Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Exhaustion and Senile Utopia of the Coming European Insurrection" by Franco Berardi Bifo

Figures such as Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, among many others, have stressed in the past that we need to create institutions for unified political decisions at the level of the European Union. In the aftermath of the Greek debt crisis, it seems that the Europhile intellectuals have gotten what they asked for. The EU entity has been subjected to a sort of political directorate that has unfortunately only served to reveal that financial interests lie at the heart of the Union’s priorities. The early stage of the European tragedy has manifested itself as a political enforcement of the financial domination of European society.
The institutions of the welfare state have been under attack for thirty years: full employment, labor rights, social security, retirement, public schools, public transportation—all of these areas have been weakened, neglected, or destroyed. After thirty years of neoliberal obsession, we arrive at a collapse. What comes next? The ruling class answers coarsely: more of the same. Further reduction of public sector salaries, further raising of the age of retirement. No respect for society’s needs and the rights of workers.
Thatcher said thirty years ago that there is no such thing as society, and today this statement comes across as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Society is in fact dissolving, leaving space to a jungle where everyone fights against one another. Following the Greek crisis, the monetarist dogma has been strongly reinforced, as if more poison could act as an antidote. Reducing demand will lead to recession, and the only result will be to further concentrate capital in the hands of the financial class and further impoverish the working class.
Following the Greek financial crisis, emergency law was declared: a self-proclaimed Merkel-Sarkozy-Trichet directorate imposed a deflationary policy to be forced on the various national governments of European countries. In order to rescue the financial system, this self-proclaimed directorate diverts resources from society to the banks. And in order to revive the failed philosophy of neoliberalism, social spending is cut, salaries are lowered, the retirement age is raised, and the younger working generation is precarized. Those who do not acknowledge the great necessities of competition and growth will be cut out. Those who choose to play the game will have to accept any punishment, any renunciation, any suffering demanded by the great necessity. But who said that we must absolutely be part of this?
So far, the result of the collapse of neoliberal politics has been its confirmation and consolidation. When the American financial system collapsed, there was a general expectation that capital concentration would be abandoned or at least diminished, as a redistribution of wealth seemed necessary to rescue the economy. This has not taken place. The Keynesian way has not even been explored, and Paul Krugman has been left to repeat a series of perfectly reasonable options that no one is willing to consider.
Thanks to the crisis, American society has been robbed by big finance, and now Europe is following with its own mathematical ferocity. Is there any chance of stopping this insane race? A social explosion is possible, as it is apparent that living conditions will soon become unbearable. But precarious labor and the decomposition of social solidarity may open the way to a frightening outcome: ethnic civil war on continental scale, and the dismantling of the Union, which would unleash the worst instincts of nations.
In Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome, and Athens, massive demonstrations have erupted to protest the restrictive measures, but this movement is not going to stop the catastrophic aggression against social life, because the European Union is not a democracy, but a financial dictatorship whose politics are the result of unquestioned decision-making processes.
Peaceful demonstrations will not suffice to change the course of things and violent explosions will be too easily exploited by racists and criminals. A deep change in social perception and social lifestyle will compel a growing part of society to withdraw from the economic field, from the game of work and consumption. These people will abandon individual consumption to create new, enhanced forms of co-habitation, a village economy within the metropolis.
Unless one is seized by avarice or psychotic obsession, all a human being wants is a pleasant, possibly long life, to consume what is necessary to keep fit and make love. “Civilization” is the pompous name given to all the political or moral values that make the pursuit of this lifestyle possible. Meanwhile, the financial dogma states that if we want to be part of the game played in banks and markets, we must give up a pleasant, quiet life. We must give up civilization.
But why should we accept this exchange? Europe’s wealth does not come from the stability of the Euro or international markets, or the managers’ ability to monitor their profits. Europe is wealthy because it has millions of intellectuals, scientists, technicians, doctors, and poets. It has millions of workers who have augmented their technical knowledge for centuries. Europe is wealthy because it has historically managed to valorize competence, and not just competition, to welcome and integrate other cultures. And, it must be said, it is also wealthy because for four centuries it has ferociously exploited the physical and human resources of other continents.
We must give something up, but what exactly? Certainly we must give up the hyper-consumption imposed on us by large corporations, but not the tradition of humanism, enlightenment, and socialism—not freedom, rights, and welfare. And this is not because we are attached to old principles of the past, but because it is these principles that make it possible to live decently.
The prospect of a revolution is not open to us. The concept of revolution no longer corresponds to anything, because it entails an exaggerated notion of the political will over the complexity of contemporary society. Our main prospect is to shift to a new paradigm not centered on product growth, profit, and accumulation, but on the full unfolding of the power of collective intelligence.

