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<nettime> The Communard Manifesto (1/2)
Felix Stalder on Tue, 2 Aug 2016 11:09:28 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The Communard Manifesto (1/2)


[This strikes me as the most advanced attempt to outline a historical
perspective on an emancipatory trajectory contained within the current
crisis. It's not simply a theoretical text, but a testimony to the scope
of vision driving the development of the Spanish "rebel cities".

The manifesto makes two key arguments. First, the two main social
institutions of our time -- the state and the markets -- are are
"decomposing". As a consequence, ever more economic activity is devoted
to rent-seeking rather than production, leaving ever greater numbers of
people as "exiles" from the still dominant society (and open to
destructive communities of nationalists, racists and jihadists).

Second, that technological (and organisational) advances have altered
ithe scale necessary to produce many necessary products and social
goods (think from atomic power-plants to solar panels). This enables
many of these goods to be produced outside the market (what they call
"p2p economy") and where the market remains necessary through "direct
economy" meaning ways of raising the necessary capital that does
not hand over control over the productive process to the owners of
capital.

It's a very long text, so I split it up in two mails in old nettime
tradition, but it's really worth reading in its entirety. Felix]



https://lasindias.com/the-communard-manifesto-html

Communard Manifesto

        The dilemma of our time
            Abundance within reach
            Inequality, unemployment and demoralization
            What is decomposing is not only the economic system, but
            what the human experience means
        Capitalism and its critics
            Capitalism shaped the world because, before changing the
            State, it was able to create a new form of human experience
            Revolutionaries that loved crises and large scales
        The history we weren’t told
            The new world will be born and affirmed inside the old
            New relationships, here and now
        Scale and scope
            From the era of economies of scale…
            …to the era of the inefficiencies of scale
            Today, capital is too big for the real productive scale…
            … and the optimal scale is approaching community dimensions
        Building abundance here and now
            Abundance has to do with production, not with consumption
            A scarce product in a decentralized network is abundant in 	
            a distributed network
            The “P2P mode of production” is the model for the
            production of abundance

(PART 2/"2)
            The two faces of productivity
            Artificially creating scarcity has become a way of life for
             over-scaled industry
            Abundance is the magic that shines through the “hacker
            ethic”
            The path of abundance does not mean producing less
            What will we do about the overuse of natural resources?
            Connecting the dots
        Conquer work, reconquer life
            To be unable to access work is to be in social exile
            There’s no self-realization without work
            To conquer work is reconquer life
        From adding to multiplying
            The scene will be urban
            The tasks of the communards
            You are the protagonist
        Appendix: concrete things you can do with this manifesto
            Expand the conversation
            Prepare to “make community”

To the friends in the Club de las Indias,
because we owe them the most valuable half of this manifesto.

To the communards of all times,
because their mistakes left us with the right questions.

To the new communards across the whole world,
because their enthusiasm brings us closer to the spirit of a time to come.

The dilemma of our time
Abundance within reach

Never before in History of humanity have technical capacities been as
potent and accessible to common people as today. The massive development
of the Internet through the ’90s profoundly changed ways of socializing,
sharing, and working. Wealth was created in places that were socially
and geographically peripheral by the hands of millions of small
producers that, for the first time, could effectively access other
markets and knowledge. In Asia alone, we saw hundreds of millions of
people escape misery, more than in the rest of the history of humanity.

As technological change became generational and social change, there
appeared more and more environments of abundance, free goods, new forms
of collaborative work and, above all, a new work ethic based on
knowledge, the creation of goods, and “de-alienation.” The “hacker
ethic,” as it was termed at the turn of the century, inspired the birth
of first universal public good to be intentionally constructed by our
species: free software, which, by itself, has meant a transfer of
knowledge and technology greater than all developmental aid from rich
countries.

And, yet, not even the other great crisis of the last hundred years—the
one that started with the “Crash of ’29″—created such discontent, such a
dark spirit, and so much widespread pessimism. Neither admonitions nor
hope work any longer to create attractive narratives. Well-being has
ceased to be a credible expectation of analysts’ predictions or
political parties’ options, whether old or new. All lines of contention
have been shown to be futile for the common people. We’re entering a
time in which no narrative can be believed if can’t demonstrate, here
and now, that it successfully allows a new generation to develop and
live decently through work.

