Venture Communism

Published on 12/01/2008 - Experiences

Self-managementP2P economyP2PTecnology reappropiationICTsCooperativesSocial capitalTelecommunications

Contributors: Telekommunisten

Related with: P2P versus Web 2.0 - Network Economics: The Game

Platoniq interviews Dmytri Kleiner, from Telekommunisten (1)

1. What are the origins of your project? When did it start? What were the main goals?

The Telekommunisten project was launched on May 1st, 2006, the main goals of the project to create a worker's collective to serve as the first "venture communist" company, putting into practice the results of my research in to alternative economics.

We want to launch a worker-owned company that provides internet and telephone service and earns enough to employ us, provide the financial basis for our political and artistic production as well.

We have had one product, Dialstation, in beta-testing all year, and May 1st, 2008, two years after we announced the project, we hope to start to building our user base and working towards self-sufficiency.

2. What needs does it address, what sort of problems does it try to solve?

Various forms of funding artistic and political work are all deeply flawed, being limited in availability and often with strings attached that prevent genuinely radically critical work from being funded.

I believe that only worker-self organisation can provide a solution, only by producing and sharing differently can we change our socio-economic condition.
As a software developer and cultural producer, Telekommunisten is an effort to find a new way of producing and sharing in my own production, to remove dependency on selling labour to Capitalist organisations and/or depending on grants, etc, but to create exchange relationships directly.

3. What's the geographic scope (local/international) of your project?

We are based in Berlin, but quite international, currently we have stakeholders in Germany, France, Canada and Spain, and hope to involve more people and places as we move forward.

The Dialstation system is usable from anywhere in the world, however local numbers are only availabe in Germany and Toronto, Canada, so other places need to pay a little more for the call-back to their own telephone.

4. Often, day to day practice and community use can shift or reshape the goals and needs. How has this everyday praxis changed the project since its kickoff?

We have learned a lot since we have started, and have a lot more learning to do. In terms of praxis, the difficulty of communicating about our products and in incorporating contributors into the flow are probably the biggest challenges.

Other simply things include the fact that Germans don't really make any long distance phone calls, and that people from Spanish-speaking countries relate more strongly on average to worker's self organisation as a form of class struggle, whereas people in Germany and the UK tend to focus on political organisation. This, along with the fact that English speakers seem to have trouble remembering the name "Telekommunisten," means that we may rename the collective to the Spanish "Telecomunista," as well as offer other products such as simply webhosting and mailinglist services, since many people do not make long distance phone calls yet still would like to be telekommunisten (or Telecomunista!) customers.

5. Is there a specific timeline planned for your project? Future plans?

Yes, I want to launch "for real" on May 1st, which will include a new version of Dialstation, as well 12€ per yer simple webhosting services and a service for hosting mailing lists, free for <500 mails per month, 1€/1000 mails for lists that send more than 500 per month. The mailing list service will only be available for art, education and activist projects.

6. How many people are involved in your organization?

Two of us are full time, Rico Weise and me.
There are 5 official "owners" currently, Rico, me, William Waites, Stacey Belding and Alexander Baldeck.

There up others who have and continue help out in various ways, most notably Nadine Gahr, Yan Minegawa ('T'), and Brian Wyrick, however it would be a long list to include everyone who has helped, I hope that if we are successful some of these people will also become worker-owners.

By the time it's mature I would like Telekommunisten to have about 10 or so full time members and co-operate within a global network of collective organisations.

7. Did you shape your organization to conform certain ideas from your theoretical framework? i.e. Does the structure of the project reflect conceptual constructs from the project's background?

Yes, Telekommunisten is shaped by my beliefs related to "venture communism" as meant as an experiment with those ideas.

I see venture communism in two initial phases, in the first phase proto-venture-communist enterprises must break the Iron law and then join together to found a venture commune.

In a mature venture commune, cost-recovery is simply achieved by using rent-sharing to efficiently allocate property to its most productive use, thereby ensuring mutual accumulation. Rent sharing works by renting the property for it's full market value to member enterprises and then distributing the proceeds of this rent equally among all commune members.

Investment, when required by exogenous exchange, is funded by selling bonds at auction. Endogenous liquidity is achieved through the use of mutual credit.

However in the initial phase there is no property to rent-share and the demand for the bonds is likely to be insufficient, thus the only way the enterprise can succeed is to break the iron law and somehow capitalize and earn more than subsistence costs, making mutual accumulation possible.

IMO, there are two requirements for breaking the iron law:

a) The enterprise must have highly skilled creative labour, so that the labour itself can capture scarcity rents, i.e. artists, software developers.

b) Production must be based on what I call "commodity capital," that is Capital that is a common input to most, if not all, industries, and therefore is often subsidized by public and private foundations and available on the market for below its actual cost. Examples of this are telecommunications and transportation infrastructure, both of which have been heavily subsidized.

Also, a third requirement for me, although not implied by the simple economic logic, is that the initial products are of general use to market segments I believe are most directly agents for social change, i.e. other peer producers, activists, diasporic/translocal communities and the informal economy broadly.

8. How does Dialstation, as a small communications-related enterprise, survive? How complex/simple is to maintain the project in technical terms (servers, etc.)? Does it require a minimum number of users to be economically self-sufficient? How large is the Dialstation user community, and what is its approximate growth rate?

Dialstation is quite complex, I maintain it mostly on own, but it was developed with large contributions from other members, especially William Waites, and our datacenters are maintained with the help of William and Alex.

Legaly and administratively the collective is maintained by Rico Weise and Stacey Belding. Currently our operations are very minor, most of our revenue comes from our Business services, which includes my consulting, which is a long way from the way to plan to operate.

There are several hundred people who make phone calls over our network, either with Dialstation or through our Business services. So far our experiments with promotion have been positive and we have spurts of growth, however our promotion at this stage has been very limited as we are still testing the concept. We are currently not promoting our services as I prepare to enter an intense development phase.

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Dmytri Kleiner: Dialstation

Cápsula grabada durante el Mercado de Intercambio de Conocimientos Libres, Barcelona 2008. Organizado por Platoniq.