MARXISM AND NEW MEDIA PROCEEDINGS
DUKE UNIVERSITY, 2012
The emergence of a decentralized form of activism in Brazil
Rodrigo Savazoni (Federal University of ABC – UFABC, Brazil)
Cicero Inacio da Silva (Federal University of São Paulo – UNIFESP, Brazil)
An authentic knowledge economy would be a communitarian economy (Andre Gorz)
Revolutions are not the locomotives of history but the emergency brakes that are used to stop a train that is heading for a disaster …
(Oskar Negt in an interview in Alexander Kluge’s film News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx-Eisenstein-Capital)
The goal of this paper is to analyze what we call the “open networks of immaterial production and political action”, which could also be called “cooperative and communicative networks of social work” as conceptualized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their now classic book Multitude. These networks appeared in Brazil in the 21st century and can be analyzed based on the critical theories that focus on the transformations of capitalism in its present age. The article analyzes three networks: (1) MetaReciclagem, (2) Fora do Eixo network (Out of axis network) and (3) Hacker Transparency, seeking similarities between them and that are aimed at the completion of this article when we describe what may be the embryo of a new political movement that perhaps already requires a new rationality about what may be called a post-spectacle society.
Keywords: activism, digital culture, cognitive capitalism, information society, networks, hacker culture, cultural networks, immaterial production
Open networks of immaterial production and political action are a contemporary political phenomenon in Brazil. In this analysis, we will explore how these networks evolve from a diaspora – in order to obtain new spaces – to free software communities displaced in different groups basically in the young sector of the Brazilian society. These groups are transforming the ideas of freedom present in the hacker movement organizing new ways to produce and act in different fields, i.e. the struggle for human rights in slums.
The focus of this paper is a brief description of the “cooperative and communicative networks of social work” as we define them from the conceptualization made by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in the book Multitude. For the authors, the networks can keep “the constituent power of the crowd,” which constitutes the main force to contest the “Empire” (Hardt & Negri, 2001). In this paper networks are analyzed due their power to cope with capitalism which in its “cultural” step, focusing on immaterial production (Gorz, 2003), no more mobilizes only the production but “ways of living”.
The hypothesis here is that, precisely through the joints based on the appropriation of new advanced technologies, these networks operate inventing free colonies within the society of control. To substantiate our criticism, we analyze three networks operating in Brazil: (1) MetaReciclagem, (2) Fora do Eixo network (Out of axis network) and (3) Transparency Hacker. These networks will be described in their specificities, aiming to describe the course of their development and how they are organized. The choice of these networks is due to the fact that they have a great reputation among their peers and have strong international connections. It is not simple to create an approach between them, since each one is dedicated to a separate aspect of the everyday life – in some cases they are not related but operate in similar ways. It is possible to identify several similar characteristics in their formative process, whether the tactics in the interpretation of the political process, which taken together enable us to say that we are facing a work in progress, with potential to reorganize the political action of the young generation in Brazil.
In this article we understand the hacker culture as the culture of those who share an “ethics based on freedom of knowledge and the sharing of codes.” (Silveira, 2007, p. 24) This culture began with the experts in programming and security of information systems, but over the years it has been appropriated by different social actors, i.e. a process that we call “hacker diaspora”, better described at the conclusion of the article.
NETWORK AND POLITICS
The use of Internet as a representational tool that allows people to build political alternatives is a reality nowadays in many countries around the world. In Brazil, a group of people took part in the process of a political construction called “altermundism”, especially since crucial moments of global mobilization that took place in Porto Alegre, capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, a city that received the first edition of the World Social Forum. Analyzing the anti-globalization movement, André Gorz finds out that these networks are a common matrix of free demonstrations at the turn of the 20th to the 21st century, based on “non-hierarchical structures” and in “decentralized horizontal networks and in the process of self-production and self-organization”, founded on the principle of a “consensual democracy” (Gorz, 2003).