Inequality, unemployment and demoralization

And, if anything has been really global over the last ten years, it’s
been the experience of social decomposition. It’s the same whether we
look in the most developed regions in the world or at emerging nations,
in the Mediterranean or in the South China Sea, in the English-speaking
world or in South America: society is more and more unequal, and the
differences quickly become cumulative. If you miss the train, you don’t
reach the destination.

In the most developed nations, the middle class has rediscovered
unemployment. New generations don’t even have access to work, or if they
do, it’s so precarious that it doesn’t let them experience the meaning
real of what they do. Work has ceased to be considered the center of
collective action, the origin of personal autonomy, and each person’s
contribution to society. In today’s popular culture, work is a scarce
good. There’s no lack of start-ups and NGOs that speculate with it, as
if it was a precious metal. Work, the necessary link between personal
effort and collective effort, is devalued to the limit, not only in the
market—reducing its piece of the pie compared to capital—but also
morally, in its public consideration and in its internal organization.
It has gone from being universally considered the center of social
organization to being perceived as facing extinction, from being
experienced as the basis of personal realization to being seen as a
source of anguish.

In a world where being able to contribute to the common well-being, work
is talked about as if it was a privilege, and the only way of building a
life seems to be getting rents. Rents are not just any income, but an
opportunistic and undeserved position, a extraordinary benefit produced
outside of the value that one contributes. Rents are the benefits
created by big businesses thanks to made-to-fit regulations or
monopolies that only exist by legal imposition, like intellectual
property. Rents are “incentives” that are decided on and inflated by the
same directors that receive them, or the consequences in cold, hard cash
of belonging to certain social spheres where certain positions and
contracts, public or private, can be accessed. Rents easily become
cumulative and create a spiral of inequality when access to information
and education depends on personal income, or when competition to assure
them is systematically restricted, as the State routinely does in key
sectors like energy, telecommunications or the media.

In a world of rents, everything looks like a zero-sum game, where one
wins because others lose. Distrust of everything and everyone,
institutions and people, is the norm. It shows an individualism of the
worst kind, for which life is senseless, and mere survival.
What is decomposing is not only the economic system, but what the human
experience means

It’s not just social cohesion that’s decomposing. The rules of the
economic system are decomposing, and with them, the human experience and
what it means to be human in our time. It’s the inability of the
economic system to create a future for everyone the that produces
loneliness and distrust of everyone; it’s the pettiness of a system in
which businesses depend on the benefits they get thanks to rents more
than selling their products, or on eliminating competitors more than
improve themselves, that produces lives of dependency, begging, and
voracity.

Never has there been so much wealth or so much knowledge as now and,
yet, far from feeling like both things give hope of abundance for
everyone, more and more people are afraid that this is a threat to
Nature, the same way they feel, day in and day out, like it’s a threat
to personal survival.

Capitalism and its critics

There were a time when capitalism transformed the world, bringing our
species closer to the abundance that, today, scares it so much. The
“cancer of business” took over from the old European societies, feudal
first and colonial centuries later, and smashed them from within in a
long process of almost six hundred years. Capitalism, which started off
as marginal—urban in a rural world, dynamic in a traditional society,
equalizing in a system in which identity was based on lineage and
origin—was revolutionary right from its first steps. In the city and its
markets, it created new lifestyles and mentalities, new forms of
knowledge, new freedoms, and new collective belongings.
Capitalism shaped the world because, before changing the State, it was
able to create a new form of human experience

Capitalism created a new form of human experience and, by doing so,
dynamited established relationships, its castes and its classes. It
wasn’t the work of a generation. It could only deploy its full potential
after centuries of evolution and entrenchment, of turning
fairs—temporary markets—into a large, permanent urban workshop and,
later, turning the guild craftsman into a factory worker under the thumb
of the merchant investor, who bought the materials and carried the
products to distant markets. It was only then that industrialization
made a profound social transformation out of what, until then, had only
been “tendencies.” It was the great revolutionary moment of the bourgeoisie.

