P2P and Human Evolution Ch 7

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7. P2P and Social Change

Chapter 7 of P2P and Human Evolution

7.1.A Marginal trend or premise of new civilization?

I hope to have convinced the reader of this essay that Peer to Peer is a fundamental trend, a new and emergent form of social exchange, of the same form, an ‘isomorphism’, that is occurring throughout the human lifeworld, in all areas of social and cultural life, where it operates under a set of similar characteristics. In other words, it has coherence.

How important is it, and what are its political implications? Can it really be said, as I claim, that it is the premise of a new civilizational order? I want to bring out a few historical analogies to illustrate my point.

The first concerns the historical development of capitalism. At some point in the Middle Ages, starting in the 11th to 13th C. period, cities start to appear again, and commerce takes up. A new class of people specialize in that commerce, and finding some aspects of medieval culture antithetic to their pursuits, start inventing new instruments to create trust across great distances: early forms of contracts, early banking systems etc. In turn, these new forms of social exchange create new processes of subjectivation, which not only influence the people involved, but in fact the whole culture at large, eventually leading to massive cultural changes such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the great social revolutions (English, French, American, etc.). In this scenario, though the emergent bourgeois class was not directly political, what it did, i.e. its primary business of conducting commerce, inevitably created a political and civilisational chain reaction. This class also had a resource, capital (money), which was greatly needed by the other leading sectors of the population, especially the feudal class and the kings. Even today, for capital, politics is a secondary effect, their enormous power is an effect of what they do in the economic sphere: trading currency and shares, international capital flows, investments of multinational companies, the results of a myriad of small decisions by economic regularity bodies such as the IMF, etc.

Today, I would argue, we witness a similar phenomena. A new class of knowledge workers, in its broad sense already the majority of the working population in the West, and poised to be in the same situation elsewhere in a few decades, are creating new practices and tools that enable them to do what they need to do, i.e. exchange knowledge. As they create these new tools, bringing into being a new format of social exchange, they enable new types of subjectivation, which in turn not only changes themselves, but the world around them. When Marx wrote his Manifesto, there were only 100,000 industrial workers, yet he saw that this new social model was the essence of the new society being born. Similarly, even if today only a few million knowledge workers consciously practice P2P, one can see the birth of a new model of a much larger social consequence. This new model is inherently more productive in creating the new immaterial use value, just as the merchants and capitalists were more effective in the material economy. Thus, they have something of value, i.e. knowledge and innovation, which is needed by the whole society, as even agricultural and industrial production can no longer proceed without their intervention. As this feedback loop is reinforcing itself, the political consequences are equally secondary. By creating new social forms, they, we, are doing politics, in the sense of creating new realities. This does not mean that civil society alone can create a full civilisational change, as, inevitably, political conflicts and new lines of contention arise, that will draw in the adepts of the new modes of being into the political world. We have already seen how it is to a great degree the legal and technical sabotage of the enemies of P2P, which have driven forward its development.

The great issue will be the reform of the state and the global governance system. But the P2P social forces come prepared, with highly efficient modes of organization and knowledge building.

Another analogy I like is the one exposed by Negri in Empire, where he refers to the Christians. The Roman Empire, in a structural course of decline, could not be reformed, but at the same time, within it, the Christians were creating new forms of consciousness and organization, which, when the imperial structure collapsed, was ready to merge with the invading Barbarians and created the new European civilization of the Middle Ages. There are no Barbarians today, only other rising capitalist blocks such as the East Asian one, but they are in the process of creating the very same social configuration, which has created P2P in the West, though it will take a little more time. Civilisational differences will not, in my opinion, preclude the development of cognitive capitalism and the emergence of P2P modes of social exchange.

Finally, let us put our findings in the context of some social scientists.

First, Marcel Mauss, and his notion of ‘total social fact’;[1] second, to the notion of Cornelis Castoriadis, that societies are coherent wholes and systems, otherwise they would collapse, animated by a particular kind of ‘social spirit’ that is the result of our social imaginary. Democratic capitalism was prepared by such an imaginary, the result of the religious civil wars and the strong desire to go beyond the feudal adversarial model. But today, even as it is being globalized, its premises are dying at the same time they are being exacerbated. The emergence of P2P is therefore to be considered both as a total social fact, and as the birth of a new social imaginary. P2P is a revolt of the social imaginary about the total functionalization of our society, about its near-total and growing determination by instrumental reason and efficiency thinking, that is now even infecting our social and personal lives. It is a vivid protest, a longing for a different life, not solely dictated by calculation and the overriding concern for profit and productivity. It is not just protest against the intolerable facets of postmodern life, but always-already also a construction of alternatives. Not an utopia, but really existing social practice. And a practice founded on a still unconscious, but coherent set of principles, i.e. a new social imaginary. It is totally coherent, a total social fact.

Habermas has another important notion, which is the ‘principle of organization’ of society, and he distinguishes the primitive, traditional and liberal-capitalist principles of organization. He defines it as the innovations that become possible through ‘new levels of societal learning’. Such a level determines the the learning mechanism on which the development of productive forces depend, the range of variation for the interpretative systems that secure identity, amongst others key factors. It would seem clear that P2P is precisely such a new learning mechanism, described in most detail in the book by Pekka Himanen, as well as in the new rules I have identified in this essay. Thus in Habermassian terms, we would have to conclude that P2P is a fourth principle of organization, emerging at this stage, but which could become dominant at a later stage.