In the year of the second edition of World Social Forum, held in January 2002, the metalworker Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected President of Brazil, taking for the first time in the history of Brazil the Workers’ Party (PT) to the Presidency of Brazil. This historical fact promoted the attraction of a set of anti-globalization activists and militants into the Lula government. Many of these activists were responsible for the management of major public policies.
To understand this important induction, which was formed as a central aspect to the strengthening of networks of immaterial production, we must return to 2003, when two vectors are articulated within the Lula government: the policy for use and promotion of free software, led by sociologist Sergio Amadeu da Silveira, newly installed president of the National Institute of Information Technology (ITI), under the Civil House of the Presidency, and the strategic redirection of cultural policies in the Ministry of Culture, which with the arrival of the musician Gilberto Gil, started to have a focus on the “forces of Brazilian culture” (Gil, 2003). These two events, as narrated by the researcher Eliane Costa in her book “Jangada Digital”, ended in the development of public policies on digital culture that inserted Brazil in the international spotlight in this field. During the next eight years, the organizers of these networks of immaterial production have become co-managers of policies in several spheres of government. Some example of actions that have been developed by sectors responsible for digital inclusion programs by fostering connectivity of the population and the share of popular culture are the Cultura Viva (Living Culture – responsible for the network connectivity of Points of Culture). These networks were also partners in the first drafts of policies bills whose focus was to strengthen the freedoms in the digital age, such as the proposed reform of the Copyright Act, the draft Law on Public Information, the Marco Civil da Internet, a civilian digital rights drafted by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with the society through an open web platform dedicated to the discussion and submission of suggestions by the society.
Andre Gorz in his book The Immaterial attributes to “artisans of computer programs and free networks” the role of confrontation of contemporary capitalism for opposing the enclosure of knowledge. For him, these groups constitute a “social and cultural dissent” (Gorz, 2003, pg. 63) that proposes a new conception of society. This were the perspectives that guided the cultural policies in Brazil under Lula and this are the the analytical approaches that we will use to analyze the members of these “networks of immaterial production and political action” in Brazi.
NEW PHENOMENOLOGY OF CAPITAL AND EXCHANGE NETWORKS
“Given that there is a beach in agricultural settlements, Phoenician ships appear. The crew on the beach spread goods: pots, iron tools etc.. The inhabitants of the coast at night collect these interesting objects, they take it as a gift from the gods. The ship’s crew organized a punitive expedition, which ignites some of the settlements. They returned to the ships. Now the people who do not know the exchange, but the sacrifice, try to appease the gods. On the beach lay valuable gifts as food. As the ship’s crew, the night before the massacre, brought to the ship the stolen goods, spread them again during the morning. Two rows are displayed next to each other: the goods of the ship and the sacrifices of the inhabitants of the land. The educated people, after the departure of ships and much hesitation, in memory of severed limbs, destroyed homes etc. just take what they believe that would be fair. Until the next time they learned what is exchange value. ”
(The violent impregnation of exchange – according to Marx, Adorno, Benjamin and Kurnitzky – Alexander Kluge’s News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx-Eisenstein-Capital).
The MetaReciclagem network, built around the platform http://www.metareciclagem.org, started from the mailing list project Metá:Fora (a pun with the word metaphor), which brought together, from 2002 on, organizers of actions related to new technologies with interest in “understand and propose applications for a reality where we will be permanently connected.” In the same year, in discussions on the mailing list, the term MetaReciclagem appears, as described on the official website:
The MetaReciclagem is a distributed network that operates since 2002 in developing decentralized and open actions to appropriate technology. The network started in São Paulo in partnership with the NGO Agente Cidadão (Citizen Agent) as a project to collect and refurbish used computers that were later distributed to social projects. The MetaReciclagem ideology is based on the deconstruction of the hardware, the use of free software and open licenses, in a network based action and in the search for social transformation.
