Society is composed of social relations. These form the structures that constitute it. Computer networks, like economic systems, then may be described in terms of social relations. Advocates of communism have long described communities of equals; peer-to-peer networks implement such relations in their architecture. Conversely, capitalism depends on privilege and control, features that, in computer networks, can only be engineered into centralized, client-server applications. Economic systems shape the networks they create, and as networks become more integral to every day life, are in turn shaped by them. It is then essential to produce a critical understanding of political economy in order to comprehend emerging trends in network topology and their social implications.
The history of the internet illustrates how this process has unfolded. The internet started as a network that embodied the relations of peer-to-peer communism; however, it has been re-shaped by capitalist finance into an inefficient and un-free client-server topology. The existence of peer-to-peer networks that allow producers to collaborate on a global scale has ushered in new forms of production. Such peer production has thus far been largely contained to non-tangible, immaterial creation, yet has the potential to be extended to material production and become a threat to the existence of capitalism. In order for this to take place, an alternative to venture capitalism needs to provide a means of acquiring and efficiently allocating the collectively owned material wealth required to build free networks and free societies.
We need venture communism, a form of struggle against the continued expansion of property-based capitalism, a model for worker self-organization inspired by the topology of peer-to-peer networks and the historical pastoral commons.
THE CONDITIONS OF THE WORKING CLASS ON THE INTERNET
The only way to change society is to produce and share differently.
Capitalism has its means of self-reproduction: venture capitalism. Through their access to the wealth that results from the continuous capture of surplus value, capitalists offer each new generation of innovators a chance to become a junior partner in their club by selling the future productive value of what they create in exchange for the present wealth they need to get started. The stolen, dead value of the past captures the unborn value of the future. Neither the innovators, nor any of the future workers in the organizations and industries they create, are able to retain the value of their contribution.
This ‘unretained’ value forms the wealth that goes on to capture the next wave of innovation. This captured wealth is applied by its private owners towards political control, to impose the interests of property owners on society at the expense of the interests of workers. For innovation to be born and allowed to develop in, and for, the common wealth, we need venture communism. We must develop ways to create and to reproduce commonsbased productive relationships.
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