Academic journal article Capital & Class

Peer Production and Marxian Communism: Contours of a New Emerging Mode of Production

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Peer Production and Marxian Communism: Contours of a New Emerging Mode of Production

Article excerpt


The first section of this article discusses the emergence of PP's forms of property, modes of cooperation and distribution, highlighting the historical novelty and significance of these forms. The second section analysis PP, comparing it to Marx's definition of advanced communism. The third section aims at showing why PP is a new historical, though still emerging, mode of production, and not merely an epiphenomenon on the margins of capitalism. The fourth section deals with PP in the realm of material production. The fifth argues that PP can subvert capitalism only through a social revolution that transforms strategic means of production into commons. The article concludes with a few remarks on the contingency of such a revolution.

This article picks up many of the themes of the special issue of Capital & Class (issue 97, 2009, edited by Phoebe Moore and Athina Karatzogianni) on PP. While all contributors to the issue recognise the novelty of peer production, they differ in their evaluations of its relation to capitalism and its transformative capacities. Bauwens (2009) argues that although there is a symbiosis between PP and capitalism, the former may replace the latter. Orsi (2009) argues that PP (a gift economy), a state economy (public goods economy) and a market economy can be combined in a way that is beneficial to the majority of people. Dafermos and Soderberg (2009) argue that hacking is a form of class struggle that de-alienates labour.

Bohm and Land (2009) argue that creative-artistic labour may serve the interests of capital by reshaping the social in the image of capital. Moore and Taylor (2009), recognising the transformative capacity of PP, suggest that the volunteer work carried out in PP may serve the interest of post-Fordist capitalism. Karatzogianni and Michaelides (2009) highlight the roles of conflict and hierarchy in PP. Vaden and Suoranta (2009) argue that digital PP is currently circumscribed by capitalistic material production, and argue for a socialist transformation of society.

While acknowledging these contributions, this article has four distinctive features. First, it situates PP more explicitly in the framework of Marx's theory of modes of production and their revolutionary transformations, on the one hand, and his understanding of advanced communism, on the other. Second, while recognising the current links and symbiosis between capitalism and PP, it highlights the deeper contradiction between them. Third, it highlights the role of 3D printing for the development of material PP. Fourth, it argues that PP can overthrow capitalism only if the strategic means of production (land, major sources of energy and raw material, and major technical infrastructures) are transformed into commons.

Two groundbreaking revolutions: The origins of PP

Since the history of contemporary PP has already been covered by others (Weber 2004: 20-53, 94-127; Soderberg 2008: 15-26; Raymond 2001; Stallman 2002), here, I limit myself only to two defining moments of this history: namely, the invention of GPL (general public license) and free software (FS) by Richard Stallman in 1984, and the invention of the system of online voluntary cooperation by Linus Torvalds in 1991. I contend that these two inventions are major revolutions, and that they comprise the two main features of PP. Stallman invented the particular PP form of property rights, and Torvalds invented the PP mode of cooperation.

Let us start with Stallman's invention. Source code in software consists of humanreadable algorithms written in a programming language such as Python, Java, C, etc. Source code is translated into machine code (binaries), which computers can read and execute. It is extremely difficult, and indeed next to impossible, to modify, customise or add new features to a program without having the source code. Source code cannot be extracted from binaries, and therefore access to it is necessary in order to make any change in a program (Buckman and Gay 2002: 3-5). …

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