Michel Bauwens interviewed by Facundo García, and published on August 23, 2009, in Spanish at http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/suplementos/espectaculos/16-15035-2009-08-23.html
The interview was conducted by Facundo García, a jounalist from an argentinian newspaper called Pagina12 (http://www.pagina12.com.ar ). It appeared on 23 August, with the 2 first answers translated into Spanish at http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/suplementos/espectaculos/16-15035-2009-08-23.html
1) Recently you said that p2p is about to become a political force. However, some very interesting groups, like The Pirate Party in Sweden, seem to be too concentrated in issues that seem very abstract for most latin americans. At the same time, here in the south a lot of people is talking about "XXI century`s socialism", wich tries to put up to date marxism and other communist theories in a way that if applied would surely affect our daily life. Is there a possible sinthesis between those tendencies? Should a XXI century`s socialism take p2p as an objetive? Why? Which will be the most important advantages that P2P would bring for the poorest part of the world?
I would like to make a number of important distinctions here, to understand the place that p2p movements have in the broader context of social change.
I believe that any successfull political movement, that can offer an answer to the structural crisis we are facing, should combine at least three elements.
First, it should stop and reverse the infinite growth economy that is destroying the biosphere, i.e. move from false abundance to true sustainability. This process was started by the global environmental movements, but has now percolated in many other social movements
Second, we have to stop and reverse the enclosures of the physical, but also cultural, scientific and other now digital commons, because of the artificial scarcities they enforce. Especially in the context of the resource, environmental and climate crises coming fast at us, we need a global innovation commons requiring free and fast exchange that is free of commercial interest in suppressing it. This is the more specific role of the 'digitally' inspired p2p movements, and the Pirate Party is playing a role in addressing these specific issues, but so for example are also the European Greens.
Finally, the first and the second cannot be successfull without allying themselves with forces for social justice, representing popular movements for distributive justice.
From this follows that p2p is a necessary but insufficient ingredient for social change. To the extent though that XXI socialism forgets about the first and second factors, it can only offer outmoded and ultimately insufficient, and therefore bound to fail, solutions to the problems Latin America are facing.
This brings us to the second important distinction.
Socialism has traditionally been focused on the state, and while the state has historically proven to be necessary to balance unbalanced market forces, it has not proven to be very successfull as an autonomous mode of production. So any socialism that harks back to the failed statism of 20th century socialism, will also be a disaster in the waiting. P2P Theory offers a new expanded role for the state, not just as the arbiter of the market, or as paternalistic 'welfare' state, but as a Partner State, that directly empowers and enables civil society to be autonomously productive. This is indeed the strong claim of P2P Theory, i.e. that we now have a superior mode of commons-oriented peer production which surpasses both the statist and market modes. But peer production needs an infrastructure and support which needs to come from enlightened and democratic public authorities.
The third distinction I'd like to make is between prefigurative and instrumental politics. One is exemplyfying by practice what it is you want to achieve ('be the change you want to be'), the other fights directly for state power in order to introduce reforms. These were traditionally seen as opposing venues, but I think that opposition should be transcended.
Only with a strong and autonomous civil society, which is not just fighting the old system, but also already showing the solutions that can be implemented, can instrumental politics work. This is why I believe the solidarity economics movement is so important, and why this and other social movements should be informed by the possibilities of peer to peer production.
If we look at social change in the past, I think we can realistically conclude that social innovations first occur in the core countries of the old system, because they have the most advanced social structures, but that it is the countries of the periphery which can ultimately, given a certain delay, makes most productive use of such innovations, because they have so much more to gain, and the core has so much to loose in terms of legacy systems.
The bourgeois inventions were not invented there, yet led to English and Dutch dominance, clearly peripheric countries; the socialist revolutions cleary did not take place in the core western countries. So it is the countries of East Asia, and Latin America, that may have the greatest potential for the development of open design and distributed manufacturing developments. Latin America, by the way the only region where there is talk about XXI socialism if you ask me, is particularly well poised because of its greater cultural affinity with p2p values (that is a greater problem for the more hierarchical cultures of East Asia)
Take a concrete example. Smart organic agriculture that doesn't deplete soils and is more productive than industrial agriculture requires both fast horizontal communication between farmers themselves, so that innovations and experiences can flow, and the invention of new types of appropriate machinery that is unlikely to take place by market forces alone.
2) I am fascinated by the way you use some marxist tools to read our present. But I still have some doubts. For example: ¿Can we compare class conscience with "P2P conscience"? Can they be matched, or they go for different paths? Can we think of a conscious class without being aware of P2P culture? What can P2P Foundation teach us about this?
Obviously, class still exists and is a powerful objective structural fact, but history has taught us that it is quite more complicated that original Marxist and socialist hopes suggested, and furthermore, we are in a transition period.
