P2P Mode of Production

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* Book: The P2P Mode of Production: An Indiano Manifesto. Translated by Steve Herrick.

E-version via http://lasindias.org/the-p2p-mode-of-production/


Steve Herrick:

"This document is a call to action, based on Las Indias’ analysis that the reduction of the optimal scale of production is the root of the current crisis — in Spain particularly, but also worldwide. This is a grave threat for huge corporations (and to a lesser extent, national governments), but very promising for small enterprises. That’s because the core of the P2P mode of production is a “knowledge commons” available to all.

Abundant information on every topic imaginable, but especially on small-scale production, means that local producers can freely choose the most effective, efficient and accessible processes, without the shackles of intellectual property. This will lead to a blossoming of local enterprise. And that’s where you can take action." (http://english.lasindias.com/announcing-the-translation-into-english-of-the-p2p-mode-of-production-an-indiano-manifesto/)



The emergence of distributed communication networks

The drama of the scales and the global crisis

The new model of free software and the hacker work ethic

The New Industrial Revolution

The P2P learning system and the production of theoretical knowledge

The political reflection: communal, asymmetrical confederalism and subsidiarity




"The current crisis, the deepest and longest in the history of capitalism, has opened a debate around the world about what appears, more clearly with each passing day, to be the simultaneous destruction of the two principal institutions of social and economic life: the State and the market. Never in living memory has the economic system been so universally questioned.

On the other hand, never before have technical capacities been so powerful, and, more importantly, so accessible to people and small organizations. In fact, never before have so many small businesses taken part in the world market. Nearly free [gratis] P2P communication technologies let them create the largest commercial networks in history. The emergence of free software (which, by itself, represents the largest-ever transfer of value to the economic periphery) empowered them with unexpected independence. Millions of small businesses around the world, especially in Asia, were able to coordinate among themselves this way and hone their products just as new markets were opening up to them. It’s “globalization of the small.” It’s not a marginal phenomenon: never before have so many people around the world gotten out of poverty.

If we look closely at these tendencies, we’ll find interesting contradictions: the crisis has its origin in large-scale industries, and in fact, it’s the largest of all, the financial industry, that sets off the process and keeps it going. However, the new emerging technologies are about scope, not scale: the free software industry doesn’t sustain itself on big, monopolistic global businesses with global networks of commercial subsidiaries, but rather on a new “commons of free knowledge” that can be downloaded, modified and even sold by anyone. The relationships in the construction of this new commons have no central leadership or hierarchy, but rather are based on the free concurrence of projects and on relations among equals. The businesses in this industry don’t win fame and income creating scarcity. They develop their reputation on innovative contributions to the commons, and their benefits are born simply of the sale of work hours.

Free software was the first industry based on a completely different system of property and production: the P2P mode of production. Later on, in the middle of the crisis, new tools would appear, from three-dimensional printers to industrial design methodologies, and new sectors will explore new branches of the commons.

The objective of this book is to show how the economic crisis is, in reality, the crisis of large scales, but above all, to show how we still have the opportunity to take a step towards a new mode of producing that’s based on a new, cooperative way of competing, a new work ethic, and, above all, on the building of a new commons, a knowledge commons open to all." (http://lasindias.org/the-p2p-mode-of-production/)

The political reflection

Commons, asymmetrical confederalism, and the principle of subsidiarity

The progressive reduction of the optimal scale of production is the origin of the crisis, but also of the possibility of the P2P mode of production becoming a reality. But if scale is reduced in production, wouldn’t it be logical to think that public administration also needs to be reduced? Big, decentralized States have many of the problems of big businesses and are also the main objective of rent captors. As libertarian and anarchist thought has asserted from Proudhon to Hayek, small-scale administrations with confederal ties between them would be a defense against the capture of rents from public power.

On the other hand, tensions would inevitably arise between the universal nature of the commons and the local nature of a growing part of production and physical distribution. The autarkic and even isolationist temptation quickly appears, leaving aside one of the most hopeful elements in the emergence of distributed networks: the erosion of old identities based on nation-state and the appearance of new transnational and non-national identities. But, the evolution of the transition toward the P2P mode of production really has gone hand in hand with the emergence of new transnational communities. Many of them, from China to Senegal, have experienced a variety of forms of economic autonomy.4 Their role in the future will be no minor thing. The P2P society will know commerce and mobility over long distances. If it didn’t, it would endanger its capacity to create well-being and social cohesion.

