Networked Politics: lines of inquiry

01 January 2007
During the period 1999-2003, the world witnessed the emergence of a metamorphic, multifaceted, intermittent worldwide movement. This recent cycles of social movement offers fertile terrain for an examination of the transformations that have taken place in the fields of political action and organisation.


Networks / movements

During the period 1999-2003, the world witnessed the emergence of a metamorphic, multifaceted, intermittent worldwide movement: during a short period of intense mobilisation, what is commonly referred to as the “antiglobalisation” movement produced a series of surprising innovations, breaking with the past in a manner that led many people, perhaps rather naively, to speak of a “new beginning”, albeit rather unsure, “beyond” the constraints of existing 20th century forms of political organisation. The quick-fire success of a difficult term such as “subjectivity” in the self-reflexive terminology of the new movement – an expression used to define this unusual, multifaceted new social force – revealed the need to move away from traditional models and stereotypes, and to reflect the open, incomplete nature of the movement itself. Within this context, the Networked Politics project focuses on the more recent cycles of social movements as fertile terrain for an examination of the transformations that have taken place in the fields of political action and organisation.

The movement that we learnt to recognize at Seattle has had efficacy and it continues to have it, even though it may not always be obvious how we are to measure this efficacy. To stay to the simplest facts, it is clear that the anti-globalisation or ‘alter-globalisation’ movement – as it is also called – has transformed the public’s perception of the new globalisation of the world economy; it has succeeded in creating a closely interwoven series of networks, connections, links and alliances; it has invented and spread a new range of actions and forms of organisation, and created a unique, permanent system of worldwide cooperation in the form of the World Social Forum; it has organised a worldwide anti-war movement, and has even been called the “second global superpower” following the demonstrations involving millions of people around the world held on the 15th February 2003. Reflecting on the independent forms of organisation generated by social movements also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the deeper nature of this new cycle of social movements. A question that has never been answered, and which appeared even more pertinent after the 2003 events, is that of how to interpret change when its borders and effects are increasingly blurred by its “re-immersion” in the social body. Are we to see this change as a form either of dispersal or of spreading, either of ebb or of metamorphosis ?

The aforesaid “wave” of social movements has been characterised by a number of surprising features, first and foremost that of the ability to welcome diversity and transform it into a force capable of generating a new inclusive, expansive form of identity. Another important feature of the social movements has been their exalting of the ideal of the “openness” of organisational forms, as was previously promoted by the free software movement (this organisational principle is currently feeding a series of important experiments in the digital network community, which lie well beyond the confines not only of political militancy but also of the state and the capitalist market). Moreover, it imposed a mass training to the use, both practical and metaphorical (and, at times, rhetorical) of the networks; to the emergence of a dispersed, multicentric, always open to negotiation, concept of power; to temporary convergent actions, for specific purposes; to organisational “galaxies” and to multifaceted, “ecological”, living forms of rationality.

“They resemble events. The networks are dense social structures on the point of collapse, and it is doubtful whether any sustainable models capable of freezing them actually exist”.

The innovations have not been completely linear of course: the “anti-globalisation” movement has been fed by a variety of different sources, some of which are clearly rooted in the (recent and not so recent) past. The movement has always maintained a complex relationship with pre-existing organisations (political parties, trade unions, NGOs and governmental institutions, to name but a few). Its organisational complexity, while successful in creating an interwoven pattern of networks, designed to guarantee communication between a series of very different realities, is also clearly resistant to any form of unification, and as such restricts the degree to which the said realities cohabit and cooperate. The resulting construct is a highly uncertain, unstable “we”, one that is exposed to the risk of having to define its own boundaries – thus excluding and smothering diversity and creativity – or to the risk of being a simple receptacle for a multifaceted reality bordering on indistinctness, where the loose, fragmented, rather unstable structures present in real life are simple reproduced in other shapes and forms. The risk is one of excessive information with no real communication; a multiplicity of relations with no real commitment. While, a new series of asymmetries, inequalities, forms of exclusion and foci of power have emerged in the same movements dynamics, hidden in the informality of an opaque framework, that lacks clear rules.

“The most open system theoretically imaginable perfectly reflects the foreseeable inequalities of the world within which that same system lies”
(Rodrigo Nunes).

There is now a real need within this multiplicity of movements for an exploration of the new aspects and contradictions of these emergent organisational forms. One cycle has come to an end, and in the rather confusing current impasse, the risk is that of being reabsorbed into spent political forms filling what otherwise appears a void, or of remaining a marginal, non-influential presence within the political arena.

The present study is designed as part of a wider analysis of the limits of networked politics, and as such hopes to constitute a genuine contribution towards future attempts to overcome the said limits.

Marco Berlinguer

TRANS MOVEMENTS – image!!!!!


The “map” represents the report of a working group on “social movements” within the framework of a seminar organised by the Networked Politics Project (Barcelona, October 2006). Alex Foti, Brian Holmes, Christophe Aguiton, Gemma Galdon Clavell, Lluc Peláez and Marco Berlinguer contributed to the work of the group. In the final report, Brian Holmes has attempted to provide an account of the brief, albeit intense, brainstorming session lasted two hours.

The chronological history is somewhat fragmentary, becoming more intense from the 1960s onwards, but nevertheless reflects the need to elaborate and even to selectively re-appropriate the past. The two-columned diagram attempts to represent those opposing elements that characterise the present-day and the former subjectivity. The chronological reconstruction of a brief history of the social movements, designed to enable an interpretation of the “anti-globalisation” movement, revealed a common awareness about a cut between 1999 and 2003, together with more uncertainty regarding what happened thereafter.

