P2P Essay of the Day: Ten Peer Production Patterns (6-10) – Part 2

Recently we presented the first five peer production patterns described by Stefan Meretz. We will now present the last 5 patterns. Read the innitial post for more background about this essay.

The patterns: 6-10

Pattern 6: Beyond Classes

Stefan Meretz:

“Capitalism is a society of separations. Buying vs. selling, producing vs. consuming, labor vs. capital, concrete vs. abstract labor, use value vs. exchange value, private production vs. social distribution etc.

Capitalist development is driven by the contradictions between these separated parts. Among them, labor and capital is only one contradiction, but it seems to be the most relevant one. A person seems to be defined by being a labor seller or a labor buyer, a worker or capitalist. However, in fact labor and capital are not properties of individuals, but opposite societal functions like all other separations capitalism generates.

Therefore, it is not true that only one side of the various separations represents the general or progressive one. On the contrary, both parts of a separation depend on each other. Labor produces capital, and capital creates labor. It is an alienated cycle of a permanent reproduction of the capitalist forms. Thus, both sides of these separations, e.g. labor and capital, are necessary functions of capitalism. The so called antagonism of labor and capital is in fact a purely immanent mode of historical development of capitalism. The working class does not represent emancipation, by no means.

Free Software and peer production in general is not recreating classes, it is rather beyond that mode. It represents a germ form (cf. pattern 10) of a new mode of production which generally is not based on separations, but on integrating different personal needs, behavior and wishes as a powerful source of development. Exploitation does not exist, because selling and buying of labor does not exist and money can only play a role in retro games about antiquated societies called “capitalism”.

Selbstentfaltung as a free developing human being is the source of societal transition towards a free society, not the class adherence.”

Pattern 7: Beyond Exclusion

Stefan Meretz:

“One of the most basic separations capitalism generates is the separation of those who are inside and those who are not. This inside/outside pattern is not a class separation (cf. pattern 6) and it is not only one big separation. It is a structural mechanism of inclusion and exclusion along all possible lines of society: job-owner vs. jobless, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, people of color vs. white people, bosses vs. subordinated, owners of means of production vs. non-owners, members of social security vs. non-members etc. It has to be recognized as a basic structural principle of capitalism: An inclusion of the one side implies an exclusion of the other side. For the individual this means that any personal progress is realized at the expense of others who stagnate or regress.

In general the commons are beyond the mechanism of exclusion. In Free Software, for example, the more active people join a project the faster and the better a goal can be achieved. Here, the relationship between people is not structured by inclusion-exclusion mechanisms, but by an inclusive reciprocity (Meretz 2012). The maintainer of a project tries to include as many active people as possible, strives for a creative atmosphere, and tries to solve conflicts in a way, that as many people as possible can follow the “rough consensus” and the “running code”.

If a consensus is not possible the best solution is then a fork: a risky but valid option to test different directions of development. If you look at existing forks (e.g. between KDE and GNOME), then many of them are working closely together or maintain an atmosphere of cooperation. Yes, there are other examples of fights against one another. But these non-productive forks are mainly due to alienated interests playing an important role. Oracle tried to implement a command and control regime after having bought OpenOffice as part of the Sun package. The fork to LibreOffice by many important developers was an act of self-defense and self-determination to maintain their environment of Selbstentfaltung. They don’t want to go back into the old “labor mode” of development (cf. pattern 5).”

While capitalism is structurally based on exclusion mechanisms, commons-based peer production generally creates and advances inclusion.”

Pattern 8: Beyond Socialism

Stefan Meretz:

“Socialism, as defined by Karl Marx in the “Critique of the Gotha Programme” (Marx, 1875) is a commodity-producing society ruled by the working class. Historically this was realized by the so called “real existing Socialism”. There have been many critiques of real socialist countries (lacking democracy, etc.) from within the left. Nevertheless, a good part of the left shares the assumption that an interphase between a free society (which may be called communism) and capitalism is unavoidable. The general concept is that the working class holding the power can reconstruct the whole economy according to their interests which represent the majority of the society. In short: power comes first, then a new mode of production will follow, in order to build a really free society. This concept has failed historically.

The reason for this failure is not due to internal tactical differences and shortcomings. Instead it is due to the unrealistic concept of qualitative historical transformation. Never in history was the question of power placed first, it was always the new mode of production which emerged from the old way of producing which prepared the historical transition. Capitalism initially developed from craftsmanship in medieval towns, then integrated manufactures, finally leading to the system of big industry. The question of power was solved “on the way”. This does not diminish the role of revolutions, but revolutions only realize and enhance what was already developing. The revolutions of the Arab Spring do not create anything new, but try to realize the potentials of a normal democratic bourgeois society.

This analysis of historical developments (discussed in more detail in pattern 10) has to be applied to the current situation. Historical transition can not be realized by taking over political power – be it by parliament or by street actions – but by developing a new mode of production. The criteria for being “new” can be derived from the negation of the old mode of production: instead of commodities: commons production, instead of exchange and mediation by money: free distribution, instead of labor: Selbstentfaltung, instead of exclusion mechanisms: potential inclusion of all people. However, care needs to be taken since not all developments of capitalism are to be abolished. Rather some continue – though in a transcended form.

