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Fundamental text by StefanMn and StefanMz - Part 4 (was: [ox-en] Fundamental text by StefanMn and StefanMz - Part 1)

Hi list!

Last month (38 days ago) Stefan Merten wrote:
We broke the text up into four parts three of which are already
written in a first iteration. I'll post the first part here and
continue with the others.

Below is the fourth and final part.



--- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< --- 8< ---

The historic potential of peer production

Development of the productive forces

Humans produce the conditions under which they live by developing the
necessary means and performing the metabolism with nature. The changes
in this relationship between the human being, the means it uses, and
the outside nature (humans themselves are nature) is commonly called
historical development of productive forces. This historical
development was accompanied and reflected by the development of
corresponding social forms, of different forms of societal mediation
over time. The relationship between the productive forces and the
societal form is a dialectical one. The driving factor is the
development of productive forces, however.

So far this may be common knowledge. Now, we have to go into more
detail to bring this in the context of the five-step model presented
before, and it fits very well. Let's see.

The relationship between the three aspects--human being, means,
nature--changes over time not only quantitatively, but also
qualitatively. We can understand history (or »pre-history« following
Marx) as a succession of epochs, where in each of these epochs one of
the three aspects of the development of productive forces is dominant.

The first epoch can be described as the *natural epoch*, because the
focus of producing the living conditions are directly oriented towards
the use of outside nature. All ancient societies were agricultural
societies. Of course, means are used to ameliorate the land and to dig
for treasures of the soil, however, the means were not in the focus of
development. The main energy to work on the soil comes from humans (as
slaves, serfs, or other types of personal domination) and animals.
Crafts were the most developed form of creating means.

This changes dramatically with the introduction of an industrial form
of production. Industry overcomes the limitations of crafts, of
natural energy sources, and--with the changing societal forms--the
societal restrictions like guilds and booths. The free human is the
ideal of this epoch--free to sell its labour power in alienated
circumstances as we had pointed out in a previous chapter. The big
industry represents the *means epoch*: »The tool or working machine is
that part of the machinery with which the industrial revolution of the
18th century started.« [Marx-WorkingMachine]_

While social relations during the natural epoch were always dominated
by personal sway over subordinated people, the societal mediation
during the means epoch got an abstract form. Mainly two opposite
classes are bound together via the commodity-money cycle. Each of them
are filling different roles, but both subordinated under those
alienated goals of making profit on the one hand or selling labour
power on the other hand.

Now, we are prepared to understand the deeper sense of the historical
sketch given by Karl Marx in the »Grundrisse«:

»Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset)
are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity
develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal
independence founded on objective [sachlicher] dependence is the
second big form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of
universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is
formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal
development of individuals and on their subordination of their
communal, social productivity as their social wealth, is the third
stage.« [Marx-ThreeStages]_

Here, Marx describes three epochs, two of them we mentioned above.
There is one missing: The epoch of the »universal development of
individuals«, of the human development as an end in itself--the *human
epoch*. We claim that we live in a transition period, where we can
observe germ forms of this upcoming human epoch every day.

Technical developments facilitate peer production

Capitalism improved working with matter and the means employed are
material means. Contemporary industry is perfect in producing material
things. However, the material period has reached it's intrinsic
limitations. What is needed today is the improvement of working with
information and creativity. This is not only required for assembly
line products, but especially for new modern products. The industry is
good at producing well known material products in huge series, where
the production logics are algorithmically fixed. However, the creation
of something new can not be implemented in fixed algorithms.
Creativity and flexible handling of unknown challenges can only come
from living human beings.

Moreover, most contemporary products--even material ones--are based on
a complex set of information. The information aspect of the products
and of the production process becomes dominant during the last several
decades. Using flexible production environments from robots to rapid
prototyping tools changes can be made very fast. Thus, the production
and working with information becomes more and more important. At the
same time the digital copy occurred as something historical new. Using
computers it allows for lossless reproduction at nearly zero marginal
costs. The Internet is nothing but a monster application of digital
copy, it is the global backbone of the production and circulation of

Material goods, however, differ significantly from information goods.
Information can be easily copied while material goods have to be
produced piece by piece. The use of material goods is rival while use
of information is non-rival. Material goods are used up while
information is spread when shared. But most important: The production
of information needs human creativity to an extend the old mode of
production can not support.

These technical developments are preconditions for peer production.
However, peer production is not simply a technical means, it also
changes the social relationships of production. Means of production
are always technical and social.

Selbstentfaltung--universal development of individuals

Here, something Marx' called the »universal development of
individuals« comes into play--or with a special German word
»Selbstentfaltung« [#Selbstentfaltung]_. The concept of
Selbstentfaltung is similar to self-realization, however, it
overcomes its limitations. Bourgeois society needs the free individual
only in a restricted sense: The individual should be free to sell its
labour power or to command alien labour power. However, the
restriction comes from the enclosure of the valorisation logic, in
which workers and capitalists took opposite functions, but which forms
a unique shell for both. Neither of them can escape, both of them have
to function according to their »character masks«.

Marx recognised, that the societal relationships are constituted by
objective relationships based on the exchange of commodities. This
»fetishism« (Marx) is the alienated environment, wherein the
individual can self-realize. However, the logics of the commodity
framework, of selling and buying, can not be overcome within this
environment. The basic logic is exclusion. Within the exclusion
structure it is only possible to »self-realize« on the expense of
others. The »free« individual is at the same time an isolated one,
isolated from others and from whole society. To pull oneself at one
owns hairs out of the swamp seems impossible.

The solution to this dilemma is the individual itself, and
Selbstentfaltung is the mode. In contrast to self-realization the
condition of Selbstentfaltung is not to exclude, but to include
others. Selbstentfaltung creates a room of mutual support and
enhancement. Having fun and being responsible joins, because
responsibility is not a moral add-on, but it is the built-in
pre-condition for success. Well known »flow experiences« can be
described as a result of Selbstentfaltung. Wikipedia describes this
experience very well: »Flow is the mental state of operation in which
the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterised
by a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and success in the
process of the activity.« [Wikipedia-FlowExperience]_

Selbstentfaltung is not a rare personal property of few people, it is
a genuine mode of individual development of all humans. However, it
needs a special social environment enhancing the inclusion logic. This
environment must minimise alienation and indirection. Capitalism being
based on a few abstract principles contradicts this requirement. The
fetishism in bourgeois society produces alienated relationships. The
use value of a commodity is a subordinated means to realize exchange
value on markets. Thus, making more money from money is the alienated
and indirect form of producing goods the people need.

Selbstentfaltung on the contrary requires direct relations to the
products, to other producers, and to users. The product itself is the
primary goal, not generating profit via selling the product as a
commodity on markets. The cooperation with other peer producers is
essential to get the tasks done, because the peer network is the
social environment wherein the individual acts. And the direct
relation to users is the way getting feedback and reputation. The
better the product, the better the cooperation. And the better the
user relations, the more people join the process and the higher the
possibility to accomplish the goals of the project. The logic of
successively including more people, knowledge, and experiences is a
compelling power overcoming the exclusive principles of capitalist
society. The core of this inclusion logic is Selbstentfaltung, which
can now be defined in a short way: The Selbstentfaltung of the
individual is the precondition of the Selbstentfaltung of others--and
vice versa.

Due to Selbstentfaltung being primarily oriented in the use of the
product, the quality is superior. This follows from the fact, that
design and realization of the product is not limited by marketing
considerations. While exchange value orientations results in relative
quality, the quality orientation in free production modes based on
Selbstentfaltung is absolute. Richard Sennet [Sennet-Craftsman]_
compared these modes with crafts, with »doing something well for its
own sake«. In Free Software and free cultural works like Wikipedia he
sees this »enduring, basic human impulse« re-emerging, which all
people have and can bring out. Internal openness allows for
contributions from all sources. People are invited to contribute, user
innovation is employed [Hippel-DemocratizingInnovation]_. Superior
availability is a direct result of external openness. Often, the
improvement rate is very high.

Universal development is an end in itself. Selbstentfaltung brings out
the best qualities of humans, and at the same time, it is the best
mode of living for humans. Individual being and social embedding, the
one and the many are no longer opposites. However, Selbstentfaltung
contradicts many capitalist principles. Capitalism does not allow for
unlimited inclusion, because it is based on exclusion. Capitalism only
uses cooperation, in order to reach better competitiveness to better
prevail on the expense of others. Efficiency is not oriented in a good
living for all, but simply in maximising profit as an end in itself.
Thus development and production is oriented in goals raising from a
»cybernetic« valorisation cycle, what Marx called »objective
[sachlicher] dependence« (cited above), or with another word:

Using an systemic perspective during the industrial period, alienation
is not really a problem, because industrial working with matter can be
commanded. And alienation was personally acceptable, because the
»objective dependence« was highly outweighed with good wages. But
high-tech capitalism is based on working with information. Creativity
and individual free development are needed--but they can not be
commanded. At the same time huge industrial structures are separated
into smaller parts, each of them directly subordinated under the
market claims. Class relations which once have been clearly visible
dissolve, each single group and each individual has to be an
entrepreneur, capitalist and worker at the same time. Alienation is
carried to the extremes: Self-valorisation and Selbstentfaltung become
antagonist requirements.

The transition to the human epoch

The well known tendencies in contemporary capitalism, generally known
as as neo-liberalism, support the potential to overcome
capitalism--for the first time in history. This sometimes sounds weird
to the traditional left, and it seems, that not much of them are able
to see the germ forms of the new. The potential has to be analysed
carefully, because there are many traps. One trap is to interpret all
the different new phenomenons completely in the framework of
neo-liberalism. Then this sometimes gets the form of a
»conspiracy«--behind every development seems to be a plan to suppress
and subordinate the working class. This view neglects the inner
dynamics and dialectics of the ongoing process including the germ
forms which contain the potential for something beyond capitalism.

Another trap is to overestimate the new potential at the current step
of its unfolding. There is an expectation, that the germ form is
already a developed final form representing all the properties we want
to have. This view is often accompanied with the assumption or
expectation of having »good people« with high level of consciousness
within peer production projects like Free Software. However, this is
neither true nor are »good people« necessary. It is the strength of
peer production, that there are no preconditions before joining a
common effort of a peer production project. Normal people can

The third trap is to expect, that the new is free of contradictions.
The new has to occur in a pure and innocent form. However, using the
five-step model, we can understand, that a qualitatively new form
never emerges completely isolated from the old without any useful
function for it. In the contrary, the new must have a useful function
for the old, because otherwise it can not grow. At the same time it
has to contain the potential for a entirely new mode of
production--and this is the case with peer production.

Looking on current commons-based peer projects as Free Software, it
can be learned, that peer production is not only a question of
technical means, but it also changes the social means of production.
The maintainer model mentioned above for instance can be viewed as a
common governance model beyond democracy--commonly named meritocracy.
It bases on reputation and responsibility.

Maintainer and project members are inclusively bound together. While
the maintainer is interested in many and good skilled project members,
those, on the other hand, are interested in having a good and
communicative maintainer integrating all different individuals in the
project and organising consensual decisions. A consensus is reached if
nobody must object. If a maintainer tend to ignore needs of project
members, then they can leave or »fork« the project. A »fork« is a
split of a projects by taking all of the given results into a new
project, because they are free. However, a fork is always a risk,
because it also means the separation of human resources weakening the
possibility to reach the intended goal. Thus, all opponents in a
conflict have to clearly think about the chances and risks of a fork,
and the chances and risks of a consensus, which drives the dynamics of
conflict regulation.

This differs significantly from »democratic conflict regulation« by
voting and representation. All goals and needs come from the people
within the project, and they are focussed around the goal or product
to be produced. Alienated influences are absent. Well, this is the
ideal situation of a *doubly free* project. While in a *singly free*
project only the product is free--mostly covered by a free license.
Additionally, in a *doubly free* project the production itself is
free. This is the case, when money and alienated goals are completely
kept out of the project and all tasks are freely done.

This new type of post-democratic regulation gives us an impression on
how to organise a whole society according to the needs of the people.
Not only peer production projects with specific productive goals can
be done this way, but also infrastructural tasks or meta-projects can
be organised this way. [#Peerconomy]_ This, however, is a quite
different transition image than old style types of conqueroring the
power to control the (old) means of production. The new conception of
a transition bases on changing the productive basis by establishing
new social relationship, which are originally free of valorisation and
alienation. It is not about taking the old power, but building a new
one, which then cooperates-out the old one. This is the fundamental
change of the perspective of emancipation the five-step model brought
to us.

The *human epoch*, a society based on the »universal development of
individuals« Marx dreamt about, becomes a real opportunity.


.. [#Selbstentfaltung] The concept of Selbstentfaltung has been used
   in the Oekonux discussion a lot and also in earlier works for
   instance in Holzkamp's work (as »generalised action potential«).
   Since there is no appropriate word in English and also because the
   concept of Selbstentfaltung used here is somewhat new even in
   German we decided to use the term in English as well.

.. [#Peerconomy] In an extensive and hotly debated study
   [Siefkes-Peerconomy]_ Christian Siefkes had shown, that peer
   production can be generalised into the physical world and the whole
   society can be organised according to the principles of
   peer-governance on a global level.


.. [Hippel-DemocratizingInnovation] Eric von Hippel, Democratizing
   Innovation, MIT Press, 2006

.. [Marx-WorkingMachine] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 15, Sec. 1,
   1867, online:

.. [Marx-ThreeStages] Karl Marx, The Grundrisse. Outlines of the
   Critique of Political Economy, Ch. 3, p. 158, 1857, online:

.. [Sennet-Craftsman] Richard Sennet, The Craftsman, Yale University
   Press, New Haven and London, 2008

.. [Siefkes-Peerconomy] Christian Siefkes, From Exchange to
   Contributions. Generalizing Peer Production into the Physical
   World, Ed. C. Siefkes, 2007

.. [Wikipedia-FlowExperience] (2008-03-18)

Contact: projekt

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