Review of “Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto” of Michel Bauwens

In an unprecedented way Michel Bauwens hijacks the commons. While the commons practiced deliberative and participative democracy in the high middle ages, that weakened from the 16th century, we do not find any defense of alternatives for our faltering representative democracy in “Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto” of Michel Bauwens. No mentioning of the most recent experiments in deliberative democracy defended by David Van Reybroeck, applied in Ireland and Iceland. The “citizens’ assemblies” as proposed by Marcin Gerwin and adhered by Extinction Rebellion or “Red de Democratie” of Manu Claeys for the moderates do not figure in his picture of the future. P2P dominates his discourse.

One thing that strikes you when you start reading, is vagueness. Expressions as: “philosophers like Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas”, “approach is related to the theorization of ‘revolutionary reforms’ by Andre Gorz”, “The State (capitalized) in the Hegelian notion is the guarantor of the common good”… He also refers to some authors that excel in vagueness themselves: David Boillier, De Angelis, Hardt and Negri and Hegel of course, the philosopher of absolute idealism.

The wide spectrum of authors referenced surprises. Bauwens worked as a cybrarian, this might explain it, but there are to many extremes. Maybe the author wants to hook on as many readers as possible, a kind of eclectic universalism. Mentioning does not necessarily mean he backs the many points of view he presents, though it is suggested and for all he is not clear about it. Karl Marx for the leftist (who didn’t read him), the Dominicans Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas for the Christian community, David Graeber for the anarchists, Schumpeter for the libertarians, Jeremy Rifkin for the utopians…

When Michel Bauwens refers to valuable research he mistreats the work of the researchers, cherry picking and stretching the meaning of concepts until they become meaningless.

He summarizes his entire program in four axioms:

“1. P2P is a type of social relations in human networks, where participants have maximum freedom to connect.

2. P2P is also a technological infrastructure that makes the generalization and scaling up of such relations possible.

3. P2P thus enables a new mode of production and property.

4. P2P creates the potential for a transition to an economy that can be generative towards people and nature.” (Michel Bauwens et al., 2019, p. 1)

In the first two axioms he puts the world upside down. In what sociological, psychological or communication theory is P2P a type of “social relations” in human networks? Only in Bauwen’s brand new theory, there is no other one. P2P is just an internet protocol that can be used to exchange files and data, like email is a protocol to exchange messages, computer mediated communication. Using the P2P protocol to exchange files you do not need to have any relation with nobody, just pick a file out of the computer generated list and you have it. That is the depersonalisation effect all kind of computer mediated communication has.

In point 2. he claims that P2P is also a technological infrastructure. It is not. Without internet there would not be P2P, Internet is the technological infrastructure that makes P2P possible. So we have two points with no meaning in the real world. Since point 3. and 4. are deducted from 1. and 2. The whole theory is pointless. It is not only pointless it also useless. The far most important argument which makes the “P2P turned into commons” exercise completely irrelevant is the need for f2f communication when building commons. Bauwens claims to rely on Ostroms theory of common pool resources and collective action, he just stretches it a little by making it open access. But talking about the empirical base of collective action Ostrom says:

“A behavioral commitment to theory grounded in empirically inquiry is essential to understand such basic questions as why face-to-face communication so consistently enhances cooperation in social dilemmas or how structural variables facilitate or impede effective collective action” (Elinor Ostrom, 1998, p.1)


“Yet, consistent, strong, and replicable findings are achieved when individuals are allowed to communicate face to face.” (Id. p. 6)

So computer mediated communication does not support building commons, only f2f communication. You can not build trust by computer mediated communiction, because you can not solve ambiguity without f2f communication (Daniël Verhoeven, 2006).

Formal model for rational choice theory of collective action, proposed by Elinor Ostrom (Elinor Ostrom, 1998, p. 15),.Copyright American Political Science Review, Copy for educational purposes only.

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