Finland: Materials from the meeting of the disobedients
Laboratory Kortepohja - a survey on the contents and areas of social
On December 6th 2001, in the demonstration for social rights and citizenship
we experienced something new: social disobedience as a common model
of action without ideological signs transcended the boundaries between
different groups. Actually this phenomenon was neither completely new
to us, nor was it detached from global incidents, such as the way that
the model of disobedience of the white overalls transcended group differences
in Genoa, July 2001. Nevertheless, on December 6th 2001 we experienced
this phenomenon in a new context and in the extent which our communities
had not experienced before. This article aims to introduce the contents
and areas of the disobedients' political project. When we speak of the
"disobedients", we refer to such groups, whose goals include
spreading the practices of disobedience. In no way does this mean that
we appropriate these practices solely to ourselves or that we speak
in the name of all disobedients.
Disobedience against imperial power
Even if we talk about disobedience, in our opinion the workings of the
current power cannot be adequately understood by reducing it to simple
relationships of commandants and subordinates (obedients). The practices
of power mostly consist of much more complex relationships, networks
and workings than uncomplicated "possessors" of power. When
the object of power is life as such, the totality of body and mind,
there is no such thing as space outside power.
"Empire" is a name which we have often used of the current
global form of sovereignty. The practices of disobedience which we are
spreading are directed especially against imperial power. The Empire
is the new global order which has been created during the recent years,
and in which the political power has been displaced from the national
states to new global institutions, that are both financial, political
and military (G8, WTO, IMF, World Bank, NATO). Other parts of the imperial
machinery include large corporations and their global forums, the media
and the spectacle industry and of course the national states, which
- still after the transformation of their significance - can be trusted
regarding the use of military and police forces. The birth of the Empire
does not mean that the world is guided by "free markets".
On the contrary, the Empire is able to selectively use market freedom
to support its goals. The way in which the Empire legitimates its political
power consists more and more of declaring states of war and emergency
and acting in these conditions rather than making compromises or mediating
The progression of the Empire as a political construction is also connected
to the efficient use of productional postindustrialization. In the new
postindustrial condition the demand for wage work has diminished particularly
as the effect of the technological development, simultaneously as social
wealth has continued its increase. On the other hand, the production
of information, communication and affects has an increasing part in
the productional field, and old-fashioned, fordist productional structures
have collapsed. Life has become inseparable from work. To this situation
Empire has answered with neoliberal strategies, such as the decreasing
of labor costs, the cuts in social security expenditures, the increasing
of flexibility in the working life and the maintaining of the norm concerning
productive participation defined as "work". As an answer to
this situation we - among many others - have made the proposal of universal,
When the working conditions become non-typical, flexible and part-time,
the possibility of using traditional forms of collective pressuring,
such as strikes, is becoming enormously smaller. When production is
circulated everywhere in the society, and when it becomes inseparable
from reproduction (the reproduction of labor is a precondition of production
and not vice versa), the form of the strike that is tied to working
wage and working place loses its central position and "social strike"
becomes the most central tool of conflict. The goals of social strike
are not connected just to wage, but also to reproduction and its preconditions
(environment, global politics, etc.) and its place cannot be the factory
or the working place. The analogy between social disobedience and the
traditional strike of the proletariat is a thing that has to be emphasized
constantly: if the workers have the right to strike, also the people,
who are productive regardless of the juridical status of their work,
should have the right to such form of strike which corresponds to their
Disobedience must always include a conversational dimension of expanding
consensus, the production of new networks and practices. It is important
to notice that in addition to collective physical actions or appropriations
of spaces, disobedience can also signify a physical transition, the
escape away from dominant conditions. As examples of this it can be
mentioned the movements of emigration and immigration, which challenge
the right of the order to define the "correct" places of people.
Practices such as refusal and desertion mean fighting against the command
by means of leaving or "exodus" rather than by means of direct
resistance. Disobedience and social strike do not mean refusal from
one's own know-how and productivity but, on the contrary, refusal from
the imperial command.
It is central that the practices of disobedience are spread also to
other areas than among restricted small groups. It is also evident that
even currently spontaneous disobedience and everyday forms of resistance
are practiced by many people e.g. among the labor movement or among
the young proletariat. We have to ask which could be the ways to encounter
these people, not only to teach them but also to learn ourselves, and
on the other hand to root the practices of disobedience in the field
of social productivity and life as a whole.
One of such initiatives is participatory research. Its goals are to
explain the conditions of production, to increase comprehension about
the possibilities of transformation and to offer tools for the transformation.
In this context research does not mean photographing reality, pseudo-objective
calculation or observation from above. Instead, we are referring to
a consciously political method, which is an interactive and communicative
process, in which both participating sides enrich themselves and each
other. Research must enable us to understand reality especially in order
to place preconditions on its transformation.
Some of the principles of participatory research include opening new
ways of questioning and producing theory empirically, from empirical
knowledge which consists of profound cases rather than numbers. The
principles also include recognizing and observing the effects of the
position of the researcher and the acknowledgement of cultural contexts
and the restrictedness of perspectives. The researcher encounters people
with active desires and needs, not units which could be completely predicted.
Even if some kind of generalizing of the results is among the aims of
participatory research, it is not an end in itself. The measure of the
success of research is its ability to produce critical and antagonistic
It is certain that encountering productive subjects means also encountering
suspicions. It is understandable that many people have suspicions concerning
carrying out research, because they know that researches are produced
usually either only for some scientific publication or in order to rearrange
the command and therefore to reproduce it. On the other hand, suspicions
may be connected to how "politics" is a dirty word, which
is associated with the management of masses of people in order to strengthen
the power of certain elites.
The first phase of participatory research is to transcend these suspicions.
The second phase is the preliminary phase, in which the background research
is made and the communication strategy is created, the strategy which
circulates different experiences and which produces opportunities for
criticizing productional conditions. The third phase is the performative
phase, in which the workers do self-research, that is rooted in organizing
and conflicts. In other words, there is no need for vanguards to tell
what conflict means and what are its tools, but there is a need for
spreading practices such as disobedience and conflicts, which are able
to produce consciousness and to govern themselves.
In autumn 2001 we have produced a collection of articles called "Metropolitan
proletarian research", which primarily aims to help those interested
in doing participatory research, by explaining both the phases of research
and some of the changes that have taken place in production (postfordism,
immaterial labor etc.). During the year 2002 some of us will do their
own part in carrying out participatory research e.g. among postal workers
and nurses. For this purpose we have produced a translation of a question
form and applied it according to the needs of different productional
The experiences from Koivula and the future of the social center model
Also the appropriation of space is an important model of social disobedience.
As an example of this can be mentioned the short-time social center
of Koivula, a project in which also some people from our network participated.
Koivula is a real estate owned by the city of Helsinki, rented to the
nursing district of the area. It had been empty for years until it was
squatted on September 1st 2001. In addition to creating a social center,
the goal of the appropriation was to get as many as possible apartments
for young people. The squatters also wanted to raise discussion about
why several houses are being kept empty simultaneously as the lack of
apartments in the area of the capital city of Finland is becoming worse
and worse, and as especially youngsters and students find it difficult
to get reasonably priced flats. The nursing district did not consent
to discuss with the squatters in any phase except by declaring constant
demands of leaving the house without preconditions. The squatting ended
on October 15th when the police came and arrested the twelve people
who were in the house at that moment.
Regarding the case of Koivula, it was difficult for some "outsiders"
to understand that the action was not just a protest or a way of forming
an opinion, but it was an appropriation of space in order to use it.
The use of rented space always has its preconditions, the rent contract
can easily be dissolved, and therefore a rented space cannot be called
"self-governed" to the extent as a squatted one. One of the
main principles of the social center model is to create "a laboratory",
in which to experiment in practice some alternative models of living
in a community. Simultaneously the aim is to expand activity to the
surrounding society. It is not the goal of the space to make profit,
but in some cases taking payment for services (e.g. alcohol, food, movies
etc.) can be reasonable.
An integral part of a social center is an open, democratic model of
decision making. There is no such thing as a finished model, which means
that every community creates their model of decision making according
to its needs. In Koivula the matters of the house were decided in general
meetings, and the agendas of these meetings were shown on the wall of
a room which functioned as a place for free social activity. In the
beginning of a meeting a secretary and a facilitator were chosen, the
facilitator's function being mostly to take care of the order of speeches.
The reports of the meetings were placed in the same wall as the agendas,
so that also those, who were not able to come to the meeting, could
get information about the decisions.
Naturally this area also included problems such as the contradiction
between efficiency and profoundness, the dividing of matters between
workshops and general meetings or the formulation of unofficial leaderships.
There were much more plans of activity than was ever actually realized.
The most visible and planned form of activity was the cafeteria, which
was open every Saturday. The main goal of the cafeteria was to lower
the threshold of the "ordinary people" to visit the house.
There was a relatively large amount of visitors, dozens during the best
days. In addition to the cafeteria an "exchange market" was
created (a place in which everyone could give and take commodities for
free), and also some meetings of different groups were held in the house.
Other plans (e.g. a meal-serving cafeteria, a wood workshop, a studio,
courses according to the needs of immigrants) were left unrealized.
There were about twenty people living in Koivula and in addition to
that about the same amount spent their time there actively. In the later
stages of the squat the activity was beginning to be quite stuck and
the possibilities of activity were - to say the least - limited because
of constant insecurity etc. For practical reasons (the guards and the
police) the door was kept locked except during the cafeteria time. Because
Koivula is a block of flats constructed for the purpose of ordinary
accommodation, solutions concerning the use of space were understandably
limited for this reason too. Problems were caused also by questions
such as the dividing of private and public space (which could be the
best possible solution concerning the realizing of the social center
model?) and the definition of being an inhabitant (which forms of participating
in the common activity should be demanded from an inhabitant?) There
is clearly a demand for active social centers in the current society.
Especially those who are underaged and can't get into restaurants and
bars, have a severe lack of places for socialization. The spaces for
young people maintained by the city, with their restricted hours of
being open and their strict regulations, are limited solutions, which
do not reach those mostly in need. In Koivula it was noticed that it
is not just the existence of a squatted house that is enough to draw
a lot of people even if the house is located in the center of the city.
The threshold of becoming acquainted must be quite high, and e.g. the
youngsters from the non-central areas of the city do not have much interest
in coming just for a coffee to another side of the city. The supply
of services must be close to the needs of the potential users of the
space, in other words e.g. musical events (a possibility which was excluded
in the case of Koivula because of a short distance to a hospital), skateboarding
possibilities, pool tables and simply just places for free socialization.
Koivula was surely just the beginning...
We recognize completely the need for an autonomous organizing by women.
We think that by organizing autonomously we can more freely bring up
causes that we consider important, and without these concerns being
labeled as insignificant. The same is valid regarding the choices of
focusing our action: we can make our decisions, manifestations and activities
according to our own perspective. In addition, this way we aim to transform
women's contributions in social activism, or in the society in general,
from invisibility into visibility. The labor done by women is mostly
invisible -even without white overalls.
Regardless of this clear distinction we emphasize that we don't want
to become a ghetto, marginalized inside the disobedient network. The
causes that we consider important must be distinctly brought up also
internally among the disobedients. Women's group is not going to be
just an internal project within the disobedients, but an autonomous,
more extensive group, into which activists are accepted from both inside
and outside of the disobedient network.
We have discussed vividly and extensively about the focusing of our
action, without being able raise any singular cause as the central theme.
