Protocol Cooperativism? | Matslats – Community currency engineer
Since ‘political economy’ became a subject in the 18th century, the predominant political dichotomy has been framed as labour versus capital. Marx talked about ‘control of the means of production’ as the essential political power that the workers needed to wrest from the capitalists. A great deal of activism and political theory continues in that vein: Gar Alpowitz work What then must we do? is all about rebuilding worker-owned coops and similar institutions. We have 150 years of history testifying to their effectiveness.
The movement has waxed and waned, but never (yet) overcome its antithesis; capitalists have the power to issue almost unlimited credit, and social movements, however popular, seem always to be on the back foot. I am dubious whether worker-owned institutions will ever dominate the economy. On the one hand we see economic justice trying to break out in many forms and places, and on the other dark and powerful forces are suppressing them: laws are being changed to make coops less competitive, and occasionally countries which swim against the neoliberal flow suffer a CIA-led regime change. The Power that controls property also controls the law, the media, the security forces, the military and the banks.
The industrial age needed machinery and factories and hence empowered those with capital and property to invest. That thinking has carried through to the digital era in which a Silicon Valley start-up needs huge amounts of money to engage a raft of skilled people to create (and create a market for) a plethora of unneeded tools, one of which might survive and be sold for a massive profit. Yet there is nothing about the internet that necessitates that capital-centric way of creating wealth. Platform cooperativism is the notion that the digital ‘means of production’, the platform, should be owned by, governed by and should enrich the participating value creators. As an approach and as a tactic, it is a straight extension of rudimentary 19th Century cooperativism into the digital age and cyberspace. In which case we should anticipate it working as it always has on the sidelines but never to impact the wider economy.