What Digital Commoners Need To Do

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The following is a meditation on the strategic phases in the construction of a peer to peer world

By Michel Bauwens, originally published at http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-new-years-message-of-the-p2p-foundation-what-digital-commoners-need-to-do/2011/01/01/


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What have we been doing in the last few years, and what should we be doing next? Here is a list of major undertakings, some well under way, some barely begun. All need to be done, are interdependent on each other, but need to be done ‘at the same time’, though there is a certain maturation effect which may need to take place to move from one phase or priority to another. Finding out these interdepencies and choosing amongst those priorities is a matter of debate, strategising, and practical experience.


* use the existing infrastructures for immaterial exchange for personal and social autonomy

We started by creating an infrastructure that allowed for peer to peer communication. Out of this striving came the internet and its end to end principle, web 2.0 and its possibilities for participation, and social media allowing for intense relational interaction, and tools such as wikis which allow for the collaborative construction of knowledge.

The creation of this infrastructure was a combination of efforts of civil society forces, governments and public funding, and private R&D and commercial deployments. It’s an imperfect world full of governmental control, corporate platforms, but also many capabilities for p2p interaction that did not exist before.

My assessment is that this struggle can experience setbacks but can no longer be undone. They have become civilisational achievements that are just as necessary for p2p-commoners than for the powers that be, even if they can impose a ‘dissent tax’


* change those infrastructures itself away from centralized and corporate control

But precisely because phase 1 is an imperfect one and partially if not largely in control of forces which have their own agenda of (political) control and (commercial) exploitation, as lately exemplified so well in the corporate decisions around Wikileaks, we are increasingly realizing the need to control these very infrastructures and insure that they can continue to allow and even expand the possibilities for p2p communication and value creation.

Hence the movements for free software, open standards, independent p2p infrastructures. There are many efforts underway in this area, some successful, some fledlging, some of which will go nowhere and be defeated.

Success on this front also depends on what the ‘enemy’ is doing. To the degree they want to go too far in controlling the platforms, to that degree they will mobilize the counterforces building the counter-infrastructures, and convince more and more users to use them.


* use the existing infrastructrures, and the new p2p-transformed ones, to change the very infrastructure of production of material goods, making it more sustainable in the process

As we get habituated to p2p communication and value creation, and move from open software to open knowledge to open design, p2p communities get involved in redesigning the means of production and making, i.e. open design necessarily needs to a reconfiguration of production processes towards ‘distributrion’. Open design communities moreover have no perverse incentives for planned obsolence or for hindering the sharing of innovation, so the new infrastructures have a bias towards sustainability, but also to relocalized production and a rationalisation of wasteful and unsustainable material globalization.


* change the property structures of the infrastructure and means of production in the process

As the new modalities of open design and distributed manufacturing are deployed, peers discover and experience the many constraints imposed by the old order of production, such as modes of property, the lack of benefit or revenue sharing, compound-interest based capital which is not easily available for them etc … They start building their own platforms, governance foundations, etc …This creates a need to extend p2p practices and modalities to the rest of the economy, with efforts towards forms of peer funding, open money, a revival of cooperatives and mutualism, and many other. Commoners also discover their affinities with other counter-economies such as the solidarity economy, fair trade, and other forms of commons-friendly enterprise and start developing practical and political alliances


* raising of political awareness and expression as a means of overcoming opposition

As all the above processes are undertaken, digital commoners learn about and experience the political and economic forces that are arraigned against them, and become more politically aware, discovering the need for their own modalities of political action and expression. They may also discover affinities with the enemies of their enemies, other social movements, commons-friendly enterpreneurs, etc


* transform the infrastructures so that the abundance of immaterial sharing can co-exist with the sustainability of the planet, and the demands for equity and social justice

Immaterial cooperation rests on a physical infrastructure which is currently part and parcel of an unsustainable mode of production. Commoners learn the importance of recognizing the natural scarcities of the physical world and how knowledge sharing and open design are themselves vital factors to redesign the unsustainable infrastructure, and to transform it into resilient modalities that insure the perenity of the new social practices. Digital commoners ally with those forces that combine an interest in the abundant sharing of immaterial resources, in the context of preserving natural resources, and according to the principles of social equity.