Mon May 16th, 2011 at 05:55:20 AM EST
Last week, on my way back to Scotland, I dropped by a conference on Platform Politics at Cambridge, and met a couple of people I have been hoping to meet for a long time.
The first of these was Michel Bauwens - who is behind the Peer to Peer Foundation - and the second was Dmytri Kleiner, whose Venture Communism project on worker ownership I have often referred to on ET.
Dmytri's talk at the conference was interesting, and concerned the need for conventional Capitalism to maintain a 'Star' (super-node; intermediated ) network topology as compared to a 'Mesh' (P2P) network topology.
We subsequently had a great discussion over a drink or two, and Dmytri was enthusiastically telling me about his view that a revolution is necessary - but that the revolution might take the form of what he calls 'Insurgent Finance'.
Here's the article Dmytri wrote on Insurgent Finance on the way to the conference.
In the 70's and 80's Michael Milken was part of something rather remarkable. The son of an accountant, Milken was hardly born into old money, yet he raised billions of dollars to finance takeovers of major companies. In the process, Milken pulled in anual salaries so hefty that David Rockefeller himself called excessive, and later-day presidential hopeful Donald Trump, never himself allergic to ostentation, noted of Milken's remuneration "you can be happy on a lot less money."
Some of the companies that Milken funded where declining industrial concerns, which Milken's clients downsized, asset stripped and generaly liquidated. These clients where the "Corporate Raiders," the villains in what was popularly understood as a morality story of unrestrained greed. Other clients built new telecommunications companies, like MCI, that would become industry giants. Milken did this by way of issuing high-yield, "speculative grade" bonds, commonly derided as "Junk Bonds." Milken himself was labeled the "Junk Bond King." Milken never saw himself as a raider, and certainly not a king. The bonds that the establishment called junk, represented to Milken a democratization of Capital. Milken believed that he was a liberator that broke open the Capitalist vaults, getting Capital in the hands of a new generation of businesses that would otherwise have been shut out by the conservative old elite.
In some sense that is true. Milken helped fuel the rise of many insurgents into a previously well-heeled old guard, notably himself and the likes of Rupert Murdoch. Milken's methods opened the door for a generation of gate crashers, elbowing crudely and aggressively into the ruling class. However, in the end this only created new elites, and did not democratize capital, let alone Capitalism. Today, capital continues to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, even if there may be a little more diversity among them. Any attempt to democratize Capitalism while retaining the wage labour system will always lead to the such concentration, but I can't help but wonder could there be a Communist Michael Milken? Could the financial techniques used to fund the hostile acquisitions of the Corporate Raiders be used to fund an insurgent Venture Communism?
Several years into the Telekommunisten project I'm increasingly haunted by Marx's warning that when the proletariat undertakes "Doctrinaire" experiments like Co-operative banking, labour exchange, etc, it seeks to "bring about it's emancipation behind the back of society, in private ways, within the narrow bounds of it's class condition, and, consequently, inevitably fails."
We can not overthrow society behind its back due to the narrow opportunities available in our class condition. Bootstrapping Venture Communism has not yet happened, in large part because the proletarian members of the Telekommunisten network have no Capital, and therefor need to keep full time jobs to sustain ourselves and our families. Our part-time capacity to build new ventures is vastly insufficient to actually compete against capital funded firms. Bootstrapping Venture Communism by initiating self-funding ventures seems like more and more of a longshot for us.
Perhaps it's simple desperation driven by revolutionary zeal, but the idea of employing insurgent finance to capture and mutualize existing operating companies is very attractive, and in many ways the conditions seem simular. Interests rates are at historic lows, and investors are looking for securities with better yields, even if they come with some risk as the markets themselves are unstable. Also, the declining Industrial concerns giving way to Globalizing Industry are perhaps mirrored by declining independent Internet Service Providers and the distributed, P2P infrastructure they traded in giving way to massive conglomerates and centralized platforms. The few remaining ISPs seem like ideal targets for Venture Communist take-over. And such take overs would be supported even by those who deny class struggle, yet oppose the centralization of the internet on sharing and privacy grounds.
Will the next proletarian revolutions take place, not via violence, nor by way of ballot boxes, but on the trading floors?
Dmytri has in mind the takeover by workers of their firms financed by a conventional Junk Bond issue.
I believe that this loads the dice against the workers from the outset, and that it is possible for staff and management to acquire their firms simply by entering into production or revenue sharing 'Capital Partnerships' with investors within a suitable partnership framework agreement.
The alignment of interests between Labour and Capital in this model, and the absence of debt and compound interest will in my view enable Insurgent Financiers to wipe the floor with conventional finance.