The Tao symbol succinctly encapsulates present-day ambivalences: from one side, the conservative stiffening, the dark “after 11 September”, the arising fundamentalisms promoting the “clash of civilizations”; from the other one, a global class conflict, that seems to follow a “strategy of the weak”, asymmetrical, micro-political and to tend toward a new living, manifold, open idea of society and rationality. The concept of the “open-source for the operating system for the planet” attempts to propose an horizon, vision and catalyst, even of institutional type (see discussion of open source operating systems as a metaphor for new institutions that ended the seminar of Barcelona).

New principles in practice

The movement in France in 2006 of young people fighting a casualising employment law provides an exemplary illustration of how democracy is being reappropriated through practices of self-organisation, where people are being linked horizontally through co-ordination rather than vertically through traditional modes of representation. Sophie Gosselin analyses the process based on a longer input she gave to a network politics seminar held at the European Social Forum in Athens in 2006.

In March 2006, a new wave of social protest rushed across France giving new generations the experience of politics, self-organisation, collective decision-making, conflicts of interest, power relationships, purposeful use of information and language – in short, what is called “democracy”. It began when a group of undergraduates, secondary school students, unemployed people and activists called a general assembly at the University of Nantes. They voted to occupy the university, stopping classes while they organised a protest against the proposed CPE (Le Contrat Première Embauche – law on first employment)1. They posted blogs on the Internet and spread the word through Indymedia sites and e-mail contacts.

This insurrection was totally spontaneous. It took political activists by surprise and unfolded regardless of us. At the same time, France was also rocked by the Clearstream affair - a forged document purporting to show secret bank accounts held by the French political elite in a Luxembourg finance company, Clearstream. These two events followed the revolts of suburban youngsters in November 2005. Taken together, all the eruptions constituted a major crisis in the French republican system. They also shaped the contradictions of the protest movement as it struggled with issues of representation and new forms of organisation.

On the one hand, in the media, we could see trade unions negotiating or discussing with the government, whereas on the other, there was the battlefield of the general assemblies and the blockaded universities. Here, other alliances were formed, most importantly between youngsters and the ‘precarious’ (the unemployed and part-time workers). This hiatus between “representative” organisations and informal groups highlighted the tension which currently drives social struggles, the tension between traditional structures, which stem from the struggles of the 19th century, and the emerging social forms based on network practices.

This is a crisis of representation. Who represents the “people” of a democratic state, how is that representation arrived at? In the general assemblies in the universities, the formal unions of students and of wage earners were sharply criticized and rejected. Thus, it was laid down as a rule that those who spoke in a general assembly should say from the start if they belonged to a trade union or a political party. Who spoke and from what standpoint s/he spoke, became the increasingly momentous question. If trust is the foundation of and legitimation for authority, then trade unions have lost much of their authority and legitimacy. Their strength is based only on the institutional workings of the system itself, which has recognised and integrated them, the better to neutralise their anti-establishment potential. This loss of trust was caused by the practice of trade unions fulfilling their role of representatives, but actually having answers confined to their role as trade unions. Students and the ‘precarious’ waited desperately for unions to fulfil their promise of a call for a renewable strike. The call has never been issued.

The media all hunted for the head they could set up as the “leader” of the movement, denying the multiple forms of action. They focused on spectacles, presented a pseudo-debate around the red herring of the pros and cons of the blockade. Meanwhile, blogs and websites were created to diffuse other representations and analyses of what was going on, a virtual conflict. These non-specialists used the media not only as a way to convey information, but also as vectors of collective consciousness and as a means of self-organisation. A process of convergence has started between the traditional social movements and the political activism linked to the process of re-appropriating the media. This is transforming the practices of the struggle.

Some students from the University of Nantes created a union called Sud étudiants (South students). Interestingly, it does not pretend to be the students’ representative. It functions in parallel to the student movement and intervenes to inject necessary elements (techniques, finance…) for the self-organisation of the student movement. But above all, it works as an organ for the transmission of self-organisation practices and as the disseminator of these practices inside the movement. Sud Etudiant of Nantes works with an informal network of individuals rather than with a hierarchy whose frontiers of belonging or not belonging would be strictly established. There have been several possible levels of belonging to Sud Etudiant, from being the totally committed activist, bringing the union alive and giving it legitimacy through practical experience, to somebody who is committed through affinity, neither completely inside nor completely outside, who is very motivated for one action and less for another. Those who “lead” this union are not those who have a privileged position by reason of their representative status, but those who bring it alive by their activity. Support came not for its ideology but for its practice: from what they did and how. And it’s this practice, by an effect of “infectious” affinity, which will attract new people.

One of the conclusions, which emerged from my interview2 with these students, is that the movement was centred on the re-appropriation of democratic space by the new generations. How has this re-appropriation of democratic space manifested itself in practice? First, it has manifested in the general assemblies of each university and through their national and regional co-ordination. This means that the political organisation of the struggle has been done outside the local associations in the networks, which weave together the levels of co-ordination. Any student appointed by a general assembly could participate in the co-ordination meetings. But above all, the dynamic of self-organisation stretched beyond the multiple micro blockades at the universities to blockades of stations, roads, shops, airports, etc3. The inactivity of the trade unions and the paralysis of the working world triggered off a process of “flying blockades”: in place of a general strike by workers in production, resistance was moved to a blockade of the flow of transport.

