Swarmwise – The Tactical Manual To Changing The World. Chapter Seven.

Following a high-profile event, your swarm just tripled in size in a week. You have twenty thousand new activists — new colleagues — that are all waiting for instructions from you, personally. They’re waiting for instructions from you because your name is the only one they know of. There are no MBA classes on how to handle this situation: those people talk about the challenges you encounter when growing by more than 10 percent a year. This is how you handle 200 percent growth in a week.

On May 31, 2006, the Swedish police conducted a vastly overforceful raid against the Pirate Bay, creating tons of collateral damage and constitutional violations. Amid the protests, the Pirate Party tripled in member size, from the nascent 2,200 to the less-nascent 6,600 in a week. If you were looking at the member count graphs, it was as if the pilot of the graph pen had just pulled the stick backward and gone vertical. We called this a verticality and imagined it typically only happens once — a miracle-type event.

(We would have more than tripled if our servers had been able to handle the influx of new members. They had never been tested for this kind of load.)

On April 17, 2009, the verdict against the two operators of the Pirate Bay, its media spokesperson, and a fourth unrelated person was issued. It was seen as a gross miscarriage of justice. Amid the protests, the Pirate Party tripled in member count again, from 14,400 to becoming the third-largest Swedish party with 42,000 members in a week. The party had just had its second verticality.

Getting 20,000 new colleagues and activists in a week isn’t a pipe dream. It happens. Quite rarely, but it does happen. You need to be prepared for it.


Common organizational practice holds that you should write down your organization’s values. This is not enough in a fast-growing swarm; you need to do three more things.

A values document is usually part of or joined with a corporate mission statement, and is one of many write-only documents (meaning that they are never actually read by anyone) in a typical organization, along with environmental policy, diversity policy, and laundry schedule. (To be honest, the laundry schedule may not belong on the list, as it is typically read once in a while.) However, in a swarm organization, the organizational culture cannot be communicated from person to person as the organization grows — it must be actively communicated centrally, and repeatedly communicated as new people keep joining.

Let’s take a look at a sample values document — this one is, again, from the Pirate Party, so you will note that there is mention of a General Assembly, which probably won’t be present in a nonpolitical swarm:


Our organization is built on three different pillars: swarm work, traditional NGO structures, and a hierarchical top-down structure that distributes resources to support the swarm. These are roughly equally important, but fill completely different needs: the traditional NGO structure only resides at the General Assembly and the party board level, for the party’s legal foundation as an nonprofit organization; the hierarchic work distribute resources and associated mandates from the board into the organization, making decisions for effective opinion building and other operative work; and the spontaneous swarm work is the backbone of our activism.

We work under the following principles:

We make decisions. We aren’t afraid to try out new things, new ways to shape opinion and drive the public debate. We make decisions without asking anybody’s permission, and we stand for them. Sometimes, things go wrong. It’s always okay to make a mistake in the Pirate Party, as long as one is capable of learning from that mistake. Here’s where the famous “three-pirate rule” comes into play: if three self-identified pirates are in agreement that some kind of activism is beneficial to the party, they have authority to act in the party’s name. They can even be reimbursed for expenses related to such activism, as long as it is reasonable (wood sticks, glue, and paint are reasonable; computer equipment and jumbotrons are not).

We are courageous. If something goes horribly wrong, we deal with it then, and only then. We are never nervous in advance. Everything can go wrong, and everything can go right. We are allowed to do the wrong thing, because otherwise, we can never do the right thing either.

We advance one another. We depend on our cohesion. It is just as much an achievement to show solitary brilliance in results as it is to advance other activists or officers.

We trust one another. We know that each and every one of us wants the best for the Pirate Party.

We take initiatives and respect those of others. The person who takes an initiative gets it most of the time. We avoid criticizing the initiatives of others, for they who take initiatives do something for the party. If we think the initiative is pulling the party in the wrong direction, we compensate by taking an initiative of our own more in line with our own ideals. If we see something we dislike, we respond by making and spreading something we like, instead of pointing out what we dislike. We need diversity in our activism and strive for it.

We respect knowledge. In discussing a subject, any subject, hard measured data is preferable. Second preference goes to a person with experience in the subject. Knowing and having experience take precedence before thinking and feeling, and hard data takes precedence before knowing.

