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The next “five year plan” of the P2P Foundation: constructing livelihood through phyles

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th November 2010


Towards a strategic relationship between the P2P Foundation and Las Indias

Regular readers of our blog will have noticed that I have paid substantial attention to my discovery of the Spanish-language network developed by lasindias.net, which I hadn’t previously encountered.
Las Indias, is a cooperative, a neomedieval ‘neo-Venetian’ guild structure that was rooted in cyberpunk literature and is devoted to the globalization of small entrepreneurs. As a entrepreneurial but fraternal structure, it fully engages not only in providing its members with a current livelihood, but with full future security. Las Indias fully adopts and practices the open ethos, uses decision-making through deliberation, and is committed to splitting into autonomous units, whenever the Dunbar limit is reached.

Recently, I covered the three books, recently translated, in which David de Ugarte and others from lasindias.net, offer their take on the history of economic forms (Phyles: Economic Democracy of the Network Age); a history of governance forms (From Nations to Networks), and a history of civil society itself (The Power of Networks). There are well-thought out interpretations of where we are going and how networks are changing the fundamental nature of our social organization.

The key insight for me is their argument for the creation of phyles. Indeed, it was a missing piece of the puzzle in my own peer to peer theory. We have been able to describe the emergence of peer production, governance, and property; we have been able to describe the emergence of open business models, mostly noticing how companies are adapting to communities. But at the same time, we also know that there is not a clear choice available for peer producers who want to go their own way. We have successfully democratized the means of creating value, but have not been able to democratize the means of realizing that value. Creating livelihood independently of the capital players that profit from our social cooperation and obtain asymmetrical hyper-competitivity through our contributions, remains an arduous task. Localization through global open design communities is still mostly an effort to avoid the dislocation of the global meltdown, it’s a strategy of resilience, not yet of thrivability; and the nation state is increasingly failing us, with what remains of the welfare state under a violent assault of extreme neoliberalism. We create increasing surplus value, but we don’t capture it, this is the crux of the matter.

Las Indias on the other hand, asks the right question, and in my opinion, gives the right answer.

The question is: what do distributed networks really bring to the table, that is new and unique, and points the way forward?

The answer: it is a new form of human socialization around the creation of common value. Distributed networks do not just change localism and the nation-state, but create the possibility of creating transnational value networks, used by communities in order to sustain their common work. In other words, we are not just talking about entrepreneurs and businesses adapting to co-production and communities, BUT, we are talking about communities creating their own mission-oriented business forms, in which the market activity is subsumed to the common value. This creates sustainability and livelihoods for the individuals involved; subsumes the profit maximization of the marketplace to higher ethical values which constrain it to the value commons; and captures the surplus value directly for the peer producers.

There are a lot of exciting things to say about the internal organization of the Las Indias phyle, which is a combination of elements of cooperatives, decision through deliberation, the gradation of knowledge skills taken from the guild system, etc … The reality is that, in a world where precarity is the norm for many peer producers, the phyle is a efficacious solidarity mechanism. Next to liberty and equality, it brings the missing fraternity to the table of social practice, in a new transnational format that transcends the limitations of the nation-state, and is rooted in a true human community.
Therefore, it is now clear to me that the central task of the P2P Foundation, after five years of creating a global knowledge commons in conditions of precarity, is, for the next five years, to focus on the sustainability of the common work, by creating appropriate livelihoods, through the creation of a phyle.

The way I see it, we are going through a major cultural, political, economic transition; nothing less than a revolution and phase transition; the P2P Foundation wants to position itself as one of the trusted players that can offer guidance and learning in this transformation, on both individual and collective levels. The knowledge commons will continue to evolve and improve, but an added layer of activity will offer useful services that can generate income.

My visit last month, where I spent two days socializing with lasindias in Madrid, showed that we are operating on the same wavelength, and that there is strong mutual sympathy. Therefore, there is a priori agreement, which still needs to be worked out in detail, to form a strategic relationship. Lasindias will help us create a phyle, and we will help to spread the key insight of phyles in the English-speaking world, while creating first-class educational material to go through the transition period unscathed, coming out with the thrivability associated with providing useful services to society.

How exactly the P2P Foundation phyle will look, is still an open question, as I do have anxieties and reservations about the full communal level that is at the heart of Las Indias. Las Indias has a very strong ‘social market’ orientation, rather than our own commons’ orientation. So there are differences, and their will remain a diversity in our cooperation. The way I envision it, is the following: the peer to peer revolution is a deep cultural, political, economic and social transformation, which will require a very broad ‘church’ of interlinked social movements. Within this broad movement, it is a very good thing that there is a very committed core, that lives their values to the fullest, and serves an inspiration and an example for others.

In terms of P2P Theory as a guide to transformation, a very important missing piece of the puzzle has now been added. In the context of a failing nation-state, destructive globalized capitalism, there does exist a social form that is both local and global in form, and can provide security for its peer producing members.

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6 Responses to “The next “five year plan” of the P2P Foundation: constructing livelihood through phyles”

  1. Sepp Hasslberger Says:

    Sustainability –

    This new focus in the direction of the p2p foundation brings real sustainability to the movement, not so much in an environmental way, but in a personal way as well.

    If the members of a movement for change are not individually sustainable in their own lives, there is little chance for a sustainable economic and social order to emerge.

    For my part, I welcome the creation of a p2p “phyle” (we might have to call it something more immediately understandable) and I believe it is proper to dedicate our efforts to the emergence of this new vehicle.

  2. Michel Bauwens Says:

    Dear Sepp: we have created a separate mailing list for those committed to the new project,

    Michel

  3. David de Ugarte Says:

    Thank you Michel for the trust and the post. We feel honoured.

    Dear Sepp, dont you think is too agressive to start a relationship changing the name even without knowing the causes why a thing has this concrete name and no other?

    Michel, do you realize that this Sepp attitude, is one of the causes of our reluctance for dicussing in English: before any other thing the words are changed denaturalizing the meanings…

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  5. Michel Bauwens Says:

    Hi David, I think you’re reading too much into Sepp’s remark. Sepp is simply worried about using concepts that are easily understood. I’m for using “phyle” myself, but we need to educate people on what it means.

    Michel

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