We have talked about e.g. guaranteed income and the gendered character
of immigration. We have also considered agitation for a general strike
of domestic work on women's day and organizing as women's blocks in
the future demonstrations. The future of the group has so far remained
quite open because we have not had enough time to make more plans concerning
our activities. We have a mailing list and we can be contacted by e-mailing
Regardless of the open situation, the future is looking promising, because
the interest seems quite vast, and people seem to be motivated for this
kind of organizing.
No Border -network
No Border -network (http://www.noborder.org)
is one of the international networks in which we have participated,
and in whose activity we are the most pleased. The European No Border
-network was created the first time in 1996 and re-activated again in
autumn 1999 during the Tampere EU top summit. As founders of the network
there were people and groups that had participated in different movements
that had criticized the immigration and refugee policies of the European
Union, such as the "sans papiers"-movement in France, the
Italian movement for the closing of detention centers for immigrants
(Via Corelli in Milan being the most famous example), "Kein mensch
ist illegal" in Germany, National Coalition of Anti-Deportation
Campaigns (NCADC) in the UK etc. As a unifying factor for the network
there has been firstly the demand of free movement (and settlement),
and secondly the carrying out of diverse forms of direct action (stopping
of deportations, demonstrations and civil disobedience on the borders
and around detention centers, occupations, supporting illegal immigrants).
Recently it has become evident that there is
a need to start the activity of this network also in Finland. It must
be noticed that illegal immigration is real biopolitical movement against
the borders which the Empire places for the multitude. At the moment,
illegal immigrants are maybe the largest and the most important socially
disobedient subject in Europe.
The first pan-European No Border -camp will take place in Strasbourg,
France, during July 2002. The place has been chosen because of the SIS
(Schengen Information System) headquarters and computer center located
in Strasbourg. SIS is the most important general information system
in the use of the European officials. Its role is being increased and
its significance concerning the control of immigrants (and to a growing
extent, also of political activists) is central. The choice of the place
is also connected
to the transformed characteristics of border control: in all the EU
countries also internal inspections (used for searching of illegal immigrants)
are being increased, in addition to the actual border control. It is
expected that about 1000-3000 people will come to the camp from all
over Europe and it is intended that it will last ten days. Some kind
of final climax (such as a large demonstration or a festival) is also
being planned. At the moment it seems than a transportation by bus to
the No Border -camp will be organized from Finland.
Concerning examples about the other projects within the No Border -network
it can be mentioned that "Autonomous action"-collective from
Moscow is doing a project to help the Chechenyan refugees who want to
apply for an asylum in other countries, especially in the EU area. The
first phase of the project is to produce a booklet to be distributed
to the internal refugees in Chechenya, a booklet which explains the
methods which can be used in order to enter the EU area and to get a
staying permission. There are also initiatives about a general action
against IOM (International Organization on Migration). The goal of the
IOM is to regulate and govern immigration circulations, and it is a
part of its activity to send people back to their "home countries".
Also in Finland the IOM takes care about the returning of those who
are to be deported. In general the organization tries to stop and prevent
illegal immigration and to make border control and searching of illegal
immigrants more efficient.
In addition to all this, several border camps are being planned, to
the border of Germany and Poland, to the eastern border of Poland and
possibly to the border of Finland and Russia (Imatra-Svetogorsk). In
general concerning the situation in Finland it is worth mentioning that
an isolation center is being planned to Nurmijärvi (in the southern
Finland), a center in which to take those who are turned away in a special
fast process, those who are being deported or those waiting for the
handling of their asylum application for
some other reason. Currently these isolated people are being kept (against
the law and against the human rights agreements) in prisons or in jail,
and therefore concerning the conditions the isolation center should
be a progressive step. However, it is evident that the isolation center
makes possible a much more extensive use of administrative isolation
The "counter summit" of Copenhagen
In our opinion the time of the large mobilizations in connection to
the imperial top summits is over. There are many reasons for this, the
most important ones including the already obtained possible benefit
of publicity (the breakthrough into the general consciousness), the
authoritarian phase of the Empire and the need to concentrate more on
the activity within the powers of productional co-operation. In any
case different kinds of regional mobilizations still have their place
in the future as creators of continuity and on the other hand as tools
of networking. In connection to the Copenhagen EU top summit (December
2002) there will take place a mobilization of counteractions, which
will most likely resemble the process in Gothenburg in June 2001, and
which is simultaneously a very important project for us.
We know that in this process there are powers, on whose agenda it is
to be against the EU and to defend the sovereignty of national states
(including nostalgia of national currencies etc.) - just like in Gothenburg
anti-EU organizations had their own demonstration. It is our starting-point
to emphasize the human right to free movement as the central theme.
We regard this question as a very essential condition and a threshold
concerning our decision about which parts of the mobilization we want
to participate - we will not co-operate with e.g. nationalist organizations.
For the time being we do not have a clear conception about the model
of action, but it is certain that there will be a lot of discussions
about this topic. In fact we regard as one of the central functions
of the mobilization of Copenhagen the tightening and the expansion of
the Northern European network of disobedients, and naturally also the
connection of this process to the self- organization of immigrants.
Also a lot of problems are connected to the mobilization of Copenhagen.
The level of the expected repression procedures is not the smallest
one of these problems, especially because of the extreme right wing
Danish government. The unorganized and unforeseen nature of some of
the subjects included in the mobilization is also a problem, which may
have its own part in producing completely purposeless destruction and
the endangering of outsiders. In addition to this, we must notice that
if the problems of the illegal immigrants are brought up as the central
theme, it is an important question to think about how to guarantee that
these people are not arrested in demonstrations. In this case a remarkable
peacefulness must be a presupposition, but on the other hand we think
that it's necessary to produce especially disobedient models of action.
The network and networking
The way our network has been organized is quite loose and informal.
There is no membership register, and "members" are considered
to be those who participate in the activities and conversations in an
active way. We have an open and affirmative attitude regarding the founding
of new disobedient groups in new locations (and why not also in areas
where these groups already exist). No official structures have been
formed in our sharing of tasks. In different situations different people
have performed in the media, produced theory, visited other countries
and taken care of diplomacy etc. Of course it is obvious that some unofficial
structures have been formed, but this is not problematic as such, if
we are able to recognize these structures and to question them if needed.
The opportunity to realize the sharing and recycling of tasks depends
on the different know-how and participation possibilities of different
people. It can be said that the way our network is organized also consists
of different workshops (participatory research workshop, women's group,
website workshop etc.) in addition to communication networks.
One of the central areas of our action is publishing. On the other hand,
we have participated in the production of some autonomous magazine projects
- which are nevertheless close to us - such as Megafoni (http://megafoni.kulma.net)
or Muutoksen Kevät (http://www.kulma.net/mkevat),
and on the other hand we have participated in the content production
of the Finnish Indymedia (http://www.vaikuttava.net).
During 2001 we published two pamphlets, both in Finnish. The first one
was called "The emperor and the tramp - articles about immigration,
citizenship and sovereignty", and the second one was the already
mentioned "Metropolitan proletarian research".
In addition to the No Border -network one of the most important international
networks for us has been People's Global Action (http://www.agp.org),
a co- operation channel of several "southern" and "northern"
movements against neoliberalism - however, there are no actions done
in the name of PGA. In general we have a qualitative rather than quantitative
attitude towards co- operation: it is not a value as such, it is more
important what kind of practical paths co-operation will open and on
what conditions. For us the most important ones of these conditions
are the acceptance of social disobedience, a similar comprehension of
the most important demands (guaranteed income, the human right to free
movement, autonomy from capitalist command etc.) and the separation
from the defending of national states. In our opinion it is very essential
that networking means creating relationships and struggles in co-operation
with those who are affected by the real problems (the "invisible"
such as the immigrants, the houseless, the unemployed, the part-time
workers, the students etc.), rather than co- ordination and adjustments
between non-governmental organizations. The organizing of the former
is the one that creates struggles. We have a critical attitude towards
co-operation with political parties, because we think that it is characteristic
for parliamentarism to offer endless compromises and legitimization
of the current order. It must also be noticed that the traditional era
of mass parties, in which the opinion forming of the parties was based
more on the conversations between the different parts of the party organization,
is over. Nowadays many parties - such as the green party - need social
movements to maintain their foundation of support. Simultaneously the
significance of national parliaments has decreased, even if in some
questions the parliamentary power relations may still have some importance.
