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By: Sardar Saadi on July 25, 2014

From: Roarmag.org

With the rise of jihadist groups in the Middle East, I find myself troubled with the question of how the politics of “insurgency” in this region has shifted so dramatically from a secular leftist tendency that used to challenge political Islam and Islamic rules in the social life to an extremist Islamist tendency that finds its ideal society in the time of Prophet Mohammad centuries ago. It is not that left is not present or without alternative, but one cannot ignore how marginalized they have become.

Not long before, there were many radical and leftist movements throughout the region. From Kabul to Palestine, radical student groups, feminist organizations, national liberation and anti-colonial struggles, labor and peasant movements, and leftist intellectuals were those in the front-line of struggle against authoritarian regimes, regressive religious beliefs, and imperialist powers’ domination in the region. Where are they now? What happened that made jihadist groups the ones who change the geopolitics of the region? How have the politics of the younger generations reversed from criticizing Islam into promoting the most extreme reading of it?

Those are some questions for all of us from the region who wish another future for it. Yet, answering these questions has deep roots in the history of colonialism and imperialism in the region as well. Without doubt, those in the West who excitingly follow the mainstream media’s coverage of the Islamic State’s (generally known by its former acronym ISIS) brutal advance toward major cities in Iraq and Syria do not bother to look at the role of their governments in the current chaos. Not to mention how the mainstream media portrays the people of the region as fanatics who are divided into sectarian religious and ethnic groups that cannot co-exist together and have no respect to humane values.

A century of oppression and domination

Taking a glance at the contemporary history of the Middle East, one can look for the main cause behind the rise of these groups hidden in the politics of colonial powers in the region from the beginning of the 20th century until today. The upcoming centenary of the 1916 Sykes-Picot secret agreement that divided the Ottoman Empire into artificial nation states marks a century of colonial domination followed by corrupt governments in the hands of oil lords and controlled and supported by imperial powers.

Leftist organizations were shut down, and tens of thousand of members of leftist parties, trade unions, and student movements were killed during the 1980s in the prisons of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and other countries in the region.

This system of control through authoritarian regimes intensified during the Cold War in order to prevent the former Soviet Union’s influence in the region. Consequently, an ongoing crusade against the left started by those regimes in power. The massive wave of oppression, arrest and slaughter of leftist activists and intellectuals throughout the region — especially during the 1970s and 1980s — has had irreversible effects on the social dynamics and movements in the region.

Leftist organizations were shut down, and tens of thousand of members of leftist parties, trade unions, and student movements were killed during the 1980s in the prisons of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and other countries in the region. Many more were sentenced to long-term imprisonment, and many of those who stayed alive and outside of prison had to leave their own homeland and go in exile to seek safety for themselves and their families. It is during this time that jihadist groups started to rise because of the major support they received from Western powers in the role of proxy organizations to erase all traces of the political left in the region.

The Mujahedeen in Afghanistan are only one of many example of this practice. These groups provided extra assistance in silencing the left, after which they started to grow like cancer cells in every corner of the region. Moreover, in the last decade, these groups — especially after the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq — have gained a legitimate presence and status among the people as those who fight “foreign invaders” and “infidels”.

Despite their apparent resistance against the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, from the perspective of Western powers they are still the best choice in controlling the region with minimal costs. Simultaneously, it has turned the region into the killing fields where Islamist extremists can take their fight without making trouble in the Western countries. Many reports have mentioned the foreign Islamist fighters among the ranks of ISIS.

Neoliberal Islam

Extremist Islamist groups are only one component of the politics of promoting Islam as the natural enemy of the left. Since the wave of imperialist wars in the region after 9/11, a new agenda emerged aiming to promote “moderate” political Islam in accordance with the neoliberal world economy. The fundamental pillar of this agenda is the AKP government in Turkey. The AKP (Justice and Development Party) has been perceived as the ideal version of a moderate Islamic state with neoliberal economic policies that could both reconcile the people’s rage against the West while responding to their own religious concerns, and work as agents of global capital in the region.

The Turkish government, after being greeted as the model for the future of the Middle East, gained more power and confidence in their claims for a leading role in the Sunni Islamic global community. However, Turkey’s leading role only brought more devastation and sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis. The reckless support of the AKP government, along with the governments of the Gulf countries, for the jihadist groups fighting against the Assad regime has plunged Syria into unprecedented chaos.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the Turkish government has played a key role in worsening the situation by turning Turkey, and especially the country’s southern provinces bordering Syria, into a transit location for extreme Islamists from all around the world on their way to Syria. Besides providing a safe haven for (aspiring) jihadists, there have been allegations that Turkey has also provided jihadist groups logistical and military support.

ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front are the two main jihadist groups that have benefited from this support. Looking at the current situation, the only way the “moderate” Islam agenda has been successful is in continuing the oppression and marginalization of the secular and leftist opposition. The harsh crackdown on the Gezi resistance last summer, which somehow represented the frustration of the people in Turkey with their government’s neoliberal agenda, was a grave example of this.

There is little doubt that jihadist groups pose an immediate threat to the region. It is not only that they destroy every trace of civilization; even more horrifying is their role in trivializing the value of life, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake wherever they go. The question of “what is to be done” to stop this onslaught is no longer about wishing for a better future — it demands an immediate response.

However, viewed in a broader context, it is obvious that these groups are one part of a larger problem. Therefore, any alternative to the current situation has to be transformative for everyone suffering at the hands of not only jihadist groups, but also at the violence and suppression of authoritarian regimes and imperialist rule in the region.

The alternative? Kurdish autonomous rule in Syria

Kurds are known to be the largest nation in the world without its own state. The history of the Kurds is often associated with countless uprisings in the face of systematic oppression by the nation states controlling their lands. Since the creation of nation states after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by British and French colonialists, Kurdistan has been divided between four countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Kurds were the first victims of colonialist agreements.

The secret Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 ignored the right of the Kurds to rule their own land. This led to many decades of massacres, oppression, and assimilation. The Kurds’ language was banned, their rights were denied, and they were displaced from their ancestral lands. The artificial borders that were agreed upon in both the Sykes-Picot agreement and in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that fixed the borders of Turkey continue to haunt the Kurdish people living around them.

People in need of food and medicine in the Kurdish region of Syria cannot get any help from their families living on the other side of the border. While most of the guns and military equipment have been delivered to Syrian rebels through Turkey, the border between the two Kurdish regions has been closed, and many new military posts have been built.

The Kurds in Syria have shown their ability and willingness to be an alternative voice in the middle of the turmoil in the region.

As mentioned before, Syria is currently witnessing the most terrifying manifestation of these historic policies of divide-and-rule in the Middle East. The sociopolitical situation in Syria leaves no space for imagination. Therefore, it is critical for the left to seek an alternative and to strengthen its front. With the conviction in mind that in the most unexpected places the most realistic alternatives can emerge, the Rojava region in Syria (with Rojava meaning “West”, as in West of Kurdistan — a term used for the Kurdish region of Syria) can propose an alternative for the future of the region.

The Kurds in Syria have shown their ability and willingness to be an alternative voice in the middle of the turmoil in the region. Since the Syrian conflict intensified and turned into a civil war, the Kurdish movement led by the PYD (Democratic Union Party) in Syria has taken control of the majority of the Kurdish region in this country. In November 2013, the PYD announced that they had finished all the preparations for declaring autonomy, and a constitution called the Charter of Social Contract was proposed.

The people’s revolution in Rojava resulted in the construction of an autonomous region divided into three autonomous cantons each with democratic autonomous self-administration. The Cizre (Al-Jazeera) Canton declared autonomy on January 21, followed by Kobane Canton on January 27, and Efrin Canton on January 29.

The PYD insists on forming an alternative for all and not pursuing any ethnic group’s demands and interests. At the same time, they refused to become part of the civil war in Syria and declared that they would only use their military forces to defend themselves against any assaults coming from either the Assad’s regime or NATO-supported opposition groups, including jihadist groups such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. Yet, these three cantons have been under immense attacks by ISIS.

Right now, ISIS has focused its attacks on the Kobane canton where the Kurdish self-defense forces YPG (the Peoples’ Defense Units) are fighting off the determined radicals of ISIS in a historic act of resistance.

Intercontinental similarities

Is Rojava becoming the Chiapas of the Middle East? This is the question I ask whenever I hear more stories coming from this tiny region that concern the only flicker of hope amidst this chaos. Even though academically speaking the Kurds can hardly be considered an “indigenous group”, their status and political situation in the Middle East can be compared to that of some indigenous populations in Latin America.

Despite some political differences between the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas and the Kurdish movement led by the PYD in Syria, there are many similarities between these two in terms of their position in both regional and international affairs. The pursuit of creating an autonomous government, the rise of popular assemblies, the emphasis on gender equality and empowering women on every level of social and political life, the anti-imperialist and anti-authoritarian ideology, the stress on ecological preservation and respect for all living creatures, self-defense, and many other aspects indicate how the Rojava revolution resembles the resistance of the Zapatistas in Southern Mexico.

The Charter of Social Contract, as the foundation of Rojava’s autonomous cantons, is a historic breakthrough in the region in terms of the democratic principles that guide social and political life. The Charter, which is currently being implemented in all three of the autonomous cantons, appears as a democratic agreement — inclusive of all parties involved in governing Rojava. Without exaggeration, it is the most democratic constitution that people of this region ever had.

The first paragraph of the Charter’s preface says,

“[w]e the peoples of the democratic self-administration areas; Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens, by our free will, announce this to ensure justice, freedom, democracy, and the rights of women and children in accordance with the principles of ecological balance, freedom of religions and beliefs, and equality without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, doctrine or gender, to achieve the political and moral fabric of a democratic society in order to function with mutual understanding and coexistence within diversity and respect for the principle of self-determination and self-defense of the peoples.”

It continues,

“The autonomous areas of the democratic self-administration do not recognize the concept of nation state and the state based on the grounds of military power, religion, and centralism” (translation by author).

The Democratic Society Movement, or TEV-Dem as it is known in Kurdish, is responsible for implementing these principals in everyday life. Without doubt, they have yet to achieve an ideal society, and the movement admits that it is still in the process of construction. Keeping in mind that the Rojava region has been under ruthless isolation by all sides, most importantly the Syrian and Turkish governments, Syrian rebel groups, and the pro-West Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. The Western media, including independent and alternative outlets, have largely ignored their resistance or have otherwise failed to pay attention to them. The Kurds have not received the solidarity and support they deserve.

Ertugrul Korkcu, a Turkish MP from the leftist pro-Kurdish HDP party (Peoples’ Democracy Party), recently said that the Kurds are playing the role of the Russians in Europe in the aftermath of World War I. Politically speaking, the Kurds are not a homogenous group, but there is some truth in Kurkcu’s statement as the situation in the Middle East evokes the image of Europe in the early 20th century. More precisely, jihadist groups have become the tools in the hands of colonial powers and authoritarian regimes to establish and strengthen their hegemony in the region.

Rojava can be an alternative as it exhibits a potential form of autonomous self-government that fundamentally challenges the oppressive rituals within religious communities and proposes a working pattern of co-existence with all the cultures and beliefs in the area, without violating the rights of any. Rojava’s experience in autonomy can be a model for a democratic confederalism in the Middle East, where every community has the right of self-determination and self-government. Moreover, it is a very progressive experiment, as women are the very the engine of change. Hevi Ibrahim, the head of the autonomous Afrin canton, is just one shining example.

Rojava’s alternative is neither imaginative nor utopian. This alternative has already proved its viability through practical solutions and the everyday realization of the ideas presented in The Charter of Social Contract. In fact, Rajova asserts itself as the most realistic democratic alternative in the most unexpected of places. Expressing solidarity with the Rojava revolution is an urgent task for everyone who cares about the future of the Middle East.

Kurds

“Free Kurds do not recognize borders”

 

 

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Earlier this year, French activist Olivier Petitjean interviewed commons activist  and author David Bollier http://www.bollier.org about his new book, Think Like a Commoner:  A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons (New Society Publishers) http://www.thinklikeacommoner.com   The book introduces the new/old paradigm of the commons and explains its great relevance to contemporary politics, economics and culture.  

Bollier is especially concerned with empowering commoners to reclaim shared resources that have been privatized and commoditized by corporations, often with the collusion of governments.  He considers this process, often known as “enclosure of the commons,” as one of the great, unacknowledged scandals of our time.  Enclosures today include everything from seeds and life forms that have been patented, and traditionally managed lands throughout Africa and Asia that is being seized by speculators, to the proprietary capture of our digital identities and knowledge and corporate control of the Internet infrastructure.

Below, Petitjean’s interview with Bollier.

Q.  There’s been a lot of talk recently about the ‘commons’ in different spheres – among activists, hackers, environmentalists, academics, and even some parts of the business community. So, what is all the fuss about?

I think many people are recognizing that governments and markets cannot, or will not, solve their problems.  Both have distinct structural limitations in what they can achieve.  Governments are usually big and corruptible.  Markets are often predatory and impersonal.  The commons is attractive to many people because it provides the means for them to make their own rules and to devise their own working solutions.  That’s what a commons is all about – self-organized action and cooperation with your peers to meet basic needs.

Until ten or fifteen years ago, commons were seen either as a failed management system (the “tragedy of the commons”) or as archaic relics of medieval times or as an anthropological oddity for managing forests and farmland in backward, poor countries.  Internet culture has helped change our perspectives on the commons because we have seen how digital commons are enabling people to manage all sorts of creative and information resources in collective ways.  “Commons-based peer production,” as it is often called, can out-compete – or “out-cooperate” – the market.  The rise of Linux, the computer operating system, and Wikipedia are famous examples.  There were no markets, government agencies, legal contracts or employees building these valuable systems.  They were built by “commoners” – people who found satisfaction and personal benefits from participating in them.   Internet commoners have proven that private property rights and markets are not the only way to get things done.

” It is about different way of relating to nature and to other people in the course of meeting our basic needs. “

The beauty of the commons is that it’s not a rigid, monolithic ideology; it’s a flexible template of principles and practices that can be applied to a wide variety of resources, and from multiple cultural perspectives.  This is its key strength: the commons is not just a set of political or policy ideas.  It is about different way of relating to nature and to other people in the course of meeting our basic needs.  It is a different set of social practices and values.  So there is both a practical and ethical core to the commons paradigm.

The commons provides a penetrating critique of what I call the Market/State – the deep alliance between corporations and governments that is responsible for so many problems, from global warming to inequality to authoritarian repression.  But more than a critique, the commons offers a vision for how to imagine and implement serious alternatives.  In doing so, the commons draws upon a rich history; many venerable legal principles; and proven ways to organize production and governance.  Instead of being captive to the dominant categories of neoliberal economics and its universe of individualism, private property and “free markets,” the commons helps us “get outside” of this perspective to create actual, functioning alternatives.

Q.  Tell us a bit about your personal and political trajectory and how you came to dedicate yourself to the commons.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I worked for the American consumer advocate Ralph Nader and a number of Washington public-interest advocacy groups. Notwithstanding the criticism that some level at him for his role in the 2000 US presidential election, Nader showed great sophistication forty years ago in politicizing and “creating” dozens of issues, from auto safety to clean water to open government.  A great many of these issues were about protecting resources that citizens nominally or even legally own, but which we do not control or reap benefits from.  He helped reveal how corporations have gained control of such diverse collective resources as the airwaves, public lands, government drug research, publicly funded academic research, and knowledge and culture. At bottom, all of these efforts were about “reclaiming the commons” – i.e., regaining citizen control over our collective wealth.

In 2000, I was inspired to write a book about these “enclosures of the commons” because they were generally not recognized as a broader phenomenon. The economic categories that dominate public policy debate keep us from considering alternatives.  Writing the book, published in 2002 under the title Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth, started me on a path of studying the commons and blending it with political action.  I drew upon the work of pioneers such as commons scholar Elinor Ostrom, free software pioneer Richard Stallman, Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig as well as my own background as a Washington policy activist. From 2003 to 2010, I was the editor of OntheCommons.org, which consisted of a small group of thinkers and activists trying to advance the commons paradigm.

Along the way, I discovered that there were many people working internationally on the commons, but few of us had discovered each other.  So I connected up with two other commons advocates, Silke Helfrich of Germany and Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation in Thailand, to co-found the Commons Strategies Group.  The idea was that we would learn from each other’s work while helping to advance the commons paradigm and practices among friends and allies.  We’ve hosted two major international conferences and published an anthology of essays while doing a lot of public speaking and strategic consulting with commoners [references in notes].

Q.  In your book, which is meant as a ‘short introduction to the commons’, you try to outline a ‘commons paradigm’ encompassing very different kinds of practices, initiatives, movements, or traditions. Why is it useful to think of what’s common between the commons?

It’s worth noting that “the market” is itself an abstraction that is applied to ridiculously diverse phenomena – securities trading, hardware stores, restaurants, lemonade stands.  It’s a cultural convention and a shared narrative that we use to talk about social activities that are crudely similar (sellers and buyers, an exchange of money, etc.).

” All commons provide commoners with more empowering roles than allowed by the State and Market. “

To talk about “the commons” is to do the same thing:  to note that there are general similarities among indigenous water commons, open source software, community festivals and land trusts. The commons provides a shared narrative that lets people recognize the affinities among their various “commoning” activities.  These activities are related to each other, also, because they are alternative systems of production, social relationships and governance to those of the State and Market.  All commons provide commoners with more empowering roles than allowed by the State and Market, which really only invite us to buy, vote every few years, and ineffectually participate in policymaking (which has been mostly taken over by large institutions with limited connections to individual citizens).

Q.  What concretely do an indigenous way of life, a forest, a water source, a public park, a cooperative, Linux and Wikipedia have in common?

All (except possibly a public park) are based on self-organized cooperation to devise rules and governance in the management of shared resources.  All act as stewards of collective resources.  The type of resource may differ significantly and therefore require very different sorts of management.  Forests and water are finite and can be over-used and, for example, while digital resources can be copied and shared for virtually no cost.  But a commons is not defined by the type of resource it manages, but by the social practices, values, ethics and culture that it uses.

As for parks, if they are totally managed by municipal governments, they may not be commons in a strict sense of that term.  They are certainly a shared resource, but commoners may or may not have a significant role in setting the rules for how the park is managed and maintained.  I like to call such government-managed common assets “state trustee commons.”  That term helps emphasize that the state is acting as a trustee for commoners, and that the resource (e.g., the park) does not ultimately belong to the state.

Q.  When people talk about commons, they seem to have mainly two types of commons in mind, which seem like extreme opposites. On the one hand, there are traditional commons, revolving around natural resources management by traditional communities of the global South. On the other hand, digital commons such as Linux or Wikipedia. What do they have in common?

Superficially, the “digital commons” and “natural resource commons” seem to be radically different phenomena, as you point out. But the point of the commons is not just the resource itself – it’s the integrity of the community that manages the resource and it’s the specific social rules, values and ethic that are used in the process.  From this perspective, one can see that all commons are knowledge commons (even “natural resource commons”) and all commons are material commons (even “digital commons” that rely upon computers, electricity and so on).

Moreover, the line between commons that use digital resources and those that focus on natural resources, is blurring.  For example, there are all sorts of “eco-digital commons” in which ordinary citizens contribute data about birds and butterflies they have spotted, report on the water quality of a local stream, or use smartphones to report on invasive species detected in a region.  These examples are often called “participatory sensing” and “citizen science.”  There is an exciting open-source agriculture project called the System of Rice Intensification in which thousands of farmers from the Philippines, Cuba, Sri Lanka and dozens of other countries collaborate online to trade advice in how to improve the cultivation of rice.

Q.  You stress that commons are not the same thing as ‘public goods’, which is still a frequent misconception. What is the difference?

The term “public goods” is a term of art from economics used to describe resources that are difficult to “fence off” and make into private property.  Economists like to say that public goods are “non-excludable” (it’s hard to prevent others from using the resource).  The classic example is a lighthouse, but parks and libraries are also seen as public goods.  Among economists, it is generally assumed that only government can produce and maintain public goods, which are seen as an exception to the norm of private property.

But economists commit a fallacy in thinking that these traits are intrinsic to a resource itself.  They do not realize that the term “public good” in its very definition rules out the possibility that people might be able to self-organize themselves to manage such resources.  It assumes that “the market” and “government” are self-evidently the only ways to manage certain resources.  But this worldview ignores the role that social mutuality, collaboration and intersubjective meaning can play in managing resources.  History and contemporary life are replete with examples of people coming together to manage farmland, forests, fisheries, software code, online archives, public spaces and much else.  These are social choices that are entirely feasible.  The economics discipline has simply rule out such possibilities through its preemptive definition of public goods.

Confusion sometimes results because people like to think of commons as a collection of objects or resources – a park, a library, a public square.  But in fact a commons requires some degree of social manage and collective collaboration.  So technically speaking, a park or a library as a resource is not a commons.  But if there is some measure of direct participation, responsibility and accountability by people – beyond government – then a commons begins to take root.  In other words, there must be some active social cooperation and collective meaning-making going on

For more on this topic, I highly recommend an excellent essay by James Quilligan, “Why Distinguish Commons Goods from Public Goods,” at http://wealthofthecommons.org/essay/why-distinguish-common-goods-public-goods; and an essay by Silke Helfrich, “Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist, They Are Created,” at http://wealthofthecommons.org/essay/common-goods-don%E2%80%99t-simply-exist-%E2%80%93-they-are-created.  Both essays are from the 2012 book, The Wealth of the Commons:  A World Beyond Market and State (Levellers Press), co-edited by me and Silke Helfrich..

Q.  In your book, you emphasize the concept of “enclosure” the main “enemy” of the commons. How is this different from the traditional denunciation of “privatization”?

The term “privatization” promotes the notion that there are really only two forms of governance and management – “public” (i.e., government working through legislatures and bureaucracies) or “private” (i.e., business working through markets).  This is a misleading and deceptive dichotomy. “Enclosure” is a much richer term than “privatization” because it does simply point to “public” alternatives (government), but to the commons.  Enclosure is about the privatization and commodification of resources that commoners rely upon for their basic needs. When corporations seize control of our public lands, build shopping malls on urban spaces used for public assembly, patent the human genome or buy up lands that indigenous peoples have used for generations, these acts are not mere instances of “privatization.”  They are violent thefts of people’s customary entitlements and moral claims, often achieved in collusion with government.  Enclosures can destroy a community’s culture and identity.  Enclosures involve a conversion of people with collective concerns into isolated individuals, employees and consumers:  creatures of the market.

Q.  A lot of people in Europe at the moment feel let down by their governments because of austerity policies, budget cuts, etc., but on the other hand they still seem to vest all their hopes of change in the same governments. How are the commons a way out of this deadlock?

It is understandable that citizens look to their governments for change and reform.  Government officials have the official recognition, responsibility and power to make change to meet new challenges.  But the truth of the matter is that governments are only crudely representative and accountable to citizens.  And as centralized, hierarchical institutions, they are not terribly effective or responsive in responding to the decentralized complexity of modern life.  Moreover, the centralization of State authority makes it more susceptible to corrupting influences, especially business.  The State has been largely captured by large corporations and investors, producing a corrupted form of governance that I call the Market/State duopoly – a deep alliance of market and government factions that is committed to economic growth and integrated global markets.