We’ll leave the latter open as a hypothesis, since history is an open process, and indeed different logics can co-exist. For example, in democratic capitalism, the two logics of democracy and capitalism are co-existing together, forming a coherent whole, even though its fabric is now in crisis.

My interpretation of P2P is related to the interpretation of Stephan Merten and the Oekonux group in Germany, but whereas they see the principles behind Free Software as indicative as a new mode of social exchange, I have broadened their area of application. Free Software is, in my interpretation, one of the forms of the P2P form of social exchange. While Free Software appears important, especially when taken together with the more liberal Open Source format, it is still more marginal than P2P. When we look at the same phenomena through the P2P lens, the social changes appear much more profound, much more important, than Free Software taking alone. We are much further ahead of the curve if we follow the P2P interpretation.

Nevertheless, when I talk, in such an optimistic and visionary fashion, about the emergence of P2P and it being the premise of a coming fundamental civilisational change, I can of course also see the terrible trends that are affecting our world: fossil energy depletion, global warming, increased inequality inside and between countries, the tearing apart of the social fabric, the increased psychic insecurity affecting the whole world population, the imposition of a permanent war regime that is dismantling civil rights and re-introducing the systematic use of torture and lifelong imprisonment without trial in the heart of the West, the great extinction affecting biodiversity …. All these things are happening, and disheartening, even though counter-trends from civil society are also sometimes hopeful. Certainly, it seems that the power structure of Empire, the new form of global sovereignty, is beyond reform, that it just routes around protest and democracy, making dissent marginal and inconsequential, even as 25 million people were protesting an illegimate war in one single day. Corporate media machines will devote days on end on the trial of a celebrity, but totally ignore massive literacy campaigns in Venezuela, and millions of people demonstrating will deserve just a few seconds of coverage. But historically, it is also when change ‘inside’ the system becomes impossible, that the greatest revolutions occur. The evening before the momentous events of May 68, the columnist Bernard Poirot-Delpech wrote in Le Monde: nothing ever changes, we are bored in this country ….

The question of timing is difficult to answer. Objectively, it could take centuries, if we take the historical examples of the transition from ancient slavery to feudalism, or from feudalism to capitalism. Similar to the current situation, both ancient slavery (in the form of the conatus system of production, which freed slaves but bound them to the land, as of the 2nd and 3rd century), and feudalism, had the germs of the new system already within them. However, the precipitation of climatic, economic, political crises affecting the current world system, as well as the general speeding up of cultural change processes, seem to point towards changes that could proceed on a much more faster scale. If I may allow myself a totally unscientific prediction, then I would say that a culmination of systemic crises, and the resulting reform of the global governance system, is about two to four decades away. But in another sense, such predictions are totally immaterial to the task at hand. We need P2P today, in order to make our lives more fulfilling, to realize our social imaginary in our own lifetime, and to develop the set of methodologies that will be needed, that are needed, to help solve the developing crisis. We do not have the luxury of waiting for a dawn to come. A good example of the maturity of the system for change is what happened in Argentina: when the economy totally collapsed, in a matter of months, the country’s population had built a series of P2P-based barter and alternative money systems (the largest in the world to date), and the significant movement of the Piqueteros arose, which, demanded and got from the state a major concession: that state money for the unemployed would not go to individuals, but the movement as a whole to invest in cooperative projects. It all depends on the dialectic between the crises and what the system still can offer. But if the system fails to provide the hope and the realisation of a decent life, such an event precipitates the building of alternatives that have many of the aspects of P2P that we described.

7.1.B P2P, Postmodernity, Cognitive Capitalism: within and beyond

Peer to peer has clearly a dual nature. As we have showed, it is the very technological infrastructure of cognitive capitalism, the very organizational mode it needs to implement in its global teams. P2P exemplifies many of the flexible and fluid aspects characteristic of fluid modernity (or postmodernity): it disintegrates boundaries and binary oppositions, blurs the inside and the outside. Just as post- or late feudal society and its absolutist kings needed the bourgeoisie, late capitalist society cannot survive without knowledge workers and their P2P practices. It can be argued that the adoption of P2P processes is in fact essential for competitiveness: a strong foundation of P2P technologies, the use of free or open source software, processes for collective intelligence building, free and fluid cooperation, are now all necessary facets of the contemporary corporation. The old format of 'pyramidal intelligence', i.e. a hierarchy of command and control, in its old bureaucratic format, or even as 'management by objectives', based on the assumption of information scarcity, is increasingly counter-productive.

At the same time, it cannot cope with it very well, and often P2P is seen as a threat. The entertainment industry for example, wishes to destroy P2P technology. In general, corporations are in constant tension between the logic of self-unfolding peer groups and the profit-driven logic of the feudally-structured management-by-objectives system, and by the tension between the cooperative production of innovation and its private appropriation. The dot.com crisis of 2001 showed how difficult it is for the present system to convert the new use value into exchange value, and created an important rift between the affected knowledge workers and the financial capital, which had taken them on that ride. After the short-term flourishing of the hope for instant riches in the dotcom economy, many of them turned their energies to the social sphere, where internet-based innovation not only continued, but thrived even more, but now based on explicit P2P modes of cooperation.

