This is part 9 of a weekly series of articles to appear in the journal Critical Studies in Peer Production (CSPP). In the series I try to describe analytical patterns developed by the Oekonux Project since over ten years of research on Free Software and commons-based peer production. Please visit the introducing part for the background. Already released patterns: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Pattern 9: Beyond Politics
Since commons-based peer production is mainly about constructing a new mode of production, it is basically a non-political movement. Here, politics is understood as addressing the state and its institutions to demand changes in some desired direction. Such politics are based on interests which in capitalism are generally positioned against each other. If a society is structured along inclusion-exclusion patterns (see pattern 7), then it is necessary to organize common but partial interests in order to realize them at the expense of the common partial interests of others. In this sense commons are beyond politics, because they basically do not operate in the realm of interests but of needs.
It is important to distinguish between needs and interests. Needs have to be organized in the form of interests, if the usual mode of realization is the exclusion of the interests of others. Commons on the other hand are based on the variety of needs of their participants, which act as a source of creativity. The mediation of these different needs is part of the process of peer production. Thus, it is not necessary that participants additionally organize their needs as interests and try to implement them politically. Instead, they achieve this directly.
One aspect which makes this clear is the question of hierarchies. Usually hierarchies are part of capitalist commodity production. Therefore, a common left topic was to reject any hierarchies to avoid domination. This ignores the fact that hierarchies as such do not generate domination, but rather the function hierarchies have in a given context. In a company hierarchies express different interests, for example the interests of workers and of the management (cf. pattern 5). However, in a peer production project a hierarchy may express different levels of expertise or different responsibilities, which are shared by those who accept someone in a leading position. Being a maintainer does not mean following different interests at the expense of project members. Such a project would not prosper. On the contrary, a maintainer is keen to integrate as many active and competent members as possible. This does not avoid conflicts, but conflicts are solved on the common base of the project’s goals.
Commons-based peer production does not require to articulate people’s needs in the form of opposing interests and thus is beyond politics.