Many of the agents of such a network would have a basic role in the digital inclusion public policies of the Lula government, especially in the Cultura Viva (Living Culture) project, whose main action is the Pontos de Cultura (Points of Culture). During the years 2003 and 2004, a network of young organizers proposed to the Ministry of Culture the creation of multimedia kits, using free software, which would be distributed to the Points of Culture, civil society organizations awarded through public grants and that are recognized for their contribution to the Brazilian culture, especially focused on popular culture.
From 2009, with the dissolution of actions linked to the Ministry of Culture and with the deepening of international cooperation, the group began to be understood primarily as “an open network that promoted the deconstruction and the appropriation of technologies” in order to promote social transformation. As Fonseca says in his book Post-Digital Labs, “a genuinely MetaReciclagem network was designed and implemented in a distributed and totally free way.” (FONSECA, 2011, p. 18). In the same text, the activist makes five claims about the origins of the Metarec, as it is known by its agents, which includes the comprehension of the “cultural character of free networks, the emergence of new forms of social networking and the innovation that it is created from them.” (FONSECA, 2011, p. 18)
Currently, MetaReciclagem network has about 500 members on its mail list and has in operation 10 local points of articulation, known as spores. This dimension of a stated quest for “social transformation” describes this eminently political network, whose decisions are taken internally by means of consensus and self-organized meetings.
(2) Fora do Eixo (Out of axis network)
The Fora do Eixo (www.foradoeixo.org.br) is a network of collective cultural production that is present in all states of Brazil. Its history dates back to the creation, in the State of Cuiabá, of the collective Cubo Mágico in 2002. It would be through the leaders linked to the Cubo (Cube), whose major innovation was the creation of a social currency, the Cube Card, that organized local youth musicians in the capital of the State of Mato Grosso began the project Fora do Eixo. The network was articulated in 2005 through a partnership between producers in the state of Mato Grosso and its peers in the cities of Rio Branco (Acre State), Uberlândia (Minas Gerais State) and Londrina (Paraná State). As Pablo Capilé states, an activist who is the chief spokesman of the network in an interview in the book Cultural Production in Brazil.
“The Fora do Eixo emerges as a social movement, without clear legal status, but that was more willing to discuss behaviors than the productive chain of music. It was a way to visualize how complementary currency could interfere with the behavior of the productive agent. We seek, instead of producers, collectives that wanted to discuss with this social movement. The Fora do Eixo project worked to organize the third sector, understanding that from the movement connected to music, we might better understand the anthropological sense of culture, which was not only market, but it was behavioral. The circuit appears in the middle of it. “(Capilé, 2010)
The Fora do Eixo is nowadays a political and cultural Brazilian expression with national reach and great reputation. It brings together in its articulation about 2 000 members who participate in collective local and national organizations. Its conformation as a network of immaterial production transcends even what is often considered as culture by the government and the market, usually centered on the recognized art and artists.
“The main point is the breakthrough that we have been able to definitely leave, from the prospect of music collectives to a perspective of social technology collectives. The crew managed to understand that culture is not exclusively artistic language. What we try to establish is a behavioral transformation in which each of these collective agents can build a a foundation for a variety of languages, but not necessarily within the art. ” (Capilé, 2010)
As Capilé states, it is important to pay attention to the cultural shift provoked by the Fora do Eixo network in the cultural production since they are a network of social production of technology. It was from the creation of projects like the Fora do Eixo that came other initiatives of great importance in the contemporary Brazilian cultural scene, as the strengthening of the Brazilian Association of Independent Festivals (ABRAFIN), the creation of the Culture Party, which has been seeking dialogue with the traditional political class on issues of interest among younger generations, the meeting of the University of Culture, which has developed open standards training. In 2011, the Fora do Eixo took a permanent action in Sao Paulo, where they rented a house in the neighborhood of Cambuci that serves as operational headquarters for the national command. That same year, similar houses were created in Porto Alegre, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Manaus, São Carlos, increasing the power of the circuit. It is important to note that, as the productivity publicly shared organization reports show, most of the value produced domestically is still exchanged through the use of social currency, which makes the Fora do Eixo pioneer in the use of economic solidarity in the articulation of circuits of immaterial production. In the Fora do Eixo houses residents share all their property through a collective box, used for current expenditures and the basic needs of its inhabitants.