In the first place, capitalism made a commodity of land, the principle
means of production of the times. In the process, the agrarian and
forest commons—the oldest and most widespread form of property—came to
occupy a marginal place. And, with it, the real community of the family,
the clan or the village, in which everyone knows each other by face and
name, because they are linked to them by interpersonal relationships and
affection. The vacuum was filled throughout the nineteenth century by
another innovation: the imagined community of the nation. “Imagined” not
because it was unreal, but because those who are considered its members
don’t know more than a tiny portion of the others, and have to imagine
the rest through common attributes, practices, values, and memories,
which are always debatable. Fraternity based on the friendship of
personal relationships and shared work will give way to an abstract
fraternity in search of a “common good” that the new social classes
linked to wage labor make a permanent part of social discourse.

Secondly, work became indistinguishable from whoever did it, because of
the homogenization of the processes in the new productive space of
society: the factory. The new relationship with work and, through it,
with society and nature, was impersonal and anonymous, and no longer had
to do with “being,” with lineage, or with geography. The vacuum created
by the dilution of the servant, the communard and the guild craftsman
was filled by a new abstract human type: the “individual.”

Although it may sound strange today, that whole advance—which allowed
humanity to grow in number, well-being, and knowledge like never
before—was produced thanks to making a commodity of everything that,
until then, had not been, like land, which hadn’t usually been rented or
sold, only possessed.

Even for the revolutionaries of the nineteenth century, it was
impossible to deny the progressive nature of the great works of
capitalism. They were well aware of how the industrial boom brought
Humanity towards abundance, increasing knowledge and its practical
consequence, technology. They were witnesses of the formidable
historical spectacle of a world in revolution where distances were cut,
the population multiplied, energy and water flowed in people’s houses
for the first time, and the most distant and closed empires saw their
walls give way before the onslaught of global commerce in manufacturing.
For the first time in history, humanity as such took on a real
existence: through new markets, we would all end up connected with
everyone throughout the world; and in the factory, the immense majority
of society would share a common experience—and therefore, would come to
be the same thing—to the rhythm of the new mechanical geniuses.
Capitalism, as they saw it, was preparing an egalitarian society through
equality of living conditions, work, and social relationships that that
it was, itself, expanding.

Revolutionaries that loved crises and large scales

But those revolutionaries saw something more: the growth of capitalism,
in the first place, wasn’t the least bit linear. Its crises, like all
prior crises, produced underconsumption (scandalous, miserable
situations for those excluded from production). But, in contrast to the
crises of agrarian societies, capitalist crises weren’t crises of
under-production, but of “over-production”: it’s not that the factories
couldn’t produce enough for the needs of all, it’s that the very dynamic
of the economic system made it impossible for them to sell it to the
great masses that needed it, because they didn’t have the money to buy
what was produced. Additionally, the revolutionaries asserted that all
this happened regularly, in cycles in which each decline necessarily led
to a confrontation between an ever-more concentrated group of owners and
an ever-more global and uniform class of workers. Everyone would
struggle in a large global revolution for control of the States that
held the social structures in place until, similar to what the
bourgeoisie of the eighteenth century did in the French Revolution, the
proletariat would take control of the State with one purpose: to direct
a massive process of decommodification, giving way to a society of
abundance where the essential purpose of production was to serve this or
that need, instead of being sold as objects and services for a price.

Marx and Kropotkin never proposed to to close the factories. They
thought that crises of overproduction signaled a limit of capitalism,
the limit at which the logic of the commodity clashed with human needs.
But they saw in the technology of mass production and in the
ever-greater scale of the businesses a reflection of the progress that
would lead the working class to “change the world from underneath.” They
thought that by eliminating the commodity nature of objects, the
“productive forces would be released,” which is to say, that
productivity would be developed even more, and with it knowledge,
well-being, etc. The very scale of production would also develop, until
it constituted a great global factory-State, so productive that it could
satisfy the material needs of all humanity with nothing more than
volunteer work.

Nothing of the sort happened. No “global revolution” took place. Since
1871, there were local and national revolutions in which communists and
anarchists looked for its first signs. Most were overthrown; none was
able to produce on a larger scale during the following cycle of growth
and crisis; and those that triumphed never brought about the
decommodification of production. On the contrary, they gave power to
repressive, totalitarian regimes, with very hierarchical and inefficient
nationalized economies and such low levels of well-being among workers
that they belied every delusion of the “liberation of productive
forces.” When the Soviet Union fell and China took its first steps
towards capitalism controlled by the Communist State, communism and
socialism were discredited as alternatives. In the ’90s, their place was
taken by “anti-capitalism,” which fluctuated between affirming that
another world was possible and denying that capitalism and the human
species could survive together, but avoided explaining how the former
would become real and what made the latter inevitable. To a certain
degree, this was the result of the sense of profound failure of
“alternative” thought that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
But, lacking a theory of its own, it would become an invertebrate
socialism, a “big no” into which anything and everything would fit. It
was, in a certain way, a leftism chastened by false socialist paradises,
hesitant when it came to describing any future society, and far removed
from any pretense of building functional models in the present.

La historia que no nos contaron

Decades before the first socialist and libertarian groups of any weight
were formed, an alternative trend had started down a long path with a
very different focus: communitarianism.

The new world will be born and affirmed inside the old

The basic idea of communitarianism is that the new world will be born
and grow inside the old. Profound changes in social and economic
relationships—system changes—are not the product of revolutions and
political changes. It happens the other way around: systemic political
changes are the expression of new forms of social organizing, new
values, and ways of working and living, that have reached enough
maturity to be able to establish a broad social consensus. As of a
certain point in development, a “competition between systems” is
established. The new forms, until then valid only for a small minority,
begin to seem to be the only ones capable of offering a better future
for the large majority. Little by little, they expand their spectrum and
their number, encompassing and transforming broader and broader social
spaces, and become the center of the economy, reconfiguring the
cultural, ideological, and legal basis of society from within.

For communitarians, egalitarian forms should accompany capitalism in its
evolution as a parallel society, not as a utopia—the promise of a
society to come—except as a heterotopia: a different, alternative social
place, with values and ways of its own. At first, they do it from
behind, through learning, utilization and re-elaboration of existing
technology and, as of a certain point, entering in competition with it.
This perspective was called “constructive socialism.”

The first objective was always to show the feasibility of a
decommodified life, “here and now,” on any scale. Communitarianism is
not centered on creating political parties, but networks of small
productive egalitarian communities. The maxim of economic organization
comes to be “from each according to their abilities, to each according
to their needs”: communities of goods, revenue, and savings are
established, production is organized by consensus, and from the
beginning, the highest diversification is sought to serve the diversity
of personal needs and gain autonomy for all.
New relationships, here and now

From 1849 to today, egalitarian communities have always been working:
Icarian communities, Russian artels, Israeli kibbutzim, US, Japanese, or
German egalitarian farms… They’ve been on practically all continents,
they’ve had different names and nuances in different times and places,
they’ve been through all manner of crises, and their members have made
enormous sacrifices. In place of the centrality of the class nature of
the collectivist narrative, they wrote a story of their community and
their experience, which gave substance to the central idea of
constructive socialism: building—here and now, within the community and
between it and its surroundings—social and economic relationships that
are desired or postulated as valid alternatives to the existing
socioeconomic system, without delegating power to parties or
organizational structures outside of the communities themselves. Without
thinking of themselves as “experimental” or having detailed “roadmaps,”
they have created a heritage and a culture themselves, little by little.
They are the seeds of a society of abundance.

In the framework of the young and expansive capitalism of the nineteenth
century, or the capitalism of technological revolution and permanent war
that followed up through the present, if these “decommodified islets”
want to maintain their autonomy and approach abundance, they have to
enter the market: to live without needing money at all within the
community, they must learn to think like merchants outside of it. It’s
no contradiction: being in the market is the only way to not lose the
technological pace of the system they want to overcome. But, at the same
time, it’s the way to bring the first cultural and technological fruits
of the new society to the old society. It is, in many senses—including
the moral, since it aspires to expand the improvement in living
conditions to more people—the first step towards a competition between
systems.

The bourgeoisie, in its medieval infancy, introduced the revolutionary
principle of equality of origin and a few technological improvements
that expressed their vision of the world into some small spaces in
feudal society. All of them happened far from the center of the
production of value at the time, the fields. The medieval commercial
bourgeoisie invented important things, but eccentric for the times, like
the check, the letter of exchange, and double-entry accounting. In
contrast, communitarianism demonstrated from the first day the
feasibility of an economic organization thought of in terms of the
needs. It was the first to make a reality of equality in spite of
differences in gender or social or geographical origin, and across the
20th century, left a series of pioneering technologies: weatherization
and sanitation in popular housing; the improvement of agricultural
productivity, like drip irrigation, seed improvement, or the scientific
management of dairy facilities; the development of free software for
distributed networks; and the first analytical tools for public
intelligence. These are innovations that continue to be significant and
closer and closer to the productive core of the economic system.