We respect the time of others and the focus of the organization. If we dislike some activity or some decision, we discuss, we argue, we disagree, and/or we start an initiative of our own that we prefer. On the other hand, starting or supporting an emotional conflict with a negative focus, and seeking quantity for such a line of conflict, harms the organization as a whole and drains focus, energy, and enthusiasm from the external, opinion-shaping activities. Instead, we respect the time and focus of our co-activists, and the focus of the organization. When we see the embryo of an internal conflict, we dampen it by encouraging positive communication. When we see something we dislike, we produce and distribute something we like. We work actively to spread love and respect, and to dampen aggression and distrust. We communicate positively. If we see a decision we dislike, we make our point about why we dislike it without provoking feelings, or, better yet, we explain why an alternative would be better. We campaign outward and cohesively, not inward and divisively. Again, we communicate positively.

We act with dignity. We’re always showing respect in our shaping of public opinion: respect toward each other, toward newcomers, and toward our adversaries. We act with courtesy, calm, and factuality, both on and off the record. In particular, we’re never disrespectful against our co-activists (one of the few things that officers in the Pirate Party will have zero tolerance with).

We’re in parliament. We behave like the parliamentary party that we are. Related to the point above.

We are long term. We depend on making the 2010 and 2014 elections, so our work is long term. As in “on a time span of several years.” The time span between elections, four years, is practically a geological era for many of us net activists.

We represent ourselves. The Pirate Party depends on a diversity of voices. None of us represents the Pirate Party on blogs and similar: we’re a multitude of individuals that are self-identified pirates. The diversity gives us our base for activism, and multiple role models build a broader recruitment and inspiration base for activism. Internally, we’re also just ourselves, and never claim to speak for a larger group: if our ideas get traction, that’s enough; if they don’t get traction, the number of people agreeing with those ideas is irrelevant.

You should keep reminding the entire swarm about the organization values regularly, as part of your heartbeat messages, which we’ll be discussing in the next chapter — both to reinforce the values to old activists and to introduce them to new activists. Describe one value in every or every other heartbeat message. Needless to say, you also need to practice what you preach.

However, having this document and continuously reminding people that it exists, in words and in action, is not enough. You also need leadership guidance and tons of empty positions in the organization that new activists can fill, as we discussed in chapter 3. As part of a surge like the ones described, you may discover that your organization has recruited an assistant local media manager in Buckabeyond, Backwater, Ohio. If you don’t have an empty box for that position in advance, it can’t be filled. If the officers of the swarm’s scaffolding don’t know how to uphold and communicate the swarm values, it won’t happen.

So in addition to the values that go for the organization as a whole, you also need to communicate values for the leaders that take on formal responsibility in the scaffolding. Just like the overall values that apply to all activists, these need to be communicated over and over, and, of course, reinforced through action.

Here’s a sample set of leadership values for a working swarm.


Leading in the Pirate Party is a hard but rewarding challenge. It’s considerably harder than being a middle manager in a random corporation. On the other hand, it’s somewhat easier than sending letters by carrier mackerel across the Sahara. Above all, it is stimulating, exciting, and simply quite fun.

The challenges lie in the constant demands for transparency and influence from your area of responsibility, combined with the demands for results and accountability from those you report to. Basically, this means that leadership in the Pirate Party is a social skill, rather than a management or technical skill. It is about making people feel secure in their roles.

Above all, we need to defend two things in all our actions:

— The organization’s focus. We’re going to make the parliamentary threshold. Everything we do must be aimed at that.

— The organization’s energy. It is incredibly easy to get drained of energy if you start feeling negative vibes. There is a need for a constantly reinforced we-can-do-this sentiment.

In order to sustain these two values, we who have taken on officers’ and leaders’ responsibility use the following means:

Monkey see, monkey do. We are role models. We act just the way we want other people in the organization to act. One part of this is to always try to be positive. In all organizations, the organization as a whole will copy its officers and leaders. When we yell at somebody, we spread the culture of yelling at one another. When we advance and praise people for what they do, we spread the culture that people should advance and praise one another. Therefore, we do the latter.

