After the World-InfoCon conference in Amsterdam Brian Holmes, writer, art critic and translator told World-Information.Org about his collaboration with the French artist group Bureau 'Études in mapping capitalist structures.
Q: Brian, you are described in the conference materials as a theoretician of anti-capitalism. What does a theoretician of anti-capitalism do?
A: The first thing to do is to figure out what capitalism is. I think a theorist of anti-capitalism has a big job just putting names and locations and maybe even faces on all the money that controls the world.
Q: You work a lot with maps. What kind of sources do you use creating these maps?
A: These maps are created by a group called Bureau d’Etudes in Paris, and I collaborate with them doing writing, translation and also some research and conception. They have been doing this for quite a few years now by different kinds of research into corporations, industrial and financial, and also into the functioning of influence groups, where different members of the elite meet and take decisions. This research is based on various kinds of sources. There are observatories which monitor big businesses and produce statistics, there are lots of official statistics produced by different kinds of governmental institutions and private agencies. Companies also produce quarterly reports. The interesting project with the maps is to make hidden information which cannot be easily accessed visible and to circulate it in different ways.
Q: Is most of the information you use for this work freely available? Do you ever find yourself being charged a lot of money for data?
A: Generally it is openly available. There are barriers to information access, which have to do with mainly professional competency. There are also aspects of capitalism, particularly finance, which are completely covert. The more of a sense you develop for how to follow the trails of capitalism, the more likely you are to find them, because such traces must exist, given the demands of the system. But the question is not only finding these traces, they must be put into an explanatory framework to make them more tangible for the people who are being controlled. Finance is a mechanism of control, and what we try to do in these maps is to show how different types of control are actually connected. For example, a particular type of financial control over a company can lead to physical control systems, when the company decides to make a profit by producing implants for the satellite tracking of prisoners. There is a whole architecture of dispersed physical controls behind this relatively concentrated power diagram, which is financial and also governmental. Our interest is to make these symbolic forms of control visible, and also to make visible the forms of industrial production that set the parameters of your daily life.
Q: For some years there has a widespread sentiment that the Internet offers possibilities of bypassing capitalistic modes of exchange based on exploitation, for example in the form of peer-to-peer systems. To what extent to you share that perspective?
A: I am very interested in that perspective and one of the things I find the most interesting for the kind of work that I want to do in the future is the creation of networked teams for examining things from below. Usually you get a view from the top. Power is concentrated also in the capacity to do research and strategic analysis. People have different kinds of skills, and these could be assembled in a network process where they gain nuance, and where they can do some kinds of things that were formerly limited to organized researchers with a hierarchical structure behind them. I think in that sense the open source notion is in no way limited to technology or to code writing and has become a much larger possibility. This is not only very interesting but somehow vital.
Q: Franco Berardi (Bifo) recently suggested that the only globalization there is the anti-globalization movement. According to him, capital actually is reassuming national forms of expansion. Do you agree with that? Is capital really retreating within the boundaries of the nation sate?
A: I agree with the point about the anti-globalization movement being the most globalized movement. But I think capitalism is not reverting to the nation state, but shifting its focus to regional blocs, such as NAFTA and potentially the FTAA bloc in the Americas; then the EU, which is in the process of becoming much larger; and finally the bloc formed by China and the ASEAN nations, which have just signed a treaty to form full-fledged free trade bloc in ten years from now. What we are seeing is a supersession of the nation state, but not towards the kind of borderless world that Clinton and his Treasury Secretary Rubin thought they were going to make in the 1990s. Instead it's heading towards a system of three very large competing blocs with a shaky legal and diplomatic infrastructure for global trade. To say that capital is retreating within the nation state is to believe what you hear on Berlusconi's TVs. But the trouble is, it's still so easy in Europe to focus on your national state, while the capitalist class goes on doing what it wants with Europe.