Patrice Riemens on Mon, 17 Feb 2014 10:59:20 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> "We are all Ibus, and Basta!" The 2013 P.M. (Bolo'bolo) interview

Hi Nettimers,

And now for something completely (?) different. We take a small break from
the translation of Ippolita's Facebook Aquarium. (Do you 'like' it? Let it
know on my FB page - which I don't even 'own' myself ;-). But for now:

The French magazine 'Article 11' ( published in
its February-April 2014 issue a lengthy - and very rare - interview with
'P.M.' the elusive author of Bolo'bolo at the occasion of a new
french-language edition of the book by the nomadic 'Editions de l'Eclat'
publishing house. (

Q&D translation by yours truly.



P.M. : We are all Ibus, and Basta!

Introduction (you can skip thru to the interview below if you want)

1983 saw the publication, in German-speaking Switzerland, of one of the
oddest books ever: Bolo'bolo, writen by one 'P.M.'. The book was nothing
les than a overture toward an alternative model of society - at the global
scale. A concrete utopia of sorts, based a multitude of
self-supporting communities called Bolos. Thirty years later, the model
has lost nothing of its potency. What probably can't be said of

Starting with a random flip through the pages of Bolo'bolo, the book,
might not be the best of ideas. One risks encountering slightly
over-the-top statements, which might baffle the reader. Like on page 149
(*) "Every IBU shall get his NUGO from his BOLO, and also his TAKU", or,
at page 115: "A Islam-BOLO will not rear pigs, a Franco-BOLO will need a
hen-house, a herbs garden, and cheese, A Hash-BOLO cultivates cannabis, an
Alkohol-BOLO malts and hops (and will house a distilery in one of its
sheds)". Chance is that the dumbfounded reader will quickly dispose of the
book, to be put away in the 'weirdo' or 'New Age' department. And that
would be a sorry mistake. Bolo'bolo might sometimes border on the
absurdist, it is nonetheless far more serious a book than it looks like de
prime abord.

It is a bi-polar book indeed, funny and serious at the same time. All at
once, it zaps thru the sky of ideas, and stays solidly on the ground. With
two feet on earth, and the head leaning towards an in(de)finite future. 
Two-sided from head to tail. Maybe this bi-cephalic dimension explains 
why there is a timeless magnetism and a mystical aura surrounding
Bolo'bolo. Published for the first time in Allemanic Switzerland in 1983,
the book has since been translated in many parts of the world (in China,
Turkey, Portugal, etc.) There have been three editions in French (1985,
1997, and now, 2013) (- and two in English in 1984 and 2011, both by
Autonomedia, NY -transl.). To spice up the mystery a bit further, it's
author, the swiss writer P.M. has deliberately opted for anonimity (**).
In the past thirty years, he says in the Paris cafe where we are meeting,
this is only the second interview he has ever agreed to.

Bolo'bolo, the book, is split in two very distinct parts. The first one
constitutes a scathing indictment of the industrial age and of the slavery
imposed upon humanity by the "Planetary Work Machine" ((PWM). The second
part is actually quite startling: P.M. draws a fairly precise outline of
what a post-capitalist society would look like if implemented at a global
scale. It is a concrete utopia of sorts, with its own language
('asa'pili'), in which individuas ('ibus') live in communities ('bolos')
of five hundred people who give preference to autonomy (in terms of food,
energy, etc.), while practicing hospitality ('sila'). The rest follows as
of itself: frontiers have been dismantled, private property abolished,
there is a world-wide federative political system, and large-scale
conflicts have been neutralised by the collectivity. 'Keep dreaming?' Not
at all retorts P.M. - "if everybody goes for it and doest her/his bit,
Bolo'bolo can be realised at the global scale - in five years flat! "

So make no mistakes, there is nothing prophetic about Bolo'bolo. If the
book still keeps its punch  thirty years after its first publication, it
is foremost because of the power of proposition (suggestion) it carries
all along. Yet it is intended only as a first attempt, with its attenant
errors and awkwardnesses - both fully assumed. P.M. is everything but a
guru. And he does not pretend to unfold a fail-safe programme, he merely
points out possibilities and challenges for the reader to pursue the
investigation - as in a collaborative utopia. The ball is now in your
court ...

