Top image credit: clasesdeperiodismo / Foter / CC BY-SA 2.0.
In Brazil, Fora do Eixo is a social experiment to provide music and culture to the public, and livelihoods to culture makers, by mutualizing the means of production for music. Fora do Eixo is occasionally the subject of vivid controversies in Brazil and it is, therefore, a good moment to have the views of one of the founders of this movement.
How is the movement doing and how has it coped with the controversies? Read on in this interview with Felipe Altenfelder. You may also find background information, both supportive and critical, of the Fora do Eixo movement on the P2P Foundation wiki.
Michel Bauwens: What is Fora do Eixo exactly and what does it want to achieve in Brazil or elsewhere?
Felipe Altenfelder: The truth is that, since we emerged, it has always been difficult to define exactly what Fora do Eixo is; it’s a new, fast, and dynamic movement that is constantly changing since it started eight years ago.
Currently, we are structured such as a platform of festivals, collectives, and cultural venues as we are a social movement that debates social and cultural policies. Due to this multi-faceted orientation, we are capable of acting within multiple battlefields, such as the Environment, Human Rights, Education, New Drug Policy, Secular State, Urban Mobility, Communication, and so on.
I think what made us get here with such force — strength which will continue — is the notion that, if your goal is to arrive at some specific place, when you do get there, you’ll forget your origins. We don’t want that. Thus, the goal becomes much more about collecting and systematizing new ways and solutions, which means we are interested in the HOW to act and make social interventions much more than WHERE we want to reach.
In terms of numbers, the cultural circuit that we are part of today consists of a network of over 200 collectives, involving 2,000 people, 130 festivals performed annually, upwards of 5,000 shows, and the promotion and circulation of 30,000 artists per year, at least.
Can you tell us a bit about the pre-history of Fora do Eixo — what the name means and implies, and how you got involved in it?
It's hard to summarize the pre-history of Fora do Eixo, since it involves a larger historical context that marked the turn of the 21st century: The impact of the Internet, the World Social Forum, and a growing belief that an alternative world is possible, the politics of inclusion and recognition of Brazil’s interior regions driven by the Lula government, and an understanding of the symbolic or “anthropologic” dimensions of culture that came from the Ministry of Culture (MinC) under Gilberto Gil's mandate. These factors generated reflections and accelerated the pace of communication and sharing of social technologies among a new generation of Brazilian cultural producers.
With accelerated connection, and in a time where we watched the collapse of the music industry through the bankruptcy of the LP record and CD business model, independent festivals gained strength and began to create a network that connected the different independent music scenes across the country. In doing so, it also strengthening a new production chain, which set the grounds for a “middle market” for music driven by the logic of Chris Anderson’s concept of the long tail. All this was forged in the context of a favorable environment created by the ideals of progressive and inclusive cultural policies such as Cultura Viva (Living Culture) and Cultura Digital (Digital Culture) promoted by the Ministry of Culture and, more generally, the popular government of President Lula in its entirety, which clarified the many ways that politics is culture and that culture is politics.
In 2005, 15 producers of festivals throughout Brazil met in Goiania to found ABRAFIN (the Brazilian Association of Independent Festivals). ABRAFIN started as an association of festival producers, that still operated according to traditional class structures, beholden to statutes and ready to defend the interests of its members. Nevertheless, it helped to put up for debate the field of Brazilian musical production and the need to establish collective thinking and collaborative project building.
At that meeting, there was a collective coming from Cuiabá, called Cube Space. Cubo, as it sounds in Portuguese, was raised by an innovative management experience, bringing the logic of overcoming obstacles, creating and sharing collaborative solutions. This logic, which had as its purpose the development of the cultural scene, in general, made a clear counterpoint to the majority of "businessmen" who made up ABRAFIN and believed they could get rich in the process.
At that time, inspired and stimulated by the experience developed in Cuiaba, three other cities — Uberlândia, Rio Branco, and São Carlos (all of them far away from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) — started to bet on this other logic; it was when the Off-Axis Circuit began. The methodology was clear and based on the experience of young people, seeking to recover damages for trying to do a festival, understood and began to put into spreadsheets some simple and ingenious things: the systematization of camaraderie (solidarity, partnership).
As we systematized the partnership, it became clear how the solidary economy works. Imagine you need a poster to communicate something from your work and you also have an amplifier. If you have a friend who is a musician and a designer, he needs the amplier to play music with his band. So you two can trade a certain amount of hours of the amplifier for a new poster. Or, even if you don't need anything right now, you have "credit" with that person. The exchange happened without anyone taking anything from the wallet.
While using the Internet to systematize indicators of each territory across cities like Uberlândia, Rio Branco, São Carlos, and many others that had similar challenges, you generate a secure environment to ensure minimal empowerment, autonomy, and leadership for each partner in each location that Fora do Eixo began to operate throughout Brazil.
Organically and horizontally, we were beginning to build a network. We were getting organized, right at the moment, not only to propose alternatives to Brazilian music, but also for taking the first steps to create flows of circulation, distribution, and the production of content in the periphery of Brazil. From this moment, Fora do Eixo was born.
What is the history of Fora do Eixo after its founding? Are there distinct phases in its development?
I think a good summary of the flow which we live as an organization begins with the centralization phase of the network from 2005 to 2010, when some collectives coordinated a first process of expansion and national management that culminated in the emergence of the Fora do Eixo house in São Paulo.
The second phase, the decentralized network one, came in 2011 with the expansion of the Fora do Eixo houses to different regions in Brazil, such as Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, and Belem. This stimulated the autonomy of micro-regional networks, enabling the phase we're in now — the distributed network — where centralized control gives way to each node acting with autonomy.
This maturation occurred with a construction of the network that was performed by collective intelligence. That is to say, it was a form of education that included the everyday learning experience of those inside the network — gaining practical knowledge as they worked through solutions everyday — as well as the increasing number of analyses of scholars and researches approaching the technology, not to mention numerous public debates that ocurred about the FdE process itself that have always been taken up with intensity, and that serve as raw material from which FdE reflects and builds upon.
