Germ Form Theory

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The germ form theory of Free Software production is a hypothesis that this form of peer production is the germ of a new society.

It is developed by Stefan Meretz of Oekonux, here at


Stefan Meretz:

"I would not call the ideas around the term "germ form" a "theory", however, others do. There are two origins of the term "germ form": one in german critical psychology founded bei Klaus Holzkamp (1927-1995, in german: [1]; another one in

an article by Robert Kurz [2] Antioekonomie and Antipolitik.

While Holzkamp in his work did not use the term "germ form" explicitly, he developed the principles of developments in a very general sense. Kurz on the other hand used "germ form" explicitly by arguing that no one can imagine a societal jump out of capitalism without having pre-forms of new types of societal organisation. Because of being used so widely in different theories he doesn't like, later on he emphasized some distance to his own theory, especially to the term "germ form".

Five steps to a new society

Holzkamp generalized his "five step model of development" from analyzes of qualitative steps of evolution - from single cells to human society.

One five step cycle consist in: 1. emergence of the germ form of development; 2. crisis of the old form of development; 3. germ form becomes an important dimension inside the old form of development; 4. germ form becomes the dominant form of development; 5. reconstruction of the entire development process


Now step by step (this part is translated from open source year book 2005).

1. emergence of the germ form of development: Everything what currently is self-evident and ubiquitous, was once something new and completely not self-evident. Over many steps the new has finally prevailed. This new which later on will be the old is called germ form. Germ forms can emerge in niches and special areas. They live from the old, but exhibit forms of the new.

2. crisis of the old form of development: Germ forms only become relevant when the old gets into a crisis. This can happen mainly due to two reasons: Firstly the outside conditions can change so dramatically or so fast, that the old principle can not react adequately. Secondly the old can run out, if all potences of further development are exhausted. Stagnation is one type of reaction, collapse another.

3. germ form becomes an important dimension inside the old form of development: Under the condition of the old the germ form can leave niches and expand quantitatively. It becomes an important dimension of development inside the old still dominant form. This establishment of the germ form can have two directions: It can lead to an integration into the old overtaking the old principles, or the germ form asserts itself better and better based on its own principles into and beside the old. In the first case the germ form character gets lost, in the second case the new gets strenghened. In both cases the old can profit from an integrated or a strenghened germ form and attenuates its own crisis phenomena.

4. germ form becomes the dominant form of development :The former subsidiary germ form becomes the dominant form of development. The new previals because it is better in respect to the important dimensions of the entire development process. The germ form character of the new comes to an end. Now its principles are determinative and displace the overcome and non-functional principles of the old, even step by step or abruptly. The new becomes the self-evident ubiquitous.

5. reconstruction of the entire development process: Finally all aspects of the entire development process re-structure with respect to the dominant self-evident new principle of development. Especially this concerns such processes, which are not determinative but derivative. With this step potentially the first step of a new five step cycle is reached: germ forms can emerge, the old gets into crisis and so on.

All phases can take longer or shorter time spans, and at every time there can be backstrokes. Nothing is given or predetermined. The five step cycle can only be realized completely, when it has taken place, and only with hindsight the former germ form can be identified certainly. Being within the development process the five step model can help to sharpen the senses, to gain a better action potence. Now, the controversial thesis in the oekonux project is: With free software we have a germ form of a new society."


About the transition of one mode of production to another, by participant Raoul Victor:

"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 labor 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,

More Information

A discussion page at Oekonux at

A text from Raoul Victor called: "Germs of Non-Commercial Relationships within the Most Modern Capitalism" at