Thus, while being part and parcel of the capitalist and postmodern logics, it also already points beyond it. From the point of view of capital, it annoys it, but it also needs it to thrive and survive itself. From the point of view of its practitioners, they like it above all else, they know it is more productive and creates more value, as well as meaning in their life and a dense interconnected social life, but at the same time, they have to make a living and feed their families. The not-for-profit nature of P2P is at the heart of this paradox.

This is the great difficulty, and is why its opponents will not fail to point out the so-called parasitical nature of P2P. P2P creates massive use-value, but no automatic exchange value, and thus, it cannot fund itself. It exists on the basis of the vast material wealth created by the presently existing system. Peer to peer practitioners generally thrive in the interstices of the system: programmers in between jobs, workers in bureaucratic organizations with time on their hand; students and recipients of social aid; private sector professionals during paid for sabbaticals, academics who integrate it into their research projects. However, in terms of open source software, this is increasingly seen as essential for technological infrastrucre, favoured by an increasing numbers of governments who want an open standard, and also by rivals to Microsoft, who see it as a means of decreasing their dependency. It is more and more seen as an efficient means of production, and therefore, increasingly funded by the private sphere.

Apart from being an objective trend in society, it is also becoming a subjective demand, because it reflects a desired mode of working and being. P2P becomes, as it is for this author, part of a positive P2P ethos.

Therefore, a P2P advocacy emerges, which turns the tables around, and it becomes a political and social movement. What is the main message of this emergent movement? I'll try to paraphrase the emerging message, which is being increasingly clearly formulated:

It says: "it is us knowledge workers who are creating the value in the monetary system; the present system privately appropriates the results of a vast co-operative network of value creation (as we argued in our section about the co-operative nature of cognitive capitalism). Most value is not created in the formal procedures of the enterprise, but despite it, because, despite impediments, we remain creative and cooperative, against all odds. We come to the job, no longer as workers just renting our bodies, but as total subjectivities, with all we have learned in our lives, through our myriad social interactions, and solve present problems through our personal social networks. It is not us knowledge workers living off on you, but you ‘vectoralists’ living off on us! We are the ones creating infinite use value, which you want to render scarce to transform it into tradable intellectual property, but you cannot do it without us. Even as we struggle to create a commons of information, in the meantime, while we lack the strength to totally transform the system, perhaps we will be strong enough to impose important transitory demands. Therefore, in your own interest, if you want innovation to continue, instead of ever larger number of us collapsing from stress-related diseases, you have to give us time and money. You cannot just use the information commons as an externality, you have to fund it. Establishing such a system, culminating in the instauration of a universal wage divorced from work, is in fact the very condition of your survival as an economic system, and at the same time, allows us to thrive as knowledge workers, by creating use value, meaning in our lives, time for learning and renewal, that we will bring back to your money-making enterprise."

The world system undoubtedly needs a number of important reforms. Amongst those I can think of are:

  1. the shift of the monopoly of violence from the nation-state, to an international cooperative body in charge of protecting human rights and avoid genocides and ethnic cleansings; it is no longer acceptable that any nation-state exerts illegitimate violence;
  2. the setting up of regulatory bodies for the world economy, so that a through world society can emerge, in the sense of those proposed by George Soros, David Held and others;
  3. changes in the nature of the system of capital in the sense described by Paul Hawken, David Korten, Hazel Henderson, i.e. a form of natural capitalism that can no longer appropriate the commons and externalize its environmental costs;
  4. a new integral ‘international account’ systems no longer focused on the endless growth of material production, but on well-being indicators;
  5. changes in the structures of corporations so that it no longer exclusively reflects the interests of the shareholders, but of all the stakeholders affected by its operations.

With historical hindsight, such a series of fundamental changes are only to be expected after major structural crises: they are probably still 20 to 50 years away.[2] In the meantime, as moles, P2P social forces are preparing the terrain for such a change.

Perhaps this is the place where I should explain my attitude to capitalism in a more explicit way. It is a force which has created material abundance for a part of the world population, but at an increasingly unacceptable cost. The growth paradigm, the usage without limit of natural resources, the pauperization of vast areas in the world, the ‘psychological unsustainability’ of the high stress model that affects even the elites in the Western states, disqualify its survival in its current form. The paradox is: the more successful it is, the more it destroys the material and spiritual basis of life. But following Alan Page Fiske’s findings, I also believe that some form of market exchange will persist, that many people want it. This is why I think that we should develop strategies geared to the four intersubjective modes of being together and of making the world:

  1. strengthening peer production and governance;
  2. strengthening reciprocity-based gift economies on the local and regional scale, and fair trade on the international scale;
  3. reforming the market, through monetary reform, natural capitalism measures, reform of the corporation, the introduction of multistakeholdership, etc..
  4. reforming the modes of hierarchy, in particular the state form; making it a supporter or at least a neutral arbiter in the balance between market exchange and the commons; introducting peer governance and multistakeholdership modes to offset bureaucratization.