Yet this vision is imploding before our eyes.  It can no longer deliver the prosperity and opportunities that it claims.  It is destroying the planet’s ecosystems.  Its claims about fairness and social equity have been exposed as lies.  And the pretensions of “free markets” and the Invisible Hand have been exposed as frauds by the massive bank bailouts, subsidies and legal privileges given to the corporate sector.

“The State has been largely captured by large corporations and investors, producing a corrupted form of governance… “

The commons offers a fundamentally different vision for human development, ecological protection and how we produce and distribute the things we need.  Instead of presuming that societies consist of selfish, rational, utility-maximizing individuals whose highest aspiration is consumerism – the fiction of homo economicus that lies at the heart of economics and public policy – the commons recognizes richer, more complex notions of human beings. Commons differ from businesses in that they do not act or aspire to make money, but rather to serve their members through social cooperation and support.  They consist of such diverse systems as mutual societies and cooperatives, land trusts, timebanking credit systems, alternative currencies and co-working spaces.  They consist, also, of countless digital commons such as open source software communities, Wikipedia and its many offshoots, thousands of open-access scholarly journals, open science projects and the whole Open Educational Resources movement.

The commons framework declares that we can and should be able to influence the circumstances of our everyday lives.  We should have the authority to identify and solve problems, to negotiate with others, to devise our own solutions, and to experience governance as legitimate and responsive.  These principles lie at the heart of the commons – yet can only exist in social and political spaces that neither the the State nor the Market wish to recognize.  And so commoners must fight to achieve recognition and protection for their commons.

Q.  You stress the difference between the commons paradigm and classical progressive narratives, what you call the ‘liberal polity’? What do you think exactly are the flaws of traditional progressive narratives?

Western legal systems tend to give legal recognition to individuals only, and chiefly to protect their private property rights, personal liberties and commercial interests.  The idea of recognizing collective rights for nonmarket interests is alien to the very premises of the liberal polity. It’s no wonder that the idea of the commons is invisible and virtually unthinkable in Western law in modern times!  It proposes a fundamental reconceptualization of what is valuable in a society, how “value” is generated, and the general archetypes of human well-being.  The liberal/progressive narratives presume that the State – if given enough time and pressure – can and will uphold all basic human and civil rights for individuals, including social equality and opportunity, and that “market progress” is the essential engine for any such gains.  I would argue that the deep limitations if not contradictions of the liberal polity are becoming increasingly apparent, especially since the 2008 financial crisis.  Governments trying to survive in a world of unfettered global capital either don’t care about individual political and human rights or can’t effectively allocate the benefits of global markets to all citizens.

The liberal polity stands for many admirable, important values, and should not be summarily rejected.  But neither is it capable of reforming itself “from the inside.”  To put it a bit crudely, the State has been captured by capital, and democratic aspirations have few effective ways of achieving much through the State, except at the margins.  I see the commons as a way to re-think governance itself (much of it an artifact of the 19th and 18th centuries) and to raise new questions about how democratic participation should be structured in an era of ubiquitous electronic networks, instant communications and global markets.  State bureaucracies are simply incapable of dealing with distributed complexity and nonmarket aspirations.  I would argue that both conventional markets and state action are structurally unable to in metabolize people’s aspirations for change.

By contrast, the commons offers localized, responsive and innovative governance and production for use.  But to acknowledge the commons, we must begin to reconceptualize law and governance itself as something more than the enactments of legislatures and the declarations of courts.  My colleague Professor Burns Weston and I call for the recognition of what we call Vernacular Law – the “unofficial” social norms, procedures, and customary institutions that peer communities devise to manage their own resources. “Vernacular,” as the Austrian social critic Ivan Illich pointed out, “implies ‘rootedness’ and abode” and derives from the Latin word Vernaculum that described “sustenance derived from reciprocity patterns embedded in every aspect of life, as distinguished from sustenance that comes from exchange or from vertical distribution.”  Vernacular Law matters because commons governance depends on informal, socially negotiated rules that may not even be written down.

Some may complain that commons based on Vernacular Law are not necessarily democratic in the sense understood by modern liberal polities. There may indeed be social inequalities and hierarchies in various commons, which traditional liberals might consider alien or unacceptable. On the other hand, successful commons tend to have modes of participation, deliberation, transparency, responsibility, and effectiveness that generally surpass anything provided in practice by the bureaucratic State or representative democracies.  Vernacular Law is why so many commons work so well.  But it is also a species of social activity and moral legitimacy that classical progressive narratives ignore.

Q.  A lot of people are convinced of the validity of local, community-based initiatives, but all of us have the experience of how fragile they are over the long term, and of how difficult it is for them to ‘scale up’. How are the commons different?

There is an extensive scholarly literature about what makes for a successful commons.  Much of this research is associated with the late Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for her pioneering fieldwork and creative theorizing about the commons.  But it’s also true that, as commons proliferate in so many unexpected places, we are “theorizing on the fly” about how to build durable, resilient commons.

I should stress that the commons does not aspire to “scale” like many new businesses.  Some are perfectly fine being small and local; in fact, that is often what makes a commons so effective and responsive.  That said, there is a need for the diverse working commons in the world to “find each other” and make common cause in representing their shared interests, especially in the face of market enclosures and hostile government policies.  The commons movement is focused on precisely these issues:  bringing together commoners to share the lessons they are learning and organize to make commons-based governance and production more stable and hardy.

” We clearly need to imagine some new structures and new ways of developing them – outside of conventional national, international and corporate structures. “

Q.  You seem to imply that commons are local by their very nature, at least until the rise of digital commons. There is a lot of talk about the necessity to manage global natural commons, for instance, such as the climate, rainforests, etc. How do you build commons that are translocal – at national level, or at global level?

Yes, historically commons have been inherently local in character until digital technologies and the Internet made it possible for built trans-local commons around certain types of knowledge and culture.  Building the institutions and legal principles for translocal, global natural commons is one of our biggest challenges today.  Not only does the large scale of such commons defy existing precedents, the nation-state and international treaty organizations are not especially welcoming of commons because the represent a decentralization of authority and governance.  We clearly need to imagine some new structures and new ways of developing them – outside of conventional national, international and corporate structures.  This is something that my colleague Professor Burns Weston and I explore in our book Green Governance:  Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons (Cambridge University Press).  Here’s the conundrum:  We can’t really have workable global commons unless we also have commons that work at the national, regional and local levels, each nested within the other and working horizontally with each other.  But such a “nested hierarchy” of commons is not likely to emerge so long as the Market/State retains such a tight grip on how people may govern themselves and resources.

Q.  What about the economics of the commons? Do they need specific forms of organisation – for instance, what we call in Europe the ‘social and solidarity economy sector’ (cooperatives, mutualism, nonprofits, etc.) – or can there be commons within a capitalist economy, within transnational corporations, etc.?

The question about how commons and markets can “play nicely together” is a complicated issue because each implies different sorts of social relationships.  Fundamentally, a commons is about ongoing social relationships and ethical dealings focused on a shared purpose.  Markets, by contrast (at least those driven by capital gain), tend to be profound asocial:  our dealings with each other are impersonal, mediated by money, and entail no standing relationships with each other.  A market transaction is “just business,” and generally involves no ongoing moral or social commitments.

Within the framework of the market economy, a number of organizational forms have evolved to try to protect collective interests.  Cooperatives and mutual societies are two examples.  But such enterprises are ultimately market entities in their dealing with the rest of the world even if internally they honor a different logic.  The commons differs from such structures in that they do not act or aspire to be market competitors, but rather to safeguard an entirely different social logic of cooperation and mutual support “within” its boundaries.  Commons usually avoid any exchange of money or contractual legalisms among its members.  Blood and organ donation systems, free and open source software, collaborative websites, academia and the global CouchSurfing hospitality/travel network, are all examples of commons-based wealth-creation.

This account is a bit simplistic, however, because few enterprises can be wholly segregated from the market; most organizations have some sort of relationship with the conventional economy, however indirect.  There are thus many hybrid forms of commons that try to preserve the practices and ethic of sharing and cooperation, outside of the market economy, while deliberately protecting themselves from the privatization and commodification of their shared resource.  This is a very important challenge facing commons because market players tend to have far more financial, political and technological means to take over resources managed by commoners and convert them to marketable commodities (“enclosure”).

But let me be clear:  organizational forms may help preserve a shared resource and enabling commoning – the social practices of a commons – but the legal and organizational forms are not the essence of the commons.  The commoning is.  This is a difficult concept of conventional economists to comprehend – that a social practice and ethic is paramount and not reducible to a quantity or cash sum.

 

NOTES
1. For more information, I suggest the excellent essay by James Quilligan , Why Distinguish Commons Public Goods Products at http://wealthofthecommons.org/essay/why-distinguish-common-goods-public-goods ; and a test by Silke Helfrich , Commons simply not exist , they are created at http://wealthofthecommons.org/essay/common-goods-don%@E2%80%99t-simply-exist-%@E2%80%93-they-are-created. The two trials are included in the book The Wealth of common areas : a world beyond the Market and State ( Levellers Press) , edited by Silke Helfrich and me.

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By Santiago Navarro F.Renata Bessi
From: TruthoutTruthout | News Analysis 
Translated by Miriam Taylor

 

Also see: The Changing Map of Latin America

Also see: Mexico: Electoral Reform Threatens the Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples

Communal Land and Autonomy

Entering into the heart of indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, land of the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs, is like opening a door to a world of shapes, textures, colors and flavors that contrasts with the Western culture that governs daily life in big cities and westernized families. These indigenous communities are strongly tied to the mountains, to the smell of coffee that mixes with the smell of pines and the fragrance of flowers, to the legends that are woven by looms into clothing. All this takes place in lands that cannot be bought or owned.

If poetry, legends, clothing and food are the ways in which the ancestral culture of the indigenous Oaxacans is materialized and maintained, then “uses and customs” is the living expression of the political system of these communities, which has maintained its legitimacy historically, like any other state system. Of the 570 municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, 418 are governed through the traditional form of political organization of “uses and customs.” Only 152 have adopted a conventional system using political parties, a striking reality that is not just relevant in Mexico but in all of Latin America.

As an example, Bolivia is the country with the largest indigenous population in Latin America; according to the UN, 62 percent of Bolivians are part of an indigenous group. Only 11 local governments, however, are recognized as autonomous, with the right to elect their authorities through their own “uses and customs” system.

Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s 31 states, has the country’s highest level of diversity as well as the largest indigenous population. Of the 3.5 million inhabitants in the state, according to official statistics, more than one-third of the population is of indigenous origin (1,165,186 individuals). However, it wasn’t until 1995 that all the municipalities’ normative systems of “uses and customs” were legally recognized in Oaxaca’s state congress.

Each town has its owns rules about the best forms of organization; they are not homogenous. Despite the diversity of systems, two things are broadly characteristic of all of them: the cargo system and the assembly.

The assemblies, which are the highest decision-making bodies, are attended by all the heads of families, women and men, where they deliberate in person the town’s issues in order to arrive at consensus. Designated authorities preside over the assemblies. There are different levels of assembly: the domestic, neighborhood, the town council, the civil, the religious and the agrarian assemblies. The general assembly is the product and culmination of these previous assemblies. It is the maximum indigenous authority and it is the body that decides the rules that the govern community life.

Authorities are not elected through a traditional electoral system, but through a hierarchical system of cargos, which are unpaid positions that each member of the community must fulfill. In order to get to the position of mayor, a citizen would have to have served in a series of positions (cargos) throughout his or her life in the community. In general, individuals begin performing cargos at an early age. A 10-year-old child can start participating in community activities by doing some type of service in the church, ringing the daily bells that are used by the community as important daily markers of time, for example.

From there the process of transition from one cargo to the next begins, each one deliberated in the assembly. The communities in Guelatao de Juarez, inhabited by no more than 800 inhabitants, and Capulalpam de Mendez, with 1,500 inhabitants, located 60 kilometers from the capital city of Oaxaca in the Northern Sierra mountain range, are examples where these traditions are maintained. In these communities one begins in a position of topil (general assistant) or police assistant, then becomes a third-level council member or project manager, then second-level council member on education, ecology or health, followed by a first-level council member on taxes, community mediator and finally president.

There are two presidents. One is municipal, dedicated to the administration of the urban area, overseeing services like education, sewage and potable water. The other is the president or commissioner of communal resources, who administrates agrarian issues, such as communal land, since private property does not exist. There are also other cargos: mayor, treasurer and secretary. In Guelatao, there is a consulting board that is made up of elderly members of the community and people with experience who are well respected in the community.

Collective work, cleaning the community in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

In Guelatao, Jesus Hernandez Cruz just began his cargo as mayor. His hands, still rough from years as a small-scale farmer, grip a pencil and notebook where he takes his notes. He sits at a desk made of wood from the region. He was a professor and farmer for 34 years and retired in 2005, which is when he began his community service. He has a pension and continues to cultivate his tejocote fruit trees, from which he makes jellies.

The mayor explained the logic of participating in cargos starting at the bottom, doing things like cleaning public spaces, before reaching a position like mayor. “The objective is that the person comes to understand the problems and needs of the community in order to be able to resolve them once they assume more important cargos. In this collective manner, each person is accommodated in certain activities according to their abilities. No one earns money here. In this way, one gains knowledge about the realities of the community. The only thing one earns as one completes a good service is the respect and recognition of the town,” he said.

In Guelatao, the inhabitants are compensated with services like water and public electricity that they don’t have to pay for. “Cargos are a service to the community, and in exchange, the community offers benefits to these citizens, such as gifts that are provided by the municipal authority in return for service. Because of this, it’s looked down upon if an individual does not fulfill his or her cargo and then comes back to the authority to ask for favors. If one does not want to fulfill the service – the cargo – without being compensated, it is preferable for this person to leave the town or that person will no longer enjoy these benefits,” writes Gabriela Canedo Vasquez, author of An Indigenous Conquest: Municipal Recognition of “Uses and Customs” in Oaxaca.

Community celebrations are also important times for the towns. Communities put on at least one celebration annually, where everyone participates and the assembly names a commission to be responsible for it, work which is also part of the cargo system.

Foundations

Two means of community communication are the loud speakers that are usually located in the center of town and the community radio station. From there authorities announce festivals, assemblies and tequios, or collective work that is done for community benefit. “We recently invited everyone to clean the highway that marks the boundary with the community of Ixtlan. This type of service also serves to integrate people into a sense of community,” said Saúl Aquino Centeno, the commissioner of communal resources in Capulalpam de Mendez.

The elements that sustain the organizational community structure are the knowledge and values that have prevailed throughout their history. “We must understand what we are, not the ‘I’ or the ‘you,’ but the ‘we,’ and we should hold onto these principles in order to stop the interference of the vulgar and shameless principles of individualism. We shouldn’t enter into competition except to reproduce that which will be shared,” said Jaime Martínez Luna, an indigenous Zapotec anthropologist. “We are against development because it is linear and requires growth; we consider ourselves to be circular, in a spiral, and it’s because of this that men and women are not the center of the natural world. We are not owners of nature; we are owned by nature.”

Additionally, “Earth is considered to be our mother and we cannot do violence to her because she gives us life. We respect seeds because our grandparents taught us that they cry if they are not cared for; the grandparents say that the Mother Earth gives us food and when we die she receives and hugs us,” said Silvestre Ocaña López, of the indigenous group Tlahuitoltepec Mixes in Oaxaca, who does not hesitate to mark the difference between the way of thinking in her town and Western thinking. “Within the Western worldview, the earth is a product,” Ocaña López said. “For us in indigenous towns, we see it as our mother. She does not belong to us; we belong to her.”

Precedents

The indigenous rights lawyer Francisco López Bárcenas has immersed himself in the historical context of the indigenous communities of Oaxaca, and affirms that the debate about indigenous rights has existed since before the creation of the Mexican state. “It resumed on January 10, 1825, when the first Federal Constitution was being promulgated, which established in its fifth article that administratively it would be divided into counties, parties and towns; these last would be administrated by a city council made up of mayors, council members and mediators, as long as the town’s population reaches 3,000 ‘souls.’ In this way, the state of Oaxaca recognized the form of organization that indigenous communities had used since colonial times to resist Spanish oppression.”

In that sense López Bárcenas assumes that Oaxaca was the first state to pass legislation in the arena of indigenous rights, long before the Mexican government signed the UN’s ILO-Convention 169 regarding Indigenous and Tribal Communities in Independent Countries in 1989.

Communal Lands

The land in these towns is communal; it belongs to everyone. There is no private property, not even small plots are sold. The transference of land is done through a transfer of land rights. A father can transfer his land to his children, for example. Everything must go through the assembly. No one can sell the land and no one can buy it.

“If someone here works in the fields that individual is given a parcel of land. But that person must continually work the piece of land. If after three years nothing has been produced on the land, it is transferred to someone else who is interested in farming it. The commissioner is in charge of this,” explained the president of communal resources of Capulalpam.

People’s discussion on mining in Capulalpam Mendez, northern highlands of Oaxaca. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

The assemblies can even decree protected communal areas. “We are updating the statute about communalism that governs communal resources. We are going to decree that an area where there are freshwater springs will be protected. We know that there are currently projects to take our land,” the commissioner said.

People that come from other communities cannot acquire land; they can only rent. Nor can they participate in the assembly system automatically. In Guelatao, “the person that moves here has the obligation to report himself or herself to the municipal government in order to be considered for community projects and cargos, but only once the decision has been made by the assembly that they can be accepted,” according to Guelatao’s mayor.

Justice

Guelatao also has a security protocol. “Here the punishments range from jail time – for eight hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, up to three days – fines or forced labor, and are for the benefit of the community. The mediator is the person directly responsible for justice in cases of physical violence, theft and crimes. The mayor is responsible for domestic lawsuits. He is the family mediator. He is also the person in charge of following up with problems that are outside the scope of the mediator. If a situation is very grave, it would require transferring the case to the Public Ministry. But the majority of cases are resolved here,” Cruz explained.

Community Projects

Guelatao’s mayor explained that the community also depends on federal and state resources. “There is an imposition of rules that must be followed with regard to funds destined for municipalities for social development. These resources come from the federal government, to be used for infrastructure and operations,” the mayor said.

In Capulalpam, they also receive outside resources, but fewer. “Communities have grown and improved with their own resources. [The town] is self-sufficient economically,” said the president of communal resources.

The self-sufficiency of the town is based in resources that are generated by five community businesses: a water bottling plant, a mill (there are forests that are managed sustainably within the community), a crushed-gravel pit, a toy factory and an ecotourism project. “Each project has its own administration. The assembly chooses a commission that accompanies each of them. Each project must report to the commissioner regarding economic developments and requests, which are brought up for approval in the assembly, usually every four months,” the president said.

The profits are used for social benefit. “No comunero (individuals who administrate and have historically had the right to use or cede communal lands) or citizen receives direct economic support or benefit. Resources are divided according to the needs of the community. The municipal government has some employees, such as a gardener, librarian [and] a person in charge of the cultural center. The project gives a certain amount of money to pay these people,” he added.

But Is It Autonomy?

Little is spoken about autonomy as a concept among people of these communities, although a definition is sought after in academic spaces. It’s possible that a complete concept has not been constructed that includes all the nuances and lived experiences of these towns. It simply manifests in the inter-subjective relationship between human and nature, and how social relationships are mitigated by this relationship to territory, or the Mother Earth, as they call it.

Theatrical representation of gratitude to Mother Earth; the meeting of people in defense of native corn. In the central valleys of Oaxaca. Photo: Santiago Navarro F.

Autonomy seems to be a daily reality that is breathed and felt in the harmony of the people when they go to participate in the tequio – collective work – or when they attend an assembly, organize to defend their land and territory, and celebrate and dance. The cargos of self-governance are still seen as a symbol of respect for the person who is chosen to give the service without being paid.

The mayor of Guelatao recognizes the existence of a political and social organizational autonomy, but is critical of the role of state and federal government resources in communities. “The government is involved in everything, since they began collecting taxes and issuing public forms of credit. Before the farmer had the field entirely; in that moment we were autonomous. We produced and we provided for ourselves. We didn’t need any resources from the government. Town administration questions were handled through community cooperation. Now we aren’t 100 percent autonomous because we depend on resources from the government,” the mayor said.

For Martínez Luna, the anthropologist, autonomy is determined by the degree to which communities guarantee their own food sovereignty. “Autonomy shouldn’t be something that is injected from the outside; it should come from our own capacities – exercised, not developed.”

According to Martínez Luna, two other things are necessary to guarantee autonomy. “We have to value what we are because it is in this way that we value what we have, because this allows us to flourish fully. We have to think in a decolonized manner.” Community education is another route. “The value of individualism has been introduced into our way of being; it exists, but we have to fight to eliminate it through community education. Because I am not ‘I’ or ‘you,’ we are ‘us.'”

Threats

Some indigenous communities have been infiltrated by political parties, both from the left and the right, who offer food vouchers and place conditions on governmental economic support that would have had to be provided to small-scale farmers and indigenous individuals anyway. Another influencing factor is that deals are made between construction companies and local governments where the company gives a percentage of their budget designated for a public works project to the authorities or community representatives so that they will accept the project. In some cases, when budgets are larger, such as in the case of wind farm companies, hitmen are contracted or paramilitary groups are created to confront the community and thus give a justification for the interference of the state to re-establish “law and order,” to such a degree that there are indigenous leaders that have been assassinated for refusing to accept these projects.

“We recognize that we must confront the plundering by transnational companies and the harassment of bad governments through their political parties that offer programs and money that corrupt many leaders and divide our communities,” states the declaration of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) of the Isthmus region, which took place in March 2014.

While a furious battle has been unleashed for the recognition of indigenous rights and culture in other communities in Mexico and Latin America, in Oaxaca, new legislation is being debated on this very theme while large-scale projects continue to advance.

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An attempted eviction, a week of resistance and an experience of reconstruction are the latest news from Can Vies, an autonomous social centre in the neighborhood of Sants, in Barcelona. Behind these events we find 17 years of history in this squatted space, and also the history of a self managed neighborhood, of supportive neighbours and of cities and villages which see in Can Vies a model for another way of creating community.

 

Can Vies is in the neighborhood of Sants, a traditionally working class area with strong roots in social movements, which resisted the process of “sanitation” which is so common now in a city oriented towards a clean public image for foreign capital and tourism.

Can Vies was squatted on the 10 of May 1997, in the context of a vertiginous rise in housing prices, in the midst of the building boom, housing speculation and the aftermath of the Olympic games, which marked a period of re structuring the city according to the interests of the great businesses and the urban policies which have become known as “Barcelona trademark”. Can Vies was born, together with other squats and social centers, as a counterpoint to this process, denouncing speculation and responding to a lack of space for social, political and cultural spaces.

Photo by Otto Normalverbraucher - "Barcelona okupa Can Vies" - CC-BY-SA-2.0-at

Photo by Otto Normalverbraucher – “Barcelona okupa Can Vies” – CC-BY-SA-2.0-at

During its 17 years it has hosted many political, cultural and social groups, it has served as an educational space for young people and has provided a place for people of all generation to feel at home and consider this as their place in the neighbourhood.

During all this time, Can Vies has been the seed and hub of new projects which have allowed the expansion of the model of cooperation within and without the neighbourhood. From here has taken form a network of groups which come under the neighbourhood’s council (a council of the people not of the official government), and who are trying to respond in a self organized manner to the different needs of the local people.

