Re: [ox-en] Re: Fundamental text by StefanMn and StefanMz
- From: Stefan Meretz <stefan.meretz hbv.org>
- Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 17:10:25 +0200
thank you for your comments, which took me some time to read and to
On 2008-06-16 11:16, Raoul wrote:
on the draft of the "Fundamental text" written by Stefan Merten and
First, let me explain, that our paper was a common one, where we try to
conclude shared views. On some points we do not agree, but these points
are left out. My answer, of course, represents my view.
In part 1, the text reads:
"Whether or not the principles of peer production can be transferred
to the material sphere or what that even means is an open research
question." Michel Bauwens commented:
"It is not just a research question, there are some general things
that can be said, apart from already observing existing open design
I agree. This is one point, where StefanMn prefers to be more careful.
I agree with Michel that this is not "just" an "open research
question". Especially for Oekonux whose main fundamental idea is
summarized in the 3d part of the text: "We claim that peer production
is a germ form of a new society based on a mode of production beyond
exchange, market and money." Such a claim would be a sheer piece of
wishful thinking if "exchange, market and money" could not be
eradicated from most of the production (and distribution) of material
goods. A "new society" would not be really "new" if pp principles
remained restricted to numerical goods.
The main argument the text gives to explain the doubts about the
possibility of material peer production is based on the idea that,
contrary to numerical-information goods, material goods are "rival".
Part 4 reads: "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."
This again is some part, where StefanMn and me had some research debates
It is true that information-numerical goods are "non-rival", "by
nature", ie. they "may be consumed by one consumer without preventing
simultaneous consumption by others." (Wikipedia). As they can be
copied without (or insignificant) cost they are potentially abundant.
It is also true that material goods do not possess that capacity. But
that does not mean that they can not be abundant, non-rival. Water is
a material good, it cannot be "copied", but it may be a non-rival
good in places where it is abundant.
To me rivalry is not a property of a good as such, it is a property of
the _usage_ of a good, it describes a social relationship. It says:
When someone is using this good, then another person can't. However,
the other person can use another piece of the same good, if there is
one. This is the aspect you mention. However, I think, that a rival
good cannot loose its rivalry in the social sense, even if enough
pieces are available. This finally leads to the question, how we
can take care, that there are _always enough_ pieces of some good, if we
want them. This is a societal question of production.
Rivalry is a concept that
expresses (and, for ideological reasons, insists on) the old reality
that scarcity of a good tends to generate rivalry between people
wanting to have it.
This is a really interesting point. However, I would say, that scarcity
is the ideological concept and not rivalry. Scarcity is the societal
form of a good being produced as a commodity, it is the social form of
products in capitalism. A commodity must be scarce even when it is
abundant. If there are enough apples, then some of them must be crushed
to keep scarcity of the rest. Of course, capitalism benefits from the
fact, that lot of goods are limited, but saying that scarcity is a
natural property of goods is an ideological statement.
But, as such, it is a very relative concept. It
depends on the relation between two quantities: the quantity of the
good and the number of people desiring that good.
This relation is the key question of all societal ways to produce.
Even sea water, if
taken in small quantity and considered in a place where it is scarce
(a bottle of sea water in the Sahara, for example) may become rival.
Two apples for 200 persons are rival, but 200 apples for two people
As mentioned: The usage remains rival, the scarcity vanishes.
Material goods cannot be freely reproduced, but most of
them, those that are commonly produced by humans, may be made
abundant, enough to satisfy the human needs/desires, (if the will and
the power to do it exists - as it may in a "peer society") and become
non-rival goods. Of course, some material goods cannot be made
abundant: a Van Gogh painting or an exceptional geographical site,
for example. Also, products requiring very naturally scarce material,
at least for some time, (the time to invent a way to produce them in
a different manner or to find substitutes). How to deal with goods
that remain rival in a new (peer) society is indeed an "open research
question". But, it is not the same for all the goods that can be made
abundant. And these are the overwhelming majority of the goods
commonly needed by humans. (In addition, human needs/desires in a
society not based on the absurd commercial-profit logic of capitalism
will be different from present ones).
I understand your point, but I would exchange rivalry with scarcity in
To say that "the use of material goods is rival" is not correct.
Even from a strict neoclassical approach, some material products can
be non-rival, public. But, above all, it ignores the fact that most
of material products can be made abundant, thus non-rival.
