florian schneider on Tue, 26 Jun 2001 03:29:11 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> new rules for the new actonomy

By Geert Lovink & Florian Schneider

That the world is changing wasn't really noticed for a while, and if at
all, only in positive ways - at least for a long as the fall of the Berlin
Wall and the overcoming of the Cold War gave rise to great hopes, the Boom
of the New Economy hid its bad points, as long as the post modern fun
spread nothing but good vibes. Nowadays the signs have become more
obvious, that there are many political, cultural, economic and social
conflicts simmering under the cover of digitalization, infotization and
globalization, the extent and breadth of these conflicts can not yet be

Seattle, Melbourne, Prague, Nice, Davos - Quebec has just been added to
this list, and Genova soon will be, where the G-8 meeting will take place
at the end of July, and Qatar, where the next WTO will be, and a global
day of action will be carried out. At the first glance it seems as if a
new global protest generation is emerging, which endeavors to equal,
include and battle against that of 1968.

However no-one should yield to this illusion: The great social movements
of the past centuries from labour to environment seem to be exhausted.
Simple recipes have lost all credibility, of course. The way back to
familiar models is obstructed, and the complex cohesion of an ever more
closely networking global economy and of ever more differentiated living
conditions seem to be immune against any form of criticism.

The field of the political has collapsed into thousands of single
fragments, but it is exactly in this chaos that a new activism with new
ways of political articulation and action is breaking through. All these
new beginnings are extremely flexible and operate with tactical and
strategic plurality. They strive for up-to-date notions of solidarity and
self-determination, and they try to link and to short-cut immediate and
local conflicts with global ones.

So what has changed?

In former times, it was all about imprisoning people somewhere in order to
discipline them (in schools, the army, factories, hospitals). Nowadays
people are monitored in real time practically everywhere. In all
political, social and cultural fields networking techniques of control
replace the former techniques of power exertion. Chip-cards, biometric
systems, electronic collars control the access to proprietary and
privileged areas. Borders are subjected to a special change of meaning in
this context. At electronic frontiers and virtual borders everything is
about matching user-profiles and instead of in- or exclusion: networking
against one's will.

There is no outside anymore and that is why the archimedical point of
criticism has vanished, to settle exactly on the border and to risk a
glance into the circumstances without really being a part of the
controversy. The "New Left", as it emerged from the student settings of
the 1960s and 70s had made their ideological criticism from these safe
positions. Little wonder that the remains of such a protest culture excel
at complaining, winging, griping and if it really gets radical, at making
someone feel guilty.

Work that is no longer calculable and measurable anymore is certainly
nothing really new. But their meaning for production process is pivotal.
What some call "Affect Industry" covers work in hospitals and in the film
industry, in software sweat-shops and kindergartens, in the entertainment
industry and in nursing homes. Classic reproduction work which aims to
stir emotions and create a feeling of well-being. The newest development
in the emotion industry opens up a biopolitical dimension where the most
riddling aspect which exists on earth - life itself - becomes the object
of production.

Nowadays, almost all habits of political thinking and action are more or
less radically questioned. Necessary is, a redefinition of the political
practice and its theorizing, not starting from point zero, but from where
we are now. In this context it is extremely exciting not to abandon all
insights, but on the contrary: to investigate experience from a new
historical upheaval and to recapitulate and to develop new terms and
refuel old ones; to let struggles communicate with each other, regardless
of if they are old or new, regardless of where they are physically
located, and how they will end.

Resistance always comes before Power and sabotage derives from the French
word sabot, which is a wooden shoe that is secretly introduced into a
machine and blocks the production temporarily. This interruption aims to
reduce the efficiency of the machine to such an extent that the emerging
material damage underlines the concrete demands or a general disgust of
the condition of exploitation.

As the normal strike, sabotage as a means of direct action aims directly
at the pickpocket of the corporation in order to achieve the realization
of certain conditions. Particularly when workers are robbed of their right
to strike, sabotage was appropriate although an illegal means of struggle
within the factories. Sabotage is a direct application of the idea that
property has no rights that its creators are bound to respect. That way
sabotage can be seen as a sort of anticipated reverse engineering of the
open source idea.

Indeed, in the current political debate about direct action there are
several parallels to the situation of the late 19th Century, which can be
made. Sabotage is radically antagonistic to the representative discourse,
i.e. in the institutionalized contexts of the working class or social
movements. Those representative forms have always referred to a nation
state while spontaneous, un- or better organized forms of resistance (e.g.
the Industrial Workers of the World IWW) have expressed a global class
consciousness. What is nowadays called direct action re-presents sabotage.
>From "No Logo" to "Ruckus Society", from wild strikes in the hardware,
Hi-Tech- and service industries to the semiotic guerilla of Indymedia,
RTmark or Adbusters.

