Andrew Reitemeyer: The Pirates — a Multifaceted Political Experiment [Pirate Visions]

Andrew Reitemeyer: The Pirates — a Multifaceted Political Experiment [Pirate Visions]

The Pirates are one of the latest incarnations of a movement rooted in history but dealing with modern and future situations. Andrew Reitemeyer is an editor at Pirate Times and Chair of the Pirate Party of New Zealand.

These articles are part of the weekly series ‘Pirate Visions’ from different prominent international pirates. We asked them to write as individuals and not in their official capacities in their party or organisation. We hope you would like to join us in discussing the future direction for pirates internationally by commenting on this article, sharing it and reflecting upon what the author is saying.

The Pirate Movement is neither modern nor unique, but rather the continuation of a long process that has been ongoing since at least the 17th century with the Levelers, and probably long before that.  We have been fighting against those who would control our lives for their own profit. Our progress over the years has been slow and often bloody. When we make ten steps forward we are forced back nine. What makes the Pirate Movement the latest incarnation of this struggle is that we bring the fight to both the digital and physical world.  The future of the movement is bright, but also full of perils.

There is one factor that our predecessors did not have in their formative phase — the Internet. More recent movements, such as the labour movement, feminism, gay liberation, the ecology movement and others, all took a long time to reach levels of social consciousness that we have achieved in only a few years. We have managed to spread across national, linguistic and cultural boundaries much faster than anyone could imagine because of the net. Not only that, we have adapted to the cultural situation in each place where we have taken root.

Each Pirate Party is an experiment in how to change the world both locally and globally. Some have failed, while others go from strength to strength. And yet there is a shared root structure binding us together. Like a giant fairy ring with only the mushrooms visible to the world. These connections are sometimes substantial, while others are just Pirate colleagues who tweet, from time to time, but every now and then something new emerges. For example, Pirate Times came from a conversation between three Pirates with an idea. Gefion Thurmer, Josef Ohlsson Collentine and Daniel Ebbert founded Pirate Times and with the help of others managed to grow it into what it is today. This is both the strength and the weakness of the Pirate movement.

That is the short history of the Pirate Movement, as well as its future. Most of the established political movements and parties are ossified and unable to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing future. As the movement grows (and matures) we must be able to nurture ideas that bubble up from the grass roots, no matter how strange they seem or who proposed them. At the moment we do not have much beyond national parties that are prepared or able to take on this function.

We need to share ideas and best practice in a way that is not hierarchical and didactic — we need to share with rather than preach to each other. We need to watch what each other party is doing and how successful they are. Success and failure should be signals for us to try and identify what happened and why, and what we can do to adopt or prevent the same. For example, the Icelandic Pirates should now be fielding a barrage of questions from Pirates as to what they did in order to become one of the highest polling parties in the country. They will tell you that 1. we don’t really know; 2. it is a protest against the government; 3. it could all reverse tomorrow. All these are true but these answers themselves are very telling.

Dangers to the Movement

Hubris — Early successes can be dangerous and can lead to an intellectual arrogance. We can learn from each other and from the successes and failures of those who have fought oppression before us. For example, when I was in Iceland for the latest elections I noticed that Pirates there were using the hand signals established by the Occupy Movement.  This was both in smaller meetings, such as campaign meetings, as well as larger public gatherings.

Politics — We are a political entity and we need to master the dark art of politics to further our cause in the wider political world. This does not mean we should use political tactics and tricks to replace honest communication with voters. We must abjure any attempts to use political machinations to outmaneuver fellow Pirates. We should all have the same opportunity to speak, contribute and lead regardless of ideology, gender identification, sexuality, ethnicity and any other artificial distinction that are excuses for bigotry. An essential part of being a Pirate is to ensure that everyone has access to the privileges, rights and responsibilities that every Pirate should enjoy. Every Pirate should work to ensure that their Party and its organs are not pachydermocracies where only those with thick skins can endure the trolling, bullying, mobbing and bigotry that are often tolerated under the banner of free speech. If we want to be an alternative to modern politics we have to be different ourselves.

