Transformation and ownership (was: Re: [ox-en] Re: Role of ownership)
- From: Stefan Meretz <stefan.meretz hbv.org>
- Date: Fri, 7 Mar 2008 16:57:25 +0100
Hi Raoul et al.,
thank you for your interesting post which I mostly agree with. Some
small notes followed by some more general thinking about transformation
and confrontation. I posted the main piece in keimform blog:
On 2008-03-04 16:31, Raoul wrote:
But if the bourgeoisie had had the capacity to develop the new
relations before that moment [the political revolution], it was
because it had since the
beginning the ownership of crucial means of production, merchant
ships and commodities, banks and manufactures, for example.
However, the accumulation of capital was initiated by the request
of feudals to build big armys fighting their wars. The ownership
of crucial means of production was one result of feudal wars, it
was not a "legal appointment" at the beginning. Form follows
Yes, producing means of war for the feudal armies was indeed one of
the most important outlets for incipient capitalism, as was also
producing luxury goods for the feudal courts. But that doesn't change
any thing to the fact that early capitalists had the ownership of
crucial means of production since the beginning.
It is true that "form follows function", especially if one
understands by "form" a "legal appointment", the juridical form of
real relations of production.
Yes, this is exactly what I want to say: Legal forms reflect real
relations of production. If we take it this way, it is not essential to
clarify exacly, what was first, what comes then, who did what etc.
"Peer production", and more
generally "peer X" has developed using means of production
(software like Linux or Apache, for example) which were
"non-proprietary" software, the results of fights to prevent any
private appropriation of them.
You are right, these legal means like copyleft were protective
measures being necessary to secure the development of free
software, when the means of production (namely time sharing
computers in the beginning) already had developed. The question of
ownership was a result of that development.
Again, of course the development of computers and the possibility of
time sharing was a condition. But, for software creation, the means
of production are not only computers and networks, but also other
software. At this level, the ownership question was posed as soon as
"peer" relations started developing. As you say yourself, copyleft
was indispensable for their early development.
Copyleft is not at the end of peer production development but at the
beginning. The end of that process will be the end of excluding
property of all means of production, "triple free peer production".
Yep. Peer economy.
One of the most interesting aspects of Steven Weber's book, The
Success of Open Source, is the importance he attaches to property in
the new "maturing mode of production". He gives a good definition of
the main change: "Property in open source is configured fundamentally
around the right to distribute, not the right to exclude". And he
sees the dialectical way property and social organization
interrelate: "It is a story of how social organization can change the
meaning of property, and conversely, how shifting notions of property
can alter the possibilities of social organization".
To make it short, I would say that what history shows about the
relation between ownership and relations of production is not that
the production relations develop first and, at the end, after a long
development, the ownership changes, just as a consequence, but that
the question of ownership is present as from the beginning of the
development on the new relations of production, even if in an
incipient form. In fact, ownership relations are part of relations of
production. They determine the access to means of production and, as
you say, "the disposition of the means of production is the key".
My only intention was to focus on the real process than on legal form,
and to clarify the "primacy" of the real process within the dialectical
relationship of function and form.
The original question is how to deal with the ownership
transformation when it concerns material means of production. I
insisted on the fact that, at one moment or another (probably many
years ahead), this will lead to a general social confrontation with
capitalism, where "the workers of the world" will play a major role,
the germs of peer production practices, mainly in the freely
reproducible goods domain, having played an important role in the
evolution of their consciousness. This confrontation is inevitable
because of the nature of capitalism itself.
Ok, lets turn to the (most) interesting question of transformation. What
shapes will the coming conflicts have, when peer production challenges
capitalism within the physical sphere? What happens then with
First, we should see, that the confrontation is already there when we
look at information goods, which can easily be copied. Let us assume,
that we will win that confrontation in the long run. This will be the
first important victory over the proprietary property regime and over
private ownership, but compared to physical goods it will be a
But what exactly has suceeded here? It is the commons over proprietary
property, it is common possession over private property. Thus the
private ownership was not attacked within its own realm, but a new
realm was built beside the old one: The commons challenges the private
ownership. Ok, this is not completely true, we also have attacks within
the old proprietary regime, say by pirates, but pirates are allies of
those building the commons. It is kind of a double attack: undermining
the old regime by pirates and building the commons outside the private
Now, what about physical goods? Christians "From exchange to
Contributions" (http://peerconomy.org) is a must-read in this respect.
On a more general level one can say, that peer economy having extended
into the physical sphere bases on the same principles as commons based
information goods. Thus, we will face similar confrontations. We will
have the old movements struggling with the old private property regime
on its grounds (wages etc.). However, they are not able to build
anything new. The new will be built outside the old relationships of
commodity, exchange, money etc. on the basis of commons created around
possession (and not property).
How can we establish possession based commons in an ocean of private
property, especially when it comes to physical goods, where each piece
has to be produced needing a constant flow of recources? Well, more or
less in the same way, as we did it in the information field: Build
projects being inside free of old relationships (no money, no exchange
etc.) and linked to the outside world having small interfaces
guaranteeing survival in an alien environment. Concerning information
goods this means, that living is earned within the old relationships,
say as a programmer in a company (or being an own company, this doesn't
matter), where the free software projects internal self-organization is
free of it. More or less. Of course, there are mixed forms
(singly/doubly free), however, due to analytical purposes I neglect
them. This means, that the interface between the commodity world and
the free world goes right through any person participating in commons
based peer projects.
The "interface design" will be different with physical goods. Here, we
don't only have the problem of the survival of the individual and the
maintainance of the personal means of production, here we have the
requirement of a constant flow of money from the outside world into the
project as long as the project or a group of projects maintaining a
common distribution pool is not able to provide with the necessary
recources themselves. [Remark: "outside" is meant purely logical, not
physical, it can be anywhere.] The goal is to increase the inner area
of the projects being free from the outside relationships and
minimizing the interface to the commodity world. Again, Christian is
writing about the inner relationships being free from exchange, market,
money etc. based on effort sharing, so I can skip this here.
There have been some discussions and ideas in the (german part of the)
keimform blog concerning the "interface problem", which I refer to here
Benni proposes a basic income as a precondition of starting physical
peer projects meeting the requirements described above. He developed
three conditions for a start: (1) It has to be a field being dominated
by monopolist, because monopolists are slow and one can hope to get
support from competitors of the monopolist (the MS scheme); (2) it must
be a field, which can be organized decentrally with a minimum
investment and being able to out-cooperate the monopolist; (3) it must
be a field with a vital interest of capitalism, maybe something in the
StefanMz wants to have a wide debate to generate new ideas about how to
handle this problem, because there are lots of problems in the detail:
How to prevent from commodity logics affecting inner relationships? How
to prevent, that products from the inside peer production are not used
inside, but sold outside? How to deal with the free rider problem? How
to organize the leaving of the project? What about forks? How can be
secured, that all means of a project remain in the commons (as common
possession) and cannot be sold (as property)? etc.
Christian proposed two money collecting mechanisms to organize such a
physical peer production based on his model. First, a person gives
money into the project and estimates self, what amount of weighed labor
this money represents. Second, bringing money into the project is one
of many tasks, where its labor weight is built using the same auction
mechanism as it is done for all other tasks.
Ok, let us assume for a while, that we have running commons based peer
projects for physical goods, sharing the goods between the projects and
project members where ever possible (based on effort or what ever), and
using defined interfaces to the commodity world to get money, in order
to "import" productive means which cannot be produced self at this
time. Sounds similar to the situation of former state-capitalist
countries, but I skip dissussing differences. Let us assume, that this
extended germ form of a peer economy successfully challenges capitalism
on effiency and satisfying needs. What types of confrontation can
Discussing this question I want to refer to the five step model, roughly
described here: http://en.wiki.oekonux.org/StefanMeretz/GermformTheory
and in more detail here:
During steps 1 and 2 (emerging of the germ form and crisis of the old)
capitalism and private owners can more or less ignore the germ form of
a peer production being completely outside money-commodity-cycles. At
step 3 (extending of the germ form becoming an important dimension of
development, even for capitalism) some private owners can be interested
in extending the commons based production as a mean in the competition
with others, especially monopolists. However, there is a difference to
information goods, say the case of IBM strongly supporting free
software to improve their market position against competitors. While
commons based information goods can be used by private owned companies
acting as cost reducers, this is different with physical goods: they
can only be used inside the commons realm. Thus, here the
anti-monopolist effect is weaker than within the information commons.
However, a real threat for capitalism does not appear at this stage.
This changes when moving to the 4th step, where the new way of
producing, the peer economy, becomes dominant. This process can be done
by drying out the markets and replacing them by the non-monetary based
forms of the commons based peer production. Thus can lead to some
anger, but it doesn't really touches the old logics: Anybody, who
wants, can play capitalism further on using markets that are shrinking.
What about private property? Well, the peer economy buys capitalism out
consecutively. It takes over means of production when they are no
longer useful for profit making. The more they take over, the lower
will be the prices. Again, this process of buy-out can lead to some
anger, but there is no necessity for a direct confrontation with
capitalists on their ground. Well, it may be the case, that workers
take over a dying factory and introduce it into the peer economy, but
this will not be the general case. Maybe when capilism is collapsing
and peer economy is strong enough to absorb lost people and factory.
Another potentially bigger danger can be the confrontation with states,
but I assume, that the political system changes too, so that such
conflicts can be handled piecefully (very optimistic).
This is all fiction, science fiction in the sense to mobilize our
imagination where to go. The basic idea is to transform private
property into commons based possession for peer production. Not by a
violent act, not by a state act, but by a step by step buy-out or maybe
by donation. This scenario does not play the old game on the old
fundament of commodity, exchange, money etc., but it open up a new play
ground by establishing new relationships between the acting people
based on their needs.
But who could believe that a system based on
private ownership [one should say *excluding* ownership]
defended by coercion will accept to disappear - or to fade -
Well, the most soft way can only be establishing an *including*
process based on commons. This is yet the way free software
The problem is how to put material means of production into the
commons. For software and free-reproducible means of production that
is relatively easier, which explains the success of free software.
But things are different with material means of production.
One could imagine some contributions of small, or "cheap" material
goods being put into the commons from individual (or maybe
corporations?) donations. But things are different when dealing with,
for example, means to produce computers, or the infrastructure of the
Internet, or the land... etc.
Yep, I hope I could sketch a scenario how this can come. This would be
the "big soci(et)al change" of what Annette ist taking about:
I remember the Annette Schlemm's text, in the Oekonux site,"Das
Utopishe Klo", where she situates her story after the "Große
Gesellschaftliche Wende", the "big social change". The text doesn't
give any precision about the meaning of this concept. But I can
imagine that it was an expression of awareness of that reality.
In a perspective of peer production extension to material goods, the
question of ownership of material means of production is posed since
the beginning, even in an incipient form.I don't mean that nothing is
possible in that domain. But I think it is useful to be aware of the
inevitable limits and the long term perspectives.
Start here: www.meretz.de
Contact: projekt oekonux.de