Responding to Stefan Meretz’s critique of Reciprocity-based Commons Licenses, part 2

Stefan Meretz produced a critique of the Peer Production License, or more generically, Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses, in the Keimform blog. My first response, focusing on his detailed critique of the licensing approach, is here. The second part of his critique focuses on the attempts to create counter-economies.

I respond to this second part here below:

Stefan Meretz writes:

“Michel Bauwens … dreams to link “the commons to a enterpreneurial coalition of ethical market entitities (Coops and other models)” keeping “the surplus value entirely within the sphere of commoners/cooperators instead of leaking out to the multinationals”. Smartly commons and cooperatives are intermingled via the involved persons. Hereby a “sphere of the good” is defined. It is good what contributes to this sphere, and this is the goal of the PPL which “allows commoners to create their own market entities, keeping the surplus value into the commons sphere”. Shortly said: Not the big, but the small ones should get the profit — as shown it is just about a different distribution. However, this sphere isn’t a commons sphere, instead it is simply a coalition of companies of self-defined “good” and “ethical” people. To behave good and ethical is a nice thing. However, it misses the efficacy of the rigid operational mode of commodity production. If you don’t succumb this logic you are out — having an ethic or not. Ethic isn’t a functional core of the market logic, an ethic has to stay externally and therefore finally always gets the short end of the stick. What I find severe is that the efficicacy of exclusive logic is not recognized or underestimated, so that in the end structural problems are veiled as personal deficits or conflicts between people.”

MB: Indeed, my proposal sharply distinguishes the sphere of the abundant commons, and the sphere of cooperatives and ethical companies which deal with the allocation of scarce resources. But they converge in the workers who are both contributors to the commons, and realize their livelihood in the cooperative sphere. But Stefan fetishizes the efficiency of commodity production. To assume that capitalist enteprise always trumps the cooperative mode is simply wrong, and is a well researched domain (the social economy already encompasses 10-15% or the economy in different western countries and globally employs more workers than multinations, not bad for a weak sector he ?) . It is true that capitalist power can severely impede the cooperative economy,and the coops can therefore exaggerate their adaptation to the capitalist system, this is indeed a well-known issue for cooperatives. This is precisely why we propose open cooperativism, i.e. a new form in which the link to the commons and the common good is constitutionally obligatory. Second, Stefan therefore underestimate the hyperproductivity of commons peer-production. For example, the cost of open hardware has been estimated to be 1/8th of proprietary hardware by several authors such as Joshua Pearce, Marcin Jakubowsky and others. This gives the ethical coalition producing them, and protecting their commons through reciprocity licenses, an extraordinary competitive edge. The tragedy of positions like Stefan Meretz, who don’t object to subsuming the commons to the political economy of capital, is that capital understands the hypercompetitive nature of peer production, and invests in it, while the positioning of Meretz discourages resistance and the creation of alternative modalities of production.

Stefan writes:

“It is not possible to out-compete capitalism (or the bad guys), so being better than capitalism on its own terrain to finally get rid of it. It is a contradiction in terms. There is not way via changing distribution provided that a transformation is the goal, but there is a way via the enforcement of a new way of production, of a new social logic of producing our livelihood. This new social logic can not be build up using forms of the old social logic, namely the logic of exclusion of commodity production. It is unavoidable that the old logic exploits the outcome of the new logic, because the results can be freely appropriated. But this an external relation while the contrary logics persist on their own.”

MB: “The first is an unsupported statement, belied by the fact that the cooperative economy exists, subsists and even thrives within capitalism, so it is simply a factual error. The second error is that Stefan believes the CBRL are merely about redistribution of value and not about changing the mode of production. The truth is the opposite, it is Stefan Meretz which is entirely happy with the commons economy not being able to produce its own social reproduction. Our approach is to transform really existing peer production, which is today not a full mode of production, but only a proto-mode of production precisely because it can’t assure its own self-reproduction. This is exactly why the convergence of peer production in the sphere of abundance, must be linked to the sphere of cooperative production, and thus insure its self-reproduction. And like in any past phase transition, the existence of a proto-counter-economy, and the resources that this allocates to the counter-hegemonic forces, are absolutely essential for a political and social change our power. This was the weakness of classic socialism, i.e. it had no alternative mode of production, and could only institute state control after a takeover of power. But Stefan Meretz does not even attempt that, he is willing to just wait for the organic and emergent development of peer production into a fully alternate system. As by magic wand, no counter-economy, no social and political self-organisation is needed, just patience and in the meantime, he accepts the political economy of capital, believing that it will disappear on its own. In the view of Meretz, peer production remains a parasitic modality that is dependent on the self-reproduction through capital. By contrast, through the ethical economy surrounding the commons, it is actually also possible to create non-commodified production and exchange, that is a resource-based economy, based on the stigmergic mutual coordination through the gradual application of open book accounting and open supply changes. There is no such possibility with an attentist attitude that satisfies itself with full servitude to the dominant system.”

Stefan writes:

” Bauwens offers: … “Hence, as this process strengthens, and is accompanied by the growth of social and political power, the circulation of capital is replaced by a full circulation of the commons. The phase transition has effectively occured.” In the end politics should do it. How else can the circulation of capital be replaced by the circulation of commons? But what can this commons circulation be? The state implements commonism by decision? This can hardly be considered.”

MB: Yes indeed, Stefan, there will be no qualitative phase transition merely through emergence, but it will require the reconstitution of powerful political and social movements which aim to become a democratic polis. And that democratic polis, can indeed, through democratic decisions, accelerate the transition, and take measures that force private economic forces to include externalities, thereby ending infinite capital accumulation. Dreaming that you can change society, by merely producing open code and design, while remaining subservient to capital, is a dangerous pipe dream.

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