Cyber-commoners, peer producers and the project of a post-capitalist transition

The third Heteropolitics report, authored by George Dafermos, delves more deeply into the literature of the digital commons: it attempts to elucidate the way in which the communities spearheading the development of the digital commons are constitutive of an alternative paradigm for the organization of economic, social and political life, which is claimed to have the potential to change the world.

The main argument in this Report reflects in a sense the trajectory of development of the digital commons literature over time. Its epicentre is the thesis that the digital commons are paradigmatic of a mode of production that has the potential to become dominant in the digital economy, paving thus the way for the institution of a new post-capitalist society. To probe into this thesis, the Report reviews the development of the literature on the digital commons over time. To begin with, it traces the origins of that thesis in the pioneering work of Yochai Benkler, which, in a sense, represents the birth of this literature field. The concept of ‘commons-based peer production’ appears for the first time in a 2002 article by Benkler, as well as the thesis that ‘peer production’ –which is how Benkler defines the mode of production characteristic of the digital commons– has the potential to hegemonize the digital economy. Our discussion of Benkler’s work brings to light the historical conditions underlying it: the growing visibility of the phenomenon of distributed free/open-source software development on the Internet by online communities.

Our main argument is that the political turn of peer production theorists to what is basically a hegemonic strategy for taking over the local State has indeed the potential to strengthen the struggle of commoners against the hegemony of Capital in the realm of systemic political institutions. It is a step in the right direction: commoners must act politically. Their struggle is not only economic, but also political. In that respect, the conclusions of this Report give support to peer production theorists’ revamped strategy: the economic struggle of the commoners and peer producers must be reinforced by their political praxis. However, despite its strengths, this strategy has one major weakness: it remains entrapped in the politics of hegemony. That is to say, the main weakness of the partner state strategy rests on the absence of a post-hegemonic vision that could serve as a roadmap for the transformation of state structures in accordance with the principles of the commons and peer production.

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