What Rick Falkvinge Got Wrong on the Development of the Pirate Movement

What Rick Falkvinge Got Wrong on the Development of the Pirate Movement
This is an opinion article by HerNenya and Dario which reflects the author’s ideas.

On January 1st 2006, the Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) was born which was followed by many other Pirate Parties around the globe. Rick Falkvinge celebrated ten years of Piratpartiet with an article in his own tribune, Infopolicy. In the article, Falkvinge describes the lessons learned during this decade and the way he believes the entire Pirate Movement must follow.

Unfortunately, Falkvinge shows an acute bias that restrains his ability to form a truly global vision. He lives in a bubble. On behalf of the international movement, and as fellow pirates, it is our obligation to assert that Falkvinge seems to believe the world circles around Sweden. In the same article he appropriates the success of Pirate Parties in other countries whilst focusing completely through his unique and local perspective.
We lament that he occasionally loses sight of his influence, whether he wants to or not, and speaks loudly about all pirates. The Pirate Movement is extremely pluralistic and we ought to take a lot of care to not generalize it. Sweden is not Spain. Spain is not Sweden. From Spain we won’t give lessons on how the movement should evolve in other countries, because we are for sure going to miss a lot of its particularities.
We also lament that despite his activity with international outreach there is hardly any dialogue between him and local parties. It is an enormous task, but also a task that is vital for someone that claims to be a “political evangelist”. To effectively evangelize internationally one must “know the earth beneath the feet when your airplane lands”. From the distance the perspective will get lost.
The problem is that Falkvinge affects people that believe their country is like Sweden. We’re sorry, but if you live in Spain you are very far from a society like Sweden. We’re not pretending to idolize Sweden because everywhere it’s not the same, the whole world over.
The context to consider regarding Spain is that of a deep crisis. An economical, social as well as institutional crisis. This is a country deeply sunk into misery. With 25% of the citizens below the poverty threshold, the idealism of the Swedish Pirate Party doesn’t fit in. People that don’t have enough to eat won’t have the capacity to worry about copyright. The one that worries about their precarity won’t bother about patents. The one that is not suffering under this precarious crisis, that is the ones that believes we are doing just fine and can concentrate on the seemingly “trivial points” of the pirate ideology. 
We specifically say “seemingly” because we are aware they are not. That all persons in crisis, broadly described above, are affected by all this as well. Copyright affects universal access to an education with quality. Patents affect people directly when trying to buy affordable medicine. The philosophical roots of our ideology are deep and represent a paradigmatic shift that will change the foundation of our society. However this will not happen tomorrow but rather the day we are ready to accept and explain them.
This crisis is global. However, Sweden does not suffer it the same as other southern countries. It seems to us that Falkvinge isn’t aware than ten years ago, when the Pirate Party was initiated, there was no crisis. At least, back then all of us did not see it coming. Our ideology falls short. Not the philosophical roots, the same roots we didn’t explore or evolve during this “wonderful” decade Rick describes in his article.
The pirates have achieved lots of victories in a short time. We won’t deny it. They are true merits, seriously. Way to go but let’s not parade our own trumpet already. We’ve still got a lot to do. We need to think in a much longer term than Falkvinge’s short-sighted conclusions. Going back to his echo chamber or bubble (as you might prefer to call it), let’s see why Mr. Falkvinge misses the point.
Allow us to repeat it: the pirate movement was born in a context without crisis. We were all happy middle classes. Sorry, at least ‘we believed we were happy middle class’. Anyway, you cannot pretend to maintain your point of view unchanged when the world has changed a lot in only a few years. Politics, somebody that remembers what this was about? Oh yeah, that which evolves whilst technological and social advances turn the world upside down.
Although pirate core policy goes for gender equality, implicit in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Pirate Codex, Falkvinge misses that one of the main non-natural deadly causes for women (between 14 and 44 years old) is violence against them. A form of violence that potentially affects half of the world’s population and he seems to not care. A violence that goes beyond what you see and turns into murders, rapes and abuses. A violence that creates headlines in media but lacks public resources to stop it. Speaking of resources, don’t forget about economic violence. In unequal societies, like Spain, it deepens violence against women and sustain patriarchy-capitalism dependence.
Sweden is much closer to an egalitarian society than Spain. In a society like this, economic violence does hardly exist because your salary isn’t different because of your genitalia. Let us explain how it works. Economic violence exists at three levels: personal, social and governmental:
At personal level, the man controls all incomes, his partner is held accountable for her expenses and usually she can’t work due her partner’s abuse or his control over her. A macho usually consents to that his partner takes paid work only when his income isn’t enough. Even then he will keep the control, taking all the important economic decisions.
At social level, women have worse hiring conditions. It is similar to a glass ceiling (which keeps them from rising to the upper steps of the corporate ladder, regardless of their achievements, just because they are women) and can also entail a gender pay gap despite the same education and productivity. They also have to work in an environment that might have sexual harassment in the office.