The double struggle, of resistance in the world of work and of appropriation of images and information via the Internet, corresponds to a transfer in the forms of power distribution and operation. This connects technology and power in a new way, condensed in the idea of network as a means for organisation and a technological device. This raises the question of the form of “political power” we give to technologies? To quote Michel Foucault, we can think of the power as technology (that is to say, as social struggles fixed in procedures and techniques of domination) and, conversely, technology as a social struggle fixed in a material structure. A technical tool is only one of the elements in a network of a technology of power. This implies that the functioning of some procedures or techniques propels the user into a network of determined social struggle.

Inside the traditional social movement against the CPE, we were able to see the emergence of new political practices as regards resistance and representation. The crisis of representation is related to the obsolescence of the traditional model of political organisation, which supposes a homogeneous body (the nation, the people, the workers, etc.) creating its own image, delegating its power to some representative authority. On the contrary, what has been shown recently is a fragmented and multiple representation, tied to the practices of self-organisation, with links between autonomous cells coming from co-ordination and not representation. This re-appropriation of democracy has occurred through a re-arrangement of the relation between collective consciousness and ways of organisation. Central to this re-arrangement is the space – the “agora” as the open space in the heart of Athens was known. We had multiple new spaces in which to speak where everybody is considered equal, spaces in perpetual transformation according to new bonds and networks into which the cells enter. As a movement against the CPE, this process of democratic space re-organisation was underground and, to some extent, latent since it didn’t have time to develop and to express itself as such. But today, this alternative continues to be invented by the new paths opened up by this eruption.

Sophie Gosselin


1 To know more details about the events chronology:
2 The interviews are available online at: libertaires:l_engagement&s=cpe
3 Some unexpected relations were weaved between the students in fight and the movements of squatters or punks.

State / Public Institutions

Institutional crisis and transformation

In the institutional sphere we have diverse and serious problems. There is a clear disproportion between the ability and formal powers of institutions, and their real capacity to transform and change at a time when the economy and the market have managed to “escape” political-institutional control, maintaining and even increasing their ability to blackmail and condition public action. In this sense, the obsolescence of the political foundations of the nation-state (which linked power to territory, population and sovereignty) is highlighted, at a time when the three elements mentioned present very different profiles to their traditional ones. The contradiction of political legitimacy based on a popular plebiscite every x years is also highlighted when the political dynamic and the actions of the media submit institutional actions to daily referenda. The institutions insist that the only means of democratic political action is representative democracy, while there are evermore people that are separated from this representative politics through legal inability (immigrants), by indifference, by verifying that it changes nothing in their lives. This very political weakening leads institutions to take refuge in legality, increasingly confusing legitimacy and legality. In this context, institutions tend to a biased utilisation (unidirectional, hierarchical and controlling) of technology in order to maintain their hegemony in a drift that is increasingly authoritarian and autistic.

How can institutional transformation be tackled? It is not about improving what already exists. That cannot be the objective, although the reforms may be instrumentally necessary. Today, the main objectives are the improvement of the institutional system that sustains representative democracy: the electoral system, laws of political parties, entralisation, the role of parliament etc. On the other hand, a policy of transparency and good government in such areas as access to information, management of government assistance, the ethics of administrative actions, the behaviour of the top ranks etc is spoken about and publicised. While at operative level, the source of inspiration for changes to public administration is sought in the “New Public Management” from ideas inspired in the way non-public organisations function.

Institutions and administrations should be something else. They should be an essential part of implementing policy in a non-exclusive and non-hierarchical manner. Their work cannot be “monopolistic”. Without popular leadership there will be no transformation “from above”. The legitimacy of institutions and administrations lies in their capacity to respond to popular needs and expectations, without that meaning dependency, clientilism or submission. This means that in today’s complex society, our institutions and administrations should be capable of affecting the transformation of our societies, incorporating the diversity and transformative capacity of people and collectives. Inclusion and creativity should therefore be two central factors. How should they work? The responses of New Public Management are of no use to us. We suggest certain working approaches. We must advance towards a deliberative administration in which dialogue substitutes for specialisation. This could become concrete by making transversality effective, breaking the myths of specialisation and segmentation, as well as by incorporating new management concepts such as trust and collaboration. Operationally, this creates the need to formulate mechanisms of citizen participation and new forms of intergovernmental relations. To do this, we believe it is necessary to generate belief in another administration being possible (salvaging the value of the public and the prestige of its institutions) and having new reference points in relation to time (more patience), sentiment (more affection) and collaboration (less competitiveness).

Joan Subirats and Quim Brugué

“Today, political leaders throughout Europe are facing a real paradox. On the one hand, Europeans want them to find solutions to the major problems confronting our societies. On the other hand, people increasingly distrust institutions and politics or are simply not interested in them”
White Paper on European Governance, EU Commision, Brussels, 2001, p.1

How to build up new (social) institutions

Graphics missing!!!!!!!! Page 38

Life networks (neighbourhoods, consumers, labour environments, people affected by some conflict, etc.) are the breeding ground for social networks that develop grassroots institutions such as associations for mutual aid or to protect their rights, formal gatherings to press authorities, social centres, non-commoditized markets, etc. They coexist, from cooperation to conflict, with other institutions more embedded in representative public frameworks (local or national authorities) endorsed by organizations as parties and trade unions.

Graphics missing!!!!!!!! P 39

Globalization tends to render more and more powerless these public institutions as market forces (multinationals, financial groups) seems to be ahead in the control of international agreements (from WTO to EU). Citizens perceive also that these forces colonize part of their life, where and how they get by (if they can). Radical democracy could be envisaged as a driving counter-power aiming to promote horizontal and bottom-up experiences in the satisfaction of human needs: material, expressive or environmental.

