New commons-based movement gains ground in Sweden and Germany
By Michel Bauwens
A new progressive majority can be created around free culture, respect for nature and its limits, the necessity of social justice, and free ethical enterpreneurship – all of which can create a new political majority for social change.
New social movements always start first as a new subculture, consisting of people who invent new social practices. The Swedish online filesharing communities that lay at the root of the Swedish Pirate Party simply consisted of music lovers who wanted to share their music and discoveries.
The sharing communities discovered that such sharing was actually illegal, because the feudal property modalities still attached to intellectual property (IP) do not give the user sovereignty over their acquired material, but subject it to a prohibition of sharing, in order to ensure a guaranteed income to global entertainment corporations.
At first, such communities do not directly attack the system that repressed their freedom to share, but they started building their own infrastructure, such as the new type of Creative Commons and other Copyleft licenses which legalize their right to share, as well as a whole technical infrastructure based on distributed filesharing, of which the Pirate Bay was the most notorious.
However, another stage in the evolution of a new social movement and culture is always inevitable. It is the moment when of discovery: in order to ensure their survival and development, political power is vital. It’s not enough to create new institutions on the margins of society; more effective defense mechanisms against the constant attacks of the dominant powers are a vital necessity.
Player #1: The Pirate Parties
Hence from this realization and evolution of filesharing consciousness, the Swedish Pirate Party was born under the leadership of Rick Falkvinge, the first party that expressed the necessity to defend and extend the new information commons, conscious of the need to change institutional realities and power structures to make such a thing possible. Their first success in Sweden set the stage for a second success in the local elections in Berlin. In both cases, the Pirate Party took the majority of the youth vote, making their victories the sign of a larger social revolution that is driven by the peer-to-peer (P2P) socialized youth.
In the case of Germany, under the leadership of people such as Andreas Baum, the party has clearly taken on a progressive agenda, and extended its commons approach not just to the digital commons, but to the physical commons, proposing free public transportation and a generalised basic income, which takes labour out of the sphere of being a freely traded commodity and turns it into a commons. Opinion polls predict support for the Pirate Party hovering around the ten to 12 per cent range, making their appearance in the next German parliament almost a certainty.
The importance of this can hardly be overrated. If the Pirates are needed to form a national coalition government, which is likely, Germany would no longer be a player in imposing further IP restrictions on behest of US conglomerates, and would equally certainly start dismantling already existing restrictions to a substantial degree. With dominant Germany out of the game, and Eastern European states already mostly opposed to further IP repression, this also means the end of any EU support for international IP strengthening. In other words, a victory of the German Pirate Party would actually be a global victory for the forces favouring information commons.
Player #2: The Greens
But there is much more to the story than that. Indeed, our civilization does not only suffer from artificial scarcities and enclosures imposed on the sharing of culture and science, it also suffers from a lack of recognition of the physical commons on which human life depends. Our societies suffer from being based on “pseudo-abundance”, a false belief that nature can be exploited infinitely without regard for its regenerative capacities. And who are the natural defenders of these ecological and natural commons? The Green Parties, which have also a substantial presence on the European political scene—especially in Germany.
An explicit commons-orientation of the Green Parties is still weak, and they still most favor state-based (such as carbon-taxes) or market-based solutions (cap and trade). Nevertheless, they are the defenders of the integrity of the natural commons, and, under the influence of think thanks such as the Heinrich Boll Foundation, are moving slowly but surely in the direction of more explicit commons-oriented approaches. Recently, the European Green Federation organised a very successful Commons conference.
This in my view, makes them a natural ally of the Pirates, although the German Greens are at present suffering from a leakage of their younger voters to the Pirate Party. Both parties also share a sociological commonality. The Greens are the party of the older knowledge workers, relatively well-off professionals, while the Pirates attract the precarious youth, who are now the majority of the new cohort of knowledge workers.
Player #3: Labour and social justice movements
A coalition of the commons between the defenders of the intellectual commons and the defenders of the natural commons would make enormous sense.
With one condition, however: that the coalition can be extended to the third major issue affecting the current social and political system—the existence of social inequity. Hence a coalition of the commons would naturally extend to those parties that stand for social justice and are historically connected with the traditional workers movements in industry and government. The choice here is between an alliance with the Social Democrats, which have long abandoned any pretense of offering a transformative alternative, but may still have relatively progressive factions in their midst, and the new parties of the more radical left, which also exist with quite strong followings in many European countries. To give a few examples, Germany has Die Linke and France saw the strong candidacy of M. Melenchon in the recent elections.
These parties represent, in fact, the third type of commons that we need. Apart from the informational commons that we create as humanity, and the physical commons that we inherit and must protect for future generations, there is the third type of physical commons that we are making ourselves, ie: the commons of our productive resources. This has always been the concern of labor-oriented parties and movements, which represent the population that is more active in the sphere of physical production, and therefore sociologically complements the social base of the Pirates and the Greens.
Both politically and economically, there is substantial movement that may shift these parties to more commons-friendly positions. There is indeed an increasing alignment of the left-leaning movements towards the commons. For example, the Occupy movement organised a Occupy Commons Forum and the World Social Forum will make the Commons a centrepiece of its approach to the Rio+20 conference in June. More than 40 European organizations met in Rome in February to discuss commons-oriented policy-making approaches.
Player #4: The Social Liberal Parties
An alliance between the Pirates, the Greens and Labor movements makes perfect sense, as it is based not just on common political themes (each movement has a priority orientation around one particular type of commons), but also sociologically, as each party reaches a different segment of the working population.
A final element of such a coalition can consist of progressive liberal forces, ie: social-liberal parties. For example, in Denmark, Minister of Culture Uffe Elbaek is known for his commons-friendly approaches. Such parties can represent the link with progressive and socially progressive enterpreneurs, which often create enterprises around shared innovation commons. Sociologically, this party represents the new middle classes creating the digitally savvy corporations of the emerging collaborative economy.
In this way, a new progressive majority can be created around free culture, respect for nature and its limits, the necessity of social justice, and free ethical enterpreneurship – all of which can create a new political majority for social change.
Michel Bauwens is the founder of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property. He has co-produced the 3-hour TV documentary Technocalyps with Frank Theys, and co-edited the two-volume book on anthropology of digital society with Salvino Salvaggio. Michel is a founding member of the Commons Strategies Group and has created two internet start-ups.
This first appeared on the Al Jazeera website