Pablo Capilé, in the Fora do Eixo inauguration speech, declares that the access to high speed internet played a central role in the democratization of the information. To Capilé, it was through the network that he could articulate the first actions with peers and it is through new technologies that he keeps building associations with the Fora do Eixo network.
“The Internet is as fast as what we’re building. This is a political platform that can look at us as equals. We are affiliated with it. As fast as the internet. It is the ideal tool that made this story happen. Were not for this, we hardly would get to where we are, in this deterritorialization, in the area of contamination, in the exchanges in technology and collaborative intelligence. ”
(3) Transparency Hacker
Transparency Hacker community is the most recent network in analysis in this article. For this reason, there are just a few documents published on what is being developed by this collective that is formed predominantly by developers, journalists and policy makers interested in promoting transparency in politics. Daniela Silva, one of the main articulators of the network, explains:
“Transparency Hacker is a community of hackers and activists concerned with new ways of doing politics in the network. This includes the question of public information, data, open, free technologies, but also corresponds to a higher cause – which is about to reverse the way as we deal with collective issues, engage with groups that previously did not participate in the public action and in the public discourse (for lack of space in the debate or lack of interest in very old formats), to make change using the resources we have,
simply because it is possible. I like to think that we are activists of the right of doing…It’s bizarre to realize the amount of impossibilities to which groups and individuals undergo when they want to provoke change. (..) So the activists of the right of doing or the right to act publicly and collectively on behalf of what we believe is important – are needed. ”
The group gained notoriety when cloned the blog of the Planalto (the Brazilian White House), which was launched by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva without allowing users to interact through comments. Hacker activists created a page similar to the official one, which reproduces in full the original content, with the difference that the fake one allows interaction without any moderation. After that they carry out public meetings to hack data and create political applications. Currently, the list of discussion of Thacker, as they are also known, has surpassed 800 participants. Daniela Silva evaluates the characteristics of the network specific policies that she helped to articulate:
“Looking at these two years of the community, I realize that Thacker expressed some principles in his practice. We have no letter of ethics, rules of use. What I mean is that, according to what these 800 or more people do, we can understand what are the principles that make us participate in the same network. To cite a few: cooperation, freedom, autonomy, hacker ethic, openness to new ways of acting and thinking about the world, emerging and changing political values (or mutant) and a certain taste for provocation. All these things are highly political. ”
One of the recent initiatives articulated by the community is the Queremos Saber (We want to know) project. The Queremos Saber is a portal where the user can send questions to online contact channels of public services. There is also SACSP (Service to help clients of the State São Paulo), which hacked into the data of customer service of the citizens of the city of São Paulo, and the Congressman Analytics, which uses public data to create a rank of congressional behavior.
These initiatives are built very quickly by activists from Thacker, based on the perspective of “do it yourself.” This way of acting is one of the central characteristics of this network, but not only, as detailed in Daniela Silva:
“Talking about references and about our interactions with contemporary movements, I think it is worth noticing that we were inspired by the very independent and at the same time cohesive communities of free software, but we do not identify ourselves with any of these restrictions of the traditional social movements. Many of us are active in several other groups linked to the opening to freedom – free culture, open educational resources, free software, for example, which makes absolute sense, it is an organic and natural connection.”
The activist, during the interview, also highlighted the fact that networks articulate processes in which the ability to create and invent new ways is more important than the reproduction of established procedures.
