David Laibmanâ€™s Deep History, which has already inspired me to a previous editorial comparing the peer to peer transition to that from slavery to feudalism, offers an innovative interpretation into the stadial (= by stages) evolution of capitalism. It is an abstract theory, but compatible with the historical record. I will first describe his vision, then inquire into its compatibility with our vision on the peer to peer transformation.
I urge anyone interested in peer to peer theory to read the following carefully, as I see it as a major new integrative moment and achievement in the understanding of the change dynamics of the coming era.
David Laibman’s theory goes like this, and my apologies for the simplifications.
He distinguishes two axes with each two polarities, which gives four quandrants. The logic of evolution, goes per column, from the top down (this gives: top left, bottom left, top right, bottom right).
The vertical axis divides up diffusion vs. accumulation. Accumulation is the well-known process of adding up capital through intensive development, i.e. â€œlocallyâ€. Diffusion is the lesser known process of the extensive spread of capitalist relations in a precapitalist environment, say the McDonaldisation of the Third World.
The horizontal access divides internally oriented phases, from external oriented phases. This gives four quadrants, i.e. four phases, and three transitions between them.
DL also importantly distinguishes low-interventionist â€˜passive statesâ€™ and â€˜high-interventionistâ€™ active state forms.
He also introduces â€˜long cycles of balance of social powerâ€™, with an upswing of workers power, and a long period of downswing. Iâ€™ll leave this mostly out of the picture, but it is not difficult to see the downswing starting in the 1980â€™s and picking up speed after 1989.
I. Explaining the phases of capitalism
Phase 1: internal diffusion of capitalist relations.
This is the first mercantile phase of capitalism, marked by the enclosures and forced proletarianisation of the English peasants, and outside the process was fed through the colonial expansion, slave trade, etcâ€¦ The era is marked by active absolutist monarchies.
Transition I: nation-state start to coalesce, and passive states emerge.
Phase 2: internal accumulation with passive state: the liberal era of the 19th century.
Intensive but â€˜spontaneousâ€™ accumulation within nation states, is combined with a fairly passive â€œlaisser faireâ€ state approach.
Transition II: capital starts to transgress national boundaries, but national capital starts demanding protection from their states, while emerging social movements start making their demands.
Phase 3: external diffusion, active national states
The imperialist era which is marked by a formation of a world market, and the hardening of strong states, both for international competition, and for internal regulation and responding to the demands of social movements. DL divides up this â€˜long 20thâ€™ century, into a pre-Soviet era of classic imperialism; 2) the Soviet interregnum period marked by American hegemony; 3) the post Soviet era marked by an erosion of that central power of the U.S. and increasing problems leading to a transition to the fourth stage of globalism.
Transition III: capital starts transcending national boundaries but in a way that can no longer be contained by nation-states; diffusion completes but at the same times also fails to go very deep, causing deep cultural strains in the developing world; lack of global state power renders inoperable any solution to deep social divisions
Phase 4: external accumulation with a global passive state
(of course in this stage, external becomes internal, because it becomes the whole world, or in other words, the internal/external distinction looses currency)
This phase of globalism, of which we are already observing many signs in this transition period, would mean a full realization of global accumulation on a world scale; the key problem of a global passive state is that there is no internal/external contradiction that can create a â€œweâ€, and therefore, says DL, it will be marked by a hole in the hegemony layer.
In other words, we are now in a dysfunctional â€˜transitionalâ€™ phase of proto-globalism, and need to transit to a full-blown form which needs its own state form.
A few initial comments:
1) I think this scenario is believable on the whole, and one of its implications is that capitalism has not yet fulfilled its full role, that it still has to initiate and complete this full fourth cycle. Concluding to its obsoleteness or even â€˜deathâ€™ may be premature.
2) In his story, though Iâ€™m still missing the last chapters of the book, there is very little recognition of the key role of ecological disasters, and resource depletion; he also ignores everything we are talking about in our blog. (that of course doesnâ€™t mean the author ignores these but they are not very prominent in the book at all).
What kind of problems does his vision create for peer to peer theory:
1) His theory highlights the question of timing. Before we may see a shift to a successor civilization that is geared around the peer to peer logic, we may first expect a global strengthening of the capitalist system on a world scale
2) It poses the question of what kinds of structural reforms are needed to achieve this fourth stage
According to DL it is only this fourth stage that will create a global abstract citizenry with a global consciousness. (as a socialist he calls this a global proletariat).
Some possible conclusions:
1) Many of the peer to peer developments that we describe and try to integrate in our theory are indeed emergent and small, they will take decades to play out, especially the expansion to the physical field
2) Carrying out the reforms that the rise of p2p-participatory movements (openness, commons-orientation) and the sustainability movements suggests are part of the key reforms which may make such a transformation to globalism possible; it is pretty clear that neither neoliberalism nor neoconservatism can successfully solve the transition problems
3) It gives sense to many of the reforms-within-capitalism movement that we see arising such as sustainability, social entrepreneurship, base-of-the-pyramid approaches, blended value; indeed, we see at present no serious social force calling for its abolition, while at the same time many of its main principles are contested. I suspect that the new social compact will have elements of a kind of global Keynesianism as proposed by Soros, and also reflect many participative developments; what we describe as the forces of netarchical capitalism may play a great role in it. Note that a key issue in this transition is solving the ecology/sustainability issues without which the transition is not possible.
A global passive state might appear strong compared to the weak global institutions that are operating now, but it is correct to call it passive as it would have relatively limited powers.
4) But this emergent globalism will then itself set the stage for a further transition to a full peer to peer mode, as more and more world citizens have the skills and consciousness and access to technology that makes a peer to peer style of social relationship a natural thing to do. The present minority of peer-ready knowledge workers need to become a massive social phenomena in the whole world.
So the above gives us a clear view of the ….
III. The Stadiality of Peer to Peer
Crucial is the question of timing: do we have the time to go through two such transitions (the global and the P2P one), before the ecological â€œsh..tâ€ hits the fan? It is likely that we do as all of the different problems and trends will take several decades to fully play out.
This gives us the following stadiality for peer to peer:
1) The current emergent phase, where all new realities are emerging as seeds
2) The phase were participation becomes a highly visible part of a new global compact. The society is capitalist, but it has integrated the major reforms without which it cannot endure
3) This allows participation to become mainstream and to become the main alternative solution for a system which cannot structurally solve the problems of nature and equity.
Again we find the double and contradictory conclusion that P2P is both immanent and transcendent to the present system. It is the very condition of its survival and reform, and it is the seed of its overcoming, AT THE SAME TIME.
(for comparison purposes: the absolutist monarchy was needed for the next stage of what was still in many ways a precapitalist regime, combining both mercantile-capitalist and strong feudal elements, but at the same time, it planted the seeds for its own overcoming by parliamentary democracies in the hands of the new emerging class which it allowed to strengthen; similarly, the new global regime will be capitalist, but with very strong participative features that are the seed of a new dominant production/governance and property mode that will eventually overcome it)