Pirate Assemblages: The Global Politics of Anonymous, the Pirate Parties and Radical P2P Communities

A book edited by

Marco Deseriis, Northeastern University
Carolin Wiedemann, University of Hamburg

Proposal Submission Deadline: August 31, 2012

anonymous in Rome

In May 2006, the Swedish police raided and seized The Pirate Bay’s servers in Stockholm for copyright infringement. As a result, the newborn Swedish Pirate Party saw a membership surge, received 7% of the vote in the European Parliament election of 2009, and spearheaded the Pirate Parties International, a network of political parties that fight for copyright reform, open source governance, and the civil right to privacy in the information society. Recently, the German Pirate Party has dubbed the success of its Swedish counterpart in four different German state elections.

In October 2010, the hacktivist network Anonymous launched Operation Payback, a series of distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against anti-piracy organizations and government agencies that were held responsible for the outage of The Pirate Bay. In an open letter to Anonymous, the US and UK Pirate Parties invited the hacktivist movement to cease the attacks and “choose a more moderate and legal way” to pursue the struggle for copyright reform. Although Anonymous, the Pirate Parties, and other social movements for direct democracy may not always agree on their tactics they all consider the peer-to-peer exchange of information amongst all human beings as fundamental to the communal organization of a free and open society.

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By Marco Deseriis and Jodi Dean

Originally published by Possible Futures, a project of the Social Science Research Council.

The question of demands infused the initial weeks and months of Occupy Wall Street with the endless opening of desire. Nearly unbearable, the absence of demands concentrated interest, fear, expectation, and hope in the movement. What did they want? What could they want? Commentators have been nearly hysterical in their demand for demands: somebody has got to say what Occupy Wall Street wants! In part because of the excitement accumulating around the gap the movement opened up in the deadlocked US political scene—having done the impossible in creating a new political force it seemed as if the movement might even demand the impossible—many of those in and around Occupy Wall Street have also treated the absence of demands as a benefit, a strength. Commentators and protesters alike thus give the impression that the movement’s inability to agree upon demands and a shared political line is a conscious choice.

Anyone who is familiar with the internal dynamics of the movement knows that this is not the case. Even if some occupations have released lists of demands, the entire question is bitterly contested in New York, where only independent organizations such as labor unions have released their own demands. In this essay, we claim that far from being a strength, the lack of demands reflects the weak ideological core of the movement. We also claim that demands should not be approached tactically but strategically, that is, they should be grounded in a long-term view of the political goals of the movement, a view that is currently lacking. Accordingly, in the second part of this text, we argue that this strategic view should be grounded in a politics of the commons. Before addressing the politics of the commons, however, we dispel three common objections that are raised against demands during general assemblies, meetings, and conversations people have about the Occupy movement.

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On January 20-21, the Duke University Program in Literature will be hosting the Marxism and New Media conference. I will be presenting a paper titled “Is Anonymous a New Form of Luddism?” which argues that while on a superficial level nothing seems more remote than a movement of machine-breakers and a network of hackers, in actual fact the two have many things in common. What follows is the abstract of the paper.

Operation Luddite While Luddism is commonly associated with a technophobic attitude, historians of the labor movement agree that the English Luddites did not reject technology as such, but the introduction of new labor-saving machines in the textile industry. Further, recent historiography has shown how by taking their name from a fictional eponymous leader, the Luddites invented a sophisticated rhetorical strategy aimed at empowering different segments of the English working class.

This paper draws from this nuanced reading of Luddism to discover analogies and differences between the hacker network Anonymous and the Luddite movement. Three important analogies are first considered: 1) If Luddism emerged at the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Anonymous appears in the early stages of informational capitalism, that is, both movements can be read as a self-organized response of specific sectors of the working class to a radical restructuring of the relations of production; 2) Both the Luddites and the Anonymous subjectivity express themselves by means of a collective pseudonym—what I call an “improper name”—whose symbolic power is appropriated by various groups and individuals to advance a diversified set of demands; 3) Both Anonymous and the Luddites direct their attacks against a specific kind of machines and technologies.

