Seven hypotheses about commonism
[Presentation at »Kooperation statt Wettbewerb, Gemeinwohl statt Profit« @ Elevate-Festival]
1. The world will be commonist or the world will not be.
Capitalism is in deep crisis, somebody speak about a final crisis. If only capitalism is at stake, this could be gotten over. But we are capitalism, we are reproducing ourselves by reproducing us within capitalism by reproducing capitalism itself. If capitalism perishes, we perish. Thus, commonism is not a simple wish, not a crazy utopia, but simply an historical, an human necessity.
2. Wanting commonism needs understanding of capitalism
Capitalism is producing people producing capitalism. These dialectics may not be solved to one side. Neither the „greed“ of bank managers bears the blame, nor we are totally subordinated to the system. We have to understand the inner self-reproductive kernel of the operating system of capitalism, in order to act properly. The kernel bases on the rule, that only those people survive who are able to make more dead stuff from dead stuff – called money – by exploitation of the living.
3. Without capitalism everything is nothing, but not everything is capitalism
It is not the case, that capitalism is producing all of our means of living. Capitalism isn‘t even involved by the majority. Following estimations given by Carola Möller two third of all necessary actions and things we need for producing our societal life are not produced in form of commodities, thus are not produced by capitalism. The from the economy separated sphere is the predominant one, and it is predominantly done by women. It is the „unvisible“ fundament, the other side of capitalist valuation logic.
4. No commonism without commoning
It is a central insight, that commonism is bound to practical doing, to maintaining, to vital producing of the living conditions. However, inside capitalism practical doing is getting the aliened form of „labour“, a spending of energy to transform living things into dead stuff. Therefore, we have to agree with Massimo De Angelis, when he is writing: „‘refusal of work‘ as refusal of capital’s measures, and commoning as affirmation of other measures are the two sides of the same struggle“.
5. Commonism is not coming from nowhere
Commonism is existing in capitalism. But commonism is wedged into the value form: It must „pay off“ or at least „financially feasible“. Commonism is only becoming a germ form of a new society if commonism is able to self-produce on its own fundament. Beyond money, market and state.
6. Free Software – commonism in a germ form
A prominent example – why I am invited here – is Free Software. Free Software has left the commodity form and is therefore able to constitute new social and productive relationships. Free Software is living within capitalism and is germ form of a new way of socialization at the same time.
7. Speaking about commonism must not frighten you
„Communism“ is a burned word. This should not keep us from speaking about commonism. If we like it or not: One will object us with „communism“ in any case. But we can say it self-confident: No, this was not commonism, this was the state-based dictatorial form of capitalism. If capitalism accuses „communism“, then capitalism is accusing itself.
Commonism ist about sociality based on individuality, its about producing our societal lives beyond market mediated relationships. It‘s simply living.
So „commonists“ are tolerated within the capitalist society, will capitalists be tolerated in a „commonist“ society?
@Tim: The thesis are not about *ists, but about *ism. This means, that the possible roles are not personally separated. The contradictions go right through you, you can both act as a capitalist and as a commoner. However, in a commonist society there is no money at all, thus being a „capitalist“ does only make sense in games for those who need to play ancient roles 😉
Sorry for being a bad sport about your vision, but would you clarify the following:
What happens to a group of persons who wish to act as capitalists in a commonist society, e.g. trade goods?
@Tim: Nothing. They can’t. Because in a commonist society the societal re/production is done via commons, and not via trading, markets and money, which do no longer exist als societal means.
@Tim: There certainly won’t be someone banning capitalist activities – who should that be? I’m quite sure that the state (being closely connected to capitalist control today) will lose much of its power (simply because people organize themselves and don’t heed it anymore) or even vanish completely. No one will interdict capitalist activity, be sure of that!
On the other hand, there are certain prerequisites for capitalism:
(1) Some people with access to means of production (but not too many, because then it’s not possible to sell to others to make a profit);
(2) people without means of production which have to sell their labor power (because they have nothing else to sell and have to satisfy their needs);
(3) a guarantee for property (control of things which one does not use oneself – as opposed to possession, control of things which one uses for oneself).
How can we evaluate the possibility for these preconditions existing in a Peer economy (or: Commonism – I like both expressions)?
