Monday, September 17, 2018

Of Platforms and Contradictions #2

This is my second post on the “Overexploited and Underpaid” talks, part of the series “Six Contradictions and the End of the Present” at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. In this I reflect on the seminar held with the main guests, professors Trebor Scholz and Tiziana Terranova.
It's great that the museum hosts events like this. Institutions here do continuous adult education about new ideas, new media, and the new ways of thinking, being, and working which these momentous changes entail. The processes of information capitalism are working so far in advance of most people's understanding it is imperative for state institutions to step up to educate the public. Continuous education will be needed for people to cope with the impending changes in every aspect of life.
The framing of this appearance was announced on the museum's website:
“Though the Internet was initially considered a public space based on the free interaction among equals, it is now conceived as a huge factory without walls where any aspect of the day-to-day life can be valorised, produced and commoditised. Is there any alternative to this scenario?”
A study document was prepared by the GEC, which is quite extensive, concluding with the group's "Requirements for a transformative cooperativism". I did not see this. I just kind of came along, and had no hesitation about barging into the conversation.
The seminar with the two guests began with a presentation on the short-term housing platform Airbnb by Javier Gil, a sociologist and activist with a Madrid tenants union (@Gil_JavierGil; I think this is the PAH, but not sure).

The Straight Dope on Airbnb

Two things are happening with Airbnb in Madrid, Gil said: property owners are taking housing out of the market because of the rent gap, and renters are doing it with their own flats, to help deal with a 38% increase of housing prices in last four years.
Of these in Madrid, only 6% are people doing it out of their own home; the other 94% are owners taking units out of the housing market. For them, said Terranova, management agencies in Naples contact owners and offer to manage their Airbnb. A big hotel chain in Madrid is doing that now, said Gil.
Around the corner from the museum in the diverse Lavapiés barrio, there is a strike now against a 300% rent increase. The tenants union is a collective solution to a collective problem, a message to owners that increasing rents so high will meet resistance. The “nos quedamos” (we stay) campaign refuses rent increases.
Gil spoke of “urban nomads,” those who rent on weekends and sleep elsewhere. This is a stressful life for the individual, Scholz said. In your fieldwork how did you find the “urban nomads”? One by one, right? You could have found them more easily if you had access to the Airbnb data. The platform capitalists create market instabilities, and they don't allow for solutions to emerge using their data.
This market couldn't operate without a frame of government which allows this. Meanwhile, the human and social costs mount, and are not adequately addressed.

The Urban Money Mindset

Airbnb accelerates the housing market, Gil said, Precarious people can participate, but only in moments of crisis. For some it allows them not to work in traditional economy. They prefer that kind of life to a bad job. It's the new subjectivity. People start looking for more money opportunities in how you organize your life, your house. “Hey, I can rent my sofa too.” The market is expanding itself into aspcts of life which have not been mercantilized.
The model of the market is continually enforced, said Terranova. How do we contest the political hegemony that enforces this modality over others? Maybe that is the form of the class struggle today, against the market.
In their publicity, Scholz said, Airbnb talks about this old lady who can now stay in her apartment thanks to them. The guy doing global outreach for Airbnb did his PhD on religious cults. He is aware of how to manipulate subjectivity around the company's product. Scholz said he was recently in a solidarity economy meeting and Airbnb was on the panel, presenting all these lies, a charming young lady. It's like the pharmaceutical industry selling drugs.
It is hard to communcate this to North American colleagues, he said. Because only health, education and services are growing sectors, these should be the basis of the economy, not the cost. The economy needs to be re-centered.
This is exactly the argument of feminist economist Kate Raworth with her conception of what she calls the “donut economy.”

Addressing economic organization is a post-national way of thinking. Yet even as market capitalism and global finance have lost legitimacy, this precarity and financialization of everything embeds the neoliberal mentality very deeply.

An Excursus on Art

Terranova, referencing Stewart Hall, said that we need to “make stories” – the popular cannot be only the field of capital. We need novels, volumes of similar stories, TV shows in the reward and punishment format.
I disagreed on this. It's the argument of Stephen Duncombe for an “ethical spectacle” in his 2007 book Dream. I'm a diehard avant gardist, I suppose, and prefer to step outside the Spectacle for cultural strategies. Example, “Dada Ruso,” the magnificent exhibition presently in the MNCARS museum.
At this point, a guy with TV experience spoke up, a producer of web series. Long form story telling in that medium, he said, is a corporation thing. It's very difficult to do something different. Bernardo Gutiérrez, who introduced the seminar, told of a friend who made a proposal for a TV show about student journalists around the time of the 15M movement. It sounded like a great pitch to me. It was rejected – “Who would be interested in that?”, they said.
A garbage picker from Sao Paolo told Scholz, “I read your book, and it's inspiring, but I really need money.” The question is, what do we have that people can engage with now, next week? It can be completely flawed, only temporary, but immediate in its effects. There is a story of Emma Goldman. She is giving a fiery speech, and afterwards an old worker says, That's great, but what about me? I'm old. I won't see the revolution. What about worker rights? She took the point.

Economy Is Political – Why No Co-op Lobby?

During the break I said that my biggest question concerned the apparent disconnect between political activism and cooperative initiatives. The Cooperation Jackson group in Mississippi has elected a mayor. They intend as well to build “a solidarity economy, anchored by a network of cooperatives and worker-owned, democratically self-managed enterprises” (quote from a succinct UK documentary on the group [ca. 30 min.]). The group is regularly invited to Barcelona en Comú's municipalist meetings (the “Fearless Cities” series), but has never come to Madrid.
Why don't the cooperatives demand political support and funding from their governments? A key part of the Cooperative Jackson plan is precisely to swing city contracts to workers cooperatives.
A convener of the GEC told me Madrid had tried that, through a program called Mares Madrid. But the right wing attacked it as “jobs for friends”, and the timorous city council cut the funding way back.
When we reconvened, Scholz said he was seeing among academics a fatigue with analysis. They are reporting, analyzing, and then throwing their hands up, as if to say, What can we do about it?
“Free Jeremy Hammond,” I cracked. (He is the notorious hacker of the Stratfor defense intelligence website who is doing 10 years in US federal prison; @FreeJeremyNet)
For me, Scholz said, it's not about bringing the giants down. Corporations and coops exist side by side – one can't destroy the other.
Side by side they may be, but one is beating and squashing the other, like Laurel and Hardy.
“An investor-based startup gets tax advantages. If you do the same thing as a co-op you don't. This has to change.”
Scholz talks to policymakers, and has had success in Brussels, some in Germany and France. Jeremy Corbyn in the UK has made platform co-ops part of his program for the Labor party. Scholz's group has tried to get the US DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) to do the same. This is a long road, up a steep hill.
The infamous ALEC, which writes boilerplate regressive anti-union legislation for state governments around the USA, is joined at the hip with chambers of commerce. These bodies don't have co-ops on their agendas.
Scholz lamented that the biggest co-ops, like Spain's Mondragon and USA's TrueValue hardware chain don't flex their muscles politically. “Peoples banks in Germany are huge, but they are just like any other bank.... In Spain and Brazil the co-ops are rich... How do we motivate them to invest in their future?” These giant co-ops have lost sense of their mission and social responsibility. “They don't project their values outward. I think that's because of McCarthyism,” Scholz said.
That's a historical question. Co-ops emerged strongly in the US during the Depression of the 1930s, but they were not included in Roosevelt's New Deal. Instead corporations and extractive industries were favored. The big co-ops have gone a long way to disassociate themselves with left politics.
But how can the chicken run away from the egg?
Today in the US, co-ops are part of Cooperation Jackson's plan. These organizers come out of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Malcolm was on top of J. Edgar Hoover's enemies list. The Communist Caucus of the DSA in Oakland advocates cooperatives. They are a group despised by the Democrats.

Can a Union be a Co-op?

This blog began as an investigation into the squatting movement. And I keep a weather eye on that movement and its possibilities as they have changed over the years. Municipalism is part of that change, and I have blogged a lot about that. But now, to many in the left movements in Spain, municipalism has turned into something of a false promise – as a Chavista in Madrid anguished during the formal talk of Scholz and Terranova, “The left has come into power here but refuses to take power.” Another part of that change is the emergence of what Beatriz Garcia has called social unionism in the world of the social centers, sindicalismo social.
The platform cooperativism program is quite hopeful. But the question remains, how can people move into positions of participation? It seems obvious that left electoral platforms should boost co-ops. Their constituents stand to benefit most. Unions as well, clobbered by foreign competition, regressive legislation (in the USA), and the looming clouds of AI and robots, should be out front of co-op formation. But they aren't doing it.
Which leaves... what, hackers, academics and anarchists?

