Interview for Radek (Russia)

OK: how do you see the role of PGOs in the whole field of politics?

GL: These days it is an easy job to come up with an objective analysis of the role that ever growing PGO industry is playing. They are evil, destroy the welfare/social policies which actually should be done by the state, are not accountable, etc. PGOs are both product and compensation for the neo-liberal policies. See George Soros. In fact he is trying to repair damage done by Wall Street. This is specially the case for his programs within the USA, not so much for his work in Eastern Europe. But even there is will increasing by the case (specially in the next decade). Charity and ‘civil society’ will have to compensate for the destruction of the global market. The former Eastern block is now leaving the post-communist period of ‘transition’, and entering some other, yet unknown era. Let us not give it a name yet. NGOs in this era will be our ‘natural environment’, I fear, whether we like it or not. Or do see other, less functionalistic, lose structures emerging?

OK: and what about the NGOs, Non-Governmental Organizations? However we call them, how do you see the role of campaigns, left-wing activisms, their effectivity and their true role at the field of politics? can they do something? do they have a chance to become an importrant factor of politics, maybe in the next decade?

GL: The actual influence of such groups is decreasing of course, compared to previous decades. There are less social movements and political activities in general, I mean ones that are more or less radical. Perhaps many of the groups have now overcome their sectarian behaviour. Political groups these days perhaps understand more about today’s visual language and the ways in which media operate. But this ‘knowledge for all’ is now coming too late. We can now see this dream of the political activist who is also contemporary artist and media worker realized. But then situated within a social vacuum. Most movements lack any mass basis, perhaps except for nationalism and ecology. But I am not depressed by all this. I think it should even go worse. All traditions and bad habits of the old left and communist parties should be wiped out, forgotten, rejected, condamned. Only then, when all ruins are cleared a reconstruction of the left can start. In the meanwhile we just have to survive under the spell of NGOism plus media.

OK: does it concern your own experience with campaigning as well? how did you start to deal with it, what do you consider the most important outcomes of this work? why do you think Amsterdam became such a centre of political, net and media activities?

GL: Outcomes? The N5M3 conference last March was an outcome, no? There is not an awfull lot of theorizing being done on the topic of campaigning (see: Partially because campaigns, for me, are a sign of political poverty. Campaigns are vectors, compressed work, a clearly targetted cluster of actions, done by a relatively small group of people, with a proportially high element of virtualization in it. This all relates to the question of strategy. And would would like to discuss strategies these days? Of what? Concerning Amsterdam… I am not working for the Amsterdam tourist office. Nor I am particularly proud of my place of birth. It is a small city, full of individualists who hardly know each other, no scene in the bigger sense, ruled by fierce pragmatism, and deeply anti-intellectual. It is a good hub. An cozy 17th Century Disneyland, dominated by traders and clergymen, like in the old days. I myself am too much involved in this ‘Dutch Digital Imperialism’ to give you a clear analysis on that matter. Indeed, its a successfull concept industry.

OK: why do you give so much attention to the “tactical”, not “strategical”, goals of campaigning?

GL: Because there are not that many goals and strategies people have in common these days. At least not in the former Western countries, or I do not meet the true comrades… The nineties have been a period of weak politics, of few social movements, a declining, suffering melancholic left, refusing to deal with the huge crimes and destruction the ‘real existing socialism’ has caused. A strategy can only be formulated by a, more of less, homogeneous group, a small party, revolutionary cell, whatever. As these entities do not exist, we have to accept the fact that we have survived this period in lose, temporary coalitions which cannot go beyond ‘tactics’. I am not referring to the military meaning of the concept here (of course I know it exists). In the meanwhile, I think, activists and fellow artists, designers etc. have the possibility now to get more familiar with technology, new media, etc. so that we can overcome the fear for these tools and ways of expression and close the gap between technology and politics, as far as possible. That is at least my motivation behind the use of this term ‘tactical media’. How would like to discuss strategies these days? Of what?

OK: I am confused, for I thought the campaigns and the NGOs are the hottest topics of the day, and I was very enthusiastic about them. I consider the campaigns and the minimal NGOs (together with “social movements”) to be a real alternative to the traditional party politics. what do you think can be effective then? The mass movements or…? Could you give some examples? What do you think of the electronic civil disobedience concept?