In what little we’ve seen of twenty-first century, that sense of a
cultural and technological “membrane” between the past and the future,
between capitalist society and the small, decommodified space of
egalitarian communities, has become even more clear. The appearance of
new ways of producing based on new forms of communal property—like free
software—and distributed communication architectures—linked directly to
decommodification and the creation of abundance—put forth the notion
that we are on the threshold of a new phase in which we will be able to
change the nature of that competition between systems.

But, above all, what justifies a new time for the development of
communitarianism is an irreversible economic change that has been
imposed gradually: the reduction of the optimal scales of production.
This decline in the optimal productive scale explains the deep trends
that have produced the current economic crises, and why the political
and corporate responses are often times counterproductive. And any
alternative is not centered on social class or the nation, but on community.

Scale and scope

The optimum scale is most efficient dimension of the productive units of
a society, the size as of which inefficiencies created by having to
manage the excessive size of those units exceeds the benefit produced by
being a little bigger. For each dimension of the market and each
technological level, there exists an optimal scale of production, and it
turns out to be easy to understand that, in principle, technological
development reduces the optimal dimensions, because the better the
technology, the fewer resources—work hours, capital and raw material—are
needed to produce the same quantity of products.

From the era of economies of scale…

During the height of capitalism, in the 19th century, between British
imperialism’s bet on free trade, American expansion, European
unifications and the revolutions in transportation—the clipper, the
railroad, and steamboats—markets grew much faster than productivity. The
optimum size always remained out of reach, and capital to reach it was
always scarce. It was the Golden Age, and it saw the most authentic of
joint-stock companies: gigantic collective efforts that brought together
the savings of tens of thousands of small savers and capitalists to put
whole countries into production, to charter faster and faster boats, lay
telegraph cables across oceans, or cross continents from end to end with
railways.

For a long time, the continuous growth of scale seemed to confirm the
Marxists, Kropotkinists, and social democrats. In all of their economic
models, underneath the permanent expansive dynamic of capitalism, there
was the need to reduce prices by increasing production per hour to
survive competition and even—if the owner was the first to incorporate
new machines or technologies—get extraordinary benefits while other
factories adapted. Every time productive capacity increases, the benefit
that each unit of product contributes is reduced, so to maintain or
increase the total benefit, the owner has to produce even more quantity,
which requires the incorporation of new machines and processes to reach
a still-greater scale. Finally, according to these authors, when
production approaches or even exceeds the potential size of the market,
crises of overproduction erupt.

This model, described for the first time by Marx, is known as “law of
the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.” For decades, Marxist
economists repeated the mantra that “the decreasing tendency of the rate
of profit is compensated for with the increase in the mass of product”
and took for granted that each cycle of growth and crisis would begin
with a greater scale and would increase it further still. Accordingly,
capitalism was on the path to create big businesses, true global
monopolies in each and every industrial and consumption market, which
fit like a glove both with the quasi-religious Marxist vision of a
great, revolutionary, global Armageddon between the proletariat and the
bourgeoisie, and with the social-democratic vision that socialism would
be the result of the nationalization of the great industries by the
democratic state as they reached critical sizes.

However, underneath both models, revolutionary and
reformist-nationalizing, was a presumption that would soon be shown to
be erroneous: that in each cycle, greater effective demand would appear.
It’s obvious that the average scale of the businesses in the capitalist
world would not increase unless owners could foresee a growing volume of
demand, because with demand that was not growing globally, if they could
produce the same thing with fewer resources, they weren’t going to
increase scale, but reduce it.

At time when Marx was writing his economic theory—in fact, for almost
the entire 19th century—that extraordinary demand came largely from the
incorporation of Asia and Africa into the world market. Colonialism, by
subjugating backward economies and tearing down trade barriers for
British and French products, continuously increased the demand for
manufactured products, overcoming the tendency to reduce the size of the
productive units that drove technological development.

