integration, from personal autonomy, within a community.”

(Source of the above: the Book: Phyles: Economic Democracy in the Network Century. by David de Ugarte)

The following is from an interview I co-conducted for Shareable magazine, with Neal Gorenflo and John Robb:

Michel Bauwens: Explain to us what Las Indias is, and where it comes from, and what makes it distinctive?

David de Ugarte: Las Indias is the result of the Spanish-speaking cyberpunk movement. Originally a civil rights group, during the late 90s it became strongly influenced by Juan Urrutia’s “Economics of Abundance” theory. Very soon, we linked “abundance” with the idea of empowerment in distributed networks. We are very clear on this point: it is not the Internet by itself, it is the distributed P2P architecture that allows the new commons. As one of our old slogans put it: “Under every informational architechture lays a structure of power.” Re-centralizing structures – as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Megaupload, etc. do around their servers – weakens us all. The blogosphere, torrents, freenet, etc. are tools of empowerment.

Cyberpunk was mainly a conversational / cyberactivist virtual community. It became transnational quickly and contributed some very good discussions and theories that helped us understand the social impact and possibilities of distributed networks.

But in 2002 three of us founded Las Indias Society, a consultancy firm focused on innovation and networks dedicated to empowering people and organizations. Our experience soon became very important in understanding the opposition between “real” and “imagined” communities, and the organizational bases for an economic democracy. After the cyberpunk dissolution in 2007, the “Montevideo Declaration” openly stated that our objective will be to construct a “phyle,” a transnational economic democracy, in order to ensure the autonomy of our community and it members.

Now, we define ourselves around five main values:

Distributed network architectures as a way of generating abundance, empowerment, and to ensure the widest plurarchy – the maximum of individual liberties – for the members of our community.

Transnationality (which means a rejection of national identities as well as universalism) as a consequence of putting the real community of persons who live and work in Las Indias at the center of our work

Economic democracy as the way to build personal and community autonomy through the market

Hacker ethics as a way to foster community knowledge generation, common deliberation, personal passion, and a collective pleasure in learning

Devolutionism: all our production of knowledge – books, software, contents, even recipes – is returned to the commons, generating more abundance

Neal Gorenflo: What is the vision of Las Indias? What would the classic, most developed form be in the future? What are you after in terms of how it can transform individuals, interpersonal relationships, and the world?

Our vision is not a universalist one. We don’t proselytize and we really believe that diversity is a desirable consequence of freedom.

But we have a vision for us – the phyle – and a wish: to see the birth of a wider, transnational space of economic democracies. We imagine networks of phyles generating wealth, social cohesion, and ensuring liberties for real people rather than the governments’ power and their borders and passports.

We are not naive nor utopian. Distributed networks gave our generation the opportunity to build a new world. But this new world, based on the commons, communities, economic democracy and distributed networks isn’t complete at birth. And the old world, based on the artificial generation of scarcity, corporations, inequality, and centralized networks isn’t dead.

It is very symptomatic that European crisis manifests as a debt crisis. Governments are suffocating society in order to feed privileged groups – big corporations, some sectors dependent of public money – who have captured state rents or ensured it through monopolistic law. So, the main objective and the main vision now is to stop these decomposing forces in our environments.

MB: How does Las Indias work internally? How is it funded?

There are different levels of engagement and commitment. As a phyle we are really a network. In the periphery there are individual entrepreneurs with their initiatives. In the core there are the associated cooperatives, and at that core. the indianos. We differentiate between the community (the core of the phyle) and the Cooperative Group.

Indianos are communities that are similar to kibbutzim (no individual savings, collective and democratic control of their own coops, etc.). But there are some important differences like the lack of a shared national or religious ideology, being distributed throughout cities rather than concentrated in a compound, and not submitting to an economic rationality.

John Robb: What kind of coops are in the Las Indias network? What are the synergies between the cooperatives?

At this moment we have four coops: Las Indias (a consultancy dedicated to innovation and network analysis); El Arte (a product-lab where we develop products from books to beer to software); Fondaki (global and strategic intelligence for small businesses) and Gaman (educational tools and campaigns).

All of them are expressions of our members’ different passions that answer different needs of our community and environment.”

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