This can be hard. An example is in forums where we find ourselves in a discussion with somebody who seems to be wrong. It’s easy to take on an irritated tone of voice and use condescending language (for a funny illustration of this phenomenon, look up this XKCD strip). We must avoid this by being aware of the risk and counteracting it. This goes especially for net-only communication, where important parts of communication such as body language, emphasis, and tone of voice just disappear, parts that would otherwise have reduced the experienced aggression in many comment fields. Attitudes are highly contagious, so, therefore, we make sure to have a positive and understanding attitude. We spread love, trust, energy, and enthusiasm.

We make decisions. We have had decision-making authority delegated to us in some area of the organization, and we use it. We are not afraid of saying, “I make this decision,” because it is our express and explicit task to make decisions independently and then stand for them. The opposite would be if we let everybody have a say in everything. We don’t operate like that. We make decisions by ourselves; we have standalone decision makers. You are one of them. Also, we avoid voting to the extreme and only use it as a very last resort: voting creates losers.

However, our being decision makers is no excuse for treating the mandate with disrespect. We treat everybody affected by our decisions with just as much respect as we need ourselves to keep enjoying respect as leaders and decision makers. Decisions shall be used to strengthen the organization’s energy and focus, and a decision that makes harmfully large portions of the organization upset about the decision in itself should be rescinded. This calls for an independent striking of a balance between making independent decisions and our dependence on the trust of the affected to keep making decisions, and the grayscale is quite large.

We lead by inspiring and suggesting, never by commanding. In a swarm, nobody can or should be told what to do. We do not have any kind of mandate to point at people and tell them to do things. Rather, we must inspire them to greatness. We cause things to happen by saying aloud that “I’m going to do X, because I think it will accomplish Y. If enough of us do this, we could probably cause Z to happen. Therefore, it would be nice to have some company when I do X,” or something along those lines in our own words.

We advance role models. We reward our colleagues as often as we can, both in public and private, when they display a behavior we want to reinforce. In particular, this goes for activists who advance their colleagues. We praise and reward individual brilliance as much as helping others to shine. This is important.

We reward with attention. Every behavior that gets attention in an organization is reinforced. Therefore, we focus and give attention to good behavior, and, as far as possible, we completely ignore bad behavior. We praise the good and ignore the bad (with one exception below).

We assume good faith. We assume that everybody wants the organization to succeed, even when they do things we don’t understand. We assume they act out of a desire to help the Pirate Party, even if we perceive the result as directly opposite. In such situations, we show patience and encourage activism while helping newcomers make themselves comfortable in our organizational culture. In such a manner, we also display good faith ourselves as leaders and act as role models.

We react immediately against disrespect. Even if we have great tolerance for mistakes and bad judgment, we do not show tolerance when somebody shows disrespect toward his or her colleagues, toward other activists. Condescending argumentation or other forms of behavior used to suppress a co-activist is never accepted. When we see such behavior, we jump on it and mark it as unacceptable. In our leadership roles, we have an important role in making sure that people feel secure in their roles, with no bullying accepted. If the bully continues despite having the behavior pointed out, he or she will be shut out from the area where he or she disrespects his or her peers, and if some friend reinvites him or her back just for spite, we will probably shut off the friend, too. We have absolute-zero tolerance for disrespect or intentionally bad behavior against co-activists.

We speak from our own position. When we perceive somebody as being in the wrong, we never say “you’re stupid” or similar, but start from our own thoughts, feelings, and reactions. We communicate using the model “When you perform action X, I feel Y, since I perceive you think Z,” possibly with the addition “I had expected A or B.” An example: “When you give the entire budget to activism, I feel frustrated, as I feel you ignore our needs for IT operations. I had expected you to ask how much it costs to run our servers.” This creates a constructive dialogue instead of a confrontational one.

We stand for our opinions. We never say “Many people feel…” or try to hide behind some kind of quantity of people. Our opinions are always and only our own, and we stand for them. The one exception is when we represent an organization in a protocolled decision.

Administration is a support and never a purpose. We try to keep administrative weight and actions to a minimum, and instead prioritize activism. It is incredibly easy to get stuck in a continuously self-reinforcing bureaucratic structure, and every formal action or process needs to be regularly questioned to evaluate how it helps activism and shaping the public opinion.

We build social connections. We meet, and we make others meet. Social connections — that people meet, eat, and have beer or coffee with each other — are what make the Pirate Party into an organization.

