The history of the international Pirate Parties can be traced back to the Piratbyrån [Pirate Bureau], a Swedish organization that opposed the manner in which open culture platforms like The Pirate Bay were prosecuted by authorities for their opposition toward existing copyright laws. For the Pirate Bureau, the figure and concept of the “pirate” became the nom de guerre for a larger political and cultural project that challenges power monopolies in the fields of governance, economy, and more specifically, the Internet.
After the founding of the first Pirate Party in Sweden in 2006, other parties began to appear throughout Europe and followed its defense of open-source technology, culture, and information. Today there are approximately 70 Pirate Parties active worldwide. Each party follows the principles of The Uppsala Declaration, defined by European Pirate Parties in 2009, which articulates the three main concerns of the movement: reform of copyright, reform of patent law, and the guarantee of absolute privacy for citizens from state and corporate interests.
The figure of the pirate—a stateless subject—reflects the principles of internationalism, similar to the way that the act of plundering has been redefined in terms of a common culture. The Internet replaces the sea through which the pirate’s vessel navigates: a vast, (potentially) open space, where the acquisition and circulation of knowledge could fulfill its emancipatory potential and replace traditional politics altogether. Through Liquid Democracy, the parties claim that the process of voting could and should become permanent, giving citizens full agency to control and shape government—no longer centralized within a singular parliament, but within the public domain of the Internet itself. As such, the international Pirate Parties are the defenders of a twenty-first century radical direct democracy.
Combining a curious mixture of revolutionary socialist, anarchist, and libertarian principles, the international Pirate Parties have developed in parallel to a variety of social movements of the twenty-first century. Online, they are accompanied by digital guerilla initiatives such as Anonymous, which famously took down the websites of the United States government and Visa, but also by whistleblower organizations such as WikiLeaks. One even notices strains of the squatter movement’s idea of a common culture within the international Pirate Parties’ demands, and the hacker might even be considered the online equivalent of the squatter. The Spanish Indignados protests, the worldwide Occupy movement, and the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul also come to mind, and like the international Pirate Parties, they attempt to give agency to large-scale public assemblies, rather than the aristocratic rule of party politics.
One of the most unique characteristics of the international Pirate Parties—and perhaps their greatest point of distinction from other, recent social movements—is their claim to be a leaderless movement. The concept of the leader embodies a centralized power structure, and it is precisely this hierarchical model of idolatry that pirates believe lead to corruption. In essence, the movement critiques the concept of power itself by demanding a system capable of continuously questioning its own principles. In a Liquid Democracy, parliament would manifest as the ultimate stateless and limitless space, replacing representative politics as a site for a permanent revolution.
This second reader of New World Academy (NWA) explores the concept of a leaderless movement in relation to the concept of open-source culture. The Uppsala Declaration lays out the main principles of the European Pirate Parties and Dutch Pirate Party spokesperson Dirk Poot’s lecture, We Have Lost Control of Our Democracies, examines the emancipatory potential of Liquid Democracy in the face of the so-called War on Terror, which has held severe consequences for civil liberties worldwide. Matt Mason, who by some is considered to be the historian of the Pirate movement, discusses in The Pirate’s Dilemma the new definitions of culture, ownership, and radical innovation that have resulted from the open-source movement. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, spokesperson of the Icelandic Pirate Party, cofounder of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMI), and WikiLeaks collaborator, speaks of her organizations’ initiatives in Lessons from Iceland: the people can have the power, focusing particularly on the project of collectively rewriting the Icelandic constitution after the country’s economic collapse in
On behalf of NWA, I want to thank the generosity of the contributors to this reader. It is an honor for NWA to host this movement and its political and cultural representatives, all of whom I believe will be able to engage participants to rethink the means through which we define and disseminate culture as part of the internationalist project for direct—liquid—democracy.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Maria Hlavajova and her team at BAK—Arjan van Meeuwen, Gwen Parry, Merel Somhorst, and Ivo Verburg—for their incredible commitment in co-establishing New World Academy. Special gratitude goes out to BAK’s editor, Seyma Bayram, for her tireless and precise work. When this collaboration first began, BAK posed the question, “What if democracy was not a show?” The demand of the international Pirate Parties to shape the complex space of the Internet as our future, open-source parliament is as daring as it is concrete a proposition. Not a show, but a contemporary digital parliament as the people’s theater. It is my hope that this reader will contribute to the exploration of the role that art and culture will have in this sphere of radical commons.