7.1.C Three scenarios of co-existence

In our earlier descriptive essay, we already described three possible scenarios concerning the entanglement of cognitive capitalism with P2P.

The first scenario is peaceful co-existence. There are a lot of historical precedents for that. In the Middle Ages and other agriculture-based systems, the system of authority ranking (feudalism), co-existed with the religious order, organized in a form of Communal Shareholding (the Church and the Sangha), which was the pillar of a redistributive gift economy. In South-East Asia, which accepts temporary spiritual engagement, people would move from one sector to the other. Similarly, we can envision a continuation of the present system, with knowledge workers making money in the private sector, but regularly escaping, as much as they possibly can, to participate in the edification of the Commons. In this scenario, the one we are currently living and that would be poised to continue substantially the same, the current version of capitalism would also remain mostly unchanged, though perhaps eventually to be regulated by bodies of global governance.

The second scenario is the dark one. Cognitive capitalism succeeds in partly incorporating, partly destroying the P2P ethos, and an era of information feudalism ensues, a netocratic oligarchy based on access to resources and networks, living on rent monopolies from intellectual property licenses, as has been described by Jeremy Rifkin in the "Age of Access", (and echoed by Jordan Pollack,[3] John Perry Barlow[4] and many others) and dis-appropriating any form of property from the consuming classes (the consumtariat, as Alexander Bard has coined them). It will co-exist with a total control society based on biometric identification, and will use highly advanced cognitive manipulation. But this scenario is predicated on the social defeat of the knowledge workers, and we are not there yet. In this scenario, access to information is predicated on the payment of restrictive licenses, which sharply reduce the freedoms and the creativity of the people who have access, while excluding many others from that access. Because of this loss of freedom, the loss also of the freedom to fully possess goods and to with them as we please, this scenario is often called one of 'information feudalism'.

The third scenario is, from the point of view of P2P advocates, the more hopeful one. After a deep structural crisis, the universal wage[5] is implemented, and the P2P sphere can operate with increasing autonomy, creating more and more use value, slowly creating a cohesive system within the system, a 'GPL Society', as Stephan Merten would have it.[6] At such moment, the new civilization is already born. It has to be stressed that P2P is not the same as a totally collectivized system, and that it can co-exist with markets and aspects of capitalism. But it does not need the current monopolistic system, it can reduce ‘market pricing mechanisms’ to their rightful place, as part of the human exchange system, not as its totality. In my opinion, we would have a core of pure P2P processes, surrounded by a gift economy based on shareable goods, a strong social economy run by non-profit companies, and a reformed market sector, where prices reflect more realistically the true cost of production, such as environmental externalities. This form of 'natural capitalism' has been described by Paul Hawken, David Korten, and Hazel Henderson. The main 'inspiring paradigm' would no longer be the competition paradigm based on win-lose scenarios, but the collaborative paradigm, where reformed corporations and other to-be-invented institutional and non-institutional forms, would find their purpose in creating added value to the commons, and would attract productive means to the degree they are perceived of doing so.

7.1.D Possible political strategies

In the meantime, while the three scenarios are competing to come into being, and if we are sympathetic to the emergence of P2P and its ethos of cooperation: “What is to be done?”

A first step is to become aware of the isomorphism, the commonality, of peer to peer processes in the various fields. That people devising and using P2P sharing programs, start realizing that they are somehow doing the same thing than the alterglobalisation movement, and that both are related to the production of Linux, and to participative epistemologies. Thus what we must do first is building bridges of cooperation and understanding across the social fields. Amazingly, it has already started, as the last Porto Alegre forum showed an extraordinary enthusiastic reaction to the Open Source event, something that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. This coalescing of a powerful social and political movement, a movement of movements, seems already to be happening: the alterglobalisation movement, the free software/open source movement, the open access and peer science movements, the forces aligned against biopiracy and the new intellectual property enclosures, the free culture movement, the environmental and other protectors of our physical commons, and others, seem increasingly to find each other.

We should also start to realize our basic commonality with earlier forms of the cooperative ethos: the communal shareholding of the tribal peoples, the solidarity movements and mutualities of the industrial workers. Following the analysis of McKenzie Wark, we should say that both knowledge workers (the hacker class for MW), workers, and farmers as producing classes share a similar interest in achieving first, a fairer share of the distribution of the surplus (the reformist agenda), and second, achieving control of the means of production (the more radical agenda). Of course, this can no longer take the form of centralized state control, and awaits innovative social practices and demands.[7] It is our contention that they will be centered around the peer governance of the Commons. However, creating the new social reality takes precedence over political demands, the latter having to be a consequence of the former. Today to resist is in the first place 'to create'.

