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<nettime> notes for the future - after Free Cooperation
Brian Holmes on Mon, 3 May 2004 18:34:47 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> notes for the future - after Free Cooperation


[apologies for cross posting, and - ]

My appreciation to those who let it all hang out and cooperate in Buffalo, and
generally on the Free Cooperation list. I personally had a great time and
Nathalie Magnan back in gay Paree was with us in spirit retrospectively as I
told her all about it!

It was a pleasure to do the opposite of the typical academic shtick in a
literally desktop environment.

On the last night of the conference Christoph Spehr and I had a conversation
around a Thai dinner table that sparked many ideas, which I'd like to share
with you. I am told that some people at the conference already found our public
ruminations a little abstract and Eurocentric, and I'm afraid this attempt at a
look into the political future may not be much better. Plus I'm also not sure
that Christoph will entirely recognize our conversation when I get done with it
- but anyway, here goes:

Both of us basically think that the staying power of the long-lived, nasty,
dinosaur-toothed political compromise known as neoliberalism is just about
over. Wave it goodbye with massive protest and no regret. Its death throes are
burning down cities, an ugly situation which may yet get worse. But the
abysmally unequal exchange of finance-driven globalization has unleashed such
deep conflicts - both those unfolding violently since September 11 and the
civic unrest of the worldwide antiglobalization movement - that the hegemony
originally put together by Reagan and Thatcher is likely to become unglued. It
just ain't working. The long economic crisis that began in Mexico in 1994,
peaked with the Argentine default, the Enron and Worldcom bankruptcies, the
falling value of the dollar, and now has made a permanent war footing look like
a viable alternative to the Imperial elites, is only the most obvious sign of
this likely collapse. Another is the systematic paranoia of the total
information obsession, which will not stand despite the fact that "we have the
technology." Symmetrical to this control obsession is the epistemological
fragility of instantly produced-and-traded knowledge: despite and sometimes
even because of the transmission magicians, no one is sure anymore of what the
data might mean, and the volatility of the conceptual and informational
environment has made coherent governance almost impossible. Meanwhile a
groundswell of critique, still almost inaudible for you in the US, is daily
growing. The defeat of Aznar's party in Spain is a harbinger of the end. For
the Latin American governments and peoples - Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia,
Venezuela - it's already clear that there is no alternative to the task of
finding another way to run society. And now part of our job, everywhere, for
years still to come, is to push these bastards out along with their ideas and
their values and their geostrategies and their legal procedures and their
organiz ational models and their modular management and their cynical Gucci
ties and their bloodsucking IP ideologies, not to mention - to touch closer
bases with some of you - their start-up opportunism and their shameless
cooptation of practically any kind of art that glitters. Vampires go home! It's
time to seriously revile the living dead, and start taking care of the walking
wounded.

And by the way, don't forget to go on destroying the core programs of the WTO,
IMF, World Bank, Davos, WIPO, EU, NAFTA, FTAA, and the others. International
institutions for vital negotiations? OK - but not with even of a shadow of the
programs we have known for the last 25 years. Total opposition otherwise, to
the GATS first of all. It's the only way to start living again.

While the transition drags on, what we can fear on the peripheries of the
world-system is simply more war: whether the outright obscene agression of the
Imperial center, as we see right now, or the covert fomentation of local
fascist (that is, armed, right-wing, elite-driven) resistance to any attempts
to change the rules of social cooperation toward a more egalitarian system. I'm
thinking here particular of dangerous Latin America (and today, of Caracas).

What we can expect to see in the center is a classic displacement of the basic
violence of economic relations into the political sphere where arguments and
ideologies dispute the stage, before becoming governing regulations. I'm
thinking of Eurostan, of the upcoming swing to rose (colored glasses, means:
social democracy). And if you think it's green, try washing it first!

Among the interesting perspectives (and this is already obvious) is the fact
that the inclusion of libertarian ideas (i.e. anarchism for you Yanks) in the
neoliberal construction can no longer hold. Thatcher-Reagan / Clinton-Blair was
convincing because it was supposed to make you free of big government; that's
down the tubes. Blair has outlived himself and his Home Secretary Blunkett now
proposes jailing people for just associating with (suspected) terrorists, which
is not exactly an encouragement of free association. All the philosophies that
propose any kind or degree of self-government or self-organisation can no
longer expect the slightest thing from the former great white solution to
bureaucratic stalinism, i.e. neoliberalism; and who doesn't see anarchy rising
all around, often in the best, deepest, most philosophical sense? The ugly
right-wing libertarianism of 80s America is going to defect from the present
and successive governments, hopefully just to wither and die . There is a
historical opportunity to recover and rework some of the finest philosophies of
emancipation.

By the same token, though, the dissolution of free-market teleologies (free
trade leads to paradise) opens the door again to neo-Keynesian central
prodding, which seeks salvation in the myth of a return to full employment, and
in the familiar old vocabulary of stimulating consumption to provoke virtuous
circles of industrial growth. This regressive approach can only maintain its
illusions within a restrictive  national frame, and more fundamentally, within
a game of inclusion/exclusion whose all-too-familiar figure is the contrast
between privileged union labor and unguaranteed temp services (Mcjobs, as they
say in the late great USA) or, of course, unemployment,exclusion. You could
think of these keynesian proposals as the Ghost of Forced Cooperation Past.
They sound much better than Workfare, but the gifts come heavily loaded with
paternalistic morality, industrial and semiotic consumerism, nuclear
confidence, a big oil thirst and ecological disaster. We could do a lot bett
er.

