From our Finnish friends, Dec, 2001

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Finland: Materials from the meeting of the disobedients

Laboratory Kortepohja - a survey on the contents and areas of social disobedience

On December 6th 2001, in the demonstration for social rights and citizenship income, ( 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 different interests.

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, unconditioned income.

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 social position.

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.

Participatory research

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 co-operation.

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 sectors.

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...

Women's group

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 ( 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 in Finland.

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 ( or Muutoksen Kevät (, and on the other hand we have participated in the content production of the Finnish Indymedia ( 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 (, 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 "invisible".

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
TorA (Tornio),
Vastavalta (Jyväskylä),,
Ya Basta -Helsinki,