1.6 What are P2P Politics?

After 40 years of neoliberalization, the promised “end of history” envisioned by Francis Fukuyama has led to a decomposition of established hierarchical systems, including politics culminating in Brexit and Trump. While there are strong reactions against these imploding structures, the current of political change cannot be rewound. Neoliberalism cannot be restored. It is far more likely that alternatives based on the logic of networks and Peer to Peer will continue to emerge and build new systems.

While the most radical innovations in P2P politics are pioneered by prefigurative communities, these are always constrained by limitations imposed by the state, often in league with market interests. This is why changemakers must also engage with institutional politics to hack the system, or else allow the very real danger of fascism occupying the void left by the decay of the neoliberal order. There is no contradiction between autonomously building the alternatives we need right now and defending our capacity to do so by reinventing existing political channels. Both approaches, prefigurative and institutional, can work together, while bearing in mind that it may take time for the old guard to see the P2P future.

Male-dominated electoral options such as Podemos, Syriza or Bolivarian socialism play to the laborist nostalgia of the left without addressing contemporary trends in tech and culture, or offering viable or exciting visions for the future. Meanwhile, a much more exciting political process had its apex of media visibility in 2011: Occupy, 15-M and similar networked movements. Despite being disbanded (often forcibly) and declared dead by the media, these movements have proven to be quietly resilient.

The case of Spain is particularly interesting. Where Podemos failed to meet expectations, a large number of municipalist movements, initiated by 15-M activists in conjunction with existing political and social forces, triumphed in Spain’s major cities in the 2015 municipal elections. These “instrumental parties” run on participatory platforms with open primaries (a process where any person can present themselves to electoral lists, which are then voted on by the citizenship). In the case of Barcelona and Madrid, they were spearheaded by female candidates.

The municipalist parties now in power coordinate and share resources in ways similar to commons-based peer production projects. They use an ethical code that rejects revolving door policies and institutional or bank funding, while fostering participative programs, transparency, and salary cuts for those working within the institutions. But Spain’s municipalist coalitions are not alone. Progressive cities worldwide are listening to commoners’ voices and creating spaces for ordinary people to roll up their sleeves and manage matters that concern them. Cities like Ghent, Frome, Belo Horizonte, Naples, Montreal, Jackson, Lille, Valparaiso, and Bologna are examples.

The Commons movement needs to foster a sense of mutual recognition to emancipate itself from markets and state, as it radically re-imagines these through the logics of commoning. The burgeoning commons-oriented political movements described above can also self-organize in analogous Assemblies of the Commons. These would serve as a forum to exchange experiences, organize events, support the social and political forces that uphold the commons and engage in public-commons partnerships. One significant initiative in this regard has been the European Commons Assembly, a pan-European network of commoners engaged in political action.

The challenge now is to crystallize these practices at higher levels of complexity. The municipalist ethical code can serve as a kernel for transnational political coalitions following the practices of commons-based peer production. In this scenario, the state and other large institutions mimic the characteristics of non-profit foundations in CBPP projects. They enable the infrastructure of cooperation, in this case for value creation on the part of civil society, but do not direct the social stewardship process itself.

A P2P State, known as a Partner State, would radically democratize the provision of welfare beyond laborism while bolstering open cooperativism, commons-based peer production, and citizen self-management. It would also provide legal recognition for the act of commoning as it penalizes extractive rent-seeking practices. The Partner State would also be kept in check by participatory mechanisms and Extitutions, defined as self-organised political assemblies designed to maintain a balance between prefigurative politics and their institutional counterparts. If this sounds utopian, keep in mind that the Spanish (and other) municipalists carrying out many of these practises were regularly scoffed at before the elections, but ultimately triumphed.

Breaking the glass ceiling of politics and creating synergies between three currently unallied approaches to party politics requires initiatives like the extitutions described above. These political approaches also have respective correspondences to our demand for systems with specific qualities: Free (Pirate Parties), Fair (New Left parties), and Sustainable (Green Parties). The logic of the commons could be a catalyst for uniting these three political streams to harness their combined power and facilitate lasting change from below.

The combination of ecological system failure with rising inequality and social strife requires solutions which the current system has failed, and is unable, to provide.

Faced with mass unemployment and growing precarization, more segments of society are retreating from the ineffective mainstream political and state logic in search of socially and environmentally sound alternatives. As the expanding base of disenfranchised people self-organizes in commons-oriented P2P networks, new forms of living, livelihoods and solidarity can be prototyped and defended politically at local and transnational scales. The new political agent of change is neither the proletariat nor the precariat, but the commoner, an empowered figure fit for the challenges of our times.

Visions and Pathways 2040 Action Pathways from VEIL on Vimeo.

We know that history is not deterministic, but the greater the number of conscious commoners, the greater the likelihood that the Commons will be the new attractor for our cultural and political values. How can this be achieved? When does the Commons Transition begin? The next two entries offer an examination of possibilities and action plans.

Political alternatives based on the logic of networks and P2P are emerging and gaining attention. The greater the number of conscious commoners, the greater the likelihood that the commons will be the new attractor for our cultural and political values.

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