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Net- which Net? Or, our collective hammock. Or, The Net, which represents us all. Or, collectively we are stronger!

Group 2828

We herewith declare: First, we create a collective Net which will achieve all our specific struggles and forms of resistances. An inter-continental Net of resistance against Neoliberalism, an inter-continental Net of resistance which strives towards humanity...This inter-continental Net is not to be understood as an organisational structure, it neither possesses a control or decision centre, nor does it have hierarchical structures. The Net represents those of us who are resistant. Secondly, we create a Net represents a Net of communication between all our struggles and resistances. An inter-continental Net of alternative forms of communication against Neoliberalism, it is an inter-continental Net of alternative forms of communication for humanity... The Net is constituted of all of us who speak to and listen to one another.

(Second Declaration of 'La Realidad', August 1996)

1. The Zapatistas and 'The Net'

The second declaration of 'La Realidad', in contrast to the former general yet thoroughly significant declarations of the EZLN, characterised by a Net of soap-bubbles, declared the founding of a Net for all in resistancy of our planet. Since then, in a diffuse yet enthusiastic manner, many left-oriented groups have attempted to establish this Net. It remains, however, unclear with whom, why and how to become networked. It should be noted that what lies behind the EZLN's suggestion is doubtlessly their increasingly publicity-isolation in Mexico and the decreasing international interest in their struggles - which , in the meantime, barely transcends internationalist connections. Notwithstanding the primary motivation of their initiatives are intended to transcend beyond the reference point of both 'Chiapas' and the EZLN.

With all understandable intents and purposes, the declaration as well as in the ever-increasing networking-boom, calls to bring about what is non-existing. That is to say, people immediately speak about 'the' Net, not reflecting together what it could be, should be and what it will not be. Should regard 'the' Net be regarded as 'the' means of mutual support? Until then, many megabytes will zap up and down the intergalactic information-highway.

Many speak of 'the Net' and 'network' seems to have become one of the key concepts to politics of resistance. Our presumption is that with the diffuse understanding of networking, above all based on organisational principles of the orthodox left, is something which should be challenged. Although well founded, it seems to be insufficient according to our viewpoint. We want to hold a more specific inquiry into the implications of 'the' Net, i.e., how this notion is used and applied in other societal areas? Further, what are the strengths and weaknesses, possibilities and dangers of 'networking?' To avoid any misunderstandings, we should state that are aim here is not to denounce the efforts in 'networking'. Rather, it doesn't work without a critique based in the spirit of solidarity as well as the permanent questioning, not intended to slow down political activities of resistance of political developments. In this sense, here we are striving a contribution, for neither more nor less.

To begin with, the first question which arises is, who wants and should to get networked? The connotation of unity found in the word 'us' is mainly defined through an attitude of resistancy against Neoliberalism. It is obvious that all the people who are somehow resisting and fighting against the same system entail a very large quantity:Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, Students (most of the time), the Homeless (rare, but true), Trade Unionists, the Greens, but unfortunately not only those. Those who are resisting Neoliberalism, may be also part of the New Right's political strategy, for example in fighting for strong state policiy or for the most possible and clear 'national identity' in the current unclear Neoliberal times - with all its murderous consequences. It can no longer indifferently be regarded by whom which politics are made and what must strive to more clearly define what signifies 'Resistancy.' This hoped-for common ground is too general. A common struggle for a common goal isn't yielded, and some sort of exchange of ideas by itself is too little for a 'Net.'

Another problem is that the most differentiated individuals feel unified in the intergalactic Net- this seems to decrease the possibility of conducting and motivating local struggles. While one is networking on the Net, an asylum shelter burns next door - but 'we' are now inter-continental, no longer regional, with demands.of decentralization, however, more through the use of individual modems. It appears increasingly difficult to lead a regional exchange of various and differentiated forms of resistance. Only seldom do individual groups meet one another actionoriented. Although 10,000 people appeared in Wendland to protest against Castor and state-repression, the long-term working initiatives have showed no significant increase. The former 'Happening' seems to suffice. As such, 'networking' in such areas of organised protest are stabile but still minimal. So another Net should remedy here?