 

A week of struggle and solidarity

On Monday 26 of May, Barcelona city council, the biggest share holder in the Metropolitan Transport group and owner of the building, was trying to put an end to Can Vies, in the same way it has done with so many other centers, through the ue of force, after years of legal pressure in a long winded process of negotiation which the people of Can Vies describe as a farce, in which the city council has repeatedly come short of its commitments, has not answered many questions and has lied on many issues, like the one of committing to halt the eviction.

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All the same, the police vans and excavators found themselves in the middle of popular rejection. This eviction meant more than simply “cleaning up” a building, it was an attack to a way of creating community out of cooperation and solidarity. Can Vies counts on the support of more than 200 groups which are part of the neighbourhood’s platform, as well as individuals from all around. The next day it became evident.

In one day there were more than 400 demonstrations of support which shows the power of social fabric which was woven during all the years.

The defense of Can Vies awakened the solidarity of many neighbourhoods and villages, not just in Barcelona but in all the Catalan Countries and all over Spain. In one day there were more than 400 demonstrations of support which shows the power of social fabric which was woven during all the years.

The defense of Can Vies turned in to a week of street struggle with space for all: from the communal dinners to the demonstrations, with the iconic image of the excavator which had demolished part of the building, lying burned on the ground.

It was a long time since we saw something similar here in Barcelona, such a clear and strong response to an attack towards a self organized space. Can Vies was the fuel which started off the fire, which brought eh general discontent to the street, which questioned the model of the city the cuts to social services and the arrogance of institutional power.

The repression also was hard, on the level of injured people, some of them serious, tens of people detained and 2 people imprisoned (now already freed), and all that is to come in this month with new arrests. Solidarity though is also on the rise, with every arrest met by new demonstrations and expressions of support.

 

A shared project in self organization

Saturday 24th May was another nodal point for reflexion in the history of Can Vies. We started rebuilding. Hundreds of people came to help take away the debris and bring them to the gate of the Council of Sants-Montjuïc, in a symbolic action which reminded the Council that from these ruins we would rebuild Can Vies, out of our own work and resources.

Starting from then on, a whole popular mechanism came in to action: open meetings, with great participation from the neighbourhood, to determine the function of the new space, working groups, the work days in the heat, and the micro financing campaign through Verkami to get the funds needed to carry on with the project and to face the legal costs.

Re building Can Vies is more than just rebuilding a physical space, it means to strengthen and develop a model of neighbourhood which is self organized and and self managed

Work is underway: We have cleared the ruins, we have created a space to hold meetings and other activities, and we have secured the part of the building which is waiting to be restored. The crowdfunding campaign has met its mark of 70.000 euros, 30.000 of which will go towards supporting the legal costs 67 people who have been arrested.

Re building Can Vies is more than just rebuilding a physical space, it means to strengthen and develop a model of neighbourhood which is self organized and and self managed, it means to open new alliances, to include more people, arms and ideas to the project. It is a collective project where everyone counts, through which we want to extend and consolidate the life of the neighbourhood.

Photo by Daniella Querol

Photo by Daniella Querol

From the experience of resistance and reconstruction we can draw a few reflexion: on the one hand, we have witnessed the power of solidarity and the ability to defend a social model which is counter acting the current dominant system, institutional and capitalist, on the other, we have come to value the mechanisms and resources of social movements which have enabled the networking and the response to shared needs.

In these days the “effect Can Vies” has gone from anger to mobilization to the building of alternatives #ReconstruïmCanVies andl #EstenemAutogestió. Rebuilding Can Vies means rebuilding community, so that the people of the neighbourhood can decide what kind of neighbourhood they want and how they want to get there.

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Aaron H. Swartz (Chicago, 8th November 1986 – New York, 11th January 2013) was a software developer, writer, hacker and activist. He died at 26, when he allegedly committed suicide after having been pursued by the FBI and facing a possible 35 years sentence for having tried to make public a whole body of scientific work in order to make it accessible to everybody. In his short life, every activity to which he participated was marked by his talent and enthusiasm.

 

Already at 14 , Swartz contributed to the design of RSS 1.0 and developed the framework web.py, as well as the frame for the Open Library. Furthermore, he founded Infogami, which later became part of Reddit,  and he was an eminent collaborator of Creative Commons.

Aaron was a front line activist for free access to knowledge and information on the Internet. That’s why he founded Watchdog.net and co-funded the group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the SOPA law [Stop Online Piracy  Act]), which it managed to stop, thanks to, amongst other things, Aaron’s commitment and involvement. He also worked with Rootstrikers and Avaaz on many campaigns.

On the 6th of January 2011,  Swartz was arrested in relation to the systematic download of scientific articles from the academic publication JSTOR (a portal for scientific publications since 1995, conceived as a service for libraries, especially in universities), which became the object of a federal investigation. Swartz was absolutely against JSTOR’s charging for access to the articles, as well as compensating the editors instead of the authors.

Not finding a satisfactory solution to the legal persecution he was suffering, he was found hanging on the 11th of January 2013 in his Brooklyn apartment. The impact of his death was very strong, especially in the US, to the point that many scientists decided to take direct action freeing their own material on the Internet. Also, other hackers and Internet activists carried on the work started by Aaron in freeing information content on the web.

Six months after his death, public pressure forced the release of police’s archives on his investigation, where it was discovered that the starting point of the investigation was the publishing of the manifesto «Guerilla Open Access Manifesto» in 2008, which he signed and to which we from Radi.ms, also full heartedly subscribe.

The manifesto is a painstaking defense of direct action as a means of freeing information and knowledge that have been privatized and sometimes even stolen by the world’s economic elite, in order to put it at the service of humanity.

This small article is our homage to Aaron, on the anniversary of his nomination for the Internet Hall of Fame. We also find it important to remember him for his activism.

 

Links

Aaron’s web
Aaron Swartz on Wikipedia
How to honor Aaron Swartz
Remember Aaron Swartz

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz


archive.org/details/TheInternetsOwnBoyTheStoryOfAaronSwartz

 

 

Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal – there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources – students, librarians, scientists – you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not – indeed, morally, you cannot – keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it – their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the
grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.

Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz
2008, July – Eremo, Italia

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The expansion of crowdfunding in the last few years has been quite vertiginous.
Hundreds of projects have been able to get off the ground around the world coming from very different backgrounds but united in the aim of creating a link between donors and the projects they sponsor.
Crowdfunding, for its practicality and usefulness, has expanded without any ideological limitation and while it served to finance many social projects it has also supported more conventional initiatives based on consumerism and business as meant in the capitalist system.
In this way, more traditional fund raising events like benefit gigs and have been overlooked, and we should take in to account that with the crowdfunding model we are at risk of leaving the financing of social initiative in the hands of third party business which, through the management of crowdfunding platforms, are making the same profit that any middle man would make in an ordinary business transaction, through the charge of commissions which range between 5% and 10% of the donations received. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indygogo have already made profits in the millions region.

we are at risk of leaving the financing of social initiative in the hands of third party business


Also, there are several projects which are managed by cooperatives which nevertheless still charge a 5% fee on donations in order to support themselves, like Goteo.org, managed on mainland Spain by a foundation dedicated to the expansion of common good, funditaly.it, a recent cooperative project and also a foundation in Veezuela called www.causasolidaria.com.
Another interesting project, which promotes the decentralization of its supporter, is Awesome Foundation, where donors from all over the world can network by theme or territory, pool their savings together and choose a project to which donate $1000 every month. Although it isn’t a micro-financing platform, it is still a project without intermediaries.
Still, there are some projects around the world that avoid supporting themselves through fee charging, like for instance http://www.microgenius.org.uk/, managed as a public service by http://www.communityshares.org.uk/ with the aim of facilitating the selling of shares in cooperative projects. Also without commission are Mymoneyhelp.fr, born in Lille, which is financed by social enterprise sponsoring and http://crowdfunding-italia.com, which is operating through voluntary work.

The majority of platforms impose an “all or nothing” clause with a limited term of not many days to accomplish the target


Another obstacle is that the majority of platforms impose an “all or nothing” clause with a limited term of not many days to accomplish the target (40 days is the usual). It’s a mechanism which benefits the intermediaries, since generally it is asked that promoters use their own funds or funds they had already secured through other means to start the campaign, of which they will have to loose the 5% commission fee in order to reach their target and secure the donations.
Furthermore, it seems to benefit the donors by guaranteeing the success of the projects they sponsor, whilst, in a sort of paternalistic way, denying them the choice to fund the projects regardless of it success in reaching the target.
Probably this does not affect the projects which have a strong human capital and who are well connected to social networks, since they will be able to fulfill the terms imposed, but this dynamic definitely puts smaller projects at a disadvantage, since they may not have the capacity to mobilize support in such a short amount of time. In this way then, a sort of social darwinism is created, where only the strong projects are likely to succeed, where as the smaller ones are lost on the way to oblivion. Evidently, this competitive and pressure are typical of the system in which we live, and not of the one most social movements are trying to create.

The fact is that a lot of projects which may need self financing can survive whether they reach their target or not, since that’s always been the case: many self managed projects have survived through the determination and creativity of their promoters. Many projects then, may need to receive on going financial support, or at particular times of the year, something that platforms such as crowdfunding do not take in to account.

Coopfunding.net re invents the concept of crowdfunding and adapts it to the real needs of the social projects that make use of it.

For this reason, it is necessary that we re invent the concept of crowdfunding and adapt it to the real needs of the social projects that make use of it. This is what the project coopfunding.net is trying to do, having become operative after many months of gestation.

Some of you may remember that Coopfunding already had a pilot appearance in the Spring of 20013, when a crowdfunding platform decided to cut our campaign due to the legal risks that it might have posed.

The campaign was collecting funds in order that Radi, which is not in operation at radi.ms, could become an alternative communication media through which we could still organize our activities despite my forced clandestineness since 2013.

This then, is another thing to bear in mind. 99% of crowdfunding platforms abide by the rules chosen by the 1% of the population, within the legal boundaries decided by different countries. Therefore, if we want to enjoy a crowdfunding platform which is coherent with the principles of projects which propose disobedience and revolution, we have to build one ourselves since we cannot depend on those which, despite their best intentions, are still bound by the legality of their policies.

http://www.coopfunding.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/coopfundingBarra.jpg

Coopfunding is a crowdfunding platform, newly released, without commissions or mediation, where each project can choose their terms according to their needs. With or without dedlines, rewards, with total flexibility and with the objective of being a tool for supporting social change projects.

The financial sustainability of the project is envisaged to be relying on the donations of social activists, through varied payment options and through the inclusion of local currencies, barter and criptomoney, whatever each project decides.

Coopfunding is a cooperative project open to the participation of whoever may want to contribute to make it possible, within a framework of disobedience towards the current system and a vision of integrated revolution. Furthermore, Coopfunding is a shared ownership projects, since it relies ultimately on the open consensus process of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana.

The tools which we use to access such support should be shared and communal too

I think it is important that, if we want a society where the tools we need are shared and communal, we might as well start with the ones where we can already apply this principle. Since financial support is a key factor in the success of many projects who are building alternatives, the tools which we use to access such support should be shared and communal too.

It would be very interesting if we could create a network of cooperative initiatives so that they may collaborate and support each other and gain public visibility, something very important in order to reach all the people that are necessary to have an effective fund raising campaign.

We are hoping and wishing that soon many other projects of this nature will spring up around the world, if you know of any please share the information!

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By Michel Bauwens with the participation of George Dafermos and John Restakis

Background on the FLOK Project

The National Plan of Ecuador recognizes and stresses that the global transformation towards knowledge-based societies and economies requires a new form for the creation and distribution of value in society. The National Plan’s central concept is the achievement of ‘Buen Vivir’ (Sumak Kawsay) or ‘good living’; but good living is impossible without the availability of ‘good knowledge’, i.e. ‘Buen Conocer’ (‘Sumak Yachay’). The third national plan for 2013-2017 explicitly calls for a open-commons based knowledge society[1].

President Correa himself exhorted young people to achieve and fight for this open knowledge society[2].

The FLOK Society is a joint research effort by the Coordinating Ministry of Knowledge and Human Talent, the SENESCYT (Secretaría Nacional de Educación Superior, Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación) and the IAEN (Instituto de Altos Estudios del Estado) to develop transition and policy proposals to achieve such an open commons-based knowledge society.
FLOK refers to:

  • Free, meaning freedom to use, distribute and modify knowledge in universally available common pools;
  • Libre stresses that it concerns free as in freedom, not as in ‘gratis’;
  • Open refers to the ability of all citizens to access, contribute to and use this common resource.

A free, libre and open knowledge society therefore essentially means organizing every sector of society, to the maximum degree possible, into open knowledge commons, i.e. the availability of common pools of knowledge, code and design that are acceptable to all citizens and market entities, to create dynamic and innovative societies and economies, where knowledge is available without discrimination to all who need it to develop their civic and economic activities.

The FLOK project is commissioned by the Secretary of Knowledge Rene Ramirez and SENESCYT, and carried out by the IAEN under the leadership of its rector and Dean of Research, as well as the FLOK Society team leaders Daniel Vazquez and Xabier Barandiaran. Michel Bauwens, the author of the research plan in collaboration with the FLOK Team, is the research director, assisted by five research stream coordinators.

The aim of the research plan is to combine the best advice from the global commons, and Ecuadorian civil society, in order to propose an integrated transition plan and the associated policy framework and proposals.

The research plan builds on the original FLOK Proposal[3], i.e. Designing the FLOK Society, by Xabier E. Barandiaran & Daniel Vázquez. It builds on this proposal and specifically calls for an integrative or ‘wholistic’ approach, which goes beyond technology, and calls for measures that take into account different aspects of social change that need to occur if not simultaneously, then at least linked through a positive feedback loop, in which various measures reinforce each other. It also broadens and deepens the call by looking at commons-based infrastructures not just for knowledge, but for other social and productive activities.

The Framing of the Proposal : the Three talue Models and the transition to a Social Knowledge Economy

In order to frame the transition to a ‘social knowledge economy’ or a FLOK-based societal model, we use a framing of three particular ‘value extraction and distribution’ systems, which determine how economic value is created, extracted, and distributed.

The traditional capitalist value model is of course well known, but the emergence of a knowledge society has already changed these dynamics to a fundamental extent.

In the traditional model, before the era of networked and cognitive production, private capital actors invest in capital and labour, and sell the industrial and consumer products with a surplus value.

But the new models of cognitive capitalism work with different models of value extraction and distribution, and we distinguish three different models, which includes the post-capitalist model of the social knowledge economy. We define cognitive capitalism generically as that model of capitalism where the ownership and control of information flows is the key factor for the extraction of value.

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Of the three models we will distinguish, one form is still dominant, but rapidly declining in importance; a second form is reaching dominance, but carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction; a third is emerging, but needs vital new policies in order to become dominant.

 

The first model: ‘Classic’ Cognitive Capitalism based on IP extraction

The first form is the classic form of cognitive capitalism, based on a “rentier” capitalism that extracts rent from Intellectual Property, and in which financial capital dominates. A good description of this form is McKenzie Wark’s Hacker Manifesto, in which he describes the logic of “vectoral capitalism”, where the ‘vectors’ of communication are in the hands of mass media and the multinational corporations that organize production. This first form of cognitive capitalism was dominant in the first era of networked computing, before the emergence of the civic internet and the web, when the networks were exclusively in the hands of multinational companies and/or governments and their centralized public channels. In this system, the profit of capital is increasingly dependent on ‘intellectual property’ regulations that keep technical, scientific, commercial and other forms of knowledge artificially scarce, and therefore allow the realization of super-profits. The profits of purely industrial production have become low, but the benefits of IP and the control of the networks of production through IT, allow for the generation of huge monopolistic profits. This first form of cognitive capitalism is far from dying, is still in fact dominant, but is nevertheless undermined in the second era of networked computing, where internetworks are now diffused throughout society, and the vectors of production can no longer be monopolized. Furthermore, the ubiquity of digital technology, and its ability to reproduce informational products at marginal cost, severely undermines the maintenance of an intellectual property regime based on maintaining artificial scarcity, through legal repression or technological sabotage (DRM).

 

The second model: Netarchical Capitalism based on the control of networked platforms

Indeed, the second era of massively networked computing, born with the publicly accessible internet, has undermined the control of the “vectoral” class, and created a new class of controllers, that of “netarchical capital”, the type of capital investment that controls proprietary social media platforms, but that nevertheless enables direct peer to peer communication between individuals.

This second form of netarchical capitalism, is a form where capital no longer controls the direct production of information and communication, but extracts value through its new role as platform intermediary. This model relies much more marginally on IP protection, but rather allows p2p communication but controls its possible monetization through the role and the ownership of the platforms for such communication. Typically, as in proprietary social media such as Facebook or Google, the front end is peer to peer, i.e. it allows p2p sociality, but the back end is controlled, the design is in the hands of the owners, as are the private data of the users, and it is the attention of the user base that is marketed through advertising. The financialisation of cooperation is still the name of the game. This form is a hybrid form however, because it also allows the further growth of p2p sociality in which media exchange and production is largely available to an ever large user base.

This form thus co-exists with multiple forms of grassroots p2p production and exchange, and sees for example the emergence of more monetary diversity, in the form of more localized complementary or community-driven currencies which act as defenders of local economic flows; and in the form of a global reserve crypto-currency like Bitcoin, a shadow currency that is useful as a ‘civic’ post-Westphalian currency but at the same time exhibits the features of financial capitalism in an exacerbated fashion. Netarchical capitalism suffers from a severe ‘value crisis’, in which the logic of use value strongly emerges and grows exponentially, but in a demonetized form. The remaining monetized value rests on speculative valuation of cooperative value creation by financial markets.

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  • The Value Crisis under conditions of netarchical capitalism

Neoliberalism was characterized by a particular ‘value crisis’ which exploded in the systemic crisis of 2008. Under the general conditions of the neoliberal regime, the wages of the workers have stagnated, and the part that goes to the owners of capital increased, creating a crisis of accumulation, which was solved through credit. When corporations, governments and the general consumer’s credit became over-extended, by 2008, the neoliberal system entered into a systemic crisis. Already under neoliberalism, the material value of the assets of production, are but a small part of the evaluation of a company’s value, and the excess value can be considered already as a form of extraction of the human immaterial cooperation. Under conditions of cognitive capitalism, especially under its netarchical form, this value crisis is exacerbated.

The period since the 1990s, when civic internetworks became increasingly available to the wider population, and commons-based peer production, and other forms of networked value creation became possible, saw the birth of a mixed regime.

Through the different forms of peer production and networked value creation, use value is increasingly created independently of the private industrial and financial system, and takes place through the civic contributory form, where immaterial use value is deposited in common pools of knowledge, code and design.

In ‘pure’ peer production, which we can call a form of ‘aggregated distribution’ of labor, contributors, voluntary or paid, contribute to a common pool where the immaterial value is deposited; for-benefit associations, such as the FLOSS Foundations, enable the continued cooperation to occur; and entrepreneurial coalitions of mostly for-profit capitalist enterprise, capture the added value in the marketplace. In this model, though there is continued creation of use value in the commons, and thus, ‘an accumulation of the commons’ based on open input, participatory processes of production, and commons-oriented output which is available to all users; capital accumulation continues through the form of labour and capital in the entrepreneurial coalitions. But an increasing amount of voluntary labour is extracted in this process. In the sharing form of networked value, characterized by social media/networking taking place over proprietary platforms, the use value is created by the social media users, but their attention is what creates a marketplace where that use value becomes extracted exchange value. In the realm of exchange value, this new form of ‘netarchical capitalism’ (the hierarchies of the network) may be interpreted as hyper-exploitation, since the use value creators go totally unrewarded in terms of exchange value, which is solely realized by the proprietary platforms. Finally, in the form of crowdsourced marketplaces, what we call ‘disaggregated distribution’ because the workers are isolated freelancers competing without collective shared IP, capital abandons the labour form and externalizes risk on the freelancers. According to preliminary research by ‘digital labor’ researcher Trebor Scholz, communicated orally, the average hourly income does not exceed 2 dollars, which is way below the U.S. Minimum wage. A typical example is the skills marketplace TaskRabbitt, where the workers cannot communicate with each other, but clients can.

Under the regime of cognitive capitalism, use value creation expands exponentially, but exchange value only rises linearly, and is nearly exclusively realized by capital, giving rise to forms of hyper-exploitation. We would argue that it creates a form of hyper-neoliberalism. While in classic neoliberalism, labour income stagnates, in hyper-neoliberalism, society is deproletarized, i.e. waged labor is increasing replaced by isolated and mostly precarious freelancers ; more use value escapes the labour form altogether.

Under the mixed regime of cognitive capitalism in its netarchical form , networked value production grows, and has many emancipatory effects in the social field of use value creation, but this is in contradiction with the field of exchange value realization, where hyper-exploitation occurs. This is what we mean when we say that there is an increased contradiction between the proto-mode of production that is peer production, and associated forms of networked value creation; and the relations of production, which remain under the domination of financial capital.

In this new hybrid form, a sector of capital, netarchical capitalism, has liberated itself to some significant degree of the need for proprietary forms of knowledge, but it has actually increased the level of surplus value extraction. At the same time, use value escapes more and more its dependency on capital. This form of hyper-neoliberalism creates a crisis of value. First, the part of exchange-value mediated labor, diminishes compared to the role of direct use value creation, making capital increasingly superfluous and parasitical; second, the forms of value creation explode, but the continued reliance on monetized exchange value does not allow for the realization of that value by the use value producers; profits in the industrial economy, diminish as well, making the financial sector and its reliance on IP rent, the increasingly dominant power; at the same time, the power of IP rent extraction is undermined by direct use value creation. In any case, all these trends create a crisis for the accumulation of capital; the feedback loop between use value creation, and the exchange-value capture, ideally redistributed either as wages or through social payments, is broken; over-reliance on debt renders massive lending moot as a solution. Capital becomes more reliant on the externalities of social cooperation, yet fails to reward it. Financial capitalism realizes the value of social cooperation through speculative mechanisms which increase the amount of fictitious capital in the system (the fictitious capital is actually the unrealized use value that is no longer rewarded because of the value crisis). These correlated issues are examined in depth by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen in their book on the Ethical Economy.

We could call this value regime neo-feudal, because it relies increasingly on unpaid ‘corvee’ and creates widespread debt peonage. Finally, ownership is replaced by access, diminishing the sovereignty that comes with property, and creating dependencies through the one-sided licensing agreements in the digital sphere.

Towards a third model: a mature ‘civic’ peer-to-peer economy

The third is the hypothetical form we believe we may successfully transition to, if we succeed in rebuilding transformative social movements, and hence succeed also in transforming the state so that it can act as a Partner State which facilitates the creation of new civic infrastructures. In this model, peer production is matched to both a new market and state model, create a mature civic and peer-based economic, social and political model, where the value is redistributed to the value creators. These changes have been carried forward in the political sphere by a emerging commons movement, which espouses the value system of peer production and the commons, driven by the knowledge workers and their allies.

 

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Solving the value crisis through a social knowledge economy

Since the mixed model seems to create untenable contradictions, it becomes necessary to imagine a transition to a model where the relations of production are not in contradiction with the evolution of the mode of production. This means a system of political economy which would be based on the recognition, and rewarding, of the contributive logic at work in commons-oriented peer production.

If we look at the micro-level, we recommend the intermediation of cooperative accumulation. In today’s free software economy, open licences enable the logic of the commons, or even technically, ‘communism’ (each contributes what he/she can, each uses what is needed), but created a paradox: ‘the more communistic the license, the more capitalistic the economy’, since it specifically allows large for-profit enterprises to realize the value of the commons in the sphere of capital accumulation. Hence, ironically, the growth of a ‘communism of capital’.

We propose to replace the non-reciprocal ‘communistic’ licenses, with socialist licenses, i.e. based on the requirement of reciprocity. Hence, the use of a peer production license, would require a contribution to the commons for its free use, at least from for-profit companies, to create a stream of exchange value to the commoners/ peer producers themselves; in addition, commoners would create their own market entities, create added market value on top of the commons, realize the surplus value themselves, and create a ethical economy around the commons, where the value of the production of rival goods would be realized. Such ethical entrepreneurial coalitions would likely enable open book accounting and open supply chains, that would coordinate the economy outside of the sphere of both planning and the market. The ethical entrepreneurial coalitions could expand the sphere of the commons by the use of commons ventures, such as in the ‘venture communist’ model proposed by Dmytri Kleiner. In this model, cooperatives in need of capital would float a bond that would allow the purchase of means of production. These means of production would belong to the commons; in other words, the machines would be rented from the common pool, but this rent would also be redistributed to all the members of the commons. In this binary economic form, the commoners-cooperators would receive both a wage from their cooperative, but also an increasing part of the common rent. (In addition, all citizens would benefit from a basic income provided by the Partner State). Such entrepreneurial coalitions, intrinsically in solidarity with their commons, could also move to practices such as open accounting and open logistics, which would allow for widespread mutual coordination of their productive capacities, hence ushering a new third model of allocation that would be neither a market, nor a planning system, but a stigmergic coordination system. In other words, the stigmergic coordination already operating in the sphere of ‘immaterial’ production, would gradually be transferred to the sphere of ‘material’ production. To the degree that such stigmergic systems create the possibility of resource-based economic models, such spheres of the economy would be gradually demonetized and replaced by measurement systems (i.e. commodity currencies with ‘store of value’ systems would gradually disappear).

However, such changes at the level of the micro-economy would not survive a hostile capitalist market and state without necessary changes at the macro-economic level; hence the need for transition proposals, carried by a resurgent social movement that embraces the new value creation through the commons, and becomes the popular and political expression of the emerging social class of peer producers and commoners – allied with the forces representing both waged and cooperative labor, independent commons-friendly enterpreneurs, and agricultural and service workers.

Four Technology Regimes

Value regimes are more or less associated with technology regimes, since the forces at play want to protect their interests through the control of technological and media platforms, which encourage certain behaviours and logics, but discourage others. The powers over technological protocals and value-driven design decisions are used to create technological platforms that match proprietary interests.

Thus, even as peer to peer technologies and networks are becoming ubiquitous, ostensibly similar p2p technologies have very different characteristics which lead to different models of value creation and distribution, and thus different social and technological behaviours. In networks, human behaviour can be subtly or not so subtly influenced by design decisions and invisible protocols that are designed in the interest of the owners or managers of the platforms.

The following graphic is organized around two axes, which determine at least four distinct possibilities.

The first top-down axis distinguishes centralized technological control (and a orientation towards globality) from distributed technological control (and a orientation towards localization); the horizontal axis distinguishes a for-profit orientation (where any social good is subsumed to the goal of shareholder profit), from for-benefit orientations (where eventual profits are subsumed to the social goal).

 

600px-Bauwens-matrix

The four potential scenarios are discussed here:

 

Netarchical Capitalism as a technological regime: peer to peer front end, hierarchical back-end

Netarchical capitalism, the first combination (upper-left quadrant), matches centralized control of a distributed infrastructure with an orientation towards the accumulation of capital. Netarchical capital is that fraction of capital which enables and empowers cooperation and P2P dynamics, but through proprietary platforms that are under centralized ownership and control. While individuals will share through these platforms, they have no control, governance or ownership over the design and the protocol of these networks/platforms, which are proprietary. For examples, think of Facebook or Google. Typically under conditions of netarchical capitalism, while sharers will directly create or share use value, the monetized exchange value will be realized by the owners of capital. While in the short term it is in the interest of shareholders or owners, this also creates a longer term value crisis for capital, since the value creators are not rewarded, and no longer have purchasing power to acquire the goods that are necessary for the functioning of the physical economy.

Distributed Capitalism as a technological regime: the commodification of everything

The second combination, (bottom-left quadrant) called “distributed capitalism”, matches distributed control but with a remaining focus on capital accumulation. The development of the P2P currency Bitcoin, the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, and the privately owned sharing platforms, are representative examples of these developments. Under this model, P2P infrastructures are designed in such a way as to allow the autonomy and participation of many players, who are allowed to interact without the classic intermediaries, but the main focus rests on profit-making. In Bitcoin, all the participating computers can produce the currency, thereby disintermediating large centralized banks. However, the focal point remains on trading and exchange through a currency designed for scarcity, and thus must be obtained through competition. The conscious deflationary design of the currency insures a permanent increase in value, and thus encourages hoarding and speculation. On the other hand, Kickstarter functions as a reverse market with prepaid investment. Under these conditions, any Commons is a byproduct or an afterthought of the system, and personal motivations are driven by exchange, trade and profit. Many P2P developments can be seen within this context, striving for a more inclusionary distributed and participative capitalism. Though they can be considered as part of, say, an anti-systemic entrepreneurialism directed against the monopolies and predatory intermediaries, they retain the focus on profit making. Distribution, here, not meant locally though, as the vision is one of a virtual economy, where small players can have a global compact, and create global aggregations of small players. However, despite the ideals expressed by the political and social movements associated with such a model (such as anarcho-capitalism and Austrian economics), in practice, these dynamics inevitably lead to consolidation and concentration of capital.

Resilience Community Platforms Designed for Re-Localization

The following model associates distributed local control of technological platforms with a focus on the community or Commons, and aims to create “resilience communities” that can withstand the vagaries of an unstable global marketplace. (the bottom-right quadrant). The focus here is most often on relocalization and the re-creation of local community. It is often based on an expectation for a future marked by severe shortages of energy and resources, or in any case increased scarcity of energy and resources, and takes the form of lifeboat strategies. Initiatives like the Degrowth movement or the Transition Towns, a grassroots network of communities, can be seen in that context. In extreme forms, they are simple lifeboat strategies, aimed at the survival of small communities in the context of generalized chaos. What marks such initiatives is arguably the abandonment of the ambition of scale and the focus on strong and resilience local communities. Though global cooperation and web presence may exist, the focus remains on the local. Most often, political and social mobilization at scale is seen as not realistic, and doomed to failure. In the context of our profit-making versus Commons axis though, these projects are squarely aimed at generating community value. A generic critique of this model is that it does not generate counter-power or a counter-hegemony for the model, as the globalization of capital is not matched or kept in check by a counterforce of the same scale. Hence the need for a second alternative model, which also recognizes the importance of scale and pays attention to the dynamics of global power and governance.

The Global Commons Scenario as the desired alternative

The “Global Commons” approach (upper-right quadrant) is against the aforementioned focus on the local, focusing on the global Commons.

Advocates and builders of this scenario argue that the Commons should be created for, and fought for, on a transnational global scale.

Though production is distributed and therefore facilitated at the local level, the resulting micro-factories are considered as essentially networked on a global scale, profiting from the mutualized global cooperation both on the design of the product, and on the improvement of the common machinery. Any distributed enterprise is seen in the context of transnational phyles, i.e. alliances of ethical enterprises that operate in solidarity around particular knowledge Commons, on a global and not simply local scale. Thus, though the production is local, the social, political and economic organisation is global, and able to create a counter-power at that scale.

In addition, political and social mobilization, on regional, national and transnational scale, is seen as part of the struggle for the transformation of institutions at every level of scale. Participating enterprises are vehicles for the commoners to sustain global Commons as well as their own livelihoods. This latter scenario does not take social regression as a given, and believes in sustainable abundance for the whole of humanity.

Cognitive/Netarchical Capitalism vs. an Open-Commons based Knowledge Society

It may be useful here to directly compare two synthetic and countervailing scenarios. On the one hand, the for-profit driven scenarios that are in harmony with the present political economy of capital; and on the other hand, the alternative scenario of the social knowledge economy based on FLOK principles.
So: What exactly is an open-commons based economy and society?

To understand it we must first look at the older social and economic model that it replaces.

The neoliberal and capitalist economic forms combine three basic elements, fundamental choices that guide their operation.

The first is the belief that the earth’s resources are infinite, which allows an idea of permanent and compound economic growth in the service of capital accumulation. Neoliberal capitalism is therefore based on a illusion of a fake or ‘pseudo-abundance’; and its growth mechanism is dedicated to the senseless accumulation of material riches.

The second is the belief that the flow of knowledge, science and culture should be privatized, and therefore serves the exclusive benefit of property owners. Knowledge is made to serve capital accumulation and the profits of the few. The privatization of knowledge through excessive copyrights and patent regimes have a dramatically slowing effect, and allow for a exclusionary financialization. This leads to the creation and maintenance of articial scarcity. While markets can be considered to be a allocation mechanism for scare and rival goods (a scarcity allocation mechanism), contemporary IP-proprietary capitalism is a scarcity-engineering mechanisms which creates and increases scarcities.

Finally, the two first elements are configured in such a way that they do not serve social justice, equality, and benefits for all, but rather the benefits and profits for the few. Under cognitive capitalism, the fruits of social cooperation are enclosed and financialized, and the majority of the population has to pay for knowledge that is largely socially produced. Only those with money can benefit from technical and scientific innovations.
Then, we must look at the positive counter-reactions that have emerged and which have been particularly strengthened after the crisis of neoliberalism, which was felt by southern countries in the previous decades, but became global in 2008.

A first reaction has been the recapture of the state by citizen movements, such as particularly in the Andean countries and Ecuador.

The second is a re-emergence and flowering of new economic forms based on equity, such as the cooperative economy, the social economy, and the solidarity economy. The new progressive governments, and a few others, are all committed to the strengthening of these more socially just economic forms.

Third, we have seen the emergence of a sharing economy, which is mutualizing physical infrastructures (though often in the form of private platforms) in order to re-use and make available the enormous amount of surplus material and resources that have been created in the last thirty years. Apart from the explosion of carsharing and bikesharing, they often take the form of ‘peer to peer marketplaces’, allowing citizens to create more fine-grained exchanges of their surplus.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we have seen, thanks largely to the potentiality of the global networks, the emergence of commons-based peer production. Globally and locally, productive communities of citizens have been creating vast common pools of knowledge, code (software), and design, which are available to all citizens, enterprises and public authorities to further build on. Often, these productive knowledge commons are managed by democratic foundations and nonprofits, which protect and enable the common productive infrastructure of cooperation, and protect the common pool of knowledge from exclusionary private enclosure, most often using open licenses; they are sometimes called ‘for-benefit associations’. Very often, these productive communities co-exist with a dynamic enterpreneurial coalition of firms co-creating and co-producing these common pools, thereby creating a dynamic economic sector. It is very common for these open eco-systems to displace their proprietary-IP based competitors. A U.S. report on the ‘Fair Use Economy’, i.e. economic activities based on open and shared knowledge, estimated its economic weight in that country to be one-sixth of GDP.

Yet there is also a paradox: it is most likely that it is the capitalist forms that first see the potential of the new commons-based economic forms, and ally with them; on the other hand, cooperative economic forms rarely still practice and co-produce open knowledge pools. However, there is an emerging trend to transform the existing cooperative tradition based on single-stakeholder governance, into multi-stakeholder governance, and which introduce the care of the common good in their statutes.

What this means is that the emerging global knowledge economy, can today take two competing forms.

In the first form of the knowledge-economy, under the regime of cognitive capitalism, we have on the one hand the continuation of proprietary IP, and the realisation of economic rent by financial capital; combined with a new form of ‘netarchical’ capital, which enables but also exploits social production. It is not difficult to see that the riches of giants like Facebook and Google are based on the hyper-exploitation of the free labour of the citizens using their social networks.

The other, more desirable form of the knowledge-based economy is based on open commons of knowledge, but which are preferentially linked to an ethical and equitable economy. This is the form of knowledge economy and civilisation that is most compatible with the vision of the Ecaudorian government that emerged from the citizens’ revolution, and with the values expressed by the National Plan in its various iterations.

 

The Socio-Economic Implications of a Social Knowledge Economy

John Restakis offers the following positive description of the social knowledge economy:

In the current debate concerning the rise and consequences of “cognitive capitalism” a new discourse is developing around the concept of a “social knowledge economy”. But what does a social knowledge economy mean and what are its implications for the ways in which a society and an economy are ordered?

Cognitive capitalism refers to the process by which knowledge is privatized and then commodified as a means of generating profit for capital. In this new phase of capitalism the centralization and control of knowledge overtakes the traditional processes of material production and distribution as the driving force of capital accumulation. In the past, capitalism was concerned primarily with the commodification of the material. Essential to this process was the gradual enclosure and privatization of material commons such as pasturelands, forests, and waterways that had been used in common since time immemorial.

In our time, capitalism entails the enclosure and commodification of the immaterial – knowledge, culture, DNA, airwaves, even ideas. Ultimately, the driving force of capitalism in our age is the eradication of all commons and the commodification of all things. The colonization and appropriation of the public domain by capital is at the heart of the New Enclosures. This process is sustained and extended through the complex and ever-evolving web of patents, copyright laws, trade agreements, think tanks, and government and academic institutions that provide the legal, policy, and ideological frameworks that justify all this. Above all, the logic of this process is embedded in the values, organization, and operation of the capitalist firm.

By contrast, a social knowledge economy is based on the principle that knowledge is a commons that should be free and openly accessible for the pursuit of what Rene Ramirez describes as “good living”, not as an instrument of commercial profit. Knowledge is perceived as a social good.

This pursuit of a social knowledge economy is seen as the key to transforming Ecuador’s economy from its dependence on the North and on multi-national corporations to one in which free and open access to knowledge builds economic independence, innovation, and the means to better serve the common good. It is knowledge mobilized to serve social, not private, ends.

As René Ramirez has said,

“Unlike cognitive capitalism that only recognizes private ownership of knowledge, what is sought in the socialism of good living takes into account public, mixed, collective ownership – and of course also private, (i.e., a range of forms of intellectual property) and that its mode of production is mostly collaborative (networks) with and for society and humanity.”[4] What is left unanswered is how existing socio-economic institutions help or hinder the power of knowledge to play the transformative role assigned to it.

A starting point for answering this question is the recognition that knowledge in a society ¬– its creation, utilization, and value – is a construct that is moulded by the social and economic forces that define the power relations in a community. Knowledge has always been at the service of power. Cognitive capitalism, the process by which human knowledge is both privatized and commodified, results from the domination and power of capitalist economic and social relations, and in particular, the undemocratic and privatized nature of economics, markets, and the organizational structure of firms.

In previous ages knowledge was also controlled and monopolized, to the extent that it was possible, by king or church. Today’s information technology, combined with global corporate power, has made such centralization and control far easier and far more extensive.

If the character and use of knowledge in a society is a product of existing power relations, the pursuit of a social knowledge economy must also entail a re-visioning and re-aligning of social, political, and economic relations such that they, in turn, embody and reinforce the values and principles of what knowledge as a commons implies. Absent this, how would a social knowledge economy operate, or be sustained, in an overwhelmingly capitalist economy?

Where are the social and economic spaces in which an open knowledge commons could be used in the service of the broader community or for collective aims? What kinds or organizations are needed to in order for knowledge to be used in this way? What are the conditions necessary for them to thrive? How can they provide a counterweight to the overwhelming power and influence of capital? Without strong civic institutions committed to the idea of the commons and the public good, open knowledge systems are vulnerable to appropriation and ultimate commodification by capitalist firms as is currently the case with the internet itself. The recent ruling of the FCC in the United States undermining net neutrality is a major advance in the privatization of what has until now been an equitably accessible global commons of information.

An economy in which knowledge is a commons in the service of social ends requires the corresponding social and economic institutions that will mobilize knowledge for the realization of these ends. The operation of a social knowledge economy ultimately depends on social and economic institutions that embody the values of commons, reciprocity, and free, open and democratic association that are pre-requisites for the pursuit of social ends. In short, a social knowledge economy ultimately rests on social economy values.

Ramirez puts it this way:

“There are scholars from the ivory tower that would have us believe that you can separate the world of reason and ideas from the world of the material and political economy that exists globally. This not only demonstrates the lack of understanding of what is currently happening on our planet but the absence of political realism to find a real social transformation.”[4]

Just as cognitive capitalism depends on the manifold institutional supports supplied by government policy, legislation, free market ideology, and the collective power of firms and the institutions that serve them, even more so does a social knowledge economy require the corresponding civic and economic institutions that can support and safeguard the value of commons, of collective benefit, of open and accessible markets, and of social control over capital. These civic institutions are embodied in the structure of democratic enterprises, of peer-to-peer networks, of non-profits and community service organizations, of mutually supporting small and medium firms, and of civil society and the social economy itself. It is these social and economic structures, based on the principles of reciprocity and service to community, that can best utilize knowledge as a commons and safeguard its future as an indispensable resource for the common good and the wellbeing of humanity as a whole.

The identification of these institutions and of the public policies needed for their development and growth is the overarching aim of this research.

 

Discussion: IP and patents impede and slow down innovation

By George Dafermos:

Intellectual property rights and their supposed role in cognitive capitalism

“Capitalist knowledge economies use intellectual property (IP) rights as means of enclosing knowledge and as mechanisms by which to realise the extraction of monopoly rents from knowledge that has been thus privatised. That is ideologically justified as follows: exclusive IP rights provide incentives for individuals and companies to engage in research and develop new products and services. That is, they promote innovation: the expectation of profitable exploitation of the exclusive right supposedly encourages economic agents to turn their activities to innovative projects, which society will later benefit from (e.g. Arrow 1962). But is that actually an accurate description of the function of IP rights in capitalist knowledge economies? Do they really spur innovation?

 

A synopsis of empirical evidence on the effect of exclusive intellectual property regimes on innovation and productivity

To answer this question, it is instructive to look at the available empirical data on the effect of exclusive IP rights on technological innovation and productivity. The case of the United States is indicative of a capitalist knowledge economy in which the flow of patents has quadrupled over the last thirty years: in 1983 the US Patent Office granted 59.715 patents, which increased to 189.597 in 2003 and 244.341 in 2010 (US Patent Office 2013). Looking at these numbers begs the question: how has the dramatic increase in the number of patents issued by the US Patent Office over time impacted technological innovation and productivity in the US? Well, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual growth in total factor productivity in the decade 1970-1979 was about 1,2%, while in the next two decades it fell below 1%. In the same period, R&D expenditure hovered around 2,5% of GDP (***). In short, what we see is that the dramatic increase in patents has not been paralleled by an increase in productivity or innovation. No matter which indicator of productivity or innovation we use in the analysis, we are invariably led to the conclusion that ‘there is no empirical evidence that they [patents] serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless productivity [or innovation] is identified with the number of patents awarded’ (Boldrin and Levine 2013, p. 3; also, see Dosi et al. 2006).

Another argument often voiced by proponents of exclusive IP rights in defense of patents is that they promote the communication of ideas and that, in turn, spurs innovation. They claim that if patents did not exist, inventors would try to keep their inventions secret so that competitors would not copy them (e.g. Belfanti 2004). From this standpoint, the solution to the problem is a trade between the inventor and society: the inventor reveals his innovation and society gives him the right to exploit it exclusively for the next twenty or so years. Hence, the argument goes, to the extent that they replace socially harmful trade secrets, patents promote the diffusion of ideas and innovations (Moser 2013, pp. 31-33). In reality, however, patents have exactly the opposite effect, encouraging ignorance and non-communication of ideas. In what has become a standard practice, ‘companies typically instruct their engineers developing products to avoid studying existing patents so as to be spared subsequent claims of willful infringement, which raises the possibility of having to pay triple damages’ (Boldrin & Levine 2013, p.9; Brec 2008). Even if that were not always the case, the way in which patent documents are written actually renders them incomprehensible to anyone except lawyers (Brec 2008; Mann & Plummer 1991, pp. 52-53; Moser 2013, p. 39).

The real function of intellectual property rights in cognitive capitalism: how do capitalist firms actually use them? What, however, more than anything else disproves the claimed positive effect of patents on innovation and creativity is the way in which patents are actually used by capitalist firms. In a capitalist knowledge economy, patents are used primarily as (a) means to signal the value of the company to potential investors, (b) as means to prevent market-entry by other companies (so they have strategic value independently of whether they are incorporated in profitable products) and (c) as weapons in an ‘arms-race’, meaning they are used defensively to prevent or blunt legal attacks from other companies (e.g., see Boldrin & Levine 2013; Cohen et al. 2000; Hall & Ziedonis 2007; Levin et al. 1987; Pearce 2012). It would take a heroic leap of logic for any of these applications of patents to be seen as productive. On the other side, there is a plethora of cases in which the effect of patents on innovation and productivity has been undoubtedly detrimental. Indicatively, consider how Microsoft is currently using a patent (no. 6370566) related to the scheduling of meetings in order to impose a licensing fee on Android mobile phones (Boldrin & Levine 2013***). In this case, patents become a mechanism for sharing the profits without any participation in the actual process of innovation. As such, they discourage innovation and constitute a pure waste for society. Interestingly, not that long ago, Bill Gates (1991), Microsoft founder, argued that ‘if people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today…A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose’. It is ironic, of course, that Microsoft, not being able to penetrate the mobile telephony market, is now using the threat of patent litigations to raise a claim over part of Google’s profits.

The way in which patents are used in capitalist knowledge economies makes it blatantly obvious that ‘in the long run…patents reduce the incentives for current innovation because current innovators are subject to constant legal action and licensing demands from earlier patent holders’ (Boldrin & Levine 2013, p.7). This becomes readily understood, considering that technological innovation is essentially a cumulative process (Gilfillan 1935, 1970; Scotchmer 1991): Cumulative technologies are those in which every innovation builds on preceding ones: for example, the steam engine (Boldrin et al. 2008; Nuvolari 2004), but also hybrid cars, personal computers (Levy 1984), the world wide web (Berners-Lee 1999), YouTube and Facebook.

But if patents have at best no impact and at worst a negative impact on technological innovation and productivity (Dosi et al. 2006), then how is it possible to explain – especially from the legislator’s side – the historical increase in patents and the expansion of IP-related laws? Many analysts have pondered this question. The conclusion to which they have been led is rather unsettling: the actual reason behind the proliferation of patents and the expansion of IP-related laws consists in the political influence of large, cash-rich companies which are unable to keep up with new and creative competitors and which use patents to entrench their monopoly power.”

 

Discussion: the role of Indigenous Peoples and (Neo)Traditional Knowledge

Arguments for the specific role of (neo)-traditional knowledge and peoples in a social knowledge transition

By adopting and adapting the concept of Buen Vivir, which originated in traditional communities, as an inspiration for policy by a contemporary national state, Ecuador has brought an important innovation in policy-making.

Such neotraditional approaches, if they are based on a mutual dialogue, are a very important part of a transition to a social knowledge economy. In the following section, we make the case why this is so important.

  • The Main Argument: the common immateriality of traditional and post-industrial eras

It is not difficult to argue that modern industrial societies are dominated by a materialist paradigm. What exists for modern consciousness is material physical reality, what matters in the economy is the production of material products, and the pursuit of happiness is in very strong ways related to the accumulation of goods for consumption. For the elite, its powers derive essentially from the accumulation of capital assets, whether these are industrial or financial. Infinite material growth is really the core mantra of capitalism, and it is made necessary and facilitated by the very design of the contemporary monetary system, where money is mostly created to interest-driven bank debt.

But this was not the case in traditional, agriculture-based societies. In such societies, people of course do have to eat and to produce, and the possession of land and military force is crucial to obtain tribute from the agricultural workers, but it cannot be said that the aim is accumulation of assets. Feudal-type societies were based on personal relations consisting of mutual obligations. These are of course very unequal in character, but are nevertheless very removed from the impersonal and obligation-less property forms that came with capitalism, where there is little impediment for goods and capital to move freely to whomever it is sold to.

In these post-tribal but still pre-modern societies, both the elite and the mass body of producers are united by a common immaterial quest for salvation or a similar core spiritual pursuit like enlightenment, etc … , and it is the institution that is in charge of organizing that quest, like the Church in the western Middle Ages or the Sangha in South-East Asia, that is the determining organization for the social reproduction of the system. Tribute flows up from the farming population to the owning class, but the owning class is engaged in a two-fold pursuit: showing its status through festivities, where parts of the surplus is burned up; and gifting to the religious institutions. It is only this way that salvation/enlightenment, i.e. spiritual value or merit in all its forms, can be obtained. The more you give, the higher your spiritual status. Social status without spiritual status is frowned upon by those type of societies. This is why the religious institutions like the Church of the Sangha end up so much land and property themselves, as the gifting competition was relentless. At the same time, these institutions serve as the welfare and social security mechanisms of their day, by ensuring that a part of that flow goes back to the poor and can be used in times of social or natural emergencies.

In the current era, marked by a steady deterioration of eco-systems, is again undergoing a fundamental and necessary shift to immateriality.

Here are just a few of the facts and arguments to illustrate my point for a shift towards once again a immaterial focus in our societies.

The cosmopolitan elite of capital has already transformed itself for a long time towards financial capital. In this form of activity, financial assets are moved constantly where returns are the highest, and this makes industrial activity a secondary activity. If we then look at the financial value of corporations, only a fraction of it is determined by the material assets of such corporation. The rest of the value, usually called “good will”, is in fact determined by the various immaterial assets of such corporation, it’s expertise and collective intelligence, it’s brand capital, the trust in the present and the future expected returns that it can generate.

The most prized material goods, such as say Nike shoes, show a similar quality, only 5% of its sales value is said to be determined by physical production costs, all the rest is the value imparted to it by the brand (both the cost to create it, and the surplus value created by the consumers themselves).

The shift towards a immaterial focus can also be shown sociologically, for example through the work of Paul Ray on cultural creatives, and of Ronald Inglehart on the profound shift to postmaterial values and aspirations.

For populations who have lived for more than one generation in broad material security, the value system shifts again to the pursuit of knowledge, cultural, intellectual and spiritual experience. Not all of them, not all the time, but more and more, and especially so for the cultural elite of ‘cultural creatives’ or what Richard Florida has called the Creative Class, which is also responsible for key value creation in cognitive capitalism.

One more economic argument could be mentioned in the context of cognitive capitalism. In this model of our economy, the current dominant model as far as value creation is concerned, the key surplus value is realized through the protection of intellectual properties. Dominant Western companies can sell goods at over 100 to 1,000 times their production value, through state and WTO enforced intellectual rents. It is clearly the immaterial value of such assets that generate the economic streams, even though it requires creating fictitious scarcities through the legal apparatus.

We have argued before that this model is undermined through the emergence of distributed infrastructures for the production, distribution and consumption of immaterial and cultural goods, which makes such fictitious scarcity untenable in the long run. The immaterial value creation is indeed already leaking out of the market system. While we need such a transition towards a focus on immaterial value, it also creates very strong contradictions in the present political economy, one of the main reasons why a shift towards a integrated social knowledge economy, is a vital necessity.

  • The Second Argument: the nature of post-deconstructive trans-modernism

Industrial society, its particular mental and cultural models, are clearly antagonistic to tradition. The old structures must go: religion is seen as superstition, community is seen as repressive of individuality, and tradition is seen as hampering the free progress of dynamic individuals. This makes modernism both a very constructive force, for all the new it is capable of instituting in society, but also a very destructive force, at war with thousands of years of traditional values, lifestyles and social organization. It attempts to strip individuals of wholistic community, replacing it with disciplinary institutions, and commodity-based relations.

The subsequent postmodernist phase, is a cultural (but also structural as it is itself an expression of capitalist re-organization) reaction against modernity and modernism. Postmodernism is above all a deconstructive movement. Against all ‘reification’ and ‘essentialisation’, it relatives everything. No thing, no individual stands alone, we are all constituted of fragments that themselves are part of infinite fields. Through infinite play, the fragmented ‘dividual’ has at its disposal infinite constitutive elements that can be recombined in infinite ways. The positive side of it, is, that along with freeing us with fictitious fixed frameworks of belief and meaning, it also re-openes the gates of the past and of tradition. Everything that is usable, is re-usable, and the war against tradition ends, to make place for pragmatic re-appropriation. But as the very name indicates, postmodernism can only be a first phase of critique and reaction against modernity and modernism, still very much beholden to it, if only in its reactivity to all things modern. It is deconstructive, a social regression of the collective ego that can only receive ultimate therapeutic meaning if it is followed by a reconstructive phase. For postmodernism to have any ultimate positive meaning, it must be followed by a trans-formative, reconstructive phase. A trans-modernism if you like, which goes ‘beyond’ modernity and modernism. In that new phase, tradition can not just be appropriated any longer as an object, but requires a dialogue of equals with traditional communities. They are vital, because they already have the required skills to survive and thrive in a post-material age.

  • The Third Argument: the problematic nature of un-changed tradition

Using or returning to a premodern spiritual tradition for transmodern inspiration is not a path that is without its problems or dangers: it can very easily become a reactionary pursuit, a fruitless attempt to go back to a golden age that has only existed in the imagination.

The core problem is that many spiritual traditions all occurred within the context of exploitative economic and political systems. Though the exploitation was different, most traditional spirituality and its institutions developed in systems that were based on tribute, slavery , or serfdom. These systems usually combined a disenfranchised peasant population, a warrior or other ruling class, in which the traditional Church or Sangha played a crucial role for its social reproduction. For example, Buddhism only became acceptable to to the ‘mainstream’society of its time when it accepted to exclude slaves. Despite its radical-democratic potential, it became infused with the feudal authority structure that mirrored the society of which it was a part. These spiritualities are therefore rife with patriarchy, sexism and other profoundly unequal views and treatments of human beings.

Though the logic was profoundly different from capitalism, these forms of exploitation, and their justification by particular religious or spiritual systems and institutions, should prove to be unacceptable to contemporary (post/trans-modern) consciousness. Perhaps a symmetrical but equally problematic approach would be the pure eclecticism that can be the result of postmodern consciousness, in which isolated parts of any tradtion are simply stolen and recombined without any serious understanding of the different frameworks. Another problem we see is the following: contemporary communication technologies, and globalized trade and travel, and the unification of the world under capitalism, have created the promise for a great mixing of civilizations. Though contact and interchange was always a reality, it was slow, and it different civilisational spheres really did exist, which created profoundly different cultural realities and individual psychologies. To be a Christian or a Buddhist meant to have profoundly different orientations towards life and society (despite structural similarities in religious or spiritual organization). But a growing part of the human population, if not the whole part, is now profoundly exposed to the underlying values of the other civilisational spheres. For example, Eastern Asian notions have similarly already profoundly impacted western consciousness. In this context, rootedness in one’s culture and spiritual traditions can no longer be separated with a global cosmopolitan approach and a continous dialogue with viewpoints and frameworks that originate elsewhere. Increasinly global affinity networks are becoming as important as local associations in influencing individuals and their identity-building.

 

  • Fourth Argument: the road to differential post-industrial development

I believe it would be fair to say that contemporary capitalism is a machine to create homogeinity worldwide, and that this is not an optimal outcome, as it destroys cultural biodiversithy. In its current format, which got a severe shock with the current financial meltdown, which combines globalization, neoliberalism and financialization, it is also an enormous apparatus of coercion. It undermines the survivability of local agriculture and creates an enormous flight to the cities; it destroys long-standing social forms such as the extended family, and severely undermines traditional culture. Of course, I do not want to imply that all change or transformation is negative, but rather stress that it takes away the freedom of many who would make different choices, such as those who would want to stay in a local village.

It is here that neotraditional approaches offer real hope and potential. Instead of the wholesale import of global habits and technologies, for which society has not been prepared and which is experienced as an alien graft, it offers an alternative road of choosing what to accept and what to reject, and to craft a locally adapted road to post-industrial development.

It reminds us of Gandhi’s concept of Swadeshi and appropriate technology. He rejected both western high tech, which was not adapted to many local situations, but also unchanged local agragrian tradition and technology, which was hardly evolving. Instead, he advocated appropriate technology, a intermediary level of technology which started from the local situation, but took from modern science and technology the necessary knowledge to create new tools that were adapted to the local situation, yet offered increases in productivity.

Neotraditional economics could take a similar approach, but not limited to an attitude to technology selection, but to the totality of political and social choices. In this way, in harmony with local values, those aspects can be chosen, which increase the quality of livelihoods, but do not radically subvert chosen lifestyles and social forms. It represents a new approach which combines the high tech of globalized technical knowledge, with the high touch elements of local culture. For example, it becomes imaginable to conceive of local villages, adapting localized and small-scale manufacturing techniques based on the latest advances in miniaturization and flexibilisation of production technologies, and which are globally connected with global knowledge networks.

 

  • Fifth Argument: Adapting to Steady-State Economies in the Age of the Endangered Biosphere

The essence of capitalism is infinite growth, making money with money and increasing capital. An infinite growth system cannot infinitely perdure with limited resources in a limited physical environment. Today’s global system combines a vision of pseudo-abundance, the mistaken vision that nature can provide endless inputs and is an infinite dump, with pseudo-scarcity, the artificial creation of scarcities in the fields of intellectual, cultural and scientific exchange, through exaggerated and ever increasing intellectual property rights, which hamper innovation and free cooperation.

To be sustainable, our emerging global human civilization and political economy needs to reverse those two principles. This means that we first of all need a steady-state economy, which can only grow to the degree it can recycle its input back to nature, so as not to further deplete the natural stock. And it requires a liberalization of the sharing and exchange of technical and scientific knowledge to global open innovation communities, so that the collective intelligence of the whole of humankind can be directed to the solving of complex problems.

The first transformation is closely linked to our contemporary monetary system and alternative answers can be found in the traditional conceptions of wealth of pre-industrial societies.

For example, traditional religions associated with agriculture-based societies and production systems, outlawed interest. There is a good reason for that: when someone extends a loan with interest, that interest does not exist, and the borrower has to find the money somewhere else [5].. In other words, to pay back the interest, he has to impoverish somebody else. This of course, would be extremely socially destructive in a static society, and therefore, it could not be allowed to happen, which explains the religious injunction against interest.

However, in modern capitalist societies, a solution has been found: growth. As long as the pie is growing, the interest can be taken from the growing pie. The problem however, is that such a monetary system requires growth, infinite growth. Static businesses are an impossibility, since that would mean they cannot pay back the interest.

Now that we have reached the limits of the biosphere, now that we need again a steady-state economy, we need interest-free monetary systems, and paradoxically, the religious injunctions again make sense.

This is just one of the connections between the transmodern challenges, and the value of traditional, and religious systems rooted in the premodern era, such as Buddhist Economics, and of course, the traditions of ‘Buen Vivir’.

We could take many other examples: for example, modern chemical agriculture destroys the quality of the land, and depletes it, so that here also, premodern traditional practices become interesting again. However, as we stated in the third argument, and refined in the fourth argument: since tradition is also problematic, it cannot be simply copied, it can only be used in a critical manner.

An example of such a critical approach is the appropriate technology movement. In this approach, it is recognized that traditional technology as such is insufficient, that hypermodern technology is often inappropriate in more traditional settings, and that therefore, an intermediate practice is needed, that is both rooted in ‘tradition’, i.e. the reality of the local situation, but also in modernity, the creative use of technological solutions and reasoning, so as the create a new type of ‘appropriate’ technological development.

 

  • Conclusion: Can the ethos of the social knowledge economy be mixed with neotraditional approaches?

With the emergence of the social knowledge economy and commons-based peer production, and practices like open and distributed manufacturing, a new alliance becomes possible: that between the most technologically advanced open design communities, with the majority of the people who are still strongly linked to traditional practices. Through such an alliance, which combines the traditional injunction for a steady-state economy in harmony with natural possibilities, a differentiated post-industrial future can be created, which can bypass the destructive practices of industrial-era modernism, and can create an ‘appropriate technology’ future, whereby more traditional communities can more freely decide what to adapt and what to reject. While on the other hand, transmodern open design communities can learn from the wisdom of traditional approaches. Such an alliance needs an ideological vehicle, and Buen Vivir is its expression.

The potential role of commons-based reciprocity licenses to protect traditional knowledge

Reciprocity-based licenses for traditional knowledge

Today, indigenous and other communities who want to share their knowledge for the good of the rest of humanity are in somewhat of a moral bind.

If they share their knowledge without any IP protection, or if they share their knowledge using the classic open licenses from the free software movement, such as the General Public License, they intrinsically allow any outside forces, include the monopolistic multinationals, to profit from their knowledge and traditions, without any guaranteed reciprocity, and they may not benefit themselves from the wealth that is generated from their contributions.

On the other hand, if they use a license like the Creative-Commons Non-Commercial license, they allow sharing, and the spreading of benefits through the shared knowledge, but also reduce the potential for economic development based on that knowledge.

Finally, not sharing the knowledge at all, would prevent the rest of humanity from benefitting from potential new medicines that could save millions of human lives.

It is therefore important to introduce in the debate the possibility of reciprocity-based open licenses.

Let’s first summarize the issue as it has evolved in the economies based on free software, open design and open hardware. These fields are dominated by fully open licenses such as the GPL, which allow anyone to use the code, but obliges those that modify the code, to add it to the common pool, so that all may benefit from it. While this had led to a exponential growth of free and open source software, it has also subsumed this new model of open, commons-based peer production to an economic development that is dominated by large companies. Hence, the mode of peer production is not autonomous and not able of self-reproduction, since commons-contributors are obliged to work as labor for capital. Hence, we have the paradox that licenses which allow for full sharing, in practice promote the accumulation of capital. In the cultural sphere, one of the answers for this has been the invention and use of the Creative Commons Non-Commercial License. These type of licenses allow anyone to use and reproduce the cultural product, on the condition that no commercial profit is intented and realized. This solution raises two issues. One is that such a license does not create a real commons, but only a scale of sharing that is determined by the producer of the cultural product; in other words, there is no common creation of a common pool. The second is that it prohibits further economic development based on that protected work.

Is there an alternative to this conundrum, Dmytri Kleiner has proposed a Peer Production License, which has already been discussed by open agricultural machining communities such as Adabio Autoconstruction in France. The PPL basically allows worker-owned and commons-contributing entities to freely use the common pool of knowledge, code, and design, but demands a license fee from for-profit companies that want to use the same common pool for the realization of private profit. Hence, several advantages. One is a stream of income from the private sector companies in direction of the commons; the second is that economic development is not prohibited, but simply conditioned on reciprocity; finally, there is the added possiblity that those entities that sign on to the license and the common pools that it protects, could create a powerful enterpreneurial coalition based on ethical principles.

While the precise wording of the present PPL may not be appropriate ‘as is’ for traditional and indigenous communities, it opens up the possibility to create adapted reciprocity-based open licenses for traditional knowledge.

This would offer several advantages:

1) the traditional communities would be willing to share and thus the knowledge would benefit humanity as a whole

2) it would allow economic development based on that knowledge

3) the contracted reciprocity would benefit and profit to the traditional communities

4) members of traditional communities could themselve become active in the solidarity economy through ethical market entities that are based on the use of such licenses

5) traditional communities and their own ethical market entities could unite in enterpreneurial coalitions using the same common pools

6) these traditional communities could unite with ethical market entities active in other parts of the world, confident in the common values and principles that are enshrined in the reciprocity-based open licenses

Discussion: Gender Aspects

There is a remarkable structural similarity between the role of women in the domestic ‘contributory’ sector and the structural situation of peer production (as a really existing social knowledge economy) in the dominant economy.

Women contribute more than than males for the well-being of the family commons, and this work is mostly (nearly always) un-remunerated. Contributors to the commons also often volunteer their contributions for the commons. If women want to insure their own self-reproduction and a more equal place in the family, they must find work in the capital-labour nexus, as must peer producers in the social knowledge economy. Neither the domestic care economy nor the production of social knowledge currently allow for the self-reproduction of their owners.

Though many structural constraints for family equality (equality within the family) have been removed, it is very often the cultural constraints that determine that women are producing more homework than their male partners. Similary, in the peer production economy, though it is structurally open for all to participate, it is most often male-dominated and these male-dominated cultures create not just inertia but sometimes real impediments for female participation.

This shows that the transition to a social knowledge economy must be accompanied by strong policies that solve the structural conditions of women in society and the economy. And within the already existing communities that produce social knowledge, the forces that strive for gender equality must be supported, and the structural and cultural elements that maintain gender inequality must be tackled. It is not enough for a transition project to simple enable participation in social knowledge creation and use, it must promote the equipotential participation of all citizens, and create the conditions for it. A failure to do this may lead to the opposite effect, i.e. the creation of further inequalities due to the non-participation of women in the social knowledge economy.

Introducing the new configuration between State, Civil Society and the Market

What can we learn from the already existing social knowledge economy

The social knowledge economy is not an utopia, or just a project for the future. It is rooted in an already existing social and economic practice, that of commons-oriented peer production, which is already producing commons of knowledge, code, and design, and it has produced real economies like the free software economy, the open hardware economy etc… In its most broad interpretation, concerning all the economic activities that are emerging around open and shared knowledge, it may have reached already 1/6th of GDP in the USA, employing 17 million workers, according to the Fair Use Economy report.
A lot is known about the micro-economic structures of this emerging economic model, which we can summarize as follows:

  • at the core of this new value model are contributory communities, consisting of both paid and unpaid labour, which are creating common pools of knowledge, code, and design. These contributions are enabled by collaborative infrastructures of production, and a supportive legal and institutional infrastructure, which enables and empowers the collaborative practices.
  • these infrastructures of cooperation, i.e. technical, organisational, and legal infrastructures, are very often enabled, certainly in the world of free software commons, by democratically-run Foundations, sometimes called FLOSS Foundations, or more generically, ‘for-benefit associations’, which may create code depositories, protect against infringements of the open and sharing licenses, organize fundraising drives for the infrastructure, and organize knowledge sharing through local, national and international conferences. They are an enabling and protective mechanism.
  • finally, the successful projects create a economy around the commons pools, based on the creation of added value products and services that are based on the common pools, but also add to it. This is done by entrepreneurs and businesses that operate on the marketplace, and are most often for-profit entreprises, creating a ‘enterpreneurial coalition’ around the common pools and the community of contributors. They hire the developers and designers as workers, create livelihoods for them, and also support the technical and organisational infrastructure, including also the funding of the Foundations.

On the basis of this generic micro-economic experiences it is possible to deduce adapted macro-economic structures as well, which would consist of a civil society that consists mainly of communities of contributors, creating shareable commons; of a new partner state form, which enables and empowers social production generally and creates and protects the necessary civic infrastructures; and an enterpreneurial coalition which conducts commerce and create livelyhoods.

The new configuration

In the old neoliberal vision, value is created in the private sector by workers mobilized by capital; the state becomes a market state protecting the privileged interests of property owners; and civil society is a derivative rest category, as is evidenced in the use of our language (non-profits, non-governmental). Nevertheless, the combination of labor and civic movements has partially succeeded in socialising the market, achievements which are now under threat.

In the new vision of cognitive capitalism, the networked social cooperation consists of mostly unpaid activities that can be captured and financialized by proprietary ‘network’ platforms. Social media platforms almost exclusively capture the value of the social exchange of their members, and distributed labor such as crowdsourcing more often than not reduce the average income of the producers. In other words, the ‘netarchical’ version of networked production creates a permanent precariat and reinforces the neoliberal trends.

In the contrary vision of a open-commons based knowledge economy and society, value is created by citizens, paid or voluntary, which create open and common pools of knowledge, co-produced and enabled by a Partner State, which creates the right conditions for such open knowledge to emerge; and preferentially ethical enterpreneurial coalitions which create market value and services on top of the commons, which they are co-producing as well. The ideal vision of an open-commons based knowledge economy is one in which the ‘peer producers’ or commoners (the labor form of the networked knowledge society), not only co-create the common pools from which all society can benefit, but also create their own livelyhoods through ethical enterprise and thereby insure not only their own social reproduction but also that the surplus value stays within the commons-cooperative sphere. In this vision, the social solidarity economy is not a parallel stream of economic production, but the hyper-productive and hyper-cooperative core of the new economic model.

Thus in the new vision, civil society can be seen as consisting as a series of productive civic commonses, common pools of knowledge, code and design; the market consists of preferentially actors of the cooperative, social and solidarity economy which integrate the common good in their organisational structures, and whose labor-contributing members co-produce the commons with the civic contributors. Finally, in this vision, the Partner State enables and empowers such social cooperation, and creates the necessary civic and physical infrastructures for this flowering of innovation and civic and economic activity to occur.

The Partner State is not a weak neoliberal state, which strips public authority of its social functions, and retains the market state and repressive functions, as in the neoliberal model; it is also not the Welfare State, which organizes everything for its citizens; but it is a state that builds on the welfare state model, but at the same time creates the necessary physical and civic infrastructures for social autonomy, and for a civic production model that combines civic immaterial commons and cooperative social solidarity enterprise.

The ethical economy and market, is not a weak and parallel economy that specializes in the less competitive sectors of the economy; on the contrary, the ethical market is the core productive sector of the economy, building strong enterprises around competitive knowledge bases. It is however, at the service of civil society and co-construct the open knowledge commons on which society and commerce depends.

Why is this a post-capitalist scenario?

Capitalist-driven societies produce for exchange value, which may be useful, or not; and continuously strives to create new social desires and demands.

By way of contrast, the open-commons based knowledge economy consists a productive civil society of contributors, citizen contributors who continuously contribute to the commons of their choice based on use value motivations; it is around these use-value commons that an ethical market and economy finds its place, and creates added value for the market. The commons is continuously co-produced by both citizen contributors and paid ethical labor from the cooperative / social sector. In this scenario, the primary driver is the sphere of abundance of knowledge available for all, which is not a market driven by supply and demand dynamics; but around the immaterial abundance of non-rival or even anti-rival goods, is deployed a market of cooperatives and social solidarity players which add and sell scarce resources on the marketplace.

