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Asymmetrical confederalism and the P2P mode of production

In any case, confederalism appears to be not only the best way to confront the manipulations of the state which are pushing harder and harder towards decomposition, but also to push the limits of pluriarchy, which is to say, of abundance as a way of life.

SMI UrrutiaConfederalism is nothing new in the history of radical democratic thought. From Prodhounian mutualism and its cantonalist sequel to the idea of subsidiarity in Hayek, different tendencies, both liberal and anarchist, have made the confederal principle their own.

The framework of the transition towards a P2P mode of production, however, requires a review of its bases. The progressive reduction of the optimal scale of production, which is the origin of the crisis, but also of the viability of the p2p alternatives, generates an inevitable conceptual tension between the universal nature of the commons and the local character of a growing part of production physical and distribution.

The autarchist and isolationist temptation quickly and inevitably appears, apparently leaving aside one of the most promising elements of the emergence of distributed networks: the erosion of old nation-state identities in favor of the appearance of new transnational identities. This way, the ever-closer possibility of the growth of an alternative mode of production can easily be captured by ideologies of scarcity and by the nationalist drift of some nation-states in inevitable decomposition.

Transnationality and commerce in a p2p world

But the truth is that, beyond the worrying signs of an increasingly widespread decomposition, the evolution of the transition towards a P2P mode of production has been accompanied by the appearance of new, deterritorialized, transnational, and even nomadic, communities. Among these, from China to Senegal, more and more are developing different forms of economic autonomy. Autonomy that the development of the P2P mode of production can’t help but reinforce. The first decades of the century are also a seminal stage for dozens of phyles we’ve been finding throughout the world.

Their role in the future will be anything but small. The p2p society will not disavow either commerce or mobility. It simply couldn’t do so without seriously compromising its capacity to generate well-being and social cohesion.

It’s true that the all-out search for huge scale for “financialization,” and especially massive speculation in raw materials, have gotten us used to very long, and often irrational, logistics chains. It’s also true that, for nearly two decades, breaks in the value chain and differences in wage costs caused a widespread stretching of industrial logistics chains based on the possibility of cheap transportation. This movement served to develop local capital on the periphery, which, as we’ve seen with the emergence of the “BRICS,” has lifted millions of people out of poverty. But for the same reason, now the tendency is the opposite: industry is “relocalizing,” and at a small, optimal scale.

But don’t be fooled: fortunately, cheap merchant transportation will continue to be a central reality. New generations of sails, which just five years ago allowed for only modest savings on fuel costs, today offer savings of 30% amortizable over 5 years or less, updating the use of turbosails. And that’s just the beginning. It won’t take long before new merchant fleets based on renewable energy revolutionize cost structures again.

Besides, looking past the catastrophist fallacies of degrowth, we can calmly say that the P2P mode of production will generate abundance, making distant resources available for local use. Even though, like Andean lithium, they are obviously finite, they allow for the possibility of widespread use for thousands of years. The revaluation of the local, freed from the imposition of gigantic scale with the objective of generating artificial scarcity, absolutely does not imply a new localist autarchism.

It’s illogical to think that transnationality will be limited to deliberative processes that generate the technological commons. In spite of decomposition, the transnationalization of global conversations continues to develop, building thousands of small conversational communities, some of which end up supporting their identity through an economy of their own.

If that process coincides, as it seems to be doing, with the development of a P2P industrial sector, the transnational will empower the local through identity communities that are capable of creating “continuums of freedoms and well-being” on top of the legacy of unequal development and of nation-states in regression. To put it simply: phyles will be vectors of communication, commerce, and the transnationalization of citizenship. The world that emerges from the transition towards a P2P mode of production a world that will be transnational and local at the same time, that does not deny globalization, but rather redefines it from the communal and local level.

Asymmetrical confederalism

It’s this framework that makes it possible to fully understand the importance of Juan Urrutia’s “asymmetrical confederalism.” While the emergence of the P2P mode of production could feed an isolationist provincialism, Urrutia’s model defines identity communities as subjects, which forces it open, in favor of citizenship based not just on vicinity, but also identity and corrected by the confederal idea. That is to say, paying attention not to the origin but to the vicinity in some settings, and in others, to indentity affiliation with deterritorialized and economically active communities which would be considered transnational subjects of law. Those who didn’t opt ​​for a nomadic life (also possible) would have a territorial citizenship, derived from their residence, and also, optionally, “citizenships based on personality.”

This new confederalism is necessarily “asymmetrical,” since designated powers are different in each area. There wouldn’t just be a “vertical” designation of the Prodhounian, cantonalist or Hayekian sort (city, region, state, etc.), but administration of the commons whose area alternatively affects what is clearly territorial (the vicinity) and those who share an autonomous economic project and a transnational conversation independent of territory. We’re not just talking about commercial networks or phyles, but about people who generate or depend on a common characteristic (a language, a kind of technology, a way of life, a certain kind of resources, etc.) and who understand that they need common institutions in a setting that transcends borders.

The world of asymmetrical confederalism largely has yet to be defined. It certainly goes far beyond the classical territorialist confederalism or how the science fiction of the Nineties foresaw it. It’s beginning to find advocates in some European citizens movements and partners in worlds with traditional confederalist visions. But its future will fundamentally depend on the course of the transition towards a P2P mode of production and on the role that phyles can play in it to build social cohesion beyond the territorial.

In any case, confederalism appears to be not only the best way to confront the manipulations of the state which are pushing harder and harder towards decomposition, but also to push the limits of pluriarchy, which is to say, of abundance as a way of life.

Translated by Steve Herrick of interpreters.coop from the original (in Spanish)

«Asymmetrical confederalism and the P2P mode of production» recibió 3 y 82, de los cuales desde que se publicó el May 31st, 2012 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte

  1. Poor Richard

    “The autarchist and isolationist temptation quickly and inevitably appears … emergence of the P2P mode of production could feed an isolationist provincialism…”

    I find that very unlikely in any general sense, because p2p production is rooted in commons and cooperative confederalism from its origins in free/open software and file sharing. Those interested in P2P production and sustainability today are unlikely to escape exposure to the growing emphasis on “think globally, act locally”, which is hardly an isolationist bias.

    “The progressive reduction of the optimal scale of production, which is the origin of the crisis…”

    Which crisis? If you mean a crisis for old-school industrialism, its about time.

    “…generates an inevitable conceptual tension between the universal nature of the commons and the local character of a growing part of production physical and distribution.”

    I think this “tension” is a straw man, unless its meant only to apply to conventional analytics in industrial economies. Otherwise, it reminds me of the “tragedy of the commons” mythology in which the commoners are assumed to be stupid, short-sighted thugs instead of pragmatic people who pursue enlightened self-interest by managing the commons in sustainable ways. IMHO the latter has been the rule in commons-based cultures rather than the exception.

    Poor Richard

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    • David de Ugarte

      Dear Richard, this assumptions you criticize -and you are probably correct- are an effort by our side to understand the sympathy for scarcity in the degrowth movement… we deeply reject. P2P mode of production probably will reduce figures in national accountancy -as maximum valor of use implies zero price in abundance- but P2P mode of production by no means will represent more scarcity nor reductions in world population. That was the focus of the ideas that call your attention.

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