In practice, much work was invested in developing organizational and flow charts that sought to faciliate the dynamics of people who chose to live as agents in the durable core, always in conjunction with partners and collaborators to manage the different thematic fronts in addition to the music front that we are taking on, such as audiovisual, theater, visual arts, literature, and so on.
Later, when at the 4th Annual Fora do Eixo Conference in São Paulo we realized through debate that we were participating in the construction of a social movement, we felt the need to broaden our capacity for dialogue with other networks and movements.
At that moment, it was essential that we could map out common themes and visualize the intersection of these issues with our organizational practices and to clearly indicate the socio-political impact of the broad spectrum of fields of work that are involved in the cultural network. Thus, we come to what we conventionally call “Simulacrum” — that is to say, conceptual and practical fronts of managing new models in society, and we identified initially four major fields common to the network:
- Policy and Advocacy, named the Party.
- Sustainability and Resource Management, named the Bank.
- Free and Continuing Education, name the University.
- Communication, named Media that ultimately gave rise to Ninja Media.
Every network, movement or collective, deals with these aspects defined above, which generate a rich environment of dialogue and density of reflections that give rise to the Social Movement of Cultures. This includes “Cultural Points” (organizations, collectives, and other entities that partake in the Cultural Points cultural policy program launched from the MinC under the leadership of Gilberto Gil); Music, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, and Audiovisual collectives; the Hip Hop Movement; The Afro-Religion Communities; Indigenous peoples; the Landless Movement; Street Artists; Free Culture, Copy Left, Free Media movement; the Urban Periphery Movement, and a whole range of cultural operators. All of these, and more, recognized these four “simulacrums” and began to jointly build new references for each of the fronts.
Building Public Policy (Party); finding new ways of survival and sustainable management of resources (Bank); developing, training, and passing on knowledge to new generations (University); and presenting a symbolic narrative that counters the dominant and hegemonic discourses of the establishment (Media) are guiding principles of a movement with great capacity for cohesion through a simple systematization of desires and intentions in these four simulacrums presented above.
This way, a set of social struggles finds in the cultural field an environment of connection and articulation, and a communication source that renews — even aesthetically — social movements and political debate. Agendas and goals of other movements gain notoriety from the systematization stimulated by Fora do Eixo. Examples like the Living Culture Law (Lei Cultura Viva) and Veta Dilma moviment demonstrate how this synergy occurred, and the potential of this new movement.
Connect agents and collectives (Party), identify methodologies and technologies and create social environments of exchange and interchange (University), present these methodologies and social technologies to the whole society (Media), and finally to create the conditions for the existence and reproduction of such methodologies and technologies (Bank). These are the possible stages of development and organization of Fora do Eixo, and later the Social Movement of Cultures.
However, this development and these phases should not be understood in a linear and continuous line (one phase at a time, in a different historical moment), but rather from a recursive and spiraling perspective, where we are constantly forced to return to each of these same points in order to advance, and they advance simultaneously… like a whirlwind, like a hurricane.
What is the current status of the movement and where does it want to be in the next few years?
To view our current status, it’s worth taking a closer look at Fora do Eixo’s trajectory. If we take into consideration the emergence of the first collectives that formed the movement, we are talking about 10 years of operation.
We started with a job that was basically mobilization, to venture out into Brazil integrating points that shared the same logic and ways of doing things. We started with five and now we are over 200 collectives. This effort of agglutination was what later became known as the Culture Party.
With the network mobilized and comprised of an incredible diversity of experiences in different territories, we began an interchange and flow of methodologies between collectives, understanding it as the formation of a great interface within the network itself. It was the environment that designed the architecture of our University. With the network mobilized and feeling increasingly more secure with the shared knowledge and learning, we began to develop an awareness of the power of the narrative and potential for inclusion in a field of symbolic struggle that permeates society. It was this thought that led to the Ninja Media.
All along this path, by networking and guided by the principles of the solidarity economy, we built an inexpensive way to make culture and democratize its acess for the masses, directly confronting the dominant industry established. At the same time, the development of our independent communication system has reached a very significant level of relevance and impact, opening cracks directly in the disputes involving the democratization of communication in Brazil.
The explosion of visibility of Ninja Media and the exposure of FdE as the network that created the initiative configured a posture of fear among parts of the conservative sectors of Brazilian society which, through corporate media, let fire its discursive machine guns to criminalize the network.
In those moments, resentful testimonials from people who had participated or interacted with FdE, and who left for a variety of different reasons, flooded social networks with complaints. One way or another, the opportunistic timing that was posted (two days after the interview of Ninja Media on the national T.V. program Roda Viva) put the authors of those complaints in an ingenious, if not exploited, role of attack which, in reality, had already been programmed by the Old Media. Anyway, this combination was explosive and put the network smack in the hurricane eye of an intense debate that yielded several criticisms and compliments.
We always had to be creative, developing the ability to do much with little. Dealing with the lack of tangible resources and understanding the value of symbolic capital as a source of protagonism. Although, through this retrospective, it seems to me that we were already in the center of large debates about the construction of the Brazilian society, in areas that have been on the brink of paradigm shifts in overcoming crises of intermediaries or of representations.
It was like that when we were doing festivals, touring, and releasing new bands during the collapse of major recording labels. It was like that when parties and movements intensely debated our paradigms of activism from the provocations made during the Arab Spring and the global occupations of 2011. It was like that when the Academy was put off by our logic of free university education and, more recently, it was like that when Ninja Media began shaking the debate about communication in Brazil.
Beginning in 2014, healed after the attacks of last summer and after mature reflection, we felt the force of the current moment in Brazil that boosts whomever has always been in the networks and on the streets and brings a very interesting environment for an entire perspective of global projection and an ecosystem of networks to which we belong.
In this context that configures the possibility of developing a new prototype of potential capable of tackling challenges that confront the existence of a possible new world in the 21st century, she/he who is not afraid to be happy should progress without looking back, with no plan B and with no possiblilty of retreating. In the direction of the future is the only possible definition of where we think we may be from here.
How influential is it? Are there any similar or sister organisations you can relate to?
With this trajectory understood, it may become easier to see our level of influence, the dynamics of our relationship with other organizations, and why Fora do Eixo is not afraid of the State.
It is complex to speak of one’s own influence and to put yourself in the perspective of self-reference. Our influence is determined and measured by our actions and the impact of them in the debate on new forms of sociability. More than an institutional influence, it is interesting to understand the space-time connection between experience and its (contemporary) generation, which is what characterizes innovation and relevance of an action.
We are part of the first generation of fully digital youth, that incorporates this digital culture within organizational and life models. More than an influence of FdE, we have a lab that tries to be logged in space/time with our contemporary generation and the possibilities of transformation brought about by this new historical context, and no doubt it enhances the projection and influence that FdE has today in Brazilian society.
The fact that you supplemented that question — about the influence inquiring about the relationship with sister organizations — places the innovative and pioneering character of our movement also in question, since to conceptually define the term "sisters" we have to reveal that we are virtually alone in Brazil, a new contemporary social arrangement: cultural and digital networks with global perspective. The way the debate on our experience is taken up also helps to think about it. As a unique experience without empirical comparison in our country, the judgements are given from a logic of ideals.
We are heaven and hell. We are loved and hated, leaving little room for balanced assessments for lack of the ability to compare with other organizations and due to an unawareness of the internal dynamics and network operation. The idealistic judgment and the agenda behind much of what is written about the network, including establishing another sphere of influence, especially in the intellectual field, which is obliged to present definitive judgments for a process that began badly, playing the Manichean heaven/hell logic thereby polarizing a debate that is in fact much more complex, nuanced, and full of contradictions.
I believe that's why we were the most debated and commented movement in Brazil in the last three years. The absence of comparisons and the idealism transform FdE into something that everybody takes a stance upon. The virtual environment, used so well by the movement, further expands this, causing a broad debate to become consolidated and popularized, including shaking up the cultural environment from which the movement emerged and reaching all of Brazilian society.
Above all, we are mutants! Thus, judgements that seek to be definitive, both from intellectuals as from the media — or equally from other movements and organizations — lose consistency in the face of the everyday practice that shapes and guides our movement. It is this understanding that makes the value of "generosity" something fundamental that guides our relationship with other groups and individuals, and that defines our involvement with them, because we must always be prepared to be an Post-Rancor movement. I think it's important to underscore this, so we can understand the relationship we have with other movements and organizations. As we repeatedly state internally within the organization, it is essential to be a hostage of our own enlightenment.
This whole environment of debate and influence is directly reflected in the relationship we have with hundreds and hundreds of organizations friends/sisters/partners, in relationships that we are building daily and with layers of well-differentiated and organic exchange. At the same time, there are another set of organizations that do not seek dialogue, and in these cases it is impossible to talk with those who already have preconceptions and established prejudices.
The willingness and openness to debate and collective construction are fundamental in defining relationships established with FdE. We are a cultural movement that maintains dialogue across a very broad spectrum and in a 360-degree direction. We involve a wide range of actors, from representatives of the Globo network to extreme anarchist groups, from organized fans of Football Clubs to indigenous communities, from Landless Worker movements to indie bands that hail from the middle class.
This courage to deal with such different relationships without changing the framework of our values and collective practices, provokes a scenario that invariably establishes some kind of contact with organized groups of culture, communication, environmental rights, and human rights in our country. A privileged position in this historical moment, but at the same time it comes with a great responsibility for all who are involved. It is this awareness that which gives the commitment of each member within this process of change an importance in merging the relationships within our network.
In our last survey, we recorded the incredible number of more than 2,000 partner organizations that have direct relations with FdE. These include social movements, trade unions, cultural points, producers, indigenous communities, quilombolas (Afro-Brazilian Maroon communities) and riverside communities, free media collectives, independent media groups, university research centers, bands, samba schools, start-ups, urban and rural occupations, and a whole range of political, social, environmental, and cultural organizations that dialogue frequently with us through some of our applications. There are thousands of daily exchanges established which, as I said above, have different layers. This can be as simple as an email exchange to solve a specific question to a complete symbiosis in the planning of annual activities.
A key point to understand these relationships is also in understanding the way we deal with resources and survival. We work with a Collective Bank so that all individuals have access to the minimum necessary for their survival and, in this way, they can dedicate themeselves to the activities of the movement. This option, while it enables us to have a group of militants with plenty of availability, is different from the choice made by the other organizations that follow are organization based on the capital/labor relation, from salary device that reproduces the dichotomy between owners the means of production and owners of the workforce. Some still use the so-called volunteer work. We can not lose sight of that, if we want to synergize relationships with partner organizations.
This fact typically results in FdE having more availability and access to resources and tools when undertaking some collective processes, and this can construct a distortion in the relationship, which tends not to be balanced if the parameters used are the same as when dealing with market or the state itself. Much of the criticism that arises about the “appropriating” character of the movement are born from this point. How to deal with a force that can employ more labor to a collective process, or a bilateral partnership, especially when it’s not guided by money? This is a challenge that we place back upon other movments and that, in our opinion, only finds good answers if we invest in generosity and confidence as connecting elements and lights of our relations.
But beyond relations with partner organizations of civil society, we have another great organization where our relationship is often questioned and that I treat as essential here: the relationship of FdE with the state (understood here, as well, with a diversity of layers: municipalities, state government, federal government, state enterprises, federal institutes, universities, etc).
To understand this, I first raise a question: Why would any Brazilian collective have to remain "far from the state"? Instead, FdE has created a new culture and practice of direct participation, including using the power of social networks. It is a network that believes in governance, public policy, and participatory co-management which seeks to intervene, press the Brazilian state closely, and participate in it, because the state is no authoritative or total entity, but rather it is a "network" that should be placed at the service of the common and for all. I consider this a breakthrough approach — very different from the "desk" policy and the old game of influences. It also moves away from the purists social movements that discuss and theorize, but have little ability for action.
If today the FDE ruffles some feathers, it is due to its high visibility and capacty for action. We do not ask permission and we do not kiss the hand of anyone; we just do it. And if, at some point, we dialogue with parliamentarians and managers, this is a political and not a personal matter, because we have enough distance and autonomy to point out problems with management or express criticism and dissatisfaction. This is new; this is what we mean when we say that we need to hack the state — participate, intervene, and propose while simultaneously "inspecting" and observing with detachment and distance the very managers we support. This is the beginning of an experience of governance and co-management that need to be expanded, to democratize and to include hundreds of networks and groups with proposals that can influence public policy. Fora do Eixo vocalizes this moment of a new generation without fear of dialogue.