Rivalry and access are different dimensions of the problem and thus have
to be separated.
"Open raw material", "universal availability", "no exchange",
"commons and possession, not property" require free/gratis access to
material means of production and consumption. "Voluntary free
aggregation" and "free cooperation" require (if universalized)
free/gratis access to material means of consumption.
How to reach that level of abundance? What may the transition process
be ? These may be "open research questions". But it must be said
clearly that the material abundance is a real possibility.
The question behind abundance is how produce it. Thus the focus should
not be on how to accumulate more and more stuff to reach abundance, but
on how to produce the things we need, not more and not less. I think we
don't disagree here, but I just want to emphasize, that the question is
not about how to reach some status, but on how to organize the process.
scarcity of material goods which makes today the majority of the
wold-population to live in misery is not natural, but induced by the
capitalist logic. The ecological problems are not the consequence of
natural limits but of capitalist management of the planet resources.
If we can escape the capitalist logic, we are still very far from
reaching "natural limits". We only use 1/10 000 of the energy we
permanently receive from the sun; experts say that there is enough
spring water for many times the present human population, if we only
can use it in rational ways, especially by a transformation of
methods of agriculture.
Very clear. More then that: We are facing peak oil, which itself is a
product of capitalism. Capitalism must grow, but oil production shrinks
in the next future. Capitalism is by no means prepared to deal which
the coming crisis.
"Today it is hard to see how material production can be organized
according to the logic of information goods... It is perfectly
possible that in a dominance or restructuring step the problem on how
to embed material production in the peer production mode of
production is on a basis which can not be imagined today."
Maybe that statement is a consequence of the doubts about the
possibility of making common material goods non-rival.
No, it is a consequence of the authors disagreement on how far we both
can go, so that some rather careful formulation was taken.
In any case, I
think it is far from obvious. Of course we cannot imagine the
concrete details or even important aspects of such a mode of
production, but we can imagine what a general framework could be. The
development of peer production in the information-numerical sphere
allows us today to be much more concrete than could have been any
anti-capitalist dreamer even 20 years ago. I even think that is an
important theoretical task today. Christian Siekfes' book, for
instance, is part of that effort.
The germ-form theory, for example, relays on the idea that peer
production principles can be applied to material production and are
superior to capitalistic ones. It is difficult to make such a
statement without giving at least elementary concrete visions, even
if theoretical, of what that could look like.
From a human point of view, the "efficiency" of a mode of production
is measured by its capacity to allow the human material needs to be
satisfied. Capitalism has created an extraordinary network (the world
market) allowing existent needs to find, some times at the other side
of the world, the means to be satisfied. Demand and offer are
confronted and interrelated through the market mechanisms. But it is
a relation distorted by commercial exchange and the capitalistic
logic based of profit. In the capitalist market, the needs considered
are not all the real human needs.
Every need is real, there is no unreal sphere anywhere. I think that a
"critique of needs" does not lead to anything other than on dangerous
roads. Needs are a historical product, and every epoch will develop its
needs. Thus a free society will have different needs than a unfree
society like capitalism.
These are limited by the necessity
to be solvent. If you don't have money, your needs/desires do not
exist in the market, they are not taken into account. The offer is
also limited, restricted: if production can not be sold, sold with
profit, it is not done. Non profitable production does not exists in
the market. Without profit perspective, fields are lied fallow,
factories (even modern ones) closed, workers unemployed. Only the
logic of the capitalist market can explain that to day a child dies
from malnutrition every 5 seconds in the world.
What an unfree, coercive society! (Yes, I know, this contradicts the
traditional meaning of "freedom" burned into our brains)
A peer society is the
only way to interrelate the real (and not the solvent) demand with
the real (and not the profitable) potential forces of production,
human and material.
Due to redundance discard "real", then I agree.
