Talking about IOPS and Spain with Oliver

This post was first featured on the IOPS page as a blog. For more see http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/talking-about-iops-and-spain-with-oliver.

A chat with David Marty by Oliver Luker

Having been made aware of IOPS on the 31 of March, I could immediately see its tremendous potential. I had read and been fascinated by the principles of Parecon a year ago, and had attempted (with limited success) applying some of its principles to an organization I was involved with in Peru. Now in Spain, we're working towards a state of constant activism – but had not found a unifying set of principles or a means of opening a broader conversation with the people we meet. To me, IOPS can provide that means.

On Tuesday April 3 I spent 15 minutes chatting with David Marty to understand his involvement with IOPS, how he perceives the role of IOPS and its potential in Spain, and what some challenges might be. I provide a record here for general interest.

OL: How did you get involved with IOPS?

DM: In June 2010 I was at the Z Media Institute sessions where Michael Albert, among others, suggested the power that a 'Facebook of the left' might have. There were a lot of discussions, proposals, email exchanges and we all ended up agreeing on a broadly defined project for an organization and its associated social network, that even at that early point, had the potential to offer much more than  any of the commercial ones did. Since then we got together, formed an interim consulting committee, and polled the 4000+ people – you've probably read about that on the IOPS website. The idea is that if we can get at least 10,000 members – hopefully it will be several times that number – over the next 2 years, then we will be able to take a vote and move forward.

In the intervening period I was also very much in contact with folks from different European chapters,   often called Project for a Participatory Society (PPS). I was in the UK [http://www.ppsuk.org.uk/], which is probably the most developed project in Europe at the moment; when I was living for a time in Sweden, I was able to get in touch with folks from PPS Finland, PPS Sweden, PPS Latvia and so on. And finally, our own project of a local chapter called PPS Spain which will come almost at the same time as the IOPS and its website.

OL: How do you see IOPS in Spain?

DM: For the last 2.5 years or so I've been living in Madrid. From what I could gather from other countries I have been to, I think it's almost easier to organize here than anywhere else. There is such a strong anarchist tradition here in Spain that whenever we talk about vision and strategy, the conversation quite naturally flows into the dynamics of an alternative model, about building blocks, etc. The notions of ‘what is wrong with capitalism’ or 'why do we need this' in the first place just don't come up.

OL: We saw that also when we presented to Gripia a couple of years ago. As of Monday this week, over 65% of the interim members on IOPS were from English speaking countries. What do you see as the path to get more Spanish involvement?

DM: We need to get the site translated in Spanish ASAP, and that is what we are working on right now. Of course help is always wanted and welcome. As soon as we can bring the message to the Spanish audience in their own language – and this is true for all other languages also – we will start to see growth in membership from that audience. It is as simple as that.

It's not just about having enough people to translate – since there is a translation project already. We need to find people who are willing to join, but just don't know about IOPS yet. In that way, and since nobody needs to leave or put aside any of their other activity to join IOPS, we really benefit from the resources and the network of existing groups. Just to give you an idea, CGT, an anarchosyndicalist labor union, is one of the biggest in Spain after UGT and CCOO, with more than 60,000 members. I think IOPS is an organization that addresses its concerns and, unless I am wrong about it, the potential participation is important. Time will tell whether I am right or wrong.

OL: What about Mondragón? They´re a huge group …

DM: Yes, I'm not sure how many – but here, we need to understand what our natural group is in Spain. It's likely that there is a very large number of anarchist groups – I know there are a large number of anarchist groups – that would naturally be interested. From there, we can understand how to forge relationships with some of these establish co-ops and so on.

For many progressives and leftists around the world, Mondragón is a success story, and rightly so. However, from a standpoint of IOPS beliefs, some of the institutions of the Mondragón group of co-ops reproduce some of the features we see in capitalists or in so-called communist countries, where there is still a corporate division of labor that allows 20% of workers to monopolizes all the empowering work, leading to large disparities in income and in actual decision power, even when each worker equals one vote. So even if any Mondragón-type of co-op would certainly be on the right track, we know where to expect differences of opinion to arise, and particularly if we speak with those belonging to the 20%.

OL: What do you see as the immediate challenges in Spain?

DM: I feel that once we have got over the initial communications barrier – get the website translated – then getting the message out there is not likely to present an enormous challenge in the beginning. Internet allows us to speak easily to the aforementioned individuals and groups constituting our natural allies. This represents a lot of work but not of the most difficult type. At the project level, the challenges are likely to be specific to each local chapter rather than general in nature.

There is, however, some question related to groups such as 15M, where the power of their movement has been so strongly tied to freedom from external influence. We share every aim, and we are not in competition for any resources. In fact I would consider myself, like many Spaniards, as part of the movement even if not directly involved in the day-to-day work of the assemblies. Any skepticism on their part toward IOPS is understandable and even a healthy attitude in my view. Probably in this case we must let time and experience let IOPS prove its legitimacy. Indeed, IOPS is a very free network, there is no hierarchy telling anybody what to do. What it does instead is empower each and every member by allowing them to share resources and knowledge, to build projects together, elaborate voting systems according to self-management principles, raise funds if necessary, and experience the benefits of social networks in general.

Broadly speaking, the biggest challenge might come from a certain mode of thinking, which you find in all levels of anarchist organisation or activism, which sees long-term Vision as potentially tying one's hands, limiting debate, limiting self-management. I understand the concern but in my view this is a misrepresentation of what having a founding text that establishes the core principles of such an organization actually is. If you read the interim Mission & Vision statement – interim because it will be submitted to a further vote when the organization grows – you will see that there is nothing in it that tells you how to organize your society in the future, nor your co-op today in details. It merely states what it should not be, a minimum list, if you will, of what our institutions should be so they don’t reproduce some of the evils that we see today: patriarchy, racism, classism, authoritarianism, ecological deterioration, etc. This does not mean that there is no room for debate, of course, but it implies that we must set our course for the long-term so that our very next step can be decisive.

This is no blueprint of the future anymore than condemning slavery and child labor in the 19th century was a blueprint constraining the freedom of enterprise for capitalists in the future. When IOPS states that, for instance, decision making power should be allocated in proportion to how much one is affected by a decision it tells you nothing about what should be decided regarding what technology to adopt, what voting systems to implement, what to produce, what to wear, what to eat, how much you want to work, etc. 

OL: That makes a lot of sense; in essence, then, the IOPS Vision should be something that appeals widely, to a great number of people who have a desire to create lasting change. However, nothing about the organisation provides and form of restriction or authoritative direction.
DM: Exactly – so, as the movement develops, we will also be in the process of ensuring that as a tool, the website allows us to achieve many of the things that we would like to see achieved in the broader society. That may be something as simple as providing a platform for informed debate, as challenging as providing means of resolving complex and far-reaching issues, or even just allowing people to go beyond the site and establishing grass-roots activism along the participative lines.

OL: Great – let's hope that the movement continues to grow!

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