Could both type of institutions (State, grassroots) to build up common tools, strategies to involve citizens or to offer alternatives to their common “enemy” from this radicaldemocracy perspective? In this graph we offer some hints about it. When both public and social networks interact aiming to construct a social and horizontal world against neoliberal globalization, possible outcomes could lead (or not) to a better mutual understanding.

Political Representation / Political Parties>

Rethinking political representation and political parties

Five themes underpin this line of the inquiry – themes that arise out of the social movement left of the last three decades or so.

1. A critique of the predominant notion of politics reflecting the declining legitmacy of the traditional political institutions and the definition of politics that underpins them and collapsing allegiance to political parties.

The classic definition of political parties is organisations that aim to be in government or to be in a strategic relation to government. Since the late 1960s – though with many precursors – an understanding of politics has developed as far broader than matters of state, government and legislature. This breaks the monopoly of political parties over politics; it also produces a situation where many of the functions traditionally carried out by political parties, and carried out in a particular way, are done by a multiplicity of actors in innovative and independent ways. Even electoral activity is no longer the exclusive preserve of political parties. Political parties are not a necessary condition of electoral activity; and electoral activity is not the only activity of a political party.

The narrow definition of politics exclusively in terms of government, state and legislatures is associated with a degeneration in the meaning of representation. It has slid from the aim of “making present” within the legislature the demands, ideas and knowledge of active citizens down to merely “symbolising” the people as an electorate that merely chooses between competing symbols. In the visions of the early, radical campaigns for democracy e.g. before the end of the 19th century, representation meant “making present”. This implied a causal relationship between a presence in the political institutions and the autonomous force which it represented, based outside these institutions; an autonomous force or forces expressing popular feeling, opinion, activity, organisation, deliberation. In most of today’s “representative democracies” repre- sentation has a primarily symbolic function, to symbolise the people or particular sections of the people, with the implication that those who are represented are generally passive in the process of the organisation of society, only periodically assenting or dissenting to how they are thus represented. Electoral politics is the competition for this symbolic role. As parties become absorbed in this process they lose any connection with the people as actors for social change in their own right. The idea of representation becomes associated with alienation, separation and frequently a presumption of superiority.

If representation means “making present”, it is only one ofr many moments of politics, understood as purposeful transformation of society. This broader understanding of politics leads to theme 2.

2. The importance of distinguishing two senses of power:
Power 1: as transformative capacity
Power 2: as domination, as involving an asymmetry between those with power and those over whom power is exercised.

The recent reassertion of power as transformative capacity first by the feminist and also radical trade union student and community movements of the late ’60s and ’70s and more recently by the global justice movement of the late ’90s underpins and sustains a far wider understanding of the scope of politics beyond the traditional focus on state, government and legislation.

This recognition of the importance of power as transformative capacity and an associated enlargement of the definition of politics, also lays the basis for rethinking representation. It suggests a direction of strategic thinking about social transformation which goes beyond the counter position of movement forms of democracy on the one hand, and representation – as “making present” – on the other. It implies the need to inquire into forms, conditions and limits on representation as a way of “making present” within the political system, movements and struggles and the sources of transformative capacity that they contain or indicate.

This implies that rethinking political organisation must be guided by investigating and understanding the present sources of transformative capacity; and this in turn requires recognition of:

3. The multiplicity of levels of creative human activity – all of which are potential locations of transformative capacities.

This involves an understanding of social reality as consisting of at least four levels:

• interactions/relationship between people;
• enduring social structures that pre-exist particular individuals and relationships;
• the formation and character of human personality and consciousness;
• transactions and relations with nature.

Social movements and struggles involve all these levels of social being but their importance will vary from case to case, as will the appropriate forms of political organisation.

Just to list these indicates the dramatic enlargement of politics which flows from a recognition of power as transformative capacity and also points to the importance of a multiplicity of autonomous levels to politics. It also indicates the complexity of giving organisational reality to the idea of representation as “making present” autonomous forces for democratic transformation. The other side of this enlargement of politics and recognition of the different levels at which transformative activity takes place is:

4. A radical development in our understanding of the mechanism of social change.

The assumption dominant on the traditional left was that leadership or political action – the state, government or party – the social subject, acted on the rest of society, the social object. It was a model which takes no account of the way in which change is coming from within society, the ways those who were previously considered the objects of change are themselves actors for change and the ways in which the would-be external subjects of change are themselves drawn into processes of change – not necessarily in ways they intend (for example, political parties like the British Labour Party have been completely transformed – hollowed out – by a process of imposing, in this instance backwards, pro-market change, on a membership that was expecting public reconstruction).

Amongst mechanisms of progressive change are people’s conscious efforts at change to live their lives consistently with, for example, values of co-operation, ecological sustainability or egalitarianism. They do not necessarily have a full picture of the structural causes of the obstacles to these values or a full vision of social change, but they act in a way which creates conditions for these structural changes.

In the past it was the party which claimed to concentrate and co-ordinate this purposeful activity and plan its character. Now purposeful efforts at change are very diffuse. The task to strengthen its impact is less to concentrate or co-ordinate it and more to stimulate and support its interconnection and self-co-ordination.

This implies a very different view of knowledge from that which has dominated political organisation in the past.

5. We are working with a knowledge of open systems, an incomplete knowledge; we are increasingly aware of knowledge as tacit, practical and experiential as well as scientific.

These understandings of knowledge are closely associated with the understanding of power as transformative capacity and with the diffusion of efforts at social change. The implications for political organisation point towards an emphasis on horizontal sharing and exchanging of knowledge; co-operative attempts to build a common memory; the self-consciousness of action and struggle as also an experiment and therefore the importance of ensuring spaces for reflection, debate and synthesis.

6. Implications / questions.

These conceptual themes are intended to sum up the direction of innovations and developments in the practice of social change with their associated implications for political parties and representation over the past thirty years or so. These developments effectively turn upside down the role of political parties in social change, challenging their monopoly, transforming the nature of their relationship with social movements, questioning the very nature and need for political leadership, radicalising the idea of representation and dramatically enlarging the notion of politics. The first phase of this line of the inquiry was to explore critically the experience so far of attempts to change the nature of political parties in the direction indicated by these conceptual and practical shifts.

Hilary Wainwright

A sobering experience: the German Greens

The attempt to rethink political representation and political parties is not new. In 1970 the German Greens, a new party created as the voice of social movements in the political institutions of Germany, tried to transform the nature of political representation. It is an experience that contains many lessons for us now. Frieder Otto Wolf, a founder member of that party presented this experience at a workshop in Manchester. Here he writes a brief version of his analysis.

In the late 1970s, the West German Green party adopted a series of principles of ‘grass roots’ or ‘base’ democracy to guide their organisation. The aim was to enable emancipation from domination, practise gender and ecological responsibility, and to design the building of a counter-power capable of changing the course of events. What were these principles of grass-roots democracy, why were they given up, and what would still be relevant about them with a view to realizing the same aims? These are the questions I, as someone involved in the party, try to answer here, by retrospectively examining each principle in turn.

1. Beginning with oneself

This principle is based on the argument that a constituent element of the structure of domination is the complicity of the dominated. Recognizing this element and learning to withhold one’s complicity is therefore a necessary first step. It has been the starting point for the massive rediscovery of consumer action, such as the boycott of products that entailed ecological destruction or child slave labour. It has also led to the insistent moral questioning of male-dominated gender relations.

This principle of refusing complicity seems to be derived from the feminist principle ‘the personal is political’ or, in another formulation, “the private is political”. The first can be understood as “politics in the first person”, which claims the “political” character of personal initiatives and relations. It can also mean the principle of “beginning from oneself”, which adds the idea of going beyond one’s immediate personal domain to all kinds of political issues, ideally developing a practice of self-determination at all levels, but always beginning with refusing complicity. The principle of ‘the private is political’ seems to be more specifically geared to feminist uses because it addresses the specific problematic of the private household, which shields male-dominated relations from outside scrutiny or intervention – by public authorities as well as by those acting in solidarity with oppressed and exploited housewives or daughters1.

In practice, this principle has turned out to be ambivalent: On the one hand, it has inspired creative work on consumer action, community-organised child-care and even foreign policy, where a strategic conception of unilateral disarmament has invoked this principle. On the other hand, it has occasionally reinforced a regressive tendency to favour individual whims, which may stop any movement towards collective ‘really’ political action. And, most importantly, it has been found to be difficult to adapt to electoral policy, which is necessarily aimed at getting the votes of many people who were a long way from “beginning with themselves”. Despite an elaborate camouflage of references to later feminist debates on the ambiguities of “the private is political”, the electoral imperative – in which the principle played no part – led to its being abandoned. This began when the Greens became established as a complete electoral party in West Germany in the mid-1980s and was cemented when they fused with the electoral organisation created by the dissident “citizens’ movement” of the GDR, who suspected this principle of being “totalitarian”.2

2. Consensus before majority decisions

Majority decisions are potentially an act of domination (as Thomas Hobbes said). It became a principle of political practice to avoid this danger by asking all participants to seek consensus before taking majority decisions. This principle was adopted in the euphoria of an historical new beginning that seemed to promise imminent emancipation from all structures of domination. Its premise was also that anxiety in the face of imminent common destruction would create a new solidarity among all human beings. It has, in fact, helped make possible rather improbable alliances – e.g. between rural peasants and urban queer groups in the face of an escalation of nuclear armaments. The principle infused the new party with a powerful cultural dynamic, perhaps the strongest vector of transformation the party has carried.

On the other hand, the intensity of conflicts within modern bourgeois societies, especially in those shaken by the crisis of Fordism, did not make consensus easy to reach even within a party broadly agreed on its political programmes. Once the utopian moment or the moment of common anxiety had faded, competing “alternative” or “traditional” identities effectively blocked almost any kind of meaningful debate on possible areas of consent. In practice, the principle of arriving at consensus became a process of negotiating compromises via intricate voting procedures, proceeding from a “snapshot of opinions”, through several rounds of amendments, to a final definitive vote. The corollary principle of minority protection through, for instance, the introduction of minority statements into party programmes, has never been put into practice. A formal minority would be unable to survive over time because of the majority principle built into the election procedures for party offices or for parliamentary mandates. This principle therefore has been largely forgotten by newer generations of party activists since the mid-1980s.

3. Primacy of common action over individual projects

This principle was devised to counter spontaneous tendencies towards fragmentation. In practice, however, it has worked as a tyranny of common politics in which the individual duties of ordinary life – bonding, family building, or passing examinations – were neglected. The principle also fomented hypocrisy. Individuals would present their very particular concerns as an occasion for common action. It has been largely forgotten now, and slipped out of use without major conflict. The problem of an adequate balancing of individual concerns with the needs of common strategic action remains, however, high on the agenda of any political organisation with transformative aims.

