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<nettime> Cyberpunk, anarchism, network thinking, and cooperatives - int
Ãrsan Åenalp on Fri, 14 Mar 2014 04:19:25 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Cyberpunk, anarchism, network thinking, and cooperatives - interview


very interesting interview by

Neal Gorenflo, from Shareable, Michel Bauwens, from the P2P
Foundationand John Robb, from Global Guerrillas, interview las Indias'
David de Ugarte

Translated/Re-edited * by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton
- Guerrilla Translation!
Images by Las Indias and Shareable
Read the Spanish version here

In this interview, Shareable publisher Neal Gorenflo, John Robb of
Global Guerrillas, and P2P foundation's Michel Bauwens talk to David
de Ugarte, one of the originators of the Spanish cyberpunk scene,
about his more recent work developing a multinational worker
cooperative, Las Indias, that is a culmination of his community's
thinking and work for the last decade. Las Indias is the manifestation
of a unique socio-economic philosophy that synthesizes many strains of
thinking and culture including cyberpunk, anarchism, network thinking,
and cooperatives - all with a Spanish twist. It's important because it
points to a possible future for those who think outside of national
boundaries, and who desire or need to take control of their own
economic destiny. It's a possible future that takes the centuries-old
logic of cooperatives and remixes it for the urban-centered, global
network society we live in today.

Michel Bauwens: Explain to us what Las Indias is, 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. We soon 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 architecture 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 its members.

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?

Neal Gorenflo

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 completely born. And the old world, based on the artificial
generation of scarcity, corporations, inequality, and centralized
networks, isn't dead.

It is very symptomatic that the European crisis manifests as a debt
crisis. Governments are suffocating society in order to feed
privileged groups - big corporations, some sectors dependent on 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. On the periphery, there are individual
entrepreneurs with their initiatives. At 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 three coops: Las Indias (a consultancy), El
Arte (our new product lab), and Enkidu (Open Software). There are also
three participative enterprises that employ some 20 people.

All of them are expressions of our members' different passions, which
answer the different needs of our community and environment.

MB: How do you position yourself vis-a-vis the current global
capitalist system? What alternative are you proposing?

Michel Bauwens

We think cooperatives and economic democracy (a rent-free market
society), hand in hand with a liberated commons as the alternative to
capitalism, can be made possible through distributed networks.

But we are economic democrats, so we don't want the state to provide
the alternative to crony-capitalism and accumulation. Indeed, we think
it can't. We have to build it by ourselves, and demand the state to
remove the obstacles (as IP, contracts for big politically connected
corporations, etc.) that protect privileged groups' rents from
competition in the market.

The alternative will not be built through government regulations, but
inside our own networks. It will not defeat the corporate organization
through courts or elections, but through competition.

NG: We live in a world saturated in corporate media. How do you
maintain a culture of cooperation at Las Indias in the face of this
onslaught of atomizing, consumerist messages? What spiritual or
cultural practices and artifacts can you point to that are especially
helpful?

All of us spent many years sharing small apartments downtown, walking
or going to work by bus, working in bad jobs through school and after
finishing our degrees. It is not a unique condition, it is the reality
of the job market in Spain, Portugal, and many Latin American
countries in a wide group of middle class children of our generation.

David de Ugarte

The result of this experience for many people was a particular culture
that mixed a lot of immaterial, cultural consumption - some of it
provided for free, by the state - with a reduced access to consumerism
compared to older people.

In 1996, I was 26 and finishing a degree in economics in Madrid. I
worked in a call center earning 450 EURO a month, working eight hours a
day from four to midnight. I spent 300 EURO on rent, around 100 EURO for food,
electricity, telephone and public transport, and 48 EURO on an Internet
connection. As you can imagine, my "leisure" time was spent around the
public library, museums, the public filmotheque (classic movies were
60 cents a ticket), at cheap potluck dinners and, of course, online.

My experience was not extraordinary at all, and it's even more common now.

This mode of cultural consumption is based on public cultural goods,
cheap second-hand or popular edition books, and "cocooning." The P2P
world made sense in our everyday culture.

So, some years later our incomes increased and we earned autonomy, but
for us a good living still means good broadband, access to cultural
works, good museums, and good meals in comfortable but not very
expensive flats downtown. None of us has a car or has bought a house.

But please don't be confused. We don't make a cult of austerity. We
simply have a different culture, we enjoy different things. None of us
has a TV either, but many of us have projectors for watching videos
off the Internet.

NG: In Spain, you're often associated with the cyberpunk movement,
which was born in the US in the early 80s. How has cyberpunk
influenced you and Las Indias? And how is cyberpunk relevant today?

Cyberpunk activism was strongly influenced by cyberpunk literature.
Even today, classic cyberpunk works like Bruce Sterling's Islands in
the Net and Green Days in Brunei, and post-cyberpunk like Neal
Stephenson's The Diamond Age, provide models for discussing subjects
we think are important at this moment: distributed vs. centralized
networks, economic democracy vs. corporate power, etc.

Cyberpunk taught us to discuss in a mode outside the political
tradition: not around theses and programs, but around models and
myths, where auto-criticism and irony were easier and dogmatism almost
impossible.

MB: For me, some of the most innovative concepts in the Las Indias
books were the concepts of phyles and neo-venetianism. What do these
mean?

Phyle is a community that develops an economic structure based on
economic democracy in order to ensure its own autonomy. The order of
the terms is important: phyle is a community with firms, not a
community of firms, nor a community of people who own some firms. The
firms are tools for the autonomy of the community - a means, not an
end - and are always less important than the needs of community
members.

