The P2P Foundation: time for a turn towards the political?

The P2P Foundation has never been an explicitely political project, despite the world-changing ambitions that are already evident in our founding statement. I/we see ourselves as a pluralist organization, seeking various constructive ways to build and strengthen alternative patterns for organizing social life in more equitable ways, as well as being a platform of interconnection and mutual learning for all initiatives going in the direction of more open and free, participatory, and commons-oriented practices.

Our main page starts with Buckminster-Fuller’s recommendation:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”

But neither have we been a-political or anti-political. This is evidenced
in our wiki sections on Policy and Politics

However, the context for our project is changing. We recently covered the first mass mobilizations around our specific thematic of fighting against the enclosures of the information commons.

More fundamentally, the financial meltdown and economic crisis, has lifted the dictatorship of neoliberal thought and so-called ‘free market fundamentalism’. As a result, my latest presentations, such as the one in Helsinki in early April, have been much more explicitely political, focusing on how societies change and what are the optimal strategies for this.

Transformative movements usually first start as transgressive subcultural movements (not caring about the old systems); then start building their own institutions (GPL, Creative Commons), before they become more explicitely political and start tackling the existing institutional order.

The current sustained and global attack against filesharing, the renewed efforts in the EU and elsewhere attempting to undermine an open internet with network neutrality, show that the time has come to move from mere constructive work, to active political interventions, not just for resistance, but for creation of new alternatives.

Thanks to the infatigable work of Celia Blanco, the P2P Foundation participated in its own modest way to the Open Coalition against EU legislation that would undermine the internet.

My first idea on an explicit political identity was that a peer to peer movement would be a network of networks, similar to the alterglobalization movement, not a separate political party. This is pretty much what the Open Coalition is doing, seeking support from politicians all across the board. The recent success and growth of the Pirate Party in Sweden however, shows a hunger for a specific political identity representative of the world of free culture. But since I believe that the information commons is only part of the integrated struggles that need to be waged, I do not think this is in any way sufficient. In my mind, an integrated policy set would combine such information commons related struggles (against artificial scarcity), with policy measures that create a sustainable economy (against false abundance), but also with a concern for social justice and equity. All three planks need to be present and integrated.

One of our active contributors, Marc Fawzi, has been openly musing about a separate political entity, that would be related but not identical to the P2P Foundation, and would formulate a set of political proposals.

While nothing has been decided, it seems clear that the situation is a maturing, and that both the p2p-related movements, and the P2P Foundation more narrowly, will be under pressure to formulate policy and political initiatives, not just defensive ones, but offensive ones.

All of this brings us to an earlier contribution to the debate, formulated in 2006 by David M. Berry and Giles Moss, which stresses that politics cannot be based on consensus, but are a matter of open and conflictual dialogue, not just with enemies, but inside the coalition of movements as well.

David M. Berry and Giles Moss:

“The alternative we want to suggest to broadening and extending libre culture is the radical democratic project of the libre commons. We believe that a political approach should be sought that channels dissent within the movement of libre culture towards a vibrant political space of agonistic debate, rather than an antagonistic friend/enemy relation. Our position is that no movement can remain legitimate without a political component; that is, without realizing the importance of the struggle of groups asserting and contesting their agonistic positions through a political process to reach a decision. This is not a decision to be taken by consensus. Moral consensus merely invalidates the political as it does not allow for opinions to fall outside of its boundaries (Mouffe, 2005). When they do, and they will do, they are illegitimate or ignored as ‘foe’. We argue that the very rights that libre culture movements are calling for should be substantiated through political democratic means and agonistic debate.

This offers a different way for libre culture to broaden itself out and deepen. But this approach is no less productive and constructive than any other. Indeed, we believe it to be more so. It is about a multiplicity of singular networks of struggle operating on the terrain of civil society. These networks can seek alliance and articulate as an active political subject under a ‘common’ and counter–hegemonic radical democratic project. The common that they articulate under is an ‘empty place of power’ and is therefore truly democratic. It is something to be articulated and re–articulated, made and re–made, by political means. It is not reduced to (possessive individualist) economic or (consensus–based) moral assumptions. It is vision where libre culture connects and finds points of passage with other singularities (machines of struggle) who are coming up against various other power asymmetries.

Strategic alliances can here be drawn through political means against the unremitting exploitation of the ‘common’ pool of immaterial labour. Which is to say, it is about time that libre culture meaningfully engaged with various other struggles against the commodification of knowledge, as they are expressed, for example, in terms of the pirating of native knowledge, environmentalism, GM foods, welfare rights, drug patenting, and worker’s rights and struggle more generally. This will require an articulation of the dangers and threats from commodification from knowledge expressed in terms that can be valued and understood by a broader constituency. As libre culture becomes more inclusive, acquiring new members, allies and connections, it grows more political. It clarifies, with ever–greater sophistication, the various causes of the complaint, and what is needed to remedy it. It is no longer good enough to limit the demands to a technical concern for computer programming or the freedom to make music. Rather, these issues flow out across a number of different planes. There is a need to build alliances across these different struggles. This may well involve the uncomfortable truth that a cozy moral consensus is not reached. But political alliances can be drawn and partial closures fixed under the common, as a counter–hegemonic project (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001).

Fragmentation and contestation, rather than being seen as a weakness, is a positive political moment. Through agonistic debate there is the possibility for the development of a multi–perspectival approach to instantiating a new form of commons for the twenty–first century. Debate is never closed absolutely, for there is never a full reconciliation. There is only a temporary hegemonic closure which can continue to be countered or rearticulated. One condition of this is through the development of ‘the common’ as the empty signifier and place of power around which numerous diverse groups can democratically mobilize. The common is to be articulated through the creation of alliances between individuals and groups (i.e., singular machines of struggle) formed through political dialogue and action.”

(Source of quote: The politics of the libre commons by David M. Berry and Giles Moss First Monday, volume 11, number 9 (September 2006)

3 Comments The P2P Foundation: time for a turn towards the political?

  1. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    As libre culture becomes more inclusive, acquiring new members, allies and connections, it grows more political. It clarifies, with ever–greater sophistication, the various causes of the complaint, and what is needed to remedy it.

    Perhaps, in order to move this forward, the various causes of complaint and what is needed to remedy, should be looked at in some more detail.

    An early attempt of mine to define those causes from a very personal perspective is in my blog post Genova, the Azores and our Common Future

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