It took us more time than usual to craft our annual review of trends, but as time presses on, here is part one.
It covers three important trends in 2016:
* Making sense and countering the Trump Insurgency
* The struggle for the appropriate scale of a new world order: Localization, Global Nomadic Structures, and the Subsidiarity of Material Production
* The P2P Infrastructural Revolution continues: 2017 will be the year of pilots
Please note that the companion article in our wiki has all the necessary links and documentation to the source material, which we will add here soon as time permits.
For purposes of comparison, you may want to re-check last year’s overview here.
Trend 1: Making sense and countering the Trump Insurgency
It is very hard to characterize 2016 from an internal perspective to the commons, in part because 2015 was such a stellar year of new developments. To my mind as a privileged observer, it has been more of a year of consolidation, and so, I felt quite doubtful when Steve Bosserman proposed to call 2016 a pivotal year for the Commons Transition. But, it makes more sense when we take a external or geo-strategic point of view. Indeed, from the point of view of the existing dominant world system, 2016 has very likely been a pivot year. While 2008 can be seen as a economic proof of the collapse of the neoliberal model, it is really only 2016 which truly deserves the characterization of “Peak Neoliberalism”. It is not just that world trade is in retreat, but that core groups of the population are now rejecting the model, not just from the left anymore (the rapid rise of Syriza and Podemos come to mind), but from the right. Hence 2016 has definitely been the year of the loss of faith in the global neoliberal world order. (Of course, we’re not implying that reaching a Peak, actually means the end, it is just the ‘beginning of the end’.) There are of course forces, such as the Economist, which will be wedded forever to the global oligarchy. But the main visible reaction is now a return to ‘national protectionism’. Of course, peak neoliberalism doesn’t mean it is dead, but just that one of the core parts of its legitimacy has disappeared. This is what Brexit and the Trump victory represent, and also the strengthening of many radical-right movements in Europe, such as the Front National. As Jordan Greenhall has so brilliantly analyzed in his article on the Trump Insurgency, it represents a war against on the one hand the Deep State and the Old Media that undergirded the neoliberal order, but also against what he called the Blue Church, those that created the counter-culture that balanced out this order with new rights and equalities.
This is of course a ‘reactionary’ model, a hope to get back to a past of strong nation-states, which we believe is destined to fail over the longer run, while it also releases the social forces of hate and ingroup vs outgroup conflicts on a global scale. This is empathically not, a commons-centric reaction, though it uses decentralized media to overturn the old order. On the contrary, we see that core groups of the population are actually hankering for a return to strong leaders and more fixed hierarchies. The paradox is of course that this negative trend creates also strong counter-reactions, and in this particular sense, Steve Bosserman’s description may in fact be correct. More people have woken up to the necessity that change is not a luxury, but a necessity. This is what I heard from many U.S. commoners for example, first after November 8 election results, they retreat for a few days in the corners of their rooms in a fetal position, but after two of three weeks, they were re-energized, and for example, Stephanie Rearick of the Mutual Aid Networks of Madison, has reported a extraordinary resurgence of interest in her network and commons-oriented activities. Expect 2017 to be a great year of commons practice.
If you read only one article about how the Trump victory is related to peer to peer dynamics, read this article on how it was achieved, through very precise Big Data-based micro-marketing strategies, by the infamous firm Cambridge Analytica. This is the dark side of analyzing peer to peer activity on the networks, the capacity to tailor messages to the individual level. The forces for hierarchy has now been successfully mobilized, how will the forces of equipotentiality respond? This is the grand geo-political challenge of the p2p and commons movement for the next decade. As Jordan Greenhall puts it, this is the challenge to the ‘children of the Blue Church’.
The question as I would put it is: how can the new p2p/commons forces, that are pioneering new models of collective intelligence and power, ally with the broad forces of resistance against the new Hierarchism? This is not just a ‘ideological’ fight, but a fight that requires real answers to social and physical needs. One of our intuitions is that relocalized production, that can put back to work millions of blue collar works in the urban and bioregional economy, is a huge part of that answer.
Trend 2: The struggle for the appropriate scale of a new world order: Localization, Global Nomadic Structures, and the Subsidiarity of Material Production
What Bosserman describes in particular in his arguments for 2016 being a pivot year, is the loss of faith in bigger centralized structures, such as the nation-state, and a huge return to the necessity and feeling of localization. And we can see it everywhere. In 2016, a study on the Flanders by the Green think thank Oikos, confirmed the results of an earlier study by Tine de Moor in her booklet Homo Cooperans: there has been a tenfold increase in local civic initiatives over the last ten years, and many of those involve the creation of commons-based shared resources at the local level. So yes, there is indeed a demonstrated exponential rise of urban commons initiatives. With Christian Iaione, Sheila Foster and their colleagues of LabGov, and with Vasilis Niaros of the P2P Lab, we have undertaken a analysis of 40 urban commons case studies (half of them from the Global South), which confirms the present sophistication not just of the project individually, but of public urban policies that support them.
At the same time though, the internet continues to exert itself as a technology for global neo-nomadic structures. In our list from last year, we mentioned the huge underground neo-nomadic economy of the transmigrants described in the seminal book by Alain Tarius (Etrangers de Passage) on the ‘poor to poor, peer to peer’ infrastructures. This year, we witnessed the international expansion of the kind of peer to peer entrepreneurial coalitions we are following, such as the Enspiral collective, which is breaking out of its New Zealand shell to become a global network. On the geeky side, infrastructures such as the Embassy Networks, ImpactHub and other franchises are continuing their development apace, creating ‘circular territories’ or territories of circulation that are not confined to borders and nation-states. Our own report, Value in the Commons Economy, co-written with Vasilis Niaros, highlights three case studies of how such global entre-donneurial (i.e. generative towards the commons, rather than extractive) coalitions are developing complex contributory accounting systems. The P2P Value study, which studied 300 peer production communities over 3 years, with the P2P Foundation as member of that consortium, unearthed significant findings under-writing our theses on these global governance mechanisms. For example, in Adam Arvidsson’s (et al.) concluding essay on the findings, he found that a majority of 78% of these communities are practicing, preparing and/or looking into open value or contributory accounting systems; again, this is significant since changes in accounting practices and philosophies have accompanied the great value regime transitions in the past. Just as important are the findings on the new post-national ideologies being born in such communities: these communities are also ‘imaginary communities’ with specific values — they want to make the world a better place — i.e. they are ethical communities not just profit-maximising entities, and their identification is with their global networks, not just the locales they are embedded in. This is historically important since it echoes the birth of nation-states as imaginary communities (see Benedict Anderson’s landmark book on this topic). As one neo-tribal advocate  writes: “Neotribes aspire to be both grounded in the local and connected to the global.”
The issue that is raised here is how to compose the contradictory yearnings for localization, with the emergence of global trans-national structures, practices and mentalities that are occurring at the same time. At the P2P Foundation, we believe there is a logic which ‘transcends and includes’ the advantages and necessities of both localization and trans-nationalization: what we call Cosmo-Localization as a organizational principle for the organization of society at all levels (what’s light is shared globally, what’s heavy is organized and produced locally). Applied to industrial and material production, our friends at the P2P Lab call this methodology: DGML (‘Design Global, Manufacture Local’) and a prime expression of this are the plans of the Fab City coalition (of which we are now a part as well), which works around the Barcelona Pledge, to re-localize the production of products, services and food by a factor of 50% by 2054, and which now coalesces 16 cities. One of the main expressions. and drivers of such trans-nationalization may well be international coalitions of cities such as this one. The Spanish municipal coalitions do in fact have a internationalist agenda as much as a local one, and are striving for a alliance of Rebel Cities. In the last few weeks, thinking through the tension between localization and trans-nationalization, I have come up with the concept of ‘the subsidiarity of material production’, which marries both imperatives, and can be clearly distinguished from both nation-state protectionism, neoliberal globalization, but also simple reactive localism.
Trend 3: The P2P Infrastructural Revolution continues: 2017 will be the year of pilots
2016 was certainly a pivot year for distributed energy developments. In 60 countries solar is already cheaper than fossil fuels, after it became cheaper than wind energy earlier last year.
It is easy to become blase about this, but we are reaching the point were nearly 40% of the world population is connected to the digital network and hence, is able to engage in peer to peer dynamics and conditional on certain capabilities, to co-create commons-based and cooperative networks. The anti-pipeline mobilization at Standing Rock is a good example of this, since it shows the interconnectedness not just of a multitude of indigeneous groups, but of their global supporters everywhere on the globe. As our correspondent Ivor Stodolky writes: “the whole protest is about defending a commons. It’s the water, the land, and the ancestral burial grounds of a community which has held and protected them as a commons for thousands of years.” Also, according to monetary reformer Bernard Lietaer, there are now more than 13,000 locally organized currencies in the world!
One of our favourite exemplary groups is still l’Atelier Paysan, the open agricultural machining community in France, has a very principled approach to Technological Sovereignty, which is linked to our own concept of Value Sovereignty, which we have described in our report on Value mentioned in section 1. L’Atelier Paysan is part of a coalition of ecological farmers, INPACT, which represents 10% of the farming community in France, the only one that is growing while their agribusiness-depending colleagues are in very dire straits. This is an important counterforce to the wave of technological determinism that has swept both right and left forces around the theme of automation, which is seen erroneously as a fatality which can only go one way. Hence, see also our series about True Accelerationism which is our answer to the book, Inventing the Future, which is in our view a uncritical appeal to automation. Not that anyone should be opposed to ‘automation’ per se, but it is important to choose the kinds of technology and automation which serves human needs, and not the needs of capital, and this is indeed, what the concept and practice of technological sovereignty is about. Several interventions in the Platform Coooperativism conference of 2016 also stressed it. The brisk growth of platform coops is one of the big stories of 2016, with nearly 300 of them catalogued in the Internet of Ownership directory. We really urge you to watch some of the video presentations of thePlatform Cooperativism 2016 conference, which show many great examples, including platform coops that are organized by nursing and cleaning workers, and financed by their unions. The big story is also that at least in Western Europe, the big cooperative federations   are now on board, and that they are all discussing, and planning, for a convergence between cooperative and commons-centric models. Just as radical is the big announced turnaround of the Agence Francaise du Development, which held a congress last december, dedicated to the central role of the commons model in development. This is an engagement for billions of euros of investment in the commons model, under dedicated commons-friendly leadership.
According to Baruch Gottlieb of the Telekommunisten Group and their ‘Anti-Disintermediation’ group, p2p internet infrastructures are also continuing to grow. He wrote: “It was a great year for developments in end-to-end web applications, with projects like Patchwork, Git-SSB, datproject/beaker, webtorrent/instant.io emerging a very usable scalable p2p alternatives to proprietary communications platforms… p2p distributed systems beyond blockchains. it was also a good year for meshnets, alternets, community networks which work outside, or beside the Internet, based on Freifunk… they have developed robust solar panel-powered freifunk nodes which will generate alternative free communicative communities on or off the Internet.”
The Blockchain was of course also a recurring story in 2016, but just as with the basic income, it was a preparation for 2017, as the year of the pilots. Here is a map of Basic Income pilots as well as a description of the coming experiment in Finland. Caution is on the order of the day, though we favour the basic income as a transitional measure that allows more citizens to engage in commons production, the devil is in the details and a lot of the experiments are not basic income experiments at all, but schemes for unemployed workers, as is the case in Finland, Nijmegen and other places.