Christoph says one danger is that the radical left (I mean, the real one) won't
have anything to propose for the transition. Of course in the US, the more
obvious danger is that there simply won't be a transition. There is clearly a
very strong program to use terrorism as a constant excuse to keep everyone
alienated and afraid while police legitimacy runs high and the population gets
used (like in Coetzee's book on Empire) to the rumblings from the frontiers.
The fever bouts of neofascism aren't going to go away on the Old Continent
either. You can imagine a form of rhetorical governance that would constantly
appeal to racism, while continuing to build an economy on immigrant labor and
exploitation of the peripheries. In this scenario the social democrats would be
cowed, the alienated fringe would live entirely underground and cunning
businessmen would use working-class thugs in uniforms to cajol the votes of the
bland and trembling retirees, while the former yuppies cultivat e their gated
gardens. If you can really imagine that scenario, though, you ought to be
ashamed. The Argentines kicked the bastards out. If we can't do the same, why
bother with anything?

Christoph's question is the real one: how to insert at least elements of a
truly leftist agenda in a future that will not be the repetition of any past we
know? He thinks one of the keys is to understand strategically that there are
different forms of the political, which can be invested simultaneously even in
they yield different results and are not all the same, nor equally satisfying.
Social movements, unions, parties, community organisations, transnational
networks, local administrations, free associations: on all these levels there
is a strong presence of the twin, problematic call for equality and the right
to difference (the form of the political party being strictly relative in
importance - not anathema, but strictly relative). The thing is that each of
the struggles should leave something tangible and transversal behind it
(self-governed territories and buildings, laws, social apportionments, rights,
living cultural spaces). Common goods are the clearest beacon. Only by
developing practicable notions of the common - unrivalrous, free-access goods
which are not made unusable by the restrictive, identifying, subjecting
categories of bureaucratic management - can we hope for a more socialized and
anarchist future.

Everywhere the information economy flickers, the agenda in my view is perfectly
clear. Not only education, but the means of production for all highly
individualized, informational and affective production have to receive much
more social funding. Free time is something to win. The Welfare State can be
reinvented by the flexworkers: Mayday! Mayday! There is only one possibility to
begin reviving democracy: more independent media, and more spaces of debate, in
relation to social movements whose transgressive action in society is protected
by solidarity and diffuse support. This is what must be put on the political
agenda, along with living wages and guaranteed incomes. Otherwise, the media
oligarchies rule. But to get beyond the stranglehold, it's vital to recognize
your cause in the other's. The molecular struggles are complicated, it isn't
possible or desirable to be everywhere at once. The antiglobalization movement
has reinvented a marxist analysis of the economy, an anarch ist style of
networked organization, and a confrontational stance that's essential. It also
forgot almost everything that had been learned by feminism, identity politics,
even the philosophy of difference, not to mention all that's valuable in the
old workers' movement traditions, like popular education. Class (re)composition
is everything, and it means that you and your friends are always only part of a
larger and evolving, internally contradictory whole. What else did we see in
Seattle, in Genoa, in Buenos Aires? The spaces, ethics and infrastructure of
free cooperation are all collective, and the simple theory of this politics
(simple compared to its actual practice) is still lacking. Engaged
theoreticians can get over their guilt trips about uselessness.

All of that sounds utopian and distant in a little place that is somehow home
for all of us, and even the blackest of the black and the reddest of the red: I
mean the USA, the hegemon, the inventor of the new processes, the Home of the
Free and the Brave. Here is where the knot of the problem lies, for all of us.
Not a single one of the ideas connected to free cooperation, or to the virtual
possibles of the multitudes, is receivable in the US today. At this point, it's
the monster. We have to accept that. Our country is the cancer again, just like
when I was growing up during the Vietnam War. We have to find the strength of
alienation to undermine this thing till it keels over. Obviously we have to go
out and vote for the soldier John Kerry - but don't think this thing is going
to be over so fast. The USA has become a pathogen, and the disease is
everywhere - it runs through all the Imperial elites. It's worse than the
air-conditioned nightmare, it's incomparable. But by the same token, your power
within it is enormous. The power to subvert, to sap belief in this thing that
doesn't work, the courage to refuse this despicable thing, and to start right
now, when you're alone, when it doesn't look easy. Only the mass exodus of what
we once called the drop-outs is going to derail the US monster. There is no
business as usual. Every crime is unbearably singular. None of them can be
justified. Your power is to broadcast this, to narrowcast it, to use your
fabulous American Imperial subjectivity - even you Danish lot, and all the
others - to reach out from New York and the rest of the hell holes to people
who are struggling against the great odds that are stacked in the favor of the
American monster. We in the Imerial centers underestimate what this reaching
out means to people all over the world. But we also underestimate what it means
to ourselves, to our own self-esteem, our pitiful ability to look in the
mirror.

Around the world our brothers and sisters are dying. It's just literal. Take
some time to find out how everyone, everywhere, in every country lives,
including the people next door. It's the least you can do and it's nowhere near
enough. The last five years of struggle leave me full of optimism and rage. I
want to celebrate all the everyday heroes who are doing something about this
disaster. These are not ordinary times, no one knows what will happen. Vast
forces are coursing through the planet that we live on. It would be foolish to
make the slightest prediction about what the future really holds. Hoping for
anything particular is a decision I leave up to you. Great respect to those who
make a difference for the better.

ciao, Brian

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