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Transnational Cooperation: How to Live, Organize and Grow Transnationally

Draft for a talk in the US national worker’s cooperative conference.

The origins of the international world

Imagine the world in the times of the colonial empires. We are back in eighteenth century. No national identity were still defined. The middle european person sees in all its life time only a hundred different faces.

The Post (postas in Spanish and Portuguese, la Poste in French) was the main interlocal communication. Based in horse and merchantships routes, it reproduces the architecture of monarchic absolute power: the strictly centralized network of the king’s taxation system. If you wanted to send a letter from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro it should travel through Lisbon. Any direct communication between different colonies in the Portuguese Empire was forbbiden.

Topologías de red

The king’s representatives in the colonies were living an specular live: New England, New York, Nueva España, Noveau France… The New World original expectation was to reproduce, with the Atlantic Ocean as a mirror, the metropolitan life.

But in the eighteenth century many of this royal bourocrats were born in the colonies, and in oposition to Europe, when they represented the territory they have to administer in a map, there were no feudal boundaries, no priviledged counties nor nobility differences. There were just “unexplored countries“. In the begginings of the Conquest this regions were fullfilledt with monsters, leyends and even fictional characters of cavalry fashionable novels. But in the eighteenth century, under the rationalist influx, krakens, amazons and giants as Primaleon‘s Patagon suffer an serious unnemployment crisis, and the colony maps started to represent the unexplored lands as empty surfaces, only fulfilled by an homogeneous colour. Unconnected with the colonial main city, usually a sea haven linked to the metropolis, this homogeneous territory semt to be irradiated from the colonial capital. Unabled to serve in the metropolis, confined into the colony, to this american born colonial bourocrats, the country land appears as a destiny by very first time.

Common destiny and homogeneity: here we have the true bases for nationalist narrative and the very origins of the puzzled world map made of coloured nation states we have grown with.

When in 1779 revolution came to France, the first political organizations, les clubs as the jacobine club, selforganized from the same post centralized structure. The clubs had a center, a national center, and correspondants in the province. Communication between local correspondants were filtered by the center, keeper of the political identity of the party. And when revolutionaries took power, the resultant state structure, known until today as jacobine state recreated again the same infomational architecture arround the national capital.

When the telegraph originally appeared it was just a substitute for this national centralized structure, but when in 1851 a telegraphic cable linked Paris and London, the informational architecture of the world suddenly changed. Connecting almost instantaneously the national centralized networks the global result was a first global decentralized network of online communication, what Tom Standage called the Victorian Internet.

The telegraph became soon the skeleton of the very first international world and the neural tissue of the internationalization of Economy… and social conflicts. When british industrial owners faced with the first workers unionism, they started to use telegraph for subcontracting production in France during strikes. Then british unions called for the first International Conference of progressive organizations: the 1865 meeting at Sant Martin’s Hall were Marx, Bakunin and mistic italian nationalist Mazzini -the truly star of the event- founded the International Workingmen’s Association, the first International.

Communication architecture and identity

When in 1895 Edward Vansittart Neale and the Christian Socialists, founded the ICA the decentralized model was well stablished not only between national organizations but was spreading inside national organizations. Federalism was the word of the times. It develloped the multilevel filtered, representative model through the state itself and configured the standard for any kind of organization from industrial firms to the scout movement. The informational structure of the world of the nations was a global decentralized network… indeed the telegraph network.

How Internet hacked national boundaries

Telegraph revolutioned not only the speed and range of communication but the political structure of the world from local identity and royal power towards national identities inside a decentralized managed national state. Along the european and latinamerican XIXth century civil wars, local, religious and lineage identities were subdued to nationality.

Only when Internet quickly grows during the XXth century ninenties things, and identity boundaries, starts changing, drawing a transnational world.

In Internet, when conversations take place in languages such as French, Spanish, or Arabic, they become transnational with great ease. Only 2 out of every 5 people who write in French on the Internet live in France. More than half the readers of any Madrid website with more than 1000 visitors per day are in Latin America. Arabic in the Western islamic world has gone, in ten years, from being a religious language superimposed onto regional, almost mutually unintelligible varieties (Moroccan, Algerian, etc.), to having a standard that is gradually reunifying the local dialects: Al Jazeera Arabic.

