Archive for the ‘history’ Category


Anthropologist David Graeber and Charles Eisenstein, author of the Book Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition (2011), tackle the age-old question of the nature of money and its implications to society in this discussion that was held at NYU’s Kimmel Center in New York City on August 22, 2012. The sound recording isn’t very good in the video, but do bear with it.


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Physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra discusses in this talk the scientific thinking of Leonardo da Vinci. Capra argues that Leonardo was the first scientist to apply the scientific method based on systematic observation of nature. Leonardo, however, did not perceive the world as a combination of isolated objects. He was interested in living forms, patterns, processes, movement, growth and connections between things. He observed the world artistically by drawing it, which lead to a more holistic, qualitative grasp of phenomena. Capra sees Leonardo’s approach as more akin to systems thinking than the mechanistic Cartesian worldview still prevalent in science until quite recently. The talk was held at the Schumacher College in Totnes in May 2010.

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Professor Chomsky discusses in this talk the history of public education in the United States and how it has been co-opted as a tool of indoctrination by the corporate elite. Parallel developments can be traced in Europe as well, of which I’ve blogged before. Chomsky’s talk was held at St. Philip’s Church in Harlem, New York on March 16, 2012.

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Anthropologist and social theorist David Graeber considers in this talk the question why the kind of grandiose technological visions of the future that we used to have in the 1950s and 60s have disappeared, and why it’s now indeed difficult to imagine a better future at all. He argues that this has to do with the replacement of what he calls poetic technologies with bureaucratic technologies, that is the replacement of technologies that could lead to radical social changes with technologies that are designed to prevent those very changes. The talk was held at the School of Visual Arts in New York City on January 19,  2012.

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Michel Bauwens from The Foundation for P2P Alternatives discusses in this keynote speech the current proliferation of peer production practices and peer-to-peer culture that he dubs the “third revolution in human productivity” (the first two being the inventions of slavery and capitalism), in which intrinsic motivation replaces extrinsic motivation as the driver of production for the individual. He also discusses the implications of this shift to the notions of property and governance. The speech was held at the IT-University in Copenhagen on September 22, 2011.

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As a follow-up to the post about community organisation in Athens, I quote here Leonidas Oikonomakis who recounts the history of the early-2000s piqueteros movement in Argentina. It’s a good reminder of how the elite can easily co-opt a budding revolution with (false) promises of prosperity and security. This is why it’s so important to hang on to the principles of self-organisation regardless of who’s in government, and to keep a firm distance from any centralised power structures regardless of how benevolent they may appear to be. Oikonomakis’ article was published over at ROARMag.

“The first to revolt in Argentina, already since the 1990s, were the so-called piqueteros. The movement of the unemployed, many of them victims of Menem’s privatizations, that had adopted the road blockade as a tactic (and later on the blockade of boulevards, bridges, supermarkets, as well as government buildings) in order to highlight the social, political, and economic problems of the country.

Yet the piquetero movement never managed to mobilize the masses or capture the support of middle-class Argentinians in its challenge to the country’s political and economic status quo; at least not until the so-called corralito: the banning of cash withdrawals higher than 250 pesos per week (1000 per month) that the De la Rua government and Finance Minister Domingo Cavallo imposed.

Only after they were denied access to their banking accounts did the middle classes — the ladies with the cacerolas and the pensioners that you may remember from TV — take to the streets. And it was exactly at that moment that things got dangerous for the system.

In an excellent documentary by Giorgos Avgeropoulos and his team, Exandas, there is a shocking scene: amidst protests against the coralito, and amidst screams referring to the thieves in Parliament (does it ring any bells, my Greek compatriots?), there appears an old man, presumably a pensioner, who faces the camera and cries out:

“Now we are fighting? Now that our pocket has been picked? Welcome coralito, it is one stage beyond consciousness. If that’s what it takes for the people to take to the streets, welcome coralito… the sheep have rebelled. The revolution of the animal farm.”

He was right. And the system knew it.

-“Que se vayan todos!” the Argentinians were shouting. Away with them all!
-“Να φύγουν όλοι!” they were shouting in the squares of Greece. Away with them all!

And their discontent was targeted towards similar directions: the Argentinians were protesting against the IMF for the debt and the neoliberal reform conditionalities it was demanding, but also against the country’s political establishment which it considered corrupt. The Greeks, on their part, are protesting against the Troika for the debt and the neoliberal reform conditionalities it demands, as well as against their country’s political establishment, which is characterized by corruption, nepotism, and clientelistic relations. And there’s one more thing the Argentinians and the Greeks have in common: they both started doubting the dominant economic paradigm as such: capitalism.

