Peer to peer activity, copyfarleft, copysol license, mutuality of creativity, transnational communities of democratic enterprises, are few new words that are born from new ideas that are changing the world, today. These new ideas are not captured in old language. Similarly, when an old system is unable to integrate the new energy for production, new expressions of modes of production come into being. Such modes of production can coexist with old modes of production. In being so, they may be exploited by old processes, parallely exist or lay the foundation to a thorough social change.
Similar to the emergence of mercantile and factory methods of production in feudal order, a new proto mode of production is developing in the existing system. From GNU project to Wikipedia, from Cooperation jackson to C3N project, from variety of living commons to many learning commons are popping up in collaborative forms of organization and distributed places of production. We observe such examples developing within the existing system for a few years now not as a macro political alternative but as a commons-based micro production alternative. This existing system, with its periodical crises and facilitating evermore accumulation and appropriating with each recovery from a crisis, is facing limits in providing to the commoners. The bargaining power of the commoner is getting further decomposed. The question, we pursue, is whether, with development of commons based peer production, can we collectively produce a foundational capacity and relationships that can crack the political power of the old order.
Inadvertent mass production to achieve economies of scale with an amoral exploitation of natural commons have produced a considerable doubt on sustainability and longevity of the existing system among the commoners. The emergence of proto models of commons based production is an objective response from a subjective vacillation of existing order. Expanding and developing proto models of commons and creating more such value can help humanity move to economies of solidarity. Not only would such a model give cost advantage with commons infrastructure and networked producers but also, in a larger context of existing order, prerequisite of production changes from commodity to commons. By building such economies of solidarity we can deploy continuous measured quantitative effort towards a social change.
The commons, without foundational arrangements for protection can be immorally utilized by capital for its propogation. Commons is either a resource we derive from developing nature or produced by and for peers explicitly in a co-operative and non-exploitative logic. A new sect of exploitative logic can emerge from this - we can call it - the netarchical sect. This sect is not dependent on intellectual property rights, but on control and development of platforms where peers are invited to participate. The netarchical sect captures the value of peers’ social labour for the benefit of capital but not commons.
The peers on whose social labour the commons is created, can be full time workers employed by organizations producing commons or part-timers who are employed by the existing system. This makes the production of commons and existence of a netarchical sect interdependent, along with coexistence of new and old order. This paradox creates a social tension, where the new forces are directly in conflict with the old relations.
The position of commons can be strengthened by strong usage agreements. There are many copyleft licenses which protect commons. Such licenses encouraged many peers to join the production of commons. But, these licenses were unable to prevent the capture of commons’ value by capital. Peer Production license and Copyfarleft license are examples of new license forms among copyleft licenses which hold the General public license level protection to commons and further when a 3rd party with capital commercializes the commons, the 3rd party will be forced to compensate the peers through contribution to the fo undation or peers themselves via monetary means or equity. Also, the 3rd party should and must be an enterprise totally controlled by peers working in the enterprise. If profit is generated from paid employees, such a 3rd party will not be permitted to commercialize the commons under these licenses. Hence, the users of commons will thus be commons friendly or non-exploitative organizations only.
Such tight practices will escalate commons based production to a transitional mode from the existing system/order. We should scout for manufacturing organizations who value rewarding the real value creators for their organization but not those who vulture finance them and the value chain. Those organizations should be brought together with commonist aspects of intangible cooperation. Such interconnection will seed a progressive future.
Creativity of each for the benefit of all is an ultimate condition where we would like to see this journey of commons reach. This will be a long journey of conversion. What individual peers produce for exchange value, the planet together should produce for a use value. We shall explore what history taught us, what frameworks will put the drive together, what new forms of organized production can be envisaged, what competition with existing order should be won, which platform keeps us healthy in growth?
Commons encompasses all the developing matter surrounding humans and that commons produced by collective humans which are intended to be used by all. Land, water, air, forests, common arable lands etc make the list of developing matter. Common well, city parks, wikipedia, sharing machinery etc make the list of produce under commons. Every part of the world has commons instances since ancient times. Emergence and consolidation of private property in history occupied the commons space. Nevertheless, commons survived to this day in changing forms continuously.
In India, before the 1919-20 national upsurge, a huge rise in wood thefts was observed. The colonial government of Britain took over the common lands and controlled the leaf manures composting and wood for agriculture tools. People responded by claiming their right to commons. A popular nationalist song from that time puts forward the people’s point -
Similar was the case of a sugar factory in Challapalli, India. The peasants living in a radial distance of 30 KMs to Challapalli Sugar factory were denied the right to produce jaggery by the government. But, it was a common right of the commoners-peasants to produce any crop they wish. And, the Peasants in neighbouring villages such as Nimmagadda, Veluvolu etc., defied the restriction and produced jaggery as commons.
Hundreds of women in Nigeria, during the summer of 2003 seized the Chevron Escravos Oil Terminal, Women of the upland hamlets in Vietnam respond to metal fence enclosures around forest reserves, stopping them from obtaining vegetables, medicinal plants, bamboo shoots etc., the early modern history of Ireland where despoliation of plantations and settlement history of conquest in seventeenth century, destroyed the Gaolic order and denuded the landscape, in Amazon against the chain saw and bulldozer an enormous enclosure movement has risen, are very few of the many examples where the Commons were always a subject of plunder and commoners were in forefront of protecting it.https://www.linkedin.com/company/commonscollective/
Since the 1990s a new method of plunder on Commons has begun. The language of commons is appropriated for the service of capital. For eg. Rain forests were converted into ecological reserves on the pretext of protecting biodiversity and conserving the global commons. The indigenous populations which derived sustenance from theseforests were expelled. And, the access was given to only those who can pay via eco tourism. Pushing commodities to every corner of the society has been a necessary function of the existing order. By changing the language of commons, existing order tries to showcase commons as commodities. Creating trends by growing academic literature on the subject has been the order of the day. By equating co mmons to commodity, the existing order will be successful in appropriating its value. As the existing order goes into crises, it is realising the value of commons and is increasingly banking on it to revive itself.
In feudal order or before that land was a major Common resource used for production. Other common resources such as water is also part of the production process. We can observe that natural resources were the major common resource available during those times. Hence, any organized effort to produce from or protect commons was, essentially, about common governance of natural resources.
In the existing order, land and other common resources are appropriated by the capital. Hence, all the peers looking to produce are involuntarily dependent on capital for production or they should create solidarity structures. Such structures should help in organizing production differently from what is happening with control in the hands of capital i.e. the primary goal would be to help produce more commons for common good but not commodities. When commons are created, the consumption would also be with commonist aspect i.e. cooperative form unlike the fetishism we delve in as today. If Urban supplies, for e.g., a potential commons case, is also consolidated into commons, peers producing knowledge commons with cognitive labour can come out of their precariousness in life and continue producing more knowledge commons. Hence, with increasing inequalities, commoning every aspect of life becomes a necessity.
From these ideas about commons and production on its basis, an attempt at framing this production form’s characteristics is as follows -
Commons appear in both forms - intangible and tangible forms. Both the forms are produced by peers for their collective benefit without exploitation or benefit of the supply-chain/society.
The intangible commons, thus produced, are made available for consumption and perpetual production in copyfarleft licensing where use value is conditioned by perpetuity and exchange value is conditioned by reciprocity
Governance of commons should be democratic. It is required for the following purposes
Any commons, tangible or intangible, is part of a supply chain. The licensing of the commons, should ensure the supply-chain be open and shared.
When a wave of such commons network is scaled up, we can conclude, the seeds of a system beyond the existing order are sown and live.
Price of a commodity doesn’t necessarily reflect its value. The value is equivalent to the mean rate at which commodities exchange in a fairly advanced market exchange. For exchange to happen there should be two commodities and they should be equal in value. Also, there should be a unit to measure in quantitative terms but not qualitative terms, since, necessity of exchange when quality is same is beyond the scope of economics. Hence, these qualitatively different commodities are measured equal in quantitative terms. It is an equal quantity of an unknown. This unknown is labour. It is human labour in abstract that is common among all commodities. While concrete labor may differentiate which labor work we refer to - programmer, farmer, welder etc, atabstract level all have human labor embodied. Hence, value of a commodity is determined by homogenous human labor or socially necessary labour.
Similarly, commons are embodied by labour. Though Commons is not always produced with a purpose of exchange, Peers’ socially necessary labour goes into the making of commons. Unlike the production in existing order where social is restricted to space i.e. of a company, the ‘social’ in socially necessary labour for commons is constituted by various contributions. It’s thus necessary to analyse and understand the value of Commons, thereby, giving us a clear picture about the level of appropriation that happens on Commons. Wikipedia, the most famous of the knowledge commons we have today, is produced by peers contributing to it. It’s the intellect and cognitive labour of all the contributors that goes into the making of Wikipedia. GNU/Linux is another famous example of commons. It’s embodied by programmers’ labour continuously contributing for the last 37 years (by 2020) without any restriction on space and time. When we’re looking to value the GNU/Linux the basic units to construct the value will be socially necessary labour taken to produce it.
