Guerrilla Translation’s transcript of the 2013 C-Realm Podcast Bauwens/Kleiner/Trialogue prefigures many of the directions the P2P Foundation has taken in later years. To honor its relevance we’re curating special excerpts from each of the three authors. For our third and final extract, Venture Communist and Miscommunication specialist, Dymtri Kleiner offers a proposal to answer the following question: How can we create socially-oriented companies without the start-up capital to fund them?
So, to try to explain what “venture communism” is, which is my own project, predating the term “peer production”, but very relevant to it. I think we’re talking about the same thing, even if I was using different terms. As a technologist, I was also inspired by the functioning of peer networks and the organization of free software projects. These were also the inspiration for venture communism. I wanted to create something like a protocol for the formation and allocation of physical goods, the same way we have TCP/IP and so forth, as a way to allocate immaterial goods. The Internet gives us a very efficient platform on which we can share and distribute and collectively create immaterial wealth, and become independent producers based on this collective commons.
Venture communism seeks to tackle the issue of how we can do the same thing with material wealth. I drew on lots of sources in the creation of this model, not exclusively anarchist-communist sources. One was the Georgist idea of using rent, economic rent, as a fundamental mutualizing source of wealth. Mutualizing unearned income is essentially what that means in layman’s terms. The idea is that people earn income not only by producing things, but by owning the means of production, owning productive assets, and our society is unequal because the distribution of productive assets is unequal.
Even within the cooperative movement, which I’ve always admired and held up as an example, it’s clear that the distribution of productive assets is also unequal. The same with other kinds of production; for example, if you look at the social power of IT workers versus agricultural workers, it becomes very clear that the social power of a collective of IT workers is much stronger than the social power of a collective agricultural workers. There is inequality in human and capital available for these cooperatives. This protocol would seek to normalize that, but in a way that doesn’t require administration. The typical statist communist reaction to the cooperative movement is saying that cooperatives can exclude and exploit one another, and that solution is either creating giant cooperatives like Mondragon, or socialist states.
But then, as we’ve seen in history, there’s something that develops called an administrative class, which governs over the collective of cooperatives or the socialist state, and can become just as counterproductive and often exploitive as capitalist class. So, how do we create cooperation among cooperatives, and distribution of wealth among cooperatives, without creating this administrative class? This is why I borrowed from the work of Henry George and Silvio Gesell in created this idea of rent sharing.
The idea is that the cooperatives are still very much independent just as cooperatives are now. The producers are independent, but instead of owning their productive assets themselves, each member of the cooperative owns these together with each member of every other cooperative in the Federation, and the cooperatives rent the property from the commune collectively. This is not done administratively, this is simply done as a protocol. The idea is that if a cooperative wants an asset, like, an example is if one of the communes would like to have a tractor, then essentially the central commune is like a bond market. They float a bond, they say I want a tractor, I am willing to pay $200 a month for this tractor in rent, and other members of the cooperative can say, hey, yeah, that’s a good idea,we think that’s a really good allocation of these productive assets, so we are going to buy these bonds. The bond sale clears, the person gets the tractor, the money from the rent of the tractor goes back to clear the bonds, and after that, whatever further money is collected through the rent on this tractor – and I don’t only mean tractors, same would be applied to buildings, to land, to any other productive assets – all this rent that’s collected is then distributed equally among all of the workers.
So, the unearned income, the portion of income derived from ownership of productive assets is evenly distributed among all the cooperatives and all the stakeholders among those cooperatives, and that’s the basic protocol of venture communism.
Whatever productive assets you consume, you pay rent for, and that rent is divided equally among all members of the commune. Not the individual cooperatives, but the commune itself. This means that if you use your exact per capita share of property, no more no less than what you pay in rent and what you received in social dividend, will be equal. So if you are a regular person, then you are kind of moving evenly, right? But if you’re not working at that time, because you’re old, or otherwise unemployed, then obviously the the productive assets that you will be using will be much less than the mean and the median, so what you’ll receive as dividend will be much more than what you pay in rent, essentially providing a basic income. And conversely, if you’re a super motivated producer, and you’re greatly expanding your productive capacity, then what you pay for productive assets will be much higher than what you get in dividend, presumably, because you’re also earning income from the application of that property to production. So, venture communism doesn’t seek to control the product of the cooperatives. The product of the cooperatives is fully theirs to dispose of as they like. It doesn’t seek to limit, control, or even tell them how they should distribute it, or under what means; what they produce is entirely theirs, it’s only the collective management of the commons of productive assets.
I really like “venture communism” as a linguistic hack. What would the equivalent of a “startup” be in this system? Also, what would it be called? I agree with Aral Balkan that startups are “Silicon Valley brands” that have pre-sold their potential users’ data to capitalists, and because I don’t want to be involved in that, I don’t want to call anything I’m involved in a “startup”.
Interesting question, @strypey. I’ve just been thinking recently that one key intervention point is the point where an idea, or a small entrepreneurial business, takes on the commitment to grow, rather than remaining confined by the limits of the founder’s head. If we can catch people at this stage — the earlier the better, so that the entrepreneur has less “invested” — then maybe a business “commons transition” can happen.
How about something like “commons seed business”, or if the seed is conceived in the head of the entrepreneur, even “commons shoot” or “commons bud”?