In my lectures, based on my reading of history books during 2003-2004, I use a genealogy of social change and phase transitions from one system to another, that starts with the crisis of a dominant system, creating an exodus or flight out of the system, which in turns leads to a mutual reconfiguration of both managerial and producing classes into a new arrangement which forms the seed of the next stage of society and civilization.
Here is that narrative, and I’m interested in your thoughts, and challenges, especially based on the historical record.
The narrative is of course simplified, but the aim is to get the main points of the process, and my hypothesis, across.
The first transition: Rome to feudalism
At some point in its evolution (3rd century onwards?), the Roman empire ceases to expand (the cost of of maintaining empire and expansion exceeds its benefits). No conquests means a drying up of the most important raw material of a slave economy, i.e. the slaves, which therefore become more ‘expensive’. At the same time, the tax base dries up, making it more and more difficult to maintain both internal coercion and external defenses. It is in this context that Perry Anderson mentions for example that when Germanic tribes were about to lay siege to a Roman city, they would offer to free the slaves, leading to an exodus of the city population. This exodus and the set of difficulties just described, set of a reorientation of some slave owners, who shift to the system of coloni, i.e. serfs. I.e. slaves are partially freed, can have families, can produce from themselves and have villages, giving the surplus to the new domain holders.
Hence, the phase transition goes something like this: 1) systemic crisis ; 2) exodus 3) mutual reconfiguration of the classes.
This whole process would of course take five centuries. In the First European Revolution, historian xxx claims that the feudal system would only consolidate around 975, the date of the political revolution confirming the previous phase transition, and setting up a consolidated growth phase for the new system (doubling of the population between 10 and 13th century).
The second transition: feudalism to capitalism
Something very similar starts occurring as of the 16th century. The feudal system enters in crisis, and serfs start fleeing the countryside, installing themselves in the cities, where they are rejected by the feudal guild system, but embraced by a new type of proto-capitalist entrepreneurs. In other words, a section of the feudal class (as well as some upstarts from the lower classes) re-orient themselves by investing in the new mode of production (and those that don’t gradually impoverish themselves), while serfs become workers.
In short, we have the same scheme:
1) Systemic crisis
3) Mutual reconfiguration of classes
4) After a long period of re-orientation and phase transitions: the political revolutions that configure the new capitalist system as dominant
Again, the process of reconfiguration takes several centuries, and the political revolutions come at the end of it.
Hypothesis of a third transition: capitalism to peer to peer
Again, we have a system faced with a crisis of extensive globalization, where nature itself has become the ultimate limit. It’s way out, cognitive capitalism, shows itself to be a mirage.
What we have then is an exodus, which takes multiple forms: precarity and flight from the salaried conditions; disenchantement with the salaried condition and turn towards passionate production. The formation of communities and commons are shared knowledge, code and design which show themselves to be a superior mode of social and economic organization.
The exodus into peer production creates a mutual reconfiguration of the classes. A section of capital becomes netarchical and ‘empowers and enables peer production’, while attempting to extract value from it, but thereby also building the new infrastructures of cooperation.
This process will take time but there is one crucial difference: the biosphere will not allow centuries of transition. So the maturation of the new configuration will have to consolidate faster and the political revolutions come earlier.
For a related view, see the book Escape Routes.
Commentary from Kevin Carson:
I think here you may be conflating two different exoduses (exodi?).
The free towns themselves, which marked the high point of the medieval
system, were established largely by runaway serfs, and formed around
the nuclei of large strategically situated villages at major
crossroads, fords, etc. The shift to capitalist employment, I think,
was associated with the later alliance between absolute monarchs and
the plutocracy, and involved the suppression of the free towns.
So the founding of the original free towns and guild systems by exodus
from the countryside, and the employment of refugees from the
countryside in proto-capitalist shops outside the guild system, were
two separate phases.
I’m basing this largely on my memory of Kropotkin’s account in The
State and Mutual Aid.
I think the third exodus Michel describes is an exodus with the others
mainly by way of analogy. He doesn’t mean it as a physical exodus in
the same sense as the two previous ones, but rather a dropping out in
place that’s fully compatible with urban residence. It takes the
primary form of dropping out, completely or partially, from wage
employment. It’s what James O’Connor described as “conserving
labour-power” in Accumulation Crisis, as workers shifted to shorter
hours and produced a greater share of total consumption value in the
informal sector. A good example might be the creation of Web 2.0 by
unemployed tech workers following the collapse of the Tech Boom.