[p2p-research] IMPORTANT, seven pathways to social power

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sat Nov 7 05:55:01 CET 2009

Dear friends in cc, I have a particular request for you to engage in
discussion, and to describe the 8th way to social power, the p2p way, which
may be missing from this list

It concerns an excellent conceptual article on political strategies for
emancipation, by Eric Olin Wright, see

First a list of caveats,

I think lots of the discussion with Ryan is based on a knee-jerk reaction
against what is conceived of as socialism.

Just as people on the left have a knee-jerk reaction to capitalism, which
does not allow them to see movements and proposals like 'natural
capitalism', 'capitalism 3.0', without thinking of all the evils of
capitalism, as they see it, so liberal inclined people (in the european
sense of the word), may have similar reactions to the word socialism. As I
understand it, Ryan sees this a list full of socialists, and when he thinks
about that, he sees the gulag in the Soviet Union. I will make an educated
guess that, though there may be some socialists on this list, none of them
identifies with that vision.

So I invite people to read the text by Eric without prejudice of this kind.
When he means socialism, as opposed to statism, or capitalism, he means a
society where more of the decisions are taken in a democratic way by civil
society, rather than by the state or private market players, and in this
sense, his civil society based approach is very similar to a peer to peer

This is the summary explanation: "In practice, therefore, the concepts of
capitalism, statism and socialism should be thought of not simply as
all-or-nothing ideal types of economic structures, but also as variables.
The more the decisions made by actors exercising economic power determine
the allocation and use of resources, the more capitalist is an economic
structure. The more power exercised through the state determines the
allocation and use of resources, the more the society is statist. The more
power rooted in civil society determines such allocations and uses, the more
the society is socialist. "

Change his use of 'socialism' and change it to 'peer to peer', and bingo,
it's very close to my own thinking, and perhaps to that of others on this
list. I personally deplore his use of socialism in this context, as it will
indeed confuse people. Change it into 'democracy' for example, and I gather
that most people would agree that having people decide over their own fate
is not so controversial.

In any case, in this text, after making many useful distinctions on power
and ownership, he goes on to investigate "seven pathways to social
empowerment", which I also copied here at

They are:

 1.2 1. Statist
1.3 2. Social Democratic Statist Economic
1.4 3. Associational
1.5 4. Social Capitalism:<http://p2pfoundation.net/Pathways_to_Social_Power#4._Social_Capitalism:>
1.6 5. The Social
1.7 6. Cooperative market
1.8 7. Participatory

I'd like to make an important point here, is peer to peer transversal to
these systems, i.e. it can be applied to all as a component, and I think
that is certainly the case; but is it also something different, say, an
eight strategy. I do think Eric is probably unaware of the kind of vision
and culture that is emerging out of the new world of peer production.

Both can be true I think, especially since I see the peer to peer dynamic
operating in the context of a hybrid economy.

Guys, thanks for shining your collective lights of this really core issue.

Below the seven pathways,

If some of you could write blog-ready posts for a series, it would be much


In what follows I will sketch what I will refer to as seven pathways to
social empowerment. These constitute different configurations of social
power, state power, and economic power in which we can envision
institutional forms that move in the direction of increasing the social
power component. The seven pathways are: statist socialism; social
democratic statist regulation; associational democracy; social capitalism;
social economy; cooperative market economy; and participatory socialism.

] 1. Statist Socialism

In traditional socialist theory, the essential route by which popular power
- power rooted in associational activity of civil society - was translated
into control over the economy was through the state. It is for this reason
that those visions can reasonably be described as models of
statist-socialism. The basic idea was this: Political parties are
associations formed in civil society with the goal of influencing and
potentially controlling state power. People join them in pursuit of certain
objectives, and their power depends in significant ways upon their
capacities to mobilize such participation for collective actions of various
sorts. So, if it were the case that a socialist party was deeply connected
to the working class through its embeddedness in working class social
networks and communities and democratically accountable through an open
political process through which it politically represented the working class
(or some broader coalition), then if the socialist party controlled the
state and the state controlled the economy, one could argue on a principle
of transitivity-of-control, that an empowered civil society controlled the
economic system of production and distribution. This vision is diagramed in
Figure 1 and can be termed the classic model of statist socialism. In this
vision, economic power as such is marginalized: it is not by virtue of the
direct economic ownership and control over assets that people have power to
organize production; it is by virtue of their collective political
organization in civil society and their exercise of state power.