How About a Squat?

Italian social centers come out of a strong autonomist marxist tradition. They have always been “workerist.” So it was an unsurprising surprise that Terranova concluded her remarks at the seminar by recalling that many conversations in occupied social centers in Naples had contributed to her understandings of these issues. Now, she said, there is a fear that these centers, only recently given a path of legalization, may be shut down by a change of city administration.
(This was a key topic at MAC 4 which I blogged – but not that session. It is yet to come... [cue flush of shame].)
Luca Recano, who traveled from Naples with Terranova, explained that Macao in Milan, the cultural center that emerged out of an important squatting action there in 2012 – (I blogged it at the time; Emanuele Braga wrote of it in Scapegoat) – has turned the money they have raised from cultural activity into a blockchain crypto-currency called Common Coin, which also includes labor. (This is from the Bank of the Commons, now in beta.)
Political action is paid in the Macao system, because it is considered important work in the general interest.
Even so, Luca said, “strong contradictions which limit the reproduction of this experience.... There's a lack of trust among some in the use of the technology... a fear of scaling up this practice.” Many of these economic relations remain on the level of gift economy.

Macao in Milan. "Nowhere", i.e. "utopia".

“I don't think that when people get paid that it's all about being paid,” said Scholz. Speaking of a project he had done in India with dalit women, “becoming owner of a business changed their lives.”
In a sense, OSCs are already quite internet platform-dependent. And they are intrinsically cooperatives. mount websites and use existing platforms like Twitter and Facebook to distribute their activities. They have a virtual presence that often lasts long past their actual physical existence.What they have not done – and it's a big stretch – is make substantive changes in people's daily economies.
I am doubtful that the OSCs can become incubators of cooperativism, either platform or brick-and-mortar, on anything like the scale of even a small restaurant chain. OSCs are too minoritarian, and their constituency is split, like classic anarchists, between sindicalists and insurrectionaries. But, as seminar introducer Bernardo Gutiérrez shows in his book Pasado mañana. Viaje a la España del cambio, sprouts of cooperativism are appearing all over Spain, not just in OSCs.
Municipalists have been concentrating on pulling what levers of the state they can, re-municipalizing privatized city services, building new social housing, and taming repressive police forces. It is up to entrepreneurs of the social to promote, institute and maintain the economies – many of them, and all diverse – that we so desperately need to survive the Anthropocene.


NEXT: Back to Old Business – MAC 4 Concluding Session; Spanish Social Centers Ponder Legalization Strategies; The Madrid Seminar of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor


study document prepared by the GEC for this meeting

Rent-gap theory

The concept of ethical spectacle offers a way of thinking about the tactical and strategic use of signs, symbols, myths, and fantasies to advance progressive, democratic goals.

Russian Dada 1914–1924

UK documentary on the group Film length: 32:06 In Jackson, Mississippi, Cooperation Jackson are building a solidarity economy...

Mares de Madrid - Barrios. Economía. Futuro
Mares de Madrid es un proyecto de transformación urbana que, a través de la economía social y solidaria, busca fomentar iniciativas productivas innovadoras.

Naples OSCs given a path of legalization...
Marta Cillero, "What Makes an Empty Building in Naples a 'Common Good'?", Political Critique, April 25, 2017

Co-ops were not included in Roosevelt's New Deal....
Jonathan Rowe, "What History Books Left Out About Depression Era Co-ops", Yes! magazine, Sep 14, 2018

Beatriz García, “Centros sociales y sindicalismo: la potencia colectiva,” June 2, 2015, Diagonal Periodico

I blogged it in 2012....

Bank of the Commons

M^C^O – Macao – their manifesto about Common Coin

using the Bank of the Commons (now in beta)

“Messages of Rupture”: An Interview with Emanuele Braga on the MACAO Occupation in Milan By by Cultural Workers Organize, translated by Roberta Buiani

M^C^O - Macao


Saturday, September 15, 2018

On the Tech Beat – Of Platforms and Contradictions

Graphic from IGD podcast of Nov. '17 "Error451: #04 Net Neutrality"

So summer is done and it's back to school before you know it. There's still a bunch to say about what happened in Madrid in July – and I promise to get back to it. But first, to the current course work.
I attended a talk last week at the Reina Sofia museum entitled “Overexploited and Underpaid,” part of a series called “Six Contradictions and the End of the Present” produced by the Grupo de Estudios Críticos.
The speakers were professors Trebor Scholz and Tiziana Terranova.
The framing of this appearance was announced on the museum's website:
“Though the Internet was initially considered a public space based on the free interaction among equals, it is now conceived as a huge factory without walls where any aspect of the day-to-day life can be valorised, produced and commoditised. Is there any alternative to this scenario?”
A study document was prepared by the GEC, which is quite extensive, concluding with the group's "Requirements for a transformative cooperativism". I did not see this. I just kind of came along to the seminar after the talk I blog below, and had no hesitation about barging into the conversation.
I had met Trebor 15 years ago at a conference in Buffalo, New York, called “Free Cooperation.” I was working then on artists' groups and collectives (I finally published Art Gangs in 2012), so all this stuff and these people interested me. Key conveners of that long-ago conference were Trebor Scholz, Brian Holmes, Geert Lovink, and Howard Rheingold, a Whole Earth catalog veteran and professional tech optimist.
“Free cooperation” named a conditon of labor promoted by Christoph Spehr. A book came out of that conference published by Autonomedia which emphasized the creative side of online action: “New media artists create social online tools and urge others to participate,” the promotion reads. “Knowledge collectives gather information in large, open repositories. Free culture – with all its file-sharing applications – is blossoming.”
At that point internet penetration was about 13% of everybody. Last year it passed 50% of everyone in the world. What has powered that is not free cooperation, nor indeed any kind of blossoming. It has been the raw power of capital. And, despite Google's pledge to “not be evil,” capital is not benign.
In 2016 I saw a barnstormer tour appearance by the authors of People Get Ready concerning the "jobless future" of AI (artificial intelligence) and super supple robots which turbo-capitalism can soon deliver. The implications for liberal democracy are bleak. The Atlantic magazine has been dinning this line for some time, most recently in a text by an Israeli author, who ought to know.
Or not. There's clear advantages everywhere for everybody in the platforms which capitalist internet firms have provided. This modern sword of Damocles hanging over our virtual banquet table is one of the “Six Contradictions” the seminar series at MNCARS set out to explore.
Scholz and Terranova both spoke in a formal lecture talk at the museum. I was immediately presented with a classic meat-world problem when a sniffling sneezing young woman sat down next to me, blocking me from the aisle. Foolish me, to take an inside seat. I really didn't want to get sick.
Terranova had the dystopian side of the argument, as she pointed out that the internet was developed with state funding. In the middle '90s it was opened to business and the market, and the slide towards monopoly concentration began. Investment poured in for all kinds of schemes. It stuttered with the “bubble” of '00, when many of the more hippie-minded projects popped, then came in again for real with the aim of disrupting all former businesses as usual. Ergo, shopping malls dying all over the USA today.
She began with an enormous obscure graphic – "Anatomy of an AI System [artificial intelligence] -- The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources." More than a map, this enormous graphic is accompanied online by an extensive illustrated essay. Terranova pointed out that the terms with which we think of capital and labor today must undergo deep change in the face of the rise of AI.

A 17th c. graphic from the "anatomy of AI" article; this illustration of "citafonia" from the Baroque era makes as much or more sense than the micro-rendering of the AI diagram itself....