And if in Greece the squares have just started to learn how to ‘breathe freely’, to self-organize, to decide and act together, in Argentina things had become more dangerous for the political and economic status quo.

The piqueteros started coordinating with each other, started occupying workplaces and established workers’ cooperatives for their administration (watch Naomi Klein’s and Avi Lewis’ The Take for a wonderful impression of this alternative system of ‘grassroots socialism’), while at the same time they began experimenting with economic systems based on barter, or direct exchange.

The piqueteros also started operating communal kitchens, came up with neighborhood assemblies, and launched cooperative efforts to run bakeries, construction teams, and libraries. According to Benjamin Dangl, in Dancing with Dynamite, this process gave birth to more than 200 worker-run factories and businesses throughout the country, with more than 15.000 people working in these cooperatives in sectors as diverse as car-part production and balloon factories. All of this took place during the one year of Eduardo Duhalde’s transitional government.


In summer 2002, Eduardo Duhaldo resigned after backing Nestor Kirchner as his favorite successor. Elections were announced, and the main two competitors were Carlos Menem, the man who more than anyone else represented the Argentinian crisis, and Nestor Kirchner, a political outsider, former governor of Santa Cruz province – the only option for the Argentinean left.

Menem won the first round but, seeing that it would be virtually impossible to beat Kirchner in the second, he stood down. And so, Nestor Kirchner was elected President of Argentina, with the smallest ever percentage gained by a presidential winner: a mere 22 percent of the votes.

Upon his election, Kirchner refused to implement the IMF’s conditionalities, which included further cuts in social spending and a shrinking role for the state in the economy, while at the same time announcing that he would pay back to the country’s private creditors 30 cents on every dollar that it owed to them, using the effective threat of a total default instead. Of course, he paid back the IMF in full, but refused to continue receiving loans (and orders) from it.

In addition, Kirchner introduced policies that raised the minimum wage, protected workers’ and unions’ rights, and expanded social security programs to more unemployed and workers in the informal sector. He increased public spending on education and housing, and put limits on the prices of the formerly state-owned enterprises privatized by Menem. Moreover, Kirchner’s government took a solid stance on the prosecution of criminals involved in the 1976-83 dictatorship.

And of course, Kirchner did little to hide his intentions, which were to save the Argentine state from implosion and reconstruct the capitalist system in the country, reversing the extreme neoliberal measures that the previous governments had taken and replacing them with a more humanistic or social democratic orientation.

Kirchner’s measures brought middle class Argentinians back home from the streets — to the normalcy they were asking for. At the same time, while it cannot be denied (and it should not be underestimated either) that this certainly helped middle and lower class citizens to get back on their feet, it should also be noted that Kirchner’s measures clearly played a decisive role in the demobilization of the country’s once powerful social movements.

Some piquetero leaders were coopted and given positions in the government while certain civil society organizations were offered state subsidies. Those who insisted in their resistance were treated with police repression, isolation, and exclusion from the public sphere.

The rest was a matter of time. Soon, the radical experiments on direct democracy and life beyond capitalism lost their  momentum, giving way to Kirchner’s ‘capitalism with a human face’ (which, no matter how you mask it, remains capitalism, albeit slightly more regulated by the state). “In other words,” As Benjamin Dangl summarizes, “Kirchner was handing out crumbs, when what many demanded was revolution.”


In a way, the challenges faced by the piqueteros were nothing new. Throughout history, social movements around the world have been faced with an eternal and seemingly intractable dilemma: how to bring about lasting social change? While some have opted for a revolutionary road to capture state power, others chose the electoral road to obtaining state power. Others still have chosen to ignore the state altogether and build alternative institutions of direct democracy and autonomous self-management from the grassroots up.

Ahead of the Greek elections, and against the backdrop of widespread excitement around Europe about the expected electoral victory of a ‘radical’ left-wing party, maybe we should turn back and try to remember what happened in other parts of the globe when a left-wing party answered the eternal dilemma facing social movements with a decisive choice for the ‘parliamentary path’ to state power.

Maybe then we‘ll be able to answer the question asked by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: “Why do social movements consistently lose out to electoral institutional politics once the center-left takes over a regime?” And maybe then, at last, we will realize that we need to come up with new slogans to keep the Greek squares from falling prey to the same fate as that befell the piqueteros of Argentina.”

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In this blog post from TorrentFreak, Rick Falkvinge points out what I think is the ultimate motivation behind the copyright regime: the control of the flows of information, and thereby of the people, by a small elite. I’ve been meaning to write something on this issue myself, but of course Rick puts it more eloquently than I possibly could, so I’ll just quote him instead:

“The net changes the world’s power structures in a much more fundamental way than changing the way a few groups of entrepreneurs are able to make money. The net is the greatest equalizer that humankind has ever invented. It is either the greatest invention since the printing press, or the greatest invention since written language. The battles we see are not a result of loss of money; they are caused by a loss of the power of narratives.

Imagine if you were able to write all the world’s news for a week. You would have no bounds in what you wrote, and nobody would question your news – it would be accepted as unconditional truth. What would you write?

The people who sit on this kind of power hold the power of narrative. They hold the ability to literally dictate truth from lies. If you are able to determine and describe the problems that society must solve, and perhaps even how to solve them, you hold the greatest power of all.

Some people, when faced with this thought experiment, think in terms of affecting public opinion on some favorite issue. Those who are a little more daring think in terms of getting rich. But it doesn’t stop there, far from there. If you held the power of narratives, you wouldn’t need money ever again in your life: you could be a god. You could quite literally be seen as a walking deity on the planet.

The ability to interpret reality and tell other people what is true and what is false is the greatest power that humans have ever held. The power of narratives.

In the Middle Ages, this power was held by the Catholic Church who interpreted the Bible in sermons all over Europe. The Bible was written in Latin, and you could even be sent into exile for unauthorized reading of that Bible in Latin.

The Church had no reason to fear any laws being made against their interest, for they controlled the entire worldview of the legislators. They defined the problems and they defined the applicable solutions.

In this day and age, some crazy guy named Gutenberg made it possible to bring Bibles by the cartload into the streets of Paris?. In French! Readable without interpretation! This tore down the church’s power of narrative like a house of cards under a steamroller.

In this, the Church saw themselves as the good guys and wanted to set the record straight, to prevent the spread of disinformation. They had learned that they were the carriers of truth and could not unlearn having this position. Thus, the penalties for using the printing press gradually increased all over Europe, until it hit the death penalty: France, January 13, 1535.

Yes, there has been a death penalty for unauthorized copying. Guess what? Even the death penalty didn’t work.

But as illustrated here, cracking down on the copying technology wasn’t really a matter of preventing copying. It was a matter of maintaining the power of narratives – the complete and total control over the world’s knowledge and culture.

Between the printing press and now, that power has been held by the operators of printing presses. They have observed, they have interpreted, they have retold the story of reality. Recently, the printing presses have received company from radio and TV broadcasts, but the model has remained the same: a small, small elite has determined what the world should know and how they should relate to the events going on.

The net changes everything.

All of a sudden, anybody can publish their ideas to the world in 10 minutes. And just like the Catholic Church, the previous powerholders of the narrative can’t deal with the situation this time around either, and see it as their job to restore order.

The gatekeepers of music – the record labels – are a very minor player in this game. It is much, much larger than that. The net redefines the entire previous classes of power. Those able to tell their story, rule. Those being arrogant enough to demand that people should just keep listening to them for no reason will lose their powers of influence.

Just like when the means of spreading ideas and information accurately, quickly and cheaply came along with the printing press in the mid-1450s, those who now hold the power of narrative are fighting the already-happened loss of their power of narrative with everything they have, and using any excuses they can think of. The actions are the same from every regime in the world – only the excuses differ.

In China, it is sometimes worded as “stability” or “morale of the nation”.

In some very religious Muslim countries, “sanctity of the Prophet” has been heard as motive.

In the West, it can be “terrorism”, “file sharing”, “organized crime”, and “pedophilia”.

Everywhere on the planet, the current regime – not necessarily meaning elected political leaders – choose locally acceptable excuses to crack down on the net. But the actions remain the same, and are aimed at preventing something much more fundamental.

The power for every person on the planet to observe, interpret, and tell their story is breaking the power of money. A fat bank account can no longer buy belief in a story. This equalization of humankind is something tremendously beneficial for about 99.99% of humanity – for the ones trying to destroy the net with every trick in the book are the very few that are being equalized downwards.

Just like in the 1450s. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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