Therefore, the second step is to "furiously" build the commons. When we develop Linux, it is there, cannot be destroyed, and by its very existence and use, builds another reality, based on another social logic, the P2P logic. Adopting a network sociality and building dense interconnections as we participate in knowledge creation and exchange is enormously politically significant. By feeding our immaterial and spiritual needs outside of the consumption system, we can stop the logic which is destroying our ecosphere. The present system may not like opposition, but even more does it fear indifference, because it can feed on the energy of strife, but starts dying when it is shunned. This is what is being expressed by Toni Negri's concept of Exodus, and what other call 'Desertion'.[8] These commentators note that it was 'the refusal of work' in the seventies, with bluecollar workers showing increasing dissatisfaction with the Taylorist/Fordist system of work, that lead to the fundamental re-arrangement of work in the first place. In the past, the labour movement and other social movements mostly shared the same values, and it was mostly about a fairer share of the pie. But the new struggles are mostly about producing a new kind of pie, and producing it in a different way. Or perhaps an even more correct metaphor: it is about the right to produce altogether different kinds of pie.

Today, the new ethic says that 'to resist is in the first place to create'. The world we want is the world we are creating through our cooperative P2P ethos, it is visible in what we do today, not an utopian creation for the future. Building the commons has a crucial ingredient: the building of a dense alternative media network, for permanent and collective self-education in human culture, away from the mass-consumption model promoted by the corporate media.

Thus, if there is an 'offensive' strategy it would look like this: to build the commons, day after day, the process of creating of a society within society. In this context, the emergence of the internet and the web, is a tremendous step forward. Unlike in earlier social formations, knowledge workers and others now have access to an important “vector of information”, to a means for creating, producing, and distributing immaterial products that was not available in earlier ages.[9] Part of the struggle to build the information commons is the struggle for the control of the code (achieving protocollary power) and the creation of a ‘friendly’ legal framework, continuing the efforts pioneered by Richard Stallman and the General Public License and Lawrence Lessig’s Copyleft and 'Creative Commons'.

The third step is the defensive strategy. When the commons is attacked, it needs to be defended. We are thinking of the struggle in the EU to avoid software patents,[10] avoiding the installment of digital rights management encoded in the hardware; the struggle against biopiracy; against the privatization of water.

Above all else what we need is a society that allows the building of the commons, and it is therefore impotant to refuse measures that would foreclose this development. Hence the importance of the intellectual property regime, which needs to be reformed to avoid an ‘Enclosure of the Digital Commons’, and also, we have to develop an awareness of the intricacies of protocollary power. Since we have no idea about the time span needed for a fuller transition to a P2P civilization, what me must do in the meantime is to protect the seed, so that it can grow unimpeded, until such time as it is called for a greater role.

I would guess that an important part of the struggle for decent life for all, important to make space for the development of cooperative practices, will be the instauration of a universal living wage.[11] So that no one dies from hunger, poverty and exclusion from the world of culture. So than an increasing number of us can start working on the creation of real use value, instead of catering to the artificial desires concocted by the global advertising system.

The aim of peer to peer theory is to eventually develop a differentiated and integrated strategy for political and social change. Because it is based on a differentiated understanding of intersubjective processes, as developed in the relational model of Alan Page Fiske, it realizes that the four modes (equality matching, authority ranking, market pricing, and communal shareholding) have always existed, though in different combinations. It is a fair summary to say that the tribal era was dominated by gift economy modes based on reciprocity; that is was followed by the tributary class societies of the agricultural age, based on authority ranking; and that the industrial age was determined by market pricing. The current industrial era has been marked by the attempt to create a state-based authoritarianism (communism) as an alternative to market pricing; and by the current attempt at market totalitarianism under neoliberalism, which is in the process of failing. Peer to peer theory aims to offer a third alternative: not a commons-based totalitarianism, but a society where the other modes are informed by the peer to peer principles of civil society: a commons-based society within a reformed state and a reformed market. That’s also how it differs from the anarchist and socialist models that hoped for a marketless and stateless society.

Such a differentiated and integrated strategy would be based on fourfold interventions in the different relational and productive domains:

Reform of the state and global governance modes

We also wish for the creation of democratic peer to peer processes so that they can contribute to solving some of the crucial issues facing the world. This is why the demands of the alterglobalisation movement are sometimes considered vague. It is because, in this complex world, we know that we do not have all the answers. But we also know, that through a community of peers, through open processes, answers and solutions can emerge, in a way that they cannot if private interests and domination structures are not transcended. Thus a reform of the global governance system is very important, so that every human being voice can be heard. Current global governance institutions, as they are organized today (IMF, World Bank, WTO), often impede the finding of solutions because they are instruments of domination, rather than at the service of the world population. It is thus not just a matter of an alternative political program, but of alternative processes to arrive at the best solutions. I do not personally believe, that change can come only from the autonomous processes of civil society, and that attention to the state form is important. Thus politically, peer to peer advocates are interested in the transformation of the nation-state, to new forms open to the processes of globality, to participatory processes, such as the ones practiced with P2P formats. The search and development of peer governance practices, based on new forms of leadership, will be crucial.

The reform of the market is equally important. An economic system that destroys the biosphere, that is predicated on unending growth in a finite physical universe, is not sustainable. The current monetary system, appropriate for the needs and profits of an elite, can only invests ten percent in the productivity economy. It must be replaced by smarter complementary currencies, and on a major monetary reform that changes scarcity-based money systems, and their hidden protocols of exclusion, into participatory protocols.

