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Essay of the Day: Peasant Sovereignty

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
13th October 2015

* Article: Peasant Sovereignty? by Evaggelos Vallianatos. Independent Science News, March 2015

Here’s the summary:

“Peasant and small-scale farming is increasingly being recognised as more productive, as more sustainable, and as democratically superior in comparison with most livelihoods and with most other forms of agriculture. This recognition is being enhanced by the concept of “food sovereignty” and its increasing discussion in academic circles. Nevertheless, despite constructive developments such as a draft “UN Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas” there is still a long way to go before there is an appropriate understanding and accurate appreciation of the modern peasantry.”


Posted in Featured Essay, Food and Agriculture | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Urban Revolutions and the Network Commons

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
5th October 2015

“Citizen networks, wireless or not, could become a transversal infrastructral layer, reaching across society and different domains, becoming a revolutionary enabler of a new urban life in a way that points beyond capitalism as we knew it. … Rather than having corporations and the state who centrally organize production and consumption, in such a commons mode of production peer-to-peer forms of cooperation link infrastructural, political and cultural layers. The decentralized utopia envisioned by the 68 generation can now become a concrete project. With citizen networks and decentralized computing power localized exchange economies can be organized.”

This is an absolutely stellar, important and recommended text, to read in full here.

* Article: Cities of the Sun: Urban Revolutions and the Network Commons. By Armin Medosch. The Next Layer, 24 September 2015

Introductory Citation

Excerpted from Armin Medosch:

“The network commons1 is part of a swell of initiatives to create a digital commons: this includes free and open source software, open data, open sensor networks, or what is called by industry the internet of things; in this area a lot is happening that has not received a proper name, a bricolage of technologies and collaborative methods; when this applies to design and everyday objects it is called critical making; it is part of a wider DIY – or do-it-with-others – culture which does not necessarily use high-tech but deploys common but underused knowledge such as fermentation, agricultural and green technologies, permaculture, alternative energies. There exists also another type of innovation which has more to do with democracy and participation, with economy and politics. The notion of the digital commons has emerged from cooperative hacker culture within computing. But meanwhile this starts to develop links with another discourse on the commons which comes from what was once called the developing world. In poor nations mainly of the global south, ecologies based on the sharing of common resources are still pretty much in place. There, primitive accumulation is still happening every day, the process described by Marx whereby subsistence farmers are turned into worker-consumers. As a reaction to that, as well as in crisis hit countries such as Greece and Spain, economies of solidarity are developed. The commons of all types and shapes and economies and ecologies of solidarity have become an alternative vision of a post-capitalist economy in a peer-to-peer culture. All those visions, however, are usually addressed separately. The people behind those initiatives are from different demographic groups. They rarely meet in one place and discuss common strategies. For this reason, each of those initiatives, left to its own devices, will be either absorbed and co-opted by capitalism or fought, destroyed, made impossible by legal changes, sidelined by other innovations. What is thus necessary is a coherent and collective vision that brings those alternative strands together.” (http://www.thenextlayer.org/node/1358)

* The City as Utopia and Project

“I will now turn to a brief genealogy of the city as a project. This will necessarily have to be a sketchy version. The city as utopia has a deep history in human thought, but this utopia has often been tainted by its association with class society and its need to repress aspects of its social life on which it was based. This can be traced back to the very place where we stand now, Athenian democracy. The Greek Polis is widely seen as the cradle of democracy, but what also has been recognized is that this ideal was tainted by the exclusion from the political Agora of women and slaves.

The Greco-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis3 has provided the most vivid and insightful description of Athenian democracy. Castoriadis emphasized that voting was one of the least important aspects of Athenian democracy. What mattered more was that large numbers of people participated in political life and negotiated subjects in intense exchanges, forming large ad-hoc committees on specific subjects, often voting by acclamations – expressing a majority decision reached by other means than that of voting. Speeches were often short and sharp, and the outcome of decisions was determined by educated, lucid and rational judgements achieved at collectively. The democratic society for Castoriadis was the self-instituting society. It was, in a Hegelian sense, a society that became conscious of itself as a political unity which produced its own institutions, but was also capable of changing those institutions when needed. Politicians, while democratically elected, could also be removed from positions relatively quickly. The self-instituting society, Castoriadis stresses, had the means of educating itself to create a collective social imaginary. In the educational process also women and slaves participated. But it was not to last.

Learning from Athens means also to learn how democracy degenerated into tyranny. Plato’s ideal city state was a dictatorship of philosophers. Even Sokrates supported tyranny, the rule of the few over the many, on the basis of their superiority. As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, Greek philosophy was shaped by the class structure of its society.4 The separation into a leisurely class of philosopher-politicians and a class of enslaved producers was constitutive for a tendency to give preference to intellectual over manual labour. This found analogy in the philosophical domain, where metaphysics was regarded to be more important than practical ideas. The technologies of the ancient Greeks did not achieve the high levels it might have, simply because the Greek ruling class saw no need for it.

I touch upon the medieval city only very briefly. We note that this was a city idealized as an organic community based on sharp separations between the city and the countryside. It was a religious community whose highest expression was the building of cathedrals, which were built through a huge intergenerational and interdisciplinary effort of builder-engineer-artists.

The Renaissance city reached again the level of urbanism already achieved in antiquity. It re-rediscovered architectural and urbanistic concepts based on the sensual and rational concepts of Greece and Rome, using grids and perspectives. The Renaissance was also the era of the rebirth of the ideal city. Urban utopias were in plentiful supply, among those the one that provided 50% of the inspiration for the title of this talk, Tommaso Campanella’s City of the Sun. The City of the Sun was conceived as a form of theocratic dictatorship. However, Campanella also engaged in an “explicit polemic with Aristotle and Plato, who had excluded artisans, peasants and those involved in manual labor from the category of full citizenship and from the highest levels of virtue.”