The European tragedy has been founded on a false representation of social reality, based on some assumptions that contradict daily experience, but are nevertheless delivered as absolute truth, as unquestionable dogma.
Platitude 1: Public spending must be drastically cut if European budgets are to be balanced. In fact, European states have been cutting their budgets over the last thirty years, and are now diverting financial resources from social infrastructure towards banks and corporations. This diversion has already produced extensive damage, and will produce more.
Platitude 2: The European economy must compete with the emerging economies of developing countries, and this can happen only by reducing labor costs. This means that in order to become competitive, in a strictly economical sense, European life should be impoverished. And this is what is happening: unemployment is rising, education is being privatized, and racism is spreading. Nobody has ever explained why the only criterion for evaluating wealth must be financial in nature.
Platitude 3: The European worker’s productivity must be increased while salaries must be reduced. This produces an effect of low demand, deflation, and depression, but also overproduction. 40 percent of cars produced in Europe will not find buyers (thank God). So why should carmakers seek to increase the productivity of their already hyper-exploited workers? Consumption declines because salaries shrink, but also because Europeans simply do not need any more cars.
Platitude 4: The age of retirement must be raised, as there will be too many young people and too few old people in the future. The retirement age has already been raised in every European country, and now in France as well. But the rationale does not make sense. The productivity of the average European worker has increased fivefold over the past fifty years, so when the time comes, fewer young people actually will be able to feed more old people. But in reality, raising the retirement age has nothing to do with any social concern whatsoever. Rather, it is a trick for reducing labor costs. Capitalists would much rather pay a poor, old worker a salary than a deserved pension, and leave the young to find their own way, accepting any kind of occupation, whether precarious or simply underpaid.
No European politician dares to question these fundamental platitudes. And those who protest against these devastating measures are accused of being unable to comprehend the task at hand: to advance the deregulation that produced the present collapse. The late-neoliberal ruling class states that if deregulation produced the systemic collapse, we need more deregulation. If lower taxation on high incomes led to a fall in demand, let’s lower high-income taxation. If hyper-exploitation resulted in the production of unsold and useless cars, let’s intensify car production. Are these people crazy? Perhaps they are panicking, in fear of their own impotence.

Aesthetics of Europe

The aesthetics of the European Union is cold by definition. The European Union was born in the aftermath of World War II with the goal of overcoming old nationalist and ideological passions, and here lies its progressive and pragmatic nature. Lately, however, this founding anti-mythological myth seems to have been blurred, confused, forgotten. In the words of Ève Charrin:

Europe is peace, Europe is prosperity … Granite, glass and concrete: depressing architectural neutrality … This modesty without grace is a way of pretending that we are not political (rather, we are only managing).1