Regarding the commons such an approach would entail:

  1. a defense of the physical commons and the development of new institutions such as trusts to manage the environment;
  2. an end to exaggerated private appropriation of the knowledge commons;
  3. a universal basic income to create the conditions for the expansion of peer production;
  4. any measure that speeds up the distribution of capital.

In the field of the gift economy: the promotion of reciprocity-based schemes, using alternative currency schemes based on equal time (Time Dollars and the like).

Finally, peer to peer also demands self-transformation. As we said, P2P is predicated on abundance, on transcending the animal impulse based on win-lose games. But abundance is not just objective, i.e. also, and perhaps most importantly, subjective. This is why tribal economies considered themselves to live in abundance, and were egalitarian in nature. This is why happiness researchers show that it is not poverty that makes us unhappy, but inequality. Thus, the P2P ethos demands a conversion to a point of view, to a set of skills, which allow us to focus ourselves on fulfilling our immaterial and spiritual needs directly, and not through a perverted mechanism of consumption. As we focus on friendships, connections, love, knowledge exchange, the cooperative search for wisdom, the construction of common resources and use value, we direct our attention away from the artificial needs that are currently promoted, and this time we personally and collectively stop feeding the Beast that we have ourselves created.

7.1.E Towards a civil society-based ‘Common-ism’?

Following the summary by Bruno Theret of a school of thought in anthropology, human society can best be understood in the form of an “original debt". Humans owe their lives to the totality and are therefore thankful to its representatives, who eventually become real human and spiritual powers. Up to modernity, people owed their lives to the sovereign, representing the sacred order, and paid back this debt materially. This is the basis of the premodern and ‘feudal’ system of allegiance and tribute. But this symbolic process is reversed in modernity. It is now the sovereign which is indebted to the individuals, he gets his power from them, since democratic sovereignity derives now from the people. From the point of the individual, he now faces a 'differentiated society'. Family life is increasingly liberated from patriarchal domination and becomes an egalitarian alliance based on love, with a debt from the parents towards the children (instead of the other way around in premodernity). In the family, the person is integral. However, in the economic order, he 'lends' his labour power to the enterprise, who pays back this debt in form of salaries. Politically, he delegates his 'political power' to the sovereign, as embodied in democratic societies. For Bruno Theret, the existence of a differentiated domestic order is of crucial importance, as it is the domain of fraternity and reciprocity, while the market is the domain of freedom, and the political order is the domain of power. But based on the domestic order of the family, civil society is being created, based on the same principles of fraternity, solidarity, reciprocity, eventually giving rise to the great post-war compromise, in which the market was re-embedded in the social, with salaries and a juridical order to protect the social.

This for him, is the seed of a third type of society, not based on a totalitarian market (the neoliberal order of the 80s and 90s), which only protects 'freedom', and in which the market dominates everything, nor on a totalitarian state, which only protects equality. Rather we have a domestic order, which if it succeeds in expanding civil society so that it becomes dominant rather than subordinate, can develop a model of 'civil socialism'. In order to avoid becoming itself a totalitarian communautarian order, it abandons the aim of 'simple equality' for complex equality. Such a system accepts partial monopolies in certain differentiated fields, but avoids that such monopolies can be converted in other fields.

The above paragraphs are a summary of a long argumentation by Bruno Theret. They point to the material basis of a new social and political movement, which no longer seeks the takeover of state power, but rather focuses on the extension of civil society and its egalitarian values. It is no longer ‘communist’, in the Marxist sense, but rather ‘Common-ist'. It is not lead by a bureaucratic layer of functionaries which aim to be integrated in the state system, but is an autonomous growth within civil society, using processes of peer governance. This is the social movement which will find its expression in the peer to peer paradigm and is constructing a social and political alternative.

More Information


  1. Definition of a 'total social fact':

    "A total social fact [fait social total] is "an activity that has implications throughout society, in the economic, legal, political, and religious spheres." (Sedgewick 2002: 95) "Diverse strands of social and psychological life are woven together through what he [Mauss] comes to call 'total social facts'. A total social fact is such that it informs and organises seemingly quite distinct practices and institutions." (Edgar 2002:157) The term was popularized by Marcel Mauss in his The Gift and coined by his student Maurice Leenhardt after Durkheim."
    (http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/Total_social_fact )

    Bibliographic sources used for the definition are
    1. Sedgewick, Peter (2002). Cultural Theory: The Key Concepts, Routledge Key Guides Series. Routledge:
    2. Edgar, Andrew (2002). Cultural Theory: The Key Thinkers, Routledge Key Guides Series. Routledge.