Virtual communities arise in new spaces, the spaces of the various globalisations associated with the great transnational languages. The main players in these communities belong to two generations that have grown up with Himanen’s hacker ethic: the network logic of abundance and the work ethic of free software are the glue that binds the blogosphere. The result: conversational communities, identitarian, transnational non-hierarchical tribes, based on the powerful incentive that is recognition.

The idea of Phyle

Let us place these communities in the midst of the whirlwind that is a world where national states are sinking and the globalisation of the economy is eroding all the good old institutions that used to make people feel secure. Some of these communities will wish to have their own economy, community companies and common funds.

That’s what is called Phyle. It has two key elements: to possess a transnational identity, and to subordinate companies to community and even personal needs.

Phyles are “order attractors” in a domain which national states cannot reach conceptually and in areas that states increasingly leave in the dark: phyles invest in social cohesion, sometimes even creating infrastructures, providing grants and training, and having their own NGOs. Transnational thinking allows them to access the new globalised business before anyone else. A phyle’s investment portfolio may range from renewable energies to free software initiatives and credit cooperatives. The bet is based on two simple ideas. First: a global market community is more resilient than the “classic” capitalist company. Second: organization is thought and develloped under the transnational principle.

Transnational vs International

But transnational is not international. The Inter prefix means between. Any international relation is a relation between nations. The real persons taking part in it are redefined then as representatives of a particular identity inside of their respective national states.

When you take part in an international event -as ICA‘s- you are accepting to be formated in the national baking pan of states’ identities. When you start working, trading or making social work outside your original national state limits with an international perspective, you are no more than recreating the social, sexual, racial boundaries and filters saved by the national state whoes passport you accept. So, any international relation reenforces national clustering and the relations of power you suffer inside the national state.

From an informational architecture point of view the international approach means you are accepting a decentralized network architecture. We are here back in the world of telegraph, back to the world map painted as a puzzle of homogeneous pieces and interconnected through a scale and hierarchy of representatives with filtering power.

Transnational means no delegation of identity, means not to base who you personal and collectively are according to the federative principle paralel to national state building.

In las Indias we are not Spanish and Uruguayan cooperatives who work in seven countries and have Spanish, Uruguayan, Argentinian and Venezuelan members. We are only one community with only one common structure. Members, obviously have a national passport, but also deny any national identity or make any national difference between them.

How to become transnational

  1. Discover your own material culture. You are members of a worker’s co-op. What ideas about your own work, about the way of making your products did you develloped together? In other words, what did you learn? How did it change your organizational system? That are your origins. Refund your co-op writing all of it in a wiki. Doing it you will probably discover that you share not only a material culture but a common point of view on the world. You share values and identity in a deeper way than you thought.
  2. Blog it and open yourself to discussion. Blog your points of view in your personal blogs, use an aggregation blog for representing your co-op through the words of all it members. Comment the blog posts every morning with your compañeros and with this consensus write also an official blog expressing the co-op’s point of view about what is interesting for the community of co-operativists. Look for other blogs in those subjects all arround de world. Link them, comment them, discuss with them. Learn from them.
  3. Travel to the persons, visit the co-ops. Organize events. Invite interesting people you found to give conferences, show them your co-op model and experience. Travel to know them. Organize co-op parties and celebrations, open your doors those days and in the other hand provide travel funds for your members in order to visit other co-ops and possible markets.

After this simple program, your address book will be probably bigger but also people will look to your co-op not only as a “place of work” but as a project, a way of living with its own point of view, with its own identity. And the people who will apply to your co-op will do it not just looking for a job, but simpathizing with your co-op model.

And if you do it well, with no prejudices, you will probably discover a new enviroment for you co-op that will not be national defined. Soon you will start receiving applications for working from people in many different cities and town in the world. They will probably share the language you write your blogs in, but also the horizon you build in your community.

