Athens, Greece – The challenges of building everyday infrastructure for radical movements are broad and often hard to overcome. From the perspective of participants of the Networks of Resistance: 1st European Local Struggles Conference in Athens, Greece, exchanging the best tactics and proven practices strengthens the abilities for all anti-capitalist resistance movements to have an effective future. Day two of the conference featured a presentation of technical projects focusing on building infrastructure, and the autonomous zones of Exarcheia in Athens and the Catalan Integral Cooperativa (Catalonia, Spain).
For the first day of the Networks of Resistance conference, see: Networks of Resistance Conference Part 1 – ZAD, Bure, Hambach Forest
The two-day conference during a hot weekend in the summer of 2017, took place inside of the self-organized squat, Embros Theater, in the Psiri district of Athens, close to the Acropolis.
EXARCHEIA & EXARCHEIANET
The second day of the conference started with an introduction to the neighborhood of Exarcheia that is permeated by an anti-authoritarian and anarchist presence. It’s known as an autonomous zone for the ability of its self-organized assemblies to secure the neighborhood and create networks of society without the State.
The presenter speaking about Exarcheia during the conference, however, was not from Athens and was speaking from their “perspective“, one of an international volunteer who has been there for over a year. They spoke about the ethnic variance of Exarcheia, saying, “we are anarchists, leftists, and everything in between”, and while some work down in the commercial districts, there are also gangsters, mafia, refugees, elders, and tourists in Exarcheia.
“Exarcheia is not like ZAD or the Hambach Forest [see pt. 1], we don’t have a common goal. We have something like a common enemy, the State and the police.” – Presenter on Exarcheia
The speaker addressed the influx of refugees and the mutual aid shown by the anarchists to liberate buildings and create squats for housing. They said, “squatting is very easy in Exarcheia because the police do not usually enter and because the large anarchist presence in the area makes the culture suitable for creating and defending squats.”
After giving the audience a couple minute background on the neighborhood of Exarcheia, they spoke about the project called ExarcheiaNet, organized by international and Greek citizens to equip squats with internet access.
“ExarcheiaNet started as a project to bring internet access to these many squats. It is a very challenging project because of the political differences and the transience of much of the community. We have made slow progress but it has been made.” – Presenter on Exarcheia
Some of the squats receive support from ExarcheiaNet in a multitude of ways. There is a mesh network set up on some of the building rooftops in Exarcheia. The presenter said that while some advancements have been made, “we cannot develop one method and use it everywhere, each place has its own problems to solve.”
To watch the brief presentation on Exarcheia and introduction to ExarcheiaNet, see below.
The next presentation of the conference focused on technical projects and building infrastructure, conveying a main fact: providing good, sound infrastructure creates the best chances for an impactful movement. Infrastructure is a manifestation which can “reflect your values” and was described in the conference as “the physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.”
The presenter spoke about the importance of having “locally controlled“, decentralized nodes of infrastructure to prevent a hierarchy with central points of control. They said that when people are creating these new “progressive organizational structures” that is the perfect time to be thinking about new ways and ideas to create “the reorganization of industrial and economic life“, such as what we saw with the three featured movements on the first day of the conference.
“It really makes sense to make use of stable old technologies,” said the presenter, who also spoke about utilizing technology for movement use, hi-tech versus low-tech, and how to spot a good tech project, among other topics.
The presenter then spoke about building larger infrastructure and creating “new forms of societal organization” within the movement while connecting existing struggles of resistance together. They said that constant communication between struggles is needed, and that sharing the best tactics, processes, and information of short-term and long-term knowledge on the broader scale is massively valuable.
“Instead of just internally in your organization, maybe also we should also be thinking about all of the organizations around Europe and what we can do to connect them together, join forces, share resources.” – Tech and Infrastructutre presenter
To watch this presentation, see below:
COOPERATIVA INTEGRA (CATALONIA, SPAIN)
Born from a 2008 banking system expropriation of half a million euros that was used to finance social movements in Europe, the Catalan Intergral Cooperative (CIC) is, according to their website (PDF), “a tool to create a grassroots counterpower departing from self-management, self-organization and direct democracy.”
During the presentation about the Catalan Integral Cooperative at Embros Theater, the speaker described CIC as “a system of disobedience, it’s a system of building an alternative society outside the Nation/State and outside of the banking system and all the things that are oppressing us.”
“People who came from the environmental movement, from the anarchist movement, the squatter movement, they got together, it was a just very beautiful time in Spain.” – Presenter on CIC
After the banking system expropriation action, generally attributed to Enric Duran, the speaker said during those years, it was an important time because it galvanized involvement and got the “punks and the hippies” together to eventually create the Integral Cooperative in 2010.
In the last two decades the speaker said that in the heavily populated and large Catalonia region, a relatively autonomous area of Spain, people have shifted their focus from ways to attack the state, to building alternatives of a new society without the state.
“We are focusing on giving the people spaces for autonomy, spaces to be able to live their lives and to cover all of their needs without the need of participating in the state.” – Presenter on CIC
“The Integral Cooperative is not a cooperative in the legal sense … it’s basically an umbrella, a network of different entities, collectives, and individuals who are working together to build this little bubble and protect itself from attacks from the State“, said the presenter, who also included the four main aspects of the Intergral Cooperative: territory, a cooperative public system, an economic system, and principles.