Charrin expresses the aesthetic predicament of the European Union over the past decades, but such an apathetic way of being together was only possible under prosperous conditions. Insofar as a growing level of consumption could be guaranteed within the EU, monetarist rule could favor economic growth, and the EU could exist as an entity. It is a fiction of democracy governed by an autocratic organism, the European Central Bank. While the US Federal Reserve was established to stabilize the value of currency and maximize employment, the primary goal of the ECB charter is to fight inflation. Now this goal has become irrational, as deflation is the overwhelming trend.
Citizens can do nothing to influence the politics of the ECB, as the Bank does not respond to political authority, and this is why European citizens have been conscious of the vacuity of European elections. In the future, these citizens will come to view the EU as their enemy.
Social movements should focus on a founding myth of European history: the myth of energy. Modern culture and political imagination have emphasized the virtues of youth, of passion and energy, aggressiveness and growth. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of physical energy, and semiocapitalism has subjugated the nervous energy of society to the point of collapse. The notion of exhaustion has always been anathema to the discourse of modernity, of romantic Sturm und Drang, of the Faustian drive to immortality, the endless thirst for economic growth and profit, the denial of organic limits.
The romantic cult of youth is the cultural source of nationalism. In the colonial era, British and French nationalism was the cultural condition of colonial expansion, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, nationalism resurfaced to express the self-affirmation of young countries (Italy, Japan, and Germany), while the old empires (Russia, Austria, and the Ottomans) headed towards collapse. Nationalism also affirms the role of the young generation at the cultural and economic level. Old-fashioned styles are devalued, old people and women are despised for their weakness. Fascism always depicts itself as the young nation.
In late modernity, this depiction became an essential feature of advertising. But contrary to Fascist discourse, late modern advertising did not abuse old age, but denied it, claiming that every old person could be young if he or she would simply accept to partake in the consumerist feast. As Norman Spinrad showed in his novel Bug Jack Barron (1967), the denial of age and time marks the ultimate delirium of the global class.
The Fascism that triumphed in Italy after 1922 can be seen as the energolatreia (worshipping of energy) of the young. Now, Berlusconi re-stages the same arrogance, but the actors of the present comedy are old men who require make up and Viagra to inhabit an image of energy and potency. Like the heroic mythology of Fascism, as well as the mythology of advertising embodied by Berlusconi’s subculture, the myth is based on a delirium of power. Where the former was based on the youthful virtues of strength, energy, and pride, the latter employs the mature virtues of technique, deception, and finance. And while the nemesis that followed the youthful violence of Fascism in Italy was World War II and its unthinkable mass of destruction and death, one must ask what nemesis will be brought about by the present energolatreia of the old people?
With very few exceptions, literature and cinema have scarcely dealt with the subject of love between the elderly. It is a subject we know very little about, simply because old people have never really existed. Until some decades ago, it was rare to find a person older than sixty, and while many that were would be surrounded by an aura of respect and veneration, many others were banished to the border of society, where they would find themselves alone, deprived of the means of survival, and unable to form a community. We know very little about growing old, and we know nothing about the emotions of the elderly and their ability of social organization, solidarity, and political force. We don’t know because we have not experienced it. But that experience is now beginning.
The destiny of Europe will be played out in the biopolitical sphere, at the border between consumerism, techno-sanitarian youth-styled aggressiveness, and possible collective consciousness of the limits of the biological (sensitive) organism. The age of senilization is here, and Europe is the place where this experience will first find its voice.