It is our starting-point to strengthen the dependence of the parties
on the civil society rather than vice versa. On the other hand, in the
current society it may be important for social movements to have good
relationships with some areas of the party field just for the sake of
their security (e.g. the presence of M(E)P's in demonstrations has decreased
the danger of the demonstrators' physical injury). We think that it's
important for us to co-operate especially with the youth organization
of the green party, including the interest for candidacy in the Finnish
parliamentary elections in 2003.
During the recent years a new form of organization has arisen: the so-
called "social forum". Concerning the Social forum of Finland
(or Pro democracy -movement), we suppose that it is not much else than
again a new effort by those who love the national state to build a "people's
movement", without any real connection to the struggles of the
World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is of course a much
more interesting case as a process, whose aim is to create the long-time
strategies and goals of the "movements of Seattle". Some parts
of our international network are participating into this process. In
any case, we have our doubts about this one too, because PT, one of
the central subjects of Porto Alegre, which is also likely to participate
in the government of Brazil in the near future, has never as a political
power placed the interests of the non-white multitude in central place.
In addition to this, there are subjects in the process of Porto Alegre,
on whose agendas there is a remarkable affirmation of national states.
We think that the most sensible proposal could be such that - simultaneously
as it expands disobedience in the most developed capitalist countries
- gathers around the same proposal the southern youth, the immigrants
living in the north and most marginalized subjects in the south, from
women to the original populations. In practice this means refusing all
traditional solutions and political compromises inside the social forums
and founding a working table of disobedients everywhere.
The question of language and theory
We have sometimes been criticized because of our ways of expression.
On the other hand, we have also received positive feedback for being
able to say something new or in general to reform the language of social
movements, to put it in touch with the transformed world. In our opinion
both of these reactions imply that theoretical productivity is one of
our main resources. Even if our expression could sometimes have been
more clear, the "difficulty" of our language is provocative,
it causes thoughts that an "easy" language (which enters the
other ear only to come out of the other) does not create. Maybe those
that have criticized our "theoreticallity" have not understood
that theory is a productive element, and that even our most complex
writings have included real political proposals. One can also ask if
a critical attitude towards our expression is a sign of grasping desperately
to concepts of a world that is no more ("nation", "imperialism"
etc.). On the other hand, one should remember that we have also actively
tried to define the concepts or names which we have used - an evidence
of this is "The Postfordist Dictionary" (compiled in Finnish).
In addition to this, the question of expression is a constant topic
also in our internal discussion.
Apparently in the background of the criticisms which we have encountered
there is the deconstruction of cultural unity. The current social movements
are acting in the middle of a phase of social and cultural rupture,
simultaneously as some of the subjects who are producing this rupture,
which includes e.g. the internationalization of decision making and
the extensive cultural exchange. Within this rupture the breaking up
of cultural unity means that there is less and less any "people's
language" and a field of significancies or a consciousness shared
by the "people of the nation". In this situation we should
be able to intelligently comprehend and to know different ways of speaking,
at the same time understanding, that traditions of discourse are not
only practices of expression, but also traditions of conception and
thinking: it is no use to demand from us language that is not in touch
with the current world or with a materialist conception of reality.
In Jyväskylä, Finland, January 11th-13th 2002
LABORATORY KORTEPOHJA: Kipinä (Turku), email@example.com,
TorA (Tornio), firstname.lastname@example.org
Vastavalta (Jyväskylä), email@example.com,
Ya Basta -Helsinki, firstname.lastname@example.org