How to organize transnationally

  1. Selling and buying with your enviroment online. Organize your enviroment as an online social network. We are programming a free software distributed tool who will make it easyer and wider. It will be publicly introduced in january, until this moment will not be so bad having a look to your address book and just email who you think could be interested
  2. Making expeditions, looking for opportunities. To know people in co-ops and local firms worldwide allows you to honour them as your honorary consuls in order to be introduced to local markets and to find new local partners and customers. Of course, you will have to make it for them too at your original basecamp :). Organizing sponsorable talks, conferences and meetings use to be an way to make it easyer and cheaper.
  3. Make your own news agenda. Once you step in a new place, read it press on daily bases. Study its traditions, history, problems and culture. Make of it a cultural inmersion… and never stop reading and lerning about them.
  4. Redefine local. Co-ops create value for their social enviroment… but never forget that your enviroment is wherever the conversation that influx your organization takes place. So redefine your social work and responsability. Multifocus it. Ask yourself if your way of making it is patronizing people in the poorest places you have arrived to, or if you really feel it in the same way you will feel the town you were born if it had the same problems.
  5. Creating local firms. Usually creating a local firm is the simplyest way to devellop your work under a new state. It will make easyer to reinvest locally and to buy and sell in the local market… but never forget your community of workers is only one. Dont make differences. All your co-op members should be members of your mother coop, the local firms you create overseas could be owned by the coop itself or shared with local investors or whoever.
  6. Opening fondachi. Fondachi was the italian name for the complex that the maritime republics as Venetia or Genova opened in the main Mediterranean havens during the commertial revolution. They had appartments, lodges, warehouses… everything needed during the passagium, the part of the year expended in the commertial routes every year by italian merchants.

    Once you have stablish regular activity in more than one country you will need to have your own residential, social and commertial structure too. Usually is cheaper than a combination of hotel and business center and it projects the idea of pemanence and continuity, allowing you to stablish a basecamp for your socialwork too.

  7. Organizing passagium. Living transnationally is mainly mental and it means not to accept the national public agenda as the only horizon for discussion and thought. But at the end of the day, when you devellop economic and social activity in many countries and when for many of your co-members coming back to their parents home por celebrations means crossing an ocean, you will have to order the phisical side of transnationalization. Some co-ops prefer to organize an specialized group of members, a kind of diplomatic group. In las Indias we all travel along the year, we have a season, our passagium, for develloping our activity in cities different to everyone’s usual residence.

How to live transnationally

  1. You have became a single community of people who has a transnational co-op. Your community boundaries are no longer inside state frontiers: your people don’t share the same passport, your enviroment is spread over the world, you have different tax duties, cooperation iniciatives and partners in different regions… but only one group of members. So think and act as only one community. It means first of all loyalty of the economic tools to the members needs. Second, responsability with the real persons in every enviroment you work in. Sometimes focusing in your real enviroment could be in contradiction with national, ethnic or any other abstract imaginary. So, forget imaginaries: your collective priority is allways real people arround you, specially your own co-members, not abstract duties or feelings with imagined communities.
  2. Language matters. There are cultural and language borders more important than national borders: they matter for commertial dealing but also for every day’s chatting. Growing transnationally has a limit: not to loose the very bases of internal democracy, the equallity in deliberation and decission making processes. So, naturally your main border is your language, or a set of very close shared languages.
  3. Transnational culture. Transnationalization doesn’t mean deculturization -adopting a kind of culture of minimums- nor multiculturalization -changing internal national divisions by cultural boundaries- but to become collectively owners and conscient builders of a mixed, diverse culture born from different personal backgrounds and common experience.

Conclusions

XIXth and XXth century cooperativism was a child of decentralized, hierarchical, national world. But in this century, thanks to a new emerging informational architecture -the distributed network- new models defined by transnationality are being experienced.

Transnationality is as oposed to typical internationalist pyramids as it is oposed to localism. Empowers cooperatives through more member’s origin diversity, wider public discussion and more ambitious enviromental duties. But it demands a more cohesive definition of the community of co-op members, who have to consciently devellop stronger deliberative processes and become conscient of their own material culture and common values. Transnationalization demands from us not only to open ourselves to the difference but to reject the preformated identities defined inside the nation. It demands from us to focus in a smaller but geographicly wider community of real people you can name one by one.

Transnationality is a narrative of few imagination -as you don’t imagine your fellows, you just know them. A narrative of few representation, as is based in personal interactions and collective deliberation but not in delegation. Transnationality is not a narrative about a promise, but about compromise and real experiences. And of course, it’s not about historical peoples, gigantic organizations or heroic masses. But in its modesty has an every day reality of liberation, crossing the borders of national identities and prejudices. It has more of the lyric of artisans, than of the epics of politics. And because all this it’s not an utopia, but an emerging reality that deserves to be lived.

«Transnational Cooperation: How to Live, Organize and Grow Transnationally» recibió 0 desde que se publicó el sábado 17 de julio de 2010 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte.

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