1.7 Commons Transition, how do we get there?

We’ve described a “Commons Transition” as a process that facilitates open, participatory input across society; a practice that gives higher priority to the needs of the people and environments affected by policy decisions, rather than to bureaucratic or market-based needs. We’ve offered examples of how Commons processes and P2P dynamics can reinforce each other to create self-regulating and sustainable systems of collaboration.

Commons-based peer production has been enabled by the digital revolution. Now, that revolution is returning to physical space. Communities around the world can use open digital knowledge commons to help design items that may then be manufactured locally (design global, manufacture local). These practices are less redundant and wasteful and more environmentally sustainable than the current model which relies, for example, on trademarked designs and fuel-intensive global shipping.

The principles of Open Cooperativism are being used by certain communities to create their own livelihoods. Other communities in our case studies are defending their political interests (and those of nature and civil society) through assemblies of the Commons, using forms of P2P politics.

The examples we offer here currently exist, albeit not in a well-coordinated system or as a self-identified movement. How can these practices be taken to the next level? How can we achieve higher levels of complexity in these networks, and build sufficient economic and political power? All of this might sound good, but could it add up to real, lasting change?

Our transition strategy is integrative rather than prescriptive. In other words, we build upon what already exists to share across disciplines and communities, without a detailed a rule book or map. Economic power increases through the pooling of resources. Political power spreads through the strengthening of extitutions, while also adapting our existing institutions to the practices of commoning.

As an economic strategy, commoners can deliberately distribute wealth towards the commons. This is a core action that counters extractive, profit-maximizing practices and entities. There are several approaches to this strategy. First is the mutualization of the digital commons (which includes knowledge, software and design). Another is the mutualization of shared manufacturing resources, physical spaces, mutual support and pre-distribution. This impulse toward pooling reflects a reawakened commitment to sharing and collaboration, acts which have been marginalized, even discouraged, in the dominant culture.

All of the above form a basis that can enable commoners to establish their own economic entities to sustain their communities and counter the effects of precarity, austerity and technological unemployment.

Open cooperatives — which are commons oriented, commons creating, multi-constituent and transnational — currently operate in a predatory political economy. Protection from enclosure, or hostile value capture, is essential. Copyfair licensing is meant to guard against this capture as open coops converge into larger, generative economic ecosystems through commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalitions. This form of licensing creates a kind of membrane that helps maintain the logic of the Commons within (what we call “value sovereignty”) while also considering how to interact with the larger market outside. Commons-Market interfaces can reverse the process of value capture toward rather than away from the Commons, through the strategies of Transvestment.

In parallel, a Commons Transition political strategy involves building counter-power at the city, regional and global levels. This is done by creating local institutions to give voice to regional, commons-oriented entrepreneurial coalitions through Chambers of the Commons, which could learn from each other transnationally and, ideally, develop a collective voice. Meanwhile, local or affinity-based associations of citizens and commoners can unite those who contribute to or maintain commons, material and immaterial, through Commons Assemblies. As with the Chambers of the Commons, these prefigurative political systems can crystallize transnationally, binding existing political movements (Pirate Parties, New Left, Greens) under the narrative of the Commons.

The goals are clear and the elements are already in place but the question remains: when will this Commons transition take place?

The sustenance of roughly two billion people worldwide depend on some form of natural resource commons, yet many of these remain unprotected and vulnerable, in danger of privatization or sale. It’s possible that an analogous number of individuals are co-creating shared resources online through digital platforms. These potentially massive affinity networks lack a common identifier or unifying vision, but we can see the logic of commoning as a shared thread.

History shows that political revolutions are not followed by deep reconfigurations of power. Instead, revolutions complete these reconfigurations. New movements or classes and their practices precede the social revolutions which make them more powerful, and their practices more dominant. How does that relate to the idea of a Commons transition? Ample data supports the prefigurative existence of commoners (growing in numbers) who are already at the forefront of this phase transition, making a very strong start.

Factor in the changing cultural expectations of millennials and post-millennials who expect meaningful engagement and work, requirements not well met in the current system. With work increasingly vulnerable under neoliberalism, the search for alternatives and the cultural force of P2P, self-organizing, and corresponding ways of thinking fuels the growth of commons-oriented networks and communities.

It is almost impossible to imagine a shift to sustainable circular economy practices under the current intellectual property driven, privatizing regime. Commons-based peer production is a model that could create a context of truly sustainable production. The watchwords are free, fair and sustainable, the three interrelated elements needed for a shift to more reasonable economy, polity and, ultimately, culture.

All of the above form a strategy for a Commons transition that offers a positive way out of the current crisis and a way to respond to the new demands of the commons-influenced generations. In fact, this Primer is full of case studies showing on the ground examples. The Commons and the prefigurative forms of a new value regime already exist. The commoners are already here, and they’re already commoning: The Commons transition has already begun.

If you agree and feel inspired to participate, read section 1.8, “How can I take part in the Commons Transition?”

Commons-based peer production was enabled by the digital revolution; now, that revolution is returning to physical space. Communities worldwide use open, digital knowledge commons to help design items to manufacture locally (design global, manufacture local). Open Cooperativism principles are used by communities to create their own livelihoods. Other communities in our case studies defend their political interests, and those of nature and civil society, through assemblies of the Commons, using forms of P2P politics. Together, all these elements create the necessary conditions for a Commons Transition to occur.