In part, this demand or expectation of networking also conjures up the image of a vanguard. When we are the Net of all in resistance against 'the' Neoliberalism, then who are all these that struggle indeed against Neoliberalism but which are just not interested in our encounter nor in our reference to the Zapatistas?

The content of the network itself as well remains completely diffuse. At a first step the networking acts under the label 'against Neoliberalism and for humanity'. One can hardly interpret this position as a political objective. Rather, it is more akin to a rough orientation, which, within its parameters, politics are to be made. Neither is it clarified, which conceptualisation is associated with the new buzzwords, such as 'the Neoliberalism.' Also, it remains entirely unclear how 'Neoliberalism' is differentiated within various national social formations - not to mention the differentiated social, political and economic effects thereof. Indeed, we seem to be dealing with a 'single' understanding of Neoliberalism in one same system. Therefore this sort of network is characterized by uncertainty in opposition to the predominant networks. We express this uncertainty in the notion 'search processes' for an approach of contemporary emanzipatory resistancy. It should go without saying that a clarification of various facts is also needed in order to have a meaningful discussion.

At this point, a basic yet highly useful question to ask is, what then is actually new in regard to the network? Is it simply post-modern, post-fordist, post-communist, post...? Or, is it simply merely a common label dressed up in a new conceptual dress. Ultimately, 'networking' may be used to designate the modes of organisation for every social group, be it a capital fraction, politicians or social movements. Here, it is important not to underestimate high degrees of both exchanges and co-operation which are necessary to make any network work. These were the pre-conditions of the effectiveness of various solidarity groups, even when the word 'network' did not possess the popularity as it does today. And today those Nets - inland as well as with the correspondents of the supported country - has often been the only thing that has survived over the last decade. Or, aren't we even dealing here with networking?

It should be stressed that the following contribution does not attempt to completely answer all the above questions and problems. We only accomplish the reverse, that is the formulation of more questions and new problematics. It is about increasing sensibility for dangers as well as for the potential for forms of articulation and cooperation in resitance that comes along with networking. We use the notion as it passes by which it does more frequently as expected.

2. The current theoretical and political debate over networking

'Networking' implies an advancement not only as a buzz-word of the internationalised left. In other societal sectors it is discussed a lot more reality-creating. The common denominator of today's debates over networking allows us to situate these debates within the understanding of the society as being hierarchical-oriented and 'steered' primarily through the state and from various private enterprises, or from the organisational perspective of the completely decentralised 'market-steered' society. Yet it exists another co-ordination principle, the network. This principle is understood as the self-organisation of formal autonomous 'actors,' in order to achieve common goals. Besides this, networks, in comparison with organisations, are marked by less formal character and are also somewhat more voluntarily oriented and interactive.

In four areas there is an intensive discussion about networking today and has at the same time processed such:

a) The political and political science debates about the 'Borderlessness of States' begins from the assumption that through the functional differentiation of society, society will become even more complex. With the traditional 'hierarchical steering' through the state in various levels, which itself alone takes care of certain societal tasks and duties, there aren't found efficient solutions to problems any longer. Therefore co-operations and networks rise at the local, regional, national and international level. 'Within' the state apparatus one calls this 'political interweaving,' e.g. between local and national administration. But we can locate 'political networking' also with other, non-governmental actors or at the international level (c.f. point d).

b) Also in the wider public, particularly in the management/business and industrial sociological debates, the networking plays a big role as an organisational form of business, next to the global expansion. In times, in which the production increase in tightly organized business is dwindling, the flexibilistion of labour (as well as means of production transfers), decentralisation and continual rationalisation are becoming models of high productivity and profits. Those decentralised business units organised in networks - as well as the networking of independent business - have the object of entering into forms of co-operation and exchange to be able to adjust themselves quicker and continually on the (new) competitive conditions in order to minimise costs and increase turnover rates.

