Thumbs' Update: Tales From the Mushroom Commune

This issue of Thumbs' Update is made in solidarity with ALKOHLMIST who is working to develop the solarpunk venture communist project, 1where. The goal is affordable and collective acquisition of properties via a money pooling protocol with DAO governance to circumvent the usurious interest rates of traditional bank mortgages in favour of a mutualist, communal approach.

It’s still early days, but if you're interested in participating in this vision, give him a follow (twitter / farcaster) + join the Discord to learn more. Donations towards this project are also accepted via Open Collective.

Hey friends 👋

I started writing this newsletter at the beginning of 2023 as I began my pivot from centralized platforms like twitter and Medium towards decentralized platforms like Mirror, Paragraph, Lens, and Farcaster.

Over the many issues that I've written since then, I've covered everything from personal experiences to political theory. As I began to write about my passion, and frankly the thing that's kept me interested in blockchain: its potential to upend existing power structures to bring forth more egalitarian and decentralized outcomes, I worried that I'd drifted too far from the financial side of things that I was certain drove the majority of my followers to me.

Something strange happened though... as I wrote more and more technical, critical, and idealistic pieces, my following continued to grow. And as I pushed out from twitter, Medium, and Substack, my audience expanded rather than shrank.

In fact, I reached two massive milestones in just the past week alone:

  • my subscribers to this newsletter surpassed 2000; more than 10x where it was this time last year.

  • my followers on Farcaster surpassed 17000; more than 10x my current twitter followers, after over 3 years there, and less than one year on Farcaster

Now I wasn't going to let gaining or losing followers define the direction I take, regardless. I said from the very beginning, I intend to write what I want, in my style, and if people don't like it, I'll stop and go do something else with my time. But my stubbornness, aside, I feel immense gratitude that so many of you have chosen to continue to follow along, whatever your motivations.

The Never-ending Story

Unlike my blog posts, explainers, and deep-dives that aim to consolidate an entire idea into a single piece, the newsletter gives me the opportunity to build a running dialogue. It's a series, and reading each issue tells you a lot about me and my ideas, many of which I'm figuring out how to communicate in real time.

In “All Together Now,” we looked at the history and importance of anarchy, including its origins within the history of socialism. In “Punks in Space,” we dove deeper into anarchist subculture with a focus on punk. That issue defined some of the crypto's most interesting overlapping futurist movements, including solarpunk, lunarpunk, and stellarpunk.

In “Pillars of Support,” I cited Kropotkin, the socialist philosopher, scientist, and author of Mutual Aid, to argue that greed and self-interest were not, so-called Darwinian inevitabilities of human nature, and that coordination is natural, scientific, and, most likely, the main reason for any given species' proliferation.

And just last month, in “Whose Left Is It Anyway?,” I compared mutualism (based, as the name suggests, on the ideas of mutual aid), with agorism. These two schools of anarchism differ in their ideas about how money should exist in a system without authority, but they relate in their belief in free-association and distrust of corporate hierarchies. This leads most within these camps to promote syndicalism.

A More Perfect Union

the future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal

— Mikhail Bakunin (source: Libcom)

Syndicalism gets its name from the French word for trade-union, syndicat. But when we use the term in a political sense, and in particular when I use this term, it's a reference to revolutionary syndicalism or, more often, anarcho-syndicalism of the sort Mikhail Bakunin, and later, Noam Chomsky espoused.

Anarcho-syndicalism is a particular variety of anarchism which was concerned primarily, though not solely, but primarily with control over work, over the work place, over production. It took for granted that working people ought to control their own work, its conditions, [that] they ought to control the enterprises in which they work, along with communities, so they should be associated with one another in free associations, and … democracy of that kind should be the foundational elements of a more general free society. And then, you know, ideas are worked out about how exactly that should manifest itself, but I think that is the core of anarcho-syndicalist thinking. I mean it’s not at all the general image that you described — people running around the streets, you know, breaking store windows — but [anarcho-syndicalism] is a conception of a very organized society, but organized from below by direct participation at every level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none.

— Noam Chomsky, interviewed by Michael S. Wilson (Alternet)

Hopefully by this point you can see the correlation between anarcho-syndicalism and the decentralization of power intended by blockchains, DAOs, and other forms of online and onchain free association. If not, I recommend checking out this article by The Blockchain Socialist about exactly that.

This is somewhat aspirational, and perhaps even a stretch, but as I've argued before, web3 technologies like blockchains, NFTs, cryptocurrencies, etc. are relatively apolitical tools. They have only one focus, decentralization. What form that decentralization takes is entirely up to us.

If You Build It, They (Leftists) Will Come

It's no secret that many self-proclaimed members of the political "left" view crypto as a scam. And who can blame them, when the assets that get the most attention are memecoins with names like DEGEN. And, while DEGEN has, counter-intuitively been one of the most wholesome, and community-driven projects, it's no doubt made for easy dunking, at least superficially, from those who view speculation as the only problem with the current financial system.

I take a different view, beginning with the fact that people gambling on silly tokens doesn't offend me any more than people gambling on cards, sports, or slot machines would. Furthermore, I view the permissionless access to risk (to win or to lose), to be counter-cultural, in a world where the government will happily tax and fine the poor into destitution, but reserve potential for asymmetric rewards for those who already have substantial wealth.

Still, what I want to see from crypto is more positive sum than merely "anyone can get access to this airdrop." I want to see innovations that push towards post-capitalist outcomes. There are people working towards such things. The most prominent projects focus on experiments with decentralized and collusion-resistant crowdfunding or grants. This includes initiatives from Optimism, Gitcoin, Clr Fund and Giveth.

While these projects reduce the need for venture capital and contribute positively the growth of open-source and permissionless software development, there are other projects doing interesting things that you may not have ever heard about. Like for example, Breadchain.

Get That BREAD

The Breadchain Cooperative is an onchain organization that seeks to create "a collective federation of decentralized cooperative projects looking to advance a post-capitalist vision for blockchain and its effect on society." This vision is centred around the BREAD token which is a 1:1 coupon redeemable for DAI (technically xDAI on Gnosis Chain).

"Baking BREAD," is the playful term for staking xDAI to mint BREAD tokens. The staked xDAI, which earns interest through the DAI Savings Rate model on Maker, provides income to the collective, which is then used in solidarity primitives to fund other collectives pushing for post-capitalist outcomes, like Crypto Commons Association, LaborDAO, and Symbiota.

Of course, BREAD should have some functionality (ideally as a currency) to encourage people to hold it, so Breadchain recently made the smart decision to pivot their staking application from Polygon to Gnosis Chain so that they can take advantage of the new Gnosis Pay Decentralized Payment Network (DPN). Thus, using the Gnosis Pay Visa debit card people can spend their BREAD on actual bread (and whatever else they want)!

This approach of subverting profit-seeking financial instruments while also building a system to replace capitalism entirely is rooted in the strategy of Dual Power, and is key to a lot of modern leftist approaches including the unique idea of Venture Communism.

Venture What Now?

If you ask people from Silicon Valley why they so fervently extol capitalism in spite of its many (valid) critics, they are sure to claim something along the lines of "it just works better than anything else."

They will point to examples like successful outcomes from monopolized R&D for pharmaceuticals, early investment in new technologies that are now recognized as public goods, and the many other innovations funded by profit-seeking venture capitalists.

This overlooks a few key details though. Ignoring the fact that much of the technology they would point to was actually built atop foundations funded by governments (mostly for military use), it's not clear that the venture capitalist model (a few very wealthy gatekeepers funding what they think is most likely to pay off) is the real cause of positive outcomes, so much as the funding itself.

Enter software engineer, artist, and activist, Dmyrtri Kleiner who in 2001 coined the term "venture communism" (at least according to the foreword to his book). In essence, venture communism means funding things in a way that ensures long-term collective ownership by the workers, not by the capitalist investors.

In 2018, Ian Wright of the blog Dark Marxism wrote a piece called "Venture Capitalism versus Venture Communism" which explores in detail Kleiner's ideas.

He begins by explaining that venture capitalists, a small group of wealthy elite, fund things for an equity stake. In other words for ownership of the future profits generated by the company or for the future value which other capitalists are willing to pay to acquire that equity.

The outcome is usually that the workers (excluding perhaps the founder) own nothing; or, at least, proportionally very little of the surplus value they generate. They are then, in Marxist verbiage, renting their labour.

By contrast, venture communist funds would be collectives made up of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of financial contributors) who provide the capital necessary to purchase assets needed for a startup. This capital is provided as a loan which will earn, rather than equity, some reasonable interest with the assets as collateral should the startup fail. The "startups" for lack of a better term, would be run cooperatively, and, when loan is paid off, all surplus value (aka profit) would be distributed amongst the members.

The venture communist funds (or communes) would distribute the interest they earn from lending back to the members of the commune, which would include members of the cooperative startups as well. This is a sort of holonic approach, wherein each structure is collectively made up of overlapping communities, each benefiting from their participation in positive outcomes.

While this approach involves communes, it is not explicitly communist in that it still employs the use of money. It is, as discussed in the previous newsletter, a take on mutualism, one which feels especially suited to the world of web3 wherein free-association and capital formation can take place borderlessly, permissionlessly, and subversively with respect to existing institutions.

It's unsurprising then that Ian Wright, who seemed relatively fond of this concept, has also been discussing the potential for blockchain technology as far back as 2015!

But let's move on from holons to hyphae.

A Mushroom By Any Other Name

GreenPill network, a decentralized collective stewarded in part by Gitcoin cofounder Kevin Owocki recently put out a book called Exploring Mycofi: Mycelial Design Patterns for Web3 and Beyond which aims to draw connections between existing and future approaches to human (onchain) coordination.

Like all of GreenPill and Owocki's works, it seeks to explore pluralist approaches to preventing coordination failures. Here, the authors look outwardly towards nature for inspiration.

The book is relatively short and, while a little flowery (shroomy?) in its language at times, succeeds at introducing some interesting frameworks for thinking about how to design coordination systems effectively. Relative to this newsletter's subjects, in particular syndicalism and communal funding strategies, one section stands out.

Fractal Nature explores how repeating patterns, growing larger and larger, make up some of the strongest structures in the universe.

The separation between the self and the collective may be a blurrier boundary than we once thought. After all, what is an individual but the culmination of smaller pieces working together as an intelligence greater than the sum of its parts? Are each of our voices not a chorus themselves, speaking for the collective interest of the billions of cells - human, bacterial, fungal - that comprise our “self” in the first place?

When we examine mycelial networks in nature, we see the same relational magic between the part and the whole at work. Is a thriving fungal ecosystem a plethora of genetic individuals fitting specific niches and needs in a collective, or is it one entity connected through a nervous system of distributed mycelia? Can it be both?

Mushrooms invite us to see beyond the divide between the individual and the collective, to become part of a symphony greater than ourselves.

They continue with a prescription for a so-called MyCoFi (myco, meaning "of funghi," plus CoFi, short for collaborative finance) that directly mirrors the Venture Communist idealism:

Imagine a future where the economic power of an organization comes from its own internalized energy, rather than having to rely on outside sources of extractive finance. In the same way that cells absorbed the power-generating capabilities of mitochondria, MycoFi proposes endosymbiotic finance as the process by which organizations internalize the capacity to produce and store their own economic power, rather than having to submit to the high costs of external finance provided by banks. This capability for endogenous credit issuance enables organizations to have tighter feedback loops between their evolving needs for capital and their ability to issue vouchers backed by their own productive capacity. This process of organizational symbiogenesis will see DAOs and other myco-organizations continue to “absorb” the useful functions of finance, steadily reducing the power asymmetries that have allowed external finance to become the proverbial “tail that wags the dog” of the real economy.

When Kropotkin wrote Mutual Aid, he was drawing parallels to nature. He was himself as scientist and believed, like Engels that Socialism is not only utopian but scientific. Perhaps this reframing from the abstract world of theorists like Marx and Bakunin to the observable and, let's be honest, wondrous world of nature and evolution, is the thing we truly need to view coordination as the pinnacle of success.

Or maybe we just need to take some mushrooms.

...on that note let's change gears.


The first recommendation I'll give you is to check out the aforementioned book Exploring MyCoFi, which is available for free as a pdf. You can read the whole thing without paying right on Zora, or you can mint it to support this kind of work while earning an onchain collectible. You’ll be a mycopunk before you know it!

Then, if you're interested in the idea of anarcho-syndicalism but need a more beginner-friendly introduction, I recommend this video from CallMeEzekial, an historian who makes a lot of content about anarchism. As you'll see from watching it, the style of his videos is very silly, yet the information therein is always super well-researched.

Speaking of research: if you're looking for more literature on how blockchains can be used to achieve leftist outcomes, check out this reading list from Joshua Davila, aka The Blockchain Socialist. Josh is a podcast host, the author of a new book called Blockchain Radicals: How Capitalism Ruined Crypto and How to Fix It, and one of the core members of the Breadchain Cooperative. So it's fair to say he's thought a lot about this subject matter.

I guess I’ve given you a lot of homework! Good thing there’s a whole month until the next issue 😂

Until next time,

Thumbs Up

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