reading the commons transition
on making sense of the P2P Foundation’s big document about making sense of a time of change
updated / altered : Oct 24 2018
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 recent team-conducted research in Ecuador, commissioned by its national government. That research had to do with understanding what’s conceived as ‘knowledge-based society’ and its emergence under current conditions of the country’s civil and economic life.
Emergence is perhaps a key to getting what this document is about. While it is ‘plan’ or ‘proposal,’ as title and section headings say plainly, it isn’t presented as what the reader might, in certain cultural contexts, feel a prejudicial inclination to take it for: an idea of utopian transformation, or a scheme for replacing the societal known with the new and untried. It’s presented rather as a set of recommendations for constructing policy based on broad societal transition its framers think to be, and will describe as, already under way.
That isn’t to say that 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 and that ought to be encouraged and given programmatic support, accordingly, by all sorts of institutions with influence on and responsibility for societal functioning. So the document is meant as a step to putting in place the kind of framework such institutional support would involve, a step that might accelerate the pace of needed change.
But it’s a step being taken in a global political and economic environment that runs largely counter to what they’re proposing ways of providing support to. A good deal of the document is just about drawing the contrast between what they see the world as moving from, then, and what they see it as moving — in some ways really and 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 in its two aspects 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 framers 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.’