  2. George Modelski on the temporality of change:

    Someone who has studied the temporality of human civilisational change is George Modelski with his theories on 'evolutionary' politics', with some of his conclusions, that 'the rate of change is tapering off' being counter-intuitive. He foresees a period where technological change would co-exist with a stabilized social structure. His conclusions are based on combining various observable trends in one integrated interpretation:

    Phase Changes and Saturation: Power Law Behavior and World Systems Evolution, Tessaleno Dvezas and George Modelski, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, V70 N9, Nov 2003

    “An excellent article modeling world social organization as a multilevel, self-similar, nested power-law process, following self-organized criticality. They suggest social change involves a range of processes that range in "size" (time duration) from 250 (or rarely, longer) down to 1 (very common) human generation, with few of the long duration developmental processes (e.g., world democracy, globalization), and a very large number of single generation processes (e.g., typical cultural and legal emergences). Assuming a human generational/cultural learning time of 30 years, they describe "K-waves" of 60 years encompassing developments such as the rise of leading sectors in global economy (e.g., the emergence of automobiles, or electricity), and "long waves" of 120 years, such as the rise of world powers to a position of global leadership. All of this has been observed by other cycle scholars and seems quite reasonable. One of the more helpful insights from their model is that the time duration of developmental innovations is inversely related to their importance to the developmental process (e.g., irreversible processes that take a long time to occur are both much rarer and more necessary to advance the system as a whole). Another very interesting insight is their observation that world system change, while still upsloped, has been slowing for 1,000 years, with the inflection point at roughly 1000 AD. Using a logistic growth curve ("S curve") their model of world system emergence proposes that human social development (the Y axis) is in a decelerating phase and is about "80% complete", and therefore that the major features of human social organization are now in place. In other words, they propose that social change is rapidly saturing, and will be significantly less dramatic and novel every year forward. A plausible scenario here: We all end up living in increasingly standardized individual empowering, fine grained, and fair social democracies, with conflict a highly regulated affair, and the only unregulated innovation occurring at the chaotic edge of human understanding and social need. The authors delineate four phases of social change for the model, beginning with the Ancient Period (3000BC to 1,000BC), then Classical Period (1,000BC to 1,000AD) then the Modern Period (1,000-3,000AD) of "world system consolidation", and a presumed Postmodern Period (3,000-5,000AD) with little social change (though we can presume much change in the technological sphere). Each 2,000 year period corresponds well to the four phases in logistic growth: initiation, acceleration, deceleration, and saturation."

  3. Jordan Pollack on the 'information feudalism' scenario:

    If the cultural sphere is indeed taken over completely by commodification, the consequences would be quite negative: we will never own anything anymore, we will always be dependent on all kinds of licensing ..

    “It seems to me that what we're seeing in the software area, and this is the scary part for human society, is the beginning of a kind of dispossession. People are talking about this as dispossession that only comes from piracy, like Napster and Gnutella where the rights of artists are being violated by people sharing their work. But there's another kind of dispossession, which is the inability to actually buy a product. The idea is here: you couldn't buy this piece of software, you could only licence it on a day by day, month by month, year by year basis; As this idea spreads from software to music, films, books, human civilization based on property fundamentally changes.”

  4. John Perry Barlow, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, on the privatization of the Commons:

    "I'm spending an enormous amount of my time stopping content industries from taking over the world—literally. I feel like we're in a condition where private totalitarianism is not out of the question because of the increasingly thickening matrix of channels of communication owned by the same companies that own content, that own Web properties, that own traditional media. In essence, they're in a position to own the human mind itself. The possibility of getting a dissident voice through their channels is increasingly scarce, and the use of copyright as a means of suppressing freedom of expression is becoming more and more fashionable. You've got these interlocking systems of technology and law, where merely quoting something from a copyrighted piece is enough to bring down the system on you.” (http://news.com.com/2008-1082-843349.html)

  5. Some documentation on the universal wage

    One of the best resources is the Basic Income European Network which in fact now covers most parts of the world, at: http://www.bien.org

    the Greens on the universal wage, with many resources at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/marxiens/politic/revenus/index.htm

    Very clear explanation on the universal wage, and why it is so necessary, by Philippe Van Parijs, at http://atheles.org/editeur.php?ref_livre=&main=lyber&ref_lyber=318

  6. About the transition of one mode of production to another, by an Oekonux.de participant:

    "Venetian merchants, who had made their fortunes in the midst of feudalism by selling arms or luxury goods from Asia to European feudal seigniors, did not constitute the heart of social production. Even if they brought to the narrowness of feudal life – centered around the fief and its village church – an opening to world commerce (the courtesans of the European courts could wear robes made of Oriental products), the relations among the merchants and between them and the rest of the feudal world remained marginal, and would appear to be purely subsidiary. The production of essential, indispensable goods for the subsistence of men (agricultural goods and artisan ones, principally), was performed under feudal relations. This marginal, secondary aspect of capitalist relations in the midst of feudal society was so self-evident that even in the 18th century, the first bourgeois economists, the French Physiocrats, could, without laughing, pretend that merchants and manufacturers should not pay taxes because they do not create any true "net product": They do nothing but transport it or modify its form.

    What do we want to deduce? That from their birth, in the midst of the old society, the superior relations of production, were not obligatorily born with a complete form, capable of managing the totality of social production, nor even its most vital part. The fact that, today, free software and, more generally, digitizable goods concern no more than a part, again, marginal, of social production and consumption, does not constitute any argument showing the impossibility that the economic relations that they induce will not one day become the dominant social relations.

    That which has permitted capitalist relations to become dominant after centuries of existence is not only the ideological, military, and political victory of the bearers of the new capitalist values against the old feudal regime, even if they have played a determining role, but the material, concrete fact – which demonstrates daily and by methods more and more evident – that the new relations were the only ones that could permit the use of new productive forces engendered by the opening of commerce and the development of production techniques. "In the last instance," it is the economic imperative, the irreversible historical tendency to the development of labour productivity, that finishes by imposing its own law.