Statist socialism of this sort was at the heart of traditional Marxist and
Leninist ideas of revolutionary socialism. This is not, of course, how
things turned out in actual revolutions. Whether because of inherent
tendencies of revolutionary party organizations to concentrate power at the
top or because of the terrible constraints of the historical circumstances
of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, whatever potential there was
for the Communist Party to be subordinated to an autonomous civil society
was destroyed in the course of the Russian Civil War and the early years of
the revolution. By the time the new Soviet State had consolidated power and
launched its concerted efforts at transforming the economy, the Party had
become a mechanism of state domination, a vehicle for penetrating civil
society and controlling economic organizations. The Soviet Union, therefore,
became the archetype of authoritarian statism under the ideological banner
of socialism, but not of a socialism rooted in democratic social
empowerment. Subsequent successful revolutionary socialist parties, for all
of their differences, followed a broadly similar path, creating various
forms of statism. The contrast between this reality and the theoretical
model of a democratic statist socialism is illustrated in Figure 2

Today, few socialists believe that comprehensive statist central planning is
a viable structure for realizing socialist goals. Nevertheless, statist
socialism remains an important component of any likely process of social
empowerment. The state will remain central to the provision of a wide range
of public goods, from health to education to public transportation. The
central question for socialists, then, is the extent to which these aspects
of state provision can be effectively under the control of a democratically
empowered civil society. In capitalist societies, typically, these aspects
of public goods provision by the state are only weakly subordinated to
social power through the institutions of representative democracy. Because
of the enormous influence of capitalist economic power on state policies,
often such public goods are more geared to the needs of capital accumulation
than to social needs. Deepening the democratic quality of the state is thus
the pivotal problem for direct state provision of goods and services to
become a genuine pathway to social empowerment.

] 2. Social Democratic Statist Economic Regulation

The second pathway for potential social empowerment centers on the ways in
which the state constrains and regulates economic power (Figure 3). Even in
the period of economic deregulation and the triumph of ideologies of the
free market at the end of the 20th century, the state remained deeply
implicated in the regulation of production and distribution in ways that
impinge on capitalist economic power. This includes a wide range of
interventions: pollution control, workplace health and safety rules, product
safety standards, skill credentialing in labor markets, minimum wages and
other labor market regulations. Any serious proposal to contend with global
warming would have to intensify such statist regulation of the use of
economic power. All of these involve state power restricting certain powers
of owners of capital, and thereby affecting economic activities. To the
extent that these forms of affirmative state intervention are themselves
effectively subordinated to social power through democratic political
processes, then this becomes a pathway to social empowerment.

Statist regulation of capitalist economic power, however, need not imply
significant social empowerment. Again, the issue here is the extent and
depth to which the regulatory activities of the state are genuine
expressions of democratic empowerment of civil society. In actual capitalist
societies, much economic regulation is in fact more responsive to the needs
and power of capital than to the needs and power generated within civil
society. The result is a power configuration like Figure 4: state power
regulates capital but in ways that are systematically responsive to the
power of capital itself. The question, then, is the extent to which it is
possible within capitalist society to democratize state regulatory processes
in ways which undercut the power of capital and enhance social power. One
way of doing this is through what is sometimes called "associational

] 3. Associational Democracy:

*i.e. coordinated joint effects of social power, state power, and economic
power on the economy*

Associational democracy encompasses a wide range of institutional devices
through which collective associations in civil society directly participate
in various kinds of governance activities, characteristically along with
state agencies and business associations. The most familiar is probably the
tripartite neo-corporatist arrangements in some social democratic societies
in which organized labor, associations of employers, and the state meet
together to bargain over various kinds of economic regulations, especially
those involved in the labor market and employment relations. Associational
democracy could be extended to many other domains, for example watershed
councils which bring together civic associations, environmental groups,
developers and state agencies to regulate ecosystems, or health councils
involving medical associations, community organizations and public health
officials to plan various aspects of health care. To the extent that the
associations involved are internally democratic and representative of
interests in civil society, and the decision-making process in which they
are engaged is open and deliberative, rather than heavily manipulated by
elites and the state, then associative democracy constitutes a pathway to
social empowerment.

