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The liberation of civil society through p2p working - Creating Commons in our life.

on Mon, 12/26/2011 - 20:02

Freed up creativity enabled by open source technology gives us the chance to liberate ourselves from the chains of an outdated economic model based on market pricing.

Will it enable us to co-create a commons orientated contributory culture? 

Our challenge is how to make the new prototype which cannot fully socially reproduce itself at present into a full mode of production for a sustainable society.

In this blog I am sharing ideas that Michel Bauwens presented on 11th December  when he spoke to an audience of 30 people at Public Works. He explained in what way his work with p2p helps the creation and re-activation of Commons in our life. He set the context by inviting us to reflect on 3 different basic modalities that operated at the core of human civilization in the course of history and then talked about the new modality that we are in the process of creating with the help of open access to technology.

1Gift economy of tribal civilisations. Here members give each other something which creates an obligation to give something back at some future time. Some kind of competition around giving and prestige is at work here.

2. Class society with authority ranking. People compare each other according to status. Status arises from what class one belong to (nobles, warriors, priests, …) and this is associated with certain privileges regarding resource allocation.

3. Capitalism is dominated by market pricing. In theory people exchange equal value. Everything has a price and needs to be paid for. The state is designed to make the market work.

4. Commons modality is a new relational modality that is centred around the commons and communal share holding. Instead of value being created in the private sector where profits are primary, value is created more and more by non-profits. This new Commons modality is neither a gift nor a market economy and has nothing to do with authority ranking but works by citizens contributing to a whole. It is creating common value, agreeing on a common object which is accompanied by the emergence of a new agreement or constitution.

Practical examples where Michel sees this new modality already in operation :

·       Wikipedia where ordinary citizens are productive and create value in the Commons

·       Communities like ‘Occupy’ create their own entities and manage their own infrastructure to create new possibilities.

·       The nutrient dense project  is a project where a small, volunteer group of farmers, gardeners, orchardists, ranchers, agronomists, writers and researchers from the USA and around the world got together  to do science that is collaborative, fun, inspiring and original. 

Even in the emerging entrepreneurial world (private sector) there is a recognition that open source technology liberates creativity and is thus more productive because it engages more people to find solutions to the pressing problems of our age. Command and Control operating systems where those at the top know everything and those at the bottom know much less no longer serve the needs of todays context.

A new dynamism between citizens and social media platforms is developing where businesses like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook ….are investing in these new modalities to find ever new and better ways to enable cooperation and collaboration on a growing scale.


Can this new dynamism possibly change our society and how?

1.      Change at society level starts with a value inversion. We are choosing a new value to the detriment of the old value. The Commons is such a value inversion.

2.      What happens next is that this value will be embedded in Social Charters. Those who accept the rules and values of the charter build relationships and increase its value. Those who don’t accept the rules are not part of it.


Wage labour is the anti-thesis to p2p & commons based production.

New infra-structure carries new values and changes people through using it. The new mode of commons based production changes the dynamic between the ‘social relationships of production’ and the ‘forces of production’. This means workers are less likely to work in exchange for a salary to produce value which increases the capital/wealth of the owner of the means of production. Instead they self-organise to work collaboratively to increase the wealth of the whole community.  

In Marxist terms it could be interpreted that workers/citizens no longer sell the ‘forces of production’ meaning their cognitive and manual skills and their muscle power but share them as gifts for the common good by acting as free agents.

The paradox in which capitalism seems to be caught at the moment is that it needs ever more productivity to survive but will only achieve this by enabling new innovation, allow creativity and create new possibilities. Free spirits and free minds are more motivated than wage slaves to use technology to its fullest.  If capitalism wants to survive it has to create new possibilities for unrestricted collaboration. Under the conditions of wage slavery, production will however never be able to take full advantage of all the new tools of technology and thus capitalist modes of production will be limited in what new ideas and products they can bring to the market.

I am wondering whether capitalism can really allow free agents to work together unrestrained and without wanting to maximise profit from the results of wage labour? My ‘utopian’ hope is that once people start to fully collaborate and create Commons, they no longer need to profit from financial capital and thus turn away from Capitalism in favour of an open innovative commons that sustains and enhances all forms of capital.


Examples where communal approaches and open design are already changing our values and our thinking:

1. Crowdfunding & social lending: As money is designed and not natural, it can actually be designed differently. Instead of using banking, people can use crowdfunding & social lending and thus move from a centralized modality to a distributed modality. We can apply networked and decentralized ways as our domain of practice in other areas of life also.

 2. The use of WIKIs enables open free participatory practice in every domain.

 3. Infrastructure is not only instrumental in enabling new ways of working but it carries those new values and it changes people through usage. There are many p2p open communal approaches emerging in every domain. i.e  Open Yoga, Open Reiki, Open Ayurveda, Open Spirituality, Open Agriculture …

We are left with this challenge:

Value is being created in the commons but it is still captured by capitalism. To survive we still work for a wage and a for-profit company.

Being a lover of commons and p2p how can we make this prototype which cannot fully socially reproduce itself at present into a full mode of production for a sustainable society?

Michel suggested that if we as a commons create our own resources like vehicles, we use a peer production license. Then whoever contributes to the Commons can take from the Commons for free but whoever seeks to just profit from the Commons will then have to pay and the money paid will benefit the Commons and Commoners.

Open design also means re-designing production systems. Manufacturing will be on smaller scales and become more local. This reminds me of what John Thackara views on the future of designers as a profession. He proclaimed confidently: ' Big is over, It is too expensive and too energy intensive' The future is at the grassroots level where social innovation will happen'  and complimentary currencies will gain in importance.. The real trend that is emerging is towards distributing capital and productive machinery.

If we then go a step further we can create a coalition of commons friendly enterprises which share an organic solidarity with the Commons. This is a way of going away from profit maximisation to cooperation. A new way of thinking of doing market activities.


Market is not Capitalism.

Working for a Global Open Innovation Commons means working for product maximisation rather than profit maximization with cooperations and community supported agriculture.

For example we have a win win situation when consumers pool their money to buy a percentage of products from a coalition of farmers. When farmers can be certain to have buyers of products, they no longer have to profit-maximize and consumers benefit by having an assured supply of products .

Once the micro-institutional field that we see merging within commons moves to become a vision of the whole of society, the commons will become recognised as the place where value is created. Civil Society then will no longer serve the markets but will instead work with those entrepreneurial entities that are commons friendly. The state will no longer serve the markets but become a partner state that enables and empowers social production. The number of commons friendly entrepreneurial entities will grow by necessity.


The Civic Sphere & Peer Production of a Political Commons at OWS (Occupy Wall Street)

The Civic sphere is where government, market and commons overlap and it is here that decisions about what kind of society we want needs to be made. When  confronted with the dilemma of whether to give out free food or support the street vendors around Zucotti Park, OWS decided to have a particular form of market that served their commons. It became a pioneering example in the civic sphere where the new logic of a commons friendly approach to markets was put into practice.  An ethical decision was taken not to give out free food to occupiers but to include in their decision making the needs of the street vendors to earn an income. It was decided to provision money to buy food from an entrepreneurial coalition that was Occupy friendly and thus they operated in a sustainable, more productive and fairer way. Through their ethical decision to resolve the dilemma, by putting Commons orientated values into action, they created a political commons.