We develop our colleagues. We help everybody develop and improve, both as activists and leaders. Nobody is born with leadership; it is an acquired skill. We help each other develop our skills, even in our roles as officers and leaders.

Finally, all leaders and decision makers in the Pirate Party should see the fifty-five-minute video “How to protect your open source project from poisonous people.” On the surface, it is about a technical project, but the focus is on courses of action when events pop up that disturb the focus or energy in a volunteer community. It is very applicable to our organization, too.

This is a document that is being updated as we go. It cannot be used to beat somebody over the head because a certain part can be read a certain way: the important thing is the spirit and not the letter.

These two sample documents, taken together, sum up a lot of this book.


This leads us to what happens when you do get a verticality with a sudden tripling of the activist base. On average, every officer in the swarm’s scaffolding will need to appoint two more officers. This requires two things:

First, it requires officers and leaders who are comfortable with appointing other officers and delegating authority over resources and responsibilities, or even taking on deputies or assistants. They need to have the authority to do this independently, and they have to know that they have this authority and are expected to use it. There is no way that you or anyone else will be able to take a bottleneck position and still seize this moment. (You shouldn’t have a bottleneck position in the first place, so that particular problem should not materialize.)

Second, it requires empty boxes in the organizational chart of the scaffolding. Tons and tons of empty boxes everywhere. So don’t be afraid of populating the entire set of empty boxes at the organization’s genesis moment, even if just a few at the top (or center, depending on your point of view) will have names in them at the start, as we discussed in chapter 3.


In the context of growing, having fun in the organization is more important than just having fun at work. It is crucial to growing the activist base.

The reason is simple: people gravitate to other people who seem to be enjoying themselves. If you are having fun, more people will want to join you. If you are bickering and infighting, people who would otherwise be potential activist recruits will instead walk an extra mile around you to avoid being drawn in.

Having fun in the organization is crucial to success. You need to make sure that you and your colleagues, all several thousand of them, have fun.


Success in a swarm doesn’t happen smoothly and fluidly. It happens in hard-to-predict enormous bursts.

You may have spoken about a subject for a good year or two, seeing no return on your efforts at all. Then, something happens, and more or less overnight, tens of thousands of people realize you have been right all along and join your swarm for the fight.

While grinding along without seeing any returns can feel disheartening at times, it’s important to understand that people are listening and do take notice to what you’re saying. They’re just choosing to not act on it at the time being — maybe because it’s not important to them, maybe because they plainly don’t believe a word you say.

Then, all of a sudden, the government announces new horrible legislation that confirms everything you’ve been saying for the past two years, and you find yourself with twenty thousand new followers and five thousand new activists overnight, as you’ve gone from a doomsday prophet to being a rallying point for well-needed change. That’s the way it works.

The first part of the challenge is to drum up your own motivation to keep grinding, grinding, grinding, even when seeing little to no visible return. Write those articles and op-eds, stage those events, keep handing out those flyers, even in an emotional wintertime. People are taking notice.

The second part of the challenge is to immediately get out of grinding mode when this catalyzing event happens, and go into an intense recruitment mode to take care of all the new activists, as described in this chapter. Then, as the recruitment burst fades, you teach all the new activists to grind public opinion in the same way as you had been doing, the swarm now having a much larger surface area than before the growth burst.

However, we should not confuse persistent day-to-day grinding with a refusal to see roadblocks for the uptake of the swarm’s ideas. If people tell you that your website is confusing, that the officers of the swarm are inaccessible, or that new people who come to gatherings aren’t feeling welcome, those are real issues and should absolutely not be taken as a sign to just keep doing what you’re already doing. Everybody needs to listen for real blocks to adoption of the swarm’s ideas, all the time — but it’s when there are no such blocks coming, and there’s still no momentum, that everyday motivation can be hard to muster up. It is precisely at this point that one must keep grinding.


So far, this book has focused a lot on success recipes, but it can be equally instructing to learn from failures. My greatest strategic mistake ever was one of greed, as is often the case. It involves the founding of the youth wing of the Pirate Party — the Ung Pirat (“Young Pirate”).

(In Europe, political parties almost always have youth wings, where teenagers learn about policies and values of the party from their similarly aged peers. While this would seem odd in many parts of the world, it is perfectly normal in Europe and Sweden.)

