Hoy presentamos un breve texto originalmente publicado en la web de la P2P Foundation por Michel Bauwens (fundador de la Foundation for P2P Alternatives (P2P Foundation), presagiando la visión de un nuevo tipo de cooperativismo acorde con la filosofía P2P. Dado que es el planteamiento con el que estamos forjando nuestra propia estructura cooperativista en Guerrilla Translation, son unas nociones muy especiales para nosotros.
Es cierto que las cooperativas son más democráticas que sus equivalentes capitalistas, basados en la dependencia salarial y la jerarquía interna. Pero las cooperativas que trabajan dentro del mercado capitalista tienden gradualmente hacia una mentalidad competitiva, e incluso si no es así, trabajan para el beneficio de sus propios miembros y no para el bien común.”
El movimiento cooperativo y las empresas cooperativas están en pleno resurgimiento aunque algunos de sus representantes más arraigados estén en declive. Este resurgimiento es propio de los vaivenes del cooperativismo, estrechamente relacionados con los propios vaivenes de la economía capitalista predominante. Tras la crisis sistémica del 2008, hay mucha gente buscando alternativas.
Aun así, no podemos limitarnos a observar los modelos antiguos y recrearlos. Hemos de tener en cuenta las nuevas posibilidades y necesidades de nuestra época, especialmente en relación a las ventajas que aportan las redes digitales.
Empecemos con una crítica de los modelos cooperativos tradicionales:
Es cierto que las cooperativas son más democráticas que sus equivalentes capitalistas, basados en la dependencia salarial y la jerarquía interna. Pero las cooperativas que trabajan dentro del mercado capitalista tienden gradualmente hacia una mentalidad competitiva, y aunque no sea así, trabajan para el beneficio de sus propios miembros y no para el bien común.
En segundo lugar, la gran mayoría de las cooperativas no crean, protegen, ni producen bienes para el procomún. Al igual que sus equivalentes con ánimo de lucro, normalmente trabajan con patentes y copyrights , favoreciendo así el cerco al procomún.
En tercer lugar, algunas cooperativas tienden a encerrarse en sí mismas en torno a su pertenencia nacional o local. Con ello, dejan el campo global libre a las grandes multinacionales con ánimo de lucro.
Tenemos que cambiar estas características, y podemos cambiarlas hoy mismo.
Estas son nuestras propuestas:
1. A diferencia de las empresas con ánimo de lucro, las nuevas cooperativas han de trabajar para el bien común, un requisito que debería figurar en sus propios estatutos y documentos de gobernanza. Esto conlleva que las cooperativas no pueden tener ánimo de lucro, que tienen que trabajar por el bien social y que todo lo anterior debería reflejarse en sus estatutos. Las cooperativas de solidaridad que ya funcionan en regiones como el norte de Italia y Quebec son un paso importante en la buena dirección. El modelo de mercado capitalista actual ignora las externalidades sociales y medioambientales, pasando la responsabilidad de regularizarlas al Estado. En el nuevo modelo de mercado cooperativo, las externalidades están estatutariamente integradas y son legalmente obligatorias.
2. A diferencia de las cooperativas cuyos miembros son las únicas partes interesadas, las nuevas cooperativas abrirán su gestión a múltiples grupos de interés. Esto supone que la condición de “miembro” ha de extenderse a otros tipos de membresía o que se necesitan alternativas al modelo de membresía tradicional, como el nuevo modelo de Fairshares.
3. La innovación más importante dentro del contexto actual es la siguiente: las cooperativas deben (co-)producir bienes para el procomún y estos bienes han de ser de dos tipos:
a. El primer tipo son bienes inmateriales. Es decir, bienes que utilizan licencias abiertas y compartibles, extendiendo así el proceso de innovación cooperativa a toda una comunidad global dispuesta a enriquecerlo mediante sus contribuciones. En la P2P Foundation hemos introducido el concepto de “licencias de reciprocidad basadas en el procomún”. Estas licencias están diseñadas para crear coaliciones de empresas éticas y cooperativas alrededor del procomún que co-producen. Los aspectos clave de estas licencias son: 1) Este procomún permite el uso no comercial 2) Este procomún permite el uso por parte de instituciones orientadas hacia el bien común 3) Este procomún permite el uso por parte de empresas con ánimo de lucro que contribuyen al procomún. La excepción radica en que aquellas empresas con ánimo de lucro que no contribuyen al procomún tendrían que pagar por el uso de la licencia. No se trata de una estrategia para generar ingresos, sino de una manera de introducir la noción de reciprocidad en la economía de mercado. Es decir, su objetivo es el de crear una economía ética, una dinámica de mercado no capitalista.
b. El segundo tipo es la creación de un procomún material. Aquí nos planteamos establecer sistemas de financiación orientados al procomún para, por ejemplo, fabricar maquinaria. Inspirándonos en las propuestas de Dmytri Kleiner, las cooperativas podrían emitir bonos mediante la contribución de todos los miembros de todas las cooperativas que forman parte del sistema, creando así un fondo comunal para la producción. La cooperativa que pide los fondos obtendría la maquinaria sin condiciones, pero los propietarios serían todos los cooperativistas que, con el paso del tiempo, obtendrían una renta básica derivada de los intereses obtenidos a través del fondo.
4. Finalmente, debemos abordar la cuestión del poder político y social a nivel global. Siguiendo la estela de la transnacional Sociedad Cooperativa de las Indias Electrónicas, proponemos la creación de filés globales. Una filé es un ecosistema global de empresas para facilitar la sostenibilidad del procomún y de la comunidad que contribuye a él. Funcionaría de la siguiente manera: imaginemos una comunidad global de diseño abierto que produce planos de maquinaria agrícola abierta (o cualquier otro producto o servicio imaginable). Esta maquinaria se fabricaría y se produciría mediante un sistema de micro-fábricas abiertas, distribuidas y situadas cerca de los lugares donde se utilizará la maquinaria. Pero estas micro-cooperativas no funcionarían de manera aislada, relacionándose solo a través de una comunidad global de diseño abierto “orientada hacia lo inmaterial”. Por el contrario, estarían todas conectadas entre sí como partes de una cooperativa global que abarcaría a toda la red de micro-fábricas. Estas filés, interconectadas y globales, serían el germen de una nueva modalidad de poder político social y global representativo de la economía ética. Las coaliciones empresariales éticas y las filés podrían volcarse en la coordinación post-mercantilista de la producción física, adoptando gradualmente prácticas de contabilidad y cadenas de producción abiertas.
En resumen, aunque las cooperativas tradicionales han jugado un papel importante y progresista dentro de la historia de la humanidad, tenemos que actualizar su formato para adaptarlo a la era de las redes mediante la introducción de una orientación P2P y del procomún.
Nuestras recomendaciones para la nueva era de cooperativismo abierto son:
1. Estas cooperativas han de estar estatutariamente (internamente) orientadas al bien común.
2. Estas cooperativas precisan modelos de gobierno que incluyan a todas las partes interesadas.
3. Estas cooperativas necesitan acometer activamente la co-producción de bienes materiales e inmateriales para el procomún.
4. Estas cooperativas han de organizarse social y políticamente de forma global, incluso en el caso de que su producción sea local.
Artículo traducido por Stacco Troncoso y editado por María Rodríguez – Guerrilla Translation!
Imagen “Ayrshire Autumn”de Graeme Law.
- Traducido por Stacco Troncoso, editado por María Rodríguez – Guerrilla Translation!
- Imagen de Steve Snodgrass
- Artículo original, publicado en Bollier.org
El fundador de la Fundación P2P, Michel Bauwens, ha grabado cuatro vídeos cortos en los que explica el pionero proyecto de investigación “FLOK Society“, desarrollado en Ecuador. FLOK significa “Free, Libre, Open Knowledge” (Conocimiento Libre y Abierto) y FLOK Society es un proyecto financiado por el gobierno de Ecuador para conceptualizar una transición estratégica del país hacia una economía post-capitalista funcional basada en el conocimiento. Como director de investigación del proyecto, Michel está investigando junto a su equipo, los retos prácticos de convertir la producción entre pares orientada al procomún en una realidad factible y generalizada en el contexto de la política y la legislación nacional.
Los cuatro vídeos –con una duración de entre cuatro y seis minutos cada uno– son un modelo de concisión. A continuación, resumiré el contenido de cada uno lo que espero os anime a verlos todos (podéis acceder a ellos a través de los enlaces insertados en los títulos).
Primera parte: FLOK Society
Bauwens destaca la importancia de que esta sea “la primera vez en la historia de la humanidad en la que un estado-nación solicita una propuesta de transición hacia una economía P2P”. Nos anima a ser conscientes de que “por cada actividad humana, existe un procomún de conocimiento que puede ser accesible a cada ciudadano, empresa, y funcionario público”. Este sistema de información abierta y compartible tiene poco que ver con el paradigma del conocimiento privativo, sólo accesible para quien se pueda permitir pagar el precio de la información registrada y patentada. El nuevo sistema podría adaptarse a la educación, a la ciencia, a la investigación médica y al entorno cívico, entre otros ámbitos.
El proyecto FLOK Society trabaja activamente en la búsqueda de lo que denomina “mecanismos de alimentación” que facilitan y empoderan la producción entre pares orientada al procomún. En lo que a educación abierta se refiere, los libros de texto y los recursos educativos abiertos ayudarían a las personas a introducirse en este sistema alternativo. Aun así, existen una serie de condicionantes materiales e inmateriales a tener en cuenta.
El hardware propietario es un ejemplo de condicionante material. Si los sistemas propietarios existentes fueran reemplazados por sistemas abiertos, cada usuario se gastaría una octava parte de lo que paga de media hoy en día. Dicho de otro modo, la cantidad de estudiantes que hoy pueden participar en la creación y divulgación de conocimiento, sería ocho veces mayor, explica Bauwens, algo que, ya de por sí, aportaría tremendos beneficios. En cuanto a los “condicionantes inmateriales” estaríamos hablando de la necesidad de innovaciones como la “certificación abierta” para reconocer las habilidades de aquellos que se forman en la periferia de las instituciones educativas tradicionales, como es el caso de las comunidades de hackers.
Segunda parte: Conocimiento tradicional
La protección de los beneficios que surgen de un conocimiento compartido suscita una serie de retos específicos para las sociedades tradicionales. Estas comunidades han compartido su conocimiento internamente durante generaciones pero, en las últimas décadas, las corporaciones multinacionales se han apropiado de este conocimiento, evadiendo cualquier tipo de compensación, para producir semillas patentadas y otros productos propietarios. No es de extrañar pues que las comunidades tradicionales e indígenas se muestren escépticas ante la idea de una “economía colaborativa”. La llevan practicando desde tiempos inmemoriales y su puesta en práctica presenta tremendas vulnerabilidades ante los fraudes de los agentes del mercado (“bio -piratería”).
Como solución, Bauwens propone que las comunidades adopten “licencias basadas en la reciprocidad” para crear “entidades de mercado éticas” dedicadas al bienestar de la propia comunidad y bajo sus propias condiciones. “La licencia de producción entre pares”, dice Bauwens “es un tipo de licencia que sólo permite a cooperativas, entidades sin ánimo de lucro, y agentes relacionados con el procomún, el acceso y la utilización del material licenciado”. Estas licencias prohibirían la capitalización del procomún por parte de entidades comerciales sin una reciprocidad explícita.
Tercera parte: Sistemas de creación de valor
Bauwens describe distintos tipos de “sistemas de creación de valor” para producir y distribuir riqueza. El modelo dominante de nuestra época es el que Bauwens llama el “capitalismo cognitivo”, en el que se obtienen plusvalías de una propiedad intelectual controlada por grandes empresas que venden sus productos con grandes márgenes de beneficio. Sólo una quinta parte de la capitalización de las grandes empresas consiste en valores materiales identificables, el resto son valores especulativos. Esto significa que hay una gran cantidad de “valor ausente” o de dimensión intangible. Y gran parte de él, explica Bauwens, procede claramente de la cooperación social que implica la creación de valor.
El “capitalismo netárquico” es otro de los sistemas de creación de valor descritos por Bauwens; se trata de la jerarquía de las redes abiertas utilizadas por capitalistas. Facebook es el principal ejemplo. Su enorme valor en bolsa proviene de una comunidad de usuarios cuya auto-organización y afán de compartir crea un “capital de atención” que Facebook después vende al sector publicitario. “Vemos un crecimiento exponencial del valor de uso generado por los propios usuarios”, dice Bauwens, “pero su monetización es dominio exclusivo de grandes plataformas privadas, como Facebook”.
Esto, a fin de cuentas, supone otra vía de explotación del procomún. Tengamos en cuenta que el crowdsourcing tiene un valor estimado de dos dólares por hora trabajada, muy por debajo del salario mínimo de un empleo convencional. “La gente tiene plena libertad para contribuir”, dice Bauwens, “pero los medios de monetización no están democratizados”.
Deberíamos, pues, empezar a construir una alternativa caracterizada por “una economía cívica P2P en la que el valor retorna a los creadores del mismo”. Tenemos que desarrollar nuevos tipos de entidades éticas de mercado capaces de producir una “acumulación cooperativa” en lugar de una “acumulación de capital”.
Cuarta parte: Sistemas tecnológicos
Previsiblemente, las redes P2P seguirán expandiéndose en el futuro. Aun así, surgen dudas en torno a la cuestión de si podrán las redes del procomún disfrutar de los beneficios de su propio trabajo, debido a que el propio diseño de la tecnología puede afectar al beneficiario.
Bauwens expone un esquema con cuatro cuadrantes. El cuadrante del “capitalismo netárquico” muestra un control centralizado sobre la arquitectura del sistema y la privatización tanto de la información personal del usuario, como de todas las ganancias derivadas. “Este sistema de creación de valor está inscrito en el propio diseño de su tecnología”, apunta Bauwens.
Otro cuadrante describe “un diseño anarco-capitalista” –capitalista pero distribuido, no centralizado. Sin embargo, dado que aún existe una escasez artificial a la hora de acceder a los recursos (como sería el caso de Bitcoin) se siguen imponiendo límites artificiales sobre aquellos que pueden beneficiarse. Si no tienes dinero, no puedes participar ni obtener un beneficio.
“Local y distribuido” es otro de los sistemas tecnológicos, en cuyo caso los beneficios se comparten entre todos. Algunos ejemplos serían el compartir bicicletas, coches, y conocimiento de manera abierta. Este es el valor del sistema ejemplificado en los movimientos de resiliencia local y las comunidades en transición o Transition Towns.
Este último sistema indudablemente supone una mejora sobre las modalidades cognitivas y netárquicas del capitalismo, pero se ve limitado por su carácter exclusivamente local. No conecta con la dimensión global.
Para Bauwens, el cuadrante que mejor describe un escenario futuro deseable es aquel que combina la producción local con un procomún global para el beneficio de todos. La idea consiste en que lo pesado (la producción física) debería ser local, mientras que lo ligero (el diseño, el conocimiento) debería ser global. FarmHack, Open Source Ecology y otros sistemas de diseño distribuido para maquinaria agrícola o “hardware abierto” son buenos ejemplos.
Las características intrínsecas a este sistema de creación de valor favorecerían redes distribuidas de micro fábricas, en las que se podrían descargar diseños y planos de productos para su fabricación por, aproximadamente, una octava parte del coste de los productos patentados convencionales. Esta infraestructura favorecería, por ejemplo, la producción local de productos tecnológicos adecuados a granjas familiares o indígenas. Evidentemente, se trata de un diseño de sistema tecnológico muy distinto al control centralizado y a la inversión en patentes que corporaciones como Monsanto y Del Monte pretenden imponer a comunidades en todo el mundo.
No cabe duda de que hacer de esta visión una realidad demandará un gran esfuerzo a la hora de elaborar estrategias realistas y establecer las estructuras políticas y sociales para llevarlas a cabo. Pero, al desarrollar una visión coherente y detallada que aglutina tendencias existentes con anhelos populares, FLOK Society realiza una contribución inestimable a la visión del procomún y la producción entre pares.
Neal Gorenflo, from Shareable, Michel Bauwens, from the P2P Foundation and John Robb, from Global Guerrillas, interview las Indias’ David de Ugarte
- Translated/Re-edited * by Stacco Troncoso, edited by Jane Loes Lipton – Guerrilla Translation!
- Images by Las Indias and Shareable
- Read the Spanish version here
In this interview, Shareable publisher Neal Gorenflo, John Robb of Global Guerrillas, and P2P foundation’s Michel Bauwens talk to David de Ugarte, one of the originators of the Spanish cyberpunk scene, about his more recent work developing a multinational worker cooperative, Las Indias, that is a culmination of his community’s thinking and work for the last decade. Las Indias is the manifestation of a unique socio-economic philosophy that synthesizes many strains of thinking and culture including cyberpunk, anarchism, network thinking, and cooperatives – all with a Spanish twist. It’s important because it points to a possible future for those who think outside of national boundaries, and who desire or need to take control of their own economic destiny. It’s a possible future that takes the centuries-old logic of cooperatives and remixes it for the urban-centered, global network society we live in today.
Michel Bauwens: Explain to us what Las Indias is, where it comes from, and what makes it distinctive?