GL: The critique of political parties is now at least 25 years old, at least in Western Europe. It emerged from 1968 into the formation of the so-called ‘new social movements’ (ecology, feminism, third worldism etc.) as a critique on marxist obsession with the state, its organs and their very limited definition of power, being only legalistic structures. Of course the anarchist critique on parliamentarism is going back to 1848… But there a lot of the strings have been cut off in the thirties and fourties. But then these extra parlementarian movements in their turn have been institutionalized in the early nineties and turned into much smaller semi-professional, media driven NGO structures. They lost contact with the shrinking grass roots basis and the younger techno/rave generations. The leftists of the eighties could not deal with the yuppies and neo-liberal violence and withdrew into their parallel goodwill offices and small research centers. Now, then years after glasnost and the wall, we are entering a new phase, accompanied by the paradigm of the (trans) local network. Electronic Civil Disobedience, as a concept, is a slightly avant gardist position, which again responds to the ‘virtual condition’ of many political initiatives and society as a whole. ECD is an attempt to get over the electronic solitude of today’s terminal workers and media activists. How to create a critical mass within the electronic networks? How can we overcome the potentially regressive, reactionairy position of the ‘return to the real’ (the street etc.).

OK: what do you think about the huge leftist insitutions then, like ASEED, EYFA, PGA, about the dinosaurs doing this international caravan and all the things of this sort? the things grouping around “digital Amsterdam” (i mean mailing-lists, campaigns, magazines…) seem far more advanced – is it a gap of generations, or just the separate cultures?

GL: I do not think this is a matter of generations. The organizations you mentioned have, or still have, an ambivalent position towards the use of technology. The difference you are referring to here is not new. At the end of eighties there was already a shift between hackers with a political agenda, and the NGO-type of third world-eco activists using internet and bulletin boards systems. The essence of this could go back to the following question: do we organize a rich, diverse digital culture, giving access for all, or do we only concentrate our efforts on the small NGO type of grassroots organization (access for us). APC ( or xs4all? In the first case you do not have to deal with artists, hackers, techno tribes and other vague type of cultural workers and small enterpreneurs. Here, in Amsterdam we have chosen for a diverse media infrastructure of autonomous entities, of free radios, public access video and cable groups, technical phreaks that all have an explicit interest in the working (posibilities AND limits) of the media themselves. The other activist strategy is less interested in these immanent, self-referential aspects. They are just using the technology in an instrumental way. That might be an explanation why their use is so boring and mainstream. They are much more content driven. These are interesting, small differences with big consequences, once the digital universe really start to explode, which happened in our case in 93-94.

OK: You’re deeply involved into the theoretization of media and resistance. do you see any theory which could play a role of Marxism for today? seems like the Sassen’s and Castells’s concepts are not very appropriate for they’re borrowed from these theoreticians neoliberal by spirit. does contemporary resistance come into the relatioships with the theory similar to ones all the previous generations did? or does it reformulate these relationships?

GL: Obviously theory does not have a similar importance for today’s generation. This even counts for me, the class of 77 so to say, the punk and new wave generation. Intellectuals no longer show us the way. These days others are producing the leading metaphors and concepts. The sources are now to be found in music and film, tv and internet, not in the debates you can read in magazines or daily newspaper, let alone in books. Perhaps this is different in Russia, I wonder… Theory is just one source of inspiration, no longer the absolute reference. This also counts for the rare forms of current marxism which exists here and there. But the resistance cannot be successful, or even exist without theory. All direct action and its related media work operate with very specific discourses. Actions are expressions of concepts, public manifestations of (critical) ideas. And all these ideas have their specific histories and contexts. If you participate in June 18 or PGA you operate with a particular definition of global capitalism and the role of financial markets in all that. Sassen and Castells can be useful for that, but they do not come up with (media activist) strategies. We have to do that ourselves. Very few academics, which are deeply involved into research, are actually posing the strategy question in the first place. Perhaps because they have lost any idea about political subjects in general. By the way, this does not count for someone like Saskia Sassen. She is very involved in actual social movement. Exactly she is very rare exception.

OK: You were more sceptical towards new techologies, at least once, as far as i remember, in an interview where you said: all these technologies are left to us by the militaries, they’re already garbaged by them. so, can’t we apply an expression “the medium is the message” to this topic? do you think online gives us freedom and effectiveness without corrupting or polluting a communication? which other dangers does it potentially have?