Noite in São Paulo. Photo credit: Fora do Eixo / Foter / CC BY-SA 2.0.
As I understand it, Fora do Eixo is now much more than just a musician's movement. What else does it do besides music festivals, and besides culture?
The answer to this question lies in understanding culture in its anthropological aspect. Historically, from the 20th century on, two trends have shaped the form of viewing the production and management culture.
On one side is an Anglo-Saxon vision that sees the artist as the center of creation, and that founded and defends conservative visions of copyright and compensation. Their type of mode of production conditions the imaginary of a reduced vision of art, accessible only to a few and special creators, supposedly meriting an income that configures them as socially successful and that gives them an on-going position that upholds the cult of the author who in theory is revered by a public that consumes its creatioin.
On the other side, we have a more Latin American perspective that sees culture not as a set of artistic languages, but rather as behavior and as a set of systematized social technologies that make possible the invention of new forms and lifestyles.
It was in this sense that Fora do Eixo developed as a network: stemming from music, and connecting initiatives act in areas scattered throughout Brazil. Through organizing with the purpose to carry out activities and cultural projects, we mobilized a network and created new cognitive environments, that is to say all at once enjoyment and learning platforms that enable the empowerment of citizens who quickly learn possibilities to optimize costs and dispute means of production. It is what enables the autonomy and emancipation from the logic of wages, where you want to earn money to consume free time.
Besides being about music, culture, solidarity economy, or independent communication, FdE is an availability network. As noted in the answer to the previous question, we created a common environment where direct participants, once freed the capital/labor ratio, gain a multitude of possibilities for involvement. In this sense, we usually say that it is possible to do everything from the FdE. If you have any specific interest, for example, in UFO research, you can use the territorialized points, applications, and tools developed by network to build bridges and establish a project that seeks to connect people interested in the same subject, and in that way develop a working collaborative on “UfO-ology”. Of course for this, you will have to employ your ability to construct and articulate, but the network is not closed to any possibility of action by its individuals.
I think that's why a network that began working with music has unfolded in so many different fronts in a short time. Of course, this radical labor option ends up outlining a progressive territory and the major aggregate themes (Culture, Environment, Communication, Human Rights) tend to be oriented to the left of political debate since seeking to live collectively is the desire of those don’t view the liberal project or the capitalist system as a solution for a fair and righteous life on the planet. To make a difference, it’s necessary to have a disposition for change, to be able to leave one’s comfort zone, and for this reason conservatism hardly finds room to proliferate in an environment that seeks to constantly bring about change, both personal as well as social.
I hear Fora do Eixo have a university and are thinking of opening schools, as well. How are these different from what exists?
Understanding the Free University of Fora do Eixo and our educational prospects depends on understanding the whole history of our constitution. We came from a re-organization of the Brazilian cultural sector, and the issue of training has always been a major pillar of debate and is seen as a necessity. The logic of turning difficulties into opportunities has been the reference for the creation of our University, as well as for all of our applications. Due to the lack of training processes in the cultural area in Brazil, the debate around free training through experiences such as those of collectives, gained strength and deepened a discussion with various actors, both cultural producers and academics, who began seeing the existing potential in the systematic and methodological organization of all existing processes of free education and training in Brazilian culture.
Faced with this opportunity comes the University, which quickly connects to various experiences in Brazil, Latin America, and beyond, including winning the international seal of the Ministry of Culture of Cape Verde in Africa, now officially accepting the training through the University of the Free Culture. Undoubtedly, a new logic that inverts the relationship between knowledge and practice is now somehow able to justify the differentiation between our training process and those that are already in place. This empirical logic extends the spectrum of training, it dissolves the hierarchical structures of the educational model, and instead recognizes in affective nature involved in this process. The individual transfer of knowledge, and the extreme focus on competition between individuals (tests, class rooms, awards), is replaced by an organic logic of learning through doing/living collectively. Here is the critical point to differentiate our university or our school from the existing hegemonic model of education since we can not fail to point out that there are also several innovative experiences in this field around the world; but unfortunately they are exceptions to the rule of education for the market.
This is evident if we talk about the debate over a new school. Similarly, as for the University, the need was to find ways to consolidate training in the cultural field, recognizing the wealth of existing procedures, for the school, which is at issue is the involvement of new generations in the broader anthropological process of the network. Within a network of youth, it is only natural that children should be born within the network and that these will be raised within our collective and in our group homes. This is something that we have had to face. Once again, it is creating opportunities out of need. In this sense, the search for dialogue with other fronts and movements that discusses new educational methodologies is organic and necessary, and the theme is now taking shape within a new front that we call Gurizada FdE (FdE Kids). The solutions are presented based on the needs that arise within the development process of the network itself. Our values and collective practices are the basis for all actions and, thus, new structures need to be created to cope with these new challenges. It's a world being created to handle the challenge of social change in the 21st century . For its development, rather than presenting a revolutionary methodology that is ready-made, what we seek is to join as many heads and hearts to live the construction of a new experience and find solutions to the challenges. Thus do we create, and thus are we formed.
What is the economic model of the Fora do Eixo?
Our whole economic model is based on the idea of a collaborative economy that is gaining weight in Brazil and Latin America through multiple experiments. Beyond the discussion of a "universal basic income" within the horizon of the new struggles of the cognitive precariat, we highlight the experiences of complementary currencies or social currencies and the idea of the solidarity economy and cooperatives, among other forms of empowerment and autonomy of the collectives and of the invention of new worlds.
It is within this universe of social technologies where we locate the experience of the "Collective Bank." In practice, there 2,000 young people from all over Brazil in the inner cities and/or capital that revert their time and life for a common project with a Collective Bank that pays food, clothing, and housing without individual salaries, but with the autonomy to withdraw money from the Bank according to the needs of each individual.
It's a platform of sustainability that allowed many people to abandon their precarious or "slave jobs" in traditional media, in commercial production companies, advertising agencies, or any Fordist-style of employment. In this new reality, the individual has to invent their own profession. They have their life and time released, produced from another distinct and community logic.
It's about the production of new worlds. The experience of producing with your basics ensured changes the logic of cultural management. In our network, it's "returned" to us the time that capital, the state, and “normalcy” have stolen and which exist when we have to "sell" our skills, communication, and affection for "dead work."
The economic experience of FdE points to a radicalization of the sharing model. A summary of the Collective Bank is in the act of each participant bringing all of their resources — tangible and intangible — and making them available for collective decisions. Dedication, encouragement, coordination, mobilization, expertise, patience, agility, cash, card, check, name, cell, clothes, goods, products, contacts, plans, work, conflicts, and dreams under the full management of each individual, are seen as resources for the Collective Bank. All of these should be placed "in the pot" to be used in a shared manner, and as the driving force to sustain any elementary step decided by the group.
It is this radical willingness and the free time and autonomy invested in the common which is the genesis of revolutions of cognitive precariat. Anyone who has "lost" all or who has relinquished the “normalcy” of family, a secure salary, or a university degree to invest her/his entire life in a collective project can do anything.
New challenges appear in this radical model of group and common sharing (security, management difficulties, horizontal relationships), but having free time (collectively paid), not having to "sell" your time for food, clothing, and shelter is having a minimum basis of sustainable living (not to be confused with voluntary work, nor is it a minimum income or a minimum wage.) This is about another economy and collective social contract on the horizon for the invention of new worlds. In our case, the Collective Bank is the basis for a new collaborative economy.
In the last seven years, we have moved a minimum amount in Reais to keep the activities of hundreds of collectives going and to carry out thousands of cultural activities. In disqualifying the complementary currency created by Off-Axis, which enables cultural producers to exchange services and undertake projects with minimal resources, is an affront to the solidarity economy model, which in Brazil alone has more than 100 currencies in full operation. FdE’s actions in creating circuits for independent music, audiovisual production, and other forms of cultural production confront an industry that overprices its services, and in this sense we are obviously open and vulnerable to questions that try to de-legitimize us, both for tinkering with entrenched economic interests, as well as promoting a shift in values and concepts for the understanding of our way of life.
Lambe Lambe Collective's "More Love Please" campaign. Photo credit: Fora do Eixo / Foter / CC BY-SA 2.0.
What is the internal governance model?
Each collective basically organizes itself from a Group we call the durable core. These are the people who live in the collective houses and according to the Collective Bank. These members are distributed across multidisciplinary teams in Communication (Photo, Video, Audiovisual, Design, Network Management, etc.), event production, project design, accountability and resource management, policy coordination, and cultural residence (maintenance of homes).
In each city, and always across integrated online platforms and face to face meetings, these groups work with collaborators, artists, producers, journalists, and activists from other movements, in the actions that the network develops and participates in. In practice, the decisive space is the everyday, in constant flux, and from which each member builds their legitimacy to offer their opinion about the process.
In the day-to-day, the collective bank is sustained through the production of values and through open cooperation — that is to say, all of those who partake in the network have access to the distributed capital (in cash or services). Our dynamic does not necessarily generate products that seek an exchange value for the market, but rather strengthen processes that can be used to broaden the very community of users.
The distribution of resources is guided by a principle of universality, we established a joint ownership, which is distributed evenly among peers of the network. Someone who has been involved with FdE for 10 years will, inside the house, have the same conditions as a resident who has just arrived. This is totally different from the logic of private property and even public or state ownership.
The mediation or administration of this process happens through transparent and open meetings, broadcast on the Internet and in public proceedings. Within these, all who are involved in the network, and even observers, are welome to particiapte. The transparency and the deliberative mix of this environment and training yields a completely different dynamic than the existing environments that work in corporate hierarchies or that have the market as their objective.
The awareness and practice of developing narratives makes our communication logic an organic platform of governance. Our content is produced by alternative systems of information and communication that allow communication between autonomous agents that cooperate with the network. The outlets of this production are the web platforms that enable the production, dissemination, and consumption of written material, just as podcasting and webcasting create an alternative infrastructure for information and multimedia communication without the interference or the intermediary of the classic means of communication.
I also think it’s important to briefly comment on how the network deals with the concept of "Leadership," a theme that has been ardently raised within the current crisis of representation and the search for more horizontal processes. First, horizontality, in our understanding, is an end, a horizon for social relations. Given this horizon, we must have the clarity that we face enormous political challenges to overcome, not only within the hierarchical structure placed by our institutions, but mainly in cultural and human components involved in the processes of social transformation. In this sense, we do not deny nor debate the existence of Leadership, and recognize the role leadership plays in the political and social process. In a political process determined by economic power, the attack on behalf of the leaders of an uncompromising defense of horizontalism as a "means " to make political attack is also a possibility that the popular sectors to build viable alternatives to the process of policy impact and achievements social.
However, by maintaining that horizontality as an end and a horizon, we can not simply legitimize hierarchical processes without seeking to build consistent and generous internal dynamics, and to enable the full inclusion of all individuals. So we try to understand the leadership not from an index of merticrocacy, charisma, sanguiness, or any element other than every individual’s capacity for action and interaction with the group and its dynamics. It is in action, in living the values and principles of the network on a day-to-day basis that which will define an organic notion of leadership. The quest to break the sphere of economic oppression, not defining ownership and socializing the results of everyone’s work, is in our understanding a fundamental principle. In this sense, the concept of leadership has an important place for us because what we seek is to build a process able to release the full power of each individual, a fundamental element in the consolidation of leaders.
Furthermore, by building a network architecture completely distributed, based on local creative arrangements, while simultaneously connected, we have created a process of distributed influence and power that seeks to constrain the centralization of powers. There are thousands and thousands of decisions being made daily, distributed and in constant flux, which enables each individual person a protagonism in the processes that are involved in.
However, the most essential element to the notion of leadership for us is the understanding that it can not be dissociated from the notion of Base. As important as leadership is whether to make yourself available and support others. You can't exclude in an political action an understanding of its cultural component, and the ability of the individual to trust and generously be willing to think and act for others is fundamental in the combat against the evils of verticality and the abuse of power in the political field, but mainly so that we can fight against the individualism that numbs people to the existece of social injustice.