In the City of the Sun all occupations were of equal dignity—in fact, those workers who were “required to expend greater effort, such as artisans and builders, received more praise.”7 There were no servants, and no service was regarded as unworthy. It was also a community where everything was held in common, from food to houses, from the acquisition of knowledge to the exercise of activities, from honors to amusements, and, somehow disconcertingly for us today, a form of free love that must appear as sexual slavery for women. What strikes most readers of this dialogue is that the city walls are also the curtains of an extraordinary theater and the pages of an illustrated encyclopedia of knowledge. The citizens of the City of the Sun were engaged in a permanent process of education and all knowledge was always publicly accessible.

The Great European City of the second half of the 19th century had inequality written into its structure. It was based on the destruction and undoing of parts of the medieval city, destroying grown working class communities. The Haussman Boulevard’s were designed to counter the tendency of the urban masses to spontaneously erupt in revolution. But it was also a city that was only possible because of another great revolution that took place in the 19th century. As is often forgotten, the industrial revolution was based on an industrial revolution in agriculture. New techniques in agriculture achieved huge increases in output with ever fewer people. As people moved from the country to the city, they became proletarians, forced to live by selling their labour power.

Fredrick Engels has described the horrible conditions in which the English working class lived around mid century.8
This caused various counter-movements: – the hygienic movement, a movement of the educated bourgeoisie, of doctors and planners, who argued for rooms with high ceilings painted in white, for an architecture of light and air to counter the spread of epidemic diseases such as tuberculosis. – the Garden City movement formed a specific version of this approach, proposing grand schemes for new urban dwellings – the working class movements formed themselves, asking not only for typical trade unionist goals such as better wages and a shorter working day, but also for political emancipation.

At the beginning of the 20th century those movements converged to create functionalism and the Fordist city. The political working class movements changed the course of history successfully claiming universal voting rights after 1918 in many countries, bringing socialist administrations into government. The Fordist city was based on an alliance between the reformist sectors of the educated bourgeoisie who believed in rationalism and the ability to plan a better world, the political emancipation of the working classes and the functionalist spirit of what Reyner Banham calls a New Machine Age.9 The Fordist city led to achievements such as Red Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s, large scale public housing developments which provide working people a decent standard of living together with amenities for sports and leisure, education, political gatherings and entertainment.

The Fordist city comes more fully into force only after the Second World War. It is a space where the political emancipation of the working class is brought together with the functionalist and technological spirit of the new machine age. The Fordist city is also a very fragmented city, divided into areas for production and leisure, into working class and middle class quarters. It continues the destruction of grown working class communities, for instance in London, where people from the East End were resettled in New Towns just outside London. While planned according to some of the ideals of the Garden City movement, the new spatial arrangements destroyed networks of kinship, as a famous study from the 1950s was called,10 therefore making life actually more difficult for working class people.

The Fordist city was the city of the atomized individual or at best of the family as the nucleus of society. The atomized structure was overlaid by force fields of mass media communications through radio, television and illustrated mass media magazines and the yellow press. It was a city characterized by the separation between producers and consumers, order givers and order receivers, senders and receivers. As Henri Lefebvre has pointed out, the Fordist city was of a destructive effect on forms of everyday life which had existed in the older forms of city life.11 A political critique that was oriented towards Praxis, towards a realisation of political philosophy in life, could not only focus any longer on those domains traditionally associated with politics, such as political parties, and the state. It would also have to proceed from the critique of everyday life. Lefebvre’s rebellious disciples, the Situationists actually claimed that political revolution had to be raised from the ground up, through the decentralized passions of the many revolutions of everyday life.

The ideas of Lefebvre and the SI were put to the test by the revolutions of 1968, from the Parisian May to the many revolutions and revolts that broke out simultaneously nearly all over the world. It was a revolution against the social and political forms of Fordism, its one-dimensionality and its one-directedness. What we have now in Europe is in many ways the long term result of those revolutions on the micro-scale of where the personal becomes political.

As Fordism has been replaced by the Network Society – a term by Manuel Castells – this has brought forward the networked city, also to be understood as the projective city (to be differentiated from the city as project). The projective city is part of the analysis brought forward in The New Spirit of Capitalism by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiappello. It is based on a new flexible regime of accumulation, a term introduced by David Harvey and elaborated by Brian Holmes. In this flexible regime the life-long job is replaced by a succession of projects in which networked individuals come together for a limited period. The project creates a highly activated segment of a network with dense connections between protagonists which intensify into a critical mass of active connections which are able to create new forms, what Boltanski and Chiappello call … “a temporary pocket of accumulation.” Moreover, the authors claim that those pockets of accumulation actually realized the demands of the revolts of 68, albeit in commodified form. The changes demanded by the 68 generation in those areas where the personal becomes political have been captivated by the new spirit if capitalism and streamlined into new products and services. What they describe is how capitalism is capable of mobilizing terms and concepts that have developed outside it, autonomously.

I find it debatable if the 68 generation can really be blamed for everything that goes wrong in networked capitalism, especially if the claim is made that the decline of those ideas was already contained, in seed form, at the point of their inception. I agree with Brian Holmes that this would constitute a denunciation of the radical social imaginary of ’68. At the same time we can witness that something of the kind they are describing is actually happening. But it is not the spirit of 68 that is becoming commodified, but individual aspects of it, which are taken out of context and then realized in a commodifying form.