A Therapeutic Paradox

Exhaustion has no place in Western culture, and this has become a problem, for exhaustion now needs to be understood and accepted as a new paradigm for social life. Its cultural and psychic articulation will open the door to a new conception of prosperity and happiness. The coming European insurrection will not be driven by energy, but by slowness, withdrawal, and exhaustion. It will be the autonomization of the collective body and soul from exploitation by means of speed and competition.
Western people were first advised of exhaustion in 1972, when the Club of Rome commissioned the book The Limits to Growth.2 For the first time, we became aware that the physical resources of the planet are not boundless. Some months after the publication of the report, the Western world experienced the first oil shortage following the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Since then, we are expected to be conscious of the fact that energy is leaving the physical body of the Earth. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the collapse of the dot-com economy led to the pauperization and precarization of cognitive workers, while the financial meltdown of September 2008 initiated a process of pauperization and precarization of overall society. Western culture is unprepared to deal with the patterns exposed by these crises, because it is a culture based on the identification of energy and good, of expansion and social well-being.
At the moment the change in perception towards exhaustion seems rather dark and depressing, because the game is played following the rules of modern energolatria: growth. In the coming years one third of the European population—the generation born after World War II, when the fulfillment of the modern promise of peace, democracy, and well-being was apparently at hand—will reach old age. The new generation now entering the labor market does not possess the memory of this past civilization, nor the political force to defend their existence from the predatory economy. The age of senility is here, and it may introduce a generalized form of dementia senilis: fear of the unknown, xenophobia, loss of historical memory. But in a different scenario—one that we should anticipate at the cultural level—the process of senilization may open the way to a cultural revolution based on the force of exhaustion, of facing the inevitable with grace, discovering the sensuous slowness of those who do not expect any more from life than wisdom—the wisdom of those who have seen a great deal without forgetting, who look at each thing as if for the first time.
This is the lesson that Europe may learn if it can come out from the capitalist obsession with accumulation, property, and greed. In a reversal of the energetic subjectivation that animated the revolutionary theories of the twentieth century, radicalism should abandon the mode of activism, and adopt a passive mode. A radical passivity would dispel the ethos of relentless productivity that neoliberal politics has imposed. The mother of all the bubbles, the bubble of work, would finally deflate. We have been working too much over the past three or four centuries, and outrageously too much over the last thirty years. If a creative consciousness of exhaustion could arise, the current depression may mark the beginning of a massive abandonment of competition, consumerist drive, and dependence on work.
Anthropologist Gregory Bateson would define the European malaise in terms of a double bind, or contradictory injunction, with a paradoxical solution that could be this: don’t be afraid of decline. Decline and de-growth imply a divestment in the midst of frenzied competition, and this is the paradox that may bring us out of the neoliberal double bind.

originaly published in Dec. 2010 in e-flux:


Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Worker-owned cooperatives made in the USA." by Enrico Massetti

View Worker Cooperatives in the United States in a larger map

A map of the 200+ worker cooperatives in the U.S., and some other movement organizations
(map by Joe Marraffino)


bthomesbt homes













In the Unites States of America, socialism and communism are considered by many to be bad, tabu words, but cooperation exists, and "worker-owned cooperatives" existed and prospered for many years to this day, thanks also to the spirit of enterpreneurship that is widespread and to the practice of democracy, practice that is tought at school, starting from the elementary grade.
Cooperatives are part of the self-help tradition of America. Cooperatives are businesses organized by people to provide needed goods and services. Cooperative businesses:
  • Are owned by the people who use their services;
  • Provide an economic benefit for their members;
  • Are democratic organizations, controlled by their members;
  • Are autonomous and independent;
  • Recognize the importance of education about cooperative business and organizational practices;
  • Support cooperation among cooperatives, which has resulted in the growing importance of cooperatives in today's global economy; and,
  • Exhibit concern for their communities.
Cooperative businesses provide just about any good or service their members need. Cooperatives offer credit and financial services, health care, child care, housing, insurance, legal and professional services. Cooperatives sell food, farm supplies, hardware and recreational equipment. They provide utilities, such as electricity, telephone and television. And cooperatives process and market products and goods for their members.

Co-op Types

Cooperatives are categorized in two ways: by type and sector. Cooperative “types” are based on their ownership structure and function. The two main types are consumption and production, and each of these can be organized among individuals or organizations.
Consumer co-ops may be formed by individuals or businesses, and in the latter case they are often referred to as “purchasing” or “shared service” co-ops. On the other hand, producer co-ops include both those formed by businesses – often called “marketing” co-ops – and “worker” co-ops whose members are individuals. Some co-ops are hybrids, combining elements of more than one type of co-op.
Each type of co-op has many subcategories and some co-ops contain elements of both types.  For example, an electric cooperative falls into the consumer type because the consumers in the service area of that electric co-op own it. Of course, many businesses are also members of electric co-ops. However, in some cases electric co-ops and other utilities form purchasing co-ops to generate or purchase the power they distribute to their members. This is sometimes called a second-level co-op, federated co-op or federation.
The chart below shows the economic impact for each type of cooperative.

si se puede

U.S. Cooperative by Type / Summary of Key Economic Indicators
[for details click on the image]













Worker Cooperatives

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and democratically governed by their employees. They operate in numerous industries, including childcare, commercial and residential cleaning, food service, healthcare, technology, consumer retail and services, manufacturing, wholesaling and many others. Some 300 worker co-ops throughout the U.S. provide their employees with both jobs and ownership—allowing them to directly benefit from the financial success of the business. Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are a more common form of worker ownership in manufacture, although they often lack the democracy inherent to co-ops.