At governmental level, a large part of retired population are women, especially widows. Cutting their pensions by not raising them according to CPI, is a hidden cut. Other cuts are privatising healthcare by enforcing co-payment, reducing the provision for dependents, raising indirect taxes and dealing with bailing banks that defrauded the public trust. They are all different ways to exert economic violence that sometimes results in deaths and squalid living conditions, clearly against Human Rights. Also at governmental level, women generally exhaust their unemployment benefits and aid earlier than men, since they have worse contracts. Given that the most affected population is a single mother family who is suffering, often silently through other types of sexist violence, it is particularly frustrating not only for them but also for the children in their care. One third of children in Spain live in poverty.
If anyone still doubts the existence of economic violence, this also extends to everyone. Economic violence allows and ignores tax evasion from large companies and assets, but pursues and punishes the small fraud (that is generated by the need to survive), thus enlarging exclusion and poverty in society.
This economic violence means that people can’t afford their homes (both purchased and rented homes). In Spain, and in most depressed capitalist societies, the right of the owners to have a property with which to speculate goes first. Thus the person previously living there may have nowhere to fall dead, when forced to the streets and excluding them from society. Not having a home might make them believe their situation is their fault, when it is not, and that they are not worthy of being treated as human beings. The homeless are seen as a vermin to society, rather than neighbors who need help to get out of the hole they have fallen into on their own (or been pushed into by others).
Does all this happen in Sweden? Looking at numbers, we don’t think so. However this is where Falkinge lives. Believing that all European states have already achieved Ikea’s Nirvana.
We feel that Falkvinge is not conscious of many aspects of this crisis (we call it a capitalist scam in Spain), aspects that in Sweden are dampened by a resilient welfare state. However we know that it’s not all plain sailing, so we’ll assume that his country is still far from perfect as well. Still, there are so many things that Rick seems to ignore in his vision for the international pirate movement. Thus the Spanish Pirates will list some of the most hurtful:
  • He doesn’t show awareness that in Spain, anyone who steps outside of hetero-normativity will suffer some form of gender violence (or a combination of several types).
  • He doesn’t relate to psychological abuse suffered by workers in Spain. Precarious temporary contracts force them to abandon everything in order to work a few extra hours (informed with short notice). If you don’t come into work right away, they won’t call you again after the contract ends.
  • He doesn’t seem to know that in Spain it is impossible to reconcile private life with working life, especially those with dependents: children, disabled and elderly dependents.
  • He probably ignores that Spanish elderly, who are “lucky” to live in a residence, are not well maintained.
  • He also isn’t aware that Spanish self-employed are the new slaves of the 21st century. They can’t have holidays, working days shorter than 16 hours or the right to be ill.
  • He doesn’t show any clues about knowing that there are classes even among the refugees, because distinctions are even made inside Europe. When it is in the oligarchies’ interests to help certain refugees but not others, like the Palestinians, that are sent to rot in hell (just for not standing against the atrocities that Israel does). Not to mention how cozy it is Europe when Denmark envisaged to facilitate the seizure of property and possessions of refugees to cover their welcome. Or what happened in the waters of Ceuta, where the Civil Guard killed 15 migrants who could not swim, under Frontex’s “mandate”. Unsettling, cozy. This is not only in Denmark or Spain. Other countries have also raised ideas contrary to decency and the rights of people fleeing the war in Syria.
  • He doesn’t bring up that fascism is re-surging with more virulence in southern Europe (including repression and violence). Although the anti-fascist resistance has not allowed it to go further.
Globally, we must blame Falkvinge for not recognizing that the planet is finite. Yes, it is a huge sphere with many millions of tons but even so, remains finite and there are signs that we are in the very Peak Oil. What is not clear is whether we are at the beginning of it or emerging out of it. The energy crisis, when the oil runs out in the next decades, will cause a cataclysm that makes the crisis we live in today (and the world wars from the past) seem like child’s play compared to what will come.
Finally, Falkvinge is not aware that most of the people who download do not belong to the middle-class intellectuals who play politics in their spare time. This is the minority of downloaders. Most of those who download things are the same ones who buy smuggled tobacco since immemorial times. Some out of necessity and others from disagreeing with the system, such as old-school pirates, whom try to live according to their ideals.
These pirates won’t work for the pirate movement (or its political project) whilst the movement is not positioned against established (crony) capitalism and rather seek a new alternative system that suits the times we live in. A system with alternative pirate roots, since it seems that we are ashamed of the hacker ethic and its consequences. There is no way to prove it, but it is what we perceive as the most active pirates in people we have encountered over the years. Rick Falkvinge has done the greatest achievement, bringing all of us together, but in his last article he missed the biggest picture. Let’s keep debating, but please keep in mind the world has changed since 2006.