“No individual would have been creative enough to create the Internet cafes. No government, NGO or social movement would have made an entrepreneurship project based on very few resources, experience and local marketing. The emergence of this idea ensures that we keep glimpsing the potential to transform the network – and it is implemented autonomously by people who are on the periphery of politics and society and bringing their peers inside the communication processes. It is a revolution not only in content but in format… ”
The movements analyzed in this article reinterpret, each in its own way, the hacker ethic, the ethic of free software developers, applying it to different areas of knowledge – the production of art, communication and leisure to social mobilization for human rights in the suburbs. But what is this ethic? As Pekka Himanen writes in his book The Hacker Ethic:
“At the core of our technological time stands a fascinating group of people who call themselves hackers. (…) Their “jargon file” emphasizes that a hacker is basically “an expert or enthusiast of any kind. From this perspective, the hacker ethic is a new work ethic that challenges the attitude to work that has held us in its thrall for so long, the Protestant work ethic, as explicated in Max Weber’s classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905), To some computer hackers, this kind of linking of the hacker ethic to Weber may at first seem alien. They should keep in mind that in this book the expression hacker ethic is used in a sense that extends beyond computer backerism, and that for this reason it confronts social forces that are not normally considered in discussions concerned exclusively with computers. This expansion of the hacker ethic thus presents an intellectual challenge to computer hackers, as well. But first and foremost the hacker ethic is a challenge to our society and to each of our lives. Besides the work ethic, the second important level of this challenge is the hacker money ethic-a level that Weber defined as the other main component of the Protestant ethic. Clearly, the “information-sharing” mentioned in the hacker-ethic definition cited above is not the dominant way of making money in our time; on the contrary, money is mostly made by information-owning. ” (Himanen, 2001, p. 4.)
To analyze the relations between these collectives described in this article, we present an initial systematization to introduce a discussion about their methods and goals.
(1) the operation of the networks is the program
The networks of immaterial production and political action comes from articulations whose origins are not in the party structures, unions or social movements that emerged in Brazil in the final three decades of the 20th century (such as the Movement of Landless Rural Workers – MST – or large associations of struggles for human rights – as IBASE and Educational Action). These networks will not cling to rigid ideological affiliations. Their brand is the action. Practice is the program. They are strongly influenced by the libertarian left thought, but these movements are also notable drawing methods and symbols drawn from the corporate culture, promoting a kind of dispute within the post-spectacle.
(2) networks are producing innovation and common
This allows us to say that networks are producing innovation and directing their efforts to build an open source society, since the symbolic exchanges that operate are all done through flexible licensing of intellectual property, such as GPL and Creative Commons.
The search for radical politics and democracy, which are being gradually trapped by economic interests and the vacillations of the traditional political representatives, is the central role of networks of immaterial production and political action.
A notable difference, however, is that they are not movements that deny the traditional political act, since they are dealing and keeping the dialogue with the powers and also occupying some open spaces for participatory democracy promoted by the State. In the Metareciclagem case, they are helping in the design and implementation of public policies for digital inclusion, in the Transparency Hacker case, they are working in preparing and drafting the Law on Access to Public Information in collaboration with public transparency, such as with the public agency Comptroller General (CGU), and in the case of Fora do Eixo in the action with municipal and federal Culture councils. There are more examples that could be quoted. This relationship, however, “constructive”, does not prevent these organizations from a speech strongly toward the construction of another democracy.
(3) networks are formed by “agents-developers”
It is common that people that articulate and act in the field of new technologies are usually called entrepreneurs. In the case of managers of startups, small businesses aimed at obtaining profit, the term fits very well. It is not the case, however, to the organizers of free networks, whose action is not defined by the transformation of its creation into a traditional venture capitalist corporation. Even if they are not developers of code, they are developers of other forms of production and ways of living, basically based on the pursuit of pleasure.
The diversity of methods and plurality of views between members representing these networks is remarkable. Also the diversity in the production of language and expressions characterize mainly the work of these collectives in the contemporary multicultural kaleidoscope on the political and cultural Brazilian arena.