The Commons and P2P as an Alternative System of Production

Michel Bauwens is a Belgian Peer to Peer theorist advocating P2P production as an alternative production method to Capitalism. P2P is based on egalitarian networking and the production of both material and non material goods such as information, digital platforms, etc. which may not have a transient value to the producers but have a value for others. In this essay From the Communism of Capital to Capital for the Commons, Bauwens argues of the need for licenses for those that use these P2P networks in order to contribute to their own profit.

“From the point of view of the peer producers or commoners, a Commons-based reciprocal license, like PPL (Peer Production Licenses), would allow the contributory communities to create their own co-operative entities. In this new ecology, profit would be subsumed to the social goal of sustaining the Commons and the commoners. Even the participating for-profit companies would consciously contribute under a new logic. This proposal would link the Commons to an entrepreneurial coalition of ethical market entities (co-ops and other models) and keep the surplus value entirely within the sphere of commoners/co-operators, instead of leaking out to the multinationals.

In other words, through this convergence or rather combination of a Commons model for the abundant immaterial resources, and a reciprocity-based model for the “scarce” material resources, the issue of livelihoods and social reproduction could be solved. The surplus value would be kept inside the Commons sphere itself. It is the co-operatives that would, through their co-operative accumulation, fund the production of immaterial Commons, because they would pay and reward the peer producers associated with them.

In this way, peer production could move from a proto-mode of production, unable to perpetuate itself on its own outside capitalism, to an autonomous and real mode of production. It would create a counter-economy that could be the basis for reconstituting a “counter-hegemony” with a for-benefit circulation of value. This process, allied to “pro- Commons” social movements, could be the basis of the political and social transformation of the political economy. Hence we might move from a situation in which the communism of capital is dominant, to a situation in which we have a “capital for the Commons”, increasingly insuring the self-reproduction of the peer production mode.”


“In the old one, internal economic democracy is accompanied by participation in market dynamics on behalf of the members, using capitalist competition. There is an unwillingness to share profits and benefits with outsiders, hence, no creation of the Commons. We argue that an independent Commons-oriented economy should be in need of a different model in which the co-operatives produce Commons and are statutorily oriented towards the creation of the common good. To realize their goals they should adopt multi-stakeholders forms of governance which would include workers, users-consumers, investors and the concerned communities.”

“Our approach is to transform really existing peer production, which is today not a full mode of production being incapable of assuring its own self-reproduction. This is exactly why the convergence of peer production in the sphere of abundance must be linked to the sphere of co-operative production, and thus insure its self-reproduction. Like in any past phase transition, the existence of a proto-counter-economy, and the resources that this allocates to the counter-hegemonic forces, are absolutely essential for a political and social change. This was arguably the weakness of classic socialism, that is, it had no alternative mode of production, and could only institute state control after a takeover of power.

In other words it is difficult, if not impossible, to wait and see the organic and emergent development of peer production into a fully alternative system. If we follow such an approach, peer production would just remain a parasitic modality dependent on the self-reproduction through capital. We argue that the expectation that one can change the society, by merely producing open code and design, while remaining subservient to capital, is a dangerous pipe dream. By contrast, through the ethical economy surrounding the Commons, it becomes possible to create non-commodified production and exchange.

We thus envision a resource-based economy which would utilize the stigmergic mutual coordination through the gradual application of open book accounting and open supply changes. We deem that there will be no qualitative phase transition merely through emergence, but it will require the reconstitution of powerful political and social movements which aim to become a democratic polis. And that democratic polis, could indeed, through democratic decisions, accelerate the transition. It could take measures that force private economic forces to include externalities, thereby ending infinite capital accumulation.”

Taken from From the Communism of Capital to Capital for the Commons: Towards an Open Co-operativism Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis


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