c) Although comparingly of relatively less importance, the nascent discussion about the existing networks of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is relevant in its area. The NGOs are treated, in part, as 'societal production strength', in part as 'new actors' in the handling or dealing with global 'problems.' It is the backbone of their arguments that NGOs achieve political influence through networking. In contrast to both the state and businesses their networks are, in the rule, essentially more informed.

d) And lastly, another nascent, yet an increasingly important discussion which deals with 'networking' are those concerned with the notions of governance and global governance. Here we are dealing with not only the networks within a particular 'area' (e.g. various businesses or NGOs), but also in regard to the networks between them. That is to say, state-like, private capital and other actors should solve problems by acting together. The UNO working Commission on Global Governance presented a report in 1995, giving a definition how the problems and possible solutions should be defined.

3. The meaning of networks for the international left

Then the dismantling of state-like hierarchy is not a bad thing. And that 'civil society actors' such as the NGOs have become more influence in the public as well as in the state-like political processes is in no way a disadvantage. The question here is the same as by most confrontations and changes in societal structures, namely, under which conditions these will occur and by which interests these will be carried out.

Aside from all the differences surrounding these debates over networks, taken together, they remain fundamentally technocratic. As such, they take the societal forms of domination and exploitative relations, within the national and international framework, hardly into consideration. Rather, they seem to pose their questions towards the goal of finding improved functions of (modern) society. Moreover, the state is grasped in the affirmative as a political institutional system, that somehow holds the 'Common-welfare' in the back of its mind. And 'economy' is omitted from the understanding of the structural and the questions over power in the production and distribution spheres of goods and services. Through this, 'globalisation' has become the most irreversible and dominant trendy framework. The 'problems' (which and whose problems, anyway?) must somehow be resolved. There is already a concept of 'steering', which does no more occur centrally through the state (which was never the case), but rather through various actors. It remains outside of the problematic how the interests of many people get lost with the effectuation of co-operation through the private enterprises or the state.

Nevertheless, there are some important aspects also for a debate about emancipatory (forms of) politics, since the 'Net' deals with the co-operation of formally independent groups or organisations:

1) Next to the construction of networks, the idea is not only how to intensify the exchange of experiences and how to solve problems better, but also how a strengthening of interests can be established. This is central not only for the private enterprises or lobby groups, but also for emancipatory politics. These were and are represented, for example, by many citizen initiatives ('Bürgerinitiativen') organised along the lines of the Anti-Nuclear movement, not only for their 'interests' of a cleaner environment (by way of slogans such as 'our German forests'), but also these concerted interests represent a release mechanism of political engagement which leads to further activities and involvement as well as recognises, that the nuclear industry and the dangers it poses know no national borders.

2) Intimately tied to the above aspect is the definition of interests as central component of the network building/network. Networks don't build themselves not per when there are the same perceptions of problems, a clear interest congruency and unified picture of strategy-orientation. Also diverse actors with different ideas do network with themselves and have to recognise their differences and commonalties.

3) There definitely is something real about the thesis that in a complex society with multi-faced problems on different levels, these problems cannot no longer be solved with 'top down' orientation. More suitable is a horizontal organisational pattern of formal relative independent 'actors'. Here we are thinking of highly differentiated problems, such as: more efficient extraction of profit from capital, state-oriented forms of implementing extensive infrastructural support and regulation, or the various forms of resistance against these policies.

4) Co-operation is doubtlessly a key concept for networking (even if not every form of co-operation means directly 'networking'). When 'actors' cannot see any 'sense' in a network for their ideas, they then, in effect, do not work toward its establishment and do not organise themselves in an existing network (again the word 'sense' must be seen here in its differentiated form, e.g., as profit, governmental power, or social revolutionary politics). Co-operation does not necessarily require common interests, but rather can also proceed in conflict constellations. It is ingenious (and not 'useful'or advantageous) for those who are willing to co-operate if the diverse actors in the network are ready to enter compromises.