(1) Everyone will have access to means of production, so of course you can try and produce something with the goal of selling it to others – but it will be difficult to find buyers, and still more difficult to make a profit! Everyone can produce for himself. Capitalism, however, depends on scarcity of goods.
(2) No one needs to sell his/her labor power – everyone can take part in projects (or networks of projects) and satisfy his/her needs. A capitalist would have to compete with that – offer really good conditions, otherwise he/she would have to produce completely alone!
(3) This might be the only sensitive point, where one could potentially argue. Capitalists might demand laws which guarantee property, whereas a Peer production-based (or Commonist) society depends on possession, which (surely) will be guaranteed. (no one likes to have taken things away he/she uses!) But the tolerance for people claiming things as their possession which they don’t use (and therefore, in the eyes of many people in such a society, don’t need) might be low. – Again, this is a point of negotiation: Especially at the beginning, if many „capitalists“ want their property guaranteed, this might be the case – but only so long as this works well and people are interested in the continuation of this capitalist „corners“. If there is simply nothing to do for capitalists, because the societal needs are already fulfilled in a more humane and effective way, more and more people won’t like those „capitalist remains“ and simply drift away, and the outcome Stefan predicts is probable: There might be no money, no market and no preconditions left for capitalists.
It’s important to realize that this is NOT an infringement of liberty, though we will hear this claim often in the next years: Because there’s simply no liberty detailing that other people have to allocate certain preconditions for you doing something! If people want to do capitalism in a free society, they can do so, but they will have to do it themselves.
Thank you guys for an interesting discussion! 🙂
@StefanMZ: If person A has a cat and person B has a dog and they decides to swap, then they’re trading aka performing capitalism. Is that situation inconceivable in a commonist society?
@Martin: I feel that there is a contradiction here:
First you said:
So if “people” are uninterested in the continuation of capitalist “corners”, they’re allowed to end it? By what means? What moral right do they have to interfer in trade between consenting adults?
Of course, not, because this is not trading and even not capitalism. Capitalism is about producing goods in form of commodities and exchange them in order to realize value and surplus value (aka profit). In a commonist society goods are not produced as commodities, but simply as goods to use them — according to the needs of the people. Your example is far below that: There is no production. Thus it does not apply to any society as a means to survive.
Trading means to exchange one thing for another, so I think it would be fair to say that the two guys who exchange pets are trading. Capitalism is an economic system that builds on the respect of private property, so exchanging goods only makes sense in a capitalistic system. If property rights are not respected, then person A could go to person B after the initial trade and steal his cat back.
So if person A is a baker and person B is a milkman, would they be allowed to swap produced bread for produced milk?
And what if a third person C would like to exchange his banknote that represented a quantity of gold for person B’s milk? Would that be allowed?
Furthermore is there any problem if person C’s banknote represented a higher value than the sum it took for person B to produce the milk, thus allowing him to make a profit?
@Tim: Now, you bringing a lot of new assumptions into the game, so that it is difficult for me to answer. Generally capitalism is a societal system, thus every single example is limited or wrong.
Could you explain, what your fear is? Or why you are giving these examples in this manner?
P.S. Kids exchanging marbles don’t trade.
@Tim: Some points (in short):
1. Exchanging goods has always existed (it’s called „barter“) and is NOT capitalism. (Cf. Marx, Capital, 1. Chapter.) You could always barter goods and will always be able to do so.
2. No contradiction: No one will „ban“ capitalist activities, but capitalism has those three prerequisites (please check my last post). One of them is „guarantee of property“. If people are used to taking things no one else uses, they won’t be interested in abstract notions of who „owns“ this. Maybe they will no longer understand the concept.
In Germany, there was a movement of people moving into unused buildings (which were really unused, not just for the moment, often for reasons of speculation: they were left in disrepair for later destruction, which would have been unlawful if they were still habitable). These people moved in and renovated these buildings. They used the concept of „possession“: seeing that no one used the buildings, they began to use them (took possession of them). They were often evicted later. This will NOT be possible in an possession-based society. – Use it or lose it!
„People are allowed to end it“: Again, NO ONE will ever go somewhere and end something (with force or otherwise)! But if the 3 prerequisites are not given, capitalism will be very hard or impossible. Communities as a whole, however, might well decide to try it (again) and be capitalistic. They will have to be large enough to guarantee those three prerequisites.
3. You can’t „go to someone and steal it back“, if possession is guaranteed. And a common-based society relies on the concept of possession, so there is no question about this. The following case, however, might arrive: A capitalist sells someone a flat. The buyer goes to the flat and wants to evict the tenant (or get him/her to pay rent). The tenant says „no“, because he uses it and it therefore is his possession.
In this case, there is the question of „guarantee of property“. At first, it might be the case that the tenant will be evicted, because property is still guaranteed. But as the society moves more and more in a direction where property doesn’t play a major role, respect for property rights will diminish (whereas that for possession will not or will even increase, which I wrote in my last mail, but which you overlooked).
Therefore, at some point in this development, when prerequisite 3. breaks down, property which is not possession – e.g. flats rented to someone else – will be appropriated by their possessors (= users). This, of course, will be called „stealing“ by the remaining capitalists. In reality, it’s a necessary consequence of the paradigm change from property to possession, because these two concepts clash in some cases, as my example should have made clear.
I don’t want to come across as being a rude polemic, I’m just interested in what role I’m allowed to play in a future commonist society. As most people I find myself engaged in all kinds of capitalist exploits, trading my labour for money, trading my money for goods – and I don’t have to fear that any third party will interfer with the transactions I conduct ( except for the state but let’s leave them out for the moment ). This is what capitalism means, there’s nothing incoherently ruthless about capitalism, it’s just respect for the property of your fellow man. When you say:
…I have to disagree. If the quote above was true then we would find that the societies that is most in accordance with capitalist principles would be the societies where people are starving. I doubt that they have any larger problems with widespread starvation in the streets of Hong Kong and Switzerland.
I don’t understand why you call commodities and money “dead stuff”, it seems to me like a poetic trick. We all rely on “dead stuff”, like cars, food and anti-biotics. The modern civilization is build on “a spending of energy to transform living things into dead stuff”.
When I read point 3 & 4 I get the feeling that you see capitalism as a positive entity that produces stuff and have all kinds of sentiments. Capitalism is an economic system based on a negative moral obligation: don’t steal. No capitalist will round you up if you decide not to work.
The reason why I’m interested in this discussion, is that we live in a time where cataclysmic events are more then likely to happen, if not now then tomorrow. A lot of people feel the same as you, that another system is a historic neccesity. I think part of this reaction has to do with people not fully understanding what capitalism is, they mistake capitalism for mercantilism, corporatism, imperialism etc. They believe that the corporatism and imperialism that runs throught the veins of e.g. the US state is in fact capitalism, nothing could be further from the truth.
What I fear is a new generation of young people who read Naomi Klein, and actually believe that free trade is evil, that the voluntary exchange of goods is evil and therefore will move to stop it.
1) As i write to StefanMZ “Capitalism is an economic system based on a negative moral obligation: don’t steal.”
So it’s true that exchanging goods, bartering ( which is a form of trade ) is not capitalism, but it’s a way of trading that’s protected by capitalist principles.
I’m happy that you will allow people to barter, but what will happen if someone decides to trade with money, a banknote that represent gold in some bank, will that kind of trade be allowed? Money is the most liquid commodity in a market. There will always be a most liquid commodity in any market; ergo, something will be used as money.
Possession property is different from contract property but it’s still property, the squatters you mention still have the notion that the “own” the squatted building, otherwise why would they stand in the way for the original owner to evict them if it wasn’t because they felt they owned the property qua their possession?
2) I think that your third point is a valid one in this discussion. ( The two first are just a way of describing an entirely voluntary relationship between two parties. A guy with factory who needs man-hours, and a guy with man-hours who needs money, hence they decide to trade for the benifit of both. Nothing immoral takes place.)
If someone wants to take the bicycle I have standing unused in my garage without my consent, that person wants to steal it. He wants to interfer in the initial trade I did with the bicycle shop, if the general view of the society is that this kind of behaviour is moral, then they are in fact banning capitalism, replacing negotiation with violence.
@Tim: As Martin already said: nobody is talking about banning or forbidding anything—just about making it superfluous. Money is only important as long as you need it to get the things you like to have. Why should I buy Windows, if I can get Linux for free (and I actually like Linux better)? I have no reason to buy Windows, and so I don’t. And if I can get all the things I like without having to pay for them, then I don’t need money, and so I don’t need to sell my labor power in order to get it.