David de Ugarte: Las Indias is the result of the Spanish-speaking cyberpunk movement. Originally a civil rights group, during the late 90s it became strongly influenced by Juan Urrutia’s “Economics of Abundance” theory. We soon linked “abundance” with the idea of empowerment in distributed networks. We are very clear on this point: it is not the Internet by itself, it is the distributed P2P architecture that allows the new commons. As one of our old slogans put it: “Under every informational architecture lays a structure of power.” Re-centralizing structures – as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Megaupload, etc. do around their servers – weakens us all. The blogosphere, torrents, freenet, etc. are tools of empowerment.
Cyberpunk was mainly a conversational / cyberactivist virtual community. It became transnational quickly, and contributed some very good discussions and theories that helped us understand the social impact and possibilities of distributed networks.
But in 2002, three of us founded Las Indias Society, a consultancy firm focused on innovation and networks dedicated to empowering people and organizations. Our experience soon became very important in understanding the opposition between “real” and “imagined” communities, and the organizational bases for an economic democracy. After the cyberpunk dissolution in 2007, the “Montevideo Declaration” openly stated that our objective will be to construct a “phyle,” a transnational economic democracy, in order to ensure the autonomy of our community and its members.
We define ourselves around five main values:
- Distributed network architectures as a way of generating abundance, empowerment, and to ensure the widest plurarchy – the maximum of individual liberties – for the members of our community.
- Transnationality (which means a rejection of national identities as well as universalism) as a consequence of putting the real community of persons who live and work in Las Indias at the center of our work.
- Economic democracy as the way to build personal and community autonomy through the market.
- Hacker ethics as a way to foster community knowledge generation, common deliberation, personal passion, and a collective pleasure in learning.
- Devolutionism: all our production of knowledge – books, software, contents, even recipes – is returned to the commons, generating more abundance.
Neal Gorenflo: What is the vision of Las Indias? What would the classic, most developed form be in the future? What are you after in terms of how it can transform individuals, interpersonal relationships, and the world?
Our vision is not a universalist one. We don’t proselytize and we really believe that diversity is a desirable consequence of freedom.
But we have a vision for us – the phyle – and a wish: to see the birth of a wider, transnational space of economic democracies. We imagine networks of phyles generating wealth, social cohesion, and ensuring liberties for real people rather than the governments’ power and their borders and passports.
We are not naive nor utopian. Distributed networks gave our generation the opportunity to build a new world. But this new world, based on the commons, communities, economic democracy and distributed networks, isn’t completely born. And the old world, based on the artificial generation of scarcity, corporations, inequality, and centralized networks, isn’t dead.
It is very symptomatic that the European crisis manifests as a debt crisis. Governments are suffocating society in order to feed privileged groups – big corporations, some sectors dependent on public money – who have captured state rents or ensured it through monopolistic law. So, the main objective and the main vision now is to stop these decomposing forces in our environments.
MB: How does Las Indias work internally? How is it funded?
There are different levels of engagement and commitment. As a phyle we are really a network. On the periphery, there are individual entrepreneurs with their initiatives. At the core, there are the associated cooperatives, and at that core, the Indianos.
Indianos are communities that are similar to kibbutzim (no individual savings, collective and democratic control of their own coops, etc.). But there are some important differences like the lack of a shared national or religious ideology, being distributed throughout cities rather than concentrated in a compound, and not submitting to an economic rationality.
John Robb: What kind of coops are in the Las Indias network? What are the synergies between the cooperatives?
At this moment we have three coops: Las Indias (a consultancy), El Arte (our new product lab), and Enkidu (Open Software). There are also three participative enterprises that employ some 20 people.
All of them are expressions of our members’ different passions, which answer the different needs of our community and environment.
MB: How do you position yourself vis-a-vis the current global capitalist system? What alternative are you proposing?
We think cooperatives and economic democracy (a rent-free market society), hand in hand with a liberated commons as the alternative to capitalism, can be made possible through distributed networks.
But we are economic democrats, so we don’t want the state to provide the alternative to crony-capitalism and accumulation. Indeed, we think it can’t. We have to build it by ourselves, and demand the state to remove the obstacles (as IP, contracts for big politically connected corporations, etc.) that protect privileged groups’ rents from competition in the market.
The alternative will not be built through government regulations, but inside our own networks. It will not defeat the corporate organization through courts or elections, but through competition.
NG: We live in a world saturated in corporate media. How do you maintain a culture of cooperation at Las Indias in the face of this onslaught of atomizing, consumerist messages? What spiritual or cultural practices and artifacts can you point to that are especially helpful?
All of us spent many years sharing small apartments downtown, walking or going to work by bus, working in bad jobs through school and after finishing our degrees. It is not a unique condition, it is the reality of the job market in Spain, Portugal, and many Latin American countries in a wide group of middle class children of our generation.
The result of this experience for many people was a particular culture that mixed a lot of immaterial, cultural consumption – some of it provided for free, by the state – with a reduced access to consumerism compared to older people.
In 1996, I was 26 and finishing a degree in economics in Madrid. I worked in a call center earning 450€ a month, working eight hours a day from four to midnight. I spent 300€ on rent, around 100€ for food, electricity, telephone and public transport, and 48€ on an Internet connection. As you can imagine, my “leisure” time was spent around the public library, museums, the public filmotheque (classic movies were 60 cents a ticket), at cheap potluck dinners and, of course, online.
My experience was not extraordinary at all, and it’s even more common now.
This mode of cultural consumption is based on public cultural goods, cheap second-hand or popular edition books, and “cocooning.” The P2P world made sense in our everyday culture.
So, some years later our incomes increased and we earned autonomy, but for us a good living still means good broadband, access to cultural works, good museums, and good meals in comfortable but not very expensive flats downtown. None of us has a car or has bought a house.
But please don’t be confused. We don’t make a cult of austerity. We simply have a different culture, we enjoy different things. None of us has a TV either, but many of us have projectors for watching videos off the Internet.
NG: In Spain, you’re often associated with the cyberpunk movement, which was born in the US in the early 80s. How has cyberpunk influenced you and Las Indias? And how is cyberpunk relevant today?
Cyberpunk activism was strongly influenced by cyberpunk literature. Even today, classic cyberpunk works like Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net and Green Days in Brunei, and post-cyberpunk like Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, provide models for discussing subjects we think are important at this moment: distributed vs. centralized networks, economic democracy vs. corporate power, etc.
Cyberpunk taught us to discuss in a mode outside the political tradition: not around theses and programs, but around models and myths, where auto-criticism and irony were easier and dogmatism almost impossible.
MB: For me, some of the most innovative concepts in the Las Indias books were the concepts of phyles and neo-venetianism. What do these mean?
Phyle is a community that develops an economic structure based on economic democracy in order to ensure its own autonomy. The order of the terms is important: phyle is a community with firms, not a community of firms, nor a community of people who own some firms. The firms are tools for the autonomy of the community – a means, not an end – and are always less important than the needs of community members.
Neovenetianism is the ideology of those who see the creation of phyles as the natural evolution of their communities, so that this evolution, its dialogues and deliberations, would be free from the influence of the political and economic decomposition of the states and the markets they live in.
Virtual communities are by nature transnational. If they have borders, these are the borders of language. A few days ago I saw a tweet saying, “When the Canadian border crossing guards asked me where I was from, I was really tempted to say ‘the internet.’” Many people feel like that tweeter. But that causes a kind of schizophrenia: life becomes divided in two, the virtual life and the working life. Phyles reunify our lives around our intentional virtual community.
MB: What do the new concepts of the sharing economy (Shareable), p2p (P2P Foundation), the commons, and resilience (Global Guerrillas) evoke for you, and how does Las Indias relate to them?
P2P means distributed networks, commons, abundance. It’s the meaning of life!
The sharing economy means community, autonomy, commons, gift, joy, abundance again. It is the real sense of our core, the “how-to” of abundance, the way we live.
Resilience is at the same time the golden rule and the consequence of building community on a shared economy under a P2P architecture. It is our main virtue and the only thing that can guarantee survival even under increasing global decomposition.
JR: Any plans for micro-finance or a bank to speed cooperative growth?
We made a big effort to set up partnerships with mutual benefit societies and credit coops in South America. Our idea was to bring in our knowledge and criteria to create viable and productive coops, while the credits coops would attract new solid, stable members in the mid-term.
However, a series of accidents and health issues in the middle of 2012 affected our plans, and that idea had to be abandoned as the Indianos decided to “regroup” in Europe. So, we’ve had to develop these ideas in different ways for the last year and half.
In September 2012 we created Fondaki-SIP-ner, along with a dozen small industrial companies, many of them coops. Fondaki is a not-for-profit public intelligence consultancy that helps small and medium enterprises find new markets and develop new lines of innovation, two key issues for small enterprises and coops looking to face the consequences of the current crisis without destroying employment, while creating social cohesion. In January 2013 the younger Indianos founded Enkidu, the first coop created by our core group since the beginning of the crisis in 2008.
And, of course, we’re still focused on the globalization of “the small”. We think that’s one of the key issues today. In 2012, along with the Garum Foundation, we worked on the development of “Bazar”, which is free software for the creation of distributed commercial networks. It’s something we’d like to take up again, and which would complement the development of the Direct Economy, probably the most important opportunity for generating communal autonomy today.
JR: How long does it take to train a regular person in cooperative business practices? Are there plans for teaching cooperative thinking online to grow it faster?
It takes time! Unfortunately, almost everything in the mainstream culture teaches us that the world is a zero-sum game, and that markets must be ruled by jungle law. But the simple truth is that they shouldn’t be, and we, people, can make the difference.
What we’ve noticed these last few years is that one of the most destructive side effects of the crisis is how it affects people’s confidence in their own capabilities. Especially in Europe, among the generation that finished its studies post-2008, the effect is often devastating. People find it very hard to believe that the system can offer them a future when it can’t even offer them a job. But it’s also difficult to imagine your own future, an alternate endeavor of one’s own, when every other conversation, year after year, comes back to the “no future” scenario.
This is why, towards the end of 2013, we’ve re-oriented our whole communications strategy, especially lasindias.com, towards “an interesting life”. During all these years, from cyberpunk to 2012, we were characterized by striving to provide a perspective on the political significance of technology. That was also at the core of our books, from “Like a vine, not like a tree” in 2003 to “The P2P mode of production” in 2012. But now we feel the need to focus on something more basic, an ethical, empowering perspective without which the questions we’re looking to answer wouldn’t make any sense. Why would anyone want to partake in commons-oriented peer production when they can’t even imagine a future for their own community? How will anyone create or join a cooperative when they think that any collective decision-making process is something authoritative?
JR: How do Las Indias cooperatives tie into the physical community?
Our sense of community is indeed very physical on all levels. The inner circle, los indianos, try to work together as much as possible, sharing offices or houses.
The wider community, the aggregation of our families and close friends, is at the center of our concerns. I mean, it’s not only the question of time management, the possibility of spending more time with your people than in a “normal job.” The kind of security you build in a model like ours it is not only about yourself, you know that all the common resources will be ready for your family and your people if they will need it.
MB: Where will humanity be in 20 years?
I hope we will see big transnational spaces with freedom of movement and trade, instigated by networks of economic democracies building wider commons accessible to everyone.
We’ll see. I hope to see the erosion of this idea called capitalism, according to which a single production factor — capital — is the sole determinant of a company’s ownership. The reduction of the scale of production has been the one fundamental tendency that’s remained constant over the last century. As a result, capital isn’t as scarce as it was at the birth of the present economic system. In fact, as the value of production is further tied to factors such as creativity or knowledge, the entire pyramid-like organizational structure becomes ever more dysfunctional, highlighting the need for cooperative protocols in companies.
I hope we will live in a society where capitalism will be marginal but with a market that will not allow rents nor privileges, where the mix of small and ubiquitous tools of production will be furthered by big global repositories of public domain designs as innovative and popular as free software is now.
I hope that in twenty years we will be living in a transnational society, but it is not historically determined. There are a lot of agents pushing towards recentralization: IP lobbies, big Internet firms, rent seekers, state machinery, financial interests, global mafias, etc. So the possibility of terminal nationalism and statism with its social decomposition is also there.
The choice between a society of freedom, based in an egalitarian market and robust commons, and global decomposition depends of our actions in this decade.
Guerrilla Translation/Related:Towards a Material Commons/ Michel Bauwens Dmytri Kleiner John RestakisVenture Communism and Technological Miscommunication: a Conversation with Dmytri Kleiner
*. [This article was originally published in Shareable in February 2012. We contacted Bauwens, Gorenflo and de Ugarte to check whether it had been translated to Spanish or not. It turned out it hadn’t, so we proposed translating and revising the text to reflect the changes of the last two years, with de Ugarte updating his original answers and providing some new ones. This version contains both our translation back to English, and our copyediting of the updated interview. ]↩
Cooperativism, Peer Production and community venture funds for the Commons. KMO from the C-Realm Podcast, interviews Michel Bauwens, Dmytri Kleiner and John Restakis
Can commons-oriented peer production be applied to material production? Will activists and contributors to the commons always be forced to work within capitalist structures to subsist while investing their available free time in volunteer activities? How can we create socially-oriented companies without the start-up capital to fund them? Is there a model that will allow us to make a living, produce goods and services and even compete with the dominant hegemony?
In this fascinating conversation hosted by KMO from the C-Realm Podcast, Michel Bauwens, Dmytri Kleiner and John Restakis tackle these questions, and arrive at a series of proposals combining new models of social co-ops with commons-oriented peer production and systems for collective financing.
KMO: You are listening to the C-Realm Podcast, I am your host, KMO, and I am joined from Quito, Ecuador, by Dmytri Kleiner, Michel Bauwens, and John Restakis, so I’ll introduce you each individually. Dmytri Kleiner, this is our second conversation, although his first appearance on the C-Realm Podcast. He is a venture communist and the author of the Telekommunist Manifesto. Dmytri, welcome to the C-Realm Podcast.
Dmytri: Thank you, KMO.
KMO: Say just a little bit more about yourself. Don’t say anything about what brings you to Ecuador, though, I’ll ask you about that in a moment.
Dmytri: I’m a member of the collective called Telekommunisten. We make artworks that investigate the political economy of information, and especially the ways the Internet and social media has developed. As part of doing that, there’s a lot of writing that goes along with it, including the Telekommunist Manifesto, which looks at the history of copyright, and the history of networks and communication platforms from a materialist perspective.
KMO: And Michel Bauwens, you are back on the C-Realm Podcast, you are the founder of the P2P Foundation, and you’re working to achieve the commons-based society that can operate within a reformed market and state. Welcome back to the C-Realm Podcast.
Michel Bauwens: Thanks, it’s an honor.
KMO: And also John Restakis, the author of Humanizing the Economy, Cooperatives in the Age of Capital. John welcome to the C-Realm podcast, and please tell us a bit more about yourself.
John: Right, I have been involved with the cooperative movement, primarily in Canada, over the last 18, 19 years or so. Up until this summer I was executive director for the BC Cooperative Association, and I have been involved with writing and lecturing around cooperative economies and globalization. I’ve done a lot of work around co-op development, both in Canada and internationally, paying a lot of attention to the evolution of the cooperative model, for the creation of a new kind of market as a response to the failed neoliberal paradigm that we’re living through at the moment.
KMO: Michel, let’s start with you. You are all three in Quito, Ecuador, as invited speakers for a conference there. If you would, say a little bit about the conference, and why the conference organizers invited you in particular, what you bring to the table for this discussion.
Michel: John and I are working on something called the FLOKSociety Project. FLOK means free, libre, open knowledge society. It’s based on a speech that Pres. Rafael Correa gave some months ago where he asked young people to work and fight for open, commons knowledge-based society. Three official organisms signed an agreement, the Ministry of Knowledge, and the SENESCYT which is like an open innovation in science secretariat, and the postgraduate University of the state, called EIAN. These three asked us to provide a transition program to move Ecuador towards a commons-based model. I’m the research director and John Restakis is a research stream coordinator about institutional innovation. The other thing is the conference which you asked about, called Minga. It’s about technological sovereignty. Now that we know that everything we do is monitored and surveilled, especially by British and American intelligence, the questions are, is there anything we can do about it, is there anything we can do to preserve our privacy, protect our communications from systematic spying? And both Dmytri and I are speaking in the conference. I’m introducing the FLOK society to this public of quite committed free software activists here in Ecuador. Dmytri, do you want to add something about the conference?
Dmytri: Sure. I’m here as a member of the free software community. I’m a developer, and have been for a long time. I introduced a critical analysis within the community which often feels that technology can solve all our problems. There is a very common attitude of the free software community that all we need to do is code better software and we can overcome things. So the reason we can’t defeat Facebook is that we simply haven’t coded a better thing. I don’t understand the problem in those ways, I understand the problem politically and economically, in that the modes of communication we use are very tightly coupled with the modes of production that finance them, so I was invited here to express that opinion in this group.
Michel: John do you want to add anything?
John: Just to say that, I’m part of the research team that Michel just outlined for the FLOK society project. I’m not actually participating in this conference, I’m not a techie by any means and I’m having a hard time just following the conversation when I go to one of those things. I’m focused on the policy formation around this transition to a new, open knowledge and commons-based economy, and that’s the research work I’m doing here. Perhaps I can pitch this back to Michel, and ask if you can provide the framework for the conversation we’re going to have, kind of an echo of what we talked about the other day.
Michel: I’d like to start with outlining the issue, the problem around the emergence of peer production within the current neoliberal capitalist form of society and economy that we have. We now have a technology which allows us to globally scale small group dynamics, and to create huge productive communities, self-organized around the collaborative production of knowledge, code, and design. But the key issue is that we are not able to live from that, right?
The situation is that we have created communities consisting of people who are sometimes paid, sometimes volunteers, and by using open licenses, we are actually creating commonses – think about Linux, Wikipedia, Arduino, those kinds of things. But what is the problem? The problem is I can only make a living by still working for capital. So, there is an accumulation of the commons on the one side, we are effectively producing a commons, but we don’t have what Marx used to call social reproduction. We cannot create our own livelihood within that sphere. The solution that I propose is related to the work of Dmytri Kleiner – Dmytri proposed some years ago to create a peer production license. I’ll give you my interpretation of it; you can only use our commons if you reciprocate to some degree. So, instead of having a totally open commons, which allows multinationals to use our commons and reinforce the system of capital, the idea is to keep the accumulation within the sphere of the commons. Imagine that you have a community of producers, and around that you have an entrepreneurial coalition of cooperative, ethical, social, solidarity enterprise.
The idea is that you would have an immaterial commons of codes and knowledge, but then the material work, the work of working for clients and making a livelihood, would be done through co-ops. The result would be a type of open cooperative-ism, a kind of synthesis or convergence between peer production and cooperative modes of production. That’s the basic idea. I think that a number of things are happening around that, like solidarity co-ops, and other new forms of cooperative-ism. I would like John to briefly explain what that means.
John: First I should just mention that as I said earlier, I’ve been involved in the co-op movement, both in Canada and internationally for the last 17 or 18 years or so, but I’m relatively new to what I am calling the new commons movement. It’s largely through the interaction with Michel and others from that sphere that I’m becoming aware now of how extensive and vibrant this new commons movement is. So, the question for me has always been how to reimagine and reinterpret the cooperative model as a response to the current crisis, and beyond, that we’re living in at the moment.
Historically, the cooperative movement goes back long way, and it’s achieved enormous successes all around the world, both in the North and South. But it hasn’t had much of a direct connection to this emerging commons movement, which shares so many of the values and principles of the traditional cooperative movement. One of the issues I’m interested in addressing is how to bridge this gap between the cooperative movement internationally, and the international commons movement. There is very little dialogue between those two. I think there is a need for convergence between the traditional historical cooperative movement in this new form of commons, which is finding its voice now as a new way of thinking about social relationships, production relationships, developing new kinds of economies, as Michel just outlined.
This reinterpretation of the cooperative model as a particular form can add a lot of stability and strength and power to the commons movement. As far as I can see, it’s still largely a technology movement. There’s also a lot of peer-to-peer work going on, but it’s not very well versed around issues like cooperative organization, formal or legal forms of ownership, which are based on reciprocity and cooperation, and how to interpret the commons vision with a structure, an organizational structure and a legal structure that actually gives it economic power, market influence, and a means of connecting it to organizational forms that have durability over the long-term.
Michel: I’d like to add something. I experience this on a human level almost daily. The young people, the developers in open source or free software, the people who are in co-working centers, hacker spaces, maker spaces. When they are thinking of making a living, they think startups. They have been very influenced by this neoliberal atmosphere that has been dominant in their generation. They have a kind of generic reaction, “oh, let’s do a startup”, and then they look for venture funds. But this is a very dangerous path to take. Typically, the venture capital will ask for a controlling stake, they have the right to close down your start up whenever they feel like it, when they feel that they’re not going to make enough money. They forbid you to continue to work in the same sector after your company has failed, and you have a gag order, so you don’t even have free speech to talk about your negative experience. This is a very common experience. Don’t forget that with venture capital, only 1 out of 10 companies will actually make it, and they may be very rich, but it’s a winner-take-all system.
There is a real lack of knowledge within the young generation that there are other forms of enterprise possible. I think that the other way is also true. A lot of co-ops have been neo-liberalizing, as it were, have become competitive enterprises competing against other companies but also against other co-ops, and they don’t share their knowledge. They don’t have a commons of design or code, they privatize and patent, just like private competitive enterprise, their knowledge. They’re also not aware that there’s a new way of becoming more competitive through increased cooperation of open knowledge commons. This is the human side of it, and we need to work on the knowledge and mutual experience of these two sectors. Both are growing at the same time; after the crisis of 2008, we’ve had an explosion of the sharing economy and the peer production economy on the one side, but also a revitalization of the cooperative sector. Before Dmytri intervenes, I would like John to talk about the solidarity co-ops, and how that integrates the notion of the commons or the common good in the very structure of the co-op.
John: Historically, cooperatives have been primarily focused around providing support and service to the members. Cooperatives, which are basically a democratic and collective form of enterprise where members have control rights and democratically direct the operations of the co-op, have been the primary stakeholders in any given co-op – whether it’s a consumer co-op, or a credit union, or a worker co-op. That has been the traditional form of cooperatives for a long time now. Primarily, the co-op is in the service of its immediate members. That has changed over the last 15 years or so, particularly in the field of the provision of social care.
Social co-ops emerged in the late 70s in Italy as a response to a market failure within public services in Italy. Groups of families or users of social services, primarily originally from within a community of people with disabilities, decided to organize cooperatives as a better way of designing and providing services to themselves. This is a very different model from the state-delivered services to these people. What was really fascinating about the social co-ops was that, although they had members, their mission was not only to serve the members but also to provide service to the broader community. And so, they were communitarian, community service organizations that had a membership base of primary users of that service, whether it was healthcare, or help for people with drug addictions, or whatever.
These social co-ops have now exploded in Italy. I think they have taken over, in a sense, the provision of social care services in many communities under contracts to local municipalities. In the city of Bologna, for example, over 87% of the social services provided in that city are provided through contract with social co-ops. These are democratically run organizations, which is a very different model, much more participatory, and a much more engaged model of designing social care than the traditional state delivered services. The idea of co-ops as being primarily of interest in serving their own immediate membership has been expanded to include a mandate for the provision of service to the community as a whole. This is an expansion of this notion of cooperatives into a more commons-based kind of mission, which overlaps with the philosophy and values of commons movement. The difference, however, is that the structure of social co-ops is still very much around control rights, in other words, members have rights of control and decision-making within how that organization operates. And it is an incorporated legal structure that has formal recognition by the legislation of government of the state, and it has the power, through this incorporated power, to negotiate with and contract with government for the provision of these public services. One of the real strengths of the cooperative form is that it not only provides a democratic structure for the enterprise – be it a commercial or social enterprise – but it also has a legal form that allows it to enter into contract and negotiate legal agreements with the state for the provision of public services. This model of co-op for social care has been growing in Europe. In Québec they’re called Solidarity co-ops, and they are generating an increasing portion of market share for the provision of services like home care and healthcare, and it’s also growing in Europe.
So, the social economy, meaning organizations that have a mutual aim in their purpose, based on the principles of reciprocity, collective benefit, social benefit, is emerging as an important player for the design and delivery of public services. This, too, is in reaction to the failure of the public market for provision of services like affordable housing or health care or education services. This is a crisis in the role of the state as a provider of public services. So the question has emerged: what happens when the state fails to provide or fulfill its mandate as a provider or steward of public goods and services, and what’s the role of civil society and the social economy in response? Social co-ops have been part of this tide of reaction and reinvention, in terms of civic solutions to what were previously state-designed and delivered public goods and services. So I’ll leave it at that for the moment, but it’s just an indicator of the very interesting ways in which the co-op form is being reimagined and reinvented to respond to this crisis of public services and the changing role of the state.
Michel: Before introducing Dmytri, I’d like to reiterate one of the key problems that maybe Dmytri’s proposals will be able to solve. John has been explaining public services, but what about material production? This is where the issue arises: we have commonses of knowledge, code and design. They’re more easily created, because as a knowledge worker, if you have access to the network and some means, however meager, of subsistence, through effort and connection you can actually create knowledge. However, this is not the case if you move to direct physical production, like the open hardware movement.
What we see in the free software movement is that there are democratic foundations like the Apache foundation or the Gnu foundation, which means that the community has its own organization. In hardware, we don’t see that, because you need to buy material, machines, plastic, metal. Some people have called the open hardware community a “candy” economy, because if you’re not part of these open hardware startups, you’re basically not getting anything for your efforts. Dmytri’s offering us a vision of a commons of material means of production which I’d like him now to explain. He uses what I think is a bit provocative as a concept, the concept of “venture communism”. You think about venture, you think about venture capital, right? Dmytri, can you tell us what you mean?
Dmytri: In the 90s, I was part of the anarchist-communist, anti-globalization movement. At the same time I was also making a living as an IT consultant in a very dotcom-fueled environment. I was a really big believer in what we now call peer production. We didn’t have these terms back then, but what we now call peer production, which attempts to describe the ways that people cooperate on networks, or within free software. I envisioned this transforming our social relationships worldwide, and achieving the age-old dreams of anarchist-communism. But that all came crashing down in the early 2000s, with the dotcom bust, and the George Bush administration’s massive crackdown on protests, from Seattle, Québec City, Miami. All of a sudden, the unstoppable-ness of our movement seemed to be stopped, it seemed to be something that I couldn’t believe in anymore.
I quickly realized that this network that we were building – the Internet and the free software community – was largely enabled by our jobs for the dotcom bubble, for capitalism. It was being funded by venture capital. Realizing that venture capital wouldn’t fund the anarchist-communist social relationships that we believed were embedded in these platforms, it became clear that we needed something else. So I called that something else “venture communism”, with the intention to study what that might look like, and how we might achieve it. I originally encountered Michel after seeing some talks by Benkler and Lessig at the Wizard of OS 4, in 2006, and I wrote an essay criticizing that from a materialist perspective, it was called “The creative anti-commons and the poverty of networks”, playing on the terms that both those people used.
The basis of the criticism in both cases was that they were describing peer production in a way that was very different from our conception. We didn’t have this term, this term came from Benkler, but we were talking about what we thought was the same thing. They conceive of peer production, especially Benkler, as being something inherently immaterial, a form of production that can only exist in the production of immaterial wealth. From my materialist point of view, that’s not a mode of production, because a mode of production must, in the first place, reproduce its productive inputs, its capital, its labor, and whatever natural wealth it consumes.
From a materialist point of view, it becomes obvious that the entire exchange value produced in these immaterial forms would be captured by the same old owners of materialist wealth that existed before, after, and during. This was the beginning of my dialogue with Michel. I argued for a different definition of peer production, rather than as something that is inherently immaterial, I defined it as independent producers collectively sharing a commons of productive assets. That definition of peer production is much more compatible with anarchist-communist, anarchist-syndicalist roots, and also better describes the peer-to-peer technologies that inspired the term “peer production”.
So, to try to explain what “venture communism” is, which is my own project, predating the term “peer production”, but very relevant to it. I think we’re talking about the same thing, even if I was using different terms. As a technologist, I was also inspired by the functioning of peer networks and the organization of free software projects. These were also the inspiration for venture communism. I wanted to create something like a protocol for the formation and allocation of physical goods, the same way we have TCP/IP and so forth, as a way to allocate immaterial goods. The Internet gives us a very efficient platform on which we can share and distribute and collectively create immaterial wealth, and become independent producers based on this collective commons.
Venture communism seeks to tackle the issue of how we can do the same thing with material wealth. I drew on lots of sources in the creation of this model, not exclusively anarchist-communist sources. One was the Georgist idea of using rent, economic rent, as a fundamental mutualizing source of wealth. Mutualizing unearned income is essentially what that means in layman’s terms. The idea is that people earn income not only by producing things, but by owning the means of production, owning productive assets, and our society is unequal because the distribution of productive assets is unequal.
Even within the cooperative movement, which I’ve always admired and held up as an example, it’s clear that the distribution of productive assets is also unequal. The same with other kinds of production; for example, if you look at the social power of IT workers versus agricultural workers, it becomes very clear that the social power of a collective of IT workers is much stronger than the social power of a collective agricultural workers. There is inequality in human and capital available for these cooperatives. This protocol would seek to normalize that, but in a way that doesn’t require administration. The typical statist communist reaction to the cooperative movement is saying that cooperatives can exclude and exploit one another, and that solution is either creating giant cooperatives like Mondragon, or socialist states.
But then, as we’ve seen in history, there’s something that develops called an administrative class, which governs over the collective of cooperatives or the socialist state, and can become just as counterproductive and often exploitive as capitalist class. So, how do we create cooperation among cooperatives, and distribution of wealth among cooperatives, without creating this administrative class? This is why I borrowed from the work of Henry George and Silvio Gesell in created this idea of rent sharing.
The idea is that the cooperatives are still very much independent just as cooperatives are now. The producers are independent, but instead of owning their productive assets themselves, each member of the cooperative owns these together with each member of every other cooperative in the Federation, and the cooperatives rent the property from the commune collectively. This is not done administratively, this is simply done as a protocol. The idea is that if a cooperative wants an asset, like, an example is if one of the communes would like to have a tractor, then essentially the central commune is like a bond market. They float a bond, they say I want a tractor, I am willing to pay $200 a month for this tractor in rent, and other members of the cooperative can say, hey, yeah, that’s a good idea,we think that’s a really good allocation of these productive assets, so we are going to buy these bonds. The bond sale clears, the person gets the tractor, the money from the rent of the tractor goes back to clear the bonds, and after that, whatever further money is collected through the rent on this tractor – and I don’t only mean tractors, same would be applied to buildings, to land, to any other productive assets – all this rent that’s collected is then distributed equally among all of the workers.
So, the unearned income, the portion of income derived from ownership of productive assets is evenly distributed among all the cooperatives and all the stakeholders among those cooperatives, and that’s the basic protocol of venture communism.
Michel: Okay, Dmytri, just to make sure I understand it right, it’s like a basic income, right? In the sense that you have your wage, because you work, and then in addition you get this rent from all the productive forces held together by all the members of this economic unified cooperative production?
Dmytri: Exactly. Whatever productive assets you consume, you pay rent for, and that rent is divided equally among all members of the commune. Not the individual cooperatives, but the commune itself. This means that if you use your exact per capita share of property, no more no less than what you pay in rent and what you received in social dividend, will be equal. So if you are a regular person, then you are kind of moving evenly, right? But if you’re not working at that time, because you’re old, or otherwise unemployed, then obviously the the productive assets that you will be using will be much less than the mean and the median, so what you’ll receive as dividend will be much more than what you pay in rent, essentially providing a basic income. And conversely, if you’re a super motivated producer, and you’re greatly expanding your productive capacity, then what you pay for productive assets will be much higher than what you get in dividend, presumably, because you’re also earning income from the application of that property to production. So, venture communism doesn’t seek to control the product of the cooperatives. The product of the cooperatives is fully theirs to dispose of as they like. It doesn’t seek to limit, control, or even tell them how they should distribute it, or under what means; what they produce is entirely theirs, it’s only the collective management of the commons of productive assets.
Michel: Dmyitri, I think your theory has three constitutive elements, one is the venture communism, what are the two others? Can you briefly recall your idea of the peer production license, which I mentioned at the beginning?
Dmytri: Yes, first part is related to my critique of Benkler, and the peer production license comes, well, it predates it, but it enters this conversation between us through my critique of Lessig. The three constituent parts of venture communism were developed in speaking to a lot of people involved in cooperatives and economists. On paper this would seem to work, but the problem is that this assumes that we have capital to allocate in this way, and that is not the case for most of the world workers. So, how do we get to that stage? And that’s where venture communism becomes an umbrella, venture communism being only one constituent element, the other two being counter politics and insurrectionary finance. The idea of counter politics is that there is a long-running feud in the communist community and socialist community and, actually, the activist community generally: do we express our activism through the state, or do we try to achieve our goals by creating the alternative society outside…
Michel: …pre-figurative politics…
Dmytri: …pre-figurative politics, versus statist politics. And with the idea of counter politics, I’m trying to show that this is actually a false dilemma, because the idea of pre-figurative politics presupposes that we have the wealth in order to create these pre-figurative enterprises, these pre-figurative startups or co-ops or whatever. My materialist background tells me that when you sell your labor on the market, you have nothing more than your subsistence costs at the end of it, so where is this wealth meant to come from? I believe that the only reason that we have any extra wealth beyond subsistence is because of organized social political struggle; because we have organized in labor movements, in the co-op movement, and in other social forms. We have fought for this, so that we now have more than our subsistence. And this is the reason that we can’t even consider pre-figurative solutions. To create the space for prefiguring presupposes engagement with the state, and struggle within parliaments, and struggle within the public social forum.
What I propose in counter politics is that we don’t think of engaging in party politics, as in the sort of classic Leninist party idea, that we will take the state, that we will impose new social relationships from the top down, and we will go through an intermediary stage of socialism, and we will finally achieve communism. This is a very problematic conception, and I’m not very hopeful that that kind of solution would work. Instead, we should think that no, we must engage in the state in order to protect our ability to have alternative societies, in order to protect the benefits that we have now, in order to protect the public services and the public goods, and the public benefits. We have to acknowledge that there are certain social functions that the state provides that are socially necessary, and we cannot do without them. We can only get rid of the state in these areas once we have alternative, distributed, cooperative means to provide those same functions. Just because we can imagine that they can exist doesn’t make them exist. We can only eliminate the state from these areas once they actually exist, which means we actually have to build them. We have to create alternative ways to provision healthcare, childcare, education, to deal with human frailty and economic cycles, all these kinds of social functions the state provides that are socially necessary.
Michel: Okay, so what about insurrectionary finance, that’s your third…
Dmytri: There’s a strange corner of the activist community that’s called alternative economics, and this is almost held in the same disdain as conspiracy theory by most activist groups. Everybody thinks, oh, yes, alternative currencies and alternative kinds of things are kind of irrelevant to the social thing. What I mean by insurrectionary finance is that we have to acknowledge that it’s not only forming capital and distributing capital, it’s also important how intensively we use capital. We have to understand the role of money, the role of debt, the role of economic interactions, and how to model them in order to create a more intensive use of capital.
If you understand the capitalist economy, everybody knows that the amount of money in the economy is greatly expanded through economic things like loans, securities, and various economic means where capital, especially finance capital, is used more intensively than it otherwise would, sometimes dangerously so. I’m not proposing that the cooperative movement needs to engage in the kind of derivative speculative madness that led to the financial crisis, but at the same time we can’t… it can’t be earn a dollar, spend a dollar. We have to find ways to create liquidity, to deal with economic cycles, and so we have to look at alternative economics in order to do that. And sometimes even not-so-alternative economics, as we’ve talked about before.
Paradoxically, I’m rather inspired by Michael Milken and the corporate raiders of the 80s that are famous for making junk bonds. They were sort of the financial side of the industrialization of the West, and their mechanisms were to issue junk bonds, low rated bonds, use these funds to buy corporations that work undervalued, and then basically strip the assets – the land, the capital, just strip them down, close them, sell of the assets, repay the bonds, keep their huge profits, and rinse and repeat, as it were, over and over again.
And this to me is really interesting, because, on one hand, it’s horrible what they did, and the legacy of the damage that the corporate raiders had is pretty large. But on the other hand, it’s kind of inspiring because they did things the organized left hasn’t been able to do, which is takeover industrial means of production, right? So it seems to me that we should be inspired by that, and we should think, well, if they can take over these industrial facilities, just in order to shut them down and asset strip them, why can’t we take them over and mutualize them? It becomes even more ironic once you understand that the source of investment that Milken and his colleagues were working with were largely workers pension funds. It was actually the savings of workers – achieved through social struggle as we’ve talked about before. Unions got together and struggled against the bosses to allow workers to save, which was already struggle one, then they put these savings into pension funds – and then Milken and his followers sold their bonds to these pension funds and used this money to destroy the factories that the workers were working in.
Michel: I think it’s maybe time for John to make some comments on Dmytri’s ideas.
John: A couple of thoughts come to mind around the idea of venture communism – it’s great term by the way – and a new model for pooling, based on the capture of unearned income. It’s a very suggestive model, there are close models to this that are already being used by cooperatives to share machinery. For example, I know for example in Québec, there is a particular form of co-op that’s been developed that allows small or medium producers to pool their capital to purchase machinery and to use it jointly. It doesn’t have exactly the form that you’re talking about, which is this kind of bond issue, which is a very interesting idea, I’d love to see that applied. The other idea I liked was trying to minimize a management class, within these systems. I know this varies from co-op to co-op and federation to federation, but I do know that in these kinds of shared pool systems of both capital and equipment, that the organizations that are put in place for the management of these systems are, by comparison to other forms of control, much more lean and accountable because they are accountable to boards of directors that represent the interests of the members. But I take your point around that. So, very interesting idea.
The second point that comes to my mind is around this tension that you described within the left, and among activists. It’s a tension around their relationship to the idea of the market, and to capital for that matter. I’ve run into this repeatedly among social change activists who immediately recoil at the notion of thinking about markets and capital, as part of their change agenda.
I think what was most revelatory to me around the cooperative movement was that I used to think of the same way. The most important lesson I took from my contact with the cooperative movement was a complete rethinking of economics. I had thought previously, like so many, that economics is basically a bought discipline, and that it serves the interests of existing elites. I really had a kind of reaction against that. When I saw and understood that cooperatives were another form of economics, a popular form of economics, it completely shifted my perception around what social change entails, with respect to the market. One of the things I think we really have to do is to recapture the initiative around vocabulary, and vision, with respect to economics.
John: And a key part of that is reimagining and reinterpreting, for a popular and common good, the notion of market and capital. And that’s what cooperatives, among other kinds of systems, do. They reclaim the market. I think that’s a fundamental task, in terms of educating and advocating for a vision of social change that isn’t just about politics, and isn’t just about protest, it has to be around how do we reimagine and reclaim economics, and how do we develop forms where markets actually belong to communities and people, not just to corporations. Traditionally markets were not just a property of corporations and companies, and capital wasn’t just an accumulated wealth for the rich. Capital can be commons capital, it can be a commons market, and we need to come up with forms and models that actually realize that in practice, and that’s what the peer-to-peer movement is, that’s what the cooperative movement is, and we need to find ways of conjoining those two.
Dmytri: I agree.
Michel: I agree too, and I think this is a really nice way to start our conclusion, just to make another reference to the project here in Ecuador. I think in many countries now, there are ministries of the social economy, of the solidarity economy, but they’re always seen as kind of marginal add-ons. I think what we’re potentially talking about here is to make the social economy hyper-productive, hyper-competitive, hyper-cooperative. The paradox is that capital already knows this. Capital is investing in these peer production projects, and cooperatives are not yet massively turning that way, so this is what we have to achieve. Part of the proposal of the FLOK society project in Ecuador will be to get that strategic reorganization to make the social economy strategic, not just as an add-on to an existing neoliberal format. I think we’ve pretty much finished, but I just wanted to mention that the end of our discussion in the bar, I proposed that the P2P foundation, which has a co-op, would also try to create a seed form for what Dmytri proposes. I hope that they weren’t drunk when they were saying that, but John and Dmitri actually said they would cooperate (laughter). So, KMO, maybe you have a last question? I think that we’re nearly at the end of the allotted time.
KMO: Well, we are at the end of the allotted time, I have been taking notes and I have a lot of questions (laughter). What I’ll have to do is get each of you on Skype individually in the coming weeks, and put my questions to you one-on-one, because I think that there’s at least three episodes worth of questions that I have here.
Michel: Yes, it’s very dense and I apologize to your listeners, l hope it wasn’t sleep inducing! but this is strategic, we’re talking about the DNA of the system, and I think that’s why it’s so important that we had this occasion to actually talk together and compare our perspectives.
KMO: Well, I’m very happy to of been a party to it, and I’m looking forward to re-listening, because I know I’ll be taking a lot more information from the recording that you’ve made as as I listen to it and edit it for a one-hour podcast. Dmytri Kleiner, Michel Bauwens, and John Restakis, thank you very much for all the work you’re doing, and for participating on the C-Realm Podcast.
Guerrilla Translation/Related:Venture Communism and Technological Miscommunication: a Conversation with Dmytri Kleiner#GlobalP2P, The Wind that Shook the Net/ Bernardo Gutiérrez
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Collaboration, networking, transversality, openness, free licenses, remixing, transnationality. On March 20, the hashtag #GlobalP2P suddenly vaulted up among Twitter’s most globally used. One detail: it had never before been a TT(Trending Topic) in any country. Afterwards, it took place as the most watched among many. #GlobalP2P was a choral cry. #GlobalP2P was an insistent echo raising the visibility of the P2P Foundation ‘s Wikisprint event (a mapping of experiences happening around the commons and peer-to-peer) taking place that day in Latin America and Southern Europe. The explosion of #GlobalP2P as a global trend was no accident. There was strategy behind it. The hashtag #P2PWikisprint had had a few weeks to gear up. It came about in a decentralized way, hence its big leap to the global TT. Above all, there was a very intensive process already in place, common among hundreds of groups, networks, activists, foundations, thinkers, universities … and even some governments, both local and supranational.
This spectacular graphic visualization of #GlobalP2P, 24 hours of transnational P2P, produced by Outliers studio, highlights the incredible web of connections that appeared during that day. Some links had already existed. Others emerged. In just one day, 235 projects were mapped in the P2P Foundation wiki. And most importantly: as projects connected, new ones were born. In the upper-left corner, we can see how concepts intermingled, in spite of the normal tendency towards inbreeding. At 13:00 (GMT+1), free and open culture, government, network, and people were discussed. At the bottom left, you can see the accounts talking with one another, showing high rates of transnationality, regardless of borders.
The most interesting thing about #P2PWikisprint is its survival as a process. As an expanded community. As a transnational network. The coming months may bring more wikisprints. But without a doubt, there will be unplanned and unexpected things developing around the #GlobalP2P. The Open Latin America (working title) campaign has already launched. And one idea in the works is to create distributed hackatones, to build a mobile app to find a way to geolocate, in every city, the networks, communities and/or people who work for the common good.