Certainly, smaller scales mean more local production, but low-cost intercontinental merchant transportation — possibly based on renewable energy — will continue. Revaluing local production, freed from subjection to gigantic scales, absolutely does not mean a new, localist autarkism. It’s not logical to think of this transnational phenomenon as being limited to the deliberative processes that create the knowledge commons.

If the birth of transnational identities continues and converges with the general development of the P2P mode of production, the transnational level will empower the local level through identity communities that may well lead to a “continuum of of freedom and well-being” over and above the legacies of the different levels of development and nation-states in decomposition. Phyles will surely be vectors of communication, commerce, and the transnationalization of citizenship. The P2P mode of production doesn’t reject globalization, but rather redefines it from the communal and local level.

Different proposals have different interpretations of this goal, but possibly the clearest is Juan Urrutia’s work on redefining confederalism, using the concept of “asymmetrical confederalism.”5 This is confederalism in the classic cantonalist sense: local, autonomous, democratic governments that voluntarily share parts of their budget with other administrations at the same level through supraterritorial organizations. So, asymmetry doesn’t just deal with territorial governments, but also with cross-border organizations.

On the other hand, the definition of the electoral body — who has the right to vote — is appearing in more and more places at the center of the political debate. For example, local elections in many cities in Europe are decided by the “emigrant vote,” which, many times, is the vote of the grandchildren of those who emigrated — and barely retain any “cultural” relationship with the origin of their grandparents.

It’s an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand, states in decomposition tend to prioritize the principle of nationality over citizenship, freeing themselves from the contractual that sustains the latter in favor of the identity affirmation that defines the former. But, on the other hand, the very definition of the imagined national community based on origins, throws into question the very possibility of the national character of the state, due to the growing transnationalization of linguistic and cultural groups: as nationalistic as the administrative apparatchiks would like to be, not everyone who fits the description is there, and not everyone who’s there fits the description. We should recall the Israeli debate between the defenders of an ethnic state like the current one — which gives citizenship to any ethnic Jew in the world — and the defenders of a reform towards a national state.

The authoritarian nationalist route goes through inward homogenization and xenophobia and the outward expansionism of the census. That is, they don’t want to let part of the neighbors vote, and yet the right to vote is given to people who never lived in the place. The inevitable result is that lots of people in Galicia, Asturias, and Israel don’t understand why the mayor of their town ends up being decided by a group of people they’ve only seen a couple of times on vacations, likely paid for with money that was theoretically dedicated to development.

The idea of asymmetrical confederalism is presented here as something sensible and applicable in the short term with no major drama. The idea is that if there exists a cultural commons to be maintained, it should develop its own transnational structures. These would be somewhat different from the W3C or the Mozilla Foundation: its members would have a certain globally recognized cultural autonomy to define their own cultural and linguistic policies among its members. They could also develop policies of cohesion and economic solidarity. But the administration of what’s local will be decided by a census based exclusively on vicinity, and looking only at the principle of citizenship.

Currently, some States, like the Austrian and Spanish, include options on their tax forms that allow taxpayers to decide whether or not to designate a percentage of what they pay to the religious organization they belong to or to “other social interests” defined by the State itself. We can imagine a similar way of including the transnational and communal dimension in a confederal system with fiscal sovereignty, like the Swiss system: neighbors vote in each place, but when they go to pay their taxes, they can choose to send a part to a transnational organization that represents them in the identity to which they subscribe, whether that be cultural, based on a commons identified with an “origin” (Gibraltarian, Brazilian, Basque, or Jewish, for example) or a synthetic transnational community (Indiano, Muridi, Focolara, Esperanto, etc.), or other productive communities of the commons (Linux, care of the oceans, etc.), all organized as different international foundations or organizations.