What is the role of the Casas, i.e. the physical community houses?
The houses are permanent Autonomous Zones, workplaces and simultaneous dwellings that brings together multiple characteristics in the same space. Distributed throughout the country, the homes occupy a role of regional coordination, in addition to being responsible for the production processes of actions and articulation with local partners in each city in which they are located. On the day-to-day, each house serves as the resident house for the staff; it is the production base for the fronts of the network and a cultural and multimedia center, as well as being a flowing space of hosting people who are not part of the network but that rely on the accommodating space.
The multi-disciplinary dynamic and the constant flow of activities makes each house act in synergy with the simulacrum of the social movement of cultures, bringing together functions of the University Campus, the Collective Bank, the Party Directory, and core-making narratives.
Within this architecture the houses are in constant contact via online tools and also always promoting exchanges and meetings between its residents. Interestingly, as places where people live with full availability and dedication, the houses act as accelerators of flows and action, making the experience of the passage of time in these spaces very intense. One day seems like a week that looks like a month that looks like a year.
I heard that every contribution to the Fora is accounted for, recognized, and paid through some alternative currency. But I also heard that people in the casas have free access to the official currency, according to how they define their own needs?
This currency is the Fora do Eixo Card and the word that describes it is not “alternative,” but rather “complementary.”
The mathematics that governs its operation is very simple; it is nothing more than visualizing the resources obtained from the systematization of partnership, or the available workforce for the construction of common projects.
The methodology and systemized worksheets make explicit the exchanges between agents and organizations involved, enhancing through services the budget available for the carrying out of projects and collaborations that would have been difficult in the past. And we have to remember that in this case we are not talking about something new. The exchange between services, the famous barter, is an ancient practice and underpins the development of economic relations in society. In this sense, the proposed creation of complementary currencies for the mediation of economic relations in a sector of scarcity of resourses, such as the culture environment, is a very effective tool for building local creative arrangements, based on the stimulation of exchange and collaboration between cultural agents. This tool, which carries a subversive component to enhance not only the tangible exchange in a capitalist society, is already part of the reality of the cultural groups that always exchange and collaborate among themselves, but it was often seen as a voluntary act. The creation of money as a means to systematize this process, is also in this sense, in addition to being a practice that facilitates production, is a pedagogical artifice that allows the productive agents to recognize the economic component of their activity, often seen as a hobby or volunteer service, thereby beginning to to understand the importance of building collective and collaborative solutions in our lives.
However, the term "complementary" is appropriate, because even with the systematization and organization of these trading systems, is very difficult in our society to completely abandon the relationship with the real world and its commitments. The radicalization of self-management processes are part of our horizon, but we have to also work to the current economic system, and its many commitments, including those related to public tariffs, such as water and electricity, and basic services such as rent, telephone, and Internet, not to mention power supply and transportation, all of which are paid with cash. In this case, each collective and its agents seek ways to survive and generate income for itself and to fill its own Collective Bank, based on its own projects, and often times an occupation of the market itself. In this sense, the same way we see the need to build interface with the state, it is also important to dispute the means of production so that the collective can develop strategies to maintain and expand its activities .
What distinguishes the collective and the houses off-axis from the other organizations in this regard is how we treat the issue of capital, labor, and access to resources. For this, we developed the concept of the “Collective Found" as a way to socialize and ensure adequate living conditions and to free the potential of individuals. All funds managed by collectives are socialized and each agent derives from the collective cash their basic needs.
Since the emergence of collective houses, the math got easier because when linking to a house, as a resident, the person shall be guaranteed the basic conditions for survival, no longer needing to worry about that. From there, all of their availability and capicity is at the service of the collective process, responsible for the valuation and projection of her/his own uniqueness. The residents have no salary, and in the houses all activities are divided without the need for hierarchy or depreciation of one activity over another, and at the same time, there are no more owners and non-owners.
The entire workforce is employed in activities and projects that are in accordance with the principles of the network. This creates a rupture in the differentiation between work and life, because the borders determined by a system that makes this separation based on the need to maintain its very own operation, cease to exist and another economic environment where profit and exploitation no longer make sense emerges. Amazingly, when this separation between captial/work, characteristic of the capitalist system model, is overthrown, what we see is a much greater engagement and productivity on the part of individuals who come to see their productive activity not a burden for their survival, but rather as the expression of their uniqueness, and more than that, the expression of their struggle for social transformation and construction of a project of society.
By questioning money as the only component of economic exchange, valuing the intangible, and building a system of the collective management of resources, our intention is to develop a laboratory able to build self-managed micro-experiments, and in that way moving forward in the formulation of a new collective economy, a new economy of life, which may give birth to a new possible world. A statement that might be perceived as naive or pretentious, but that springs from a transparent way of living collectively, which makes it real and full of humanity.
How is the Fora do Eixo different from a traditional capitalist franchise system? How 'political' is the Fora do Eixo? How do you deal with the government and big corporations, and possible funding from these sources?
The first basic difference is that we do not aim for profit, and this element alone already invariably locates us within the political left. Now this has to be analyzed from a more contemporary perspective, we are not working in a paradigm of income distribution, we are talking about time distribution. It is a matter of acceleration.
The FdE house and the Collective Bank solved one of the main dilemmas of activism, which is availability. We have a lot of people very excited and passionate about the causes they believe in, which makes us work very fast and efficiently. What we do with this speed is that instead of acting as a self referent for our own projects we are all the time creating new interfaces for joint action, and distributing time and services with other movements, collectives and networks of people.
With this potential, FdE has been decisive in detonating participatory processes of mobilization, and working as a laboratory and school of activism, mobilizing in the streets and across the networks and following complex political processes.
We entered the scene in order to intervene and change the course. We are helping to build new forms of governance 2.0 using social networks and the streets. We function as social and cultural accelerators catalyzing actions that by their own collective building DNA created independent circuits of music, audiovisual production, and many other formats guided by economic logic that challenges the decadent, patrimonial and culturally conservative industry that is currently in place.
