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CyberspaceAfterCap Propos 120103 - Updated!

Draft propositions for the Cyberspace Panel, Life after Capitalism Programme, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, January 23-8, 2003

Some Propositions on
Cyberspace after Capitalism:
Cyber-Utopianism without Cyber-Illusionism

Peter Waterman

Global Solidarity Dialogue Website (inactive):
Global Solidarity Dialogue Group (less inactive):


The point here is to confront the new international mouvement social, still bearing certain features of the old national-industrial capitalism, with the relational principle proper to the epoch of a globalized, informatised, finance and services capitalism.

Networking existed long before the internet and long before capitalism. It is the form of inter-relation within face-to-face communities, particularly where no developed state or market exists. However, computerization, the internet, cyberspace, now makes it possible (not inevitable) for state and market to be challenged, and to develop world-scale networking based on internationalist principles.

The historical labour movement (now largely reduced to a trade union form in profound crisis) has long taken organizational/institutional shape, with the consequent loss of most movement characteristics, these notably including its early internationalism. 1

The newest international mouvement social, the 'anti-globalisation', 'anti-capitalist', or 'global justice and solidarity movement' (GJ&SM) has, like the radical-democratic international women's, ecological, indigenous and other such movements, been increasingly marked by the network form. This does not, however, mean that networking is understood in the same way, nor that the privileged space for such - cyberspace - is fully understood, nor its potential extensively and evenly developed.

The propositions below are clearly intended to suggest that the relational principle of networking is the one appropriate to social movements today, particularly in so far as they are concerned with an international/ist challenge and alternative to capitalist globalisation. They also suggest that cyberspace is the privileged one for human social emancipation. This privilege, however, comes only at the price of obligations: to the local/locale; to the marginalized; to the public sphere, to a constant critical self-examination.

It will be noted that I here concentrate on 'networking' and 'cyberspace', therefore failing to give the required attention to exciting new technical developments and multi-media applications that dramatically broaden the publicly-available means of cultural production, simultaneously lowering the entry qualifications. I rely here on others to make good this yawning gap.

The point is not to establish truths or truisms. It is to provoke discussion - particularly within and around the GJ&SM itself.

The matter of networking/cyberspace/culture is becoming critical with the World Social Forum and the 'social forum movement' internationally. In the period leading up to WSF3, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2003, two quite basic documents are under discussion:

The first discussion has been largely addressed to the IOC itself, although it is on a freely accessible website. The second was announced at the European Social Forum, Florence, November, 2002, with a draft being circulated on the Web in December 2002.

These two discussions, one on the internal structure/process, one on its most activist projection, will, in their process and outcome (rather than form and content) reveal the manner and extent to which the GJ&SM understands the new logic of networking, the nature of cyberspace, the increasing centrality of culture for human emancipation.


  1. Notions of networking and internationalism, understood as necessary for modernisation and/or human emancipation, can be traced back to at least the time of the French and Industrial Revolutions. Since that time they have been a matter of political dispute between capitalists/technocrats/authoritarians and socialists/democrats/libertarians. (Which is not to ignore, for example, the possibility of socialists being authoritarian, or of relevant disputes amongst capitalists/technocrats).
  2. Cyberspace is to be understood less as a terrain of domination or of freedom, more as the infinite terrain on which the struggle for such takes place.
  3. The form taken by many contemporary democratic international movements - networked, flexible, media-oriented and communication-sensitive - suggests the model for an effective Global Justice and Solidarity Movement in general.
  4. The development of a globalised and informatised capitalism permits us to understand, at last, that communication is the nervous system of internationalism and solidarity.
  5. Those who feel that the future of the GJ&SM lies in networking are going to have to meet the feeling, within and around the movement, that its institutional forms (e.g. parties, unions) are either desirable or inevitable.
  6. If they are to become and remain relevant to a new internationalism in the era of globalisation, the pyramidal international organisation (or network!) must be increasingly understood in terms of information, education, dialogue and culture, thus stimulating multi-directional, multi-class, multi-generational, multi-subject, multi-level and multi-media relations between 'leaders', 'members' and 'followers'; between 'intellectuals' and 'activists'; between 'centres' and 'peripheries'; between 'the rational' and 'the affective').
  7. If not informed by a broader vision of solidarity, international networking can reinforce corporate identities and undermine broader solidarities.
  8. The new electronic media make possible and necessary a new kind of activist/catalyst, reaching out beyond traditional institutions and forms, imagining new ways of using the means of communication/culture, and thus potentially empowering the growing number of 'foreign', 'marginal' and other 'a-typical' people.
  9. The notion that international electronic networking is the inevitable province of the rich and privileged, or has to be diffused from the rich, advanced, developed countries/unions/people, to the poor, marginal and powerless ones is questioned by certain Third World experiences, emancipatory movements and even technological developments.
  10. The potential of the electronic media is not so much their capacity to mobilise people within and for the old institutions of counter-hegemony, but to make them more mobile under and against a globalised and networked capitalism more generally.
  11. There must be a dialectical interplay, in the GJ&SM, between the politics of cyberspace and the politics of place, inspired by a meaningful understanding of solidarity.
  12. Globalisation, computerisation and informatisation make it possible and necessary for the GJ&SM to rethink 'work' and the wage-labour relationship in terms, for example, of locally-relevant, ecologically-friendly, cooperatively-controlled but high-tech production.
  13. Development of a meaningful 'other world' requires political action by the GJ&SM in/against the institutions/arenas in which control is exercised over the technology, access to and the content of electronic media and cyberspace.
  14. An understanding of the GJ&SM in network terms can break down the traditional division of labour within the movement, between the categories of 'thinkers' and 'doers'.
  15. The question today is not whether a networked internationalism is utopian; it is, first, why on earth it should be considered so, and, secondly, how to surpass the increasingly ideological distinction between the virtual and the real.

1. These propositions have their origins in an unpublished paper on international labour networking, as may become apparent. There will be an article version of this current paper, with relevant quotations and an extensive resource list.

hubproject.orgeur@action hubautonomos