Currencies of the undercommons: The hidden ledger of proletarian money sabotage

The Institute for Network Cultures has just published the State Machines Reader (free online!), edited by Yiannis Colakides, Marc Garrett and Inte Gloerich. It’s a phenomenal collection of essays, art and interventions in which I have a chapter titled “Currencies of the Undercommons: The Hidden Ledger of Proletarian Money Sabotage.” The broader State Machines project, of which the book is a part,

is a collaborative, EU-funded project which started in 2017. Discussions between the partners, Aksioma (SI), Drugo More (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL), and NeMe (CY), have centered around increasing precarity in the wake of a tumultuous political year and the need to conceive workable alternatives and inclusive futures. How can we learn to think beyond the limits of the neoliberal and extreme nationalist logics that shape the world around us? And, how do we respond to this new world order made up of algorithmic news feeds, high-frequency trading, geofences, and for-sale citizenship?

My chapter begins:

Can we rethink the ‘disruption’ of money from another perspective? Many of us have been educated or habituated to look upon money as the powerful see it: either as a neutral tool of commerce or as a useful lever for the transformation of society. What if we learned to see money from a different viewpoint, for instance from the perspective of those for whom money has always felt like a whip, a thief, or a bad lover? This might prove necessary if we truly want to disrupt money in ways that look to the kind of common egalitarian horizons the world so desperately needs. I share some optimism that new digital technology will open new methods for coordinating and sharing the fruits of human cooperation—an almost sacred role our societies have increasingly trusted to capitalist forms of money, backed by state power. But, I am concerned that the common discourses surrounding blockchains, cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and similar emergent technologies – which often posit themselves as revolutions in money, payments, and economics—all too often replicate the perspectives of the powerful and, as such, threaten (often against their designers’ or proponents’ intentions) to either supplement or supplant the ruling state-capitalist power nexus, rather than to abolish it.

In this chapter, I look at money ‘from below’ to problematize our utopian dreams so that we might dream more dangerously together. I take up the almost forgotten examples of convict love tokens, hobo nickels and Notgeld to illustrate how proletarian subjects have transformed money into an experimental medium of mutual aid, class struggle and solidarity, representing a hidden ledger of meaningful ‘disruptive innovation’ that can inspire us today.

There’s lot of other great stuff in this book as well! Check it out: