Friday, December 10, 2010

Michel Bauwens - How does the idea of p2p and the commons differ from the socialist tradition?

I've been meaning to post this for at least a week now - Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation) makes a clear and important distinction between P2P/Commons and socialism - they are not the same things, even if they share some ideas and goals.

I'm sure that anyone firmly embedded in a capitalist/free market worldview would easily equate P2P/Commons thinking with socialism or communism - after all, those are seen as the only other options to capitalism.

How does the idea of p2p and the commons differ from the socialist tradition?

photo of Michel Bauwens
Michel Bauwens
30th November 2010

In the article for the Argentinian national daily “Pagina 12″, journalist Mariano Blejman writes that I equate open hardware with socialism. and this is also the message that is being retweeted.

This is not explicitely my position, so I’d like to take up the occasion to republish an earlier article on how our position is related to the historical movement of socialism.

What is the connection between the historical tradition of socialism/communism and the contemporary emergence of ideas and practices centered around p2p dynamics and the commons?

1. Let’s first tackle our understanding and interpretation of communism.

To me it is basically the idea, probably born at the same time as post-tribal class-based society, that an alternative human arrangement based on equal relationships and without the inheritance of wealth and privilege is possible. It is something that appears again and again in human history as an expression of those that are not privileged in the existing social arrangements.

A prominent example is of course the form of the Christian communities as described in the Act of the Apostles, but it is a recurring theme across history.

More importantly and recently, it became a driving idea of the labour movement that was born at the same time as industrial capitalism, and it would take various ideological and social forms, such as the utopian socialist experiments of the 19th century, the social-democratic labour movement that became dominant in Europe in the 20th century, the anarchist movements that flourished before WWII, etc …

Unfortunately, after the social revolution in Russia and its regression through isolation, it also became the ideology of a new ruling strata, which installed a new type of class society based on a managerial elite using state property, which used communism as an ideology to justify its oppression, much as the hierarchical and feudal Church would use the ideas of Christ to justify its own oppressive rule.

Today, the “idea” of communism is terminally contaminated with that historical experience of social oppression.

2. What about peer to peer?

Peer to peer is born from the generalization of the human experience of voluntary aggregation using the internet.

It is the experience of creating digital commons of knowledge, code and designs, based largely on voluntary contributions, and on making these universally available, has re-introduced the reality of communal shareholding to wide strata of the population.

But is also the particular social expression of the new condition of work under cognitive capitalism, where workers, after the long hiatus of industrial capitalism where they were totally dispossessed of access to productive resources and machinery, could again access a productive resource under their control, through computers, the socialized network that was the internet.

This generalized the experience of social practices that are characterized by open and free input, participatory processes of production, and commons-oriented output.

From the contract between this strong experience of equality and liberty (equaliberty) and the trans-individuality of being connected through affinity, the desire naturally grows to extend this experience to other areas of life.

From this, social movements are emerging that seek to extend the reach of this human experience.

The P2P Foundation, and the P2P Theory that we are trying to develop, is merely one of the expressions of this general trend, but perhaps one of the more ambitious ones since it aims not just to a partial implementation of the new value system and social practice (as the free software or free culture movements would attempt), but to its generalization across the board.

Go read the whole article - there are three more crucial points he makes.

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