All of this development is going to remain invisible to us, the users, “confined to the front end,” i.e., the user interface. These ways of interacting with “computational platform capital,” like Alexa and Siri [Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant, like Siri from Apple's iPhone], raise the specter of a foreclosed dystopian future, like the TV series “Black Mirror.” (Which, BTW, I will not watch as I consider it the epistemological equivalent of the “strong guys with guns” genre of TV programs.)
Alexa starts laughing in the middle of the night, scaring its owners. Is a resistance embedded in the program?
All of this is profoundly disruptive to life as we have known and lived it, driven by the idea that information-based economic models can replace market systems. What maintains this hegemony in the sphere of public life is neoliberalism, an ideology, a Foucauldian “abstract machine” that subjectively holds the explicit structures together.
Trebor Scholz had the optimistic role, but he began it with a sober reminder. “People gave their lives” for the rights of workers over the past 200 years, and now capitalist “sharing” platforms are wiping those away. Discrimination among platform workers and vendors is resurgent as well.
As the evangelist of platform cooperativism, he drove straight to a few of the 45 cases from his book with Nathan Schneider, “Ours to Hack and to Own.” Among them is Up & Go Cleaners in NYC, one of a number of in-home services groups comprised of women of color and migrant laborers. There is here an alignment, a commonality with union organizing, as in the case of Las Kellys, and Territorio Domestico, workers' rights groups active in Spain among hotel cleaners and care workers.
Another is a Swiss co-op, which helps “citizens to securely store, manage and control access to their personal” health data. Very useful when talking to different doctors, and also to access clinical trials.
There is also FairBnB, a short-term rental platform which started in Italy and also works in Spain on a principle of “community-powered tourism,” returning a portion of profit to local projects.
These examples directly address current hot button issues – low-wage labor, exploitation and exclusion of migrants from labor markets, data privacy, and impact of Airbnb tourism on housing availability.
The idea is not new, Scholz said. Older co-ops, some quite powerful – e.g., Mondragon, True Value hardware – are “hiding in plain sight” as they have adapted to the corporate landscape, and do not look down at the seedlings around them.
The platform cooperative idea has a good deal of powerhouse academic support behind it. Multiple sessions of training are being held, and publications produced.
A questioner wondered if this was not cultural imperialism? The precondition of co-design, that the workers themselves be intimately involved in developing the platform, works against that.
Politically, said Terranova, the main task is to show that platform capitalism is doing a lot of collateral damage. Scholz said that in the USA they are looking to municipalities to support these initiatives. As per André Gorz it's a “reformist reform.”
People are struggling to survive, said Terranova. That's a strategy of power. They don't have time to organize. And (unsurprisingly) most of these platform capitalists are US companies.

NEXT: The seminar report



Six Contradictions and the End of the Present

Grupo de Estudios Críticos

one brief bio of Trebor Scholz

Tiziana Terranova

study document prepared by the GEC for this meeting

an idea promoted by Christoph Spehr

the book, “Free Cooperation”

internet penetration last year

Summary highlights from People Get Ready, by Robert W McChesney and John Nichols

a text by an Israeli author – "Why Technology Favors Tyranny," by Yuval Noah Harari; extract from his book

shopping malls dying all over the USA
"Big, bold … and broken: is the US shopping mall in a fatal decline?", by Dominic Rushe. 23 Jul 2017

"Anatomy of an AI System -- The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources."
More than a map, this

evangelist of platform cooperativism – Trebor Scholz has published a number of books.
This pamphlet by Trebor Scholz is online, “Platform Cooperativism: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy,” January 2016

Nathan Schneider – “Everything for everyone”: Michel Bauwens interviews Nathan Schneider, Sept. 10, 2018

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

MAC 4: “Subaltern Europe” Continued

A 2015 performance action against "wolfish" financial speculators in housing, performed by Warsaw group Miasto Jest Nasze

Voices from the East

In Raúl Sánchez Cedillo's trans-European segment of the MAC 4 conference Justyuna Koscinska of Miasto Jest Nasze spoke. That is the City is Ours group of Warsaw, Poland. (She distributed her card upon leaving the conference, which is quite untypical in these gatherings; it was easy then to find her group online.) They are fighting “wild reprivatizations” and evictions from social housing, and always the cutting down of trees to prepare parks for development.
(I recalled the hard story of the Warsaw woman housing activist murdered in the 1990s for her activism that we heard from activist architects at our SqEK conference in Rome in '14. Never solved. Even so, as I write this, NY Times reports: “In Poland, nearly half of the judges on the Constitutional Tribunal, one of the nation’s top courts, rebelled and declared its workings politicized and dysfunctional”, illustrated with a photo of people protesting in front of the Supreme Court in Warsaw. So not only the young left, but also the shreds of civil society are pushing back against the authoritarian government. SqEK's 2017 conference was in the east of Europe, in Prague, for the first time.)
Radomir from the Belgrade, Serbia, group Roof Overhead, a consortium of anti-eviction groups, spoke also of their struggle against the privatization of flats acquired during the socialist period. “When we made an electoral run,” he said, “we were shocked by how the media banalized and stereotyped our positions. It's a thing to be aware of, how your positions will be distorted.”
Justyuna concurred. “We are stereotyped as communists who want to terrorize society. Ownership of apartments has been valorized. We think it's better to rent. Tenants' rights is hard to discuss, because renting is associated with communism. The air pollution problem is also involved with ownership, and the property rights of the car.”
She referenced the sanctuary cities movement, and the offering of municipal ID cards to migrants. Urban citizenship is happening more in the German-speaking world right now, she said. This amounts to rethinking global justice from the municipal level.
I was reminded of the prescient artists' project, recently shown in Madrid, the “NSK State.” It was created in 1992 by people from Slovenian arts group Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). They issued passports for their “state”, which for a period were actually used successfully by some African migrants.

One-time logo of Warsaw municipalist group

Corporate Power in Cities

A madrileño, Tom of Ecologists in Action, asked: “What are the limits of municipalism in relation to corporate powers? With Ahora Madrid we can see there are big limits. How to spend public monies is the question. Here in Madrid, a huge amount goes to transnational corporations. How can we get rid of that? We don't have small and medium companies to take over from the transnationals. From the first moment, corporate power was organized to stop any systemic change.”
Now, he noted, AirBnB is lobbying in Brussels as the “European Holiday Association.” They are asking the EU to intervene in cities' lawsuits against AirBnB, relying on the capitalist market policies of the EU.
A woman from Greece observed that now, ten big cities in Greece have left governments. Women have campaigned to pass resolutions against TTIP, the trade pact that would affect cities' ability to do local democracy, and other things.
Renau from Lisbon: The political questions are obvious, even if they are not discussed under the rubric of municipalism. The anti-austerity movements of 2011-12 were the biggest movements in Portugal since the Carnation Revolution. They started to shift the political composition of the ossified left in Lisbon. Questions around gentrification and tourism weren't as present. But recently there has also been a shift in global investment. A huge influx of foreign capital has come to Lisbon. Rented social centers have emerged. Squatting is hard because of the weakness of the social movements. There is now an Assembleia de Ocupação de Lisboa – AOLX to claim housing in Lisbon. We try to squat city-owned property. The group is not openly antagonistic, she said (although their blog posts are pretty rad). “They've sort of formed an NGO.”
Passport of the NSK State

This compares directly to the NYC of the 1980s and '90s, when the movement squatted abandoned city-owned properties which the city was trying to sell to private developers. (The story is told in Christopher Mele's book, “The Selling of the Lower East Side.”) Then artists weren't so hip to being used. Now artists are coming to the aid of the movements early on – e.g., the activist art group Left Hand Rotation has produced a documentary comparing the new pressures on housing to the 18th c. earthquake that levelled Lisbon.

Raul Recapped –

Isabel spoke (and I missed her) on how the work of care is being reorganized. On the long trend of racism. Ecologies of care. Techno-ecologies. On the new social commons, and on new ways of defining social struggles. Transformation of classes.

Poster from Euromayday

He summarized me (on the question I've written already) – speaking of constructing migrants as subjects in themselves, not only as subjects of care, and how cultural institutions could relate in that work.
Other points of his summary in telegraphic fashion –
Elections are useful mainly as ways of deblocking at the level of the state. I think this meant “deblocking” the path of the social movements, how they are constrained in terms of the invisibility of their issues, distortion, etc., and their inability to propose policy and legal solutions to their questions.
Gerald Raunig: We need our own media.
Lunch. (I failed to buy a ticket, and there was no more room.)
The second session of the Subaltern meeting was assemblyistic. Groups were defined in a kind of rolling chaos, but ended up being something like 1) on treaties, municipalists against them, and how to network for practical purposes; and 2) housing – the struggle against global funds like Blackstone, and e-platforms like Uber, Cabify, Air BnB.
I joined a 3rd group on networking. The discussion was broad:
In the electoral pursuits, you get into an NGO world. Which network can municipalists use to help them? Radomir of Belgrade – Foreign legitimation of our struggle against waterfront development was helpful.
Italian man – We need to share legal best practices. Other municipalities offer examples of what is possible to do. A knowledge exchange in the field of law. I mention the crowd source law project in Madrid, which is in its infancy.
A “how to” program of questions like social media, how to do campaigns, etc. Question of the local vs. the national: “Neighborhood politics is already transnational” because everyone comes from someplace.
Me – (broken record) Cultural institutions in relation to social movements.
Raul – There is no global-local opposition anymore. Any locality is already a small world, an isomorphism that is already academic. Democracy is not overdetermined by national interests and governments. The manteros are harrassed by local police. This is not only here in Madrid, but everywhere.
He proposes an action day on issues, like No Se Vende (Not For Sale) EU-wide.
The main idea is to reinforce each movement in its own place.
Tom of Ecologists in Action – Who represents municipalities on the EU level? EU regulations impact cities, but the cities can't influence them back? This is a question, to work to influence power on an EU level, or mainly to build local power? We can use a concrete exchange with political platforms like Corbyn's Momentum and Bernie Sanders campaign on media and social media.
Gerald – We need these classical campaign logics, but on social media we need not to be so classical. We should think of funding our own media. Using Facebook and so, we will not produce a disobedient character. For example, the Euromayday program, a networked event which started in Milan in 2001. It spread all over the EU. The question of precaricization of labor became foregrounded. They named the issue. Municipalism was long a'building. EU wide action days can help.
In Hamburg in 2009, I saw street poster traces of Euromayday all around the city, as groups there had participated and pushed the program. An amazing Lego animation announced it online. I met graduate students who planned to write theses on Euromayday. Now online there is merely a fading luminescence of this event. I put some in the links below.
Many, including Gerald Raunig and most recently Geert Lovink in an anthology by my publisher, have written on the question of dissident media, and the dystopian aspects of corporate social media platforms. These writings definitely inform my consumption and use of the corporate platforms. But “our own”? So much more easily said than done. I recall the failed efforts of Michael Alpert's to launch one a few years ago. I'd love to see Gerald get a big grant and launch a platform with built-in auto-translation (like Facebook and Twitter have), that would greatly extend the fine work EIPCP has done with its occasional multi-lingual e-zine.

MAC 4 Concluding Session; Spanish Social Centers Ponder Legalization Strategies; The Madrid Seminar of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor


Miasto jest Nasze | Warszawa: miasto mieszkańców!

Roof Overhead, Belgrade, Serbia (in Cyrillic)

Squatting in the East - Baltic Worlds


The city belongs to those who occupy it: Okupying Lisbon
blog post of Sept. '17 describes the movement

Assembleia de Ocupação de Lisboa - AOLX

"Terramotourism" documentary by the activist art group Left Hand Rotation
42 minutes

I saw the Madrid city website last year, but now cannot find it. There is this article, which looks to be an exhaustive rundown, as of 3 years ago. (This stuff changes fast.)
Robert Ambrogi, “The Failure of Crowdsourcing in Law (So Far, At Least)”, August 10, 2015, at

Tomas Herreros and Raúl Sánchez Cedillo, “Euro Mayday: El otro 1 de mayo,” 01/05/2008

Publication in PDF (SP): "Milano-Barcelona. Euro MayDay 004. 1º Primer de maig de 2004. MayDay! MayDay! Contra la precarització de la vida..."

EuroMayDay - Tactical Media Files (ENG);jsessionid=1C8A4F64F806E9DED6EF792AD9C52ED5

Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter, eds., Organization after Social Media (Minor Compositions, UK/USA, 2018); online via Scribd at:

Tomas Herreros and Raúl Sánchez Cedillo, “Euro Mayday: El otro 1 de mayo,” 01/05/2008

Publication in PDF (SP): "Milano-Barcelona. Euro MayDay 004. 1º Primer de maig de 2004. MayDay! MayDay! Contra la precarització de la vida..." EuroMayDay - Tactical Media Files (ENG);jsessionid=1C8A4F64F806E9DED6EF792AD9C52ED5

Friday, July 6, 2018

A CODA to the first post, “Acto Inaugural” – “Disenchantment”

Meeting of members of Instituto DM at

I'm afraid this post is out of order, but as the first post was far from clear, it seems necessary to explain further what this MAC 4 meeting in Madrid on municipalism, self-government and counterpower was intended to be about.
In the first post on MAC 4, I referenced the disappointment many in Spain are feeling with the city governments they helped to put into power. In a pre-conference article posted to El Salto, Alberto Azcarate spelled it out, and I condense points from that below.
Note that these MACs are not meetings about municipalism per se, like academic conferences or meetings of elected officials and their governments' functionaries. The MAC meetings are intended to function as “an observatory and a critical monitoring platform” for the “change councils” to ensure that they comply with the mandates they received from the social movements that stood behind them from the beginning and voted them into power.
The new electeds were to serve as “promoters of counter-power organizations” in order to neutralize institutional inertia. In Madrid especially, after decades of right-wing government, the “administrative apparatus [is] strongly impregnated by the normative philosophy of that political current.”
Instead the city councils seem to have forgotten that they did not arrive to power as leaders, but as messengers to fulfill the mandates of the movements. They have succumbed to “institutional possibilism.”
The booklet – La crisis sigue. Elementos para un nuevo ciclo político/“The Crisis Continues” – published for the MAC 4 analyzes what the authors see as the close of a cycle of politics. “It is no longer about assessing the municipal experiences that were born in 2015,” they write, “but about starting to bet on those movements and struggles that can push beyond what has already been achieved.”
The next wave will again be driven by the movements, to “reconstruct the mobilizing base.” They look to the milestone of the the feminist strike of 8M, the national mobilization of pensioners, the “everlasting PAH – a collective star of movementism,” and the new movements for housing vs. gentri- and touristi-fication, the unions of precarious and domestic workers, and of sin papeles., among others.
The main areas of discussion at MAC 4 then were to be the emergence of a new militant feminism and its leadership “in the struggles against the general crisis of the reproduction of life”, the urban movements against the new real estate bubble – rising rents, gentrification and turistification of urban centers; the “new anti-fascism to confront the war against the poor”, and institutional racism. Also of course “the issue of political organization, in complex and fluid movement contexts, ranging from cooperativism to social centers.”
The movement groups which made such efforts to take Ahora Madrid and Manuela Carmena to the municipal government today feel cheated. Their issues have been forgotten. Now, as Ahora Madrid and Carmena look to “the middle strata of social democratic” voters in Madrid, “the sinuous drifts of institutional politics begin to promote a silent dispute over the integration of future candidates and candidates in electoral lists.” MxM: Madrid por el municipalismo convened the final assembly of the MAC 4 (which I did not attend), where these issues were addressed.


Alberto Azcárate, “Desencanto de los ayuntamientos del cambio en el MAC4,” pub'd 6/23/18 Disenchantment of the municipalities of the change in the MAC4

La crisis sigue. Elementos para un nuevo ciclo político
PDF download

MxM | Madrid por el municipalismo

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

MAC 4: Anti-Racism and Subaltern Europe

The first day proper of the MAC 4 conference of municipalists in Madrid dawned plenty hot. I decided to attend the panel on anti-racism, freedom of movement: organizing alliances and politics for a city without borders. A tall order, to be sure... This meeting was held in a tent, poorly indicated on the conference map. How I long for those hand-drawn maps of complex locales one sees in antiquarian tourist papers! I know the Matadero pretty well, but an entire building was left off the abstracted map, so I had to wander back to the central reception in the blistering heat to ask “Where the fuck are the tents?”, which, needless to say, were not privileged locations on that day.
I arrived late, como siempre. The discussion in Spanish with various accents was mostly over my head, although I could recognize familiar themes repeated from the inaugural session. Fortunately for me much of the content of this meeting would be repeated later at the Reina Sofia museum on the occasion of the visit of Black Lives Matter activist and historian Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, which I will blog later.
There was talk about demonstrations and which groups participated. An African man spoke of capitalist resource extraction in Africa. This is a frequent line in talks by migrant spokespeople, which seems rather like a familiar song. What is less known today is the new varieties of “assistance” by the Chinese, and the US military expeditionary forces operating in relative obscurity.
From what I've seen of movement activism here, there hasn't been much done on foreign policy. Unlike the USA, the EU is not so directly fucking with other countries. But there also doesn't seem to be much attention given to what Spanish corporations are doing overseas, which can be rough.
Madrid has seen a recent growth in visibility of groups advocating for migrants and for an end to institutional racism. Groups like Afroconciencia, a group of “afro-descendant” people supported by the Matadero cultural ce nter, and the ally group SOS Racismo among others have emerged strongly, and are networking internationally. The neo-fascist reaction to the high flow of refugees and migrants has brought this struggle to the forefront.
This is exciting for me, since for my lifetime anti-racist struggle has been at the forefront of US left action. I have many ideas about it, and there is a lower bar to white participation in the movements in Europe than in the USA. (As Professor Taylor told us later, Black Lives Matter is black-organized, period.)
A woman from Barcelona (I think with BCN en comu itself) spoke of institutional racism in the Mossos (Catalonian state police), and other functionaries of the state. This is effective racism, she said, not just an attitude among the public. To confront this requires public education. Also migrants and diverse peoples must be put into public service.
Another person noted that in the state of Madrid (not the city, but “Comunidad de Madrid”, run by the right wing) there are 14,000 unresponded requests for asylum. There needs to be a concrete program of education, “talleres de sensibilizacion” for city workers. A wonan said she is trying now to organize exactly that, talleres de sensibilizacion in schools which have high percentages of migrants of certain groups.
A trans person of color spoke about the problems facing the community. Migrants without papers – sin papeles, sans papiers in France – cannot participate in most official centers, because “first they ask for your DNI [national identity card], which they don't have.” In Spain everywhere for everything you have to show and give your ID card number. With the recent change in the federal government after the no confidence motion unseated the right wing, sin papeles have been given access to public health services.
A guy from Cameroon spoke very well, since he had studied Spanish in his country. “People here in Spain couldn't imagine that.” He had only been in Spain six weeks, he said. “People can't imagine that Africans come to Europe for tourism.” He suggested forming mixed football teams to encourage anti-racist attitudes. “That's easy to do.”
With a low comprehension, my mind began to wander. Amidst this mixed crowd of people both white and of color, I ruminated on a recent favorite theme – a living museum of the cultures of African and American peoples. I realized the thought came probably from the FITUR - Feria Internacional de Turismo we attended last year, where countries mounted pavilions to display themselves and their attractions to entice curious Spanish tourists. We browsed the fascinating pavilion of Mali, and chatted with the people there.
Madrid, alone it seems among the capitols of major colonial powers, has no major museums of the colonized peoples of Africa, and only a remote and anemic one to represent the Americas. What this means in affective terms is that immigrants, migrants and refugees and their descendants in Spain are visible only as subjects of care, victims of racism, people in the end to feel sorry for and to try and help.
That's ridiculous. In NYC, and most major US cities, large general museums with ethnographic displays are crucial instruments – and were so conceived of by their founders – to educate the people about each other and their pasts. They confront with their “riches” racist attitudes that are reflexive, automatic, unconscious, institutional.
Even so, these collections were founded by imperialist white explorers and scientists who regarded the places and peoples they studied as exotic objects. Some of these museums have been the staging ground for teach-ins and demonstrations demanding that they focus more on the legacy of colonialism and the damage it has done. “Decolonize This Place” – it is not a new campaign. There is a depth of experience among these cultural activists which I hope to be able to connect with Spanish movements in the future.

Simultaneous Translation

Because of the anti-racism panel, I arrived 40 minutes late to Raúl Sánchez Cedillo's mesa on subaltern Europe. A woman was speaking as I entered, on a “general European problem,” that is the need for a process of “redemocratization,” a need to enlarge the practices invented here in Spain as an alternative to liberal democracy. That is a third way. It is not about winning the next election, it's about augmenting social movements.
Surprisingly she was speaking in English, as was nearly everyone else in this meeting, which offered simultaneous translation as well.
Her point was the same as the US DSA analyst I've been following, Ethan Young, made in a post on the the conflict between building movements – “organizing” they say in USA – and winning election campaigns. There are signs that the shock of Orcasio Cortez's win may reinvigorate DNC efforts to perform the former more assiduously. Labor unions as well have been jolted hard by the recent high court decision in favor of open shops. This cuts unions off at the knees. So they look to be at last waking up to the necessity or organizing.
We need to be aware of the ever-increasing racism which is more and more openly outspoken in everyday life, the speaker continued. Also fight against sexism. These are always already transnational practices. Our work has to be feminist.

Demonstration in Madrid against the release of the gang rape defendants in Pamplona

Raúl Sánchez Cedillo is a longtime member of the Fundación de los Comunes, co-organizer of the conference. He published a text framing the panel issues as part of a series posted by El Salto magazine online.
“The municipalist issue,” he wrote, “is fundamentally about the ways in which popular struggles and liberated social cooperation can invent new democratic institutions of counterpower, capable of imposing measures of social justice and lastingly defeating neoliberal 'extreme center' regimes, as well as the racist and fascist nationalisms” (auto-translation). “Extreme center” is a recent formulation that includes both traditional center right and left parties losing ground in recent EU elections because of their mutual support of EU austerity policies.
Gerald Raunig was also present. He is behind the multi-lingual online 'zine, which for years, as the EIPCP (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies), has published many invaluable analytic texts. We are confronting dictatorships, he said, and “machinic capitalism”, i.e. the platform capitalism of Uber and AirBnB.
Isabel (?) continued: It is reductive to see municipalism only as winning elections. We need to transform the state apparatus and its institutions, not just take them over and be the nicer face of the state apparatus. There are instances, like Naples and Zagreb, but there is no strong national municipalist movement in the EU, only in Spain. But if we include movements like those against gentrification and against touristification – those are not the same – and right to the city – these movements are translocal.
The idea of “ecologies of care” has a feminist legacy. Preserve those which are existing in barrios. We also have to concentrate on checking the development of an obedient character, which has also developed in the last few years. The “fake news” incantations of the right – for the classical Nazis it was Lügenpresse, “lying press” used as a Schlagwort, a slogan or literally “striking word”) – has eroded trust in all media.

Issues All Over: But Housing Rules

An Italian man spoke on the subject of the commons. The protocols of Naples (which I will discuss in the blog post on the social center session), offers an opportunity to rethink this question. Democracy is based on ownership. You own a piece, you vote. To own without being present is in Roman law. The question is to reconceive ownership so that citizens have a voice and a role to play, and so that citizenship is only a proof that you are living in a place.

Once they start talking in English, the report gets a lot longer!


Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor visit to Spain

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor «Un destello de libertad»
Her book talk posted by Katakrak publishers; her book was published in translation by Traficantes De Sueños
She speaks first in English, then there is a translation into Spanish -- 1:30 hours

Afroconciencia: The Festival

Sos Racismo Madrid

“Anti-Columbus Day Tour Attended by Hundreds at the American Museum of Natural History”, by Elena Goukassian, posted October 10, 2017

Ethan Young is the author of the recent pamphlet, "Mapping the Resistance: Insurgence and Polarization Between 2016 and 2020”, May 2018; ENG and GER at:

Raúl Sánchez Cedillo posted on 6/20/18, “Por un municipalismo autónomo de las subalternas transeuropeas”
It's part of the series of texts published by El Salto online in connection with the MAC 4 meetings