] 4. Social Capitalism:

*Social empowerment over the way the economic power of capital is exercised
over the economy.*

Economic power is power rooted in the direct control over the allocation,
organization, and use of capital of various sorts. Secondary associations of
civil society can, through a variety of mechanisms, directly affect the way
such economic power is used (Figure 6). For example, unions often control
large pension funds. These are generally governed by rules of fiduciary
responsibility which severely limit the potential use of those funds for
purposes other than providing secure pensions for the beneficiaries. But
those rules could be changed, and unions could potentially exert power over
corporations through the management of such funds. In Canada today, the
union movement has created venture capital funds, controlled by labor, to
provide equity to start-up firms that satisfy certain social criteria.

Historically one of the most important forms of social capitalism concerns
the ways in which associations of workers in various ways mobilize power to
constrain the exercise of economic power. This can occur in the form of
ordinary labor unions engaged in bargaining over pay and working conditions:
such bargaining constitutes a form of social power which, if only in limited
ways, affects the operation of economic power. The co-determination rules in
Germany, which mandate worker representation on boards of directors of firms
over a certain size modestly extends social power into the direct governance
of firms. Proposals to replace shareholder councils with stakeholder
councils for the control of corporate boards of directors would be a more
radical version.

Social movements engaged in consumer oriented pressure on corporations would
also be a form of civil society empowerment directed at economic power. This
would include such things as the anti-sweatshop and labor standards
movements centered on university campuses and organized boycotts of
corporations for selling products that do not conform to some
socially-salient standard. Fair trade and equal exchange movements that
attempt to connect consumers in the North with producers in the South that
adopt fair labor and good environmental practices are a form of social
capitalism that attempts to build alternative global economic networks free
from the economic power of multinational corporations.

] 5. The Social Economy:

*i.e. direct social empowerment over production and distribution.*

The social economy is the pathway of social empowerment in which voluntary
associations in civil society directly organize various aspects of economic
activity, rather than simply shape the deployment of economic power (Figure
7). The "social economy" constitutes an alternative way of directly
organizing economic activity that is distinct from capitalist market
production, state organized production, and household production. Its
hallmark is production organized by collectivities directly to satisfy human
needs not subject to the discipline of profit-maximization or
state-technocratic rationality.

A striking example of almost pure social economy production is Wikipedia.
Wikipedia produces knowledge and disseminates information outside of markets
and without state support. The funding of the infrastructure comes largely
from donations from participants and supporters to the Wiki foundation. The
underlying form a voluntary association is technology-mediated social
networks, but stronger forms of association have also emerged in the course
of development of Wikipedia.

The potential scope for the social economy could be enhanced if the state,
through its capacity to tax, provided funding for a wide range of
socially-organized non-market production. One way of doing this is through
the institution of an unconditional basic income. By partially delinking
income from employment earnings, if an unconditional basic income existed
voluntary associations of all sorts would be able to create new forms of
meaningful and productive work in the social economy. But more targeted
forms of government funding could also underwrite the social economy. This
is already common the arts in many places in the world. In Quebec there is
an extensive system of eldercare home services organized through producer
coops and childcare coops organized through parent-provider coops and
partially subsidized through taxes in this way.

] 6. Cooperative market economy

A stand-alone fully worker-owned cooperative firm in a capitalist economy is
a form of social capitalism: the egalitarian principle of one-person
one-vote of all members of the business means that the power relations
within the firm are based on voluntary cooperation and persuasion, not the
relative economic power of different people. Jointly they control through
democratic means the economic power represented by the capital in the firm.

