The Catalan Integral Cooperative: interview with Joel

The Future Is Ours To Hack
Interview with @alberto and @Joel1

The Catalan Integral Cooperative project:

Alberto and Joel talked about motivations for their alternative approaches to economy and the potential for a joint event as part of the summit (second after the Messina event).

Joel has studied cinematography to become a film maker. He topped it up with history and anthropology “to make better movies through understanding what the world needs”. From the year 2000 he explored alternatives to capitalism with his film projects in South America. After the economic crisis in 2007 he joined Enric Duran, activist and author around whom many others gathered, offering support for his team. In 2010 the the Catalan Integral Cooperative was founded.

In his own words CIC: “encourages and promotes social networking for everyone towards everything capable of satisfying the needs of the local community, politically, economically, culturally.”

It functions progressively disconnecting from centralised state and capitalism and gathers engineers who became farmers, academics distributing food in local networks and so on. It is the scientific scepticism that governs through consensus in a system where the individuals know best what they need, they talk to each other and together select the means to improve their lives, surroundings and whatsoever, and then actually apply them in practice.”

Alberto: I am really interested in the details and practical hacks. When we look on different utopian principles, the goals are often similar. What makes it or breaks it is the ability to use a piece of the old system in the new. You need to build a system of the future while being compatible with the present.
I am curious about how you do these things. Therefore I will ask some fairly practical questions as I think that is what people are hungry for:

Is the P2P Foundation report on the CIC a good source?

Joel: Yes, it is a good source.

Alberto: You seem to be exceptionally good enabling people to do “their thing”. You have organisations that act as infrastructure for people’s businesses and ideas, so that they can for example invoice. How do you make this work? People who barely can afford to run their own project/organisation seem not to have the ability to pay their costs. There are examples of cooperative doing that, for example in Belgium where people are registered and “employees” of the cooperative. You seem to be able to make that less expensive and more efficient. How do you do that?

Joel: To gather people, we offer them a platform for sharing. There is a little fee of around 50-100€ every three months instead of the usual 300€. It is very expensive to be self-employed in Catalonia.

Here, a special cooperatives law, which has been changed in the meantime, created a possibility of the volunteer work in cooperatives. The general idea was that if you were a farmer, an actor, craftsman, etc. in a cooperative, your “voluntary work” would have been remunerated through gift economy, which is quite difficult in reality. People must be paid in some other way still, they need to be able to buy gas, etc. This argument between us and the State was tremendously hard on us. The State saw us exclusively as a business, which was only a very small part of what we were doing. We were also promoting social eco-networks, local governance and created something that is still standing. We are rich with nature and culture, but we have to live in a society of scarcity because of the centralised money and interest system.

You wanted a technical example: We had maybe 500 people, but we had thousands of associates. Many of us had expenses but not the income, so the economists of the cooperative balanced the incomes with the expenses and that way we had to report less to the state.

Alberto: So this system was based on the specific law in Spain about volunteer workers?

Joel: That was only law in Catalonia. I actually think that it was written and left there intentionally for us to discover.

Alberto: You say this movement is connected to an older movement of progressives who were involved in writing/inspiring this type of legislature in the 1980’s?

Joel: Yes, we have contacts to many people in their seventies now, researchers and famous intellectuals, Bardina, Chalaux, revolutionary priests as Xirinacs , that made big findings about banking and money. For example, Leander Bindewald in his PhD thesis researching across many countries, discovered that there is no definition proving the existence of money in constitutions, laws…

Including David Greaber RIP.

Alberto: But Graeber, as influential as he might have been, could not influence writing laws in Catalonia in the 70’s.

Joel: Sure, but he has influenced political parties risen following the ideas of some of these people. We have contacts with these lawmakers and parties.

