Peer Production and Capitalism

A contribution by Jakob Rigi to the “Journal” mailing list of Oekonux:

“Peer production does not depends on capitalism for its identity, this identity is defined by its own mode of productivity. In this sense as Matt says capitalism is not relevant for P2P production.  The domestic mode of production, feudal  mode of production and p2p production are all not capitalism. However,  P2p production is distinguished from other non- capitalist mode of productions by being the form of production that corresponds to IT, and hence has a future orientation. It is the negation of capitalism in the same way as the future is the negation of the present. In any case p2p production is  something more than being merely not capitalism. Its horizontal  form of cooperation and its  universal form  of property separate it from capitalism. In its initial phase , which we live through,  p2p MOP relies on capitalism and capitalism is its context. Capitalism also exploits it to extract value.  But there is a competition and contradiction between these two modes of production. This contradiction can be approached analytically on different levels of abstractions the most significant of which are : the levels of production, level of political struggle and the level of culture and values.

On the level of production, there is a competition for productive forces between capitalism and p2p modes of production. To the extent that productive forces (humans, nature and technology) are organized under p2p production capitalist mode of production and the market will shrink. If we think globally, we have  limited productive forces (number of productive individuals, natural and technological resources). There will not be two parallel  forces of production one for capitalism and the other for p2p production. Land and nature which for ever will remain the main basis of any production are scarce. With the expansion of p2p production they need to be transformed into commons, save for the small plots of land that individuals appropriate/fence for private uses. We may compare this with growth of the capitalist mode of production within the feudal mode mode of production. Today the capitalist mode of production dominates the whole world, while in the 16th century there were just a few English  farmers who produced things in a capitalist way. In a long historical period p2p production and capitalism cannot grow together. The growth of one undermines and hinders the growth of the other. Capitalism without growth is unimaginable, it will run into crisis.

The translation of this contradiction into the level politics is a complex issue. On the one hand the horizontal structure of the p2p production negates any top-down form of governmentality (whether of the state, capital, UN, or NGOs). But from this we cannot conclude that some states, UN, particular NGOs or even capitalists will not be interested in  promoting p2p production. Some major capitalist companies are involved in the p2p production. This bring me to Mathieu’s concrete proposals which I totally agree with. We need, as Mathieu suggests, to focus on concrete and empirically graspable phenomena which are immediately relevant to the p2p production. But the idea of the principal contradiction between capitalism and p2p may help us to relate our researches and debates on these concrete issues to a universal non-capitalist p2p horizon in the future. While we work on issues that are relevant here and now, I think it would be  also a good thing to  have a direction. Look, in the context of current crisis even numerous capitalists pundits agree that capitalism is profoundly harmful to humanity, but then they add, “there is no alternative”. The try to sell capitalism to the rest of humanity as a necessary evil. They equate it to human nature. It is shameful to equate greed, crisis, war and destruction of nature to humanity.  We can hold p2p production in the front of their eyes as a viable alternative. P2p production is an empirically materialized example of an alternative world, more favorable to humans, animals, plants and nature in general. What is good about P2P production is not that it is not an utopian  design of some visionary thinkers but has emerged from the productive practice of producers themselves.”

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