For most of commonly needed products, we could imagine sorts of
"super-markets" (we should say "super non-markets") where goods are
free/gratis. These might also be Internet sites. The nature and
quantities of the products taken (instead of bought) would be
instantaneously registered and the data sent by Internet to centers
at different levels (villages, local, regional, worldwide). That data
would be permanently processed at different levels by a set of
softwares in order to generate a list of consumption requirements,
including as much information as possible: geographical localization,
quantity, qualities, etc. The softwares would be constantly developed
and improved integrating the final-user desires, systematically
collected, elaborated, processed at all levels. That list would be
made available to anyone in the planet, giving an instantaneous and
permanent list of all the common consumption "itches" that humans
"need to scratch". On the productive side, any center of production
would thus have a real and large choice to decide what it prefers to
produce, having the security that its product will be useful and
used/consumed. It could also make propositions of new solutions to
present or future needs/desires. Every production center, in his
turn, would express permanently its needs in order to realize its
projects and, as for consumption, through Internet, these would be
instantaneously collected, processed and put at public use. These
needs/desires include raw material, machines and, of course, human
work (not labor). Raw material and machines needs would be processed
as the consumption "itches" and put at disposal of the centers of
production. Human work needs would also be permanently and
instantaneously put at disposal of all human beings. Any person
wishing to participate in social production has thus the possibility
to choose what she wants to do, or something close to it, as in Free
Software. (voluntary self-aggregation). At that level, the first
necessity to create a peer society is the capacity to transform any
productive task in a pleasure for the person who does it. (Pleasure
does not exclude "effort": playing soccer is exhausting, for
example). Automation is here a key element in order to eliminate or
transform what today are repulsive tasks. As producers are the "end
users" of the means and ways of production, they should be the
permanent masters of innovation at that level, orientated towards
Even if many questions remain open, as the distribution on goods
which can not be made abundant or "governance" systems, for example,
some fundamental aspects of what could be the application of peer
production principles to the material sphere can be seriously
imagined, and their superiority to capitalist ones easily
Good sketch, but there are some more problems in detail, which Christian
discusses in his peerconomy book.
One may object that, even if such a vision may seem coherent and
materially feasible, it does not say what would be the transition to
that full-developed peer society. That is true. But, if you want to
imagine a transition you need to know from where to where it goes. If
you don't have any idea about the end of it (or at least a very
advanced point), you cannot even think it. The old formula: "From
each according to his ability, to each according to his
needs/desires" may summarize what a full-developed peer society
should be based on, since it also summarizes what the peer production
principles are. Today we can and must give to that abstract goal a
more concrete image.
D'accord, and I think, peerconomy is the most advanced sketch, where we
can start from, because it focusses on transition problems. However,
there is still a gap between today and the transition concept of
peerconomy, where we yet need a transition for. This is the domain of
Michel Bauwens et al. However, I am sceptical about his market-conform
"Though there are a lot of peer phenomenons, peer production is
primarily about production and not distribution."
Michel Bauwens has already made some criticisms to that statement:
"I don't see how you can equate privatized output with peer
production, that would be very contradictory, as the output
necessarily requires conditions that affect both input and process."
(5 apr 08) I agree with Michel. I just wanted to remind what Marx, in
the same sense, wrote about that question: "The relations and modes
of distribution are thus merely the reverse aspect of the factors of
production. An individual whose participation in production takes the
form of wage-labor will receive a share in the product, the result of
production, in the form of wages. The structure of distribution is
entirely determined by the structure of production. Distribution
itself is a product of production, not only with regard to the
content, for only the results of production can be distributed, but
also with regard to the form, since the particular mode of men's
participation in production determines the specific form of
distribution, the form, in which they share in distribution. "
("Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political
Agreed. Exactly in Marx' sense "peer production is primarily about
production and not distribution". A given type of peer production
implies types of distribution different from markets. The main point
is: The societal transformation starts from production, not from
4 - Is contemporary industry perfect in working with matter?
In part 4, the text reads:
"Capitalism improved working with matter and the means employed are
material means. Contemporary industry is perfect in producing
"Perfect" ? From what point of view? Probably the author's pen
slipped. The only point of view from which "contemporary industry"
(ie. capitalist industry) is "perfect" is efficiency in exploiting
labor force and cumulating capital. According to the International
Labor Organization last year there were 2 200 000 mortal work
accidents in the world. The number of injured is almost 1000 times
bigger. And this is not only in the poor countries. In Italy, for
example, there were 1 300 death and 900 000 injured. Even excluding
that human aspect, even putting aside the fact that contemporary
industry destroys the ecological equilibrium and the humans' health,
from a sheer quantitative or qualitative point of view "contemporary
industry" has nothing to do with perfection. Quantity is enormously
limited by the profit imperatives ; quality is corrupted by
commercial and profit constraints and by the alienated nature of work
(paradoxically these last points are very well demonstrated in part 4
of the text). The text also says: "And alienation was personally
acceptable, because the 'dependence' was highly outweighed with good
wages." Is that "perfect"?