    That which today permits one to envision the possibility that relations of production founded on the principles of free software (production with a view toward satisfying the needs of the community, sharing, cooperation, the elimination of market exchange) could become socially dominant is the fact that these relations are the most able to employ the new techniques of information and communication, and that the recourse to these techniques, their place in the social process of production, can only grow, ineluctably."

    Source: Raoul Victor, Free Software and the Market Society, http://www.oekonux.org/

  7. Paolo Virno on the new political strategy

    Virno is one of the new generation of 'Italian radical thinkers' that seems to have replaced the earlier dominance of 'French thought', and he is often associated with the group of people, who are, together with Negri and Hardt, putting forward the strategy of the 'multitudes'. In this article, he argues that for the contemporary social movement, social and political aims change places. First, new social realities have to be established, after political structures will have to be adapted. The last thing to be wished for, he says, is the establishment of a hyperstate, a world government for a world people.

    “la lutte contre le travail salarié, à la différence de celui contre la tyrannie ou contre l’indigence, n’est plus corellée à l’emphatique perspective de la «prise du pouvoir». Précisément en vertu de ses caractères très avancés, se profile comme une transformation entièrement sociale, qui se confronte de près au pouvoir, mais sans rêver une organisation alternative de l’Etat, visant au contraire à réduire et à éteindre toute forme de dirigisme sur l’activité des femmes et des hommes et donc sur l’Etat tout court. On pourrait dire : alors que la «révolution politique» était considérée comme un préalable inévitable pour changer les rapports sociaux, maintenant, c’est ce butin à venir qui devient le passage préliminaire. La lutte peut développer son caractère destructif, seulement si elle porte haut une autre façon de vivre, de communiquer, et même de produire. En bref, seulement s’il y a autre chose à perdre que ses propres chaînes. Que se passe-t-il lorsque l’on considère la forme actuelle de l’Etat comme l’ultime possible, méritant de se corroder et de tomber en ruine, mais certainement pas d’être remplacé par un hyper Etat «de tout le peuple»

  8. Desertion

    "Desertion brings down empires. Consider the Soviet Union, and the Eastern bloc more generally: there was no aspect of daily life that was not under strict surveillance, it was next to impossible to organize resistance, but these regimes were toppled by desertion. People left in droves, and those who stayed simply stopped working. Sloth, too, can be a good thing. It may be that the only course for altering the world lies not in revolutionary parties but in desertion."
    (From: Politics without the state. Ed. By Diana George and Charles T. Mudede. Seatlle Research Institute, 2002)

    The above work is described as follows:

    "They focus on how the current world order works affectively, rather than just economically and ideologically or cognitively. Against “the communication of terror by a private corporate media oligopoly that functions in tandem with a state apparatus”, they advocate “a universal communication” of invention, of joy, and of bodies. The goal that they envision is “gaining collective, participatory control over the imaginary processes through which our identities and desires are instituted.” This means inventing new forms of sociality, imagining alternatives to global capitalism precisely at the moment when we are endlessly being told that no alternative is conceivable."
    (source: Seattle Research Institute website, http://www.seattleresearchinstitute.org )

  9. Antonio Negri on the knowledge worker:

    "À présent, on observe un autre type de fonction sociale productive, et un autre type d'ouvrier apparaît, celui qui travaille devant un ordinateur. Cela suppose un élargissement du concept de producteur et, de plus, une réappropriation des moyens de production. Quand le cerveau devient l'outil fondamental, il n'y a plus de séparation entre moyens de production et force productive, c'est cela la potentialité révolutionnaire."
    (from a communication in the Multitudes mailing list in December, 2004, from an interview in the French newspaper L'Humanite)

  10. Information about the struggle against the adoption of software patents in the EU, see at

    The following is an educational book explaining why these issues are important:

    La bataille du logiciel libre. 10 clefs pour comprendre. Thierry Noisette et Perline La Découverte 2004

    Book site located at http://www.labatailledulogiciellibre.info/ ; author site of Perline located at http://www.perline.org/

  11. On the universal wage as a form of 'rent', for what the population is bringing to society:

    “Pour l’économiste écologiste Bernard Guibert il faut trouver la justification du revenu social garanti qu’il place au centre du programme social des écologistes, dans une réhabilitation du rapport de rente. Non pas une rente parasitaire mais une rente sur ses propres qualités, sociales et productives, sur son propre corps. La régulation de cette rente comme celle du développent durable est un acte de nature politique. Le but de cet article est de tenter de fonder théoriquement la revendication qui est au coeur du projet de l’écologie politique, celle d’un revenu social d’existence qui soit inconditionnel, universel et de niveau suffisant pour permettre à chacun de vivre d’une manière autonome et décente. Il s’agit de transformer tout citoyen de notre pays en rentier : il faut donc rappeler ce qu’est le concept de rente, réfuter les préjugés idéologiques dont ce il est victime et en énoncer le contenu positif et même révolutionnaire comme condition de la réalisation du projet politique du développement durable."