We suspect: current forms of activism attempt a redefinition of sabotage
as social practice, but not in the usual destructive sense, rather in a
constructive, innovative and creative practice. Such a constructive
approach results in a movement without organs or organisation. In a
variety of perspectives - self-determined cybernetic thinking, that spurs
on different approaches and connections; that refers to a social
antagonism refers to the level of production; and that is constituting a
collective process of appropriation of knowledge and power.

So far three layers of net.activism appeared in a still rudimentary way:

- Networking within a movement: The first level of net.activism consists
of facilitating the internal communication inside the movement. It means
communication on and behind mailinglists, setting up websites, which are
designed as a toolbox for the activists themselves. It leads to creating a
virtual community, whose dynamics do not so much differ from romantic
offline-communities, besides the fact that people do not necessarily need
to meet physically, but very often they do afterwards.

- Networking in between movements and social groups: The second level of
net.activism is defined by campaigning and connecting people form
different contexts. It means joining the forces, collaborative and
cooperative efforts, creating inspiring and motivating surroundings, in
which new types of actions and activities may be elaborated.

- Virtual movements: The third level of net.activism means using the
internet vice versa as a platform for purely virtual protests, which refer
no longer to any kind of offline-reality and which may cause incalculable
and uncontrollable movements: E-protests like online demonstrations,
electronic civil disobedience or anything which might be seen as digital
sabotage as a legitimate outcome of a social struggle: counter-branding,
causing virtual losses, polluting the image of a corporation.

Time is Running Out for Reformism. 

This is the golden age of irresistible activism. Accelerate your
politices. Set a target you can reach within 3 years--and formulate the
key ideas within 30 seconds. Then go out and do it. Do not despair. Get
the bloody project up and then: hit hit hit. Be instantly seductive in
your resistance. The moral firewalls of global capitalism are buggy as
never before. Corporations are weakened because of their endemic dirty
practices, mad for profits. The faster things are changing, the more
radical we can act. The faster things are changing, the more radical we
have to act.

The green-liberal idea of slowly changing capitalism from within no longer
works. Not because the Third Way parties powers have "betrayed" the cause.
No. Simply because their project is constantly running out of time. Global
systems are in a state of permanent revolution, and so is subversive
politics. Society is changing much faster than any of its institutions,
including corporations. No one can keep up. There is no time anymore for
decent planning. The duration of a plan, necessary for its implementation
is simply not longer there. This mechanism turned the baby boomers into
such unbearable regressive control freaks. There is no more time to go
through the whole trajectory from research to implementation. Policy is
reduced to panic response.

Government policy is reduced to panic response. For the complex society
its enemies are the blueprints of five years ago. The future is constantly
being re-defined, and re-negotiated. Global systems are in a state of
permanent flux between revolution and reaction--and so is subversive
politics. Society is changing much faster than any of its institutions can
handle. In short: no one can keep up and here lies the competitive
advantage of today's mobile actonomists.

Instead of crying over the disappearance of politics, the public, the
revolution, etc. today's activists are focussing on the weakest link
defining the overall performance of the system: the point where the
corporate image materializes in the real world and leaves its ubiquity and
abstract omnipresence. Shortcut the common deliberations about the
dichotomy between real and virtual. Get into more sophisticated
dialectics. It's all linked anyway, with power defining the rules of
access to resources (space, information or capital). Throw your pie, write
your code. Visit their annual stockholders meeting, and do your goddamned
research first. What counts is the damage done on the symbolic level,
either real or virtual.

The new actonomy, equipped with pies and laptops, consists of thousands of
bigger and smaller activities, which are all by themselves meaningful,
manageable and sustainable. For this we do not need a General Plan, a
singular portal website, or let alone a Party. It is enough to understand
the new dynamics--and use them. Create and disseminate your message with
all available logics, tools and media. The new actonomy involves a
rigorous application of networking methods. It's diversity challenges the
development of non-hierarchical, decentralized and deterritorialized
applets and applications.

Laws of semiotic guerilla: hit and run, draw and withdraw, code and
delete. Postulate precise and modest demands, which allows your foe a step
back without losing it's face. Social movements of the last century were
opposing the nation state and disclaimed it's power. In the new actonomy
activists struggle against corporations and new forms of global
sovereignty. The goal is obviously not so much to gain institutional
political power, rather to change the way how things are moving--and why.
The principle aim is to make power ridiculous, unveil its corrupt nature
in the most powerful, beautiful and aggressive symbolic language, then
step back in order to make space for changes to set in. Let others do that
job, if they wish so. There is no need for a direct dialogue in this
phase. Exchanges on mediated levels will do. Complex societies have got
plenty mediators and interfaces. Use them. Indirect contact with the power
to be does not effect your radical agenda as long as you maintain and
upgrade your own dignity, both as an acting individual and as a group.