As a holding remark, lets recapitulate: I have advanced the idea that the current city, the city of informational capitalism, is the projective city, where a new regime of flexible accumulation reigns. Capitalism is a dynamic and creative force which has the capacity to appropriate concepts developed outside itself and turn them into new sources of profit, by creating temporary pockets of accumulation. We need to leave the urbanist discourse and turn to a technological discourse.”

* The Rise of the Network Commons

“At the moment of the demise of the New Economy, a new cycle started with new projects and new ideas. In London in the year 2000, and in Athens independently from London, two years later, movements started to build wireless community networks. Using a license exempt part of the electromagnetic spectrum and Wifi – Wireless Local Area Networks — network enthusiasts built their own networks. Based on the property of the Internet protocols that allow creativity at the edges, they could create networks of their own. Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network was initially started mainly by technology experts. They knew about other initiatives, such as Seattle Wireless, but developed their own “technological style”. Using the urban topology of Athens with its hills and cooperation with radio amateurs, they could create a network that covered a vast area, the Attica peninsula and beyond. The social model was based on the liberal utopia of individual ownership. Each node was built and maintained by its users, all the nodes together formed – and continue to do so – a network commons. The particular idea of AWMN was that it did not offer Internet access. Some nodes were connected to the Internet but this was not publicized as a reason to join the network. The idea was that the network builders would together create a network which would be attractive to its users because of its services. Services offered include mirrors of free software repositories, file sharing, streaming services, games, voice over IP and much more.

Consume in London proposed a slightly different idea. Informed by experiences with Backspace, a net art creative hub in central London, the idea was to have synchronous broadband networks which offer also gateways to the Internet. The net should become a shared resource, both as an Intranet and as a network that connected with the wider world. Backspace, initiated by James Stevens, was a place that allowed many initiatives to thrive, where people could realize their own projects, people such as net.art artists Rachel Baker and Heath Bunting. But it also hosted the Vulcano free film festival, a website for a transgender-cyborg club, and a festival for Buskers (street musicians). A particular noteworthy initiative that emerged from Backspace was Indymedia London. On June 18th 1999 a global “Carneval against Capitalism” was organised by the collective Reclaim the Streets. This protest brought together the multitudes – a new social class that substituted the working class as a new social subject. The size of the protest took police by surprise, and also the decentralizing tactics of protesters, marching out in three different columns, so that for several hours the City of London, the seat of multinational financial capital, was taken over by protesters dancing to samba drums. It was a happy day, until a police van drove over a woman who was seriously injured. This afternoon was filmed by artist activists, among them Austrian multimedia artist Manu Luksch. Couriers cycled back and fourth between the sites of protest and Backspace, where video tapes were transcoded and live streamed by techno-activists such as Gio d’Angelo. Half a year before Seattle, where Indymedia was officially founded, Backspace had become an Independent Media Centre which presented a different viewpoint on the protest of the Multitudes against financialized capitalism. While mainstream media focused only on the police’s failure to keep control and the stupid acts of a minority who smashed some windows – possibly police agent provocateurs anyway – the videos streamed from Backspace showed a different reality, a Bakthinian carneval, where the multitudes became aware of its political agency and its mass creativity as a form of opposition against bureaucratic capitalism, the grey men and women of the City of London.

To cut a long story short ? for a fuller account I have to refer you to my forthcoming text “Shockwaves in the New World Order of Information and Communication (Wiley-Blackwell 2016) – we saw a relatively short period of the prospering of Consume in London and the UK, where the network commons was merged with ideas by avant-garde digital artists and media activists.

In 2002, the Consume idea was transplanted to Berlin, Germany, where able technician-activists started the initiative Freifunk (free radio). Freifunk adapted the Consume idea to German reality. There were two issues: on one hand, there were areas in East Berlin and East Germany, which could not get ADSL connections for broadband because of the existence of proprietary fibre optics technology of the telecom incumbent. So this was a big motivating factor. Secondly, Berlin in particular and Germany in general has a large reservoir of what I would call ethical hackers, creative free software people, who are happy and willing to carry out free voluntary labour. Those two factors allowed Freifunk to spread rapidly, so that within a few years Berlin alone had more than 1300 free radio nodes and many more users. However, after a phase of rapid growth in the early 2000s, this development slowed down in the second half of the 2000s, some networks even started to shrink. The Deutsche Telecom had recognized the issue with its fibre optical technology and pushed other broadband technologies such as ADSL and cable. Freifunk was no longer needed to get affordable broadband Internet.

At around 2003, Guifi.net started in the rural area of Catalunia, near the small town of Vic. At the time, it was impossible to get broadband Internet in the villages. An initiative started to build wireless community networks. Guifi.net developed around similar ideas of AWMN, Consume and Freifunk, but with a number of differences. It set itself the explicit goal to bring good internet service to the highest number of people at the cheapest price; it developed a system where people could pay technicians to install a network node. Guifi.net did not see this as in contradiction with the idea of the network commons. As long as the nodes built by small service providers joined the network commons, the fact that some money was paid for installation was not an issue. This idea enabled Guifi.net to grow more rapidly than any of the other systems. It now stands at 30.000 nodes.

The projects just described constitute the counter-thesis to the network model offered by the ISP and telecom corporation with their centrally managed operations and their practices of metering and controlling the data flow in their networks. The atomized ethical technologist recognizes him or herself as a community networker who becomes a builder, owner and maintainer of a network node. Those network nodes together form a network commons, a network, where each node transports data according to the original Internet utopia, in two-way synchronous forms, without any discrimination between types of data and users. The network created by the community networker realizes the decentralized utopia. Its political structure was, depending on your viewpoint either anarchist or libertarian, an abdication of centralized control, but also a rejection of strong social regulation mechanisms. While some of those networks have created some form of legal entity, an association for instance, the association usually does not create the network. It does fund-raising, and it is there to assist in fending off political and legal challenges, but it does not own and run the network.

The technological and economic foundation of those networks, however, rest on the production mechanisms of advanced capital exploiting global imbalances and cheap labour. Advanced capitalist production methods using automated machine labour and cheap energy, mainly derived from fossil fuels reduce the socially necessary labour time to such a degree, that people in the capitalist core countries are freed up to devote their time to innovation practices and to participate in peer-based-commons production. The beautiful achievements of the network utopia are built on silicon sand, since those conditions are subject to change. The boom and bust of the New Economy was followed by a relatively mild recession in the early 2000s. New ideas about a commons based economy started to flourish.”

* The Automatic Utopia of Mesh Networks and the Social Development of Technologies

“At around 2004, citizen technologists from Freifunk in Berlin and Funkfeuer in Austria started to experiment with the mesh network routing protocol OLSR. Mesh network routing protocols such as OLSR and BATMAN and its recent variations are special routing protocols, optimized for the conditions of wireless networks. They do not need manual configuration, but automatically recognize when new nodes join the networks or existing ones drop out. Their capacity to automate route-finding allows the development of fixed and mobile wireless ad-hoc mesh networks.

The rise of the network commons in general and the development of mesh network protocols by the community in particular illustrate that technologies are inherently social. We have been made to believe that the development of technology is somehow autonomous, that technology follows a course of its own and that people have to adapt to the technologies that are created by corporate research labs and universities, who are often closely interlinked. Yet the development of wireless community networks in Athens, London and Berlin followed trajectories of the social development of the communities it was connected with, communities of practitioners (the ethical hackers who write the code and build the networks) but also the social structures those technological developments are embedded in, which includes the communities of users, but also wider social structures. This can have positive and negative consequences.

The Consume way of developing networks, for instance, was strongly emphasizing workshops and local knowledge. Through those workshops people came together and formed ideas about how to grow the network locally and to what uses to put it. In the process as such, the technology became socialized. Non-techies, like me, became knowledgeable about technology, started to understand networking technology better and began proselytizing about those social technologies. As such knowledge spreads, it contributes to the demystification of technologies. In capitalist societies, technologies are mystified. Technology is surrounded by an aura of being complex and difficult to understand. This creates the fetishized believe in technologies which makes people think that they are either ruled by technology or that they can solve any problem by technology alone. The technologies are understood as things outside us that have a power over us. But once we take developments into our own hands, we learn that those objects are man-made and relatively simple. The overall social complex that produces those objects and how they are deployed in the fabric of society, these things are much more difficult to understand. As we become techno-social communities we discover that the development of a technology is not separated from the social sphere but influenced and guided by it.

The developers of mesh network protocols in Berlin, Vienna and Catalonia first analyzed the needs of the wireless community networks and found an answer. In order for those networks to spread and become more efficient, they thought they needed to create firmware that would contain mesh network technology. Based on the Linux firmware distribution OpenWRT, each of those communities developed their own firmware. With so called firmware flashing, the firmware on a cheap WiFi router can be replaced by a high-end free firmware running mesh network technology turning a piece of industry hardware into, as Freifunk called one such hack, a “Freedom Box”. It is without doubt that community networks have been key drivers of the development of wireless mesh network technology.

As Elektra, one key developer in Berlin put it:

“The sleeping beauty of mesh network protocols has been kissed awake by the community networks”

No company, corporation or university has been as efficient and as good in developing those protocols than the community networkers. Those developments, as beautiful and commendable they are, also have several dark undersides. First, the distributions and the mesh network protocols are all open source. That means that everybody can use them, change them, as long as they publish again the source code. The technology of mobile ad-hoc networks has originally been developed by the US military. There is no doubt that those circles are watching what is being done and that the code produced by ethical hackers potentially can find entry into new weapon systems that deploy wireless mesh networks in the battle field, especially as military technology is becoming ever more automated and autonomous. The peer-to-peer based methodology of ethical community hackers offers no way of resisting this form of adaptation.

Secondly, the achievements of open source hackers have also no resistance against being appropriated by the advanced forces of informational capitalism. The freedom on the level of infrastructure gets harnessed on the application layer for commercial gain, by Google, Facebook and other players. The activities of community hackers, guided by an ethical sense, contribute to an economy that creates ever more inequality.

Since the network commons does not exist in a political and economic vacuum, the achievements of community networkers are of a temporary kind only and always in danger of being reversed – the negation of the negation. We can say that wireless decentralized community networks are the antithesis to the broadcast model of communication. Rather than one-sided flow of commands, they allow egalitarian two-way communication. Yet the ethical hackers often claim to be apolitical. They say that they are not interested in politics, they just care for the politics of technology. As long as the network is held in a commons, and every packet of information is routed freely, the hacker’s utopia is in good order.

In the past, when non-techies such as me encountered a problem, hackers used to tell me RTFM: Read the fucking manual. Now I tell techies also RTFM: Read the Fucking Marx.

The mesh network utopia is an automated utopia. You take the device, you flash it and up you go. The idea was promoted that firmware with good mesh routing protocols would make it easy to create large scale ad-hoc communities. Indeed, the technology has matured and technically speaking, the utopia is a utopia no more, it is here and real.

In recent years, Freifunk in Germany has experienced rapid expansion. After the revelations of Edward Snowden about the scale of surveillance by governments with the complicity of informational capital a second wave of German community networkers has become active. Those groups have developed their own firmwares, using mesh network protocols, but they do not share the anarchist spirit of the original Freifunk cell. They are growing, and at a very fast speed, but the question remains, what is growing here. Through the use of mesh routing protocols, the user does not need to do anything at all. The automatic utopia creates mesh networks, but the users are left behind. The type of knowledge transfer envisioned and practiced by Freifunk and Consume does not take place anymore. Some of those new networks have become like veritable service providers, they even have the capacity to update the software on all routers from remote.

Mesh network technology, rather than becoming the boon of community networks, tends to reinforce the separation between producers and consumers, between network builders and those who just passively use them. Rather than engaging with the network commons, they enjoy whatever commercial services they receive from the Internet, which itself has become thoroughly commodified. The new Freifunk initiatives have even started to call the groups who started Freifunk “legacy”. In software development legacy is something you need to acknowledge exists and may still be in use so you have to offer backward compatibility. But at some point you will start to consider if you still want to offer backward compatibility or if you simply detach yourself to offer faster growth and greater efficiency. A new generation who has never known anything else but neoliberal informational capitalism follows the patterns of the start-up mentality and of a competitive commercial environment. In this environment, mastering the technology becomes a pretext of commercial success and mastery over other people.

The network commons is embedded in the current political economy and exposed to its force fields. Athens Wireless Metropolitan Networks are suffering from the general economic and social crisis in Greece. Since the model of network freedom they have chosen is based on liberal capitalism, which means individual node ownership and responsibilities, the network deteriorates, as some node owners are affected by the economic crisis and cannot maintain adequately the rather high-tech installations they have built.

The impact of the overall social development on the wireless utopia reaches a particular poignancy in Global Cities such as London, where the city itself is subject to rapid change. As gentrification moves through the districts of London like a wildfire, people have to move to ever more remote areas (or abroad). The maintenance of a community and a network becomes an impossibility. Donating free voluntary labour becomes ever more difficult when rents are so high that you are working day and night just to keep a roof over your head. The urban space itself becomes completely reshaped by a form of aestheticized hipster consumerism. As the open culture of the Internet becomes substituted for the closed commercial world of Apps, and the cities ever more saturated with bandwidth on commercial mobile frequencies, the conditions for a sharing culture deteriorate.

The network commons is also threatened by practices such as Wifi off-loading practiced by mobile telcos. Whenever a phone detects a free open WiFi network it uses that rather than its own infrastructure. Commercial providers thus contribute to the tragedy of the open spectrum commons. Other threats are of a political nature. A new EU directive has been released which would make firmware flashing illegal. Although mesh networking appears to have solved the technical issues, the network commons is in peril through political, sociological and economic threats.”

* From Community Networks to Citizen Networks

“There is a notable change going on regarding the way in which community networkers start to understand themselves as political networks. The “old” groups behind Freifunk have drafted a memorandum of understanding which defines the network commons less technologically rather than politically. The Freifunk umbrella association has also started to organise itself better, and is constantly engaged in lobbying efforts, trying to shape public opinion and the opinions of their political representatives, the members of parliament. Whilst the network commons had initially been built by ethical hackers, they now start to recognize themselves as citizen networkers. Freifunk have begun setting up free and open WiFi in refugee accommodation centers throughout Germany.

Community networks, with their decentralized forms of organisation, have set up mesh networks, technically and socially decentralized networks. The economic crisis that developed in the wake of the financial crash of 2008 has led to an economic crisis which now has become a social crisis. The social crisis undermines the capacity to participate with voluntary labour. The business environment, under lobbying influence by mobile telcos, who have to pay billions for spectrum licenses, and in a climate that is generally sharpening, makes the conditions for the network commons ever more difficult. Under those conditions, the network commons has to become political. Rather than being just another project in the projective city of network society, the citizen networkers who build the network commons need to consciously join other commoners to build the city as utopia and project. As the network commons joins forces with civil society, it could turn into an infrastructure that supports a new commons-oriented mode of production. Areas that immediately come to mind are alternative energy and networks of food provision.

Rather than having corporations and the state who centrally organize production and consumption, in such a commons mode of production peer-to-peer forms of cooperation link infrastructural, political and cultural layers. The decentralized utopia envisioned by the 68 generation can now become a concrete project. With citizen networks and decentralized computing power localized exchange economies can be organized.


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Featured Essay, Open Innovation, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Technology, P2P Theory, Peer Production | No Comments »

Beyond the Sustainable Development Goals: uncovering the truth about global poverty and demanding the universal realisation of Article 25

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
4th October 2015

The following reproduces the introduction to Share the World’s Resources report about global poverty and the realization of Article 25. You can read the full report here.

The Sustainable Development Goals – despite their positive and progressive rhetoric – by no means constitute a transformative agenda for meeting the basic needs of all people within the means of our shared planet. This report argues that we may never see an end to poverty “in all its forms everywhere” unless ordinary people unite in their millions and demand the universal realisation of fundamental human rights through huge, continuous and worldwide demonstrations for economic justice.

How can governments ensure that people in all countries – as well as future generations – have access to the resources needed to meet their basic needs without exacerbating climate change or transgressing other environmental limits? In other words, how can we (re)organise the global economy so that it embodies the principle of sharing through a recognition that humanity only has one planet’s worth of finite resources that must be equitably distributed for the common good of all?

This is the epochal challenge that campaigners and policymakers have been grappling with ever since a global agenda for sustainable development was first set out in a report by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, entitled Our Common Future. Almost three decades since the ‘Bruntland Report’ was published, however, governments are no closer to implementing the policies and regulations that can achieve greater equity in a constrained world, despite countless international conferences and commitments that span the full spectrum of social, economic and environmental concerns.

On the contrary, inequality has widened to unprecedented levels over the last three decades, with the richest 1% now owning nearly as much wealth as the rest of the world’s population combined.  As outlined in Part 2 of this report, almost 4.2 billion people still live in severe poverty and more than 4,600 people die needlessly every day simply because they do not have access to life’s essentials. Meanwhile, humanity is consuming natural resources 50% faster than they can be replenished, and CO2 emissions are currently set to increase by a catastrophic four degrees Celsius by the end of the century. These statistics barely scratch the surface of today’s interrelated global crises, which is why achieving truly equitable, just and sustainable economic development remains humanity’s most urgent priority in the dawning 21st century.

It is therefore encouraging to note the scale and ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have now been formally adopted by the United Nations in order to pave the way for a new global partnership to “free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet”. This new set of targets will define the international development agenda for the next 15 years, building on the apparent success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were implemented in 2000 to a similar fanfare of worldwide media coverage and hype.

If taken at face value, it may seem irresponsible for anyone to dismiss such a well-intentioned and high-level agenda of this nature, if only because it presents a valuable opportunity to improve intergovernmental cooperation and focus the minds of both policymakers and the general public on pressing global issues. Who could possibly disagree with the broad vision and prime objective of the SDGs campaign to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”? As the international community aligns its development policies to this definitive global initiative, however, many civil society organisations and engaged citizens are voicing serious concerns about whether the goals can ever live up to their claim of embodying a “supremely ambitious and transformational agenda”.

Even a cursory analysis of the SDGs outcome document reveals that there are many reasons to question not only the goals themselves, but the entire sustainable development agenda and the political-economic context within which it will be implemented. Unfortunately, the program’s numerous shortcomings have been obfuscated by persuasive and misleading rhetoric coming from UN agencies, stakeholder governments, corporations and the many non-governmental organisations praising the success of the MDGs and heavily promoting the new ‘Global Goals’ campaign. One of the aims of this report is therefore to bolster a counter-narrative to the mainstream view that the existing international development framework is capable of addressing the critical social and ecological crises facing humanity.

In the sections that follow, we also highlight some of the key criticisms of the SDGs and explain why they will not deliver environmentally sustainable outcomes or tackle the pressing structural issues at the heart of today’s global crises. In contradistinction to the commonly held view that governments are winning the battle against hunger and poverty, we demonstrate that – by any reasonable measure of human deprivation – more people live in poverty today than ever before, we are failing to sufficiently reduce or even acknowledge the reality of life-threatening deprivation, and the situation is getting worse rather than improving. We therefore refute the claim that the MDGs halved poverty between 1990 and 2015, and argue that it will be impossible to end hunger and extreme poverty by 2030 as long as we continue to pursue a policy framework based on the discredited free market ideology of neoliberalism.

Due to the continued failure of the international community to reform the global economy in line with more equitable and ecological standards, a strategy for mass civic engagement is also proposed – one that calls on ordinary people to demand that governments fully implement the essential requirements set out in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an overriding international priority. In a world in which policymakers remain beholden to outmoded political ideologies and are unduly influenced by powerful corporations, we argue that unprecedented and continuous worldwide protests are necessary if governments are ever to meet the basic needs of the world’s majority poor within an immediate timeframe. From both a moral and strategic standpoint, the report concludes that only a united global demand for governments to guarantee the basic rights set out in Article 25 – for adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and social security for all – can pave the way towards a sustainable global economy based on justice and the principle of sharing.



Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Essay, Food and Agriculture, Open Government, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Ecology, Sharing | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Distributed Authorship and Creative Communities

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
30th September 2015


We’re very happy to present this paper, featuring a contribution from our associate Penny Travlou.


Biggs, Simon and Travlou, Penny (2015) “Distributed Authorship and Creative Communities”, in Scott Retteberg, Patricia Tomaszek and Sandy Baldwin (eds) Electronic Literature Communities. Morgantown, WV: Computing Literature, The Center for Literacy Computing, pp. 29-44

In its requirement for both an author and reader art can be considered a participatory activity. Expanded concepts of agency allows us to question what or who can be an active participant, allowing us to revisit the debate on authorship from a new perspective. We can ask whether creativity might be regarded as a form of social interaction rather than an outcome. How might we understand creativity as interaction between people and things, as sets of discursive relations rather than outcomes?

Whilst creativity is often perceived as the product of the individual artist, or creative ensemble, it can also be considered an emergent phenomenon of communities, driving change and facilitating individual or ensemble creativity. Creativity can be a performative activity released when engaged through and by a community and understood as a process of interaction.

In this context, the model of the solitary artist who produces artefacts which embody creativity is questioned as an ideal for achieving creative outcomes. Instead, creativity is proposed as an activity of exchange that enables (creates) people and communities. In Creative Land (Leach 2003) anthropologist James Leach describes cultural practices where the creation of new things, and the ritualised forms of exchange enacted around them, function to “create” individuals and bind them in social groups, “creating” the community they inhabit. Leach’s argument is an interesting take on the concept of the gift-economy and suggests it is possible to conceive of creativity as emergent from and innate to the interactions of people. Such an understanding might then function to combat an instrumentalist view of creativity that demands of artists that their creations have social (e.g.: “economic”) value. In the argument proposed here, creativity is not valued as arising from a perceived need, a particular solution or product, nor from a supply-side “blue skies” ideal, but as an emergent property of communities.