We struggle for a new culture and practice of direct participation, governance and co-management. We dialogued with the state, which we understand as a social application that must be placed in the service of the Common. We have our causes, agendas, and autonomy. We are not funded by any political party or group, but even when we participate in public grant competitions or we receive financial support from corporations, we have full political autonomy.
We are part of a new economy; we live from our Collective Bank which, in turn, raises funds from our own services (event production, project design, log in photo, video and live broadcast, writing texts, and so on). We transform the shortage into autonomy.
We are not "authors" of works, nor do we assign individual names to our products, only collectively; we are the protagonists of a process and of a joint construction. We fight against copyright and all our services are free for partners.
Even without a unified program, we have a clear political project: We struggle to democratize access to culture through a new regulatory framework for the sector, to include the interior of Brazil in the symbolic dispute of society, and create new ways of living and new relationships to work, moving towards a society characterized by less unequal, less prejudiced, more open to minorities and potential of differences. Defending nature, cultural diversity and human rights are central points of our network.
I see the FdE network as a laboratory of political imagination that has not been seen for decades in Brazil. That is to say, in practical terms, FdE makes a difference wherever it goes through the constant search for a logic of relationship building guided by complementarity.
Together with networks and partnering collectives, we work as a post-party — a collective that thinks about cities from the bottom up. In towns in the interior of Brazil, this accelerated technology produces significant interventions in culture. For all these reasons, we consider ourselves extremely political and politicized.
About the dispute for public grants (one of the ways to obtain financing in Brazil used by most organizations and cultural collectives), in our view that there is nothing wrong in participating in them. This is one of the most recurrent forms of financing cultural producers, networks, and collectives. The attempt to criminalize this mechanism relies on fallacious arguments, conservative bias, attacking the construction of public policies and funding.
At the same time, this criticism can not be detached from the historical perspective of consolidating public policy in our country. Until recently, not just cultural policies, but much of the public policy were made in palatial and cabinet agreements, made behind closed doors, where personal relationships were the main substrate for its implementation. We live in a patrimonial state, where the boundaries between public and private have always been closed to the underprivileged and open to the elite classes.
Public policy built through the mechanism of public grants was a breakthrough in this direction, because it began to regulate the access of resources in a way that was more transparent and republican. It is in this historical context that we operate, and we compete, in full condition of equality with other Brazilian cultural agents, for public resource that help to carry out the development of our projects.
All accounting of public funds used by FdE have been approved and are up to date. We have occasional delays with suppliers, miniscule amounts compared to the years of intense activity in the cultural scene throughout Brazil. Like all culture producers, we are stewards of debt, our currency is trust, without it there would be no credit. The public and private sectors do not meet the minimum needs of doing culture. Thus, there still exists in our relationship with the government a very strong component of resistance to an obsolete law that does not recognize the new working relationships.
We create our own system to deal with all these gaps and lack of public policies for culture. This system includes festivals, circuits, currency and a unique way of life based on relations of exchange that are independent of large capital investments and which are essential for us to continue with our political autonomy.
Game of S.k.a.t.e. at Casa Minas. Photo credit: Casa Fora do Eixo Minas / Foter / CC BY-SA 2.0.
Amongst the critiques I hear from some other movement activists in Brazil is that Fora do Eixo has a charismatic and hierarchical leadership, with a few leaders determining the actions of a group. Some people also feel that Fora do Eixo members are exclusively concerned with their own community i.e. that it suffers from some form of communitarian enclosure.
This enclosure thing, or even sect as we’ve been called, is very contradictory, and at times even ridiculous. What I understand is that most communities like ours close themselves off, just to not have to deal with the external review that is often fraught with value judgments and moral content.
The central point is that the off-axis does exactly the opposite: We are radically transparent; we are exposing ourselves all the time, from the way we use social networks to the methodology of open code, having open meetings, live broadcasts, publishing spreadsheets and accounting all the time, and showing up to debate.
The process of collective assessment has always been understood as an input and making self criticism is intrinsic feature to a process like this.
Since the first collectives started to work in their cities, we have lived with the most diverse criticisms. The fact is that the kind of availability we generate and how we solve the challenge of time in activism and cultural management through the House and the Collective Bank is very innovative.
These questions raised are also somewhat dated, and correspond to the opinion of people who lived in FdE houses or interacted with the network around 2011, in particular with the experience of the São Paulo house, which due to the fact of being in its initial and experimental phase, likely produced an environment of strong pressure. What is interesting is that the practice of self criticism as an organic process has corrected these aspects. For example, all 22 people who started 2013 living in the São Paulo house are still heavily involved in the network, but live in other spaces across the network. The management is now undertaken by an entirely new group while the space (the House) retains the same relevance as before. This is only possible in a very dynamic organization with capacity for a constant renewal of leadership.
The extent to which this sum of practices translates into new political aesthetics has given rise to a very interesting phenomenon wherein the political right calls us leftist communists while the classical left points to us as the new capitalists of culture. Nowadays, we have to look at the historical perspective of fundamental movements for the Brazilian culture such as the Week of Modern Art in 1922, or Tropicalia, both of which were also evaluated according to this duality. Therefore, when looking at these things, I think it’s safe to assume: Yup, we are on track.
After all this talk about criticism, I think that if we had not created a network in a country of continental dimensions like Brazil, developed a system of complementary currencies that works in collective houses with collective banks, if this platform did not become the main protagonist in the construction of a new map of Brazilian music, if several new artists and events they had not emerged from the network, if we had not moved into São Paulo and provoked a series of interferences without belonging to the organic intellectuals of the city , if we had not engaged in the March for Freedom, worked hard on ousting then Cultural Minsister Ana de Holanda, articulated the first meeting between Marta Suplicy (de Holanda’s replacement) and the social movement of culture, if we had not done Love Exists in SP, if Haddad (the mayor of SP) had not mentioned the movement in his inaugural address, and if we had not unleased Ninja Media being ready to cover the largest street demonstrations in recent Brazilian history, if we had not done all of that, perhaps we might not be receiving any criticism .