The first observation is not difficult. The working class has not taken power anywhere for any substantial period without being replaced by bureaucratic structures creating new types of class societies, with statist centralisation that could ultimately not compete with capitalism. Socialism, perhaps with the exception of Latin America?, no longer holds any substantial sway over consiousness, and extreme left parties are mostly akin to cults.
Regarding the second observation. Peer production refers to the fact that more and more producers are escaping the wage relation, for part of their lives at least, to engage in new types of value creation that are both embedded in capitalism but also partly transcend it and prefigure its successor mode. People who engage in peer production can be knowledge or other workers, small enterpreneurs, precarious youth, low paid academics, frequently moving from one position to the other. But as they engage in peer production, they also enter a new structural condition as peer producers, which drives their actions, if not their consciousness. As peer producers they are in a structural relationship with their communities, with the nonprofits managing their resources, and with the companies profiting, (but also sustaining) , the commons they are creating.
This creates a dual movement. As knowledge workers move to peer production, they create a new structure of desire which aims at perpetuating the peer condition; at the same time, a faction of capital does the same, seeking profit in the enabling and empowerment of sharing (but of course, under their potential control). In a way, this is a new form of social conflict (or class struggle).
What I suggest is that peer producers should be encouraged to undertake more structural relationships with the social movements. For example, open design communities would be extremely beneficial to the development of the solidary economy and its ecology. Peer producers could create free software cooperatives rather than work with corporations.
Some may see that parallel movement of the netarchical fraction of capital, as a negative development, but I believe it is precisely this which guarantees the further development of peer production. Rather than the marxist prediction of a new class taking power and creating a new mode of production at nihilo, which has never occured in history, I believe that phase transitions occur precisely because both the producing and managing classes, at least fractions of them, move into the same direction of a successor mode.
For peer producers therefore, the relations with netarchical platform owners is both conflictual, but also they are allies of sorts, since both are co-creating the new mode of value creation. To bring this to a good end, indeed requires some form of strategic social awareness, and it is this form of thinking that the P2P Foundation aims to promote.
3) Talking about consciousness: here in Argentina -and I suspect that in the rest of the world- there is an increasing number of people interested in technologies, and some of them are even hackers. But each time I talk to them I realize that they do not have the slightest idea of the political implications of what they do. I mean, they crack codes, they take tools in their own hands and for their own interests, but it does not mean that they are imagining an alternative future for civil society. On the other hand, a lot of politicized activists do have clear ideas about what technologies showed be used for and how they could help create a new society, but they lack technical knowledge. Which is the way avoid this distance?
I believe that the fact that most peer producers are not consciously trying to change society, but rather doing what comes naturally to them, is a sign of strength for peer production and hope for change, since it is evidence of a major shift in our culture, a new ‘structure of desire’ if you will. And it does not mean it does not have indirect political effects. The transformation from feudalism to capitalism was preceded by such a deep change in human practice and value systems as well. At one point, the inhibiting practices and even outright repression of the old world institutions will inevitably politicize the social groups involved in the new lifestyles and practices. What I propose that political advocates do is to see common ground around the creation of distributed P2P infrastructures, to aid in the creation of an awareness in peer producing and sharing communities and well as in their capacities to resist enclosures and defend their interest against proprietary platforms. They should also seek to use the new open infrastructures themselves, since they are more compatible with egalitarian values.
4) Some corporations are resisting and will keep on resisting P2P culture. If we take into account what decadent classes have done in history, they could even use direct violence -for example police, the army or trials- to stop activists. Should we prepare for a fight? What kind of fight? Will there be a "war" between the ones who defend obsolete technologies and the rising "p2p class"?
I’m not sure who said that, first they ignore you, then they ridicule you and then they fight you. So yes, resistance by the old order is expected, and can already be seen in the repression of filesharing. This is also what matures new social movements, which usually start with transgressive practices (ignoring the old world), move to building new institutions, and finally, inevitable, need to defend their interests under attack. But violence is not inevitable, as we can see from the collapse of the Soviet model.
5) Is P2P culture a natural tendency of human interaction, or is it a creation of western civilization?
P2P, or communal shareholding, is one of the four natural intersubjective relations that mark human human relations. It exists everywhere, including for example in traditional indigenous communities in Latin America. What is different is that before the advent of the internet, it was bound by place, it could only operate effectively in smaller communities. But the internet allows the global scaling of small group dynamics, and hence, that which was at the periphery, is slowly moving to the core. I believe we have reached the historical moment of Peak Hierarchy, in which distributed coalitions are inherently stronger than big centralized and geographically bound structures.
6) From your point of view: which are the most important philosophers that people interested in these issues should read/watch/listen?
Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks is not always an easy read, but the first classic in the field to identify and study in depth the reasons for the emergence of commons-based peer production. I have selected key essays from various authors here at http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Essays, and here at http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Essays_2