4. Respecting individual conscience

Given the variety of backgrounds of Green activists, this principle has been invoked to address problems of discipline and common action without crushing individuals. This was adopted in more or less conscious opposition to the traditional practices of “democratic centralism”, which forces the minority to carry out the actions it has opposed. In practice, however, it became the traditional liberal principle of ‘liberty of conscience’ of deputies that served to diminish the control of the party over persons elected to parliamentary mandates

5. Gender parity

The existence of this principle is the most direct impact of the women’s movement on the principles of party organisation, forcing other political parties to introduce similar principles. It has deeply shaped the “alternative” political culture of the German Greens, although it has also served the instrumental strategy of winning a larger share of power. In spite of strong media pressure against this principle, especially when it involves prominent male figures having to stand back, it has generally been upheld. Since unification and the fusion with the East German citizens’ movement organisation, however, important exceptions have been made which were previously unthinkable. The main ambivalence of the principle has turned out to be its compatibility with the neo-liberal notion of career women putting themselves forward in open “political markets”.

6. ‘Rotation’ in mandate and in office

This principle was introduced to avoid the emergence of professional politicians. Its inherent disregard for parliamentary and, more generally, political experience have made it difficult to defend though. Furthermore, the difference between this principle and the liberal, inherently middle-class critique of “professional politics” has been neither sufficiently explained nor understood. In the current practice, it has either been dropped entirely or reduced to requirements of stronger reselection after two legislatures. In part, it has been replaced by requirements of a quota for “new candidates”.

7. Public character of all party proceedings

This principle was introduced to prevent secret proceedings of party committees undermining party democracy. In practice, however, it has led to an increased tendency towards informal preparations and conspiracies. It also made it possible for observers from organised sub-groups to exercise disproportionate control over the deliberation of party organs. It is now largely discontinued – although it still offers an important challenge for transparency as a first step to an enhanced internal democracy within a political party.

8. Separation between party office and parliamentary mandate

This principle was introduced to counter the ‘sucking in effect’ of parliaments and governments. It has delayed the effect, but not countered it because of the absence of clear political projects of transformation. It did not provide, most especially, a counter-weight to the strength of parliamentary leaders in relation to party representatives, nor prevent the emergence of positions of informal leadership (Joschka Fischer) based upon media presence and media intervention. Nor could it prevent the long-term influence on party recruitment of the “realist” majority of the parliamentary group. This has led to the dominance of the realists even at the party base.

The principle could be effective in a situation where the party organisation turned away from the (almost impossible) task of ‘controlling’ the activities of its parliamentary wing, and focussed instead on developing links to social movements with a view to longer-term changes in public opinion. Then it could function as a principle for institutionalising a realistic division of labour between different departments of party politics. In spite of strong contrary pressures from the media and from coalition partners, this principle is still largely in place though modified by exceptions for party leaders and a ‘mixed institution’ acting as a forum for strategic consultations.

9. Imperative mandate

This principle of the accountability of representatives has a long and well-documented history within the ‘councils’ of 19th and early 20th century revolutions and especially within organisations of the workers’ movement. The green movements and parties have made this a distinctive principle of their political organisation without, however, adequately distinguishing between a prior mandate and consequent accountability and, most fatally, without clearly defining to whom this accountability is due: to local party members, to delegating party bodies, to social movements, to the general public, to the electorate at large…

This principle has largely been discredited. It was open to tactical uses and abuses and implemented in a mechanistic and dogmatic way without regard to existing conditions. Yet, there seems to be something essential about it for reclaiming effective democratic accountability and participation. It would certainly be worth distilling something of this principle of direct involvement in democracy out of the muddle of anarchist ideologies and incompetent practices that has overgrown it. This principle is now totally discontinued in party practice, not counting ordinary practices of reporting back.

10. ‘Ordinary wage’ for parliamentarians

Introduced as a measure for reducing the distance between the elected and their electorate – as practised in the 1870 Paris Commune, this principle meant an income reduction for activists relative to better paid professions. Inflexible implementation plus arbitrary exceptions further discredited the principle.

If freed from workerist austerity and implemented with flexible adaptations to specific life situations, the principle would still have the potential of limiting careerism within the party. And it would help to raise sizable funds in the form of donations, which could be put to good use, especially in financially reinforcing social movement infrastructures and institutions. This principle is now discontinued, though party levies are still higher than in most other parties.

11. Autonomous administration of party finance

This principle was introduced to heighten the difference between the Greens and other parties. In practice, this has put great stress on internal practices of financial selfcontrol. The alleged risks of slipping into illegal practices of tax avoidance etc. have been avoided, although often at the high price of internal conflict. There were successful attempts at making scandals about practices implementing the internal rules.

This principle contained a valuable kernel, of making explicit the political criteria underlying an alternative system of controlling of party finances. This could be rethought, although this practice is now discontinued.

12. Primacy of social movements over parliamentary politics

This principle has often been illustrated by the metaphor of the “standing leg” (the social movements) vs. the “playing leg” (the parliamentary practice). That image grossly underestimates the weight of parliamentary and electoral practices in a political party. It also obscures the tasks of political integration and alliance building, which are most closely linked to the informal workings of parliaments as organs of political representation. Yet, it is a principle of continuing great importance: at the very least, it marks the need to find forms of co-operation between social movements and parliamentary parties as autonomous organisations. This is a key issue in contemporary debate on political organisation.