Monday, July 2, 2018

MAC 4 in Madrid – Acto Inaugural

I attended the annual meeting of the MAC group in Madrid last weekend. It's been almost a year since the last MAC, in A Coruna, and the focus has shifted from what the elected governments can do with power to support the social movements animating the country.
In this first post I'll be impressionistic. In posts to follow I'll get to the meat of the conference as I saw it.
The meeting began in an atmosphere of disappointment with some current city administrations. The municipalist admin in A Coruna, En Marea, recently evicted a social center, La Insumisa. No one from En Marea showed up in Madrid to explain this, which was weird since they sponsored the MAC 3. A visiting friend of ours explained that a public use is planned for the building, so the squat had to go. So it amounted to a conflict between the “public” and the “commons” – a disagreement over a sanctioned legal conception of use of public resources, and an emergent practical use. This was a subject taken up at the MAC.
The big idea is that “commoners” (that's a verb) should be respected, not treated as criminals because they are going against the legally constituted representatives of the “public.” The eviction of La Insumia, however, was done with violence toward a crowd of largely older people, so feelings (as well as heads) were hurt.
The disappointment in the work of municipalist governance is more general than that incident. Some early missteps and betrayals of cultural figures, and failure to act on key issues of the movements – all of this has fed into a strong critique, forwarded by the key organizers of the MAC, the Fundacion de los Comunes and the Instituto por Democracia y Municipalismo.
So finally, whatever the reason, it appeared that no one was here from any governing platform in any official capacity. I think that was a missed opportunity to share ways and means which some muni platforms have used to achieve successes in their cities. They have undoubtedly improved daily life as well as created resource tools which other cities can use.
Some of those in attendance from the East of Europe (trips paid for by the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation) did not have the same issues as the Spanish, and seemed a little confused. That part of the MAC – a table on “El municipalismo como clave de la Europa de las clases subalternas” – was conducted in English, which took me by surprise. Happily there was some translation of other parts as well, since nearly always serious Spanish discussion moves too fast for me to comprehend well.
What I had hoped for at this MAC, and argued for (too late) in a preparatory meeting, was some direct consideration of the role of culture. Cities usually have direct control over most of their cultural agencies. Too often movement activists take culture for granted, and are really only interested in propaganda. That neglects the positive and hopeful role cultural work can play, a fact every artist and cultural manager knows well. My question was/is: What would a radical municipalist cultural policy look like? Can we forge a document, a policy paper? I have some ideas... and I hope it can be a topic for the next MAC 5.

Inagural Act of the MAC in the Ateneo de Madrid

The first registration and an initial presentation were held in the sumptuous old precincts of the private scientific and literary foundation established by Spanish liberals in the 19th century. On the stage, ringed by portraits of wise old white men, representatives of the domestic workers' organizing group Territorio Domestico, the African street vendors' group Sindicato de los Materos y Lateros, and reps from the PAH and the threatened Malaga social center Casa Invisible spoke of their positions.
A rep from the Fundación de los Comunes also spoke. They have released a new pamphlet, "The crisis continues" -- “La crisis sigue. Elementos para un nuevo ciclo político” – to frame the debates of the weekend.
As I trudged through the heated streets on my way to the Ateneo I saw a guy carrying a sack of potatoes into a restauran wearing a bold white-on-black t-shirt: “Toledo Antifa Crew.” Pretty bold for our conservative neighborhood, I thought, but okay with the vecinos, I guess as long as the potatoes keep coming....

This is indeed a new cycle of politics, as the PP government has fallen and the top guy of PSOE and the ministers are now competent well-spoken professionals, not the old merry-go-round of right-wing politicians. The removal of dictator Franco's remains from the grim monument called Valley of the Fallen has been approved. The former pharoah will no longer sleep surrounded by the bones of his victims. So things are changing.
The familiar discourse of the introduction was enlivened by the bizarre appearance of an actor representing Mariano José de Larra, a journalist, satirist, and a key figure of "democratic romanticism" in Spain. Larra croaked himself in 1837, so the actor brandished a toy pistol.
Rafaela spoke of her group as part of the feminist wave of 8M against the violence of machismo and the borders, and precarious labor. The spokes for the manteros said, “At every step we encounter institutional racism” in the form of the foreigners' law. They want an end to this law that keeps them from working and subjects them to fines and jail. The PAH rep decried the rise of evictions in the barrio of Vallekas and other peripheries from apartments controlled by the semi-public Bankia, which will not negotiate with the tenants. The social center Casa Invisible, its spokes explained, is again under threat by a right-shifted city government. Social centers are basic to progressive political change in Spain. We need to change the juridical situation so that the social center is recognized. As we'll see in subsequent blog posts, this was a key issue in the MAC 4.
After this intro the assembly planned to join the ongoing mass protests against the release of La Manada (the pack), the convicted gang rapists in Pamplona. I rushed off to La Ingobernable to meet Adolfo who was going to give me a bunch of pamphlets about their MaM-II “city manuals” exhibition. That was a brilliant mapping of the movements in Madrid and their many antecedents. I felt the folks from out of town should know about this.
Adolfo couldn't come, but I met a companero from the Letralab, also cancelled because of the demonstration. His friend from the madness network said hello. I finished up the evening chatting with a Bulgarian looking for a job in Madrid, and handed her the Chto Delat newspaper on social centers (referenced in the previous blog post) – because she could read Cyrillic.

NEXT: The Conference Starts


La Insumisa Facebook page

Territorio Doméstico | Sin Nosotras No Se Mueve el Mundo.

Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid - Inicio | Facebook

“La crisis sigue. Elementos para un nuevo ciclo político”

MaM-II. Las ciudades manuales - Madrid, a medias


La Insumisa Facebook page

Territorio Doméstico | Sin Nosotras No Se Mueve el Mundo.

Sindicato de manteros y lateros de Madrid - Inicio | Facebook

“La crisis sigue. Elementos para un nuevo ciclo político”

MaM-II. Las ciudades manuales - Madrid, a medias

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Learnings: “Commons” Is Not “Public”

My most recent investigations have been in and around a classic question in squatting study – legalization. Behind that Latinism lie many twisting paths and frequent monsters. It's both a desideratum and a “false friend.” One big road opened up a couple years back – the electoral movement called municipalism. And there's a lot of talk about it – what it did and didn't do.
As I started to write of this busy spring in Madrid, I was going to some days of talk around urban commons(es), called the “Máster” en Comunes Urbanos. (That's a joke on a recent political scandal which led to the resignation of the PP leader of the province for falsifying her academic record.) The meetings were held at La Ingobernable, a social center in the center of the city which is only one year old, but has racked up an impressive array of activities. La Ingob has developed so fast that a photo in the newspaper El Pais doesn't show the lovely new ceramic mosaic collages in the formerly dismal patio. Despite this, La Ingobernable remains under threat of imminent eviction.
At left, Emanuele Braga of Macao, Milan, at the IRI meeting.

The commons education event was produced by the ever-present Fundación de los Comunes, and a new “think tank” called Institute for Radical Imagination. This joint kicked off in November '17 in Naples at the legalized Asilo Filangieri, a "self-managed laboratory of art, culture and theater.” IRI includes people from art museums as well as S.a.L.E. Docks, Chto Delat, Macao, and LUC Athens. Several of the Neapolitans were here on a residency to study "experiences of commoning in the Mediterranean".
The reading list for the “Máster” on commons is heavy with citations to English language texts (Elinor Ostrom is prominent), but the program was in Spanish. Many familiar faces from the movement and its analysts were there, including Alberto Corsín, who produced the cool little show discussed below. But right away I had to ditch the class – the bookstore Traficantes de Sueños was holding a talk discussing the agenda for the upcoming MAC 4 meeting, which this time is in Madrid. This is the leading Spain-wide gathering of municipalist politicoes. (I blogged the '17 meeting in the northern city of A Coruna.)

* * * * *

Earlier in May Stephen Zacks was in Madrid, a NYC-based writer on architecture and urbanism. Stephen also founded a public art program in the infamously ruined city of Flint, Michigan. I wanted to show Stephen the new-old wondrous bottom-up municipalist Madrid. We had some great meetings – with the activist architecture collective Todo por la Praxis (TxP), the participation team at Medialab Prado, with professor and ex-museum honcho Jesus Carillo (also sitting in on the “Máster” and the IRI meets). Stephen toured Madrid's collection of citizen-based projects as a guest of Intermediae, during the launch of their “Imagina Madrid” revitalization program for peripheral urban zones.
We started at the “Madrid, a medias” exhibition in the renovated city hall called Centro Centro. Put together by a pair of academics (one being the above-named Alberto), committed to what they call “prototyping” for urban transformation, the show is a well-designed collection of manuals of instruction, from Whole Earth catalogues to the TxP's own “TAZ” compendium of utopistical places.[NOTE-TAZ]
Centro always has something up about urban planning, architecture, revitalization. Troops of kids are always being run through, as if these shows would inspire them to become the active citizens the city so much pretends to desire.
There is a continuous kind of pedagogical pressure exerted by all Madrid's cultural institutions in the direction of futurity, thoughtfulness, and engagement. On the other hand, there's everything else – the Spectacle, which is, as it is designed to be, infinitely more entrancing. Thinking is hard. Acting is difficult. Working for money and buying things and paying for relaxing/exciting “content” is easy. Stepping outside of that you encounter rules and police.
But back to the “Máster” – Even as a low-speaking guiri (gringo in Madrid), I was able to glean much from the intro and our breakout on the limits of self-organization. Spanish are great on problems. They bear down on them with a deep DIY spirit of fixit. They are critical always, but with the aim of tweaking, oiling, identifying disfunctions as versus proving positions, solidifying identities, fractionating, and fetishizing discourse. That's become a North American habit.
The IRI gang had very nice lunches in a back room of La Ingobernable where I chatted with people in English – at the “kids table”, as one of the young ones put it. And, finally, a film screening by Chto Delat concluded the program of the “Masters”. That was some of their long series of vignettes, performances, processions, confessions – all based on an imagining of Zapatista practices, poetry, and ideology.
While I love them like everybody else, my study of Zapatismo is pretty spotty. But I did come upon a short text on the AK Press website promoting a recent book that nailed a central problem around all of the institutional and municipalist strivings in Madrid – especialismo.

