From Platform Cooperatives To Open Cooperatives

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"One of the most important contributions of the P2PF theorists to the debates on the sharing economy is the emphasis they put on the potentially subversive character of platform cooperatives as means of organization for the transition towards postcapitalism. For Bauwens and his colleagues from the P2PF, the importance of platform cooperatives goes well beyond the question of humanizing the labour conditions of platform workers and redistributing the wealth of the sharing economy. Such platforms, in their view, can give a strong impetus to the further development of peer production in the online realm, catalyzing new structures of peer governance and peer property.

Platform cooperatives, in short, can be instrumentalized as agents of the new paradigm of value creation constituted by commons-based peer production. To perform this transformative role, however, platform cooperatives must be oriented towards the commons. As Bauwens and his colleagues clarify, a negative feature of traditional cooperatives is that they are not actively engaged in the production of the commons (Bauwens & Kostakis 2014, Pazaitis et al. 2017a). As they explain, the problem is that cooperatives that work within the capitalist marketplace tend to gradually adopt competitive mentalities, and even when they do not, they chiefly operate for the benefit of their own members. They usually have to rely on the patent and copyright system to protect their collective ownership and may often self-enclose around their local or national membership (Pazaitis et al. 2017a).

From this point of view, cooperatives are not likely to evolve into a vehicle for the transcendence of capitalism if their products do not differ from those of their competitors in terms of their property character. To fulfill that purpose, in addition to democratizing the workplace and the management of production, cooperatives must be agents of democratization of the access to the fruits of production. To put it simply, cooperatives should not produce closed/proprietary products as the capitalists do. On the contrary, what they produce should be a commons. By producing commons, cooperatives do not only affirm their social relevance, but they also strengthen the ‘counter-hegemonic movement’ of commoners and the development of ‘a commonsoriented counter-economy’ that could challenge the rule of capital (Pazaitis et al. 2017a). That is why peer production theorists insist on the significance of the commons in the context of the development of platform cooperatives. By edging platform cooperatives on the path of the commons, they aspire to engender the enabling conditions for the diffusion of peer production and the expansion of the commons-based economy.

We should not forget that under existing conditions, peer producers and commoners are dependent upon the capitalist system for their sustainability. For most of them, ‘commoning,’ to use a term popularized by historian Peter Linebaugh (2008), is an activity in which they are engaged without any form of remuneration. A small minority makes a living by working at capitalist firms like IBM or Google, which profit by incorporating the digital commons into their own products and services. The fact that the majority of commoners find it impossible to sustain themselves directly through their engagement with the commons is extremely pertinent, as it implies that the commons ecosystem is not autonomous from the capitalist system, upon which it depends for its reproduction. For Bauwens and his colleagues, this is a strategic weakness that can and must be addressed through the development of commons-oriented platform cooperatives, which they call ‘open cooperatives’ (Bauwens & Kostakis 2014; 2016, Pazaitis et al. 2017a). By making it possible for commoners and peer producers to capture the value of their platform-mediated productive activities, such open cooperatives will help to ‘emancipate [peer production] from the confines of the dominant system,’ rendering it a[n autonomous] system of value creation that can antagonize Capital (Pazaitis et al. 2017a). For the digital commons theorists, that is precisely where the subversive potential of platform cooperatives lies." (