This text has a goal: to share the methodology. I’ll reveal a few details about the process, which may not be obvious at first glance, so that anyone can replicate the experience. These 13 keys summarize the essence of this process. They could be applied to many other fields.
— ❦ Mario Tascón (@mtascon) March 20, 2013
1. Circle of friends networks. The process would not have been possible without networks of confidence. A personal message sent to a hundred people at the end of 2012 wouldn’t have worked without an established network of trust. Mindmapping which networks, groups and individuals that one could get involved with in #P2PWikisprint was a vital step. The cross connection of different profiles generated a new network, also based on mutual trust, information sharing and personal connections and affections.
2. Open process. The second step was to create a Spanish-language mailing list for the P2P project called “Our Project”. Anyone can subscribe to this open list, without invitation. It wasn’t public at first. We used a personal referral strategy: each person was involved in building the community. This is how we created the network. Transparency – we even created an open document in order to add new members to the list – boosted confidence in the process. However, the list maintains the ethics of netiquette. Good online manners, with minimal static. It wasn’t always necessary to write to the entire list (as a centralized network would encourage). Better to send personal emails to a specific people, to strengthen the autonomy of the nodes.
3. Produ-communication. Production processes must be intimately tied to communication processes. Launching a campaign with a D-Day-like concrete objective may not be as effective in the network age. Communication as nothing more than marketing just doesn’t hold up anymore. We kept the procedure for #P2PWikisprint totally open from the get-go. To do this, we made use of the TitanPad platform. Every document we created – like this one, listing all the cities involved in the summons- was left open for anyone in the world to see. Documentation becomes communication, and communication is a form of action. Action-communication joined as a unit, acting as one.
4. Collaboratory Economy. The whole #P2PWikisprint process lacked financial resources. Every person, collective or institution involved, came together voluntarily and unpaid. Collective enthusiasm served as the (intangible) fuel for the whole process. #P2PWikisprint reinforced the commons-based peer production thesis as proposed by Yochai Benkler. Collaboration amongst great numbers of non-hierarchically organised individuals can be more effective than vertical organization. Besides, Benkler defends that money isn’t the sole motivator for human activity. It’s possible that, given a budget, #P2PWikisprint could have had a wider impact, but a centralized communication agency endowed with a large budget wouldn’t have produced the same outcome.
5. Ethical Framework. “Intense regulation allows for great liberty, and said liberty favours proliferation”. Guillermo Zapata, in his Spanish language article, “Más libertad… más regulación” (More liberty… more regulation), reflects on how a minimal set of very rigid rules can generate a great amount of freedom. We see this in Open Software where we find “..great freedom of usage, as long as…” the four basic freedoms are respected. The criteria for inclusion in Wikisprint – open input, participatory production and governance process and commons-oriented output – were rigid, but I’d rather define them as “freeing”. Or as a solid ethical framework. Whoever doesn’t adjust to the ethical framework is automatically excluded from the Wikisprint.
6. Maximum Common Multiplier. “Rather than searching for a minimum common denominator, it’s about a maximum common multiplier that extols particular qualities.” This sentence, part of the brilliant study made by Wu Ming Collective on T.E. Lawrence’s Guerrilla Theory, could be used to describe the essence of #P2PWikisprint. That which binds us, the minimum common denominator, is the rigid ethical framework. It isn’t enough. The maximum common multiplier represents what we could achieve by multiplying skills, resources and/or enthusiasm. We will not conform to the Minimum That Unites Us. We aspire to a maximum common multiplier.
7. Expanded Communication. Distributed Action. “All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new.” Extracted from Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”, the above quote permeates the whole of the #P2Pwikisprint – #GlobalP2P process. A centralised process would have been a mistake. That’s why we created a communication strategy that was open, expanded and P2P. Any organization could adapt a P2P press release by adding their name and sending it to their contacts in the media. Any action-communication concordant with the ethics code was valid. In Bueno Aires they produced an animation video. In Bilbao they illustrated text with drawings. In Mexico they celebrated a week’s worth of activities. In disorder we found our equilibrium.
Final session of the #P2PWikisprint special on the ThinkCommons.org platform
8. Hybrid Spaces. The Wikisprint also featured an important physical dimension. Meeting on the ground and speaking in the analogue realm was essential to the process. Many cities held face-to-face sessions. We simultaneously held a video-streaming Google hangout, hosted by the ThinkCommons.org platform featuring guests from across the globe. The video stream aired for nearly 14 hours. Some of these were held, face to face, at MediaLab Prado (Madrid, Spain) and Tabakalera (San Sebastian, Spain), tying in virtual and analogue spaces. Every single session from the special P2PWikisprint remains freely accessible on the Internet.
9. This is not a Trending Topic. The #GlobalP2P hashtag was chosen to encourage a global Trending Topic via Twitter. #P2PWikisprint wouldn’t do, given that Twitter penalises previously used hashtags. This action was collaboratively planned through the use of a Pad featuring general guidelines, following the same template found in the 15M and #GlobalRevolution milieu. Soon after its release, it became the 6th ranking global TT. Afterwards, it remained a TT in some countries. #GlobalP2P managed to hold its ground very strongly, especially in Spain. Achieving a TT should never be an objective in and of itself. Visualization, setting an agenda, feeding a process, building a network and creating community will always have more importance.
10. DIffuse Objective. “…but suppose they were an influence, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas?” T.E: Lawrence, writing in 1929 what would become his essay on Guerrilla Warfare, studied the conditions that allowed the victory of the Arabs over the Turks in 1916, and forever changed the logic of campaign and confrontations (not exclusively military ones). The lack of a clear, unique, visible objective can be advantageous. Best to become like vapour, drift about like gas. Fighting against a concrete enemy can be a tactical error. Guerrilla Communication has to be like the wind. Tactics are lateral, transversal, peripheral. Curtailing those initiatives in #P2PWikisprint that looked to go beyond mapping P2P initiatives (the initial objective) would have been an error. But vying to determine a common, unique objective could have led to a failure.
Everything was possible during #P2PWikisprint. It was all fair game within the ethical code. The new #GlobalP2P could hardly be described as a united force. #GlobalP2P, to paraphrase T.E. Lawrence, was like a dispersed vapour carried by the wind.
11. Imagery. How might the maximum number of people visualise “Wikisprint” or “P2P”, two words altogether outside of everyday vocabulary? By creating imagery. Mass media likes to link P2P to piracy. Exchanging music = piracy. In truth, sharing, generosity and collaboration are the more characteristic traits of peer-to-peer dynamics. P2P logic goes beyond merely cultural considerations. It’s scalable to economics, politics, ecology…. would it make sense to take advantage of #P2PWikisprint to declare war against the content industry? #No. It’s best to create new imagery. Give shape to a collective wish. Create an indestructible narrative. Because, in much the same way the Turks expelled the Arabs with lesser numbers, for us “the contest was not physical, but moral”. There’s nothing better than a new narrative to tear down the sharing = piracy cliché. Nothing more solid than intangible imagery. The exchange of toys amongst children that took place at the Museo del Juguete Antiguo (Antique Toy Museum) in Mexico DF represents a scene capable of demolishing the arguments of any lobby: P2P= children sharing affection.
12. Transverse connections, transnational connections. Outliers used a new type of indicator for visualizations: a transnational index of tweets. International information exchange was a constant during #P2PWIkisprint. Transnational exchange was over 40% for most of the day. On March 21st, at 05:00 GMT, it rose to 100%. Transnationality was much higher than the median for other global initiatives. Outliers, for example, calculated the transnational percentage of tweets for #15oct (the global mobilization held on the 15th of October of 2011) at around 5%. #GlobalP2P was characterised by dialogue, connection and the empathy of many peers, transcending all national considerations, nation states and political frontiers. Additionally, we witnessed the creation of múltiple, unprecedented spaces for asymmetrical dialogue. During #P2PWikisprint both regional governments – Rio Grande do Sul (Brasil), for example- and supranational organizations, such as The Iberoamerican General Secretariat (SEGIB), spoke on a one-to-one basis with activists from 15M, Occupy Wall Street and #YoSoy132.
13. Liquid Membership. Participation in the #GlobalP2P process, even at the mailing list member level, has some interesting quirks. You don’t take part in #GlobalP2P with a sense of absolutely belonging to a community. There is, however, a sense of community spirit. Association with the #GlobalP2P process is a lot more flexible than the militancy of a political party or collective, or following a religion or supporting a football team. Flexibility lies at the heart of #GlobalP2P’s strength, a functioning process much like the swarms described in Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control. Allowing for escape from the swarm, the possibility of dispersion, guarantees its strength. You can fly with #GlobalP2P for a while, like a bird in a flock. You can leave the flock at any stage, and join another. The ethical framework and moral commitment will incite a return to the flock for specific actions. The wind that was #GlobalP2P shall shake up the net once again.
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