Neovenetianism is the ideology of those who see the creation of phyles
as the natural evolution of their communities, so that this evolution,
its dialogues and deliberations, would be free from the influence of
the political and economic decomposition of the states and the markets
they live in.

Virtual communities are by nature transnational. If they have borders,
these are the borders of language. A few days ago I saw a tweet
saying, "When the Canadian border crossing guards asked me where I was
from, I was really tempted to say 'the internet.'" Many people feel
like that tweeter. But that causes a kind of schizophrenia: life
becomes divided in two, the virtual life and the working life. Phyles
reunify our lives around our intentional virtual community.

MB: What do the new concepts of the sharing economy (Shareable), p2p
(P2P Foundation), the commons, and resilience (Global Guerrillas)
evoke for you, and how does Las Indias relate to them?

P2P means distributed networks, commons, abundance. It's the meaning of life!

The sharing economy means community, autonomy, commons, gift, joy,
abundance again. It is the real sense of our core, the "how-to" of
abundance, the way we live.

Resilience is at the same time the golden rule and the consequence of
building community on a shared economy under a P2P architecture. It is
our main virtue and the only thing that can guarantee survival even
under increasing global decomposition.

JR: Any plans for micro-finance or a bank to speed cooperative growth?

John Robb

We made a big effort to set up partnerships with mutual benefit
societies and credit coops in South America. Our idea was to bring in
our knowledge and criteria to create viable and productive coops,
while the credits coops would attract new solid, stable members in the
mid-term.

However, a series of accidents and health issues in the middle of 2012
affected our plans, and that idea had to be abandoned as the Indianos
decided to "regroup" in Europe. So, we've had to develop these ideas
in different ways for the last year and half.

In September 2012 we created Fondaki-SIP-ner, along with a dozen small
industrial companies, many of them coops. Fondaki is a not-for-profit
public intelligence consultancy that helps small and medium
enterprises find new markets and develop new lines of innovation, two
key issues for small enterprises and coops looking to face the
consequences of the current crisis without destroying employment,
while creating social cohesion. In January 2013 the younger Indianos
founded Enkidu, the first coop created by our core group since the
beginning of the crisis in 2008.

And, of course, we're still focused on the globalization of "the
small". We think that's one of the key issues today. In 2012, along
with the Garum Foundation, we worked on the development of "Bazar",
which is free software for the creation of distributed commercial
networks. It's something we'd like to take up again, and which would
complement the development of the Direct Economy, probably the most
important opportunity for generating communal autonomy today.

JR: How long does it take to train a regular person in cooperative
business practices? Are there plans for teaching cooperative thinking
online to grow it faster?

It takes time! Unfortunately, almost everything in the mainstream
culture teaches us that the world is a zero-sum game, and that markets
must be ruled by jungle law. But the simple truth is that they
shouldn't be, and we, people, can make the difference.

What we've noticed these last few years is that one of the most
destructive side effects of the crisis is how it affects people's
confidence in their own capabilities. Especially in Europe, among the
generation that finished its studies post-2008, the effect is often
devastating. People find it very hard to believe that the system can
offer them a future when it can't even offer them a job. But it's also
difficult to imagine your own future, an alternate endeavor of one's
own, when every other conversation, year after year, comes back to the
"no future" scenario.

This is why, towards the end of 2013, we've re-oriented our whole
communications strategy, especiallylasindias.com, towards "an
interesting life". During all these years, from cyberpunk to 2012, we
were characterized by striving to provide a perspective on the
political significance of technology. That was also at the core of our
books, from "Like a vine, not like a tree" in 2003 to "The P2P mode of
production" in 2012. But now we feel the need to focus on something
more basic, an ethical, empowering perspective without which the
questions we're looking to answer wouldn't make any sense. Why would
anyone want to partake in commons-oriented peer production when they
can't even imagine a future for their own community? How will anyone
create or join a cooperative when they think that any collective
decision-making process is something authoritative?

JR: How do Las Indias cooperatives tie into the physical community?

Our sense of community is indeed very physical on all levels. The
inner circle, los indianos, try to work together as much as possible,
sharing offices or houses.

The wider community, the aggregation of our families and close
friends, is at the center of our concerns. I mean, it's not only the
question of time management, the possibility of spending more time
with your people than in a "normal job." The kind of security you
build in a model like ours it is not only about yourself, you know
that all the common resources will be ready for your family and your
people if they will need it.

MB: Where will humanity be in 20 years?

I hope we will see big transnational spaces with freedom of movement
and trade, instigated by networks of economic democracies building
wider commons accessible to everyone.

We'll see. I hope to see the erosion of this idea called capitalism,
according to which a single production factor -- capital -- is the sole
determinant of a company's ownership. The reduction of the scale of
production has been the one fundamental tendency that's remained
constant over the last century. As a result, capital isn't as scarce
as it was at the birth of the present economic system. In fact, as the
value of production is further tied to factors such as creativity or
knowledge, the entire pyramid-like organizational structure becomes
ever more dysfunctional, highlighting the need for cooperative
protocols in companies.

I hope we will live in a society where capitalism will be marginal but
with a market that will not allow rents nor privileges, where the mix
of small and ubiquitous tools of production will be furthered by big
global repositories of public domain designs as innovative and popular
as free software is now.

I hope that in twenty years we will be living in a transnational
society, but it is not historically determined. There are a lot of
agents pushing towards recentralization: IP lobbies, big Internet
firms, rent seekers, state machinery, financial interests, global
mafias, etc. So the possibility of terminal nationalism and statism
with its social decomposition is also there.

The choice between a society of freedom, based in an egalitarian
market and robust commons, and global decomposition depends of our
actions in this decade.


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