In this same scenario, the state is no longer a neoliberal market-state at the service of property owners, but is at the service of civil society, their commons, and the sphere of the ethical economy. It is not at the service of the private capital accumulation of property owners, but is at the service of the value accumulation and equitable value distribution taking place in the commons-cooperative sector. It is at the service of the buen vivir of its citizens, and the good knowledge they need for this. Instead of a focus on public-private partnerships, which excludes participation from civil society; a commons-supporting partner state will look at the development of public-social or public-commons partnerships. Where appropriate the Partner State looks at the possible commonification of public services. For example, following the model of Quebec and Northern Italy in creating Solidarity Cooperatives for Social Care, in which the state enables, regulates the direct provision of care by multi-stakeholder governed civil society based organisations. It is very likely that once the state undertakes the support of a commons-based civic and ethical economy in the sphere of knowledge, that it will also look at the development of institutional commons in the physical sphere. For example, developing commons-based housing development policies, which keep social housing outside of the speculative sphere. A society and state which desires to develop a commons in the immaterial sphere of knowledge, will also look at expanding the commons sphere in other spheres of human activity.

An example may show why this may be sometimes necessary. In the sphere of free software production, nearly all free software knowledge communities have their own for-benefit association which enables the cooperation, protects the licenses, etc … This is mostly likely because engagement requires knowledge and access to networks, which have been largely socialized in our societies. But open hardware developers have not developed such associations, and are more dependent on the companies selling hardware. This is because open hardware requires substantial material resources which need to be purchased privately, which favours the owners of capital and weakens the productive community that contributes to the commons. In such a scenario, the idea that open hardware developers could mutualize their means of production, would re-establish more balance between developers and company owners. Our illustration also mentions the commons-oriented ownership and governance forms which can assist citizens in having more control over crucial infrastructures such as land and housing.

Discussion: The role of the capitalist sector

What is the role of the capitalist sector in such a scenario?

The first key issue here is the creation of a level playing field between the social solidarity sector and the private sector. Whereas the social solidarity economy voluntarily integrates the common good in its statutes and operations, and is as it were ‘naturally commons-friendly’, the private capital sector is regulated so that its denial of social and environmental externalities is mitigated.

The Partner State encourages transitions from extractive to generative ownership models, while the association of private companies with the commons will assist them in adapting to the new emerging models of co-creation and co-design of value with the commoners. Hyper-exploitation of distributed labour will be mitigated through new solidarity mechanisms. As the mutual adaptation between the commons sector, the cooperative sector and the capitalist sector proceeds, the remaining capitalist sector should be increasingly socialized in the new practices, as well as ownership and governance forms. The aim is to create a level playing field, in which hyper-exploitation of social value becomes a gradual impossibility, and in which extractive rent-taking becomes equally impossible and counter-productive through the existence of well-protected open commons.
The second key issue concerns the self-reproduction capabilities of the commons contributors. Under the dominance of neoliberal, cognitive and netarchical capitalist forms, commoners are not able to create livelyhoods in the production of open knowledge commons, and under most open licenses, private companies are free to use and exploit the common knowledge without secure return. This obliges many and most commoners to work for private capital. What needs to be achieved is a new compact between the commons and the private companies, that insures the fair distribution of value, i.e. a flow of value must occur from the private companies to the commons and the commoners from whom the value is extracted. Models must be developed that allow privately owned companies to become fair partners of the commons. In the end, no privately-owned company, using its own research staff and proprietary IP, will be able to compete against open eco-systems that can draw on global knowledge production and sharing; this process of fair adaptation must be encouraged and accompanied by both measures from the commons and their associated ethical enterprises, and by the Partner State, in a context in which all players can benefit from the commons. Private capital must recognize, and must be made to recognize, that the value there are capturing comes overwhelmingly from the benefits of social cooperation in knowledge creation: just as they had to recognize the necessity for better and fair pay for labour, they must recognize fair pay for commons production.

 

A description of the new triarchy of the Partner State, the Ethical Economy and a Commons-based Civil Society

The concept of the partner state and the commonification of public services

Thus is born the concept of the Partner State, which is not opposed to the welfare state model, but ‘transcends and includes’ it. The Partner State is the state form which enables and empowers the social production of knowledge, livelihoods and well-being, by protecting and enabling the continuation and expansion of commons. The Partner State is the institution of the collectivity which creates and sustains the civic infrastructures and educational levels, and whose governance is based on participation and co-production of public services and collective decision-making. The Partner State retains the solidarity functions of the welfare state, but de-bureaucratizes the delivery of its services to the citizen. It abandons it paternalistic vision of citizens that are passive recipients of its services. The Partner State is therefore based on wide-spread participation in decision-making, but also in the delivery of its services. Public services are co-created and co-produced with the full participation of the citizens.

The means to this end is the ‘commonification of public services’ through public-commons partnerships. Public-private partnerships do not only add to the cost of public services, and create widespread distrust and need for control to counterbalance the profit-interests of the partners, but are essentially anti-democratic as they leave out the participation of the citizenry.

In a commentary, Silke Helfrich defines the general relationship of the state with the commons as such:

“For me the role of the state is at least fourfold:

not only

– to stop enclosures, but to trigger the production/construction of new commons by

– (co-) management of complexe resource systems which are not limited to local boundaries or specific communities (as manager and partner)

– survey of rules (chartas) to care for the commons (mediator or judge)

– kicking of or providing incentives for commoners governing their commons – here the point is to design intelligent rules which automatically protect the commons, like the GPL does (facilitator)”.
David Bollier adds that:

“The State already formally delegates some of its powers to corporations by granting them corporate charters, ostensibly to serve certain public purposes. Why can’t the state make similar delegations of authority to commons-based institutions, which would also (in their own distinct ways) serve public purposes? If the key problem of our time is the market/state duopoly, then we need to insist that the state authorize the self-organizing and legal recognition of commons-based institutions also. James Quilligan has called for commoners to create their own “social charters,” but the legal standing of such things remains somewhat unclear.
The public value of state-chartered commons-based institutions is that they would help

1) limit the creation of negative externalities that get displaced onto others (as corporations routinely do);

2) declare certain resources to be inalienable and linked to communities as part of their identity;

3) assure more caring, conscientious and effective stewardship and oversight of resources than the bureaucratic state is capable of providing; and

4) help commoners internalize a different set of stewardship values, ethics, social practices and long-term commitments than the market encourages.” (email, July 2012)
But it is Tommaso Fattori, a leading activist of the Italian Water Commons movement, which has the most developed concept of the commonification of public services:

“The field of Commons can be for the most part identified with a public but not-state arena, in which the actions of the individuals who collectively take care of, produce and share the Commons are decisive and fundamental.

In this sense, Commons and commoning can become a means for transforming public sector and public services (often bureaucracy-bound and used to pursue the private interests of lobby groups): a means for their commonification (or commonalization). Indeed, there are many possible virtuous crossovers between the traditional public realm and the realm of Commons.

Commonification goes beyond the simple de-privatization of the public realm: Commonification basically consists of its democratization, bringing back elements of direct self-government and self-managing, by the residents themselves, of goods and services of general interest (or participatory management within revitalized public bodies). Commonification is a process in which the inhabitants of a territory regain capability and power to make decisions, to orientate choices, rules and priorities, reappropriating themselves of the very possibility of governing and managing goods and services in a participatory manner : it is this first-person activity which changes citizens into commoners. Generally, there are a series of circumstances (including living space and time schedules, job precariousness and other difficult work conditions, the urbanization of land and the complexity of infrastructures) which do not physically allow the inhabitants of a large metropolis to completely self-manage fundamental services such as water utilities or public transport, bypassing the Municipalities and the public bodies (or managing without public funds to finance major infrastructure works): it is on the other hand possible to include elements of self-government and commoning in the distinct stages of general orientation, planning, scheduling, management and monitoring of the services. At the same time it is necessary to also give back public service workers an active role in co-management. Which means going the other way down the road as compared to the privatization of that which is “public”.

But there are also other overlaps possible between the idea of public and that of Commons, apart from the necessary creation of legislative tools which can protect and encourage Commons and commoning.

Several forms of Public-Commons partership can be developed, where the role of state is realigned, from its current support and subsidising of private for-profit companies, towards supporting commoning and the creation of common value. This can be achieved through tax exemptions, subsidies and empowerment of sharing and commoning activities, but also, for example, by allocating public and state-owned goods to common and shared usage thanks to projects which see public institutions and commoners working together. This is a road which could be the beginning of a general transformation of the role of the state and of local authorities into partner state, “namely public authorities which create the right environment and support infrastructure so that citizens can peer produce value from which the whole of society benefits”.
Tommaso Fattori has offered an in-depth understanding of the precise relationship between the new state form and the commons:

“To understand in what sense and under what conditions public services can be considered commons, it is necessary to offer some brief notes on what is meant by public service and what by commons. In both cases it is difficult to be concise, because of the breadth of the debate on the areas and the issues. Public Services. As is well known, in most legal systems, the laws do not provide any definition of what is meant by the concept ‘public service’. In short, in the doctrinal reconstruction, there are two main positions: the subjective theory focuses attention on the public nature of the subject supplying the service, whereas the objective theory focuses attention on the public interest which distinguishes the activity performed. According to the subjective theory, the elements necessary to identify public service are the direct or indirect responsibility of the State or another public body for the service, and its supply for the benefit of its citizens. On the other hand, for the objective theory, the necessary element is that the service be provided to the collectivity and place public interest at its heart. The EU however prefers to duck the issue and speak of “services of general interest”: services (both market and non-market) which are considered of central interest for the collectivity and that for this reason must be subjected to “specific obligations of public service”. In these pages, by public services we mean the services of general interest, that is, that plethora of fundamental services which were once an integral part of welfare services but nowadays have mostly been privatized, following political decisions, or are supplied by public bodies but run along the lines of privatized companies. These services include, although this is not an exhaustive list, health services, schools and universities, power supply, transport and other local utilities such as the water or waste services.

Commons: The definition of what is meant by commons, and what commoning is, is more complex, as this is an area in which different approaches and paradigms clash. In very general terms, commons is everything we share; in particular gifts of nature and creations of society that belong to all of us equally, and should be preserved for future generations: material or immaterial, rival or non-rival, natural or artificial resources that elude the concept of exclusive use and build social bonds.1 In addition to shared resources, there are another two fundamental building blocks of the commons: commoners and commoning. Commoners are all the members of a community, or even loosely connected groups of people, who steward and care for the shared resources, or produce common resources, adopting a form of self-government based on their capacity to give themselves rules (and incentives and sanctions to ensure they are respected, as well as mechanisms for monitoring and resolving conflicts)2, called commoning. Commoning is a participatory and inclusive form of decision-making and a governance system for sharing, producing and reproducing commons in the interest of present and future generations and in the interest of the ecosystem itself, where natural commons are concerned.

Still in general terms, although almost all goods and resources can potentially become objects of sharing, after a choice and decision by people, and thus become “shared resources” or “commons”, it is however probable that most of humanity would agree on a nucleus of resources which, at least in principle, “cannot not be commons”, on pain of denying life itself and the possibility of free individual and collective development: primary, fundamental, natural or social resources, which range from water to knowledge.3 A future without couch-surfing, where all beds are given a monetary value and not shared, is certainly less desirable than a future with couch-surfing; but a future without access to water for all is unacceptable. These primary commons must not allow discrimination in access to them according to individual wealth, reintroducing the element of equality and fairness, as well as a relationship of care —rather than one of domination or subjection— between humanity and the rest of nature of which it is a part. These are resources which do not belong to and which are not at the disposal of governments or the State-as-person, because they belong to the collectivity and above all, to future generations, who cannot be expropriated of their rights. Distributed participatory management and self-government, inclusion and collective enjoyment, no individual exclusive rights, prevalence of use value over exchange value, meeting of primary and diffuse needs: commons, in this understanding, means all these things.”
One of the mechanisms for the delivery of commonified public services are through contracts between the state as funding and quality control mechanism, and “Solidarity cooperatives”, which are multi-stakeholder coops, bringing together all parties involved in a particular endeavor―workers, consumers, producers and members of the larger community―in a democratic structure of ownership and control. This new system of delivery has been pioneered in the field of social care, for health and support services for particular populations such as the elderly, the physically handicapped etc… and is particularly strong in northern Italy (Emilia-Romagna, the region around Bologna), as well as in Quebec. The examples are described in the policy report from John Restakis.
To conclude:

In a mature social knowledge economy, he state will still exist, but will have a radically different nature. Much of its functions will have been taken over by commons institutions, but since these institutions care primarily about their own commons, and not the general common good, we will still need public authorities that are the guarantor of the system as a whole, and can regulate the various commons, and protect the commoners against possible abuses. So in our scenario, the state does not disappear, but is transformed, though it may greatly diminish in scope, and with its remaining functions thoroughly democratized and based on citizen participation. In our vision, it is civil-society based peer production, through the Commons, which is the guarantor of value creation by the private sector, and the role of the state, as Partner State, is to enable and empower the creation of common value. The new peer to peer state then, though some may see that as a contradictio in terminis, is a state which is subsumed under the Commons, just as it is now under the private sector.
Source: Excerpts from a text prepared by Tommaso Fattori as part of the book-project “Protecting Future Generations Through Commons”, organized by Directorate General of Social Cohesion of the Council of Europe in collaboration with the International University College of Turin. The text will be published soon in “Trends in Social Cohesion” Series, Council of Europe publications

 

The Ethical Economy

What exactly is the nature and the role of the ethical economy in the social knowledge economy?

First of all, the ethical economy “realizes” the value that is created by the ‘commoners’ in the common pools, by creating added value for the ethical market sector. The realized surplus goes directly to the workers who are also the contributors to the commons, thereby realizing their self-reproduction, independently of the classic capital accumulation economy. A new ‘cooperative accumulation’ process is thereby created that mediates between the commons and the classical capital sector, and directly serve the commons and the commoners.

The ethical economy can realize profits, but the realized profits serve a purpose, a mission, at the direct service of the creation of use value. It doesn’t coincide therefore to the civic nonprofit sector, but is better called a Not-For-Profit sector, since the profits are subsumed to the social goal. This is in essence why the new sector is called an ethical economy, because the goals are not the accumulation of profit, but of ‘benefits’. So a synonym is to talk about a ‘for-benefit’ sector.

The ethical companies, can take very different form, or ‘open company formats’, with their common goal being to contribute to the ‘common good’ generally, and to the commons specifically. They may be allied amongst themselves as enterpreneurial coalitions around certain specific common pools (but likely will use more than one commons). The different legal regimes may be B-Corporations, Fair Trade companies, social enterpreneurs, worker’s or other form of cooperatives … One of the key innovations has been the development of ‘Solidarity Cooperatives’, whose emergence has been described elsewhere by John Restakis. Solidarity Coops integrate the common good in their statutes, and are multi-stakeholder governed.

The ethical economy may be focused on relocalized production for reasons of sustainability, but its workers cooperate globally directred through the open design communities that are essential for their operations. Organizationally, they can be globally organized through models like solidarity franchising, or “Phyles”, i.e. through global community-supportive or mission-oriented ethical ‘transnational’ forms.

Discussion: Material and Immaterial Infrastructural Requirements for the Ethical Economy

The emergence and strengthening of the Ethical Economy as a core of the social knowledge society will require both material and immaterial infrastructural development.

The first is the development of a series of alternative ‘corporate’ structures, which are not linked to the realization of profit as a primary goal, but allow market entitities to operate for social goals, missions, purposes, etc .. This is an area which we call Open Company Formats, and is a shift which is already well under way in various countries.
The second is the support to create viable “Open Business Models”. These are models for financial resilience and sustainability that are geared towards the recognition and development, and not the suppression, of socialized knowledge pools.
The third is the development of distributed finance, both crowdfunding directly from citizens, ‘cloudfunding’ directed to ethical finance partners, and state or public financing. An example of such financing is the ‘Artistic Voucher System’, which has been inscribed in the ‘Organic Code for Social Knowlege’ (COESC+1]. </ref>

The key issue is that without the super-profits realized through Intellectual Property rents, private risk capital will be much less keen to invest in patent-free innovations, and an alternative financial system needs to be built and supported through public policy frameworks.

Thus, a new legal, pro-sharing, pro-social knowledge, infrastructure needs to be developed as well, one which supports the ethical economy and its logic, and promotes and eases the mutualization of knowledge and other immaterial resources, and of the material infrastructures of production as well. A legal infrastructure is need which promotes and develops the ‘sharing’, ‘cooperative’ and other economic forms.

A technical infrastructure will be needed, not only a generic and open internet infrastructure, but the support for the development of collaborative platforms that are appropriate for the different industrial and economic sectors. An examples are the depositories of design objects that are needed in each sector; and the infrastructure for the interconnection of smart objects, the so-called Internet of Things. An infrastructure will be needed for both open and distributed manufacturing, and for distributed production of renewable energy, close to the place of need.

New forms of open value accounting will need to be developed in order to recognize the new forms of value creation in a commons-based contributory economy.

In this context, we see the role of the Partner State as being responsible for incubating the Ethical Economy through various support policies, which may take the following institutional form:

  • The Institute for the Promotion and Defense of the Commons: this is an institute which promotes the knowledge about the commons and their legal and infrastructural forms, for example, the promotion and protection for the use of Commons-Based Licenses, such as the GPL, the Creative Commons, etc .. This Institute supports the creation of common pools of knowledge, code and design, both generically and for specific sectors and regions.
  • The Institute for the Incubation of the Ethical Economy, supports the emergence of economic practices around the common pools of knowledge. It helps the civic and ethical enterpreneurs to create livelihoods around these common pools. It teaches enterpreneurial commoners what the possibilities are to create added value around the commons, and what the legal, commercial and technical enablers are. It promotes the creation of enterpreneurial coaltions in new sectors, and supports established ethical economy players to solve common problems.
  • The Transition Income: before commons can create thriving ethical economies, a period of civil engagement and investment is needed, which may not immediately yield livelihoods. Thus, a structure can be created which can materially support the creators of new common pools to sustain themselves in such transition periods. This will be a vital mechanism in combatting precarity in the early stages of commons creation, before the enterpreneurial coalitions can take up their role in the new commons economies in various sectors.

The Commons-Based Civil Society

A contribution from John Restakis:

In its broadest and most accepted sense, civil society is the social impulse to free and democratic association, to the creation of community, and to the operations of social life, which includes politics. This is the sense of civil society that is used by writers such as Vaclav Havel. Civil society is distinguished from the state as it is from the operations of the private sector. Some writers also stress a distinction from the family as well.

For Havel and a long line of writers extending back to Aristotle, civil society remains the elementary fact of human existence. It is what makes human life possible. For Aristotle it was both the means and the end of human association as the pursuit of the good life, which is in essence a social life. And in this sense, it is the institutions that arise from civil society (the schools, the voluntary associations, the trade unions, the courts, the political parties, etc.) that provide the individual with the means to realize their own humanity and by so doing to perfect the whole of society in the process. The state is an outgrowth of this impulse.

As Thomas Paine wrote: “The great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origins in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilized community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.” Alex De Toqueville, visiting America in the late seventeen famously attributed the vitality of the young democracy to the richness and diversity of its associational life.”

Within civil society, a huge portion of civic activities are carried out by organizations created to provide goods and services through collaboration, by people acting together to realize mutual interests. They constitute that sector which is composed of non-profit and voluntary organizations, service groups, cultural organizations such as choral societies, charities, trade unions, and co-operatives. This economic aspect within civil society has also been described as the civil economy, the third sector or the social economy.

For all these conceptions – the commons, civil society and civil economy – the notion of reciprocity is fundamental.
* On Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the social mechanism that makes associational life possible. It is the foundation of social life. In its elements, reciprocity is a system of voluntary exchange between individuals based on the understanding that the giving of a favour by one will in future be reciprocated either to the giver or to someone else.

Willingness to reciprocate is a basic signal of the sociability of an individual. Taken to an extreme, the complete unwillingness of an individual to reciprocate is tantamount to severing the bonds between themselves and other people. Reciprocity is thus a social relation that contains within itself potent emotional and even spiritual dimensions. These elements account for an entirely different set of motivations within individuals than behaviour in the classical sense of “maximizing one’s utility” as a consumer.

Reciprocity animates a vast range of economic activities that rest on the sharing and reinforcement of attitudes and values that are interpersonal and constitute essential bonds between the individual and the human community. What is exchanged in reciprocal transactions are not merely particular goods, services and favours, but more fundamentally the expression of good will and the assurance that one is prepared to help others. It is the foundation of trust. Consequently, the practice of reciprocity has profound social ramifications and entails a clear moral element. Reciprocity is a key for understanding how the institutions of society work. But it is also an economic principle with wholly distinct characteristics that embody social as opposed to merely commercial attributes. When reciprocity finds economic expression in the exchange of goods and services to people and communities it is the civil economy that results. It is in turn, a key principle underlying the formation and use of commons.

Civil economy organizations are those that pursue their goals, whether economic or social, on the basis that individuals’ contributions will be reciprocated and the benefits shared. Reciprocity and mutuality are the economic and social principle that define both the activities and the aims of these organizations – whether they are co-operatives, voluntary associations, or conventional non-profits. Their primary purpose is the promotion of collective benefit. Their social product is not just the particular goods or services that they produce, but human solidarity – the predisposition of people in a society to work together around mutual goals. Another name for this is social capital. And, as opposed to the capitalist principle of capital control over labour, reciprocity is the means by which a social interest – whether it takes the form of labour, or citizen groups, or consumers – can exercise control over capital. As a sub division of civil society, the use of reciprocity for economic purposes is what distinguishes the civil or social economy from the private and public sectors.

There is no question that the long-term success of the National Plan for Good Living, and the implementation of a social knowledge economy, will rely heavily on the strength and development of a civil economy in Ecuador that is strong, autonomous, democratic, innovative, and capable of playing the central role that is assigned to it both by the constitution and the Good Living Plan itself. The civil economy is the social and economic space that most reflects the values and principles of the socialist and civic ideals of the government and the source of those civil institutions that will, in the long run, defend and advance those ideals. Lest anyone forget, it was Ecuador’s civil society that gave birth to the Citizen Revolution, not the state. In the end, it will also be civil society and the vitality of its institutions that will safeguard its ideals.

For this reason, Ecuador’s public policy and legislation must serve as a vital political and legal resource for building the values, skills, and institutions that enable the civil economy to flourish and to provide the indispensible social foundations that will ultimately serve to transform the political economy of the country. In our view, progressive public policy and legislation with respect to the civil economy will serve as the primary mechanism for creating a new social contract and social praxis that reflects the complementary aims and purposes of the state on the one hand and the collective values of civil society on the other.

Beyond the market, beyond planning ?

The key role of Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses

We are making here a key strategic argument about the precise interaction between the commons and the new ethical market sectors, through the intermediation of a new type of commons-license that supports the actual emergence of a reciprocity-based ethical economy:

Indeed, the labor/p2p/commons and other social change movements today are faced with a paradox.

On the one hand we have a re-emergence of the cooperative movement and worked-owned enterprises, but they suffer from structural weaknesses. Cooperative entities work for their own members, are reluctant to accept new cooperators that would share existing profits and benefits, and are practicioners of the same proprietary knowledge and artificial scarcities as their capitalist counterparts. Even though they are internally democratic, they often participate in the same dynamics of capitalist competition which undermines their own cooperative values.

