Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, Neal Gorenflo of Shareable, and author John Restakis interview Catalan Integral Cooperative’s Enric Duran. Answers translated by Stacco Troncoso, text edited by Jane Loes Lipton. Read this interview in Spanish here.
In this interview, Neal Gorenflo (founder, Shareable), Michel Bauwens (founder, P2P Foundation), and John Restakis (author, “Humanizing the Economy”) speak with Enric Duran. Duran is a Catalan anti-capitalist activist, perhaps best known for his well-publicized act of “financial civil disobedience” announced on September 17, 2008, in which he described his having attained roughly half a million Euros in bank loans and subsequently distributing these funds to support anti-capitalist activist movements. As it was never his intention to pay these debts but instead to stir debate about the unfair legal advantages afforded to the powerful financial elite, he was soon labeled “Robin Banks”, and faced with a lengthy prison sentence. The resulting legal actions and his subsequent seclusion have left him living virtually underground, although he maintains selective contact and has stated that he may return, contingent on a variety of factors. Despite his precarious legal status, his work continues undiminished in the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC), which describes itself as a “transitional initiative for social transformation from below, through self-management, self-organization and networking”. Here is Enric Duran talking about his work and life.
INTRODUCTION: ENRIC DURAN AND THE CATALAN INTEGRAL COOPERATIVE
Michel Bauwens: How did you evolve from your activist Robin Hood interventions to the constructive plans for the CIC, and what are your current aims?
In fact, when I started to plan the action to expropriate the banks (in 2005), I already had the primary objective of promoting the creation of a social alternative based on cooperation and self-management. I had been planning its development since 2002, and in 2003, I took a first shot at it through Infoespai. At that time I didn’t know what we would call this alternative construction, nor what form it would take. I was, however, very clear that my disobedience action would serve to draw strength, in every sense of the word, to create something, much like what CIC is nowadays.
In 2006, we took inspiration from the de-growth movement in generating a grassroots construction process. Towards the end of 2008, that design process culminated in the concretion of our idea of what an integral cooperative would look like. Finally, the CIC was established in May 2010.
Right now, I’m still totally involved in the development of the CIC, and in trying to extend the ideas and practices of integral revolution around the world.
Neal Gorenflo: How did your consciousness change as a result of your famous action and all the public attention that followed? What did you learn and how does that inform what you do today?
My consciousness developed bit by bit with each experience, once I decided to dedicate my life to social activism in 1998. On a personal level, the public repercussions of the action made me feel more responsible and assertive towards what was still to come. It probably gave me the necessary determination to do everything I had to, in order to make the CIC a reality.
Although I’ve never been a fearful or cautious person when it comes to big challenges, the success of the action made me even more daring and decisive about what was to come.
MB: What is your legal status, and how do you see your life in the next few years? What would happen to CIC if you were to be jailed?
Right now I have been declared a fugitive by the Spanish state, after not presenting myself in court for the trial in which they wanted to sentence me to eight years in prison. I’ve been living underground since February 2013, although I plan to emerge when we’re ready to assume the risks that this would entail.
This situation has had no effect on my full commitment to the CIC process, both at the coordination level as well as in the various working groups and several key projects.
In any case, the CIC is fully prepared to keep on going, whether I’m there or not. There are nearly 200 people highly involved in the global CIC process, and, although you can tell if someone’s missing, no one is indispensable – not even me.
PART 1: CIC IN THE PRESENT – LOCALLY AND GLOBALLY
MB: What are the peculiarities of the CIC approach in terms of governance and ownership models, and what exactly do you mean by ‘integral’?
In Spanish, “integral” means holistic, complete. That is to say, it concerns every single facet of life, and that’s what it means to us.
The CIC’s objective is to generate a self-managed free society outside law, State control, and the rules of the capitalist market.
In this sense, it’s a model for transition more than a model for society, wherein we progressively construct practices and take decisions that move us away from our starting point within the system, and towards the world we want to live in.
The governance model includes two types of general assembly: a monthly assembly on one topic we’re exploring to further our development, and a permanent assembly with an open agenda in which anyone can contribute. Those are every 15 days, so, one of every two assemblies is held within the framework of the general day of assembly.