…to the era of the inefficiencies of scale

We could put the date of the change at 1914. Twenty years after the
colonial division of Africa among the great industrial powers at the
Berlin Conference, the expectation that new, extra-capitalist markets
would join those of the great powers had already dissipated. Territorial
tensions in Europe reflected the rigidity of the delimitation of
colonial borders. The war that was about to break out was a “world war”
precisely because it meant the end of the first stage of the
configuration of a unified global market. Marxist prophecies were coming
true. The crisis of ’29 would seem to corroborate them. However, from
there—through another World War, the processes of decolonization in
Africa and Asia, and a very long Cold War—the evidence set about
dismantling the idea that capitalism was constantly evolving towards
increases in the scale of businesses.

In fact, big national businesses—which flourished at the beginning of
the twentieth century, after the war—were only central in the socialist
countries and for some nationalist regimes in backward nations. Both in
them and in the developed world, where they briefly flourished as a tool
of post-war reconstruction, they were not the “spontaneous” result of
the evolution of markets. In every case, they were a shortcut to get
production underway and reinvigorate industry after the enormous
destruction left by the crisis and war. But they soon reached a ceiling,
especially in the framework of the planned economies for which they had
become a banner. In each new phase of technological development, Big
State Businesses increased inefficiencies and their costs, which, in an
authoritarian and centralized system, would spread with extraordinary
speed across the economic system. The USSR, which promised to “overtake
the USA” in the middle of the ’60s, entered into a crisis by the ’70s,
and into open decomposition in the ’80s.

In the Western bloc, not even the largest multinationals had dimensions
comparable to the great State dinosaurs of the USSR, and yet the weight
of the inefficiencies of scale started to be obvious by the mid ’50s.
That was when economist Kenneth Boulding called attention to problems of
communication, management, and control in large, pyramidal
organizations. Boulding also warned that, given the size and weight of
certain companies in the economic system and their effect on employment,
inefficiencies threatened to spread to the whole economy through the
state, since over-scaled businesses competed to “capture it” and to make
up for the costs of inefficiencies due to over-scaling with rents
resulting from tailor-made regulations.

Following Boulding’s warnings, technological research then became
centered on information science and data management, on communications,
and on forms of work. The “information revolution” that started at that
time was the first line of defense against the effects of of
over-scaling. It wasn’t enough, however. In the middle of the ’70s, it
became obvious in Europe—and not only there—that the State of the
postwar period, captured by big businesses and sectoral interests, was
effectively unviable.

This was when the set of policies called “neoliberalism” was designed.
It was basically an attempt to confront the results of over-scaling in
the other possible way: by expanding markets. What’s original about
neoliberalism is that not only does it extend markets in space—through
reduction of tariff barriers and creation of free-trade zones—but also
over time, with the use of new tools such as “financialization.”
Today, capital is too big for the real productive scale…

It’s well known how financial innovations and deregulation came together
to lay the foundations for the global crisis of 2008. What’s less
discussed is that in the same “exuberance of capital” that preceded the
crash, a problem of excessive scale was manifested. Investment
exuberance is a mass mirage produced by the hopelessness of investors
who can’t find a place for their capital.

Also, this problem, already endemic, was multiplied by the capture of
the State and of the market itself by banks. The State had deregulated
financial activity for the benefit of the big banks beyond a reasonable
point. State agencies were powerless, and often conditioned or seduced
by pressure from institutions that were considered “systemic,” and had
turned “too big to fail” into a pirate flag. And not even the market
could act as a counterweight. With ratings agencies captured by their
own customers—and distributing hyper-optimistic descriptions—the mass of
small investors could only follow the great tendencies of capital as an
independent indicator. The trouble is that that movement wasn’t
independent at all, since the same financial groups were channeling it.
The result is a system that, even in midst of the crash, they contained
their damage by abusing asymmetries of information and their power to
set prices at the expense of their own customers. Today, eight years
after the fall of Lehman Brothers, that system remains basically intact.

The root of the problem was that the financial system was also suffering
form the inefficiencies of over-scaling: the amounts of capital were too
large in relation to real, productive businesses for anyone to pay
attention to the reality of the investments; and even to find interest
in investing in a scale that was known to be really productive. The
problem to solve was—and is— “placing” big piles of capital that
couldn’t, and can’t, find enough projects of their size.