I was informed that the party and movement could collect hundreds of thousands of euros a year in governmental grants by founding a youth wing: the government awards yearly grants for youth activity that gives young people a meaningful pastime, and political activity falls well within that scope. Knowing how cash strapped the party was, my first mistake in this sequence was getting blinded by the prospect of money, and not learning enough about the subject.

The people who volunteered to bootstrap the youth wing were very good at what they did, as is typical for a swarm, and had considerable experience with the subject. They knew exactly what red tape to avoid and how to optimize the youth wing’s structure in advance to pass through all the hoops and jump over all the pits to get on the fast track for youth activity grants.

Here’s the second problem, which is one I wasn’t aware of at the time, but which was my second grave mistake. The government places rigorous demands on the organizational structure of a youth organization to be eligible for grants — among other things, it must be strictly democratic with tons of red tape and voting, which goes completely counter to what we learned about swarmwise conflict resolution methods in chapter 6. In general, you could say that it must fit the 1960s model of a nonprofit organization to be eligible for grants.

Now, as we recall, if you have that kind of structure, you suppress the diversity which is required for a swarm to succeed. Furthermore, it encourages internal conflict, as that is how decisions are made when everything goes to a vote — and, by extension, it builds skills in such internal conflict, rather than skills in working swarmwisely.

At this point, still unaware of the problems ahead, I made my third and crucial mistake and connected the recruitment function of the Pirate Party with that of its youth wing. Youth grants are measured on the number of members below twenty-six years of age plus the number of local chapters, and the youth wing was optimized to maximize these numbers. Therefore, the youth wing was bootstrapped with the existing young members of the party, and every new member to the party got the option to click “I’m under twenty-six and want to join the youth wing, too” on joining. I’d soon come to understand what a mistake this had been — yes, it brought money to the movement, but the strategic damage was far worse.

The youth wing became eligible for governmental grants on January 16, 2009, which was a record time from its founding in December 2006 to its eligibility for youth activity grants. The people setting it up exactly as I had asked had performed in record time for Sweden’s grant bureaucracy, which — again — is typical for a swarm (although a fair amount of credit must be attributed to the individual skill sets, too).

However, as we learned in chapter 5, people will self-organize to improve anything you measure in public. The youth wing was built to optimize its grant eligibility, and kept measuring those parameters in public. As a result, people kept building the youth wing in a way that was completely different from the party itself — and worse, in a way that was destructive to the party, should that kind of organizational thinking come to seep into it. And of course it did. The youth wing, after all, was supposed to be the primary activist base and recruitment grounds for the next generation of activists.

In this way, the bureaucratic rules for governmental youth activity grants in Sweden slowly came to poison the cooperative, diverse swarm mentality of the Pirate Party by means of controlling the structure of its youth wing.

Now, you could argue that the structure wasn’t really controlled as such by the grant rules — but the point of founding the youth wing had been to comply with them to bring money to the movement, in a blind greed that caused heavy strategic damage.

Predictably, as we learned from chapter 5, the youth wing became increasingly focused on optimizing itself for the grants that fueled it. Moreover, using its superior resources, it was able to siphon new activists off into shapers of compliance with grant rules before the main party was able to train them into effective shapers of public opinion.

To make the problem far worse, a culture emerged — or was perhaps cultivated — in the youth wing where it considered its own organizational culture of internal conflict to be far superior to the swarmwise way of assisting each other in a culture of diversity, and actively tried to bring a culture of internal conflicts into the swarm organization of the party — blissfully unaware and ignorant that all its recruitment, and therefore resources, depended on the very swarm methodologies it disdained.

So the disaster here was threefold:

One — The youth wing had many times the resources of the party, and used them to train new activists in values of democratic infighting that were completely foreign to swarm activism, and to promote administration over activism, before the party could teach the new activists how swarm organizations work.

Two — Since the youth wing members were also members of the party, it was impossible to shut down the rerouting of members from the party to the youth wing. The executive part of the party organization ultimately got its mandate through the General Assembly, after all, where these people watched out for their interests of getting more money and resources.

Three — The youth wing would otherwise have been a natural activist training ground for the party; now, it had become a training ground for activists that would kill the values that had made the party successful. There was no discernible “outside” where you could recruit new activists that hadn’t been already trained in swarm-killing methods and values.