Democratic Governance

Like other cooperatives, the board of directors for a worker co-op is elected by, and from within, its membership-in this case, the workers. The board is always majority controlled by the workers, though some worker co-ops have outside directors and advisors serving on their boards.
Management structures of worker co-ops vary greatly, depending on the desires of the members. Some worker co-ops use a traditional management hierarchy, while others use more flat management systems – often called collectives – that allow employees to be more directly involved in management decisions. Others use a team-based system that employs elements of both traditional and open management systems. Many worker cooperatives use a consensus process that seeks decisions that have the consent of all members, so even a single person can block a proposal.
cheeseboard collective











 Profits and Wages

Each year, worker co-ops return profits to their worker-owners in the form of patronage dividends. Dividends are typically distributed based on hours worked, salary and/or seniority.
Pay structures vary greatly. Some worker co-ops use a traditional, position-based pay scale. Others pay strictly on seniority. At the other end of the spectrum are worker co-ops that pay all workers the same wage.

Joining a Worker Co-op

Typically, workers may join their co-op after a probationary period lasting from a few months to more than a year. At that time, workers are accepted as full members, often by vote or consensus, and buy an equity share in the business—the cost of which is usually deducted from their paychecks in small amounts each month. When workers leave the co-op, their equity share is returned to them.

Some examples of worker Co-ops many of which using a flat management system:

This first dossier wants to illustrate some of the different realities of worker-owned cooperatives that are closer to the libertarian cooperative concept, realities that are often not well known and/or understood outside of North America.

An Architectural and construction firm Big TimberWorks Homes, Gallatin Gateway, MT
A chain of three copy and print centers CollectiveCopies, Amherst, MA
A co-op of 1,600 Home care providers Cooperative Home Care Associates, New York, NY
A Chain of 4 (soon to be 6) bakeries and a cheese store Arizmendi Bakeries, San Francisco Bay area, CA
A health food supermarket and general store Rainbow Grocery Co-op, San Francisco, CA
An anarchist collective bookstore Bound Together, San Francisco, CA
A Bicycle store Broadway Bicycle School, Cambridge, MA
A Wool spinnery The Green Mountain Spinnery, Putney, VT
A new and used bicycle and repair store Citybikes, Portland, OR
Installation and maintainance of food-producing gardens C'Ville Foodscapes, Charlottesville, VA
A house and office cleaning cooperative We can do it! Si se puede!, Brooklin, NY
A Child care service Beyond Care, Brooklin, NY
A women owned house painting service Color Me!, Brooklin, NY
A women owned gourmet cooking co-op Émigré Gourmet, Brooklin, NY
An international restaurant Colors, New York, NY
An Architectural and construction firm Builders Commonwealth, Duluth, MN
A restaurant, cantina and bodega Casa Nueva, Athens, OH
A Housing Collective Portland Collective Housing, Portland, OR
A Café Red and Black Café, Portland, OR
Recycling drop-off centers across Central Texas Ecology Action, Austin, TX
A Café and Bookstore Firestorm Café and Books, Asheville, NC
A Inn & Hostel Alexander House Inn & Hostel, Charlottesville, VA
A technology design and manufacturing firm Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing, Madison, WI
A health food supermarket and general store The Big Carrot - Toronto, Canada
An importer and distributor of fair trade products Equal Exchange, West Bridgewater, MA
A Mobile Homes Housing Collective Parkhill Cooperative, Salt Lake City, UT
bycicle storealexander house

Democracy in the workplace - a video

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Solidarity to Mapuche communities! Freedom for all Mapuche political prisoners NOW!