Deafness — we should not be an answer looking for a question. We need to listen to people whose fears and misunderstandings are leading them to vote against their own best interests. We should not be preaching a set ideology but rather help people solve problems that are affecting their lives as they see them. People are less worried about mass surveillance when they are terrified about losing their livelihoods.

Complacency — We should never treat our supporters as merely political capital. In an article on the local news site Kjarninn about why the Icelandic Pirate Party is doing so well in polls, a respondent was quoted as saying: “A conversation with representatives of the Pirates is like talking to a real person, not a computer program created in a political software factory” [translated by author]. Real politics is not Real Politik — sound bites and baby kissing will not replace treating people as human beings.

Intolerance — We must be internally open to ideas as long as they conform to human rights (and as far as possible, to the local laws). We come to decisions on the basis of reasoned discussion. The use of  threats of physical, psychological or legal harm do not belong within Pirate Parties. People who use such methods are not Pirates and should feel so uncomfortable resorting to such tactics that they will either change or leave.

Celebrities — The fortunes of many young movements have risen and fallen on the basis of popular personalities. The Pirate Movement is a democratic one: we do not need Caesars.

Pirate Advantages

Autonomy — Each Pirate is free to hold what ever opinions they wish as long as they support the democratic decisions made by their Party. Each Pirate Party is free to adopt the policies and strategies that their membership decides in order to promote Pirate Principles as best suits their local conditions.

Diversity — Pirate Parties tend to be neutral on the left-right political spectrum. That does not mean, as some propose, that all individual Pirates should be fixed to that zero point on the axis of the political compass. We are not clones but a group of diverse individuals who are able to create novel solutions to society’s problems because we bring a great variety of viewpoints to the discussion table.

Grass Roots — We are a grass roots movement. Anyone can join with other Pirates and form a party, workshop or discussion group at a local or multinational level. If you can conform to the Pirate Principles you will gain acceptance. You should also be able to obtain recognition and help from your national party, depending on how developed they are, even if it is only moral support. On an international level things are not so developed. PPI has concentrated on conferences and lobbying, to the detriment of supporting small parties and groups. These goals are important, especially as many of the reforms we want are of an international nature, but I wonder what authority the organisation could command without a grass roots base. On the other hand Pirates Without Borders and the nascent PirateInt might be able to restore the balance. You are free to help out in any Pirate endevour you want that you have the inclination and ability for. If none exist that suits you, you can start your own.

Borderless — We are truly international with regular contact at many levels, languages and cultures. Most of us can speak more than one language and we are tolerant of those who cannot use our native language as well as we can.

Inventiveness — We are geek- and nerd-heavy. In a digital age we have developers who are keen to invent and develop new tools that can bring true participatory democracy to the planet. Iceland has, again, been a leader with initiatives like Wasa2il, Parliament Viewer and the Safety Valve. They are not the only ones: European Pirates developed the voting system used by the Spanish Party Podemos.

Personalities — We are lucky to have people amongst us who are charismatic and yet do not have the narcissism to believe they are the movement.  They are willing to use the gifts they have for the sake of the movement and not for their own personal aggrandizement. Some have already stepped back to allow others to take over the roles of public engagement.


Most political movements either ossify into tools of the ruling elite, disappear as footnotes in history books, evolve into (or contribute to) new movements with similar goals, or they manage to actually change the world.  The Pirates will do all of these. We are a myriad of experiments in social and political change. Some will fail while others will succeed. Some will become something we could never have imagined at the start — those are the ones that change the world and the future. Peter Sunde declared the Pirate Movement to be dead. In one way he is right. But the movement is like a multidimensional Schrödinger’s Cat — it is dead, alive and many other things, all at the same time. But we have still not opened the box and collapsed the wave function. This will be done by future Pirates (or our non-pirate heirs).