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The folks at Curating Youtube have come up with the brilliant idea of curating the Anonymous’ video archive on Youtube by putting together an online exhibition of their video announcements since 2007. The exhibition is titled Anonymous: A Shared Online Identity in the Era of a Global Networked Society:

Anonymous: A Shared Online Identity

Puerta del Sol - May 15, 2011On September 30, Eric Kleutenberg of Tactical Media Files will facilitate an international seminar at De Balie in Amsterdam on the recent outbursts of social protest and their media strategies. The seminar is titled “Media Squares: On the New Forms of Protest and their Media” and brings together media activists, critics, artists and political scientists from the Netherlands, Southern Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S. Here is my response to the seminar announcement posted to the mailing list nettime:

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This semester I am teaching a class at Lang, titled Mediated Subjectivity: Politics and Subjectivity in the Networked Public Sphere.

Course Description

With their emphasis on constant sharing and updating, social network sites, blogging platforms, photo and video sharing services, are reshaping contemporary culture by providing virtually infinite opportunities for self-expression and conversation. While theorists such as Lawrence Lessig, Henry Jenkins, Clay Shirky, and Yochai Benkler celebrate the democratic potential embedded in online participatory culture, political scientists and philosophers such as Cass Sunstein, Slavoj Zizek and Jodi Dean maintain that the echo chamber effect of social media as well as the possibility of realizing one’s fantasies in digital environments have the unintended effect of obfuscating actual power structures and therefore our ability to act upon them. By addressing this bifurcation in contemporary theorizations of cyberculture, the course analyzes online participatory culture not only for its content but also as an extension of the media that enable it. In particular we will be asking what kind of forms of subjectivity are set in motion by media that demand users to provide constant responses, sharing, and updates. Further, students will have the opportunity to test these critical and theoretical problems by analyzing web-based phenomena such as online role-playing games, social network sites, blogs, viral videos, image boards, and news aggregators.

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Cultural Activism Front CoverAnother collection of scholarly essays on the intersection of art and activism, with a specific focus on social movements. Edited by Begum O. Firat and Aylin Kuryel as part of Rodopi’s Thamyris/Intersecting series, it features articles by Gavin Grindon, A. K. Thompson, L. M. Bogad, and myself (on the Luther Blissett Project) among others. From the synopsis:

“This volume addresses contemporary activist practices that aim to interrupt and reorient politics as well as culture. The specific tactics analyzed here are diverse, ranging from culture jamming, sousveillance, media hoaxing, adbusting, subvertising, street art, to hacktivism, billboard liberation, and urban guerilla, to name but a few. Though indebted to the artistic and political movements of the past, this form of activism brings a novel dimension to public protest with its insistence on humor, playfulness, and confusion. This book attempts to grasp both the old and new aspects of contemporary activist practices, as well as their common characteristics and internal varieties. It attempts to open up space for the acknowledgement of the ways in which contemporary capitalism affects all our lives, and for the reflection on possible modes of struggling with it. It focuses on the possibilities that different activist tactics enable, the ways in which those may be innovative or destructive, as well as on their complications and dilemmas.”

The PDF of my article is available here. Other articles can be downloaded from the Ingenta Connect database. The book is also available from Amazon.

The folks at NAi–an awesome publishing house based in Rotterdam– have just released a new book on art and activism. Edited by Lieven de Cauter, Rubben de Roo and Karel Vanhaesebrouck, the book contains 31 articles with contributions by Rosi Braidotti, Pippo Del Bono, Richard Schechner, Brian Holmes, BAVO, John Jordan, and myself, among others. Hopefully, reading it will be as captivating as the amazing front cover:

Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization - Front Cover

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

A couple of days ago American clothing designer Kenneth Cole posted a tweet to promote his spring line that read:

Kenneth Cole Twitter

Note that the tweet is signed “-KC,” which means that it was either penned or approved by the designer himself. After widespread outrage and several parodies on Twitter, Cole deleted the post and apologized on Facebook. While the apology was met with sarcasm and skepticism, somebody decided to take it one step further and reposted or rather re-pasted the tweet in the form of a slick decal on a KC store window in San Francisco:

Kenneth Cole Storefront SF

In the1980s-1990s culture jammers attacked billboards and TV ads to denounce the “infoxication” of our urban and media environment. By turning Joe Camel in Joe Chemo and the “Hit” of the “New Exxon” in the “Shit” of the Exxon Valdez disaster they were also exposing the kind of information corporations spend so much money on to greenwash. Contemporary culture jammers can limit themselves to return this information where it belongs.

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This semester I am given the honor to teach a class on Culture Jamming as part of the Integrated Media Arts (IMA) MFA Program of the Department of Film & Media at Hunter College. Below is the course description and a list of assigned readings. Enjoy!

Course Description

This course explores a wide range of culture jamming and guerrilla-communication interventions both in the media and public space. The course will be comprised of three distinct and yet intertwined layers: theoretical, critical, and pragmatic. By examining historic avant-gardes such as dada, Surrealism, and the Situationists as well as concepts such as Brecht’s estrangement effect, the Situationist notion of détournement, Foucault’s order of the discourse, and De Certeau’s distinction between tactics and strategies students will first acquire the theoretical foundations necessary for a critical understanding of culture jamming. This approach will be coupled with the review of a variety of culture jamming techniques and practices such as fake, camouflage, détournement, overidentification, invisible theater, multiple-use names, subversive affirmation, subvertising, and cybersquatting. At the same time, students will have the opportunity to renew and reinvent culture jamming by working on their own projects both individually and in group.

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In a video that is going viral, 15-old British student Rodney Owen McCarthy argues that the “Facebook generation” is waking up and not accepting the rationale behind the British government’s plans of tripling the taxes for higher education in the UK. McCarthy, who spoke at the National Conference of the Coalition of Resistance in Camden on November 27, is referring here to the November 10 demonstration in London, in which students broke into the Conservative Party headquarters, prompting battles with the police:

An interesting article by Gabriella Coleman on the co-dividual use of images, videos, and other forms of aesthetic representation by the hacker network Anonymous.

Operation Payback

Few days ago, Umberto Eco published an article on the French newspaper Libération about Wikileaks (English translation available on PressEurop.) He argues that the secrets unveiled by the Cablegate scandal are “not so wicked” in that for the most part these secrets are already in the public domain. For instance, Italians and Germans know all too well their own prime ministers’ flaws that the U.S. diplomats are so secretly reporting in their cables. Hence, writes Eco, these secrets are “empty” and reveal nothing other than the fact that U.S. diplomats are paid to provide Hillary Clinton with information that she can already read on any newspaper. Then Eco turns to the more “profound significance” of the Cablegate:

“Formerly, back in the days of Orwell, every power could be conceived of as a Big Brother watching over its subjects’ every move. The Orwellian prophecy came completely true once the powers that be could monitor every phone call made by the citizen, every hotel he stayed in, every toll road he took and so on and so forth. The citizen became the total victim of the watchful eye of the state. But when it transpires, as it has now, that even the crypts of state secrets are not beyond the hacker’s grasp, the surveillance ceases to work only one-way and becomes circular. The state has its eye on every citizen, but every citizen, or at least every hacker – the citizens’ self-appointed avenger – can pry into the state’s every secret.”

Tah-dah! After months of being at large from this blog, I am very pleased to announce that I finally graduated!!

On December 3, 2010, I successfully defended my dissertation entitled “Improper Names: The Minor Politics of Collective Pseudonyms and Multiple-Use Names.” The dissertation committee was composed of Alexander Galloway (NYU), Allen Feldman (NYU), and McKenzie Wark (New School), whereas the outside readers were Gabriella Coleman (NYU) and Jodi Dean (William & Hobart Colleges).

The dissertation investigates the historic conditions of possibility for the emergence of the “improper name”—i.e., the adoption of the same alias by organized collectives, affinity groups, and scattered individuals. Bridging gaps between the history of the labor movement, the twentieth-century avant-gardes, and contemporary theories of immaterial labor, the research focuses on collective pseudonyms and “multiple-use names” which make their appearance in Europe and North America at three critical historic junctures: the Industrial Revolution, the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, and the contemporary emergence of the network society.
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Aksioma, New Media DriversJanez Jansa and the wonderful crew of Aksioma have invited me to participate in a seminar on Net Art and New Media Art in Ljubliana. Among the participants, Luka Frelih, Simona Lodi, Alessandro Ludovico, and Domenico Quaranta. Check it out!

I am also particularly excited of going back to Ljubliana as Laibach is celebrating this year the 30th anniversary of its foundation with an exhibition dedicated to the first decade of the group’s visual art production. The show is called GESAMTKUNST LAIBACH, Fundamentals 1980–1990.

Further, there are rumors that Laibach is organizing a concert and a series of events in the mining village of Trbovlje, home town to its founding members.