The interview

Emilien Ballard (E.B.), for Article 11 magazine:

Could you please tell us more about the context in which Bolo'bolo was

P.M. (well, that's P.M. ;-)

To understand the basic substance of the book, one needs to go back to the
beginning of the 1980s. Those were the days of a kind of
pan-(western)european urban uprising. It was a historic moment. Squats
were growing in numbers all over the place: Paris, Vienna, Berlin,
Amsterdam. And there were 'actions' everywhere. At that time, my home was
Zürich - it still is - and we were holding demo after demo: activism was a
full-time occupation. In the space of a few months we had occupied over
fifty houses, including a large building which we made into a kind of
youth center, a meeting place modelled after the Italian 'centri sociali'
autogestiti' (self-managed social centers).

This was a movement at the European scale: we all knew  and were helping
out each other. Vienna, Hamburg, you name it: contacts were established,
experiences exchanged, methods swaped. We were all dreaming of an
independent form of insurection, away from established political parties
and labour unions. Of something (radically) different. We had no idea how
the insurection would turn out, but we were seekers. Everything that made
the situation more fluid looked good enough to go for - whether it was in
matters of activism, or of communication (e.g. leaflets, zines, pirate
radios), or as regard to political theories: dadaism, situationism,
'councilism' ... Well, it was a truly vibrionant culture!

Unfortunately, this form of european insurection did not last for long.
Already by 1982, the struggle against neo-liberalism was lost - the latter
won a knock-out victory. The elections of Francois Mitterand (1981) and
Margaret Thatcher (1982) confirmed our defeat, with both the Left  and the
Right concurring on an even more savage brand of capitalism. A wave of
evictions swiftly followed: the police was lashed out against squats  in
all big european cities.  Some of these managed to hold on or to move
somewhere else, but on the whole, we lost ground. Stalemate was the best
we could manage. Our revolt was reduced to isolated battles for spaces in
the cities. Despair was fast becoming the norm among activists.

In those days I was both involved in the movement and acted as an observer
on the outside. I was writing a lot then, and had already two - three
novels to my name. And amidst this generalized despondency we were all
falling prey to, I took the decision to leave for Greece with a few
friends. I wanted to overthink it all, away from the hustle and bustle. It
is there that I made a beginning, by jotting down a list of items, as
prelude to establish the groundwork for a new society.  It started with
the most basic of all issues: the individual. From there on, it branched
out to various other problems, notably those regarding relations between
an individuel and her/his environment, and how to organize that on a
different footing.

The idea was to draw a panorama of the scale of possibilities. What is
achievable? What is desirable? And how? My approach strived for utmost
modesty, was it only because otherwise even twenty books wouldn't be
enough! My simple wish was to come out with a snapshot, a kind of support
on which one would be able to build on in future.  My sole ambition was to
offer a proposition that could be transformed into action - in one go.


In the foreword to the 1997 French edition, you wrote: "This draft should
not be taken as an utopia or a system based on a particular theory. It
must be seen as as a set of concrete propositions intended as a departure
point for discussions about our future."


I am still thinking in those terms. Even though it's a bit disingenuous,
since the book carries a fairly strong ideological message. If you give it
to read to a right-wing type of person, sHe'll say it's 'goofy leftist'.
But I couldn't care less: I didn't write it in order to go again the ideas
of the other side, but to push forward those ideas which are dear to my
heart. The aim was not to ask people to resist, but rather to incite them
to think further, fromout their own point of view. All that what you don't
like, just steer away from it, and let it die by itself.

When I was writing Bolo'bolo, I wanted to go beyond the conflicts that
were so central to the seventies. As I saw it, violence, which was very
much everywhere, was a dead end. Of course I was in touch with the
desperados in the movement, who went for the armed struggle, I understood
their hopelessness, but I thought their actions counter-productive. We had
lost the war and they said "fine, we'll win it with guns". I didn't
believe in that at all, I wanted to propose something else, to break clean
with the negative approach.


In fact this book comes across as a positive encouragement ...


One can read it both as a political disgression and a practical
proposition, which has to be taken seriously. It has been quite useful to
some actual collective projects, which have borrowed specific elements
from it. But in any case, I don't believe one should plan for everything,
it is far more important to start out from certain principles. It is more
advisable to go after the essentials of daily life than to invent a
completely new society in all its sophisticated details. Think first about
things like housing, food, and the elementary components of social life.

Nonetheless one can point out a few fundamentals:  an anti-immigrant bolo
is totally implausible, for instance, since it would go against the very
nature of an organisation form grounded in hospitality and tolerance. But
aside from this kind of extremes, it is up to each and everyone to find
out one's own recipe and go for it. I do believe in utopias, as long as
they do not impose a cast-iron model. Inspiration, not duplication, is the
name of the game.