This chapter seeks to articulate these issues, identifying a set of core questions and describing the context within which they will be addressed, indicating how these questions are at the centre of the pan-European Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP) collaborative research project, undertaken from 2010-2013 and funded through the Humanities in the European Research Area Joint Research Programme. The chapter examines a specific example of a creative community i.e. Furtherfield and outlines the research methods we intend to employ during our proposed fieldwork.

Click here for more details.


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Essay, Guest Post, Networks, Open Content, P2P Art and Culture, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

Essay: Can capitalism reform itself and move towards a p2p society?

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
28th September 2015

P2P & INOVAÇÃO is a new journal linked Grupo de Pesquisa Economias colaborativas e produção P2P no Brasil (Collaborative  Economy and P2P Production in Brazil Research Group) from Instituto Brasileiro de Informação em Ciência e Tecnologia (IBICT). The second volume has just been published and includes, amongst others, articles authored by P2P Foundation collaborators.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 09.31.03This week we introduce Jean Lievens’s essay titled “Can capitalism reform itself and move towards a p2p society?”


The first Dutch book on P2P “Save the World” by Michel Bauwens had a good reception in Flanders. Even for the critics, the emerging way of ‘getting things done’ through global cooperation on “what is light” and re-localisation of “what is heavy” is making a lot of sense and is indeed the way to go. In this article, we examine two criticisms of the book: the feasibility of an unconditional basic income within the present system and the possibility to move gradually to a P2P society without “overthrowing” capitalism.  Apart from the “low road” to peer-to-peer (after an economic collapse) and “the high road to peer-to-peer” (through neo-Keynesianism) a third way could open up, based on a reformed partner state facilitating peer production. Our conclusion is that under the present circumstances, with exponentially growing bottom-up initiatives, open source alternatives and the Internet as a new means of production, value creation and distribution, past failed experiences of ‘socialism in one country’ could today have more chances of succeeding on condition that a progressive government arms itself with a commons transitional plan. Such a transitional government would undoubtedly face many difficulties, but it would at least open the horizon for a better future. And it would certainly enjoy a wave of solidarity throughout the world.

More can be found here.


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Essay of the Day: Might Supplementary Tethered Currencies Reduce Financial System Risks

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
22nd September 2015

* Article: Turnbull, Shann, Might Supplementary Tethered Currencies Reduce Financial System Risks? (January 15, 2015).

From the Abstract:

“The research question is to investigate if supplementary tethered currencies might reduce financial system risks and provide a superior fallback position to Bitcoin in a crisis? To investigate the question, a hypothetical $Z supplementary cost carrying currency is considered whose value is tethered to the retail value of kilo-watt-hours generated from benign renewable energy resources from host bioregions. Cost carrying money was proposed by Gesell (1916) and supported by Fisher (1933), Keynes (1936), Suhr (1989), Buiter (2009) and Menner (2011). Private issues of self-financing self-liquidating cost carrying money described as “Stamp Scrip”, competed successfully with official gold backed currencies during the Great Depression in Europe and the US. The rapid growth and spread of private cost carrying currencies in Germany since 2003 tethered to the Euro provides evidence of its viability and acceptance. Options are identified for the issue of $Z like currencies to underwrite the stability of the financial system and/or to sustain and stimulate economies with either idiosyncratic or systemic failures. $Z represents money that is Tethered, Tagged and Terminating.”


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Essay: Open-access communism

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
21st September 2015

P2P & INOVAÇÃO is a new journal linked Grupo de Pesquisa Economias colaborativas e produção P2P no Brasil (Collaborative  Economy and P2P Production in Brazil Research Group) from Instituto Brasileiro de Informação em Ciência e Tecnologia (IBICT). The second volume has just been published and includes, amongst others, articles authored by P2P Foundation collaborators.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 09.31.03This week we introduce Femke Kaulingfreks’s and Ruud Kaulingfreks’s essay titled “Open-access communism”.


As the West loses its political credibility, the search has opened for alternatives to neo-liberal parliamentary democracies, failing on their own scale of good governance. Several contemporary critical thinkers, such as Alain Badiou, turn towards a communist horizon. In this paper, we want to explore the idea of commons in contemporary Internet-based groups, as a quest for contemporary appearances of communism in the Badiouian sense. From wiki formats to the hacktivism of Anonymous, there are various Internet-based initiatives that are built on a philosophy of open access to all, regardless of their identity, and a horizontal, rhizomatic organisation. We think that the organisational features of these initiatives make them suitable to carry out a struggle for new, more democratic political alternatives.

More can be found here.


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Essay: P2P revolution and commons phase transition

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
19th September 2015

P2P & INOVAÇÃO is a new journal linked Grupo de Pesquisa Economias colaborativas e produção P2P no Brasil (Collaborative  Economy and P2P Production in Brazil Research Group) from Instituto Brasileiro de Informação em Ciência e Tecnologia (IBICT). The second volume has just been published and includes, amongst others, articles authored by P2P Foundation collaborators.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 09.31.03This week we introduce Michel Bauwens’s essay titled “P2P revolution and commons phase transition”.


This article aims at analyzing the relation between the concepts of revolution and transition  phase. From the P2P and Commons, it is possible to observe: the process of transition emerging from the dominant system, class division and social structures; the crisis of neoliberal capitalism, taking into consideration sustainable production, mutual support economy, and production among peers; new political ways and social mobilization. The conclusion shows the importance of social reconstruction and the relation between local and global.

More can be found here.


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Design global, manufacture local

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
16th September 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.20.50

Design global, manufacture local: Exploring the contours of an emerging productive model. By Vasilis Kostakis, Vasilis Niaros, George Dafermos, Michel Bauwens. Futures, Volume 73, October 2015, Pages 126–135.


