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Re: [ox-en] There is no such thing like "peer money"

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Hi Raoul,

thanks for these enlightening comments,

what do you make of this: that most peer production in software evolves to a
corporate commons?


On Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 4:21 PM, Raoul <raoulv> wrote:

Hi Stefan (Meretz),

Thanks for the stimulants comments you made (23nov08) about my mails on
money and peer-production. I'll try to answer some of them, but, in order to
avoid a too long mail, I'll do it in different posts.

I had written:
In order to try to understand the possible relations between
peer-production and money, I have focused on that specific moment of
the transition from capitalism to a fully-developed "peer-society,
(4th step in the 5-Step theory) in which a significant share of the
material means of production have fallen into the commons but
ampleness of produced goods is still insufficient to allow
distribution following the principle: "to each according to his

You wrote:
"Your description rather fits to the much more important transition from
the 3rd to the 4th step, where the peer economy becomes dominant."

OK. That would be the a sort of beginning of the 4th step. Here everything
is "transition": the five steps are transitional moments within a more
global transition, and one can also see transitions between these moments.
Nevertheless, points of reference are necessary. I am not so familiar with
the 5-step model. I know it essentially by the "Fundamental text"
("Germ-form theory: Peer production in a historical perspective") you and
Stefan wrote. I find that theory very useful. I think it is borne out by the
history of the past transitions between social systems, especially from
slavery to feudalism and from feudalism to capitalism. It should be a
helpful tool for understanding the present transition to a post-capitalist
society, even if this transition is qualitatively different from most of
past ones, since its is not a transition between two systems based on
exploitation but a movement towards the end of exploitation.

My concern was to situate in the framework of the 5-step model the specific
moment when the question of a peer distribution of material goods is
actually posed. That moment requires that an important share of the material
means of production have become collectively owned and begin to be managed
according to peer principles. You say, and I can agree, that this
corresponds to the transition from the 3d to the 4th step "where the peer
economy becomes dominant". I just want to make two remarks about that.

1. The definition given by the text is coherent with the Marxist concept.
It reads: "Now it is its principles that determine further development", or,
"The new form (...) determining the system's direction of development." [I
suppose that in this last formulation it is "society" which is meant by
The definition of the status of "dominant" for a mode of production is
often misunderstood. It is assimilated to a simple question of share of
people producing according to the principles of that mode. For example, if
the share is superior to a given percentage, the mode would be dominant. In
the Marxist conception, a mode of production can be dominant without
involving the majority of the producers. It is a question of dynamic. Marx
considers that capitalism becomes dominant as early as the 16-17th century,
since the further development of society is already essentially determined
by the still-young capitalist reality.

2. Considering that the beginning of the extension of peer production
principles to the "material" sphere opens the transition to the step of
"domination" constitutes an important point of reference.

This being said, I have been somewhat surprised by an aspect of the Stefan
Merten's presentation given recently at the Kerala conference, concerning
the advancement of peer principles in the 5-step model/scale. If I
understand the slides he published in the ox-en list (which are inevitable
very short) Stefan makes a distinction between two levels or spheres: one is
"software" and the other is "society". He writes that "For software: Free
Software is well in phase 3, disseminating and expanding"; (...) "For
society: Peer production is in phase 1: emerging of the new."
I think that Stefan Merten's concern deals with an important reality. It is
true that peer principles are clearly "disseminating and expanding" in the
software sphere, The recent Study on the Economic impact of FLOSS in the EU,
confirms that clearly (see S. Merten's mail of 30dec08). We can even see
some proprietary corporations being obliged to produce "peer products" and
to adopt some aspects of peer principles for producing them (IBM for Linux,
for example). In that sphere, peer principles of production are, as Merten
says, "most developed and most visible". In the sphere of science and
culture, where most of the goods produced are digital or information goods,
this is also the case, even if at lesser degree. But in the "material"
sphere, dealing with non-freely-reproducible goods, peer principles are
hardly visible, leaving aside the fact that material production is
irreversibly and rapidly becoming more and more dependent from software and

That means that the 5-step model may describe different degrees of
advancement of the SAME germ-form in different spheres/layers of social
production. But, at the same time, it should describe the whole process, it
should measure the degree of advancement at the global scale.

That may seem complex or contradictory. But that corresponds to a very
frequent reality in nature, grasped by the fractal images/equations. "A
fractal is generally 'a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be
split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size
copy of the whole,' a property called self-similarity." (Wikipedia in

We could thus say that, simultaneously, in the software layer, as in the
science and culture one (even if at a lower degree), the advancements of
peer principles is in phase 3, expanding and disseminating, and, in the
"material" sphere, it is in phase 1, emerging. Or rather in phase 2, crisis
of the old, as Merten precises. (A burning issue by these days, when
capitalism is confronted to its first really *worldwide* economic crisis).

But what about the global, the social level? In which phase is the
germ-form "for society"? Merten seems to identify that phase with the lowest
in the partial spheres: the phase in the material sphere.

That sounds sensible, since the material layer remains the foundation of
prevailing social relationships. Also because the "visibility" of peer
production at a global level is heavily dependent of its visibility in the
material sphere.

But, if the 3d phase is strictly defined by "disseminating and expanding"
or "germ form becomes an important dimension", then we must consider that
"for society", for the whole, peer-production is in phase 3. The quality of
the different spheres is not crucial here. Capitalism expanded first in
secondary sectors of production: weapons and luxury products. Software and
science are "secondary" to material production, but they also are more and
more determinant in any evolution of it.

It is always difficult to make schemes/patterns, by definition simplistic,
in order to understand a living process, which is complex and contradictory.
But they are an important tools.



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