From Athens Greece, from Mexico city to London, from New York to Bilbao, from Hamburg to Sofia and from Katmandhou to San Francisco, from all the active cells of Void Network we are expressing our solidarity to the struggle of Mapuche for Mother Earth, for the Dignity and Freedom of their communities, for the Freedom and Dignity of all of us. The Struggle of Mapuche people is our own struggle, their dreams are our own dreams! Freedom for all political prisoners, Freedom for all Mapuche prisoners NOW!

Dear Friends,
this is a message from
Mexico City, 23rd March 2011.

Last September we contacted you during the more than eighty day hunger strike staged by Mapuche political prisoners in Chile.  At that time we also made a call for international support, numerous individuals and organizations signed up to this cause and responded to the call for support.  This included various meetings in the Chilean Embassy in Mexico City in Europe and in other countries around the world which formed part of the international events to provide solidarity and support to these political prisoners in Chile.  The hunger strike was ended with an agreement on the part of the Chilean government to not try the detained under terrorist law (which also permits repeated prosecution for the same crime).  The hunger strike and the mass support in Chile and beyond made a huge impact, pressurising the Chilean government to respect the basic individual guarantees for the prisoners.  Last March all of the seventeen Mapuche political prisoners, persecuted for supposed terrorist crimes, were cleared of those supposed crimes and the majority of them were freed.
However, four prisoners who are members of the Arauco Malleco Organisation (Coordinadora Arauco Malleco) have been condemned to prison sentences of between twenty and twenty five years.  These are Ramón Llanquileo Pilquiman, José Huenuche, Jonathan Huillical and Héctor Llaitul.  It is important to note that the Arauco Malleco Organisation is one of the Mapuche organisations which is most active in the defence of communal land against forestry companies and which vindicates indigenous autonomy most rigorously.  It is clear that the sentences are not only severely disproportionate however there are also political reasons behind their invention.  The prisoners have now begun another hunger strike which started on the fifteenth March.  At the time of writing this hunger strike continues.  The prisoners defence will appeal against the sentences, presenting a call to declare the charges void to the Chilean Supreme Court of Justice.  The principal arguments are that in these cases “faceless witnesses” were permitted.  These secret witnesses are anonymous and the defence is not permitted to have any form of contact with them.  Furthermore, during their detention and time in prison there have been violations of constitutional guarantees, confessions under torture, declarations outside of the allowed time limit and without the presence of defending lawyers.  There has also been repeated trial for the same alleged crime.
It is therefore that support groups from various parts of the world will impulse diverse actions of solidarity for the prisoners and pressure on the Chilean government.  The objectives are to support the demand to declare the charges and trial void that have been declared against these four prisoners.  In these actions we also send a message of solidarity to those prisoners on hunger strike.
As part of these actions we also send another letter to you with the hope that we can once again count on your signature.  We send you warm regards.

Support Organisation for the Mapuche political prisoners in Chile [ Mexican Section.]
We, artists, academics, indigenous, civil and popular organisations of various nationalites wish to make public our concern for the sentences against the Mapuch political prisoners in Chile, Ramón Llanquileo Pilquiman, José Huenuche, Jonathan Huillical y Héctor Llaitul.  We find the enormous sentences against them alarming as well as the fact that they have not had the legal guarantees that protect the most basic of human rights.  It must be considered that the State can not respond to indigenous demands of land, territory and autonomy by criminalising social protest.  We call upon the Chilean State to guarantee the due and proper trial of the detained, a trial without the use of secret witnesses, with tribunal impartiality, dignified conditions of detainment and an end to repeated trial for the same alleged crimes.  We call upon the Chilean State to the rights and basic guarantees of the Mapuche people, to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples consecrated in the 169th declaration of the WLO and to respond urgently to the demands of the hunger strikers.  We send a message of solidarity from all over the world to the prisoners and their families.

 autonomía! autogestión! horizontalidad! libertad!

Jovenes en Resistencia Alternativa

ciudad de méxico: 36266692

Void Network
[Theory, Utopia, Empathy, Ephemeral Arts]

please send your messages of solidarity:
the signs will be received in

for more info about the Mapuche Nation:

for a short intro of the struggle of Mapuche in 21st century: