Radical media, politics and culture.


I'm currently reading "Promises to Keep" by a Harvard professor Terry Fisher. The book reviews the recent conflicts in the field of copyright law and makes a series of proposals for an alternative system. Fisher is not exactly an innovator in this field, but his text is useful for its clarity in describing the natire of the film and music industries, as well as summarising the different levels upon which the battle has unfolded. I recommend the book even if I disagree with his conclusions.

There are two canonical histories of copyright law:

"An Unhurried View of Copyright", Benjamin Kaplan, Columbia University Press, 1967 Copyright in historical perspective by L. Ray Patterson 1968

I've read sections of both but neither in its entirety as they are rather expensive and, obviously, dated.

Jessica Litman wrote a long and extremely (tediously?) detailed account of intra-industry negotiations/legislative history of the 1976 Copyright Act in the USA, which she wrote for a journal. Otherwise she also penned a fairly light text called "Digital Copyright" which is notable mainly for it's "this is all becoming surreally complex and a transaction cost apocalypse thesis" that Larry Lessig would subsequently re-cycyle in Free Culture (sic).

Two other titles are of note. The first is Information Feudalism by Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite. This is the best book so far on the subject, IMHO, as it provides thye badly needed politico-economic context which is surpressed in many versions of this story. Further more the authors have a very sharp take on the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) negotiations which brought this field into the GATT, redefining it in the process as a trade issue. The authors interviewed nearly 500 participants in the GATT process, so as to construct a clear picture of the breaking-points and a panoramic view of the strategic objectives. The results of this work were published in their hefty tome "Global Business Regulation", and then the parts germane to IP hashed out in a more articulated form in Information Feudalism. Some time ago I published an early essay of their here on slash.aut.

The last recommendation is "Copyrights or Copyworngs" by Siva Vaidhynathan, which is the first cultural history of copyright in the United States. The book is rich in examples as to the accretice/cumulative nature of creativity, with a particularly perceptive slant on music culture (Siva would rather be playing with a band than teaching!)

Thsi reading of cultural productiuon as an inherently collective process forms the platform for his criticism of IP expansionism in the last decades. Whilst totally in sympathy with SV's aims, I'm sceptical with regards to his claim that all this amounts to a "perversion" of the american tradition in the field; there are obvious pragm atic reasons politically for presenting the aggressive behaviour of rights-owners as unamerican, but I reckon it's unrealistic. Lessig tried the same strategy in the attempt to overturn the Sonny Bono act and he ended up licking his wounds.

There have been a couple of other books that try to treat the subject as a whole but overall I found them unconvincing. Michael Perelman's "Steal this Idea" is of noble inspiration but ends up reading like a collection of anecdotes rather than a coherent argument. David Bollier's "Silent Theft" endeavours to give breadth to the commons argument and to this end mixes fisheries, NYC gardens and copyright and patent issues; to me the result was just confusing. If you want to build a space of commons studies, choose either the discrete and plausible field of "common property regimes" or else go along with Midnight Notes and Winstanley, attack primitive accumulation and the initial expropriation of the commons by capital. What's the confusion?

Seeing as my friend Mako recently accused me of maintaining a blog (!), a quick clarification is necessary. Way back in the seeds of time, no-one knew of the existence of the journal feature on autonomedia. I used to squirrel away nuggests of readings, quotes and reminders, as well as the odd draft. My idea for this space has always beent that it should have a sand-pit quality, where the unfinished and half-thought out can be expressed and made semi-public without any of the pressure that attaches to a published contribution. Bloggers search audiences whereas I search only accomplices, and I know that whatever is written here derives from a hundred conversations and actions with, or by, others. I'd reather be in a community of 10 who exchange than a thousand who admire.

I don't know how to link directly to journal entries, but Angela's journal entry on Saturday April 02, 05 is interesting.

She references a journal called Culture Machine that has an issue on biopolitics. I haven't read it yet, but it looks good.

Looking back over one of my earlier entries I can't believe I wrote something about reading Marx in the context of the entirety of capital accumulation. Dear god, what have I become?! :) I think you're right about the equation of bare life and labor power, labor power and biopolitics. Not really sure what to do with these concepts, but I'm convinced they're important and that they're linked. The next step of trying work out that linked-ness is a little daunting.

One of the things that concerns me with the biopolitics stuff, one of the underlying things behind my urge/tendency to want to say labor power and biopolitics is the same thing is this: I worry about a certain periodizing impulse. For instance, see this recent post to aut-op-sy.

The post is trying to argue for some sort of anarchist point, which I'm sympathetic to. But it relies on a viewpoint that now, under real subsumption, anarchism makes sense. I see the same move in Hardt and Negri's work, which is to say: NOW labor power/production is biopolitical. And because of this becoming biopolitical, now multitude makes sense (and also, now reproductive labor is labor, now "women's work" is work, etc).

This comes up I think in the electronic interview we did with Michael Hardt. In the interview, Hardt was asked:

"Do you intend the concept of 'always-already multitude' to be a critique of the idea that only the one can rule, that the many can not rule itself (that is, the social and political body has always been multiple, the many has always been able to rule itself, and now we understand this) or a diagnosis of historical exhaustion of the rule of the one (that is, the rule of the one was the only possibility before, earlier attempts to produce multitude were pre-mature, only now is the era of the one's rule passing)?"

and he replied

"I would tend to agree with your latter formulation, that the exhaustion of the rule of the one and the formation of the multitude are only possible today for the first time. The "always-already" is meant to refer to the virtual existence of multitude. But I wonder if there really have been earlier attempts to produce multitude or rather if only today in retrospect we can read our history in those terms. Maybe it's something like that line of Marx in the Introduction to the Grundrisse about the anatomy of the human preceding the anatomy of the ape."

It seems to me that there's an effort here to point toward a certain way of 'doing politics' and of thinking (the whole issue of what that way is, what multitude means in other less theoretical idioms, is a really important one but one for another day), which I like and appreciate. But the gesture seems to me to be one of "now is the time when this becomes possible", a periodization based on claims about biopolitics. That's the part I don't like. It erases a lot from history and sides with some pretty ugly and bloodstained characters - like the claim "Lenin would be pro-networks if he were here today" which implies "I would have supported Lenin's plans if I was around back in the day" (sorry, I just can't stop being sectarian about this).

Angela writes in a comment, in reference to the equation of bare life and labor power, "it's your old-style party rhetorics, with a new dash of lyrical indignation borrowed from Agamben, which represents 'the working class' as a homogenous entity. Only state socialists are interested in that kind of representation." I think she's right. It seems to me then that the move I'm objecting to is one that claims to be anti-state and anti-representation, but operates what Angela is pointing toward: a homogenization, that operates by a periodization (once there was an era of the One, now is the era of the Many, once production wasn't biopolitical, now production is biopolitical).

My gut response to this is say, "no, production was always biopolitical", to push against the periodization. I can see, though, that there's still a flattening move here in what I'm saying. Basically what I'm saying boils down to "what y'all say is new is not so new." Not that nothing has changed, just that everything is not new, at least in any non-trivial sense, and I think the aura of novelty produced actually works against trying to get at the specificity of our moment and its potentialities (and it also works against historical readings of the specificites of earlier moments). I'm not sure how to express this clearly, or to oppose the periodizing/flattening without making another flattening move of my own. Gotta think more about this.

For me I think it much of this comes back to questions of possibilities of communism. Communism is always specific, and how can we think specific communisms without erasing any other specifities (ie, thinking communisms today in a way that erases past communisms and possibilities of communism.) I don't know, but if anyone figures it out, please tell me.

the industrial workers of the world/NYC present:


-free! april 9, 4-7 pm-

screening of 'made in thailand", followed by a report from a rutgers delegation to mexico to meet with labor organizers and community activists who struggle against the horror of maquiladoras. wrapping up will be mark gunnery playing 'riot-folk'..



The recent edition of CultureMachine focusses on the themes of biopolitics, nomos, bios, etc. Part of the editorial: "However interesting these variations on the theme of biopolitics [those of Virno, Negri, et al], one obvious problem lies with their insensitivity to the moments of rupture and divergence that Foucault's historiography sought to foreground. In all of these accounts, the 'bios' of biopolitics is in danger of becoming as expansive a term as Marx's concept of social reproduction - a black box where everything that had previously been discarded from economic and political philosophy is conveniently recuperated. What gets lost in the process is the temporal precision of Foucault's account and its attention to the minutiae of institutional practice."

I'm still reading my way through the edition. But, along with Nate, I'd been pondering the conflation of 'biopolitics' and 'labour power', and (for my part) trying to articulate some concerns, which are perhaps a little different to those raised by Thacker. Anyway, maybe the essays in CultureMachine will help to clarify some of the issues.

Also in the same edition is another discussion topic, that of Subject versus subjectivation. Of which Bifo has this to say: "It is thanks to Michel Foucault that the theme of subjectivity has definitively been freed from its Hegelian and historicist legacy, and thought again in a new context – that of biopolitical discipline. The subject does not pre-exist history, it does not preexist the social process. Neither does it precede the power formations or the political subjectivation that founds autonomy. There is no subject, but subjectivation, and the history of subjectifying processes is reconstructed through the analysis of epistemic, imaginary, libidinal and social dispositifs modeling the primary matter of the lived."

(thanks Angela ...)

* Note to self: added spaces between the ** Note to self: gonna need to review these and practice a bit, in order to remember. this is how you add a link: OPENBRACKET a href = "http://blah_url.htm" CLOSE BRACKET Some text here OPENBRACKET / a CLOSEBRACKET And here is how you distinguish paragraphs. OPENBRACKET p CLOSEBRACKET Blah blah paragraph. Blah blah OPENBRACKET / p CLOSEBRACKET OPENBRACKET p >This is a new blah paragraph because it has it's own opening and closing paragraph tags. OPENBRACKET / p CLOSEBRACKET Remember to check that the html option (rather than text option) in the box below journal entries. Remember to include opening OPENBRACKET CLOSEBRACKET AND closing tags OPENBRACKET/ CLOSEBRACKET, and remember to make sure that there are double quote marks around the url, and it'll all work fine."

Baxter05 -- sublogo: "a convergence for human rights" -- begins with a quote from John Pilger: "Places like Baxter belong in totalitarian countries, not democracies. They take away the basic human rights that ought to be the cornerstone of a democratic state, and their presence diminishes every one us. They should be closed down."

Leaving aside that Pilger is a paternalistic git (and I'll get on to why he's so wrong later), I'm not sure why "human rights" and "democracy" have resurfaced (after a thankful respite) as the preferred rhetorics of mobilisation. Of course, Baxter05 is politics-as-recycling, but just that little bit worse: politics-as-makework, politics as the aggregation of bodies-as-consumers of leftoid product. I'd be surprised if there was a protests (by those outside Baxter) within 5kms of the Baxter internment camp -- as the trotocracies try and persuade themselves that they're the true representatives of the working class by representing protesters to police. So, the prospect that events -- some kind of encounter between detainees and those outside the fences, beyond the ritualised megaphones, passivity and spectacular -- will reconstitute the horizon of politics is slim.

But all the conflicts over centralisation / decentralisation won't really confront some underlying assumptions (about representation, unity, etc) unless notions of "human rights" and "democracy" are contended with. And, more importantly, without escaping the political horizon of "human rights" and "democracy", there really isn't much prospect of responding to the internment camps in any significant way.

Pilger is wrong: internment camps are the necessary counterpart of democracies, the point at which those who are excluded from definitions of the demos ['the people'] are subjected to the reign of the kratos [the state]. There's no such thing as a consistently anti-racist democrat: at some point the democrat will place a limit on who belongs and who has rights, and in order to rationalise the denial of human rights, will dehumanise those whose rights have been denied. There are not many ways to get around Aristotle.

But in the immediate context of the organisation of the protest at Baxter, there's just not much thought about relating content to form. Decentralised, disseminative forms of organisation aren't just a question of which brand-name you follow: trot v anarch or autonome. It's a question of which form of organisation doesn't reproduce the problem you're setting out to confront. In this case, the politics of "democracy" and "human rights" are part of the problem of the internment camps, not just in form, but in content.

I was reminded of this excellent article by Jon Beasley-Murray, "Ethics as Post-Political Politics".

Which concludes: "As much as a re-examination of Spinoza means 'abandoning the last vestiges of teleologism' in its refusal of the dialectic (and its emphasis on subjective constitution), we must beware of the re-inscription of faith performed by Negri in the course of his analysis. Although Negri's turn to ethics is a useful dislocation from the ritual of political rhetoric, in Bourdieu we see the continuing presence of unconscious investments in the apparent certainties of belief and the limits beyond which expansionist coalition politics and ethical constitution dare not go: 'like legitimate culture, the counter-culture leaves its principles implicit (which is understandable since it is rooted in the dispositions of an ethos) and so is still able to fulfil functions of distinction by making available to almost everyone the distinctive poses, the distinctive games and other external signs of inner riches previously reserved for intellectuals.' "

[There are many problems with Bourdieu (his nationalism for one), but his accounts of 'distinction' and academic labour, I think written quite early in his career, are very sharp.)

Beasley-Murray refers in that essay to Eugene Holland's essay, "Spinoza and Marx", which takes up the debate between Macheray and Negri over Spinoza, and is also worth reading for thinking about Negri's (and Balibar's) argument that there is a difference between 'early' and 'late' Spinoza. The stakes of which are whether 'absolute democracy' is a particularly radical proposition.

I keep pondering the question of how ostensible critiques of vanguardism (and teleology) can re-inscribe the dynamics of such a politics without a sense of either what's at stake here or what vanguardism might mean beyond its particular (or simply explicit) leninist variants.

And I keep coming back to the specific character of 'cognitive labour'. Plus I keep having to remind myself (or be reminded by others) that it's not a matter of will every time I get amazed (sometimes angry) at the propensity of so many to re-assert a vanguardist politics (often this vanguard looks a lot like, well, an idealised version of themselves). ... If a triangle were to conceive of God, God would be a triangle -- Spinoza was right about some things.

Maybe I should be more thorough in abandoning a notion of the Subject, whose acts and politics are a apparently matter of will, unconditioned. But there are surely limits to this: not simply because I reckon there's such a thing as responsibility (an ability to respond to the call of the Other) -- which is traumatic, but ethics is traumatic or it isn't ethical (Levinas). But also because a critique of subjectivism doesn't licence an objectification, treating people as if they are mere cyphers of social processes and locations. All this would could ever produce is a paternalistic, manipulative (yes, Machiavellian) tone which treats people like they don't understand anything very much and so need to be spoken to as if they are always mired in superstition. An aside: I think this is kind of what Negri does at times, a perfectly proper Spinozian writing strategy, I guess you could say -- though not what it should be possible to take from Spinoza unless you thought philosophy should be confined to, as Spinoza thought, the priestly caste. Whatever else there is to say about Spinoza, he thought the 'multitude' were dangerous, superstitious clods who couldn't understand complex, radical philosophy if they tried.

Or, it would mean a great big cop-out -- no one is responsible, can respond.

An impasse, which seems to me is only broken by specific encounters which shake up the ossified senses of 'I' or 'we' and make ethics (and politics) possible, whether in the case of border struggles or organising around precarious work.

Aside from creating these kinds of encounters, and messing up a sense of 'we', I'm not sure 'activism' -- or publication -- is capable of confronting the kind of politics which reinscribes vanguardism and teleologies as the performative aspects of cognitive labour.

Whilst many are fascinated by the italian species of automist practice and thought, little attention is paid to other countries where the tendency has a significant tradition. This is true both of countries -- France and Spain -- where the tendency was strong in countries where poilitics was still a mass-movement affair, as wel;l as those who producved important contributions such as germany. Karl Heinz Roth's "The other working class movement", highly regarded by Bologna amongst others has never been translated into english. In addition there is a tendency to ignore the contributions made by american writers to the humus of the tradition, namely James O'Connor (founder of Capitalism, Nature and Socialism) and Frances Fox Piven/Richard Cloward's Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail.

Anywayz, I'm currently looking at: LA MOUVANCE AUTONOME EN France DE 1976 A 1984 by Sebastien Schifres, a thesis available online at: http://sebastien.schifres.free.fr/

I lived in France years ago and investigated this world soemwhat which has notable differences with respect to its italian counterpart. Situationist and libertarian tendencies generally were stronger, and the movement towards squatting and a more separatist counterculture more accelerated. In any case, check it out as there is almost nothing available on the subject in english (one exception is Ann Hansen's memoir of her days as an "urban guerilla", which contains a gripping description of an autonomist demonstration in paris that seems to have inspired her down the road to ....

Any other suggestions for lost influences or movements?

Kinder FBI....what total rubbish,they have never been kind.In the 50's and 60's ,when I was young,the FBI sent undercover ops into the KKK.The idea was to break them up.There boys whent one better and even participated in lynchings,burnings,and general mayhem in the Black community.For my 10th birthday I was treated to the site of Dayton Police use of cattle prods,electrically charged batons,to disperse protesters whom wanted to be able to sit at the lunchcounter at the Department store.The actions taken on the people were carried out by local cops under the direction of the feds. In the late 60's the feds and the C.I.A. became a joint unit for domestic spying and 'black ops' activities.Through coersion and intimidation they infiltrated many groups that faught for social justice.A.I.M.,The Black Panther Party,Students for a Democratic Society,the Labor Unions,even the Woodstock nation. They targeted and terminated people in all these groups.If they did'nt kill you,they would mess with your job,alter your mail,send people into your group for the sole purpose of creating dissent among the ranks.All the while knowing that those very actions were what the Revolution was faught for,without a care to the constitution,bill of rights,or just plain decent human treatment. In Leonard's case,the Feds not only admitted they uesd fake evidence(sound familiar?),beat people into false statements,they were braizen enough to get this crap treated as 'real' evidence,thanks in large part to the influence of the Whitehouse.If anyone wants to read the transcripts,you can find them in the back of 'In the Spirit of Crazy Horse'.Read it,because they have'nt changed a bit,only now all of us are targets. In the 70's the Feds flooded Haight Ashbury with high intensity speed and Herion,because Hippies smoked herb and did acid,founded free food kitchens,free clothes centers,free clinics,and the former were good tools for destroying any unifying activities. All through the 80's till Garcia's death in '95,the big dogs ran a program called 'Operation Dead Stop'.It was the same cointelpro crap revisited to the traveling roadshow that was known as 'The Deadheads'. Such is your lot in life when you value peace,freedom,and liberty over dead rulerships and anti-human treatment. Truth is Leonard got royally screwed because he was willing to stand up for his people,his spirituality,his homeland(which we stole by the way)and a path in life that honors all life.For this he was willing to die for.Not for the Oil in Iraq,or the uranium in the Black Hills,or the gold.But for his people and their way.Not many White folks have that kind of commitment.If we did, this country would'nt be as bad off as it is. If you think the feds don't have a sight on us all,that we live in a 'Free Society',that we were really attacked by terrorists,and the leadership has the best intrests of us all,than pal,you drank the koolaid and assumed the position.I've had my phone tapped,listening vans around my house,and other garbage.For the sole reason that I have the balls to speak from my wheelchair, two words,two words that shakes the system,two words that the theives who stole this country fear the most.....FREE PELTIER!!!


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