It should be highlighted that all this is only really applicable if there exists regional fiscal sovereignty, which, clearly and not coincidentally, is the base of direct democracy. And one more clarification is still necessary: the coherence of the whole system leads to a redefinition of the principle of subsidiarity to also include the relationship between public and communal property. In fact, all asymmetrical confederalism necessarily defends the supremacy of administration in common: governments shouldn’t administrate anything that could be managed as commons." (http://lasindias.org/the-p2p-mode-of-production/)


"Since World War II, productivity has multiplied, which has drastically reduced the optimal scale of production, sidelining the state capitalism of the Eastern countries first, but also jeopardizing the big businesses of the U.S. and Europe.

During that time, the structure of communications was also transformed: we’re in the transition from a decentralized world, the world of the of the telegraph and of nations, to the distributed communication model, the world of P2P communication.

The union of these changes, along with the removal of commercial barriers in the Nineties, resulted in a constant growth in commerce based mainly on the emergence of new, smaller-scale, less capital-intensive agents on the periphery. The direct consequence was the greatest reduction of poverty in human history, but also a remarkable increase in inequality and economic instability.

The main cause of this countertendency was financial capital, which didn’t adapt to the reduction in scales, but, on the contrary, increased them still more, supporting itself on “financialization” and “securitization,” distancing itself from the productive system and regularly instigating speculative bubbles. Its strategy for scale included the hardening of legislation on intellectual property, needlessly redefining the Internet through recentralizing structures (Google, Facebook, etc.), and fundamentally redoubling the pressure to capture States.

This strategy can only lead to the simultaneous destruction of the market and the State, a phenomenon that that we call “decomposition,” and which occurs parallel to the destruction of productive capacity and the crisis and war which precede and accompany it.

But at the same time, with the birth and development of free software, there appeared a new way of producing and distributing, which was not centered on the accumulation of capital, but rather the accumulation of a new commons, which is to say, of abundance, in which the market eliminates rents — from intellectual property, position, etc. — to instead base itself on pay for labor and rewards for innovation and adaption which, in turn, enrich the commons.

This is what we call the P2P mode of production, and it works to produce software, physical objects, and all kinds of services. It accumulates abundance in the form of the knowledge commons and dissipates rents without requiring central control, hierarchy, or large-scale organizations.

These technologies, even if they are still a bit immature, can be a solid base to face the consequences of the financial crisis in the local productive community, both in industrial microenterprises and in SMEs, from the neighborhood workshop to the component factory.

Meanwhile, in parallel with the growth of the commons, another important evolutionary step in the P2P mode of production is the appearance of a true “P2P learning system” and a “theoretical research system” of its own. While applied knowledge already has a place in the development communities of assorted projects (OSE, WikiSpeed, Mozilla, etc.), the social theory of the P2P mode of production finds its place in foundations and Schools of the Commons. And dozens of local learning groups are being created with different names and legal structures.

Finally, the first political proposals are appearing that reflect the structure of administration. These proposals are centered on the concept of “asymmetrical confederalism,” which, in turn, necessarily postulates the supremacy of the commons. For the new confederalists, governments shouldn’t manage anything that can be administered as commons.

To conclude, all these diverse phenomena emerging before our eyes, from the financial crisis to locally produced cars, plus 3D printers, the hacker movement, and free software, are a real part of a larger crisis, the crisis of capitalism as we’ve known it: large-scale, decentralized, hierarchical, and rent-seeking.

In contrast, we are researching the fundamental characteristics of the new mode of production, based on small productive scales, relationships between equals, a new hacker work ethic, and, above all, the knowledge commons. It seems like a good basis for the necessary transition towards a new social and economic system. And, most importantly, it’s already here, it works, and it’s not a morality tale, a silver bullet, or well-intended activism.

The P2P mode of production isn’t some ideologue’s plans for the future. It’s not a partisan thing or the dream of some small group of true-believers. It’s a real (if young) alternative for the organization and reconstruction of the productive community on a new base. It doesn’t need leaders or governments to develop, but rather the work of all those who want to gain resilience for their communities based on competition without rents and collaborative labor." (http://lasindias.org/the-p2p-mode-of-production/)

More Information

In Spanish, from Las Indias: