Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Peer-To-Peer Politics And Its Vision For The Future - A Video Interview With Michel Bauwens

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What has P2P to do with politics? Isn't peer-to-peer related to file sharing and pirated media? As a matter of fact, peer-to-peer is not just a popular set of tools and technologies to easily share and distribute digital content, but it is also a new fascinating study field that analyzes how we could approach our future by working and operating in a collaborative and sharing fashion rather than in a competitive and exploitative one.

Photo credit: Robin Good

This peer-to-peer vision is all centered around the cooperative creation of a truly sustainable future, not based on speculative and unregulated exploitation of natural resources, but on a social dynamic of voluntary spontaneous participation. The overarching goal is the creation of common goods, products and services for local, self-sustainable communities.

As such, the P2P political movement is shaped by open source, local self-reliance and a shared sense of the urgency of exploring and defining sustainable futures and it is made up of tens of thousands of independent, decentralized actors connected by expertise and skill affinity as well as by local projects and endeavours.

On the other hand, the current political economy is based on the fundamental misconception that natural resources are unlimited.

Not only. The same system is also responsible for creating artificial scarcity for potentially abundant cultural resources by leveraging copyright and similar laws to discourage re-use and replication of intellectual works.

This combination of pseudo-abundance and artificial scarcity does two things:

a) it destroys the biosphere and

b) it hampers the nourishing and growth of social innovation and of an open culture.

In a P2P-based society the situation is practically reversed: the limits of natural resources are recognized, and the focus is shifted to the potentially infinite abundance of immaterial resources as the core operating fulcrum.

The peer-to-peer political approach favors vocational work, co-operation and collaborative approaches where individuals operate together to create and distribute value to their peers.

According to Michel Bauwens, the peer-to-peer movement evangelist and publisher of the P2PFoundation web hub, we are approaching times in which our present working and economic paradigms may have to give in to completely new ways of organizing, producing wealth and of relating to each other on this planet.

If you want to understand what peer-to-peer politics are all about, and why a peer-to-peer political system could be a good candidate to potentially replace our present political and economic system in the future, this in-depth video interview I have recently shot with Michel Bauwens, gives you immediate insight into why the present global system of neoliberal capitalism is close to collapsing and why a P2P-based society may be an attractive alternative socio-economic model to consider for the future.


The Importance of a System Based on Creating Value

Duration: 2' 27''

Full English Text Transcription

Michel Bauwens: I wanted to discuss some of the political aspects of peer-to-peer and the Commons.

The first point I want to make is the following and it is a kind of meditation of how do societies change.

The classic left position was that the workers take power, then they change everything and create a new society - this is not exactly the approach of the P2P Foundation.

What I propose is based on the reading of history - which is basically the following:

When the system enters in a crisis, for example the end of the Roman empire, it:

  • cannot grow any longer,
  • cannot get slaves so easily and it
  • turns into some kind of a crisis.

Then the élite within a society will look for solutions and will try to find other ways to create and sustain value.

Within a slave-centered Roman economy, we have some slave owners that create serfs, which were called "coloni". They re-align themselves to to this new mode of creating value.

Of course, at the bottom you have also a change, because slaves become serfs. They can live on the land, have family, etc...

Societies only change when the old system breaks down and then the new system takes over. Of course that is a complicated historical process, but this is the kind of dynamic I want to explain.

Similarly, today you have:

  • A re-alignment of a section of the capital - which I call a netarctical capital, which enables and empowers social cooperation,
  • the people who work are becoming peer producers and participants in this new system.

This is the importance of people actually having a new system creating value, which out-cooperates and out-competes the classic model of IP proprietary capitalism. This is the seed of a new society, a new way of creating and distributing value.

I see a clear political link between the new way of creating value and the seed form for a new society.

This is one point.


The Grand Coalition of Commons

Duration: 3' 14"

Michel Bauwens: The second point is: How do you create a social movement around this change?

I use the concept of the "grand coalition of the Commons". It is based on my analysis of what is wrong with today's society and basically is the following.

Our society is based on pseudo-abundance, false abundance, the think nature is infinite and we have a system which eats up the Earth's resources and the biosphere and basically it is endangering life on Earth.

We need an economic system which recognizes this natural scarcity, this limitation of the planet.

The other problem is what I call artificial scarcity or pseudo-scarcity.

The idea is that we have a system of intellectual property rights, copyright, patents, trademarks, different things which basically say: "You cannot copyright unless you pay us or you ask for permission."

Innovations are often:

  • Locked down,
  • privatized and
  • kept in check.

This is a real problem, especially in an era of climate change where we actually need very fast innovation.

You cannot mobilize open communities, open designs and open codes for your software if you do not have a form of sharing where people can say: "Yes, if I contribute, somebody else will not take it away and privatize it.".

If these analysis are correct, we have two forces that can already form part of what I call "the coalition of Commons":

  1. One is all those forces on the planet which want to change the economy into a sustainable economy:

    • Sustainability movements,
    • environmental movements,
    • green businesses, etc..

  2. Then we have all the forces that want a free culture:

    We have a free culture movement and a sustainable economy movement.

  3. Let's imagine that we find a solution to this crisis of society, but that does not involve social justice. My idea is that that will not work, because then you have to manage social conflict and social tensions.

    We need a solution that actually combines those three - it is like a tripod.

    We also need social justice moments involved in this change.

What I call the grand coalition of Commons is the building of a new social movement that:

  • Is centered around the Commons and civil society,
  • develops Commons-oriented policy frameworks to protect the Earth, to free culture, to achieve social justice and a more fair distribution of the planet resources to humanity.

That was the second point.


How Is Political Struggle Related to Peer Production

Duration: 3' 25"

Michel Bauwens: The third point I want to make is the following: How is political struggle related to peer production, open infrastructures and the Commons?

I think the point is the following and again it is like a tripod.

  1. The first thing is we need constructive social movements which build the alternative.

    If you go in the streets, you disagree with what is happening and you do not have an alternative program, it is not going to work. You cannot just say no.

    You need to build and prove that what you want is actually a viable method. This is why I am in favor of building open infrastructures in every area of social life. But this is a slow process and sometimes you do not have the time.

    We will have take into account the current conjuncture, which is basically: There was a big financial meltdown, all the money went to the bailout of the banks and now there is no more money for welfare, pensions and education.

  2. Let's say the European welfare system is under sustained attack. Whether we want it or not, it is going to create social tension.

    We are going to have movements on the right and on the left, radical movements are going to spring up and they are going to fight it out, eventually in the streets.

    This is why you cannot ignore politics and social struggles, but what you have to find is a connection between:

    • the constructive social movements who are building new things - let's say this is the slower road - and
    • social movements, which can in a very short time sometimes become dominant.

      They can lose or they can win, but you can have massive mobilizations that can occur, especially in times of economic crisis like the one we are be going through in the next 8-15 years.

    It is very important to find these connections.

  3. The third connection is around policy making and the state.

    I want to stress that is not just enough to build new things and it is not enough to have a social movement. You need to have policy. Why?

    Let's take the file sharing.

    Young people want to share - this is a transgressive activity, a sub-cultural activity.

    You just say: "No, I do not care about society, I want to do what I want to do." You get attacked.

    The RIAA, MPAA - the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America - are going to enact loss and they are going to put you in jail. This creates the feeling around for a political reaction.

    We see that from this transgressive social movement what you have is a Pirate Party and the Free Culture movement, which are protecting these new cultural rights.

    You have a:

    Then you have to engage with the existing institutions of society, eventually create new institutions, but you have to engage with politics and policy making, in order to protect these new ways of creating value and these new ways of creating happiness in your life.

It is not going to happen just automatically, by just doing your things.

You have to take into account the whole totality of society and you have to be active in different fields.

This is the third point I wanted to make about peer-to-peer and politics.

Video clips originally recorded by Robin Good for MasterNewMedia. First published on August 3rd, 2010 as "Peer-To-Peer Politics And Its Vision For The Future - A Video Interview With Michel Bauwens".

About the author


Michel Bauwens (1958) is a Belgian integral philosopher and peer-to-peer theorist. He has worked as an internet consultant, information analyst for the United States Information Agency, information manager for British Petroleum (where he created one of the first virtual information centers), and is former editor-in-chief of the first European digital convergence magazine, the Dutch language Wave.

To know more about Michel Bauwens you can visit these sections of the P2P Foundation wiki:

Robin Good -
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posted by on Tuesday, August 3 2010, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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