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Re: <nettime> [Networkedlabour] Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Eco
Brian Holmes on Tue, 30 Dec 2014 22:46:30 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> [Networkedlabour] Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy

Michel, Vasilis, how encouraging to receive your answers. I will read the texts you suggest, and I will respond to some of your remarks here.

For those who are interested in such things, I have surfed the long waves myself:


It is because I have looked into these ideas that I find the pragmatic and grounded optimism of the p2p foundation and its many associated constellations so useful. Apart from the dubious and compromised Rifkin, I just don't know anyone else with a forward-looking economic analysis that can actually chart a future for generous cooperative projects. I have been digging around in the notes to Part III of Future Scenarios and it's really a pleasure!

Michel and Vasilis, I do understand the position that you have taken:

who believes that the core condition for change is structural first,
i.e. a focus on  the new mode of production that is emerging, and that
is mostly embedded in the present political economy, but also starts to
show early sings of an 'organic system', i.e. that it can eventually
find the way to self-reproduce itself, and to create an accumulation of
the commons, to replace the system of accumulation of capital. What
interests us, me and Vasilis, are the specific parts of capitalism that
'react' to this emergence, i.e. the systemic logic of cognitive
capitalism (living off rents) that is now in part morphing to
netarchical capitalism, i.e. forms of capitalism which are entirely
geared, not to destroy the emergent commons, but to subsume it and
profit from it.

Indeed, the reason I'm so interested is twofold. First, by using free software and hanging out with activist hackers I was able to participate in a social alternative at the very heart of Neoliberal Informationalism's major infrastructure rollout, the Internet itself. And second, I now see elements of a possible future rollout, namely distributed energy and micromanufacturing, which could help people respond to the continuing decay of living conditions across the planet. I'd like to take part in that future.

had the 'sudden systemic crisis' of 2008, and the Depression that
followed it, but nowhere near enough of the political and institutional
changes that would be necessary to launch a new successful kondratieff
wave. So the wave will come (though probably after another
'aftershock'), it will incorporate 'green' and 'p2p-commons' aspects
subsumed in a new capitalist compact, but it will be weak and messy as
it will lack a new 'social compact'. On the plus side, it also gives the
counterforces time. ... What is to be done
right now is nothing less than a grand reconstruction of emancipatory
politics, aligned around the structural changes brought about by both
'subsumed' and 'organic' forms of peer production.

I totally agree with that assessment and wish you had stated it so clearly in the book. All the preceding major crises have included a "second shock," and it is certain that this one will, as financialized development is now punctuated by crashes roughly every ten years, ie at the end of every classic business cycle. If you think back to how it worked in the last wave, there were almost fifteen solid years of crisis from 1967 to 1982, then another ten years before the one really creative investment surge of the neoliberal cycle finally happened in the mid-1990's. So we are still in the middle of the crisis. And despite the depressing absence of institutionally codifiable alternatives there is material to work with, real experiences and productive dynamics that can serve as a basis for a better future. Now is the time to go forward.

However, people who think like us are written off as utopian, which is the experience I had with Multitudes and Autonomia more generally. We need to find more robust formulations, and we need to move away from an exclusive focus on the Internet. In Chicago, my art students would understand your concept of netarchical capitalism: they are confronted by it every day. But when you try to talk about that with anyone else in this huge city, no one gets it. Unlike, say, urban gardening, it is simply not part of their experience.

On that subject: you do say (in Chapter 2, not 1, sorry) that "The industrial mode of production is becoming obsolete, and the ânetworkâ is the main pattern of organizing production and socio-political relations." Of course that is true, to the extent that informationalism has reorganized the big monopoly sectors into global supply chains, which are indeed a networked form of organization. For example, the North American auto industry is spread out along a network of rail lines and freeways extending from Ontario, Canada, through Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City and Houston all the way down to greater Mexico City. Semi-finished products move up and down this system, with intrants from Latin America, Europe and Asia flowing in all the time. But the idea of "network" here does not have the same referents as it does on the next page, where there is a diagram showing "traditional proprietary capitalism" declining, neofeudal cognitive capitalism coccupying the center and mature peer production rising. There is a tremendous gap between the major, dominant forms of networked industrial production, which remain thoroughly proprietary, and the forms of cognitive or netarchical exploitation experienced mainly by a relatively small sector of precarious cultural workers. I do understand that you are interested in precisely those workers, because they are also the ones who have most immediately been attracted to peer production. But the general argument is weakened when you conflate two images of the networked or informational economy. That was my point, just constructive critique and I am glad you have taken it that way.