Otherwise, our governance model is based on the decentralization of the entire organization, while at the same time striving to reinforce the empowerment of every local node, so that they can develop their own integral self-management. We also fully support the self-governance of each autonomous project (be they community, productive projects, health nodes, etc.), so they can self-organize by assembly and hold internal sovereignty for their projects, within the general common framework of the CIC.
In terms of ownership, the collectivization of resources to generate common goods is one of our lines of action. We encourage developing common properties for the whole CIC, which are managed by a sovereign assembly for every project.
Private property is one of the ways in which you can protect property, but it’s not the only one. We promote forms of communal property and of cooperative property as formulas that, to us, seem to enhance the self-management and self-organization of individuals, and which provide a great deal of strength to overcome the state and the capitalist system, as opposed to if we just defended private property. Our reasons for defending a certain type of property are always directly related to its use. We are against situations like multiple owners making profits from abusive rental contracts, while having no interest in the actual use of their land.
One of our counter-economic strategies is the collectivization of lands by means of cooperative purchase, or by donation from the individual owners. For this, we use what we call a “Patrimonial Cooperative”, which has no economic activity whatsoever, so the state has absolutely no reason to attack it with fines.
John Restakis: The decision making process, while embodying principles of direct democracy, decentralization and egalitarianism, sounds cumbersome and time consuming. How much time is required for people to take part in the permanent assemblies and for how long is it anticipated this process can last? Has participation fallen off over time?
Between the permanent assemblies and the monthly single-topic assemblies, we’d say that we spend around 16 to 20 hours a month in the big groups, while in the small groups it’s usually a lot more.
I think we’re quite satisfied with our decision-making process. Its level of participation has held up rather well over the years and, in fact, there’s even more participation now. Presently there are, on average, 50 in-person participants per assembly, while some of us participate remotely.
At the same time, the quality of the agreements is a great success, and there hasn’t been any major decision-making conflict in all these years.
Given that the majority of participants choose to take part in a project or in one concrete area of the CIC, but not of the whole, the number of participants in the assemblies doesn’t grow as much as the number of participants in some aspects of the CIC, and this number in the thousands. We also use a number of communication tools, like social networks and our mailing lists, which allow many people to contribute to the aspects they’re interested in, even if they themselves may not be physically present at the assemblies.
MB: What is the relation between the CIC and its subsidiary projects like Calafou, etc? Can you describe for us the extent of the CIC network?
Between individuals and collectives, there are some 300 productive projects, 30 local nodes and eco-networks, about 15 communal living projects, roughly 1700 individual members and collectives. And, as I said before, although it’s difficult to quantify there are several thousand participants, probably around 4000-5000 in total.
Regarding their relationship to the CIC there are three types of projects: autonomous, PAICs and public projects. I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by PAIC, these are autonomous projects based on collective initiative. What this means is that while their functioning is, in practice, autonomous and based on a sovereign assembly, there’s an ongoing reciprocity within the CIC, as the efforts taken by the whole are key to making these PAICs possible, allocating various kinds of resources to make them a reality. PAICs normally also respond to the strategic objectives of the CIC itself.
Calafou is one of CIC’s PAICS, and, at the same time, one of its most emblematic projects.
MB: Does the CIC have any international plans? What is the link between constructing an alternative, activism, and the construction of social movements?
In our view, what we’re doing is activism, an activism for the construction of alternatives to capitalism.
Since its beginnings, the CIC has been actively promoting the creation of integral co-ops worldwide, facilitating this with all the information we’ve accumulated and welcoming visitors from a wide variety of places.
At the beginning of 2013, the call to integral revolution was made public. The group promoting it is, in part, composed of members of the CIC.
In the last few months we’ve also been working on Radi.ms, a collective as well as a means of digital communication. This was launched by people connected with the CIC, in order to create a window on the worldwide integral revolution.
Our commitment to the planetary expansion of our ideas and practices will expand as much as we’re able to devote ourselves to it. Now, in 2014, we’ve set up a work group which has this objective as one of its priorities.
This work group, called “extension of the integral revolution and entanglement without Borders” would also manage relations with other social movements in our realm.
Until now we’ve had only sporadic involvement outside our usual practices, as was the case with the 15-M movement, but we hope that as we gather more strength, we can establish more stable links with other social/grassroots movements.