Radical demands are not by default a sign of a dogmatic belief system
(they can, of course). If formulated well they are strong signs,
penetrating deeply into the confused postmodern subjectivity, so
susceptive for catchy phrases, logos and brands. Invent and connect as
much intentions, motivations, causalities as possible.

These days a well-designed content virus can easily reach millions
overnight. Invest all your time to research how to design a robust meme
which can travel through time and space, capable to operate within a
variety of cultural contexts. The duality between 'small is beautiful' and
'subversive economies of scale' is constantly shifting. Low-tech
money-free projects are charming, but in most cases lack the precision and
creative power to strike at society's weakest link. Be ready to work with
money. You will need it for the temporary setup.

Think in terms of efficiency. Use the staff and infrastructure on the site
of your foe. Acting in the new actonomy means to cut the preliminaries and
get to the point straight away. A campaign does not rely on ones own
forces, but on those of your allies and opponents as well. Outsourcing is
a weapon. It is a means of giving someone else the problems you cannot
solve yourself. Remember that you won't get very far without a proper
infrastructure such as offices, servers, legal frameworks to receive and
pay money, etc. However, you can also treat these institutional
requirements as flexible units. You do not need to own them, the only
thing you need is temporary access so that you can set up the machine
ensemble you need for that particular project.

Radical demands are not by default a sign of a dogmatic belief system
(they can, of course). If formulated well they are strong signs,
penetrating deeply into the confused postmodern subjectivity, so
susceptive for catchy phrases, logos and brands.

Invent and connect as much intentions, motivations, causalities as
possible. Nowadays activists use multi-layered and multiple voice
languages that reach out far beyond the immediate purpose of a campaign or
a concrete struggle, and in doing so, they create a vision much larger
than what is accessible right at the moment. This mechanism needs a
re-assessment of rhizomatic micro-politics which sprung up in a response
to the centralized macro politics of the decaying communist parties in the

Act in a definite space and with a definite force. Dramaturgy is all that
matters. Precision campaigns consists of distinct episodes with a
beginning and an ending, an either smooth or harsh escalation and a final
showdown. Accept the laws of appearance and disappearance. Don't get stuck
in structures which are on the decline. Be ready to move on, taking with
you the (access to) infrastructure of the previous round. Action is taking
place in a variety of locations and thus refers in a positive way to a new
stage of people's globalization from below. One that is not just an empty,
endlessly extended market, but full of energy.

Refuse to be blackmailed. If attacked, make one step aside or ahead. Don't
panic. Take all the options into account. No one needs cyberheroes, you
are not a lone hacker anymore. The attack maybe be done by a single person
but remember we are many. The corporate response may be harder than you
expect. It may be better to evade a direct confrontation, but don't trust
the media and the mediators. Ignore their advice. In the end you are just
another news item for them. If trouble hits the face, scale down, retreat,
re-organize, get your network up, dig deep into the far corners of the
Net--and then launch the counter campaign.

Program and compile subject oriented campaigns! These days a lot of people
talk about a global upraising, which is only in the very beginning and
definitely not limited to running behind the so called battles of the
three acronyms: WTO, WB and IMF. But the urgent question of that movement
is: what new types of subjectivity will raise out of the current
struggles? Everybody knows, what's to be done, but who knows, what are we
fighting for and why? Maybe it doesn't matter anymore: net.activism is of
a charming fragility. In the end it means permanently revising and
redefining all goals.

The revolution will be open source or not! Self determination is something
you should really share. As soon as you feel a certain strength on a
certain field, you can make your power productive as positive, creative
and innovative force. That power opens up new capacities, reducing again
and again unexpected and incalculable effects.

Ignore history. Don't refer to any of your favorite predecessors. Hide
your admiration for authors, artists and familiar styles. You do not need
to legitimize yourself by quoting the right theorist or rapper. Be
unscrupulously modern (meaning: ignore organized fashion, you are anyway
busy with something else). Create and disseminate your message with all
available logics, tools and media. The new actonomy involves a rigorous
application of networking methods. It's diversity challenges the
development of non-hierarchical, decentralized and deterritorialized
applets and applications. In the meanwhile leave the preaching of the
techno religion to others. Hide your admiration for everything new and
cool. Just use it. Take the claim on the future away from corporations.
Remember: they are the dinosaurs.

Read as many business literature as possible and don't be afraid it may
effect you. It will. Having enough ethics in your guts you can deal with
that bit of ideology. Remember that activism and entrepreneurial spirit
have a remarkably lot in common. So what? Benefit from your unlimited
capacity of metamorphosis. With the right spirit you can survive any
appropriation. Free yourself from the idea that enemy concepts are
compromising the struggle. You don't have to convince yourself, nor your
foe. The challenge is to involve those, who are not yet joining the
struggle. The challenge is to use resources, which may not belong to you,
but which are virtually yours.

Sydney/Munich, June 2001

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