In understanding labor's embodiment in value, we should understand that value is not only an economic artifact but also a social relation. If exchange of commodities didn’t occur, the relation is non-existent. In the case of Commons too, labour acquires a social character. Social relation between peers is a drive for contributions in making commons. Similar to commodities, the Commons also have two fold character - Use value and exchange value. In general, commodities are produced for exchange. And when society together produces for its collective use-value (i.e. collective consumption) Commons occur.
In the case of commodities based business, the unpaid labor constitutes the surplus. Surplus as a concept should be looked at beyond its rudimentary sense i.e. whatever is left of social production after the consumption needs of the society. Whereas, in the case of commons, when used for private appropriation, all the labor is unpaid. Any profit earned from Commons is a classic case of socialization of production and appropriations of profits. It’s the peers who produce the Commons for their community’s purpose or collective purpose of the society, it’s the netarchicals who appropriate this commons value. The netarchicals also create platforms and lure the peers to contributeand create commons. The collective effort of the peers in creating commons is appropriated.
Take the case of today’s popular social networking website. It’s built on commons and continues to thrive on commons. All the technologies used to develop the software are free software technologies. They’re developed by the peers. Its backend servers are run on technologies spawned out from the commons paradigm and are very much licensed under commons paradigm. Above all, the content created for the website is by the community of users. The market capitalization/valuation of this company comes solely from the expectation of value that can be extracted from the commons technology and its community of users. This is a classical case of netarchicalism. It’s in this age of netarchical order that we’re seeing largest media company without a journalist as the news are pumped in by community of users, largest hotelier in the world doesn’t own a hotel room, but rents out a rooms of community of small owners, the world’s largest taxi provider doesn’t own a car, but provided a platform for community of drivers. Also, all these platforms are developed on technologies from commons paradigm. Netarchicalism is majorly built on the backs of the commons. The Commons have a lot to reclaim.
A human working in a company of existing order for his sustenance is exploited by alienation and appropriated of commons value he contributes to the future by mere existence. While the former is discussed in depth by many economists, let’s look to analyze the latter. Human life, today, which exists as a product of history, contributes to the value of the future. We, the current generation, inherit the value of historical social labour evolving over millennia as Commons (though distorted by existing order), make our contributions and create value for the future. That value created from commons, when belongs to commons, the value of the future should belong to Commons. But, by creating a pseudo need for hyper consumption or providing us below the necessities, the existing order forces us to get stuck in a vicious circle of credit. By credit, whose value are we made to spend today? It’s the value of the future. It’s the Commons. The existing order appropriates human life by extracting the value of the future (i.e. Commons). The commons will have to reclaim the future.
Capital measures the value purely on potential of extraction from labour. Such a method not only keeps us away from the real economy but also totally ignores a necessary dimension of social value. When we hear cries for a new value system, we get to learnabout examples such as the pollution rights to value nature’s services. Such examples only showcase that the existing order of capital’s horizons are inescapable. A Commons centric value system needs to be evolved where free and unrecognized labour of the peers spawns out a network of proto production units that show how an order beyond the existing order dominated by capital, looks like. We need that transfer from extractive models that enriches few at the cost of others to generative value models that enrich communities to which they’re applied. Such a shift is called value transition.
Across history the value has seen multitude of transitions with changes in modalities of exchange. Such transition from one form to another is as follows -
During the times of nomadic tribes resources were pooled from all the tribesmen and modality of exchange between different tribes as reciprocity was existing. Such exchanges created larger tribes.
Later, the state came into picture. The motto of ‘tax and redistribute’ was the modality of exchange between tribes, people and the state. Such an arrangement helped in creating large feudal empires
The next transition is where the market is the leading form of exchange. A global market system as the world economy has emerged.
The fourth transition is where the first modality of exchange (the one that is involved with pooling of resources) is integrated with the world economy.
In the above mentioned modalities of exchange, no single modality exists alone. In each modality, one or the other modality exists but in minority. Hence, the transition from one modality to another is nothing but struggle between modalities for dominance. So, for a transition from existing order dominated by capital to a system dominated by commons, just as the capital’s effort would be to commodify, the commons effort would be to commonify. Such efforts to commonify will ensure a value transition.
The roots of Commons come from the movement for freedom and renaissance against the feudal order prevalent in the world previously. Many philosophers and economists have theorized their ideas around Commons, its protection and propagation. Today, the discussion around the value transition towards Commons is happening with 3 schools of thought - Liberal, reformation and Post-capital structures
Liberal Theory of commons does not uphold the netarchical plunder of commons in the name of platform capitalism or shared economy. It advocates the peaceful coexistence of existing order under capital and Commons based productions. Their outlook defines that there are three sectors, one that of the public, another private and then theCommons sector. According to this theory private property rights are upheld. Here, the private property rights don’t mean any fixation to the individual rights, it can also be common property rights. The advocates of this theory see Commons as a rational choice. We know that rationality as an outlook is often linked to selfishness and opportunism. They further bolster their stand with the argument that economic behaviour has not always depended upon competition but also dependent on cooperative methods to address everyday issues.
Another set of people with the liberal theory of commons come from the digital space. With advent of Information and Communication technology, a model of commons based peer production with free software, wikipedia, and their success has brought a lot of attention. They believe that commons as an instance can enrich the values of liberal societies. They also see a limitation of extending this idea to physical society.
The reformists who believe in the reformist theory of commons would want to see Commons slowly replacing the existing order under capital in the long run. They feel that existing order around capital can be beaten in its own game with Commons i.e. through competition. They feel, as the technology can deliver more commons solutions and prove competitive in relation to existing order with the state as a partner.
They advocate the work on continuously expanding a network of peer-to-peer production lines and corresponding autonomy. Alike, the liberals, the reformists also see three modes of production, public, private and commons. With technological innovations coming out everyday and paving the way for easier work for humans, existing order under capital will regularly fall in crises. Traditional, cognitive order under capital and commons based peer production, compete with each other. They don’t have much hope for traditional mode as it reaches out to infinite growth in a finite world and it’s periodical crises proves it. The order under cognitive capital is split into modes that of Netarchical and distributed modes. The former exploits human cooperation by providing an extractive platform for production, the latter pushes everyone to become an individual capital owner and continue their trade and exchange. On a whole, order under cognitive capital increases the contradiction decentralized between peer to peer production and centralized profit accumulation. The decentralized peer to peer production will create a surplus of usevalue and minimize the necessity of exchange value. Thereby reducingprofit maximization. Hence, the reformists' idea is to expand the influence of peer to peer production and minimize the impact of order under capital.
Commons based peer production, in reformists’ perspective, is further divided into local commons and global commons. While the local commons is dominated by tangibility, the global commons is mostly intangible. Examples of local commons urban gardening movements, autonomous energy production, car sharing, care services, community land trusts etc. Examples of global commons are wikipedia, free software paradigm, blockchain technology, open manufacturing, open design etc. They see commons as an institutional restoration of communal sharing. They also pin up their hopes on having a partner state. It would boost the transition from the current order to Commons based order. Commonification of the public sector along with de-bureacratisation and bottom-up self management will further the cause of commons with a partner state. They further see the danger of commons being appropriated by capital with excessive intrusion of partner state. Hence, they propose various institutions at a translocal and transnational level.
1. Commons Chambers, representing commons oriented production units
2. Commons assembly, bringing commoners and citizens together
3. Commons Association, connecting commons oriented production units together
The post-capital theory aims at building a commons economy against and beyond the current order and placing the commons at a constant struggle with hegemony of capital. They put forward their argument for autonomous development of Commons.
Though we put our arguments for commons by showcasing various successes in intangible form such as wikipedia, free software paradigm etc., the truth is that without a commons becoming the central part in the tangible world, the commons in intangible world will remain non-autonomous and vulnerable to commodifications without a real shift from an order dominated by capital. The post-capital structure theorists argue that unless commons is put in a constant struggle against the capital, all the processes, cooperatives, commons production centers thus constructed, which only argue about surplus distribution but not exchange, will fall prey to commodification. They call forunconditional voluntary reciprocity that can bolster transition from an economy of money to a paradise beyond money, commodity, scarcity and state.
The conservative restrictions of commons by liberal theorists, a prolonged collaboration with state and defence with collective institutions put forward by reformists and the sudden surrender to autonomous commons put forward by post-capital structures theorists are three vantage points to look at the development of Commons. While the three methods only show a subjective contradiction between each other, an objective construction of theory towards transition would require each of these vantage points as concrete tactics depending upon the concrete conditions available at particular space and time. A liberal or a reformist tactic at point when commons based production can objectively sustain the living of peers would be a conservative and reactionary stand, while an autonomous/post-capital tactic when commons is part of a hybrid supply chain (i.e. both commons and commodities exist) will be a sectarian stand that restricts influence of commons. Commons set a context for social change, they cannot themselves by sectarian and be restricted to implementation of only one or the other theory. Whichever theory helps the concrete condition in expanding the influence of Commons and thereby having a context for dialogue and mass communication about social change such concrete tactic should be adopted.
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