In our course, we always seek to divert ourselves from a principled and amateur political stance, which is a major limitation of movements today. So as we were establishing ourselves in an ecosystem of networks and movements, some positions and groups that were allocated more on the left saw themselves as being overcome and overtaken in the ability to share and act with solidarity. Thus, what we perceive is that often, by detonating a crisis of leadership in sectors of the left that have trouble accelerating their agendas, eventually opt to project their own frustrations pointing to the defects of totally new experience and that is only eight years old.
Since 2011, our ability to move collectively and en bloc has intesified, as has our strong potential for communication, commitment and availability for activism. This has placed us in a position to give support to and actively participate in marches and mobilizations with bikers, stoners, the student movement, movements struggling for land and housing, groups that combat homophobia, environmentalists, and several other agendas and issues in joint work environments don’t characterize themselves without an extensive process of dialogue and interaction.
In other words, a network doesn’t grow and become dynamic with this amount of potential and power if it’s not moved by a principle of autonomy and a very strong capacity for dialogue with all of its members and with people from outside the network. For the vast majority of people who generously observe, they soon see that this is manifested in daily advances and developments of all individuals who are part of the collective.
We live in a time of great change. The “Journey of June” (a protest that happend in 2013) in Brazil aligned with various movements that run around the world today, and the recently experienced technological changes put us in the eye of the hurricane, this dramatic process of social change brought about by the digital.
We are a unique laboratory of experience of digital networks in Brazil and perhaps unique in the world. We worked heavily in the last 10 years within the cultural circuit and, for at least three years, we are in constant dialogue with various sectors of Brazilian society. We do all this in an open and transparent way that we understand as “Beta,” and we are constant process of updating. And to top it off we had a huge amount of visibility in recent days due to the success and the amount of questions that Ninja Media sparked.
How movement strongly rooted in social networking, we also received the bonus and burden of everything that happens there. Which is to say that it is only natural that a movement that questions the system of representation in the network, should be the first receives the results. For us, this is always a great learning opportunity to improve our processes.
We have no problem receiving over actions of social networks, as we would like other entities, states and companies to receive, and we really hope that our experience can serve to advance us in the construction of new forms of participation and social control brought by the digital environment. We are the pretext for a major debate that needs to be broken, and despite the pain of injustice, we will remain committed and believing that debate will gain the depth necessary for Brazil to find its new paths.
How do you describe the current conjuncture of Brazil, and where is the country heading? Do you agree with me that the country has one of the more vibrant 'p2p' cultures in the world?
It's challenging trying to describe a situation in a setting that since June 2013 has been on the edge of unpredictability the whole time. What we know is that we are facing an explosive year, divided into two stages — first time with the World Cup and second with upcoming elections.
In terms of the World Cup, I think the challenge is to show the farce behind the FIFA standard in a field where the saturation of the language of marches and protests forces the movement to be creative and to invent smart narratives and forms of occupation that deal with police repression , criminalization and the weardown of public opinion who try to be charged all the time by our old and still powerful media.
In terms of the elections, the importance lies in the need to position a broad set of guidelines and movement that radically deny the proposals made by an increasingly unhealthy conservative right, without necessarily falling into the automatic alignment with the governance of the PT (left wing party which has the presidency of the country), on behalf of simply maintaining this popular project, which is now in a cast for many important topics for social movements.
All the excitement of that moment is only possible because, more than just Brazil, today I see Latin America as an environment that is a true estuary of P2P culture.
It's very simple. There was only one option for survival against a backdrop of abysmal inequality, entrenched as a residue of European colonization, and later U.S. imperialism in the region: The development of a culture of sharing, feedback, solidarity, do it yourself, the ability to do much with little, and to optimize resources and multiply.
In the context we are experiencing today of a crisis in civilization, due to the depletion produced by the system of speculative capital, European and American youth often find themselves with no prospects and in that moment the collective intelligence of South-South partnerships emerges as raw material to help get out of this state of depression that the North has entered. We are open and the download capability fully released. Download now.
How has your life changed after joining the Fora do Eixo? Where will you and the Fora do Eixo be in say 10 years?
I remember that, in 2007, a year before joining Fora do Eixo, I lived in San Carlos and was already working collectively producing festivals and events. One day I went to the office of the Culture Ministry to ask for support for a festival in a public space. The requested value was $20,000 to cover the rent of sound equipment, a power generator, security, and portable toilets.
The secretary asked me then how many resources I had raised, to which I replied that I didn’t even have $1 for the event, and she said that I couldn’t just go there and ask her to bankroll my dream.
I left there indignant at her lack of understanding of the processes we sought to strengthen, which included trying to position São Carlos as a center of cultural production in São Paulo.
By 2008, already in contact with the network and understanding the logic of systematization of the workforce (Card), I went back to the same to the same secretary requesting, again, the ministry’s support of $20,000. The difference is that this time I was able to demonstrate that $80,000 would be invested in services to carry out the event. This time, she had no choice be to grant our petition.
More than just receiving $20,000 for the event, I now understood that, with the logic of a collaborative economy, there would be no longer be separation between life and dream, since as a community that joins force, we could carry out whatever project we desired independent of the amount of money we had in the bank. This was very liberating.
Fora do Eixo has changed my life allowing a break with the decadent process of training that is offered by the Brazilian middle class. It has facilitated a break with the pre-established paradigm of youth in the service of the labor market and instead allows me to pursue a day to day lifestyle that represents the plot of a movie that I have always wanted to watch. It's like drinking from a fountain of youth that keeps you with the permanent feeling of living a historic moment accumulating decisive seconds on an epic journey. If this will give me a good future I do not know. But it will certainly give a past to be proud of.
Do you have international ambitions, i.e. a desire to either expand the Fora do Eixo outside Brazil, or to connect with other movements? Do you have any invitation for the readers of Shareable?
The practices of global awareness in space and time of our generation do not translate into a field of ambition. To transcend geographical barriers and blur boundaries is an organic question.
Brazil's advances in the social field and the rise of 40 million Brazilians out of poverty make our social fabric today a true embassy for a possible new world. It is the everyday inventions of new places and ways of life that can be so much better absorbed with practices and experiences. Come to Brazil! It has much more than samba and soccer to enjoy.