This principle has now clearly been inverted in the present practice of the German Green party – as could be seen by the Green parliamentary group’s criticism of the nonrepresentative character of NGOs in the “alter-globalist” movement.

13. Programmes based on projects, not on theories

In the face of the sectarianism of the 1970s, in which dogmatically received theory played a central role, this principle at first seemed a liberating stroke. In the longer run, however, it has led to the utter neglect of theoretical debates, effectively abandoning all efforts at an in-depth analysis of established relations of domination. This has led, in the longer run, to a thinning of theoretical debates within the party and of real substance in its programmatic debates. These degenerated into rhetorical exercises without any basis in evidence. This principle has now been totally forgotten – as, in actuality, both theory and programmes have been increasingly replaced by political marketing.

14. Authentic concern for political culture over mere ideology

This principle, harking back to pioneers like the concept artist Joseph Beuys and embodied by strongly moralizing leaders like Petra Kelly, was meant to maintain a fundamental difference between the Greens and ‘traditional parties’. It has, without doubt, suffered from not being linked to strong theoretical analysis and strategic thinking. This has made it susceptible to wild illusions about the effects of the apparatuses of dominant ideology. It remains true, however, that such a principle of a strategic break with established culture should be at the heart of any transformative movement with a strategic perspective. The unsolved problem in this respect seems to be how to achieve such a break without, as it were, closing the windows to the world of the others and shrinking into a cultural ghetto. This principle does not seem utterly beyond reach, but it has, again, now largely been forgotten. Instead, the cult of media presence as an element of power is holding the political culture of the party in its sway – probably even more so than in other parties where they have established arenas for a practice of an internal party culture.

Frieder Otto Wolf


1 In retrospect, this idea of “public” conceals a harmful ambiguity – defending privacy against the disciplinary practices of public authorities is quite different from defending the “private space” of the male-dominated household against women’s solidarity. But at the time, nobody could entertain the idea that the “institutions” of the establishment were anything other than an external support of male domination within the “private household”. The neo-liberals made use of this ambiguity in their counter-attack in the 1980s and 1990s, helped by the lack of clarity in these elementary theoretical issues about gender relations, families and households as well as the state and politics.
2 The objection to the very idea of ‘basisdemokratie’ as a kind of “basisdiktatur”, a dictatorship of the grass roots activists with ‘totalitarian’ tendencies, had been the staple of the ‘liberal’ or ‘libertarian’ party right wing since the foundation of the Green Party. They were defending the principle of the “free mandate”, based on the ‘liberty of conscience’ of all representatives, which is, in fact, explicitly enshrined in most Western constitutions of liberal democracy.

Techno-political tools

Techno-political tools have emerged from the practice and social transformations of the recent cycle of social movements. The term “techno political tools” refers to strategies and a rich variety of experiences that seem to have something in common. For example, they apply the new technologies to political goals, putting an emphasis on decentralised “swarming”, placing a high value on a collaborative and open environment, stressing the importance of the systematisation of the knowledge generated by social movements and, through this systematisation, the collective building of a shared memory.

Some of the questions for discussion are:

i) What are the characteristics of a techno-political tool? ii) What kinds of tools are there? (Conceptual tools and metaphors; networking tools (directories of groups); search tools; visualisation tools and maps; communication tools etc.)
iii) How could technological tools be designed and used to improve the possibilities for, and the means of achieving, more direct, more transparent, less mediated forms of democratic organisation?
iv) What are the socio-economic conditions necessary for widespread access to and use of techno-political tools?
v) Can we extend the Free Software organizational model to other fields of social organisation?
vi) How far do the activist/movement networks correspond with networks of users of techno tools? For example, amongst networks involved in the WSF there is a low correspondence between the two networks and therefore a low use of the techno tools built around the WSF.
vii) Which are the key event/moments that make a technopolitical strategy useful?
viii) Does the movement around technological innovation go beyond the market?
ix) How does the nature of Internet Global Governance affect the strategy of techno-politics?
x) Is there a problem of the individualisation of the users of techno-political tools and how can it be addressed?
xi) What would be the classic tools of techno-politics and why they would be “classic”?
xii) Could the visualisation tools afford new forms of representation, different from the classical organisational view?
xiii) What have been the experiences of technical tools created for transformative political propose

Initial list of people participating at the discussion on techno-politics: Franco Berardi (Bifo); Jaime King; Jaume Nualart; Branca Curcic; Ines Pereira; Luciana Castellina; Dominique Cardon; Mayo Fuster. Presentation of the people is available at the wiki.

Steps planned and done at the Techno-political team

Building a chronological map of key developments/ moments historically

An initial map map of the main issues and a chronology of key developments/moments historically and specifically over the past 20 plus years has been developed by Jaume Nualart and further developed with input from Branka Curcic: on_techno_-_politicals_tools

A reflection on meaning of the concept of techno-political tool concept – a draft entrance to Wikipedia

A first draft of techno-political terms for an entry to Wikipedia is being developed (initially by Mayo Fuster), which explores several meanings: Techno-Political Tools.

– By political, we mean tools used and/or built for political ends. That they be built for political ends is a sufficient condition; that they be used for political ends is a necessary condition. This term would include new technologies already circulating in society which are put at the service of a political end or cases where programmes are built or technologies developed with this intention. An illustrative example of the first case would be when mobile phones are used for swarming, for example, the use of SMS messages in Madrid to call for street demonstrations after the bombings of 11th March 2003. An example of the second case was the establishment of Indymedia. This is a reason for the considerable variance in the weight of political identity or the logo of techno-political tools. But what politics? We mean the politics that proposes and prefigures the global movement. The politics for a participatory democracy with more direct, less mediated mechanisms for participation.