Alberto: Is your model more successful because you have some people to talk to in the parliament? (on your side)

Joel: Our, really distant, connections in the parliament are now working on a small version of basic income and Covid-19 is one of the main reasons for it. Maybe in 5 years it will get somewhere. For sure, we must move from here, we can not continue in the next centuries as we have.

Alberto: You used a quirk / feature of the Catalonian law, that you think was put there on purpose, you see a red thread from anarchist and progressives in the Catalonian history. This is quite unique.

Let’s move on: New initiatives are constantly born around CIC and some of them become independent. That is something we have been trying to do in Edgeryders as well. Not yet very successfully and I will tell you more about that if you want, but for now I would like to know:

How does it work? Do people come to you and suggest it?

Joel: Both ways, sometimes craftsmen come to us and tell us what they do/need and see how they can help and help themselves on the networks.

We are promoting all of this through social networks. The motto is: “Stop using the central currency - come to our cooperative and use social currency”.
Some people in political party CUP where promoting similar initiatives and even people in some of our networks connected.

From 2016 we are decentralising our activity. We are now building "cooperative shelters”. Once they are strong enough in an area, they disconnect from the central area. Now some of them are totally independent cooperative projects. For example, a baker with 5 people and a few rooms for rent. They might still use the same cooperative system but they are disconnected from the central one now. We are not sure how all of them are doing now.

Alberto: Let me ask you about this idea of Making the world in your image and creative freedom . We have been able to help some people close to us to start a software development company. Edgeryders would be the first client of that company. The idea is that if we needed something done, it would be done as between friends. If you want to start something, you can take the “Edgeryders hat” to get started and then you can develop on from that. We have not been very successful in doing that yet, but you seem to have been very successful, how did you do that?

Joel: In terms of computer stuff, we were really successful because we started with hack labs with some great people. It was interesting to work with them and many have joined and got involved because of that (as some developing retro share). The people were not interested in starting their own companies, but living independent from state and capitalism. We wanted to live. Even so, I worked 10-15 hours a day without recognising it for 5 years. I lived in a sci-fi universe and enjoyed it. We jumped 1000 years from 1999 to 3000, we had lunch with the best organic food in the gift economy without touching a dime. We have films and culture in sci-fi environment. We occupied the place through juridical practices. Its name is Aurea Social.

Alberto: There seem to be buildings “up for grabs”. How does that work?

Joel: Low budget rents, squatting, legal squatting, etc. There are also rich supporters who front/donate money to build up eco villages and houses like these. The black sheep of the richest families in the world, you know, who also see that the way the humanity lives now is wrong. But we could live like in heaven! I witnessed it 24/7 in these places. The pleasure of explaining it. Paradise can exist. I have seen it for five years.

The future, the present and everything, they are ours to hack! No need to sacrifice yourself for that. If you want, you could come and live with us. Maybe like that, we would live after the singularity.

Alberto: The CIC starts with the critique of money. Can you explain more?

What thoughts about the nature of money inspired what choices in the development of CIC. It seems that you embraced an existing alternative currency that already existed in Catalonia, What happened there? Did you find it?

Joel: We used different types of economy and currency:

  1. Gift economy (I don’t want to be your consumer I want to be your friend)
  2. Exchange
  3. Social currency
  4. An ethical cryptocurrency (fair coins)
  5. Not ethical cryptocurrency
  6. Euros

We use the existing platform as Community Exchange System (CES) and created others.

Other examples: We had engineers making amazing fuel cells, but we were not able to register the patent as the engineers would not want to run the risk.

We rented a house in a beautiful village for very little in exchange for fixing little bits, they are renting now for 10 people for 600 euro.

For Calafou a friend put 200.000€ down to enable that, without hoping to get it back.

Aurea Social was squatted through legal manoeuvres. From 2015 they have been saying: “it’s the last few months”, but it is till going on.