On the other hand, we have an emergent field of open and commons-oriented peer production in fields such as free software, open design and open hardware, which do create common pools of knowledge for the whole of humanity, but at the same time, are dominated by both start-ups and large multinational enterprises using the same commons.

Thus, we need a new convergence or synthesis, a ‘open cooperativism’, that combines both commons-oriented open peer production models, with common ownership and governance models such as those of the cooperatives and the solidarity economic models.

What follows is a more detailed argument on how such transition could be achieved.
Thus, today we have a paradox, the more communistic the sharing license we use in the peer production of free software or open hardware, the more capitalistic the practice, with for example the Linux commons becoming a corporate commons enriching IBM and the like … it works in a certain way, and seems acceptable to most free software developers, but is it the only way?

Indeed, the General Public License and its variants, allow anyone to use and modify the software code (or design), as long as the changes are also put back in the common pool under the same conditions for further users. This is in fact technically ‘communism’ as defined by Marx: from each according to his abilities, to each according to their needs, but which then paradoxically allows multinationals to use the free software code for profit and capital accumulation. The result is that we do have an accumulation of immaterial commons, based on open input, participatory process, and commons-oriented output, but that it is subsumed to capital accumulation. It is at present not possible, or not easy, to have social reproduction (i.e. livelihoods) within the sphere of the commons. Hence the free software and culture movements, however important they are as new social forces and expression new social demands, are also in essence ‘liberal’. This is not only acknowledged by its leaders such as Richard Stallman, but also by anthropological studies like those of Gabriela Coleman. Not so tongue-in-cheek we could say they are liberal-communist and communist-liberal movements, which create a ‘communism of capital’.

Is there an alternative ? We believe there is, and this would be to replace non-reciprocal licenses, i.e. they do not demand a direct reciprocity from its users, to one based on reciprocity. Call it a switch from ‘communist’, to ‘socialist’ licenses’.

This is the choice of the Peer Production License as designed and proposed by Dmytri Kleiner; it is not to be confused with the Creative Commons non commercial license, as the logic is different.

The logic of the CC-NC is to offer protection to individuals reluctant to share, as they do not wish a commercialization of their work that would not reward them for their labor. Thus the Creative Commons ‘non-commercial’ license stops the further economic development based on this open and shared knowledge, and keeps it entirely in the not-for-profit sphere.

The logic of the PPL is to allow commercialization, but on the basis of a demand for reciprocity. It is designed to enable and empower a counter-hegemonic reciprocal economy that combines commons that are open to all that contribute, while charging a license fee for the the for-profit companies who want to use without contributing. Not that much changes for the multinationals in practice, they can still use the code if they contribute, as IBM does with Linux, and for those who don’t , they would pay a license fee, a practice they are used to. It’s practical effect would be to direct a stream of income from capital to the commons, but its main effect would be ideological, or if you like, value-driven.

The enterpreneurial coalitions that are linked around a PPL commons would be explicitely oriented towards their contributions to the commons, and the alternative value system that it represents. From the point of view of the peer producers or commoners, i.e. the communities of contributors to the common pool, it would allow them to create their own cooperative entities, in which profit would be subsumed to the social goal of sustaining the commons and the commoners. Even the participating for-profit companies would consciously contribute under a new logic. It links the commons to a enterpreneurial coalition of ethical market entities (coops and other models) and keeps the surplus value entirely within the sphere of commoners/cooperators instead of leaking out to the multinationals. In other words, through this convergence or rather combination of a commons model for the abundant immaterial resources, and a reciprocity-based model for the ‘scarce’ material resources, the issue of livelihoods and social reproduction would be solved, and surplus value is kept inside the commons sphere itself. It is the cooperatives that would, through their cooperative accumulation, fund the production of immaterial commons, because they would pay and reward the peer producers associated with them. In this way, peer production would move from a proto-mode of production, unable to perpetuate itself on its own outside capitalism, to a autonomous and real mode of production. It creates a counter-economy that can be the basis for reconstituting a ‘counter-hegemony’ with a for-benefit circulation of value, which allied to pro-commons social movements, could be the basis of the political and social transformation of the political economy. Hence we move from a situation in which the communism of capital is dominant, to a situation in which we have a ‘capital for the commons’, increasingly insuring the self-reproduction of the peer production mode.

The PPL is used experimentally by Guerilla Translations! and is being discussed in various places, such as for example, in France, in the open agricultural machining and design communities.

There is also a specific potential, inside the commons-oriented ethical economy, such as the application of open book accounting and open supply chains, would allow a different value circulation, whereby the stigmergic mutual coordination that already works at scale for immaterial cooperation and production, would move to the coordination of physical production, creating post-market dynamics of allocation in the physical sphere. Replacing both the market allocation through the price signal, and central planning, this new system of material production would allow for massive mutual coordination instead, enabling a new form of ‘resource-based economics’

Finally, this whole system can be strengthened by creating commons-based venture funding, so as to create material commons, as proposed by Dmytri Kleiner. In this way, the machine park itself is taken out of the sphere of capital accumulation. In this proposed system, cooperatives needing capital for machinery, would post a bond, and the other coops in the system would fund the bond, and buy the machine for a commons in which both funders and users would be members. The interest paid on these loans would create a fund that would gradually be able to pay an increasing income to their members, constituting a new kind of basis income.

The new open cooperativism is substantially different from the older form. In the older form, internal economic democracy is accompanied by participation in market dynamics on behalf of the members, using capitalist competition. Hence a unwillingness to share profits and benefits with outsiders. There is no creation of the commons. We need a different model in which the cooperatives produce commons, and are statutorily oriented towards the creation of the common good, with multi-stakeholders forms of governance which include workers, users-consumers, investors and the concerned communities.

Today we have a paradox that open communities of peer producers are oriented towards the start-up model and are subsumed to the profit model, while the cooperatives remain closed, use IP, and do not create commons. In the new model of open cooperativism, a merger should occur between the open peer production of commons, and the cooperative production of value. The new open cooperativism integrates externalities, practices economic democracy, produces commons for the common good, and socializes its knowledge. The circulation of the common is combined with the process of cooperative accumulation, on behalf of the commons and its contributors. In the beginning, the immaterial commons field, following the logic of free contributions and universal use for everyone who needs it, would co-exist with a cooperative model for physical production, based on reciprocity. But as the cooperative model becomes more and more hyper-productive and is able to create sustainable abundance in material goods, the two logics would merge.

Mutual coordination mechanisms in the new ‘ethical’ enterpreneurial coalitions: Cybersin redux ?

Traditional economic debates are often between the options of state-initiated planning on the one side, and the allocation through market pricing signals on the other hand. But the social knowledge economy shows the increasing likely path of a third method of allocation, that of transparent mutual coordination. The first attempt to such a type of resource-based economy, in the Soviet Union of the 1960’s, when the construction of a proto-internet was initiated, is well documented in the book by Francis Spufford, Red Plenty. The effort failed because the opposition of the bureaucratic forces in the state apparatus. The second attempt took place in Allende’s Chile in the early seventies, under the advise and leadership of complexity thinker Stafford Beer, and was successfully used on a smaller scale to overcome a cripling strike of the transportation industry, where with 25% of the fleet, and using telexes for coordination, the strike was overcome. Thus the project Cybersin was born, a project to mutually and democratically coordinate Chilean industry, but the project was destroyed through the military coup, and the effective bombing of its headquarters.

Nevertheless, under the impulse of the social knowledge communities, mutual coordination of complex activities is making a very strong appearance, even if it is limited at present to the production of ‘immaterial’ value, i.e. knowledge products. This emergence nevertheless has implications for a transition to a new type of economic coordination, that will co-exist with both state planning, which received a strong impulse in Ecuador, and traditional market pricing mechanisms.

Indeed, the really-existing social knowledge economy of commons-oriented peer production of free software, open design and hardware, is known to function according to the principle of mutual coordination, or “stigmergy”. The open design communities that already exist construct and coordinate their construction of common pools of knowledge, code, and design, through mutual signalling systems because their infrastructures of cooperation are fully open and transparent.

In the world of physical production, we can see an emergence of open supply chains and open book accounting on a much smaller scale. Nevertheless, there is a historical opportunity for a emergence of mutual coordination of physical production, if the ‘ethical enterpreneurial coalitions’, which may emerge around the social knowledge economy, decide to share their accounting and logistical information streams, within those coalitions. In this scenario, which is hypothetical at present but could be an integral part of a mature p2p/commons oriented social knowledge economy, we would see the gradual emergence of a third way for the coordinated allocation of resources for economic production.

The historical and present importance of mutualization in times of increasing resource scarcity

Discussion: The issue of eco-system sustainability

Faced with the grave ecological crisis such as climate change and species extinction, but also in terms of impending resource crises, it is important to keep the historical perspective in mind of how humankind has faced such systemic crises in the past.

One of the paradoxes of globalized capitalism is indeed its reliance on economies of scale, which are in contradiction with the needs of the balance of the eco-system. In short, economies of scale create competitiveness through the production of more units at lower cost, which necessitates more energy and more resource use to be competitive.

What is needed in times of resource scarcity is the opposite approach: economies of scope, or in other words, “doing more with the same”. This is exactly how past civilizational crises were solved. Faced with the crisis of the Roman Empire, which was also a globalized system faced with a resource crisis, medieval Europe responded with a relocalization of production through the feudal domains, with the mutualization of livelihoods and production through the monastic orders, and a Europe-wide open design community, i.e. the unified culture of the Catholic Church and the exchange and distribution of technical knowledge through the monastic orders. Very similar responses can be seen in Japan and China.

Today, the response of the sectors of society that are most sensitive to the combined crises are very similar, i.e. the mutualization of knowledge through the open source movements, and the mutualization of physical infrastructures through the ‘sharing economy’. Thus the shift to the social knowledge economy is also the vital and appropriate response to the crises of the ecosystems.

Why innovation should be located in open design communities

There are several reasons why it is crucial to move towards a system of open innovation that is located in common pools of knowledge, code and design, especially as it relates to the issue of sustainability.

The first and general reason is that patenting technology results in unacceptable delays for invention and diffusion, as shown by the studies cited by George Dafermos. In times of climate change, species extinction and other biospheric dangers, it would be highly damaging to keep the development and diffusion of such innovations under the control of private monopolies, if not to allow patented technologies to be shelved altogether for reasons like the protection of legacy systems or market share.

The second reason is equally structural and system. When innovation is located in corporate R&D departments, the design is always influenced by market and artificial scarcity considerations. In private R&D, planned obsolescence is not a bug, but a feature, a generalized practice. By contrast, open design, open hardware, open technology communities lack any motivation for planned obsolescence and design by their very nature for inclusion, modularity, and sustainability. A quick check of the 25+ open source car projects immediately shows that all of them have thought about sustainability as part of the design process.

Thus, open design communities have a much greater potential to design inherently for re-use, recycling, upcycling, circular economy processes, biodegradable material, interoperability, modularity, and other aspects that have direct effects on sustainability. Each innovation in this area is instantly available for global humanity through open access to the shared open pools of knowledge. Corporations and market entitities which produce and sell on the basis of such designs, are naturally aligned to the sustainability which is inherent in the open design processes.

Open design pools can be strategically allied to sustainable practices that increase this potential. For example, by allying itself with the ‘sharing economy’ practices of shared use in terms of consumption practices.

Open distributed manufacturing of open hardware comes with enormous cost savings; it is estimated that open hardware is generally produced at one eight of the cost of proprietary hardware. For countries embarking on this road, this has important implications for the balance of payment, the neo-colonial dependency on the globalized neoliberal system. The cost-savings frees substantial resources that can be invested in other areas of development, to increase the diffusion of a particular good or service, etc ..

Finally, in terms of production, the combination of open design with distributed machinery can or will have a tremendous effect on the geography of production, by allowing a relocalization of production in micro-factories. Currently, studies show that the transportation of goods, is three-quarters of the real ecological cost of production. Many of these transportation costs can be eliminated by the stimulation of local and domestic industries that combine the generalisation of the micro-factory system with the global engineering by open design communities, under the general motto: ‘what’s heavy is local, what’s light is global’.

The role of ‘idle-sourcing’ and the sharing economy

The emergence of the social knowledge economy, as a process of mutualization of immaterial resources, is also accompanied by the emergence of a ‘sharing economy’, i.e. a process of mutualization of material resources.

This sharing economy is emerging as a partly crisis-driven responses to the global economic crisis, and partly because current networked technologies drastically diminish the coordination and transaction costs necessary to manage such mutualization.
In one of the earlier book treatments on this emergence, i.e. Rachel Botsman’s Rise of Collaborative Consumption, the author distinguishes three major categories of sharing:

  • Product Service Systems like Bikesharing and Carsharing, based on a ‘usage mindset’ whereby you pay for the benefit of a product – what it does for you – without needing to own the product outright.
  • Redistribution Markets like Freecycle and eBay, used or pre-owned goods are redistributed from where they are not needed to somewhere or someone where they are
  • Collaborative Lifestyles like Couchsurfing, and the Lending Club: sharing and exchange of resources and assets such as time, food, space, skills, and money

The sharing economy is an important response to resource and energy scarcity challenges, and in particular to the enormous waste in material resources that is the result of a profit-driven consumptive economy. The sharing economy allows massive idle-sourcing, i.e. the re-use of little use material possessions. Mutualizing certain infrastructures, like car-sharing for examples, allows for substantial savings in the use of energy and material resources, necessary to fullfil certain functions like transportation.
The sharing economy is ideally supported and enable by a social knowledge economy, which allows open information about idle resources to be shared across user communities.
It is important however, to look at the ownership and governance issues underpinning this emergence. One part of the sharing economy is driven by privately owned platforms that monetize such idle resources; another part of the sharing economy consist of social and non-profit initiatives that aim for non-monetary sharing of such resources.
The part of the sharing economy that is clearly driven by privately-owned, profit-driven platforms that act as intermediaries between users can clearly derail some of the advantages. For example, the use of dis-aggregated distributed labor, where isolated freelance workers are facing a demand side that is clearly empowered by the platform design, can exert a downward trend on wages.
A social knowledge policy should make sure that ownership and governance forms do not derail the free sharing of knowledge amongst all users, and needs to make sure that private ownership of platforms does not endanger such possibilities.

However, many of the activist forces in the sharing economy are working for socially progressive policies. This for example the case for the eBook “Guide”: Policies for Shareable Cities, co-produced by Shareable magazine and the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Other policy productions, like for example the campaigns of Peers.org in the U.S., are the product of an organisation that blur the social contradictions between the users and the owners of the sharing infrastructures.

However, it remains a priority for a transition towards a social knowledge economy, to systematically enable and empower the mutualization of infrastructures that the emergent sharing economy represents, while matching it to ownership and governance forms that include the user communities.

A historical opportunity: The Convergence of Material/Technical P2P Infrastructures, Digital/Immaterial Commons, and Commons-Oriented Governance and Ownership Models

The transition towards a social knowledge economy is today favoured by a strong convergence of technological, social and technological trends and ‘affordances’, i.e. technological possibilities that can be embraced by emancipatory political and social forces.

The first is of course the peer to peer logic of open technical infrastructures like the internet, which allow for permissionless self-organisation and value creation by productive communities that can operate both on a local and global scale. The internet is in effect not just a communication medium, but more properly a production medium.

The second is the ‘distribution’ of the means of production through 3D Printing and other trends in the miniaturisation of machinery. This allows much lower entry barriers for the self-organisation of a civic and cooperative economy. This is the ‘Internet of Manufacturing’. The so-called Sharing Economy allows for the mutualization of critical infrastructures and the ‘idle-sourcing’ of isolated and scattered resources. The Internet of Things allows for a more fine-grained control and the autonomy and interconnection of objects.

The third is the distribution of financial capital, through crowdfunding, social lending and other possibilities, which allow a more fine-grained allocation of investments by citizen’s themselves. This the the Internet of Ethical Financial Capital.

The fourth is the development of renewable distributed energy, which allows for an Internet of Energy, and energetic autonomy at more local levels, such as village, neighborhood and even household.

Free software, open knowledge, open design show the possibilities for the increased networking and mutualization of immaterial resources. The three other forms of distribution point to a potential for the networking and mutualization of physical resources. In other words, we have a great potential to engineer a convergence of both the immaterial and material commons.

Thus we can envisage the social knowledge economy as enabling a vast series of interconnected knowledge commons, for every field of human activity, but which is enabled both by material conditions (the internet of manufacturing and energy), and immaterial conditions (metrics, legal frameworks, etc…).

However, as we have shown in our introduction to the value regimes, such commons can still be the subject of an ‘extractivism of knowledge’ which benefits privileged elite players. And as we have shown in our distinctions regarding technology regimes, the p2p technical affordances can be embedded in value-sensitive design that privileges certain players, like the owners of the platforms. The great danger is therefore that what we disintermediate and decentralize with one hand, can be re-intermediated by new dominant players through the other hand.

The promise of the social knowledge economy will therefore not be realized without profound changes in the regimes of property and governance.

This is why me must insist that the social knowledge economy, i.e. commons-oriented peer production by autonomous productive communities, goes hand in hand with both peer property and peer governance.

Today, social media like Facebook, search engines like Google, are in the hands of a new type of ‘netarchical’ oligopolies. Many enabling platforms, such as those for crowdfunding and social lending, are merely forms of distributed capitalism, functioning like reverse market mechanisms (such as the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform), that do not create and sustain commons.

Hence, the distribution of the means of knowledge creation and diffusion, of production machinery and financial capital, of distributed energy and of the vital land resources, needs to be matched by distributed and common ownership and land.

While the immaterial commons of non-rival and shareable goods can be protected by open licenses, the material production resulting from them should take place through ethical entities that are the property of the value producers themselves. There is today an emergence of a wide range of dynamic governance and property regimes, that can guarantee distribution and democratisation of decision-making power. Governance innovations such as the Viable Systems Model, sociocracy and holocracy, have been developed to allow for democratic decision-making in productive communities; Dynamic property regimes as as the FairShares Model of Enterprise, Solidarity Coops, Community Land Trusts, and many others, have been developed to common-ize and distribute property. The legal and regulatory frameworks of the social knowledge economy should facilitate the development and choice of such modalities. The key is to enable a pluralistic Commonwealth rich in choices, that have as key requirement both productive democracy and the integration of environmental and social externalities.

As we have seen above in our introduction to four distinct socio-technical regimes, p2p infrastructures and practices can be embedded in netarchical models (hierarchical control, ownership and governance of the enabled p2p social logic); distributed capitalism (monetising of idle and shareable resources), but also in local community and global commons oriented property and governance regimes.
Our recommendation is for the creation of two institutions that can insure democratic ownership and governance within the sphere of the immaterial and material commons:
* The Institute for Pluralistic Ownership

This institute, in cooperation with the Institute for the Commons presented above, assists individuals and communities and actors of the social knowledge economy to know the ownership alternatives that are available, facilitates access to that knowledge, to legal enablement, etc … It can be modeled on successful civic initiatives like the Sustainable Economics Law Center in San Francisco, under the leadership of Janelle Orsi; and of the ShareLex movement in Europe.

* The Institute for Pluralistic Governance

This institute, in cooperation with the Institute for the Commons presented above, assists individuals, communities and actors of the social knowledge economy to know the governance alternatives that are available, facilitates access to that knowledge, to legal enablement, etc … It helps find training in the human capabilities that favour multi-stakeholder forms of governance.

Elements of Idealized and Integrative Full Transition Plan to a mature Social Knowledge Economy

This is a very synthetic summary of the logic of the transition strategy

Analysis

1. Under conditions of proprietary (industrial) capitalism

  • Workers create value in their private capacity as providers of labour
  • Deskilling of workers production knowledge; creation of managerial and engineering layers which manage collective production on behalf of the owners of capital
  • Codified knowledge is proprietary and the value is captured as IP rent
  • Owners of capital capture and realize the market value, partial redistribution in the form of wages
  • Under conditions of capital-labour balance, the state redistributes wealth to the workers as consumers and citizens
  • Under contemporary conditions of labour weakness, the state redistributes the wealth to the financial sector and creates conditions of debt dependence for the majority of the population

 

2. Under conditions of emerging peer production under the domination of financial and ‘cognitive’, ‘netarchical’ capitalism

  • Civic voluntary contributors, paid labour and independent enterpreneurs create value codified in common pools of knowledge, code, and design
  • Capital owners realize and capture the market value of both contributors and labour; proprietary network and collaboration platforms capture and realize the attention value of the sharers/contributors
  • Capital owners profit from the benefits of disaggregated distributed labour (crowdsoursing)
  • Capital co-create through the financing of labour and platforms, the continued accumulation of common pools of knowledge, code and design ; under conditions of precarity for the voluntary civic contributors and unsupported commons-oriented enterpreneurship
  • Commons are managed by for-benefit institutions which reflect the balance of influence between contributors, labour, and capital owners, but continue to expand the common pools; the commons sector lacks solidarity mechanims to cope with precarity; civil society is still derivate to the market and state sectors
  • The state weakens its public service and solidarity functions, in favour of its repressive functions and subsidizes financial capital ; the state only minimally co-creates the conditions for commons-oriented peer production, and redistribution to financial capital continues.

