Immaterial Sabotage - Protests against deportations at the occasion of the Lufthansa stockholder meeting
18.Jul.01 - this report was originally written by Florian Schneider in german. the present version is a very rough translation of the original:
[the deportation.class web site]
Wednesday, June 20th 2001. At about 10:15 a.m., Klaus Schlede, the spokesman of the board of directors, opens this year's general meeting of Lufthansa in the 'Kˆln Arena' speaking in as penetrating a pitch of voice as usual, in front of a few thousand shareholders. He wants to appear superior, but he knows what the leader of the meeting will have to face: the protest of opponents of deportation, of critical shareholders, of activists of the "noone is illegal" network and the "Deportation.Class" campaign, who will lodge their ceterum censeo whenever appropriate, as they have done now at every meeting for the last few years: no deportation on lufthansa scheduled flights.
In front of the hall "stewards and stewardessses against deportation" are providing the shareholders with investment information. Next to them the procedure of deportations is staged by performance groups, in particular how they can be stopped by passengers and the crew even in the last moments. Also in the hall, the unavoidable is happening: the speech of CEO J¸rgen Weber is interrupted again and again by heckling and transparents in front of the speaker's desk. Members of the security service, who are obviously becoming increasingly nervous, have to drag activists out of the spotlight five times while the cameramen of various TV stations are filming everything.
These are not very nice scenes, which are mentioned again and again in the debate about the financial report, just as the security-checks, which this year seem to aim at preventing critical information from being brought into the hall and at confiscating the Deportation.Class plastic bags, which were previously given to the shareholders. The bags are then thrown into dust bins, which were put at the ready beforehand.. Until the early afternoon, when the vote could finally be taken on the crediting of the board of directors, Critical shareholders, human rights activists, lawyers and more and more totally normal shareholders approach the microphone and criticize the board for maintaining deportation on lufthansa scheduled flights. In the end everything is as usual: the exhausted board makes a fool of itself by trying to evade in a helpless and incompetent way the convincing arguments of its critics.
So far, so good. Even the hardened positions of the board of directors allows for the assumption that these rituals will probably overshadow next year's general meeting as well. There was, however, another action taking place. Not in, or in front of the hall but in the virtual world. Already weeks before the general meeting of share holders, news in the media about the lufthansa general meeting were full of reports about an online demonstration, which those responsible had already officially registered with the municipal authorities and the police. At exactly ten o'clock the virtual protest was opened in front of the "Kˆln-arena" by a symbolic mouse-click. The webserver of lufthansa was planned to be disturbed so massively that by 12 a.m., it would not work any more or that the answering times of the server were so long that an obvious effect was noticeable, while the protests were going on in the hall simultaneously.
The demonstration was a kind of premiere, although it was not for the first time that the expression "online demo" was employed for an electronic gathering. It was a mass protest, supported by software, in which people from all over the world could take part with the click of a mouse. It was a sort of Denial-of-service-attack, only that the aims, motives and date of the attack were openly announced and that the action was restricted in time and space. It certainly did not aim to cause as much damage as possible, but rather to be a symbolic act of compressing: the long awaited and desired for synchronization of online and offline . The action had aimed to dramatise the just wish, which could never have been so widely spread and mediated by traditional means; to test a form of action which is both highly debatable and highly promising, which both virtualises and globalises resistance; a hybrid of immaterial sabotage and digital demonstration.
The outcome of such an enterprise has to turn out as unconventional as its claim or vice versa: what is there that has to be estimated or validated? From a technical point of view, the effect can be interpreted more or less as you like. As usual, both sides speak of the successful outcome of their tactics. The organisers of the on-line demonstration stress that the Lufthansa homepage was not reachable for the planned two hours and they can even prove that with pretty diagrams. Those responsible for Lufthansa concede that there were bottlenecks, but they too say that their strategies against the protestors succeeded because they managed to provide for additional capacities. At the same time requests from networks, where the critical data enquiries were suspected to have been, seem to have been denied completely. The logical consequence was that those who did protest from there had of course succeeded. Even if this success was in the worst case scenario only noticed by themselves.
Also, on a symbolic level there were two winners: the on-line demonstration which had aimed at establishing publicity that was as great as possible for their own cause, and which could attract enormous and even international attention to their protest against Lufthansa "Deportation.class", which could not have been obtained using traditional methods. Articles even in the Washington Post, which rapidly spread the news across the globe, great debates in on-line forums which were constructed by television and print media. Almost every report in magazines, the daily press in internet newspapers and local newspapers reported on the Lufthansa meeting with the catchy opening: "online-demo".
