[ note ]
reading the commons transition
on making sense of the P2P Foundation’s big document about making sense of a time of change
This is the first in a collection of posts intended to aid digestion of a document well worth reading but not, I’ve found, so easy to get into: the 2015 Commons Transition Plan written by P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens, building on research the group conducted under commission by the government of Ecuador. That research had to do with understanding the contours of ‘knowledge-based society’ and its emergence, or the potential for its emergence, as the country’s civil and economic life appeared to be evolving at the time of the study.
Emergence is perhaps a key to getting what this document is about. While it is ‘plan’ or ‘proposal,’ as its title and subheads indicate, it isn’t presented as what the reader might, in certain cultural contexts, feel prejudicially inclined to see as an idea of utopian transformation, a scheme for overwriting the known with the new and untried. It’s written rather to recommend groundwork for policy in support of societal transition it argues is already under way.
That isn’t to say the thinkers represented in the document aren’t calling for change. In fact, they see the world’s turning around from
the simple market/state duopoly and the false binary choices between ‘more market’ or ‘more state’
a commons-centric society in which a post-capitalist market and state are at the service of the citizens as commoners
as a matter of urgency. They think that move is already happening, on one hand, but they think too that it’s a move that needs to happen without delay. They call for it to be encouraged and given programmatic foundation, accordingly, by institutions with influence on and responsibility for societal functioning. The document is meant as a step to putting the institutional supports in place, a step that might accelerate the pace of needed change.
But it’s a step being taken in the context of largely contrary existing world-wide political and economic development. A good deal of the document is just about drawing the contrast between what they see the world as moving from and what they see it as moving — in some ways actually, in some ways potentially — toward. The document gives us the ‘from’ side in two parts, a ‘classical’ sort of capitalism and a ‘late’ sort of capitalism, together with the ‘to’ side, for which it uses a variety of terms, with some preference for positive terms like ‘commons-centric’ and ‘peer production’ over more negative terms like ‘post-capitalist.’ It’s useful to keep in mind from the outset that the ‘from’ side and the ‘to’ side are understood in this document to be thoroughly overlapping and co-involved. To a considerable extent, it’s an argument about how to see these relationships among opposed but co-existing forms of societal function and organization.
To fully appreciate what the document’s writers are after, though, again, this critical argumentation shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the practical ends in view. ‘The aim,’ Bauwens emphasizes at close of the short introductory section,
is not to remain in the analytical phase, but to craft localized adapted transitions that can also produce global convergences for action, and to build the social and political movements that can make it happen.