 

3. Under conditions of strong peer production under civic dominance

  • Civic voluntary contributors and autonomous cooperative labour create codified value through common pools ; labour and civic reskilling occur through commons-oriented distributed manufacturing which places value creators at the helm of distributed manufacturing and other forms of value creation
  • Commons contributors create cooperative commons-oriented market entities that sustain the commons and their communities of contributors
  • Cooperative and other commons-friendly market entities co-create common pools but engage in the cooperative accumulation on behalf of their members; commons contributions are codified in their legal and governance structures; Enterpreneurial coalitions and phyles (structured networks of firms working around joint common pools to sustain commons-producing communities) .
  • Societal mutual coordination of production through open supply chains direct the market activities
  • The commons-enabling for-benetif institutions become a core civic form for the governance of common pools; the associated market entities create solidarity mechanisma and income for the peer producers and commoners, supported by the partner state
  • The state, dominated by the civic/commons sectors becomes a Partner State, which creates and sustains the civic infrastructure necessary to enable and empower autonomous social production
  • The market becomes a moral and ethical economy, oriented around commons production and mutual coordination, supported by the Partner State functions
  • The market sector is dominated by cooperative, commons-oriented legal, governance, and ownership forms; the remaining profit-maximizing entities are reformed to respect environmental and social externalities, including redistribution of extracted ‘commons-benefits’
  • Governance mechanisms are reformed towards commons-orientation and multistakeholder governance models; ownership models are reformed from extractive to generative models
  • The Partner State model renews public service provision, solidarity mechanisms and social care through the commonification of public services and public-commons partnerships
  • Social redistribution takes place through basic income provisions and reduction of necessary labour participation to create conditions for civic contributions and a contributory economy

 

Transition Dynamic

The State

  • The State becomes a Partner State, which aims to enable and empower autonomous social production, which it also regulates in the context of common good concerns
  • The State strives to maximal openness and transparency
  • The State systematizes participation, deliberation, and real-time consultation with the citizens
  • The social logic moves from ownership-centric to citizen-centric
  • The state de-bureaucratizes through the commonification of public services and public-commons partnerships
  • Public service jobs are considered as a common pool resource and participation is extented to the whole population
  • Representative democracy is extented through participatory mechanisms (participatory legislation, participatory budgetting, etc..)
  • Representative democracy is extented through online and offline deliberation mechanisms
  • Representative democracy is extended through liquid voting (real-time democratic consultations and procedures, coupled to proxy voting mechanisms)
  • Taxation of productive labour, enterpreneurship and ethical investing is minimized; taxation of the production of social and environmental goods is minimized ; taxation of speculative unproductive investments is augmented; taxation on unproductive rental income is augmented; taxation of negative social and environmental externalities is augmented.
  • The State sustains civic commons-oriented infrastructures and ethical commons-oriented market players
  • The State reforms the traditional corporate sector to minimize social and environmental externalities
  • The state engages in debt-free public monetary creation and supports a structure of specialized complementary currencies

 

The Ethical Economy

  • Creation of a commons and common good oriented social / ethical / civic / solidarity economy
  • Ethical market players coalesce around commons of productive knowledge, eventually using peer production and commons-oriented licenses to support the social-economic sector
  • Ethical market players integrate common good concerns and user-driven and worker-driven multistakeholder in their governance models
  • Ethical market players move from extractive to generative forms of ownership; open, commons-oriented ethical company formats are privileged
  • Ethical market players practice open book accounting and open supply chains to augment non-market coordination of production
  • Ethical market players create a territorial and sectoral network of Chamber of Commons associations to definte their common needs and goals and interface with civil society, commoners and the partner state
  • With the help from the Partner-State, ethical market players create support structures for open commercialization, which maintain and sustain the commons
  • Ethical market players interconnect with global productive commons communities (open design communities)and with global productive associations (phyles) which project ethical market power on a global scale
  • The ethical market players adopt a 1 to 8 wage differential and minimum and maximum wage levels are set
  • The mainstream commercial sector is reformed to minimize negative social and environmental externalities; incentives are provided that aim for a convergence between the corporate and solidarity economy
  • Hybrid economic forms, like fair trade, social enterpreneurship, B-Corporations are encouraged to obtain such convergence
  • Distributed microfactories for (g)localized manufacturing on demand are created and supported, in order to satisfy local needs for basic goods and machinery
  • Institutes for the support of productive knowledge are created on a territorial and sectoral basis
  • Education is aligned to the co-creation of productive knowledge in support of the social economy and the open commons of productive knowledge

 

The Commons Sector

  • Creation of commons infrastructures for both immaterial and material goods; society is seen as a series of interlocking commons, that are supported by an ethical market economy and a Partner State that protects the common good and creates supportive civic infrastructures
  • Local and sectoral commons create civil alliances of the commons to interface with the Chamber of the Commons and the Partner State
  • Interlocking for-benefit associations (Knowledge Commons Foundations) enable and protect the various commons
  • Solidarity Coops form public-commons partnerships in alliance with the Partner State and the Ethical Economy sector represented by the Chamber of Commons
  • Natural commons are managed by public-commons partnership and based on civic membership in Commons Trusts

Political reconstruction of social movements in a conjuncture of post-industrial transformation

The shift to a open knowledge-based commons society also crucially depends on the reconfiguration of politics. This section is not directed specifically to the political situation in Ecuador, but aims to be a generic blueprint for re-constitution of political forces around a pro-commons agenda, based on a bottom-up process:
The proposal is to create three institutional coalitions, two for domestic use (local, regional, national) and one that aims to play a role in reconstituting global governance (supra-regional and global):
* The ‘local’ civic/political institution: The Alliance of the Commons

An alliance of the commons is an alliance, meeting place and network of p2p-commons oriented networks, associations, places; who do not have economic rationales. These alliances can be topical, local, transnational, etc … An example is the initiative Paris Communs Urbains which is attempting to create a common platform for urban commons intiatives in the Paris region; another Parisian/French example is the freecultural network Libre Savoirs, which is developing a set of policy proposals around digital rights. (both examples were communicated to me by Lionel Maurel).

An alliance of the commons is a meeting place and platform to formulate policy proposals that enhance civic infrastructures for the commons. An alliance of the commons, could, in cooperation with the Chamber of Commons (see infra) or autonomously, produce a social charter to reconstitute political forces around a pro-commons political agenda.
* The ‘local’ political-economy institution: The Chamber of the Commons

In analogy with the well-known chambers of commerce which work on the infrastructure for for-profit enterprise, the Commons chamber exclusively coordinates for the needs of the emergent coalitions of commons-friendly ethical enterprises (the for-benefit,mission or purpose-driven, ethical/solidarity/social economy actors concerned with the common good and not profit or capital accumulation), but with a territorial focus. Their aim is to uncover the convergent needs of the new commons enterprises and to interface with territorial powers to express and obtain their infrastructural, policy and legal needs.

In cooperation with the civic alliance of the commons discussed above, the Chamber can produce social charters to reconstitute politics around the priorities of a commons-oriented ethical economy.
* The global economic institution: the P2P/Commons Globa-local « Phyle »

A phyle (as originally proposed by lasindias.net) is a coalition of commons-oriented, community-supportive ethical enterprises which trade and exchange in the market to create livelyhoods for commoners and peer producers engaged in social production. The use of a peer production licence keeps the created exchange value within the sphere of the commons and strengthens the existence of a more autonomous counter-economy which refuses the destructive logic of profit-maximisation and instead works to increase benefits for their own, but also the emerging global commons. Phyles created integrated economies around the commons, that render them more autonomous and insure the social reproduction of its members. Hyperproductive global phyles that generate well-being for their members will gradually create a counterpower to the hitherto dominant MNO’s. Phyles are necessary to project ethical economic power beyond the nation-state into the sphere of global governance that is presently dominated by multinational private for-profit companies.
* In conclusion:

In short, we need a alliance of the commons to project civil and political power and influence at every level of society; we need phyles to strengthen our economic autonomy from the profit-maximizing dominant system; and we need Chambre of the Commons to achieve territorial policy; legal and infrastructural conditions for the alternative, human and nature-friendly political economy to thrive. Neither alone is sufficient, but together they could be a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition.

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Born in Vannes, Brittany, on January 12, 1940, Serge Latouche is a trained economist and philosopher, and an experienced anthropologist – he studied economics, political science and philosophy at Lille and Paris universities– and currently serves as professor emeritus of economics at the University of Paris-Sud (XI-Sceau/Orsay), which he combines with the Presidency of the Ligne Horizon and Institud and Economic Studies Association for Sustainable De-growth, founded by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, where they publish, together with Casseurs du Pub, the Journal La Décroissance (journal of the joy of life), which is also published in Italy.

In the last twenty five years, this «growth objector» –as he likes to define himself– has contributed, unlike many other intellectuals, to the clarification and maturation of this central concept for the new global movements. During the seventies he spent many years in western Africa where he developed his thought, and from the standpoint of traditional Marxism he made a radical critique of the ideology of «progress» and «development», even within left-wing politics. This maturation took him, in 1981, to publish with Allain Caillé the Revue de Mauss (Anti-utilitarian Movement in the Social Sciences) and the journal Homonima (which also has an Italian edition).
Among his extensive work stands out L’Occidentalisation du monde (La Découverte, 1989); La Planète des naufragés (La Découverte, 1991); L’Autre Afrique, entre don et marché (Albin Michel, 1998); Justice sans limites (Fayard, 2003), and, Survivre au développement (Mille et Une Nuits, 2004).

We wonder how it is possible that the thought and work of this Breton is so unknown in our country. The answer was given not long ago by philosopher Ramon Alcoberro, while speaking about thinkers like Latouche, Ellul, Castoriadis, or Rist: “They are names which hardly get spoken of in Universities – at best they are plagiarised when someone wants to flatter anti-globalists.”

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THE INTERVIEW

How do you explain the “De-Growth” concept?

The term degrowth has appeared only recently in the economic, politic and social debate, although the origin of the notions implied have a longer history. Until recent years, the term was not listed in any economic dictionary, whereas entries could be found with related terms such as «zero growth», «sustainable development», and, of course, «stationary state».

Even so, it has a complex history and an indisputable analytical and political weight in economy, yet it is still necessary to fully understand its meaning. The most malevolent commentators and critics point to the antiquity of this concept in order to diminish the subversive nature of its proposals. We want to stress that it’s not about the idea of maintaining a stationary state as in the old classics, or promoting a movement towards regression, recession, «negative growth», or «zero growth», although we could find some affinities in all of these concepts. Degrowth is not a single concept and, in any case, it’s not symmetrical to the concept of growth. It is a political slogan with theoretical implications. It aims to break the deceiving language employed by those who worship productivity.

«Degrowth is not a concept and, in any case, it’s not symmetrical to growth. It is a political slogan with theoretical implications»

The core idea of this movement is, above all, the abandonment of the goal of growth for growth´s sake, the motor of which is none other than the search for profit by those who control the capital with disastrous consequences for the environment. Strictly speaking, we should be talking about ‘a-growth’, in the sense in which we speak of ‘a-theism’, rather than “ de-growth”. Ultimately it is about the abandonment of a faith or religion: that of the economy, growth, progress and development.

What is the difference between de-growth and the so called sustainable development?

If we trace the history of the concept of development, we find its origin in evolutionary biology, which places it, therefore, in the context of western science wherein it was born. Long before Darwin, biologists distinguished growth from development in the life of living organisms. An organism is born and grows, and as it grows it changes: a seed does not become a big seed but an oak tree, for instance, and that’s what we call development. Growth is not an infinite process, it has a definite scope and at the end of a limited period of time the organism dies.

Economists have taken this image in a metaphorical sense and applied it to economic organisms, but they forgot about death! It is clear then that from this point onwards the concept is twisted because it embeds in itself what the Greeks called hubris, the excessive. We have entered in a vicious cycle of unlimited growth: growth of consumption in order to sustain growth of production which, in turn, increases consumption and so on and so forth. It is not about reaching a certain state of well–being or comfort. On the contrary, this comfort is always rejected and postponed ad infinitum. It’s all nonsensical of course, it could only be considered within the sphere of mathematics. Indeed, a continuous 2 to 3% of annual growth rate would lead the economic organism to grow seven hundred times within a century – counting the compound interests. This is clearly not possible since we live in a finite planet.

Here we face the famous «water lily theorem» which states that if a water lily colonizes a pond doubling its surface every year it might take fifty years to colonize half of the pond, but it will only take one year to colonize the remaining half. We are at this point in our own process of growth, it is quite clear from looking at the situation of oil, forests, fishing and climate change. We have been led to believe that we can colonize everything without any problems but today we have come to understand that our resource will disappear in a short period of time.

The notion of sustainable development is not, then, a viable solution. On the contrary, it is an oxymoron par excellence. The model of development we have seen so far is fundamentally not sustainable. It could be compared with theoretical socialism and applied socialism: theoretical development is not the same as applied development. Development, the only one that we know of, can be summed up as: «always produce more of the same thing». In my thirty years of personal participation in third world projects, mainly in Africa, I have seen development– branded under the various categories of socialist, participatory, cooperative, autonomous, popular etc.– having the same catastrophic results.

It should be remembered that, as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen put it, «Sustainable development can not be separated from economic growth» in the same way that the development of a plant relies on the growth of the seed, and this logic of growth is incompatible with our limited planet. Development in this context cannot be lasting or sustainable. If we want a sustainable and durable society, we need to break out of this idea of development and therefore of economy since this incorporates, in its own essence, the principle of excess.

Who are and have been the de-growth theorists ?

The idea of an autonomous and economically viable society is not new or recent. Without having to go back to certain utopias from the first socialism or to the anarchist tradition renewed by situation-ism, this idea has been formulated during the seventies by people like Ivan Illich, André Gorz and Cornelius Castoriadis. The failure of development in the South of the world and the loss of referents in the North has prompted many thinkers to question consumerist society and its fallacious foundations: progress, science and the technology. The raising of awareness about the environmental crisis that happened at the same time, provided a new dimension to this critical view.

The authors of the Rome’s Club report (Meadows, Randers and Behrens) were already convinced, in 1972, that the raising of awareness about the material limits of the environment and the tragic consequences its irrational exploitation is essential for the emergence of new ways of thinking which should lead to a fundamental review of human behavior, and consequently, of society’s structure as a whole.

The notion of de–growth therefore, has a double strand: on one hand the raising of awareness about the ecological crisis, and on the other the critical view of technology and development.

Could it be said that there is a relation between de–growth and Buddhism?

Certainly yes, in the sense that the paradigm of de–growth involves a decolonization of the collective imaginary and a move away from the current western paradigm.

Is the radical simplicity proposed, among others, by Jim Merkel, from the United States, similar to the de–growth paradigm of Serge Latouche? That is, could we speak about an ideology and therefore of a global de-growth movement?

Yes and no. In his book Tools for Conviviality (Cuaderno CIDOC, Cuernavaca, Mèxic, 1972; Joaquín Mortiz ed., Planeta, 1985), Ivan Illich speaks of the «sober drunkenness of life». Illich says that the contemporary human condition, in which technology has become so invasive, he could not find more joy than in what he calls a tecno-adolescent. The necessary limitation of the cycle of production and consumption, the ceasing of the exploitation of nature and labour by capital, does not imply a return to a life of deprivation and of work. On the contrary, if it is possible to renounce to the material comfort, there can be a liberation of creativity, a renewal of conviviality, and the possibility to have a dignified life.

«It is a path that requires us to conquer our own fears, the fear of nothingness, fear of shortage, fear of the future, fear also of disagreeing with the current trends and accepted models

 

The search for voluntary simplicity, or if it is preferred, for a austere life, has nothing to do with the prejudice of masochistic frustration. Is the choice to live differently, better actually, in harmony with our own convictions, replacing the race for material assets with the search for the most fulfilling values. The unusual families that choose to live without television are not to be sorry about. Instead of the joys offered by the magic box, they prefer others: family or social life, reading, games, artistic activities, spare time for daydreaming or simply enjoying life…this path is evidently progressive, even though the pressures of society are strong. It is a path which requires to conquer our own fears, fear of nothingness, fear of shortage, fear of the future, fear also of disagreeing with the current trends and accepted models. It is the choice of living the present moment rather than sacrificing it to consumerism, to a system of values without value, to the creation of a saving plan or pension for addressing the fear of not having enough. A more profound reflection about the economic footprint allows us to understand the systemic character of «overconsumption» and the context of voluntary simplicity.

In 1961, the ecological footprint of France was equal to 1 planet’s worth of resources, today it equals to 3. Does this mean that French households ate three times less meat, drank three times less water and wine, used three times less electricity or gasoline? Probably not. Only that small yogurt with strawberries we eat today, did not include then the 8,000 km of transportation, when we consider all it’s ingredients! This is true also for the clothes we wear, and the beef also in those days ate less synthetic fats, pesticides, imported soy etc.

Either way, this paradigm shift which we talk about, will need to be initiated by a quantum leap in the mentality of people, we are kind of trapped in a “chicken and egg” scenario and if we don’t start somewhere it will be the main stream propaganda which will determine how things go.

Should it take some sort of natural disaster or accidental in order for governments to take seriously the idea of ​​de-growing?

Unfortunately it is possible. I don’t know if the end of oil, for instance, could be called a catastrophe. To me it would be good news.

Oil will be considered a catastrophe when people will take in to account all the blood and tears it has costed. There is a limit and the end of resources is one of them. Also, there are natural disasters that can happen because of climate changes: floods, low temperatures etc. all of which can generate a massive emigration movement

It’s not spoken about but the industrialization of China will cause (just like Britain did, with its massive emigration of more than 3 million people towards Australia, New Zealand and the United States) the exodus of about 500 million Chinese, or their revolt or suicide.

We will witness the biggest global uprooting in history, and this could have very serious effects indeed.

If start to add up environmental damage, social unrest and economic crisis we start to see that we live in a “casino economy”, in a bubble which is kept alive artificially by a constant push forward, a credit economy, of anticipation – American economy for example only has a 3 years ahead life span. It’s like a cyclist’s equilibrium: one has to keep pedaling in order to stay up, even if you know that this will drive you to your own ruin. The best we can hope for is that the catastrophes will be sufficiently strong to wake people up, make them change the way they see things but not strong enough to be fatal nightmare, of which we will be victims and creators.

What practical steps can be taken by citizens of the first world, here and now, to move towards de-growth?

Simple measures, which might be deceptively subtle, have the potential of starting a cycle of de-growth. We could think of a period of transition which is based on certain fundamental points, for example:

      Aim to reduce the carbon footprint of production processes to the same size it was in the 60s and 70s.

 

      Power transport with local energy

 

      Relocate production activities

 

      Adopt the program proposed by the Confederation of Farmers (José Bové)

 

      Promote the production of “relational goods”

 

      Implement the Negawatt proposal which asks to reduce the wastage of energy to factor 4.

 

      Penalize advertisement expenses.

 

    Establish a moratorium of all technological innovation, conduct a serious investigation on the benefits and disadvantages of all aspects of technology and orient all scientific and technological research towards the new framework set by this research.

The internalization of foreign economies, in principle and according to an orthodox view, would allow, if taken to its ultimate consequences, to implement the transition towards de-growth.
All the damage incurred by society and the environment, would be amended by the corporations and business which are responsible for it.
We only have to imagine the impact that the internalization of the costs of transportation would have on the environment, health etc. Obviously those businesses which are obeying the capitalism’s logic would be very unwilling to do so. In the first instance, a lot of business wouldn’t be viable and the whole system would come to a halt. But wouldn’t this be exactly the proof that it is imperative to end this system and find a new way towards a different kind of society?
Local utopia is possible much more realistic than we think, because it comes directly from the living experiences of citizens, their needs and hopes»[/quote_box_right]
What is the response of the green parties in France to the idea of ​​de-growth?
The idea is making its own way. The French greens have put de-growth in their program with a 60% of votes.

How is it possible to influence local politics to extend this idea?

A local utopia is possible much more realistic than we think, because it comes directly from the living experiences of citizens, their needs and hopes . Takis Fotopòlus says that to present oneself in local elections gives the possibility to try and start changing things from the bottom up, which is the only democratic strategy, unlike all the State’s methods which impose changes from the top or the endeavors of the so called “civil society” which generally are not aiming at changing the system.

It’s a multifaceted vision, where the relationship between the various proposals that have emerged from people all over the world can really be seen as a “democracy of cultures”. Far from a centralized Global Government, it would mean a way of creating a network of mutual support between different territories.

Raimon Panikkar says that the alternative which he’s trying to offer to a global state, is the idea of bio regionalism, which is to say, the natural regions where animals, plants and people create an organic whole… It would mean coming to a solution which could proclaim a Universal republic, without the need for state, control or police. This would need a different kind of relationship between the different bio regions. In any case, the creation of local initiatives of a democratic nature is far more realistic than the idea of a global democracy.

If you exclude the possibility of toppling the capitalist system, the only thing left is dissidence, which is also the strategy of movements like th Zapatistas. The reclaiming or re invention of “commons” (communal spaces and resources) and the self organization of the Chiapas bio region, are a model of how to create local dissidence, as Gustavo Esteva also proposed.

Can Internet play a role in the face of these challenges ?
There is an intrinsic power in the new technologies which asks for a reflexion on the new ways of doing politics and democracy. Certainly these cannot unfold within the paradigm of the new market, which has been able to use Internet for the global electronic supermarket. We can be ambivalent about technology.Chico Mendez was assassinated on the 22nd of September 1988 in the heart of the Amazon, in Xapuri. As if by coincidence, the phone stopped working for the hours following his death and mobiles didn’t exist yet. It was necessary to walk for hours in the jungle to bring news around, even so, the news of his death was instantly communicated in Brasil and the world.

If the web itself did not exist, Internet, which was invented by Paul Baran in 1964 to safeguard military communications during the cold war, was used since the 70s by scientists to exchange information and the American ONG , very active in the region, already operated through a network. That is why the international response was very swift. In its Saturday edition, on the 24th on December, the Jornal do Brasil published and entire page with an interview given by Mendez 3 weeks before. In this way, thanks to a technology invented by the CIA to exercise control on a planetary level, the awful murder of an opponent to the oppression of global economy, could not go silenced and turned to be a global icon of awakening. In Chiapas they used a sort of “technological guerrilla” to fight the “masters of the world”.

It is, therefore, indisputable that certain new technologies can be tools for the struggle towards emancipation. At the same time, in the light of what happened following the examples mentioned above (the surge of expropriations of land in the Amazon, under the Lula regime, and the surreptitious disappearance of the indigenous leaders in Chiapas) should we not concur with the philosopher Jacques Poulain, that while we are waiting that the system change, we have the unprecedented possibility to keep a diligent record of our powerless protests and share it on a global network

Do you think that the idea of de-growth could be manipulated by the system in the same way that it happened with the idea of sustainable development?

Hard but not impossible, as can be seen with the geopolitical projects of the elitist and semi secret organization Bilderberg. A mechanistic analysis consists in underlying how global population has exploded since the advent of thermo-industrialized capitalism. The availability of cheap and abundant energy, oil, has made possible an incredible jump from 600 to 6.000 million people. The demise of this no renewable source of energy will condemn us to return to a sustainable figure for the planet, if not the same one we had before industrialization.

«The aspiration for justice, coupled with a sense of sobriety, will engage humanity in a reasonable quest for ecological democracy»

 

This is the thesis promulgated, in particular, by William Stanton in his book The Rapid growth of Human Population 1750-2000. This thesis is taken very seriously and discussed on a global scale in contexts such as ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas), together with the eco-totalitarian views which the author presents. Stanton says that the population reduction scenario,has to be completely Darwinian in its approach in order to succeed, without the “sensibilities” which have plagued the second half of the xx century, in the thick mess of being politically correct. This scenario, presented as a voluntary and gradual process, is aiming for progressive reduction of the population directly proportioned to the disappearance of oil. This is to avoid a brutal reduction of numbers through wars, starvation, massacres etc. The ingredients for this recipe, according to Stanton, are:

  • Immigration is prohibited and those who come without papers will be treated like criminals.
  • Abortion or infanticide are compulsory if the fetus or the baby show signs of dis-capacity (Darwinian selection eliminates the weakest)
  • If, for old age, an accident or an illness an individual become more of a burden then a benefit to society his or her life will be ended humanely.
  • Imprisonment is rare, it is replaced by corporal punishment for small crimes and for death penalty without pain in case of grave crimes

The author is aware of the opposition this proposal triggers in people and affirms that, in his opinion, the greatest obstacle to the realization of this plan is the un intelligent obsession that people in the first world have with what is politically correct. The response is as cruel as the diagnosis: to the sentimentalists who cannot understand the need to reduce the population of Great Britain from 60 millions to 2 millions in the next 150 years , and who feel indignant towards this proposition of substituting human rights with cold logic, William Stanton affirms that it should be said: « You have had your moment» and to measure it he says that the acts of violent protest, like those perpetrated by animal rights activists or anti abortion groups, could, in a Darwinian model, incur in the capital penalty. This reference, almost obsessive, to the Darwinian model, is common in many analysis of coming from America. The aim of our de-growth is different and it is that the aspiration for justice, coupled with a sense of sobriety, will engage humanity in a reasonable quest for ecological democracy instead of a collective suicide.

200510[This interview made by journalist Xavier Borràs, was published in no. 15 Magazine alfalfa, 17 October 2005. Due to its interest, and the figure Latouche, have seen fit to re-post it here.]
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