Hilary Wainwright’s challenges to P2P Theory

Responses very welcome!!

Excerpted from Hilary Wainwright:

“Bauwens claims to provide a complete design for a new model of production: ownership, management structure, distribution system and all. His strength is his specific focus on the knowledge and design commons but at the same time an openness to the wider connections that will help realise its transformative potential .

Some questions, then, from a sympathetic point of view, to help to take the argument further. First, if the most intelligent predator companies are already exploiting commons production, what is to stop the corporations from fencing this commons in? What wider connections to what countervailing forces, initiatives and sources of support could enable this commons to contribute to a wider challenge to the capitalist firms?

I’m thinking here of connections within the economy, as distinct from – but not opposed to – the kind of political alliance that Bauwens interestingly but a little optimistically sketches. For example, what possibilities are there of linking up with and strategically enhancing the co-operative and solidarity economy discussed by Robin Murray and others in the previous issue of Red Pepper?

Is there a role for the unions in developing such an alternative? Levels of unionisation are low among IT workers. Open software developers, though, have a variety of strong networks of their own that act as sources of recognition and employment, and provide a degree of protection, bargaining power and sometimes a basis for campaigning on issues of common concern – for example, in opposition to attempts to impose proprietary enclosures. Could unions learn from experiences of supporting organisations of the self-employed, such as Streetnet in South Africa and Sewa in India, or from other unions such as the National Union of Journalists that have supported freelance workers for a long time? How would unions have to change to make the issues of control over the use and purpose of human creativity as important as the struggle over employment conditions and payment? Would it help to see labour as human creativity as itself a commons?

It would lead to asking: what are the institutional, including financial, conditions for nurturing and realising the creativity of each for the benefit of all? This would apply at micro levels – how enterprises should be organised – and at the macro. What means of livelihood, with what public support, would be required to have some autonomy from the labour market? What legislative frameworks would be needed; what support for education, training, sabbaticals? And how can we envisage non-capitalist market forms that can be experimented with here and now as part of the contestation and competition with capitalist forms?

Above all, though, as the left shows tentative signs of electoral recovery, we must learn the lesson of how social democracy has been bulldozed or captured by corporate power. This is in no small part due to the fact that its programmes of redistribution were not rooted in a distinct strategy for production, with the creativity and solidarity of labour at its centre. Bauwens offers an opportunity for thinking and acting over production beyond capitalism. We should grasp it in all its complexity.”

3 Comments Hilary Wainwright’s challenges to P2P Theory

  1. Kevin CarsonKevin Carson

    I would respond that the most intelligent corporations engaged in enclosing p2p as a source of rents — i.e. pursuing the “cognitive” or “progressive” capitalism model of Buffett — depend heavily on state-enforced monopolies like copyright that are becoming much harder and more expensive to enforce.

  2. AvatarMike Riddell

    Some comments if i may on the above article.

    Bauwens is a bit of a genius at being able to consistently articulate the opportunity for P2P. It does need to go beyond theory though – we’ve all had enough socio-economic and political theory. Or at least i have!

    Robin Murray is a genius too. I’ve read his work on the Co-op in the Age of Google. Terrific understanding of P2P and how it might work in the co-op movement.

    The main commons, for me, is the personal information commons. There is so much value in personal data that corporations will do whatever they can to get it off you, except pay for it. That will change with a cooperative business that provides its members with a personal data store and identity assurance service (as well as a concierge type service as well).

    I’m not sure unions have it in themselves to co-operate. They’re institutional hierarchies from another era but they’re riven with politics and the people at the top won’t want to share what they’ve got. They’re not very P2P in other words.

    Q: “what are the institutional, including financial, conditions for nurturing and realising the creativity of each for the benefit of all?”

    The answer to this i suggest is Anarcho-syndicalism, which according to wiki, is “a branch of anarchism which views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as an appropriate vehicle for subjugated classes in capitalist society to regain control over the course of their own destiny.”

    Keep up the good work but let’s not forget the importance of practice. Theory can only take us so far.

    Best wishes from Wigan

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Thanks for your perspective. On my side, I feel practice informs theory (20k entries on actual practices), theory informs practice (inspiring more action), and most importantly, theory is practice (peer producing knowledge about peer production is also practice, whether it’s librarianship, or philosophy).

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