Most worker-owned cooperatives in the world today operate within markets
organized along capitalist principles. This means that they face significant
credit constraints in financial markets because of the reluctance of banks
to lend to them, and they are vulnerable to market shocks and disruptions,
just like ordinary capitalist firms. They are pretty much on their own.

The situation would be potentially quite different if worker-owned
cooperatives were embedded within markets dominated by worker-owned
cooperatives, or what might be called a cooperative market economy (Figure
8). A cooperative market economy is one in which individual cooperative
firms join together in larger associations of cooperatives - what might be
termed a cooperative of cooperatives - which collectively provide finance,
training, problem-solving services and other kinds of support for each
other. The overarching-cooperative in such a market stretches the social
character of ownership within individual cooperative enterprises and moves
it more towards a stakeholder model. In effect, the role of social power in
directly organizing economic activity through this extended cooperative
environment gains weight alongside the social capitalist pathway within the
individual cooperative enterprises.

] 7. Participatory socialism:

*i.e. statist socialism with empowered participation*

The final pathway to social empowerment combines the social economy and
statist socialism: the state and civil society jointly organize and control
various kinds of production of goods and services. In participatory
socialism the role of the state is more pervasive than in the pure social
economy. The state does not simply provide funding and set the parameters;
it is also, in various ways, directly involved in the organization and
production of the economic activity. On the other hand, participatory
socialism is also different from statist socialism, for here social power
plays a role not simply through the ordinary channels of democratic control
of state policies, but directly inside of the productive activities

One site where this already occurs in some places is in education. In
Barcelona, Spain, some public elementary schools have been turned into what
are called "Learning Communities" in which the governance of the school is
substantially shifted to parents, teachers and members of the community, and
the function of the school shifts from narrowly teaching children to
providing a broader range of learning activities for the community as a
whole. In the United States there is a long tradition of involvement of
civic associations and parent-teacher associations in schools, although
usually this falls far short of playing a decisive role in governing


All of these seven pathways have, at their core, the idea of extensive and
robust economic democracy through creating conditions in which social power,
organized through the active participation and empowerment of ordinary
people in civil society, exerts direct and indirect democratic control over
the economy. Taken individually, movement along one or another of these
pathways might not pose much of a challenge to capitalism, but substantial
movement along all of them taken together would constitute a fundamental
transformation of capitalism's class relations and the structures of power
and privilege rooted in them. Capitalism might still remain a component in
the hybrid configuration of power relations governing economic activity, but
it would be a subordinated capitalism heavily constrained within limits set
by the deepened democratization of both state and economy. This would not
automatically insure that the radical democratic egalitarian ideals of
social and political justice would be accomplished, but if we were somehow
to successfully move along these pathways to such a hybrid form of social
organization, we would be in a much better position to struggle for a
radical democratic egalitarian vision of social and political justice.

Whether or not this potential can be actualized depends on three kinds of
conditions. First, it depends upon the extent to which civil society itself
is a vibrant domain of collective association and action with sufficient
coherence to effectively shape state power and economic power. The idea that
social power emanates out from civil society presupposes that there is a
power potential in civil society to be translated into other domains of
action. Second, effective social empowerment depends upon the presence of
institutional mechanisms which facilitate the mobilization and deployment of
social power along these routes. Social mobilization without institutional
consolidation is unlikely to have durable effects on the overall
configurations of power. And third, it depends upon the capacity to counter
the deployment of power opposed to social empowerment. Above all, in the
context of capitalist society, this means countering the power of capital as
well as those aspects of state power opposed to initiatives and action from
civil society. "

Work: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhurakij_Pundit_University - Research:
http://www.dpu.ac.th/dpuic/info/Research.html - Think thank:

P2P Foundation: http://p2pfoundation.net  - http://blog.p2pfoundation.net

Connect: http://p2pfoundation.ning.com; Discuss:

Updates: http://del.icio.us/mbauwens; http://friendfeed.com/mbauwens;
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