What we call for is in fact a new type of
industrialization, ie. open, distributed and solidary forms of
production, where 'what is heavy is local and what is light is global'.
In fact, we don't believe at all that " the only significant commodity
on the contemporary market is information"; we believe that information
is being de-commodified.We believe that in the new emergence
commons-driven economy, market activities develop around this
decommodified core, either in capitalist formats, as in the current free
software economy, or as we propose and is starting to happen, in
post-capitalist forms (market and non-market). We don't believe that at
this stage, these organic counter-forms of peer production can be
dominant, but we believe they can be significantly build and
strengthened, and form the basis of a new politics, just as the
cooperative movement formed the basis of emergent labour in the 19th

That is really well said! I think it's particularly true because, as you point out below, the neoliberal mode of governance has had such lousy results: global supply chains are literally an ecological disaster, they also have very negative effects on employment due to excessive automation, and they are psychically alienating because all the social relations are managed, securitized, and manipulated at great distances. Nonetheless, they are receiving huge investments right now, with the expansion of the Panama Canal, the introduction of Maersk's new Emma class freighters and the consequent dredging of ports all over the world to receive them, followed by the expansion of intermodal railyards, third-party logistics firms etc etc etc. Proprietary industrial capitalism is hardly on the decline, unfortunately. But its ascendant is killing us.

In my view, the make or break arena for peer production is not in Task Rabbit vs some LETS scheme of people exchanging haircuts for websites in Amsterdam or San Francisco (sorry for the caricature, but there is some truth there). The make or break arena is whether unemployed people in Detroit or Istanbul can build a cheap fuel-efficient car and an integrated off-the-grid permaculture house. Now, Jakob Rigi is right to protest against me lumping those two geographical references together, and it is true that they are not equal (though, Jakob, if you just look at pictures of inner-city Detroit you might change your mind a little). But I'd say that without the success of peer production within those two distinct but related types of situations, and without solidarity between them, the next long wave will be characterized, in energy, by natural gas and huge proprietary solar installations and wind farms; in manufacturing, by the introduction of distributed CNC prototyping into global supply chains; in culture, by the expansion of netarchical platforms; in finance, by Goldman Sachs; and in governance, by massive biometric securitization. I am sure you agree and I guess there could be some gain in explanatory power by extending the field of analysis to include the dominant phenomena along with the emergent ones.

Btw, I had the good fortune to meet people in inner-city Detroit who are working on a permaculture house and a Wikispeed car, and it kinda changed my whole perspective on the future.... It's Incite Focus, described pretty well here:


 I would strongly argue
that the rapidly accelerating ecological, climate and resource crisis
will severely weaken this paradigm. These transnational supply chains
are extremely unsustainable and so it becomes a necessity for
progressive politics for focus on smart re-industrialisation and
re-localisation of production. The triple internets of knowledge
resources, energy and manufacturing give a potential basis for a entire
new vision of production and industrialization. The de-industrialization
that neoliberalism wrought in the West is no fatality, and a very
fragile construct in ecological terms. We can't know if we succeed, but
we can't afford not to try, as the alternative is a chaotic
desintegration of the world system.

Even in the US, people are finally waking up to this kind of argument. In fact, they often find the ecological angle rather more persuasive than the insistence on a new growth wave, which only fascinates entrepreneurs. To create a credible and useful road map, I think one needs to cover all the bases, but in the right proportions, so as to address all the people who can usefully participate. It's a collective effort, necessarily.

What we are doing is not denying the old class struggle between capital
and labor, which continues to exist and operate, but to say that a new
type of class struggle is emerging, that between commoners and
netarchical capital. And we are saying, and of course you could dispute
this, that this new type of contradictions is the most pregnant for
social change, because it has in itself the seedform of the new. It is
the alliance between the old and new emancipatory forces, which is key
for social change.

The thing is to grow the alliance in all directions. At this point it is shocking how few people even care, how few people think about alternatives rather than some reiteration of the past. Whether in the social sciences, in community work, in left political parties, in art, in civil service, in charitable foundations, in ecological organizations - very few people seem ready to imagine how their practice could be inserted into the really existing economy, in a way that changes that economy, precisely to acheive their own goals. The danger is that the next growth wave, whenever it comes, will turn everyone's heads almost exactly the way the 1990s "Californian ideology" wave did, and squander what is probably the last chance to get our civilization off its dead-end track. The fact is, we don't need a "growth wave." We need enabling investments that can lay the basis for a move away from suicidal monopoly capitalism. How to achieve that is the riddle of the sphinx for the early 21st century.

solidarities, Brian

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