This article aims to contribute to the ongoing dialogue on post-capitalist construction by exploring the contours of a commons-oriented productive model. On the basis of this model called “design global-manufacture local”, we argue that recent techno-economic developments around the emergence of commons-based peer production and desktop manufacturing technologies, may signal new alternative paths of social organization. We conclude by arguing that all commons-oriented narratives could converge, thereby supporting the creative communities which are building the world they want within the confines of the political economy they aspire to transcend.

See more here.


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Essay of the Day: Can Capitalism Reform Itself and Move Towards a P2P Society?

photo of Rachel O'Dwyer

Rachel O'Dwyer
14th September 2015

By Jean Lievens

Full Paper here


The first Dutch book on P2P Save the World by Michel Bauwens had a good reception in Flanders, but there were also some criticisms. In this article, we examine two criticisms of the book: the feasibility of an unconditional basic income within the present system and the possibility to move gradually to a P2P society without “overthrowing” capitalism. Apart from the “low road” to peer-to-peer (after an economic collapse) and “the high road” to peer-to-peer (through neo- Keynesianism), a third way could open up, based on a reformed partner states facilitating peer production. Our conclusion is that under the present circumstances – with  bottom-up initiatives; open source alternatives; and the Internet as a new means of production, value creation and distribution –  past failed experiences of socialism could today have more chances of succeeding on the condition that a progressive government arms itself with a commons transitional plan. Such a transitional government would undoubtedly face many difficulties, but it would at least open the horizon for a better future.

The High Road to P2P

Let’s return to the different scenarios for society to move beyond capitalism. The first scenario, the “high road” to P2P, is quite similar to the ideas developed by Jeremy Rifkin in his latest books “The Third Industrial Revolution” (RIFKIN, 2013) and especially “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” (RIFKIN, 2014). Rifkin’s thesis is that within 30 years or so, commons based peer production will be at the core of our economy. Capitalism will continue to exist, but as an auxiliary system, pushed to the periphery. But to get there, massive investments are needed to build the necessary infrastructures for this new Internet of communication, energy and logistics, enabling and facilitating common based peer production. The present Internet as a communication network should indeed be expanded globally and completed by an energy Internet and a logistic Internet.

This presupposes massive public investments that would create millions of traditional jobs, while at the same time, as information technology is eliminating tens of millions of jobs in manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. New jobs must also be created in the third sector, voluntary and community-based service organisations. According to Rifkin these new jobs should be created with government support to rebuild neighbourhoods and provide social services (RIFKIN, 1996). To finance this last enterprise, Rifkin advocates scaling down the military budget, enacting a value added tax on nonessential goods and services and redirecting federal and state funds to provide a “social wage” in lieu of welfare payments to third-sector workers.

The Low Road to P2P

Therefore the best way for moving forward at present is to build our own peer- to-peer alternatives here and now, including local en digital currencies, and make our networks and solidarity mechanisms stronger. Michel Bauwens already expressed this view in 2010, in the aftermath of the financial crisis:


What seems to be happening is that mobilization is increasingly happening indeed, and also the quite rapid spread of open and sharing infrastructures, BUT, there is no longer anyone to talk to. The enlightened part of the nation states either do not exist or are two weak, and the global market forces are intent to break what remains of their independence, and hence, what they can do and signify for their own peoples. They’re is simply nobody there anymore, the system has exhausted its capabilities to rectify outside of the narrow interests of the predatory financial class (BAUWENS, 2015).

Also in 2010, John Robb, author, entrepreneur, inventor and a former USAF pilot in special operations wrote: (ROBB, 2010)

For those that think that this will bring about a surge of peaceful economic vigour, you will be wrong. It will fragment society and lead to perpetual stagnation/depression, endemic violence/corruption, and squalor. For absent any moral basis (a social compact), stability, or (widely shared) prosperity: new sources of order will emerge to fill the gap left by the hollowing out of the nation- state. These new sources of order will be first seen in the rise of the criminal entrepreneur, whether they be the be suited corporate gangster or the gang tattooed thug. For in the world of hollow states (without a morality that limits behaviour) and limitless connectivity to the global economic system, these criminal entrepreneurs quickly become dominant, violently coercing or corrupting everyone in the path to their enrichment.

Building the alternatives in a low road scenario shouldn’t however be all that dramatic, as John Rob already stated in 2009:

In either case, system recovery could be catalyzed and the damage largely mitigated, if our global system was scale invariant. Basically, this means that if we had communities that could produce at the local level many of the essential products and services currently produced at the global level, handling disconnection or buffering turbulence would be of little consequence (also, it would be much easier for us to find ways of protecting or making redundant the products/services that ONLY could be produced at the global level). Fortunately, particularly given the substantial uptick in dynamic instability at the global level, we are seeing movement towards scale invariant resilient communities. These communities can and would be able to operate autonomously regardless of availability, pricing, or quality of external goods/services for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, this movement may not spread quickly enough to provide any meaningful support to those communities that are utterly dependent on the smooth functioning of the global system. (ROBB, 2009)

Commons transition Plan on a National Level

John Rob was talking about local communities, about local resilience. But what is local in a globalised world? Is it communal, regional, or even national? We could argue that in the case of Greece, a plan B, based on the introduction of a “local” (in this case national) currency protecting and stimulating the local economy (and keeping the euro for international payments), and a governmental commons transition plan to turn the Greek state into a facilitator for commons based peer production, could well be a viable alternative to the present situation in which the country has in effect been turned into a European protectorate, stripped from every shred of sovereignty and democracy.


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