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New Model Army – The P2P Army

July 28, 2010

I’ve just finished reading an interesting book called ‘New Model Army‘ (NMA) – for those not into their British history, there is a play on words, as the New Model Army were also the name given to the radical reorganisation of the Parliamentary forces under Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War of 1642-1651.  It’s an apt title for a novel that also explores a radical reorganisation of armed struggle.New Model Army novel cover

The novel imagines that in the near future a new force will emerge – the NMAs – these are peer-organised armies that are essentially mercenary forces – but ones organised an a radically different line to the current hierarchical method of military structure.  Interestingly it takes place against a backdrop of a newly independent Scotland going to war with England, lacking an army and so using P2P methods to do this.

In the book the NMA is:

  • Composed of volunteers – they they are paid for service; thus it is not organised on national lines, but an ad-hoc construction.
  • Constructed of those who volunteer at the time they are needed, thus the composition changes from battle to battle.
  • Disband as soon as the action is over.
  • The whole NMA is paid from contracts to supply an army (in the novel Scotland is at war with England but as the smaller Scotland has no standing army it hires an NMA to fight in it’s stead.
  • The NMAs funds are then used to pay volunteers for service, pay medical costs if wounded and soldiers can claim equipment costs from the pool of funds.
  • There are no officers – all the troops are equal and a combination of secure wikis and VOP systems are used for organisation – linked to an eBay-like reputation system.  This goes for all levels of organisation from the smaller ad-hoc squads, coordinating the squad-level actions and to the totality of NMA policy.
  • The NMA also makes cash by taking prisoners and ransoming them back to the mother army from whom they were captured.

It’s a radical vision that is at once democratic almost socialist and yet a pure market-driven army that takes the privatisation of war to it’s seemingly logical ends of supply and demand.  In the novel the narrating character states this is the first truly democratic army – one solider=one vote  (I should point out that Anarchist forces in the Spanish Civil War were run on democratic lines with elected officers and the like) and he often talks of conventional armies with derision referring to them as akin to bonded slaves, and thus less motivated than the NMA because even if they are fighting for a democracy, the men and women of the NMA are fighting in a democracy.  However the narrator is both haunted and confronted by the less-then-democratic way that the NMAs own conflicts impact on civilians. In short the ideas are interesting stuff, and the ideas are something that P2P theorists need to engage with.

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