The Germ Form theory of social change

The germ form theory of Free Software production is a hypothesis that this form of peer production is the germ of a new society and has been developed by Stefan Meretz of Oekonux.

Stefan Meretz writes:

“I would not call the ideas around the term “germ form” a “theory”, however, others do. There are two origins of the term “germ form”: one in german critical psychology founded by Klaus Holzkamp (1927-1995, in german); another one in an article by Robert Kurz
Antioekonomie and Antipolitik.

While Holzkamp in his work did not use the term “germ form” explicitly, he developed the principles of developments in a very general sense. Kurz on the other hand used “germ form” explicitly by arguing that no one can imagine a societal jump out of capitalism without having pre-forms of new types of societal organisation. Because of being used so widely in different theories he doesn’t like, later on he emphasized some distance to his own theory, especially to the term “germ form”.

Five steps to a new society

Holzkamp generalized his “five step model of development” from analyzes of qualitative steps of evolution – from single cells to human society.

One five step cycle consist in: 1. emergence of the germ form of development; 2. crisis of the old form of development; 3. germ form becomes an important dimension inside the old form of development; 4. germ form becomes the dominant form of development; 5. reconstruction of the entire development process

Now step by step (this part is translated from here).

1. emergence of the germ form of development:

Everything what currently is self-evident and ubiquitous, was once something new and completely not self-evident. Over many steps the new has finally prevailed. This new which later on will be the old is called germ form. Germ forms can ”emerge” in niches and special areas. They live from the old, but exhibit forms of the new.

2. crisis of the old form of development:

Germ forms only become relevant when the old gets into a ”crisis”. This can happen mainly due to two reasons: Firstly the outside conditions can change so dramatically or so fast, that the old principle can not react adequately. Secondly the old can run out, if all potences of further development are exhausted. Stagnation is one type of reaction, collapse another.

3. germ form becomes an important dimension inside the old form of development:

Under the condition of the old the germ form can leave niches and expand quantitatively. It becomes an ”important dimension of development” inside the old still dominant form. This establishment of the germ form can have two directions: It can lead to an integration into the old overtaking the old principles, or the germ form asserts itself better and better based on its own principles into and beside the old. In the first case the germ form character gets lost, in the second case the new gets strenghened. In both cases the old can profit from an integrated or a strenghened germ form and attenuates its own crisis phenomena.

4. germ form becomes the dominant form of development:

The former subsidiary germ form becomes the ”dominant form of development”. The new previals because it is better in respect to the important dimensions of the entire development process. The germ form character of the new comes to an end. Now its principles are determinative and displace the overcome and non-functional principles of the old, even step by step or abruptly. The new becomes the self-evident ubiquitous.

5. reconstruction of the entire development process:

Finally all aspects of the entire development process ”re-structure” with respect to the dominant self-evident new principle of development. Especially this concerns such processes, which are not determinative but derivative. With this step potentially the first step of a new five step cycle is reached: germ forms can emerge, the old gets into crisis and so on.

All phases can take longer or shorter time spans, and at every time there can be backstrokes. Nothing is given or predetermined. The five step cycle can only be realized completely, when it has taken place, and only with hindsight the former germ form can be identified certainly. Being within the development process the five step model can help to sharpen the senses, to gain a better action potence. Now, the controversial thesis in the oekonux project is: With free software we have a germ form of a new society.”

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