We made an country inside a country. Now go to the EU, now go to the World Bank. Now it is the time due to Covid-19! Let’s create the universal income! We should base it on Switzerland’s experience and after a few months of splendour, people will adopt. Humans are the only ones paying rent on this planet. We are all servants of a stupid centralised system. They say it pushes people to work, but people want to work! It does not even help the richest, no one is happy. Nobody would like to rob you if everyone was wealthy. How does it work in Switzerland? They won’t have a crisis since they still use their own social currency as WIR. The planet could be happy by Christmas. You might work 17 hours a day or none, but you would be happy.

Alberto: As we wait for this wise decision to be implemented I would like to ask you a question: How do you work across the ECO and Euro? Which of your transaction work how?

Joel: For example, I was paid 450 € and 150 in Social Currency, but I changed to 200 in Social Currency and 400 in €. I had the best apartment in Barcelona near Sagrada Familia, great holiday places to go with my family. But quite often I had preferred to stay in Barcelona and work. Or “labour” rather than work, as work comes from enslavement, labour is what enriches and develops you.

Alberto: There is part of that CASX relies on, isn’t it?

Joel: CASX is a bank, credit without interests, on fiat money and social currency. They did not rise very high. And by the way, they still have 40 € from me from a while ago, but I do not mind, I see it as a contribution.

In our case, there was a proposal to account everything, but in the process to do that we were losing ourselves and our motivation. People lost their passion through that. Not all the accounting was unnecessary, but it matters less in gift economies.

Alberto: How does a unit of Social Currency rate to a unit of Euro?

Joel: It is independent, but can be used as 1 to 1 for pricing products and services. Despite that, we don’t change social currency for euros.

The weight of the Social Currency in the networks can vary from 100% to a minimum of 10-20%. We wanted to have a 20% Social Currency minimum. I increased it for me to 30%. Some people reduced the amount of Euro to very low amounts because they did not need it.

When it was necessary we squatted houses. Never from people, but from the “evil banks” (those which were part of the crisis). This way we did not have to pay for flats. There are energy, telephone, cooperative Internet … if you use that, you do not need Euros.

Catalonia attracts computer people because it has an internet cooperative which works as intranet on the scale of a country (Guifi).

Alberto: What is your connection to Guifi?

Joel: Some of us were among its founders. Enric Duran, who founded the CIC and many other initiatives since early 2000’s, convinced his father to buy infrastructure in Barcelona to make free Internet for the people and many other projects .

Alberto: How would you instruct a poor person in another country how to do this?

Joel: First, make yourself famous. Then, show your commitment.

You have to enter in contact with intellectual, writers, economists, jurists and lawyers, academics and journalists who sound a little bit on the similar lines and here you go. You already have 5000 people in the Edgeryders network.

Alberto: 6000

Joel: 6001 with me. It is very interesting to me.

Show commitment.

Look for juridical advice in the country you are in, look for the gaps that the big companies use to enrich themselves. Instead of filling our pockets, give it back to the people.

In Sweden, they renew, revamp the hospitals tech every 2 years for example. The leftovers can be reused to start new collectivised health centres. This is how we did it in education, we started a school and many other projects.

All these things involve people. You provide a place for them. Where, for example, one can come and prepare for school, where homeschool children can meet. People will come and ask: “why is it free, how does it work?” and you will ask them “What do you do?” They say for example: “I am a graphic designer”, you will ask: “Do you have a hobby? " - “Baking cookies” - “Bring some!”

Over some time you will have local beer, or self-made toothpaste or things like that in social currency.

Last year it was Greta Thunberg talking about the climate change. What I think is why don’t we raise a campaign for changing the basic economic system, the world’s monetary system? For example, 3 thousand Swiss Franks as basic income worldwide. Not 500 to cover rent etc. – everyone should be free of sorrow! Human warmth and sociality is possible with that. I could accept to start with 700 € first raising it over the next years so that by 2030 every adult over 18 years gets 3000 €. Not for children, because people might try to get children for money.

Alberto: Thank you very much. I will contact you again after thinking about all of this.