Commons-based peer production transcends capitalism as well as commodity-based socialism.”

Pattern 9: Beyond Politics

Stefan Meretz:

“Since commons-based peer production is mainly about constructing a new mode of production, it is basically a non-political movement. Here, politics is understood as addressing the state and its institutions to demand changes in some desired direction. Such politics are based on interests which in capitalism are generally positioned against each other. If a society is structured along inclusion-exclusion patterns (see pattern 7), then it is necessary to organize common but partial interests in order to realize them at the expense of the common partial interests of others. In this sense commons are beyond politics, because they basically do not operate in the realm of interests but of needs.

It is important to distinguish between needs and interests. Needs have to be organized in the form of interests, if the usual mode of realization is the exclusion of the interests of others. Commons on the other hand are based on the variety of needs of their participants, which act as a source of creativity. The mediation of these different needs is part of the process of peer production. Thus, it is not necessary that participants additionally organize their needs as interests and try to implement them politically. Instead, they achieve this directly.

One aspect which makes this clear is the question of hierarchies. Usually hierarchies are part of capitalist commodity production. Therefore, a common left topic was to reject any hierarchies to avoid domination. This ignores the fact that hierarchies as such do not generate domination, but rather the function hierarchies have in a given context. In a company hierarchies express different interests, for example the interests of workers and of the management (cf. pattern 5). However, in a peer production project a hierarchy may express different levels of expertise or different responsibilities, which are shared by those who accept someone in a leading position. Being a maintainer does not mean following different interests at the expense of project members. Such a project would not prosper. On the contrary, a maintainer is keen to integrate as many active and competent members as possible. This does not avoid conflicts, but conflicts are solved on the common base of the project’s goals.

Commons-based peer production does not require to articulate people’s needs in the form of opposing interests and thus is beyond politics.”

Pattern 10: Germ Form

Stefan Meretz:

“Last but not least, the most important pattern is the germ form or five-step-model (Holzkamp, 1983). It is a model to understand the concurrent existence of phenomena with different qualities. When discussing peer production the debate is often dominated by two groups: those who are in favor of peer production and who try to prove peer production is anti-capitalist and those who see peer production only as a modernization of capitalism. The challenge is to think it as both. The germ form model accomplishes this by viewing the emergence and development of commons-based peer production as a process of its own contradictory unfolding in time.

Normally applying the five-step-model is a retrospective procedure where the result of the analyzed development is well known. By mentally assuming the result of a transition towards a free society based on commons-based peer-production the emergence of this result can be reconstructed using the model. Here is a very rough sketch of the five steps applied to the case of peer production.

1. Germ form: A new function appears. In this phase the new function must not be understood as a rich germ or a seed enclosing all properties of the final entity which only has to grow. Rather in this phase the germ form shows only principles of the new, but it is not the new itself. Thus, commons-based peer production is not the new itself, but the qualitatively new aspect it shows is the need-oriented mediation between peers (based on Selbstentfaltung, see pattern 5). During this phase this is visible only on a local level.

2. Crisis: Only if the overall old system falls into a crisis can the germ form leave its niche. The capitalist way of societal production and mediation via commodities, markets, capital, and state has brought mankind into a deep crisis. It has entered a phase of successive degradation and exhaustion of historically accumulated system resources. The recurring financial crisis makes this obvious to everyone.

3. Function shift: The new function leaves its germ form status in the niche and gains relevance for the reproduction of the old system. The former germ form is now double-faced: On the one hand it can be used for the sake of the old system, on the other hand its own logic is and remains incompatible with the logic of the dominant old system. Peer production is usable for purposes of cost-saving and creating new environments for commercial activities, but it rests upon non-commodity development within its own activities (cf. pattern 3). Cooptation and absorption into normal commodity producing cycles are possible (De Angelis, 2007), and only if peer production is able to defend its own commons-based principles and abilities to create networks on this ground will the next step be reached. Free Software as one example of peer production quite clearly is at this stage.

4. Dominance shift: The new function becomes prevalent. The old function does not disappear immediately, but steps back as the previously dominant function to marginal domains. Commons-based peer production has reached a network density on a global level, so that input-output links are closed to self-contained loops. Separated private production with subsequent market mediation using money is no longer required. Need-based societal mediation organizes production and distribution. The entire system has now qualitatively changed its character.

5. Restructuring: The direction of development, the backbone structures, and the basic functional logics have changed. This process embraces more and more societal fields which refocus towards the new need-based mode of societal mediation. The state is stripped down, new institutions emerge, which no longer have a uniform State character, but are means of collective Selbstentfaltung (cf. pattern 5). New contradictions may come up, a new cycle of development may begin.

This is only an epistemological model, not a scheme for immediate action. The main advantage is the possibility to escape unfruitful either-or debates. It allows for thinking the emergence of a new mode of production being useful for the old system while maintaining its transcending function towards a free society as concurrent phenomena.

The germ form model adapted in the Oekonux context is a dialectical conceptualization of historical transition.”

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