PART II: CIC IN THE PRESENT – ECONOMY
JR: How is the social market succeeding? What is the relation of the LETS system to it? How are the social market exchanges valuated, and is there a non-monetary mechanism to assign and track value? How is this working? What are its weaknesses, if any?
The question of local exchanges and alternative currencies has been central in the movement to build economic alternatives, even before the CIC was created. There are some 20 community currencies in circulation linked to the ecoxarxas, which are bioregional counterparts to the CIC.
Our social currency system, normally called “eco”, uses the community exchange system (or CES) for software. It has the same basic characteristics as a LETS system, adding the possibility to expand or contract currency creation by means of public accounts and dependent on assembly decisions.
We’ve basically agreed on the maximum hourly value of work done for the commons – around five monetary units per hour – but generally, in these internal markets, prices are freely assigned and the participants themselves suggest or model good collective practices.
We put non-monetary mechanisms into practice in spheres of community and affinity. Our most important innovations in this area have to do with the way we obtain the basic necessities from the market. Especially within healthcare and education, we are practising mutual, pooled systems. This means that to cover project expenses, every participant contributes according to their own economic means. This may take the form of spontaneous donations, or instead may be based on a table which takes into account both amount of income and number of dependents.
On the other hand, as far as access to food is concerned, we have a structure built around CAC (Catalonian provisioning centre) and the “pantries”, which are local supply spaces. Each of these interacts with farmers and food producers in their local area. Together, they guarantee equitable food distribution for the entire territory.
These diverse actions are supported by a second community currency we call “eco-basics”. It differs from the “eco” in that whatever currency is left at the end of the month cannot be accumulated; in other words, it can’t be added to whatever you get for the following month. This currency provides access to food, housing, and other expenses for basic necessities, according to each participant’s situation.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that we expect to launch various strategies this year, related to the development of the internal market among CAC members. We hope that this will lead to a more autonomous and resilient economic system. There are several key aspects that we haven’t been able to fully explore until recently.
JR: In the quote: “…we need to empower ourselves and pass to a co-operativist form of welfare, outdo the desired welfare state with one that relies on mutual help. The state wants us weak and helpless, we stand for cooperating in autonomy, deciding collectively on our material and non-material needs” and in other references, CIC seems to consider the state as unsalvageable and a necessary enemy of the public good. Social welfare is to be the responsibility of community-level trust mechanisms of mutual aid. However, what if one region or community is able to create these systems, and another is not? What is the mechanism that is responsible for the diffusion of social welfare as a public good in such a decentralized and communitarian model? Is the state not necessary for this?
We understand that the current political system – what they call democracy but which is actually dominated by small political and economic oligarchies – is antiquated. Trying to reform it won’t help us get to a society based on the common good.
Additionally, we hold that the nation-state model, with exclusive control of territory by means of an exclusionary political system based on an obligatory nationality, is becoming obsolete and is being surpassed and replaced by technological tools, which allow us to communicate, do business and create economic activities anywhere in the world.
New forms of voluntary organization based on the values and principles held by the participants must come to the forefront.
In any case, we accept that the state is better than nothing at all for those who don’t want, or know how, to self organize at a community and mutual aid level. Accordingly, we don’t do anything to destroy the state. We simply practice disobedience, in ways that are integral with our practices.
What we’re concentrating on now is on putting into practice our conscious and open decision to self-organize apart from the state, and in making good on our sovereign right to do so without any economic or state power having the right to impede.
We understand that the best thing we can do is to make an example of our strategies for self-organization, so that a lot more people, whether it’s with this organizational model or with others yet to be created, can eventually feel and live from a place in which the state is seen as an unnecessary imposition on their lives.
JR: How does CIC interpret its political role? Is this focused entirely on constructing an alternative economy on the ground or does the political work also entail an agenda to change public policy? Is the mainstream political process of any use or is that to be rejected?
The CIC’s political role in constructing an alternative society is fundamental, but just as fundamental is to make this type of practice a political trend to be extended planet-wide. We call this an “integral revolution”, and we understand it as an across-the-board change at all levels of life, be they political, social, economic, cultural and personal, among others. We think that that is the prime responsibility for the CIC at the political level. With this in mind, our actions in relation to like-minded social movements is geared towards supporting them in their empowerment to generate emancipating, self-managing, empowering practices that go beyond merely making demands of the state.
If we decide to take any action directed toward pressuring the state, it will be strategically chosen to protect constructive projects and the people involved in them. Or, as was the case during the 15 movement, to generate consciousness and a constructive vision to people and groups involved in change-making processes.
In this regard, we can’t accept that the word “public” should be thought of as synonymous with the state, so we reappropriated this word to use in relation to everything having to do with the Commons and the fulfillment of people’s basic needs.
As far as media is concerned, above all we strive to strengthen our own means of communication and those of like-minded initiatives, as well as the related social networks. But we’ve also made a tactical decision of not refusing contact with the mass media, as long as we feel that it will be useful in getting the message out to more people.
JR: How do you prevent free riding or opportunism? Has this been an issue at the territorial level and the community economy?
As a starting point, we’re learning to treat human beings in all their dimensions, listening to each other and trying to comprehend one another in our varied behaviours. This is to say that we understand that people who may seem to be self-serving are also human beings deserving of respect and possibly in need of support.
With that in mind, we think that there was more opportunism at the beginning, when we didn’t know each other as well and there were more opportunities for mistrust to develop. As time has gone by, this is something that has been confined to its proper place, that of conflicts between people at the level of both life-space and work-space.
As the CIC generates more resources to redistribute, we can dedicate part of them to help people with their needs and with their human relations. As of now, we’re working with three levels of support: one intended for individuals with problems in any aspect of life, another for mediation within the workspace, and a third for mediation and support within communities.
MB: Do you see a convergence between the CIC approach, and the emerging p2p/commons orientations of other movements? How do you see CIC relates to the concept of commons-based peer production?
We’re more than sympathetic towards P2P movements. In fact, these values are incorporated into our organisational model, although they may appear under different names and intertwined with other organisational practices.
Commons-oriented peer production has proven to be highly successful in initiatives such as LINUX, Wikipedia and many others. We feel we’re part of this, and it has inspired many of our approaches.
It’s clearly the best method for producing collective knowledge and information, as it combines functionality and participation without hierarchy, often without a central node. The most complex thing to be dealt with is determining the level to which we can take absolute decentralization. I’m not just referring to data exchange and content creation, but to the organization of our entire society and governance model.
I’ve had debates with my peers, some beginning more than 10 years ago, about how to translate the organizational methods which with LINUX was created to other areas of social organization. This was one among all of the elements that informed the final creation of the CIC.
For example, the referenced article about P2P governance quotes Mayo Fuster, one of our friends and peers with whom we were having these debates at that time.
We have to discern and determine when the scale of P2P collaboration is global and therefore unrelated to the organisational forms affecting of daily life, and when this collaboration is local and thus the handling of day-to-day living in all its aspects becomes a central part of the discussion.
I think that the CIC experience can contribute a lot to the peer collaboration culture at a local scale.
At that level I believe that any P2P-based commercial or production perspective can take into account that, amongst all free options, there’s the option of associating with other human beings to construct the community. Otherwise, P2P would lead to totalitarian individualism, in the sense that it would create forms of social organization that would only gratify those people who prioritize their output based on individual decisions, and who do well this way. This will be the case with people who need the collective to find a function and feel fulfillment.
Therefore, an ideological perspective which defends liberty amongst peers must always foresee that, as part of that individual liberty, there exists the possibility of creating voluntary associations for anything that we humans are capable of collaborating in, as well as the freedom of organizing as a community and doing so outside the state, etc.
I think a social movement with the Commons as one of its primary objectives has the responsibility of generating forms of self-management capable of incorporating every person within a community, including the most disadvantaged and the weakest (children, the elderly and the sick).
Therefore, the most proactive P2P orientation has to complement common spaces from which resources can be redistributed, so they reach all people.
It could be that, up till now, a good part of the P2P movement has considered this from a theoretical point of view, but hasn’t been able to delve into it given the lack of practical examples that are working at every level to be able to forego the state.
So, what we’re trying to generate with the integral cooperative model could be a very interesting practical framework for debates related to commons-based P2P governance.
PART III: FUTURE PROJECTIONS
NG: What lengths are you going to in documenting the development and design of CIC? How can we follow along?
We have a wealth of material documenting our experience.
We’ve carried out several training courses within our integral cooperative, as well as others, to help other integral co-ops. This has been very useful in generating abundant documentation and materials that are consistently updated after every event.