5) Co-operation, and tied with this in various cases of networking, arise not the least from - real or supposed - mutual dependence (which is not always equal). Something has to come from this effort to join together with others, whether by the exchange of ideas or - and that may be the main factor - to be a part of a larger political, social or economic significance and oppositional power.

6) In contrast with formal organisations, in which there are more or less clear defined goal and formal internal rules and norms and in which hierarchies and decision authorities are more or less anchored, with networks the 'informality' plays a larger role. This means, however, that in this context of 'informality,' the divided commonality as well as the igenious 'sense' are more important.

7) Finally, it is important for our discussion here that the establishment of networks, in the most cases, is due to particular problems in specific fields (e.g., alliances between private enterprises in technological R&D, Farmers' Organisations in the question of distribution of land or the Environmental Organisations in the area of climate politics) as opposed to a relative undetermined process.

4. Possibilities and Problems in further networking

'Networking' is foremost an organisational pattern and not per se progressive. Consider, for instance, the power upon which Transnational Enterprises (TNEs) rests, i.e., due to the fact that their innovation which derives from the necessities of capital valorisation, there exists a network-like form of restructuring. The organisation and management problems of private capital enterprises should interests ourselves as peripherically as the difficulties to modernize state-like forms of domination, although those experiences might teach something as well as those of NGOs.

As already shown in the 2nd Declaration of 'La Realidad', communication and co-operation are of importance in networking. In addition to this, we would like to further suggest to draw a distinction between, on the one hand, an existing and a developing network structure and, on the other, a network metaphor. In the international Zapatista movement, which is by its very nature a heterogeneous one, we have up till now been dealing with a metaphor rather than a perceivable network structure. This is in no way negative, since it is practically unimaginable (not to mention undesirable), that there should arise a 'single' structure. In effect, then, we are dealing with the 'sense' or the 'meaning' of networks: such of alternative communications already exist for quite a long time. (Especially the possibilities involved in retaining information does not fall short here. The question does, however, arise: Who uses the present communication possibilities and how do we ensure, as best we can, that they are to be used in a meaningful manner without ending up debating with a computer-screen? Also, in various regions of the world, an Internet-Network is unthinkable).

Further, networks for particular actions and campaigns arise, maintain themselves for a while, then disappear. While in this context, 'more' and 'better' seems to be naturally important in order to criticise the existing relations and to demonstrate alternatives, but even better than would be a certain continuity in existing groups and 'nets'- quality versus quantity. Thus in terms of longer existing connections, not all discussion do have to be started from the beginning.

If we conceptualise ideas that are more than the metaphor, then we are dealing with a discussion about chances and dangers, which we may want to impel. In very general terms, the question here becomes one of actions or a feeling of motivation somehow to be networked. Beyond this we may also question the institutional consolidation of networks (e.g. of a network).

Institutional and permanent consolidation of networks implies positively, among the (hoped for) larger political significance, the claim toward a certain extent transparent and democratic proceedings within the networks. As such, if networking should not only remain a metaphor, a minimal formalised relation is needed. This is important because of reasons of transparency, decision-making processes as well as the execution of these decisions - if there are to be any decisions about selected actions which are to be reached along lines of common interests and implemented successfully.

When networks assume a certain structure (which should not be confused with the establishment of formal organisations), they are confronted with various problems, of which we would like to touch three:

First, besides the preparations of international encounters or selected forms of political action, the understanding about the 'sense' and the manner of the collective politics needs to be clarified. Networking should not become a formality, rather it must thematise the content and political form. Here, we should keep the question in mind: Who becomes networked and for which purposes?

Secondly, networks do not have a democratic character per se, e.g. in terms of an effective public campaign of professional NGOs. However, networks can have democratic consequences in regard to their political effect (e.g. through the creation of alternative spaces or via the consultation of particular groups - such as landless farmers).