But also, the Lufthansa network technicians can proudly say that they at least succeeded in limiting the attack, which was, from their point of view, aggressive. The web server didn't crash, against the expectation of many virtual demonstrators, but stayed more or less intact, even though it was partly unreachable and the online booking system was out of order for quite long time. Even the immense costs which the Lufthansa network technicians had to cover, were probably worth it: the corporation could demonstrate more or less involuntarily a certain competence in dealing with new challenges.
The good thing about the virtual is that both sides can not only be right, but can even both talk of success, and that a final balancing , which goes further, .is of no importance. A situation like that used to be called a typical win-win situation until lately and was an absolute must in the business plan of every start up. The concepts of the New Actonomy, however, are about more than the mere promising of extraordinarily good business results, which tend to reveal themselves as mere pious wishes. It is also not about translating political metaphor as easily understandable and consequently as possible from the off-line reality into the online reality, in order to be able to yield the propagandistic added value as one of the first. The real challenge of the virtual forms of resistance exists in an utterly pragmatic dimension: the materiality of the virtual resistance results in an interactivity, a communication between activists who are connected to each other, who not only take part but also organise at the same time.
So what's new about a virtual action like the online demonstration? It might be not the fact that now people demonstrate infront of the screen and not on the streets anymore, nevertheless that plot had pretty much news value for the mainstream media. This effect will wear out and will not be of great importance the next time already. A new definition of sabotage might turn out to prove to be much more interesting instead: sabotage redefined as social practice, not in the traditional, destructive meaning of the word, but as a constructive, innovative and creative practice. Such a constructive approach results in a movement without organs or organisation. In a variety of perspectives - self-determined cybernetic thinking, that spurs on different approaches and connections; that refers to a social antagonism refers to the level of production; and that is constituting a collective process of appropriation of knowledge and power.
The pathological features of a traditional, protestant understanding of militancy consists of a certain portion of auto-destructivity: pricking the others' conscience, burning down one's neighbourhood, being really radical for once, without having to think or having to communicate one's ideas, all that is the result of a smug attitude towards the fetish of repression. Sabotage as its very pragmatic counterpart and as a means of direct action aims directly at the pickpocket of the corporation in order to achieve the realization of certain conditions.
Sabotage is a direct application of the idea that property has no rights that its creators are bound to respect. That way sabotage can be seen as a sort of anticipated reverse engineering of the open source idea. Sabotage is radically antagonistic to the representative discourse, i.e. in the institutionalized contexts of the working class or social movements. Those representative forms have always referred to a nation state while spontaneous, un- or better organized forms of resistance have expressed a global class consciousness. What is nowadays called direct action re-presents sabotage.
Immaterial sabotage aims at the image of a corporation. Unlike boycott campaigns, which were oftenly started by the social and environmental movements in the 80ies and 90ies and which hold the activists captive in their status as pure consumers voting with their purse, imaterial sabotage encourages explicitely the creativity and productivity, the colloectivity and collaboration of roaming, unseizable, but inzterconnected activists. The overall goal is not, to convince and organize as many fellows as possible, but to make a precise difference and to change the situation immediately. Therefore it seems to be lucrative, with the different tactics and methods to bring leverage to bear on the weakest meber of the chain: the image of the enemy, the corporate identity.
Particularly when workers are robbed of their right to strike, sabotage was appropriate although an illegal means of struggle within the factories. An interesting link in a situation, when it is already forseeable, that this, what the masters of the world understand as globalization, won't be stopped by some riots infront of congress centers. The struggles have to communicate and reach out at the level of production, no matter where they take place and no matter, if they're called old or new.
The number of people taking part in this redefinition and recapitulation is as irrelevant as it was during the strike of the New York waiters at the end of the 19th century. Merely by speaking indirectly, but freely about the working conditions the guests became so disgusted that the industry very quickly had to give in to the demands of the very badly organized workers. What became known as "open mouth campaign" in the history of the workers' movement probably laid the foundation stone of net activism one hundred years later, now called "McLibel" campaign: In the mid 1990s one of the most frequently visited web sites of the then still young internet was a page where McDonalds critics had collected information, worldwide, exonerating two distributors of fliers, who had been accused of defamation and who the concern tried to intimidate by long legal proceedings.
The members of the deportation.class campaign have certainly devoted themselves to a difficult task. Denial of service, after all, is at least a double entendre if understood literally: the campaign wants the Lufthansa corporation to refuse the transport of forced passengers. Online activism will not stand still with simple demonstrations.
[the deportation alliance web site]
[site of the online demonstration]
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