Over the last two decades, it’s become common to hear complaints in the
economic press that fewer new large industries that justify grandiose
investments are appearing than in prior periods.

The attempt to solve this that arrived with neoliberalism was to
“financialize” whole markets: to “package” risks—to “dissolve” some from
over here with some from over there—and create abstractions of value to
bet, more than invest, those huge amounts of capital. Enron, the
business that made financialization its flagship product, made it
possible to invest in things like “Megabit of bandwidth installed” or
“Megawatt consumed,” showing that not even telcoms and energy companies
were capable of meeting the need to place large masses of capital on
their own. And the famous mortgage derivatives, which were at the center
of the crisis in 2008, showed that the construction sector had also
become too small for the scale of capital that wanted to cast its lot
with it.

The crisis of 2008 made clear the origin of the “decomposition” with
which we begin this manifesto: the simultaneous destruction of the two
main social institutions, the State and the market, by the hunger for
rents of over-scaled companies—and financial companies are just the tip
of the iceberg—which see in them the only way to make up for their own
inefficiencies of scale. What everyone saw in the financial sector in
the years that followed the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, was later
seen with equal clarity in the dominant businesses in sectors as
apparently different as energy or agroindustry.

… and the optimal scale is approaching community dimensions

But if the result of neoliberal financial policies was object of a
profound public scrutiny, what does not usually receive so much
attention is how the information revolution joined the globalization of
commerce in goods with the reduction of optimal scales to create a whole
series of new productive forms. Surely the reason is that the first to
take advantage of it were thousands of Asian small businesspeople, the
true engines of the drastic reduction in global poverty. Only more than
a decade later, in the middle of a crisis, have the new models started
to reach Europe and America, driving a wave of sustained, small-scale,
entrepreneurial projects on a new technological base and often oriented
towards niche demands in the global market.

We can group these new forms around two broad trends: the “P2P mode of
production” and the “direct economy.” The P2P mode of production
replicates the free software model in all kinds of industries where
knowledge condensed into design, software, creativity, blueprints, etc.,
is central to the creation of value; and can accumulate in a “immaterial
universal commons” that can be improved, reformed, and used in
alternative ways for many kinds of different projects.

This multifunctionality of tools and value chains—which is what
economists call “scope”— is the key to the direct conomy, a way of
creating products created by small groups and launching them on global
markets by using, on the one hand, low-cost, adaptable, external
industrial chains and free software and, on the other, advance sales
systems or collaborative financing.

That is, before our eyes, before and after the large financial crisis, a
new kind of small-scale industry has developed, which is characterized
by being global and by getting capital and credit outside the financial
system, some in collaborative financing platforms, others announcing
their own pre-sales and getting donations in exchange for merchandising.
In fact, it’s an industry of “free” capital, which doesn’t have to give
up ownership of the business to the owners of capital because, on the
one hand, it reduces its needs by using publicly available technological
tools, like free software, and on the other, obtaining the little
capital it needs in the form of advance sales and donations.

Taken together, P2P production and the direct economy, two ways of
substituting scale with scope, are the leading edge of a productive
economy moving more and more quickly towards the reduction of scale.
That makes them essential to understanding why communitarianism has a
unique opportunity in the new century.

Building abundance here and now
Abundance has to do with production, not with consumption

Abundance is an economic concept in the setting of production, not
consumption. Abundance exists when an extra unit can be produced without
that meaning a perceptible increase in costs. For economists, it can be
reduced to a formula: “zero marginal cost.” In an ideal competitive
market, when the marginal cost is zero, that means that the prices that
would maximize the benefit to producers would also be zero.

Common sense would say then that the business would have no incentive to
continue producing. But really, just the opposite would happen. Although
the price of the product is zero, the interest of the producer is to
produce the maximum possible to dilute fixed costs as much as it can
among all units produced. It is at that theoretical moment, with zero
price, when a business stops thinking about the market and starts to
seek the maximization of meeting the human needs its products match.