Here, the third aspect arises, namely, a priori power asymmetries between the individual networked actors, through which a Veto-Position can arise. The same applies to divided resources. In light of this, the ideal premises of the EZLN must be relativised, i.e., the Net should contain neither hierarchy nor an administration centre. The subjective or collective inputs in the network, e.g. the Internet, founded from the beginning on unequal allocated resources, e.g., easy and equal access possibilities to a telephone connection. With this in mind, a meaningful pre-condition for networks is named, which in no manner are direct hierarchically-free. On the contrary: tendentially they extend a hierarchy themselves.

Fourthly, the absence of a 'democratic' character must be brought critically into the centre of the discussion. Besides the basic question of the power over resources there is the very practical danger, to proceed in forms of politics that have hardly been discussed. Though it is not of practical use, when individuals undertake things in a very reasonable manner, without someone supporting this action or participating in this action, i.e. is able to participate. Networking only makes sense, if it is not carried out by a few big heads. And, as an important condition being that these networks are built upon regional political interconnected groups. Also, and this is perhaps too much of a large task: networking itself has to be democratically-oriented in its processes, i.e., 'aimed at democratisation towards the outside' as well as 'towards the inside', understood as a learning process.

As we stated from the outset, our aim has not been to provide solutions for the above questions and problems. The meaning of world-wide networking is part of the learning-process and decisions, from enjoyment and success to commitment and tolerance. Doubtlessly various things are necessary: exchange between manifold life situations and different leftist resistancies, a collection of instigation's, new motivations for old battles, maybe partial reciprocal support (or, when necessary, one-sided), now and then larger meetings, larger and cohesive discussions. Our question about the how and why consolidating institutionally goes yet one (uncertain) step forward.

Up till now, and to stress this point once again, the 'Zapatistas' Network' is a metaphor and has not entered into the danger areas and principal problems. Therefore even more, the continual experiments and the ongoing searches for new political forms are very important in these global Neoliberal times. In this sense, there can not arise the problem, attributing the 'Zapatistas' Movement' as itself a form of core networking, and, in doing so, to view the two initiatives for alternative forms of communication and resistance as a starting point in world-wide network from groups and organisations who have emancipatory demands. To be sure, there already exist such political forms (or experiments) for quite some time now - even if they were cause-related, regional or organised along lines of interests. The more or less deep-seated, and above all, a multi-faceted and a practical-oriented international network of the Zapatista Movement can be an important contribution in the development of alternatives and resistancies. There neither exists 'the' Network, nor 'the' Net.


several documents of the preparation process for the Second Encounter (flyers, invitations, other documents)

Altvater, Elmar/Brunnengräber, Achim/Haake, Markus/Walk, Heike (eds., 1997), Vernetzt und verstrickt. Nicht-Regierungs-Organisationen als gesellschaftliche Produktivkraft, MünsterEZLN (ed., 1996), Primer Encuentro Intercontinental por la Humanidad y contra el Neoliberalismo, México, D.F.Hirsch-Kreinsen, Hartmut (1997), Unternehmensstrategien im globalen Wettbewerb, in: Freitag, 28.3.97Messner, Dirk (1995), Die Netzwerkgesellschaft. Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung und internationale Wettbewerbsfähigkeit als Probleme gesellschaftlicher Steuerung, KölnPenumbra, Verstrickt im Netz? Ein Kommentar zum 2. "Intergalaktischen", in: analyse & kritik, Juli 1997REDaktion (Hg., 1997), Chiapas und die Internationale der Hoffnung, KölnThe Commission on Global Governance (1995), Nachbarn in Einer Welt, Bonn


This contribution was written for a working group of the 2nd Intercontinental Encounter by Ulrich Brand and Veronika Sievers. The authors would like to thank both Marlis Gensler and Jens Winter for their helpful comments and discussions, and Frank Geisler and Susanne Söderberg for the translation in Spanish and English.

The name of our group, 'Group 2828', refers to the room number of our small (network) center in a skyscraper of the University of Frankfurt/Main, Germany.


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