P2P and Marxism III — The limits of P2P

Peer to peer

In the previous parts of this article, peer-to-peer production was presented as a radical new way of organising production and different from other forms of collaboration. Instead of following the instructions of a top-down hierarchy working in a competitive environment, which is the norm in most businesses, people who felt passionately about a particular project got together on a voluntary basis to create something that was available for anybody who wishes to use it, as long as they did not turn it into private property. That is, it remains in the commons.

They are involved in what has become known as distributed production – the aggregation of many small and geographically dispersed inputs coordinated through the internet. Solar production on individual houses, linked up through a ‘smart grid’ maximizing the efficiency, is an example of actual physical production organised in distributed production. It is also becoming a factor to be counted with. In Germany, on 25 May 2012, a Saturday, solar power reached a new record. It feed as much as 20 nuclear power stations into the German power grid, enough to satisfy 50% of the midday electricity demand.

The paradox is that the precondition for distributed production is centralisation, whether it be in the form of factories producing laptops or giant server halls or an integrated electricity grid where a decision has been taken to adopt a standard that allows the different parts of the grid to communicate with each other.

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P2P and Marxism II – How does P2P collaboration differ from other forms of collaboration?


Collaboration has existed before P2P production and many different forms continue to exist side by side with it. It could therefore be easy to dismiss P2P as nothing new under the sun. Yet that would be a mistake. Several things make P2P unique. In order to understand that it is worth comparing with other forms of collaboration.

The most common form of collaboration, outside the private sphere, exists at any workplace. Simply in order to get the work done people must collaborate. Superficially, it would be easy to identify the difference between P2P and other collaboration on the work place by saying that collaboration at a workplace is based upon bosses deciding and ‘creating’ a team. Formally speaking that is true, but in practice, collaboration at most workplaces is, like P2P, more of a bottom up collaboration.

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P2P & Marxism — the death of an old model

Image courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In order to change society it is necessary to understand it. Especially new phenomena that can give a hint as to what is in the making. One important new trend has been peer-to peer production, a new voluntary form of cooperation whose products are shared freely. Based on the previous discussion on this website, here is another contribution to the discussion.

The peer-to-peer movement has been accused of utopianism. While it is true that some pretty far fetched ideas exist in the movement (as in any movement), it is absurd to accuse something which has been developing by leaps and bounds in the past 10-15 years of being utopian.

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Peer-to-peer production and the coming of the commons

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. 

Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

New words expressing new concepts usually indicate stirrings at other levels of reality. So when we read of widespread ‘peer-to-peer’ activity (sharing without central authorities) and the spread of ‘open source’ (the mutuality of creativity), or come across seemingly paradoxical concepts such as ‘produsers’ (users producing value as they use), or entirely new concepts such as ‘phyles’ (transnational networks of small companies in which the values of the commons are predominant), we should find out about the innovations that old language does not capture.

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Peer-to-peer revolution — Challenging traditional capitalist business models

ID-10018651One could have long arguments over the exact definition of socialism if it’s posed as an abstract future-construction. However such a discussion will acquire different quality if we are to base it upon real processes which we can observe in the present reality which are already undermining and (or even outplacing in certain conditions) the established models.

Why not start with Wikipedia and other examples of so-called peer production that are challenging traditional hierarchical capitalist business models? Wikipedia is a profoundly anti-capitalist and even communist way of producing and distributing knowledge. It is based on the principle to each according to need, from each according to ability. The contributors or editors are not paid and the users are not charged, which again flies in the face of all capitalist logic. Furthermore, Wikipedia is egalitarian produced on the basis of horizontal reciprocities rather than hierarchical control.

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Peer(-to-peer) review of Marxism

Peer to peer

Marxists and peer-to-peer activists discuss about the new society.

The following is a revised transcript of a discussion that took place on May 3, 2012 between Michel Bauwens, Jonathan Clyne, Alex Dirmeier, Lena Hanno and Jean Lievens on peer-to-peer and Marxism.

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