So the youth wing was conflict driven, rather than consensus and activism driven. It was built on principles of infighting peacefully (“learning democratic principles”) rather than principles of changing the world. It was built on promoting and rewarding administration over activism. It had taken a beachhead in the party’s General Assembly that was impossible to undo and had control over the activist recruitment inflows, and the damage to the organization values was becoming greater by the day.

In order to illustrate in objective facts just how introvertedly the youth wing had been built, we can observe that in an election year (2010), the election in question was not mentioned in the activity plan for the year. Yes, you read that right: the organization supposed to be a primary activist base for a political party didn’t care about an upcoming important election. It was a complete disaster, and it kept defending itself against being shut off from the recruitment flow of new activists which came from the mother party.

The people who had set up the youth wing exactly as I had asked had outperformed themselves and set up the best possible organization to match the specs and beyond, beating Swedish records in the process and indeed getting those hundreds of thousands of euros per year — but the strategic damage to the underlying values far outweighed the monetary gains.

As a final blow, the money wasn’t allowed to go to the party at all, but had to stay in the youth wing.

The lesson here is that no millions of cash in the world — even if you do get them — can repair the damage to your organization if you lose your value base. This was my biggest strategic mistake ever. You must maintain one, and only one, value base.

As of this writing, the recently elected head of the described youth wing is one of the strongest swarmthink activist spirits in the movement. It remains to be seen if the damage to the cooperative, diverse values can be undone for this particular swarm.


When I spoke to previous challenger parties across Sweden, they all bemoaned one specific organizational detail that had ultimately become their downfall: multiple power bases.

They had organized into several separate formal organizations, each with its own legal identity, each with responsibility for a particular geography or subgeography. This had several disastrous effects.

First, it vested activists in their local organization’s interests, rather than in the swarm as a whole. Tons of energy was diverted from activism into internal power struggles between intentionally created factions. You want every activist to be part of the one swarm, rather than part of “the subswarm of Fort Duckburg fighting for its own interests against the subswarm of neighboring West Gotham.” You don’t want to intentionally create factions for infighting.

Second, it creates metric tons of administrative redundancy. You want as few people as possible doing administrative work, and as many as possible doing activism. Therefore, you want to centralize the administrative workload to one or a very few people, and reduce the workload of everybody else to be on the level of clicking on “give me a cash advance for this great event we’re having.” Having to deal with many legal identities means that each legal-identity organization must do its own bookkeeping, tax forms, recordkeeping, and so on, wasting many activist hours that would otherwise have gone toward activism.

Third, you want to keep the number of people who enjoy administration to a minimum, too. People who enjoy activism attract other people who also enjoy extroverted activism to the swarm. In contrast, if you let the number of administrators start to grow, they will attract more and more administrative bureaucrats, and worse, start repelling activism-minded people.

Fourth, and less important, it also creates a lot of unnecessary cost in redundancy — and that’s for an already cash-strapped organization, as swarms tend to be. A bank account may cost fifty euros a year. For one organization, that’s a digestible cost. For fifty legal identities, that’s suddenly €2,500. Repeat for all other costs associated with being a standalone legal entity and multiply as needed.

As party leader of a challenger party, I spoke to people from previous challenger parties that had failed to understand where they went wrong. Every single challenger party I spoke to that had failed pointed out the creation of several parallel organizations with their own legal identity as the one reason, or one of the primary reasons, that the party had failed. There’s an important lesson to learn from that.

So keep your swarm to being one legal entity (if you bother to make it a formal legal entity at all). Many brave attempts at changing the world have fallen on the intentional creating of internal factions, with results as predictable as the sun setting.

Onward to chapter 8 >>

(This article is part of the final edit of the book manuscript. It is Creative Commons, CC-BY-NC.)


This is a part of the book Swarmwise, available for purchase from Amazon (US, UK) or for download/torrent as PDF. It is an instruction manual for recruiting and leading tens of thousands of activists on a mission to change the world for the better, without having access to money, resources, or fame. The book is based on Falkvinge’s experiences in leading the Swedish Pirate Party into the European Parliament, starting from nothing, and covers all aspects of leading a swarm of activists into mainstream success.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.