– By techno, we mean where the content and/or the mediation of such practices is carried out through technology. Through the use of technology, meaning the different forms of new information technology (e.g. Internet, mobile telephones, etc.) The term contains a novel element in that, above all, it collects practices around new technologies, and is used to refer to already consolidated practices, as was the case with previous technologies, such as radio or television. What stands out as “new” is the use of technologies that favour multi-communication.

– By tool, we mean that it is open to being re-appropriated; to being used for any purpose. The tool can be used for multiple purposes and is not intended to “direct” the nature of its use, or to be restrictive, or to exert control over whoever wants to use it. In this sense, the tool aims to combine autonomy and a sense of acting jointly. Autonomy insofar as it does not attempt to limit the autonomy of the user; acting jointly to the extent that they share the same instrument, the same practice. When tools are built to favour their re-appropriation and use, they include user manuals, kits, an open code, etc. so that the know-how for its use and re-use is accessible, following the logic of Do it yourself (DIY)1.

Types of techno-political tools

Some significant differences between techno-political tools can be found around the following fields:

− Whether it concerns a “derived” techno-political tool (the use of new existing technologies for political ends) or a “built” one (the conscious construction of the tool for a political end)
− The dimension which they are aimed at: local, regional, global
− Link with time (particular kinds cases: for a concrete, lasting etc. action)
− A political project or action that underlies the use of the tool
− Support technology (website, email, mobile telephones etc.) and whether their use is online or offline.

Call for contribution to a newsletter on techno-political tools

In collaboration with the E-library for and on social transformation, we are preparing a multilingual compilation of online material on “Collaborative creation, Free software organizational model, Techno-political tools and memory”, in an attempt to give an overview on what is under the umbrella of those fields and to stimulate the circulation of ideas. Please send us your contributions as fast as possible. There are two alternative ways of sending us a contribution:

A) (The best option!!!) To publish the resources through the e-library form and send us the link of the resource page (To do it so, go to the register at http: // and publish it).

B) Send us an e-mail to containing these information: Title; Author (s) name and econtact (optional); Abstract (maximum 1800 characters); Keywords; Year; Licences; Language; Number of pages; Type of text; External link; and, the text or resource itself.

The newsletter will be published under a Creative commons – non commercial, share alike licence, but if you send us resources under its own licence, this will be respected.

The resources sent would be included in an organised compilation newsletter, accessible through the Networked Politics wiki (, the e-library on social transformation (, the wiki e-yearbook on and for social transformation 2006 (, and will be spread through several e-mails lists, web pages and other networks of exchange and conversation.

Case studies

The documentation of case studies of experiences is planned. The case studies identified as relevant for development in the coming months are “Global Internet Governance (in comparison with other institutional logic like UN or WTO)” and the free software development model.

More on techno-political discussion team

More materials (Such as reports of seminars and video of a debate) are available at the wiki techno-politics section: tools

Waiting for you to develop and discuss them further!!! Contact us if you would like to participate in the discussion group at

Mayo Fuster i Morrell

Map missing (page 54) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you would like to know more about each of the map entries, a good resource on technological keywords is On you can also find an interface of the main terminology of technical developments at Wikipedia and other good online resources. Here is an explanation of the main terms used on the map.

TECHNIQUES: This refers to the different programme languages and techniques. (For example, P2P is a computer network that relies primarily on the computing power and bandwidth of the participants in the network, rather than concentrating it on a relatively low number of servers. Ajax is a HYPERLINK “ wiki/Web_development” web development technique for creating interactive web applications).

GPL: General Public Licence (also known as GNU GPL or simply GPL) is a widely used free software license, originally written by Richard Stallman.

Wiki: is a HYPERLINK “”website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, and typically without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring.

Debian: is free software package developed through the collaboration of a community of volunteers from around the world.

Flickr: is a photo sharing website and web services suite, and an online community platform, which is generally considered an early example of an application of Web 2.0- the new phase of web development.

Drupal: is a Contain Management System (a whole city of free solfware) developed by an online community. The CMS look to “democratise” access to web.

Map missing (page 55) !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Amarok: is a free software music player. Amarok’s tagline is “Rediscover Your Music” and its development is based around this ideology.

Del.ici.ous: is a social bookmarking web services for storing, sharing, and discovering web bookmarks.

Folksonomy: is an Internet-based information retrieval methodology consisting of collaboratively generated, open-ended labels that categorize content such as Web pages, online photographs, and Web links. The authors of the labelling system are often the main users of the content to which the labels are applied. The labels are commonly known as tags.

YouTube: is a Website for storing and and sharing videos.

Creative Common: Licences based on Copyleft (as opposed to copyright) principles, mainly for products other than software.

MySpace: is a social networking website offering an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music and videos.

Second Life: is an online virtual world. Users, who are often called “Residents” amongst themselves, explore, meet other users, participate in individual and group activities or “events”, buy items, HYPERLINK “ property”virtual property and services from one another.

Napster: is an online music service which was originally a file sharing service created by Shawn Fanning. Napster was the first widely-used peer-to-peer (or P2P) music sharing service, and it had a major impact on how people used the Internet.

Slashdot: is a technology-related news website which features user-submitted and editor-evaluated current affairs news with a nerdy slant. It is known for the Internet forum-style comments section attached to each story. Slashdot was one of the first popular websites to include so prominently a commentary section.