That is, if the marginal cost approached zero, the products would be
“decommodified,” would stop being commodities that have to be sold,
because if they aren’t, that would create a new loss. As a consequence,
as of a certain level, anyone could enjoy as much as they need without
giving up anything, and the same rationality that orients the behavior
of the businesses towards the maximization of benefit would lead to an
economy centered on satisfying human needs: anyone could enjoy as much
as they need without giving up anything.

This does not mean that capitalism tends to be “decommodified” by the
mere effect of competition. But this extreme solution of a basic model
of economic analysis is, in any case, very illuminating.

In practice, abundance exists when the cost of producing one more unit
is negligible and, given a sensible calculation of potential demand, we
can do it indefinitely. For example: the cost of serving a web page or
an electronic book to one more user from our own server is, for all
practical purposes, zero.
A scarce product in a decentralized network is abundant in a distributed
network

We should say that this example would only be true within a definable
range of requests, but that if the number of people who want read our
book were to pass a certain critical point, we would have to increase
our bandwidth and the number of servers as well. So, if we look at it
over the long term, these cost increases should be attributed to the
units served. The marginal cost, the cost associated with the last copy
distributed, wouldn’t be zero. Abundance, in that case, would have been
just an illusion, a mirage, sort of like the cost of taking more person
to work in our car: it’s practically zero… until the seats run out. Once
the places are full, we need other car, or at least a bus ticket, for
each additional person we’d like to transport. The marginal cost, the
increase in costs for one more person, would be positive and easily
perceptible.

But in our example, an information good, this criticism would only be
true if the copies were distributed from a single server. If we share it
on a distributed network with other users who, by downloading it, make
it available to others in turn, each new download, each new user, will
mean a possible place for others to download more. The more people
download it, the less possibility there will be that, no matter how fast
or large increases in demand may be, that any member of the network
would have to increase their costs so that someone could download a new
copy.

This is doubtlessly the most important thing the Internet has taught us:
the same product that is abundant in a distributed network certainly
would not be in a centralized or decentralized network. And, conversely,
what is scarce in a centralized or decentralized network, can be
abundant in a distributed network.

This finding may seem limited, since with current technologies, it would
only affect intangible goods. But some of those intangibles—like
industrial design, hardware, or processes—are the motors of the increase
in productivity in physical goods and, since the world wars, the
percentage they represent of total value produced has only increased.
Their conversion into free goods can’t help but have a profound effect
on the whole productive system.

That’s how, for example, the creation of free software works, as does
the whole growing economy in general, the immense majority of it
decommodified, that we include under the label “the P2P mode of
production.” At the same time, the direct economy uses the results of
innovation outside the productive apparatus controlled by over-scaled
industries and the very over-scaled financial system, increasing
productivity in the manufacture of tangible goods and pushing scale even
farther downward.

The “P2P mode of production” is the model for the production of abundance

Although we are still far from general abundance, we have a model of the
production of abundance for intangible goods and innovation—the “P2P
mode of production.” This, in turn, feeds a sector, the direct economy,
that demonstrates enough productivity in the market to compete and beat
the industry “from the outside,” without the help of over-scaled
finance. That is, this new productive ecosystem is capable of competing
and gaining ground against a giant that enjoys the advantage of
extra-market rents, like customized regulations, grants, or patents.
We’re talking about the same extra-market rents that multiplied with
neoliberalism and which have produced the simultaneous erosion of state
and market, which is to say, social decomposition. So, just to
demonstrate that a productive alternative exists is already big news.

This social and productive space around the “new digital commons” or
simply, the “commons,” is today’s equivalent of the first cities and
markets of the medieval bourgeoisie, a space where new non-commercial
social relationships appeared, and the new logic, together with signs of
autonomy, begin to show a limited but direct impact on productivity.
Throughout the lower Middle Ages, the bourgeoisie was able to drive
those cities to turn them, first, into a big “urban workshop,” and
later, into “municipal democracies.” A similar historical task, now with
a society of abundance as the goal, is what lies ahead for communitarianism.

This is because this whole reduction of scales brings the optimum size
of productive units ever closer to the community dimension, and
therefore, points to community as the protagonist of a society of
abundance. And it is in community that we can understand why the
struggle to overcome a socioeconomic system cannot be proposed as an
electoral platform, revolutionary as it may be, but rather, happens in
the setting of more profound competition: productivity.

[End part 1/2]



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