Anarchist Cybernetics

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URL
https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/anarchist-cybernetics
Strapline
"Control and Communication in Radical Politics"

Anarchism. Cybernetics.

Came across it via Nick Sellen post on CoTech forums - https://community.coops.tech/t/experience-implementing-a-disco-distributed-cooperative-organisation/2809/7

It looks part of this ongoing question of Horizontalism vs verticalism

With a focus on communication and how alternative social media platforms present new challenges and opportunities for radical organising, it sheds new light on the concepts of self-organization, consensus decision making, individual autonomy and collective identity.

aim of this book is to illustrate in detail how a perspective taken from cybernetics and brought to anarchist organising can help show how these lessons from experience can be constructively heeded to inform future political organising.

1 Log

1.1 [2021-07-18 Sun]

Back to reading and still loving this book. The writing is clear and lucid, and it's filling in background gaps in anarchist knowledge for me, at the same time expanding in new directions around the Viable system model.

1.2 [2021-06-26 Sat]

I'm early on but enjoying it so far - lucidly written.

It's a positive view of cybernetics - about how it can provide means of self-organisation without recourse to hierarchical state.

I've not gotten there yet, but seems it'll primarily focus on Beer's Viable System Model.

Tiqqun hasn't been mentioned yet. I don't know much here but Id say any disjunct would simply come from different views of what the philosophical purpose of cybernetics is. Growth, homeostasis, or autopoesis?

1.3 [2021-06-27 Sun]

I came across VSM originally via Cybernetic Revolutionaries. It piqued my interest there as seeming like a healthy mix of the horizontal and the vertical for organising.

But in some sense in Chile, it was imposed from above. I like the idea in anarchist cybernetics that perhaps it will grow from below.

1.4 [2021-07-03 Sat]

Reading Chapter 2 I am stoked. It (briefly) mentions slime mould and bird flocks as examples of self-organisation in nature. I studied this kind of thing in Evolutionary and adaptive systems. And it mentions the potential for decentralised Political organisation afforded by the many-to-many communication of e.g. social media. Like Free, Fair and Alive this book is tying together a lot of my interests in one place.

2 Chapters

2.1 2011: The Year Everything Nothing Changed

2.2 Radical Left Organisation and Networks of Communication

2.3 Anarchism and Cybernetics: A Missed Opportunity

2.4 Communication (Part II): Building Alternative Social Media

In this chapter, I want to attempt just such an analysis of mainstream social media and a subsequent envisioning of alternative social media, a vision of the kind of digital communication platforms that might help facilitate selforganisation.

3 Thoughts

I like the VSM perspective of being an analytical tool rather than an organisation structure, seems to have a lot of power from that.

Nick Sellen, Experience implementing a DisCO (distributed cooperative organisation)? - #7 …

4 Quotes

See also backlinks - most quotes probably reside elsewhere in other page.

In society there exist basic units (individuals, associations, communes, etc.) which have to possess autonomy, and which can cooperate and federate on a voluntary basis with the other units.

The freedom that parts of an organisation have to make tactical choices, it will be suggested, is limited in important ways by both overarching strategies and grand strategies, that respectively set out the goals and worldviews of the organisation.

while these two traditions are both centrally concerned with selforganisation, they approach it in quite different ways: cybernetics from an interest in effectiveness, even efficiency; anarchism from the standpoint of social and political freedom.

I want to argue here, is that the relationship between strategy and tactics can be framed and articulated in such a way as to be wholly consistent with the ideals of selforganisation and participatory democracy that animate anarchism.

5 Elsewhere in the garden

Notes that link to this note (AKA backlinks).

At least since the Levellers, the egalitarian populist movement of mid-17th century England, who pioneered the use of pamphlets as a means of communication, radical political groups have always valued the production of media.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Often, these media have been characterised as ‘alternative media’. They are seen as separate from mainstream media, like television networks and large newspaper publishers, and are intended to communicate a group’s political message to the public.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Indeed, Jeppesen et al. define anarchist or antiauthoritarian media collectives as those that ‘establish economic and organizational forms that prefigure cooperative futures and build strong relationships with broader social movements while simultaneously creating counterhegemonic content and counterpublics around interlocking

Anarchist Cybernetics

the steering that systems undergo is not conducted by an outside agency but by the system itself and its constituent parts.

Anarchist Cybernetics

concerned how any kind of system, be that an engineering or electronic system or a biological or social system, was organised; what the different parts of the system were, what function they played; and, importantly, how they operated together to make up the whole.

Anarchist Cybernetics

if we use ‘control’ in the sense of ‘maintain a large number of critical variables within limits of tolerance’.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Occupy, in particular the original Occupy camp in the belly of the beast that is New York’s financial district, Occupy Wall Street, has become synonymous with this manifestation of radical participatory democratic decision making.

Anarchist Cybernetics

social media platforms – which have been described as 'architectures of participation'

Anarchist Cybernetics

For anarchism, then, the kind of repertoires of action that are of interest are those that aim at changing reality in the here and now, at creating alternatives to what presently exists and, where judged to be necessary, directly challenging the dominance or even existence of what exists.

Anarchist Cybernetics

While those who followed Marx in the First International argued for the development of political parties who would, either through revolution or election, seize state power, the anarchists championed the building of organisations that were prefigurative, insofar as they aimed at creating the conditions of the future society in the present.

Anarchist Cybernetics

While the Marxists saw the state as a potentially positive force that could bring about an end to economic exploitation, the anarchists challenged this, arguiing that th actions of teh sate, whether controlled by capitalists or by socialist revolutionaries, would inevitably create forms of authoritarian domination.

