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[HaBi 1]    "They have the know-how, but do they have the know-why?"
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Benedikt Haerlin Mep

"They have the know-how, but do they have the know-why?"

Report on the meeting of "computer freaks" by GRAEL on 7th and 8th march 1985 in Brussels

1. Aims

To bring together experts and practitioners involved in the use of computers in grass-roots organizations and Green/alternative parties in Europe.
Dissemination of information on community and EP data management and consideration of its possible use for our members;
Report and discussion on various projects involving the use of the new media to collect, manage and exchange information;
Consideration of possible areas for cooperation.

2. Participants

Some 30 people from West Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark (see list of participants), brought together by chance and personal aquaintanceship and representing parties and organzisations, computer specialists from various cooperatives, alternative projects and their associations and independent leftwingers, whose work involves computers and who are interested in using this knowledge in other areas. As opinion formers and people familiar with the national "scene" in the various countries they would be well to form the core of an alternative computer network in Europe.

3. Programme

As expected, a relatively large amount of time was taken up with introductions and short presentations of individual projects. The following uses of computers were among those discussed :


both by parties for members and business accounting.
In the parties this purely organizational, conventional use of EDP is either being introduced or has aready been in operation for one or two years.


of documents of all kinds: 'Informationsdienst' (information service) in Frankfurt, for example, maintains an archive of alternative newspapers, in particular the 'tageszeitung' with a comprehensive keyword index. The Danish People's Movement uses computers to archive some of its material.

The parties represented normally first come into contact with archives via the parliaments. Various parliaments are currently opening data banks for everyday use by members and computers or videotext systems are used for internal communications. A number of different external databases can also be consutted indirectly via documentation services. Nowhere yet, however, do these new facilities form part of the everyday work of the groups.

During the meeting, Parliament's data-processing division and the Commission presented a videotext system of this type 'OVIDE' : this system is meant to give the political groups in Parliament access to databases covering parliamentary questions, resolutions and reports but also statistics and legislation data banks. The participants reaction to a demonstration of this system was Lukewarm. Technically at Least, 'OVIDE' was limited to a few possibilities for internal use.

Expert and cooperation network:

the computer as a noticeboard and intermediary.
The cooperative association 'London ICOM' and the French 'boutiques des gestions' have both gained their first practical experience in this field. ICOM offers via a microcomputer the addresses, a brief description and product range of its 2 400 member firms and can be interrogated according to various criteria. The 'boutique des gestions' offers small firms and cooperatives advice and contacts. The European Confederation of Workers Cooperatives, CECOP, is currently developing with Community support a mode of a European computer network, ELISE, to promote cooperation between self run businesses and what are known as local employment initiatives, and is to transmit information on trade contacts, qualifications and product development, aid possibilities, ideas, initiatives and projects in accordance with a strictly decentralized system.

There has been no mention of similar networks in the political groups so far, although these were generally regarded as very useful. The groups of course maintain membership, organizational and journalist indexes and mailing lists but at the moment these only operate in one direction, i.e. are solely geared to the administrative or propoganda needs of the organizations.

Telecommunications, mailboxes:

The direct transmission of text, as package of data via telephone (and modem) from one computer to another is mainly used by newspapers to transmit articles and information to editors more quickly and cheaply than telex. The Danish People's Movement also makes use of this method based on a newspaper system for its other work.

Over the last six months the Belgian group 'presse production' has been offering a 'newspaper' which can only be obtained via computer. Current information on the activities of all Community institutions is currently transmitted using this method to a fixed number of computer accounts. The fact that the central agency which disseminates this service is located in Canada shows how the relationship between time and space has become irrelevant for the transmissions of data by computer. The real interest for this group which finances itself from this somewhat commercially oriented service is the cheapest possible transmission of data to the Third World without being subject to central state agencies or censorship.

With the electronic mailbox telecommunication becomes usable interactively as a kind of notice board independently of a direct connection.

These electronic mailboxes, accessed via telephone from computers, which one or more people can use with a password and deposit in a wide variety of forms, messages and texts, were described in detail, particularly by the representative of the Chaos Computer Club in Hamburg. He pointed out that such networks have been used for years in the USA by opposition social movements and alternative groups. There, computer conferences at which a number of groups come together via computer for discussions and even joint decision-making have also become commonplace.

Both private firms and the post office offer mailboxes in their computers. Hackers have been using this method for some time to exchange messages and addresses.

Joystick democracy:

Mike Robinson from London has developed a special use of computers in cooperatives: using (what he claims is) an easily understood and convenient system, workers in large cooperatives can inform themselves at any time as to the financial, order and production situation in their company and gain an overview of managerial information which can only be presented inadequately at works meetings.

And at a second stage management decisions can be simulated to give workers an opportunity to put themselves to a certain extent in the position of management and by so doing to establish well-founded criticism and alternatives.

Computers as a form of democratization? Certainly this is not the usual form in which it is encountered today. The question of whether in fact it can be used in this way was interesting but remained unresolved for the other participants.

I will not go into detail here on the various tasks given by representatives from the Commission and Parliament on the Community's data processing, as these dealt with material which is either already familiar or highly technical. I will confine myself to the comment by one of the participants: 'people who don't have any problems invent the sort presented to us here'.


Perhaps the most important and most positive effect of this meeting were the talks and contacts between participants outside the meetings proper. - The many friendly encounters which took place testify to the relaxed atmosphere which prevailed. The introductory quotation from a representative of 'Greenpeace', who in turn was quoting an old Indian, appositely describes the basic attitude of most participants. Nevertheless, there was a clear interest in making the information available to us via our Ep Group accessible to various parties and groups. As soon as we have brought together the necessary specialist and material requirements, we can count on active participation in disseminating the mass of data which we can tap.

There was also interest in an informal exchange of information but, interestingly enough, the suggestion that this should be computerized was rejected as excessive automation. The idea was for a circular appearing at irregular intervals.

The technologists present did not take a decision as to whether it would be sensible to establish information and communication networks which could offer many interesting possibilities, particularly at international Level. Such networks are feasible even on a relatively simple basis. Whether they are sensible and useful depends on those who have something to say, something to organize, something to exchange, something to transmit, and not on those who control the necessary media.

Benedikt Haerlin

P.S. One promising spin-off of the meeting: a joint production by GRAEL and ID, with the support of all concerned, to publish an 'international action handbook' containing the addresses of the most important and most reliable opinion formers of the peace, ecological, alternative and Leftwing movements in the various countries, concentrating on Europe but also with sections on the other four continents but no Longer than 100 pages. A draft will be available in September.


  [Chaos CD]
[HaBi 1]    "They have the know-how, but do they have the know-why?"
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