Zap Eye for the Specialist Guy
Everything I'm interested in – international affairs, urban development, enhanced democracy – is the province of specialists. They are the experts; they are the operators. How frustrating is it to attend meetings about the “future of the city”, the “smart city”, etc., knowing that while you are learning (and that's fine), you can do absolutely nothing about any of it. You can only appreciate the discourse of the specialists. Or grumble.[NOTE-SfA]

Cover image of Chto Delat newspaper #38 "Houses of Culture", 2016, distributed at IRI and JACA

Still, this EU-funded meeting of the IRI in La Ingobernable, attended by the director of the Reina Sofia museum, was extraordinary considering that the police were outside only the week before. It demonstrated serious commitment to a culture outside official channels.
The IRI centered a prospective relation between cultural institutions and social centers. (I write “OSCs” for “occupied social centers,” but l'Asilo in Naples is legalized, so “SCs”, hence institutional, and on the dangerous slope down towards humdrum conventionality.) This putative relation is of great interest, even of some urgency, as it should come up at the MAC 4 meetings in Madrid later this June.
At last year's MAC in A Coruña I went to blog it; but I did not visit CSO A Insumisa. It wasn't a site of MAC activity, sponsored by the municipalists of La Marea. No one spoke of it that I heard. Then in late May of this year the city government evicted Insumisa with some violence. What was up with that?
The crown jewel of the egghead social centers, arguably the most ideologically productive, is La Casa Invisible in Málaga, which like always remains under threat of eviction. (The new right Ciudadanos political party relentlessly pursues that matter, not the municipalists.)
The meeting of the IRI in La Ingobernable was by no means the first EU-funded democracy oriented event that's happened there. La Ingob has served as an impromptu short-term conference center for a number of organizations. The other night I saw a briefing on Syria by Amnesty International. To shut it down will bring some big new trouble, which may be what the right wing wants.
Cops outside La Ingobernable in early June (El Pais)

Clearly the question how the cultural institutions can assist the OSCs is rather vexed. For years it has been by quietly stealing their ideas, poaching their personnel,[NOTE-Poach] and literally supplanting their spaces and filling them with activities overseen by salaried specialists.
For me, one clear answer is for the CIs to circulate resources through the self-organized centers. This would be like farmers actually fertilizing and planting seeds rather than waiting for the wind to seed their next crop. Actually this is an old suggestion of artists' movements. The Artworkers Coalition in NYC demanded it of the CIs in the early '70s. They called it “decentralization” – instead the city got separate ethnically-based cultural institutions. Not bad at all, but not the same as was called for.
For Madrid, to ask academic artists to ask their students to engage the OSCs, for CIs to site satellite programs in them – all of this seems as if it could be easily done. The experience which young artists and cultural workers get from operating within a self-organized “monster” institution, horizontal, unruly, and popular as it is, can be invaluable. Such an interchange would affect culture in Spain long-term. It would also lead to more OSCs, which are fertile “incubators” for initiatives of all kinds. Indeed, that is the only barrier to entry into the 'school' of the OSC – initiative. More OSCs = more and more diverse culture. And in terms of a healthy democracy, more diverse is better. That's “quality” in art in the 21st century.
There was a proof of all this in the brief J.A.C.A. Libertaria exhibition at the ESLA Eko in the peripheral barrio of Carabanchel. The organizers were invited by the Ateneo Libertario de Carabanchel, a traditional anarchist study group meeting in the Eko CSO. For the fourth year, a group of mostly professionally trained artists produced a strongly political exhibition in a squatted space. (I blogged the JACA #3 last year.) The ample 2nd floor of the Eko was painted white, so even tiny and diaphanous works could be seen.
I have tired of making proposals to CIs with political content and receiving no response, so this year I participated in the JACA myself as a volunteer curator. I put in a collection of 27 of the over 186 “Peoples History” posters produced by the Justseeds artists' cooperative over the last decade. I am happy to say that it was well received, and attentively studied by many of the visitors to the opening of JACA.

[See below the photos for listed Links and Notes.]

En Contingencia members drops the big black banner on the facade of Eko to announce the anarchist art show @Encontingencia

27 of the JustSeeds Peoples' History poster series downloads printed out and installed at JACA #4, with translations of the ENG texts


“Máster” en Comunes Urbanos – description of the days of talk

La Ingobernable remains under threat of imminent eviction

Institute for Radical Imagination

Asilo Filangieri, Naples, Italy

Encuentro municipalista MAC 4 - 22 al 24 de junio - Madrid

Stephen Zacks on architecture and urbanism

Nicolás Valencia, “Imagina Madrid: 9 intervenciones artísticas que animarán la periferia madrileña”, 28 Mayo, 2018

"Madrid, a medias" exhibition directed by Adolfo Estalella y Alberto Corsín Jiménez

Page on the TxP's ISLANDTAZ installation in Luxembourg; there's also a catalogue online

Cine sin Autor

The founder of Cine sin Autor, Gerardo Tuduri, is a prolific writer on engaged cinema. See:

Jaca Libertaria – J.A.C.A., for Jornadas de Arte y creatividad Anarquistas

Ateneo Libertario de Carabanchel


[NOTE-TAZ] – “TAZ” refers to the notorious book by Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) on “temporary autonomous zones.” It's a fantastical euphemistic voyage through actually existing squatted spaces, understood as fictional never-lands, and something of a sacred text among squatters. (I am proud my own books were issued by M. Bey's publisher, Autonomedia.)

[NOTE-SfA]This was the genius of the Storefront for Art & Architecture, founded in NYC in 1982 by Kyong Park and run for years with his partner Shirin Neshat. As artists, we were able to DO something about urban questions, i.e., make art and exhibitions about them. That's something, anyhow. Several important initiatives had their origin there, before it was almost entirely captured by the Columbia University school of architecture.

[NOTE-Poach] Any number of artists and workers I've met in Madrid have youthful experience in OSCs, e.g. Basurama, Todo por la Praxis, Campo Adentro, Intermediae, etc. But still the CIs do not directly engage the OSCs. The Cine sin Autor project was poached directly from an OSC.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Webliography for Municipalism

My text for the Llano del Rio group's web page summarizes a year of research on the municipalist movement in Spain into an online reading guide....

Writer Alan Moore gifted Llano Del Rio with this fabulous annotated reading list contextualizing the broad movement, and theoretical basis of, municipalism with a thought-line specific to Los Angeles. Moore is an independent scholar of the global autonomous movements, the author of (among other things) “Art Gangs: Protest and Counterculture in New York City,” and “Occupation Culture: Art Squatting in the City from Below.” As a young man in Manhattan in the 1970s his editor at Artforum, John Coplans, said “your beat is the underground.”

Municipalism as I know it, and blogged its later meetings on Occupations & Properties, is an electoral movement in Spain that grew out of the popular assemblies of the 15M movement (named for the camp in Madrid’s Sol square on May 15, 2011). These sprang up nationwide during an election season. They not only took the streets, they camped, months before Occupy Wall Street. (Details at:, including recent issues of the newspaper madrid15M). The elections brought the right wing to power, and years of street demonstrations against austerity measures. The mareas – waves of protestors with specific issues, identified by color (e.g., marea blanca for health workers) – coalesced into electoral platforms around Spain.

Housing is part of everyone’s bare life. Getting evicted is the inflection point for many people’s activism. I was in a show in Berlin on gentrification in 2017. There I talked with Fred Dewey, who ran Beyond Baroque in LA, and was deep into the Neighborhood Council movement in 2002. He wrote The School of Public Life (Errant Bodies/Doormats, 2015), a tiny book of provocative essays on the matter of being face to face, and exercising citizen power. Fred is a student of Hannah Arendt. He loves Ultra-red, the sound art group that’s been long active in LA, recently with some in Defend Boyle Heights. Ultra-red teaches in Europe. If a bibliography can be about books not read, then I like one they pimped: The Force of Listening, by Lucia Farinati & Claudia Firth (Errant Bodies/Doormats, 2017). The Ultra-red gentrification project was called “School of Echoes.” Listening is how one conducts effective assemblies and builds circles of solidarity. It’s worth a study. Bighead blabbermouths like me can always write – even write about what they heard while listening.

In Spain the movement of the evicted is called PAH. A leader was Ada Colau, elected in 2015 as mayor of Barcelona. Quite an achievement for a former squatter – but that’s an aspect of Spanish politics that is alien to USA (although you could look to SF in the ’80s and ’90s to find… a lot of activists who had to move away). Colau and Adrià Alemany wrote Vidas Hipotecadas in 2012, translated as Mortgaged Lives by Michelle Teran for the Journal of Aestehtics & Protest. (She also made a 40-minute film which streams on the Aesthetics & Protest website.) The effects of listening in PAH assemblies is strong: “Each week you cry after these meetings with the [indebted] homeowners, but not just with their pain. There is joy, too, because every week there are problems that get resolved. It is a very beautiful thing” (quoted on the Journal Of Aesthetics & Protest website).

I’d call PAH the spine of Spanish municipalism. Why? Because they do direct action in urban space. They open places for living and for meeting. Here I’ll stick my work, developed with the SqEK group of squatting researchers: the zine House Magic ( 2009-16), my book, Occupation Culture: Art & Squatting in the City from Below (Minor Compositions, 2015), and our anthology Making Room: Cultural Production in Occupied Spaces, Moore and Alan Smart (JoAAP, 2015), both online as PDFs. Those books, and many others edited by SqEK describe a movement blacked out for decades in US media. Wonder why. It’s hard to organize if you’ve got nowhere to live and nowhere to meet. Can’t pay? Organize your ass out of here, why doncha?

Back to voting which is still legal, more or less. The best basic explanation of the Spanish electoral municipalist movement is provided by the Municipal Recipes website, with its 30 min. video of key activists, cooking a meal and explaining their program. (The Guerrilla Translation group also posts the video, and glosses it with the magnificent illustration by Maria Castelló Solbés; an interview with the graphic designers is in the Lumpen Magazine issue on municipalism 2017; there they express some later misgivings; for example about including Italy’s 5-Star.) Ostensibly municipalist platforms (slates of candidates) control numerous cities in Spain today, including Madrid and Barcelona, the biggest. The most radical – with elected governments that word must be used advisedly – is fronted by Ada Colau. Barcelona En Comú is evangelistic. The key voice of the platform in English is the one-time Brit, Kate Shea Baird, who does communications: social networks and translation. She posts on Open Democracy, Medium, Red Pepper, CTXT, Roar, etc. She is a politóloga who studied at Oxford.

Baird was a key organizer of the Fearless Cities conference in Barcelona in June of ’17. (I attended, and blogged it at Occupations & Properties. Barcelona En Comú’s YouTube channel has many conference streams.) Baird’s writing is excellent as an intro to municipalist ideas. For me the best is with Laura Roth for “Left-wing populism and the feminization of politics,” from January of ’17, and “Municipalism and the Feminization of Politics” for Roar‘s “City Rises” issue, Summer ’17. It’s important to understand that municipalism is a feminist project – it is politics stripped of the habitus of macho power – imperative command, closed doors, repression, opaque bureaucracy, exclusions. It is a rough ride to center citizens’ voices, care and environmentalism in your politics. You get called a communist witch.

I don’t think Americans appreciate the repression they live with and what it will take to break out of it. Mientras the white settlers have taken up the Comanchero role of fake Indians, and are riding around the wagon train of our futurity. Tania Bruguera said “It’s not just buildings structures and circles of solidarity, it’s how do these circles and structures of solidarity protect themselves?” (from “The Artist as Activist: Tania Bruguera in Conversation with Claire Bishop,” YouTube, 2016). European activists have a lot more of what Huck Finn called “sand,” and don’t think it’s ’cause Spanish and German cops are so soft; they charge, use their sticks, and shoot people (with “non-lethal” rounds).

But it’s true they don’t often murder people in cold blood, that’s real terror. Which brings us to the major municipalist movement in USA, Cooperation Jackson, which has inspired many a Black Lives Matter activist. The Rosa Luxemburg foundation in NYC has posted the pamphlet “Casting Shadows: Chokwe Lumumba and the Struggle for Racial Justice and Economic Democracy in Jackson, Mississippi,” by Kali Akuno (27 pp., 2015). This is a deep-rooted program, dating to Black Panther times. Yes, the South votes red, but that’s the white settler slavers’ government setup. Laura Flanders recently reported on the Southern Movement Assembly. Reverend William Barber is fronting a new Poor People’s Campaign. There’s a lot going on, and transversality is the key. The most impressive activists I met in Barcelona at “Fearless Cities” were Black Lives Matter vets. Today’s promoted t-shirt ad has: “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it” – Malcolm X. Okay for Gary Cooper days, except the BLM activists I met in BCN were all women! Filming a cop shooting your lover in the car – that’s sand.

Rosa Luxemburg foundation also posted the PDF of Vicente Rubio-Pueyo’s “Municipalism in Spain. From Barcelona to Madrid, and Beyond” (24 pp. 2017). It’s important to note that municipalism is broad-based. Barcelona’s platform in Catalonia fronts hard, but they have other problems today. The MAC meetings (Muncipalismo, Autogobierno y Contrapoder) include activists from all over Spain. There have been four meetings so far. (Note: there is no central source for MAC. Search it at YouTube. Also remember the MAC in Euskadi, Basque country, is MAK.) The idea is in the conference title – autonomous self-organization and counter-power are integral parts of the municipalist idea. They are a point of leverage. (Squatted social centers are so important here.) Without a foot in the movements, your electoral candidates simply drift off into business as usual.

A main area of focus for Cooperation Jackson – it’s in its name – is development of worker co-ops with city government help. Common ownership of businesses is known in Europe through famous examples like the UK’s Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (1844) and the Spanish Mondragon Corporation of the mid-1950s. Anarchists prefer worker collectives without hierarchical management. Baltimore has a great one; a kingpin in that now works for the NGO Democracy Collaborative, which promotes co-ops. A broad-scale economy buffered against hyper-capitalist tides is essential for enhancing democracy. Wage slaves cannot be free. There’s a lot on this. Recently I’d recommend following Nathan Schneider, a Nation Magazine writer (sadly much is gated). There’s his forthcoming Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy (Nation Books, USA). He also edited Ours to Hack and to Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet with Trebor Scholz. Scholz organized the conference series “The Politics of Digital Culture,” much of which is online in streams.

Scholz’s background is hacker theory. His ideas feed into the wave of contemporary “techno-politics,” which has the most traction in Europe. (Trebor is German. In the USA, big media worries about Russkies hacking our white settler voting machines.) I attended and blogged the November ’17 Democratic Cities participation technologies festival in Madrid last fall. I struggled to absorb the dope on things like “Consul, the largest platform in the world based on Ruby on Rails. Free software for participation in politics.” (Again, much of this is streamed on YouTube.) This shit is deep, and revolutionary. It’s not Uber or AirBnB “sharing” economy BS, but true tech utopistics. I cannot refference y’all a source for the hacking stuff. The ideas and examples behind this technological research are laid out very well in Michael Menser’s We Decide! Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy (Temple University, 2018) for a full dress rundown on the theory and history of “PD.” Menser’s sympathies are Occupy Wallstreet and anarchist, and he has chapters like “Participatory Budgeting, Democratic Theory, and the Disarticulation of the State” which tickled me. This must come to pass….

For eggheads, one bulkier read could be Michael Hardt and Author Antonio Negri’s Assembly (Oxford U., 2017), which turns some ancient political theory assumptions around. Expensive in hardback, yeah, but perfect for discussion groups and somewhat smoother than the earlier books. Find the pirate PDF….