GL: this the age of internet economics, where the development of these communication tools and virtual environments is dominated by short-term, profit driven companies, who would not care less about decentralized systems, privacy, user democracy etc. In the end the corporations will most happy with strict government regulations. This all despite their liberal cyber ideology. Commercialism plus regulation will be the only guarantee for their longterm growth. In that sense I am sceptical, yes. I think that we constantly have to defend and re-invent freedom. The open, decentralized, democratic systems – the old school internet value – are not god-given. True, all technologies are of militairy origin. But that should not disencourage us from mis-using high tech, connecting old and new machines, and passions. Take the waves, start casting.

OK: Can you briefly tell, what is a community media resistance addresses to, what are the highlights of its history, what you think it can be like in the future.

GL: We all know that the computer is a hippy machine by nature, developed of course by the military, then quick after that came the big corporations, supported by the academic world. But the machine logic we deal with, mostly, has a lot of its roots in the vietnam period and the alternative sub-cultures from that time. This was still the case in the mid-late eighties. so the contradiction corporate computerworld versus resistance is a false one. We can also say that anti-technology attitudes can be found in many circles as well, like in the aristocratic elites, the well off middle class with its sophisticated tastes for opera and modern painting, and of course the green-alternative movements. It all defines was is, and could be net.resistance these days. So the shrunken leftist leftovers have had big suspicions against the PC and then the Internet, so this why they are still busy with html, putting their content on-line. but that’s fine. content and lists, living networks of people are essential. without that net.activism will soon get that liberal, lonely cowboy-type, monadic character (of the closed cell). I think net.activism can learn a lot from what happened with the first generations of computer hackers, in the eighties, in terms of the relation between the lonely guy, tending to criminal behaviour (destroying data of innocent people, hospitals etc.) and a higher form of hacking, the community approach, which is guided by an ethics. Otherwise it will quickly become destructive, and boring. Resistance these days should try to overcome useless contradictions such as ‘the street’ and ‘the net’. It will be much more hybrid, anyway. technology is invading the public spere, and it is up to us to reverse that process as well, to create public arenas with the netscapes. It is only there that a really interesants, seductive, playful resistance can unfold itself. Otherwise it will get stuck on the heroic hit-and-run level. I still like the old school of stealing and publicize sensitive data. Recently, Amsterdam squatters went into the office of a real estate speculator and stole his harddrive, put the entire content on a site, left it there for a day or so for people to download, and then it disappeared again.

OK: how to look for the enemy? the old generations of anarchists considered the state to be the main target for attacks, the other leftists raised their fingers showing at the capital holders, and all they seem bankrupted for now. I mean, how to choose what to struggle against, especially in cyberspace? is an enemy visible or virtualized?

GL: You will find out soon enough if you squat your first house, office or factory. Or open your first pirate radio station, or club. Or publish sensitive information on the Net. It could as be the new maffia middle class, third way infocrats, slick yuppies, old time stalinists, whoever. The strategy should not be boiled down to an abstract friend-foe analysis. This is the time of temporary coalitions, I think. With so little going on it is dangerous, specially for yourself, to go for some straight forward dogmatism. There must be something to laugh about! Making yourself irrelevant, and invisible for a while wouldn’t be a bad idea. And make of yourself. This gives you the freedom to build up something which will not immediately be exposed to the media, and other, more violent forces. You can’t act in the long term if you are only virtual, without social structures, friends, networks, buildings, a bit of money and a seductive, inviting, open structure. Without that you are lost. The enemy will give you a knockout in the first round. This all will emerge from new networks, but will not by definition remain a lose network. Remember that it is very hard to maintain and further develop serious commitments within these lose structures of mailinglists, festivals, websites, conferences, chats, etc. The media question is a key question in our societies. But in a broader perspective it is just one of many. Social exclusion and its reactionairy responses will not be encountered through large doses of information. The infowars we are now see emerging are just extensions of the cold war with other means. These are very indirect, remote games. Pure tactics. The infowar arsenal will neither help us to define the enemy, nor should it become the prime strategy. Indeed, all power goes virtual. But this does not not mean that we should therefor return to real, nor should we follow the same path. Cyberspace can easily become a trap. And the so-called ‘reality’ as easily a nostalgic, touristic option. It could perhaps be better to localize ourselves for a while on the hubs, the interfaces, the Schnittstellen der Macht.