The biggest disadvantage could be that many of them are only available in Catalan and Spanish, although we’re working on translating an ever-increasing amount of materials into several languages. Our webpage, for example, has been available in English and Italian since a few months ago.
We also have a number of documentaries underway which will be subtitled in several languages.
In any case, the most reliable source of continuous information for the CIC is our webpage, starting with the Spanish site, which has the most updates, followed by the English, which features part of those updates.
PART IV: CRYPTO-CURRENCIES, CAPITALISM AND THE NEXT 20 YEARS
MB: What is your opinion on Bitcoin?
The technology behind the blockchain, on top of the concept of a decentralized P2P currency, represents a great leap forward on the road to decentralization of power, and we think it holds the power to make the current banking and financial systems obsolete.
On the other hand, Bitcoin’s current implementation, and that of the majority of crypto currencies, generates important social differences based on their buying capacity and the control of the means of production. So, while it’s innovative as far as freedom is concerned, it’s not at the social level. But, on its own, it could uphold the status quo, by potentially attracting the most technically able among the privileged class.
Even so, these cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin do have a place in a transition model, as they are very useful in liberating usfrom banks and state control.
We also understand that they can be employed to quickly make us less dependent on the euro, which can accelerate our transition process to economic sovereignty. With this in mind, Bitcoin, Litecoin and Freicoin are accepted currencies in the CIC for the payment of various common services. In time, we may understand the possibilities technology has given us to create our own cryptocurrency, which will incorporate the features we feel are essential for any community currency.
For the time being, coming back to the present and the near future, some people in the CIC participate in Bitcoin’s development with projects like Dark Wallet. As this goes on, we expect to generate and network between a variety of tools, so our members may accept the currency and convert it to Euros if they want to, without having to go through banks.
MB: How do you interpret categories like capitalism, the market, and the state, and what do you want to see happen to them?
I understand capitalism as a system of domination by a minority that holds economic power, with which it controls access to resources and the means of production.
The state is a system of domination and population control which, after many imperialist phases, has in recent times produced a democracy which passes itself off on the citizenship as sovereignty, in order to maintain coexistence. But, as I said earlier, and as is well known and analyzed, this isn’t true. Presently, the state is in service to capitalism, which is an even bigger system based on domination. There still privileged caste who, by means of the accumulation of resources, have much greater power than any voter. This has only increased in light of globalization, which makes it much more difficult for any country to escape the mainstream.
The market is a form of business founded on liberty and equal opportunity, but which, throughout its history, has been manipulated in function of the very systems of domination using it.
Currently, the capitalist system produces market conditions that help create ever greater inequalities, providing competitive advantages which favor the big players over the small, effectively preventing the latter from staying in the game and trading freely.
The market, in the context of the state and capitalism, has become an excuse to promote and extend inequality.
On the other hand, regarding the integral cooperative, what we do is create a process for the development of another kind of society, a communal society. After going through an open assembly-based process we’ve established a political criteria, based on which, certain economic activities may form part of their integral cooperative or not.
Based in this process, we could say that the integral cooperative promotes an economy “with” a market, but it’s not a “market economy”. Within our movement, economic activity is subordinated to political process, or, put another way, the assembly takes precedence over the market.
This doesn’t mean that the assembly intervenes regularly in relation to members economic activity. Up till now are political intervention in the market has been mainly centered in criteria for accepting new productive projects and in incentives for projects which are aligned with the integral promotion… But not so much in the daily development of activities.
So, what this principle implies is that we can intervene whenever it’s suitable or necessary to do so.
MB: Where will we be in, say, 20 years ?
I don’t know where we’ll be, but I trust that we’ll be freer and more diverse, and able to choose from a great selection of life choices.
I’m convinced that we will live through a transformation of the state and capitalism as we know it today, consolidating other ways of being in society and establishing more supportive and cooperative economic relationships
I think we’re going to live through the loss of exclusivity in governance currently held by the state, and the disassociation of the concept of state as the exclusive managers of the territory. Individual sovereignty will reclaim its real meaning of complete positive freedom, which will lead to the summation of multiple sovereignties in great autonomous, thoroughly legitimate collective processes.
That very significant phrase from the Zapatistas, “for a world in which many worlds fit” will begin to materialize in the coming decades.
And, this is why we are building with so much energy right now, to get there.