I think, this is a misunderstanding. The word "perfect" here is not used
in an absolute historical or even humanistic sense, it is used from the
standpoint of capitalist industry itself (including the consequenses
you describe). The contrast is given by information goods, which we
describe afterwards. We want to say, that due to its principles
capitalist industry can deal well with material goods, but not with
information goods. However, we should clarify that.
"This, however, is a quite different transition image than old style
types of conquering 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 five-step model is very interesting. But, as far as I have
understood it, it does not pretend to say how concretely the
different steps are reached. In particular it does not deal with
specific social-political life during the transitions.
That's true, concrete questions can only be answered concrete. It is not
goal (and the power) of the five-step model to answer questions of
daily life and fights.
social life is not the same for fishes (the original example given in
the text) and humans, and the model works the evolutions of both of
them. It also works for the transition from feudalism to capitalism,
where class struggle was determinant and where the bourgeoisie, at
the same time that it developed new productive relations that
"cooperated-out" the feudal ones, had to conquer the political power
from the feudal-aristocracy's hands. Establishing new social
relationships, "cooperating-out" the old system is not contradictory
with conquering the power over the means of production. They are both
interrelated and, at different moments, conditioned one by the other.
As you explained above (with respect to injuries during production)
means of production are not neutral. The same holds for the goal of
production: Are the goods are made to sell them, or are they made to
satisfied needs? The latter is not necessary for the first one. A brand
for example is solely made to sell the product, it has nothing to do
with utility. On the other hand free peer products are not completely
different from traditional commodities, thus the means of production
are not completely different either. However, as Marcin Jakubowski had
shown with OSTrac [http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=LifeTrac] on
Factor E Farm [http://openfarmtech.org/weblog/], a multifunctional
modular pluggable tractor follows different goals than, say, a bunch of
specialized machines (simple, functional, easy to maintain vs. selling
many machines to maximize profits).
By itself, the germ-form theory does not give an answer to the
question, for the transition from capitalism to a peer society, of
how to transform the private property over means of production into
social possession through the commons. One may pretend that, contrary
to what happened in all social transitions of the past, the
transition to a post-capitalist society will be done without class
confrontation and ignoring the questions of political power and
control over the means of production (I do not agree with that) but,
in any case, that cannot be justified by the germ-form theory.
That's true, germ form theory does not pre-decide the concrete forms of
social transformation. Btw: I would not say, that we can ignore
political power, but we cannot base societal transformation on
political power. This is a difference. We will have to establish a new
peer governance system, but not by taking the power, but by forming new
types of practical power of production and living.
"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 function according to their 'character
masks'." We already had that discussion with Stefan Merten and Stefan
Meretz. I do not agree with the vision that reduces the workers
struggle to the permanent wage bargaining, inserted within the
capitalistic logic.. This is the case most of the time, but the
history of capitalism has shown that in some circumstances that
struggle may become something different, trying to crack the "unique
shell", opposing the capitalistic logic, leaving the reality behind
the "character masks" to appear clearly: the naturally conservative
nature of the ruling classes and the revolutionary nature of the
exploited class. It is not true that the exploited cannot dream of
anything else than being "well exploited". That was already true
before capitalism, as showed, for example, by the slave revolts in
antiquity with Spartacus or the peasants war in the 16th century in
Germany (called in German: Erhebung des gemeinen Mannes: the uprising
of common men). Historical, social and material conditions were not
mature. But to day their maturation is getting over qualitative
steps. Peer production development in the most modern part of
productive forces is a manifestation of that. "Peer relationships"
development is not not opposed to the old dream of the exploited
classes: it represents its first concrete realization.
Well, I cannot see this if I look at politics. Of course, I like to be
At this level, I find contradictory the position developed by the
text considering sterile any class struggle in a peer society's
perspective, and what Stefan Merten wrote a few moths ago, (see the
thread "Labor contradictions", 21dec08): "Coming from the anarchist
side I know there were movements which had different things in mind
than 'really existing socialism'. Whether those movements had a
chance to overcome capitalism? Let me say it this way: I think (only)
today the conditions are mature because the development of productive
forces got that far. Universalized digital copy (aka Internet) being
one of the technical artifacts here." Of course, I prefer this last
vision of things.
Well, that was a little bit long. Nevertheless, I hope it helps.
Start here: www.meretz.de
Contact: projekt oekonux.de