Anarchist Cybernetics

the attempt in the mid-1860s to bring together a range of leftwing groups across the world

Anarchist Cybernetics

fell apart because of a conflict between those who followed Karl Marx and argued that taking over government and seizing state power are central to building communism and the anarchists who sided with Mikhail Bakunin and his belief that revolution could only come about by building the desired future society in the present.

Anarchist Cybernetics

For anarchism, then, the kind of repertoires of action that are of interest are those that aim at changing reality in the here and now, at creating alternatives to what presently exists and, where judged to be necessary, directly challenging the dominance or even existence of what exists.

Anarchist Cybernetics

A sticking point in anarchist theory and practice, at least since the alterglobalisation movement’s prominence around the turn of the millennium, has been whether the concept of strategy can be applied to anarchism or whether anarchism is, or ought to be in principle, purely tactical.

Anarchist Cybernetics

in the language of Beer’s cybernetics and the VSM, the strategic function in an organisation is concerned with regulating the overall behaviour of the organisation in line with defined goals and in response to change both inside and outside the organisation.

Anarchist Cybernetics

First, strategy should operate to frame tactical action within the overall goals of the organisation. Second, strategy should be informed by the anarchist politics of selforganisation and participatory democracy discussed throughout this book so far. Third, strategy should be flexible and responsive to change.

Anarchist Cybernetics

strategy is concerned with both what is happening in the moment inside the organisation and how best to regulate it to achieve set goals as well as what is happening outside in the external environment and with respect to the possible futures of the organisation.

Anarchist Cybernetics

the tactics of anarchist organising cover this range of collective actions that, in one way or another, enact the ideals of anarchist politics – a concept called ‘prefiguration

Anarchist Cybernetics

strategy is concerned with both what is happening in the moment inside the organisation and how best to regulate it to achieve set goals as well as what is happening outside in the external environment and with respect to the possible futures of the organisation.

Anarchist Cybernetics

anarchism represents a theorisation of how society can be structured to enable liberty and solidarity, a society based on the principle of mutual aid, where the needs of all are met through cooperation and the sharing of resources.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Nonetheless, anarchism has always been centrally concerned with self-organisation, with how groups of people can collectively govern themselves and make decisions about how they want to exist as a community.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Anarchism emerged, as Ruth Kinna and Alex Prichard argue, in the 19th century, from a critique of slavery and private property, and how both were made possible by the state.

Anarchist Cybernetics

tactics as that which focuses on specific engagements and strategy as that which brings those engagements together in working towards a common goal.

Anarchist Cybernetics

2011 was supposed to be the year when everything changed. Protests erupted across the planet, largely as a response to the worsening economic situation that followed the 2007– 08 financial crash.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Direct action, as a method of anarchism, involves those who are exploited and dominated acting for themselves, to change their situations in ways that do not depend on the goodwill or charity of others.

Anarchist Cybernetics

direct action in the anarchist tradition as action that ‘refers to practical prefigurative activity carried out by subjugated groups in order to lessen or vanquish their own oppression’

Anarchist Cybernetics

Occupy Wall Street illustrates one way in which a functional hierarchy can be maintained in an organisation which aims to have a nonhierarchical (in terms of structural or anatomical hierarchy) structure.

Anarchist Cybernetics

According to McEwan, the concept of anatomical hierarchy refers to what we normally understand by the term ‘hierarchy’: different levels in an organisation with a chain of command running between then and with lower levels subordinate to higher ones. This is hierarchy within the structure or anatomy of an organisation, hence McEwan calling it anatomical. Functional hierarchy, on the other hand, concerns a situation where ‘there are two or more levels of information structure operating in the system’

Anarchist Cybernetics

prefiguration refers to the means or methods of political action mirroring its ends or goals and thus reflecting the values that underpin them.

Anarchist Cybernetics

prefiguration is a practice, something that people do, and not just an abstract political concept.

Anarchist Cybernetics

It is often summed up by reference to the Industrial Workers of the World slogan ‘building a new world in the shell of the old’ [Build the new world in the shell of the old] and its origins are to be found in the anarchist tradition from the late 19th century onwards.

Anarchist Cybernetics

practising prefiguration has meant always trying to make the process we use to achieve our immediate goals an embodiment of our ultimate goals, so that there is no distinction between how we fight and what we fight for, at least not where the ultimate goals of a radically different society is concerned.

Anarchist Cybernetics

He explains that System Three is concerned with the ‘inside and now’ of the organisation and System Four with the ‘outside and then’ ([1979] 1994). This mirrors how strategy is defined by scholars of organisation theory (for example, Carter et al., 2008),

Anarchist Cybernetics

System Five, where overarching goals and political strategy is developed, is something that ought to be rooted in everyone involved in the system.

Anarchist Cybernetics

The agorae and assemblies of Ancient Greece could similarly be understood as facilitating forms of many-to-many communication, and doing so in ways that, albeit imperfectly, embody some of the democratic processes common to anarchist and radical politics

Anarchist Cybernetics

Traditional marketplaces, sports stadiums, graffiti and community notice boards can all be seen as instances of many-to-many communication

Anarchist Cybernetics

What these have in common are both their origins –​ in various ways, responses to the financial crisis of 2008, the political crisis of (the absence of) democracy and the connections between these – and many of their methods –​ the occupation of public space, experimenting with forms of direct, participatory democracy and the creation of networks of mutual aid.

Anarchist Cybernetics

Social media, in so far as it creates an environment in which decentralised and dispersed communication networks can function, is one of the key architectures that allow for many-to-many communication; and to the extent that these networked organisation forms mirror the kind of organisation anarchism is concerned with, social media can be explored as providing potential sites for anarchist politics.

Anarchist Cybernetics

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