Janez Jansa
Event Type: Conference
Time: May 10, 2010 (7:00-9:00PM)
Venue: Eyebeam
540 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011

Marco Deseriis (Doctoral candidate, New York University)
Leonidas Martin Saura (Artist and professor, Yo Mango!)
Janez Janša (Artist, Janez Janša Janez Janša Janez Janša)

This panel of the Upgrade! series explores the aesthetic and political conditions of possibility for the emergence of the “multiple singularity,” an apparently contradictory term that describes the making of (collective) subjectivities as a process characterized by multiplicity and instability.

By tracing a genealogy of collective pseudonyms and “multiple-use names” such as Ned Ludd, Alan Smithee, Monty Cantsin, Karen Eliot and Luther Blissett, and connecting it to contemporary experiments such as Yo Mango! and Janez Janša, the panel will present and discuss radical strategies of subjectivation in times in which subjectivity is presented as an open, shared process by the very architecture of social media.

*Watch the live stream on May 10 at

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When: April 15, 6:30-8:30pm
Where: New School University
Vera List Center (Wollman Hall)
65 West 11th Street
New York, NY

Brief introductory remarks by Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble) Marco Deseriis, (New York University), Beka Economopulous (Not An Alternative), McKenzie Wark (New School), Andy Bichlbaum (The Yes Men), Gabriella Coleman (New York University), Konrad Becker (World-Information Institute).

Moderators: Ted Byfield (New School University) and Jim Fleming (Autonomedia Verlag)

Critical Strategies Poster For centuries, art has been put on pedestals and in pillories, literally and figuratively, over its supposed capacity to carry a critical, political charge. Yet the trends of the last few decades – the birth pangs of hypercapital and environmental catastrophe – have hardly brought about any form of art potent enough to meet challenges on that scale.

In September 2009, the World-Information Institute convened a group of digital theorists and practitioners to debate whether art has a future beyond a “creative industry” bent on decorating disaster – or, if not, what new kinds of approaches might be called for. This book (Autonomedia 2010) distills that debate.

Contributions by: Konrad Becker (World-Information Institute), Ted Byfield (Nettime), Amanda McDonald Crowley (Eyebeam) Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble), Jim Fleming (Autonomedia), Claire Pentecost (Continental Drift), Peter Lamborn Wilson (Temporary Autonomous Zone). Interventions by Bifo, Marco Deseriis, Rene Gabri, Brian Holmes, McKenzie Wark, and Felix Stalder.

Event Time
Friday, March 12, 2010
10:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Institute for Public Knowledge
20, Cooper Square – 5th Floor
New York, NY 10003

Web site:

A symposium with Ricardo Dominguez & Amy Carroll, Teddy Cruz, Helga Tawil Souri, Laila el Haddad & Mushon Zer-Aviv.

Radars and Fences 2010 explores the production of the Israel/Palestine and Mexico/US borders, examining how they engage affects, bodies, and spatial scales. Read the rest of this entry »

I have recently published an article on (in Italian) on the work of Aaron Koblin, a young, brilliant Californian artist who has been crowdsourcing his art projects through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

By collecting the contributions of thousands of MTurk’s providers Koblin realized a version of Daisy Bell sung by two thousand voices, a $100 bill drawn by 10,000 contributors (paid 1 cent each), and a very large flock of sheep all facing left.

In this video interview Koblin explains what inspired him to ask 10,000+ MTurkers to draw a sheep for 2 cents a piece:

After watching the video I emailed him a couple of questions. In particular I asked him whether aside from assigning the Mturks an unusual and aesthetic task such as drawing a sheep he had tried to involve them on a different level, for instance whether he tried to involve them in a discussion on possible future developments of the project. His first answer was:

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Eva and Franco Mattes aka have just released an art catalog (Charta, 2009) about their precocious art career.

The book recapitulates the couple’s memorable exploits, including their participation in the multiple-use name Luther Blissett, the fake Nikeground campaign in Vienna, the poster ad for United We Stand, a fictitious film on the power dreams of the European Union, and their recent Synthetic Performances in Second Life.

The book also reveals the couple’s very first (and until now undisclosed) work: Stolen Pieces. From 1995 to 1997, the Matteses toured the world’s most important museums and stole dozens of fragments from well-known works by artists such as Duchamp, Kandinsky, Beuys and Rauschenberg. This work, which has remained a secret for 14 years, is revealed and discussed here for the very first time.

Texts by Domenico Quaranta, Bruce Sterling, RoseLee Goldberg, Wu Ming, Fabio Cavallucci, Maurizio Cattelan, Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito, Tilman Baumgärtel, Marco Deseriis and Matthew Mirapaul.