Among the general principles of social transformation, sustainability, and political organization is the reclaiming of autonomy, or recovering sovereignty over food, technology, and energy. “We need to be able to self-manage these three things to be fully autonomous“, said the presenter.
“A big part of this whole ecosystem is based on trading, what we call the eco xarxes, eco networks … which use their own currency,” said the presenter.
In terms of food sovereignty, people in the region are relearning how to grow, prepare, process, share, and trade food. Energy and transportation are related as they are a big part of the eco networks working hand in hand. Some of the cars have been adapted to be able to use oil and hydrogen as fuel and they use recycled oil collected from restaurants.
The presenter says that technology is one of the most important facets of the CIC, saying it “is a good example of how technologies can unite different struggles.” Internet connections are created through a variety of means, including a very large mesh network that is allowing people in the rural regions to get internet connectivity.
The presenter said that although a lot of people may be wary of technology, once they start to learn it, they can see how “important it is to know and how much freedom it gives you to understand the technology that you are using.”
When it comes to the economy, the financial system of Catalan, the presenter said that “of course we all dream of a world without money, but we don’t know how to do that, but we do know how to build the transition process towards that and we have a proposal for how [to do that].”
In the CIC, the speaker said there are four types of exchange happening at the same time (see pic below) because “we cant just go from the banking system to having no money; we have to use an intermediate process, and we have to use all of them at the same time.”
The presenter spoke of the layers of the CIC economy, saying the most basic money, or value system, is the barter system, using direct exchange to trade one thing for another thing. A computer program coordinates all the networks to allow for trading between larger networks. They use local currencies, generated by free software, and controlled by the community that the presenter said is a “very good system.”
The IntegralCES project hosts dozens of community currency exchanges, mostly in Spain. It is a GPL-licensed free software implementation of the “Community Exchange System” concept where all participants can extend credit to each other, in a time-banking structure. To gain some context on what time-banking is, see an excerpt of our interview with Theodore, from the Athens Integral Cooperative below:
Unlike fractional reserve banking, where only banking institutions have credit-creation power, every participant in a CES exchange can create credit-hours, which enables everyone to participate regardless of wealth level. (Unicorn Riot collective member Dan Feidt assisted in releasing IntegralCES into the Drupal software ecosystem.)
In the CIC, they use a coin called the eco which value is decentralized and varies according to the community. They also use crypto-currencies as well as the Euro.
“It’s very fair, very ethical and it’s empowering the communities.” – Presenter speaks about the economy of CIC
The presenter said that among the many working groups in the many projects, an economic working group manages the economy of CIC and is in the “process of decentralization“, saying:
“Eventually, the Integral Cooperative itself will be nothing, it will be all the different networks and all the different communities that will take control of all these processes.“
CIC uses CASX, which has been operating as a coop since 2013 and is “like a cooperative bank with no interest and very strong ethical principles.” The presenter spoke a bit about how this system is funded, saying that member fees and donations provide a portion, but it’s mostly funded through a “self-employment system.” They also utilize CoopFunding, a crowd sourcing platform to raise money for projects.
The speaker said that he hoped Athens would start this system, a “really amazing innovation” which allows members to redistribute their taxes to the cooperative. There are two small Integral Cooperatives in Greece that act as trading networks. The Catalan speaker said they were glad to see the Integral Cooperatives operating in Greece and had high hopes for the future. See our report on the Athens Integral Cooperative here.
The whole region of Catalonia is one that deserves all of the attention it can muster, as there are productive projects interlinking in each community in a vast area. To watch the presentation on the Catalan Integral Cooperative, see below:
What’s happening in Catalonia and Exarcheia is a direct result of the negative impacts that the worldwide financial crisis of 2009 had on Spain and Greece. Combine the need to find equitable and sustainable solutions during times of crisis with decades of autonomous thinking, and what results is the Cooperativa Integral Catalan and the thousands of self-organized assemblies creating liberated space and mass mutual aid in Athens.
As we see, technology is being used to help create autonomous, horizontal, and sustainable societies outside of the hierarchical structure of capitalism, which breeds oppression and inequities. These new experiments and alternatives are sets of templates that different portions of society can use at any time to build from.
By Niko Georgiades
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Special Reports From Greece:
- Greece: Alternatives to Neoliberal Capitalism – Introduction
- Greece: Action of Solidarity With Squats and Against Evictions
- Greece: Anarchists Defend Exarcheia’s Autonomous Zone From Police
- Greece: ADYE, Exarcheia’s Free Self-Organized Healthcare Clinic
- Greece: Political Prisoners Pt. 1 – Tasos Freed & Irianna Jailed (Τάσος & Ηριάννα)
- Greece: Political Prisoners Pt. 2 – Targeting of Anarchists & Autonomous Groups
- Greece: Networks of Resistance Pt. 1 – ZAD, Bure, Hambach Forest
- Greece: Networks of Resistance Pt. 2 – Infrastructure; ExarcheiaNet & Cooperativa Integral
- Greece: Alternative Economies & Community Currencies Pt. 1 - Athens Integral Cooperative
- Greece: Alternative Economies & Community Currencies Pt. 2 - Kenya’s Sarafu-Credit
- Greece: Alternative Economies & Community Currencies Pt. 3 - FairCoop
- Greece: The House of Women for Empowerment and Emancipation
- Greece’s First Housing Squat for Refugees & Migrants, Notara 26