Bolo’Bolo, one of the most significant utopian texts of the late 20th century, first appeared in German in 1983 with an English edition the following year. The author (Hans Widmer, under a pseudonym taken from the two most common initials in the Swiss telephone directory) was at the time involved with the Midnight Notes Collective, whose members and collaborators include Peter Linebaugh, Silvia Federici, and George Caffentzis.
The book is by turns a bizarre, satirical and deadly serious proposal for collective living written in some detail. And despite its idiosyncrasies, there have been a number of attempts at putting this plan into practice. The most notable is the author’s own current Restart Switzerland project, which explores many of the ideas elaborated in Bolo’Bolo in the context of Swiss institutions and infrastructure and has fed into the creation of Zurich’s large and ambitious housing co-op Kraftwerk1.
The book’s wider impact can be seen in initiatives ranging from the barrios and spokes-councils of the anti-globalisation movement to the UK’s Radical Routes co-operative movement. Where it diverges from these experiments is in its insistence on being immediately global.
This is no dropout project. Rather, the local communities upon which it is founded are contingent upon global flows of information, labour, and materials. Similarly Bolo’Bolo exhibits an unflinching dedication to the present, to beginning from where we are, that differentiates it from many other utopian works.
Much of P M’s plan, therefore, concerns salvage, reclamation, reinvention, and transformation of this world full of stuff that we made (albeit as fruits of an exploitative relationship). It is an adaptive rather than a palimpsest approach. It is not, though, a project of reform or assimilation. Rather it is a revolutionary work with due attention paid to the means by which capitalism might be abolished.
P M begins by analysing present conditions under capitalism. He understands work as relating to three ‘deals’: the A workers (technical/intellectual) centred non-exclusively on the global North West; the B workers (agro/industrial) on the North East; and the C workers (he uses the term ‘fluctuant’ where we might now use ‘precarious’) in the global South. The emergence of bolo’bolo is dependent upon collaboration between these three categories of worker.
The focus of the book, though, is less on this process of resistance and subversion and more on strategies of social reproduction – the means by which we keep ourselves, our families, our friends, and our neighbours alive, and the means via which society is made and remade. This, for P M as for others in his political milieu, forms the bedrock of class struggle and so cannot be separable from the overthrow of capitalism. It is this focus that makes the text seem remarkably contemporary and relevant in today’s crisis.
To summarise only part of this wide‑ranging project, bolos are communities of between 300 and 500 ibus (people), who, within the bolo, are clustered into smaller communities called kanas. The urban bolos are linked with kodus that constitute the agricultural basis of their self-sufficiency and are arranged according to interest group, life-style, or identity (the long list of potential bolos provided for illustration includes Les-bolo, Play-bolo, Jesu-bolo, and Alco-bolo). Formal communication between these nodes is via assemblies and delegations, travel is borderless, the basis of exchange is the gift, labour is almost entirely voluntary and the only truly private property is limited to what can fit inside a taku, a 50 by 50 by 100cm box kept by each ibu.
The use of invented words is not affectation. In part, there is a clear attempt to shed the baggage of certain ideas through renaming (‘communism’ being a prime example). More importantly, corresponding to the new social relationships described in the text, these words have new meanings that make direct translation impossible. Ibu, for example, can be loosely understood as referring to the individual but the limits, reach and shape of the individual are different here, resulting in an overlap with the social. Similarly, gano refers to what we might call ‘productive space’ but in bolo’bolo, with its radically different approach to work, the meaning of ‘productive’ is transformed.
Humour abounds in the book and its preface is quite open that readers ought to make their own decisions about how much to take seriously. The majority has the character of a practicable plan but there are other parts, such as prognostications about the future that take us right the way to the collapse of the bolos in 2346, that should probably be read differently.
The creatively stimulating provocation that utopian thought has represented in recent history has, of late, given way to absolute urgency. By almost everybody’s account, things simply do not work and cannot remain the same. Taken in the spirit in which it was written (i.e. beginning from where we are, 2013 not 1983), Bolo’Bolo has the potential to provide a fertile contribution to the vital reinvention of our communities.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’