That is why I have listed such a large number of possible bolos in the
book, each which its peculiar characteristic. Every city hosts
christo-bolos, vege-bolos, hash-bolos, etc., the idea being not to force
people into taking up a pre-determined identity, but rather to let them
decide which cultural framework suits them best, without turning it into a
decisive identifier. In a certain sense, the Bolo'bolo project stems from
a somewhat existentialist philosophy: we are humans, we eat, we talk, and
that's basically it. One can very well live without an identity, without a
name even. We are Ibus, and Basta! The rest is just dead weight.

Bolo'bolo has been diversely understood, depending on various national
contexts. I know for instance that the Turkish version has been intensely
circulated in Istanbul, and was seen as the little bible of anarchism. A
total misinterpretation if you ask me: my approach was precisely against
such fetichism. There cannot be something called 'bolo-ism'!


In the book's timeline, you stated that the project would see its
completion over the next five years. We're thirty years latter, and we're
still waiting ...


I  did draw up that calendar with the idea that it was actually not
intended to be adhered to. It was just an idealistic projection, a joyful
provocation. I was already 35 years old by then, and I knew very well that
things move slower than one would wish. But I do believe that an idealist
time-line should be part of every ambitious project.  If you write " we
might achieve this over the next century"  it could prove difficult to
gain traction and let the spark ignite. Sometimes, modesty should be put
aside, lest one does nothing at all. As far as I am concerned I am an
optimist with ideas, and a pessimist with politics.


Optimism is inded what pervades the whole book. And when you put it down,
you have the impression that little is needed for the model to become
reality ...


Well, that's the point.  Bolo'bolo's main argument  is not about a
blueprint for individual happiness but simply a way to (re)organize
collectively and rationaly a world that untill now has been walking on its
head. The book is not based on any sociological or political system. It's
just common sense, and a set of measures to organize life in the most
pleasant and environmentally sound way possible. With the overriding idea
in mind to leave behind the belief in economic growth as the prime mover
of human society.

There is nothing really new in Bolo'bolo. It simply presnts bits and
pieces everybody is familiar with, just that nobody puts them together in
the same manner. The idea was not to create a new 'ism' but rather to
stitch together a repertorium of normality.  With one obvious, but
implicit fact on the background: that normality is not the present-day
capitalist reality.


Yet this "capitalist reality" is very much what rules the roost at the


According to David Graeber, a friend from New York who considers himself
an anarchist, capitalism is nothing but badly managed communism. In his
view we all already live under communism since we all co-operate with each
others and capitalism needs society in order to survive. Without the
permanent collaboration of workers, consumers, etc. the whole system would
collapse. It simply amounts to the fact that this communism is run in the
worst way possible by capitalism because the latter is so totally obsessed
with making profit.

I like this approach because it goes against the received wisdom. The
generally accepted view is that one needs first to get rid of capitalism
in order to instore communism, but David Graeber just put that course
upside down. Communism has always been here, he says, one only needs to
grate away its capitalist crust.

Large-scale change can occur faster than you'd think. Actually the fresh
wave of urban insurections sustantiate this hypothesis of speedy change:
just a few days suffice to dethrone a Mubarak or a Ben Ali. But it's in
the follow-up that things turn messy. Because world capitalism stays in
place. And that is because this system does not only exist on the outside:
it is also internalised unto our very selves.

The great majority of people do not believe in capitalism, they do not
endorse it, they simply accept to make do with it. German psychologist
Harald Welzer describes this in terms of 'cognitive dissonance': one may
very well know, and yet act completely at variance with one's knowledge.
Bolo'bolo is based on the opposite proposition: let's go for the way of
life we really feel to be the one we agree with!

(*) pages as of the newest French language edition, Paris, Editions de
l'Eclat, 2013:
(**) His French editor pretends he is a native of and inhabits Amberland,
an imaginary island about which he also wrote a travel guide. (Actually
P.M. lives and teaches in Zürich -transl.)
(***) In the 2013 edition's new introduction, P.M. is emphatic: "True,
we've acumulated some delay, but why not agree to meet again in 2018 for a
mega party on the smouldering ruins of the PWM?

Translated (Q&D) by Patrice Riemens
Vogogna-Ossola, February 16, 2014.

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