If everybody can get the things they like without needing money, nobody is forced to sell her labor power, and so the factory-owner won’t get anybody willing to work for him. That’s the end of capitalism. It’s not about banning anything—it’s about freeing people from the necessity to sell their labor power.
Progress and emancipation have always been about freeing people from dependencies and necessities—freeing ourselves from the need to sell our labor power will be another important step for human emancipation.
Martin mentioned the possibility of “people” discontinuing “capitalist corners”, that to me is synonymous with banning capitalism.
The only thing I need reassurance on before I enroll myself in the ranks of the commonists, is that property rights will be respected in a commonist economy. But then again, that would make commonism a capitalistic system, right?
I find it hard to believe that the free market will become superfluous, people will still have needs that nobody will be able to satisfy without compensation. Maybe somebody wants a Linux-distro customized in a way that nobody in the community is willing to do uncompensated? Is that an impossible situation?
And remember, we’re only talking about software here, what about food-production, container-shipping & cancer-research? Who will volunteer for the nightshift on the docks? Who would set aside ten years in medical-school if it wasn’t for the money or the prestige? Enthusiasm only gets you so far.
@ Tim: There is no such thing as „possession property“. From roman law was drawn an important distinction: proprietas (dominium) on one side and possessio (possession) on the other.
So, commons are based on possession (i.e. certain rights for all of us to access, use and benefit from common goods (water, forest, biotic ressources, knowledge, algorithms and so on and so forth). Those are things, which moraly belong to all of us (normally I cite Immanuel Kant but it’s to difficult for me to do it in english). But -and that’s the point, in many cases those things have precisely been „stolen“ from us (There is no such thing as respect for the commons in a capitalist society), and they have been commodified. This is one (just one, not the only) reason for starvation in many countries. El Salavador and Mexico, where I’ve been living for quiet a while are capitalist societies.
The point IMHO is not respect or not for private property, but what should be in and what should be out.
In my point of view a commons based society would push the frontier between private property of certain goods (which will persist, I think) and possession of common ressources towards the latter – for the sake of a healthy and vital society, and for the sake of the conservation of our common resources. Just thing about the climate crises.
When I wrote about the „discontinuation of capitalist corners“, I explained already quite clearly what I meant – people simply leaving them:
If there is simply nothing to do for capitalists, because the societal needs are already fulfilled in a more humane and effective way, more and more people won’t like those ‚capitalist remains‘ and simply drift away.
You’re right, I’m sorry that it didn’t sink in. I just feel that you’re giving me a mixed message. You write:
Is that an example of “people simply leaving” the capitalist corner, or is it an example of commonists imposing their will on capitalists?
@Silke You raise some valid points, I’ll try to adress them tomorrow.
I used the terms contract property and possession property to distinguish between two types of ownership. The squatters don’t respect the property rights of the original owner, however they demand their own property rights to be respected if the original owner decides to evict them and build a supermarket. The original owner argues that he owns the building due to a contract or a proof of homesteading, the squatters argue they own the building due to their possesion, they claim it to be their possession property.
I don’t argue that everything in a capitalist society is covered by property rights, things that exist in infinite amounts ( or can be copied to exist in infinite amounts ) like air and linux-distros are clearly not covered. However if somebody has mixed his labour in with a vacant strip of land, and produced e.g. wheat, you would be hard pressed to argue that the wheat doesn’t belong to that person. He owns his body, so it would be fair to assume that he owns the actions of his body, the wealth it produces.
OK, let’s say we have a commonist car, we split the cost so the car “belongs to all of us”. A finite resource cannot be fully owned by more than one person, although a group can share ownership in the car – so we’d have make a schedule for who uses the car at what point in time. This is totally capitalism, if somebody wants to steal this commonist car that would be against capitalist principles, namely the respect for property rights. However if a group of commonists wants to make my car commonist without my consent, that’s obviously a violent act against me.
Whatever you want to call the unruly mix of economic freedom and government control that makes up the political and economic systems in Mexico and El Salvador it’s not capitalism. If some indian land in Mexico has been expropriated by a corporation in cahoots with the government, that’s not even close to being capitalism, it’s corporatism.
take not make
@Tim: I’m not „giving you a message“, I’m analyzing a development which might or might not happen in the future. If you want to understand the possibilities of commons, you have to think a bit farther than we’re drilled to think today. I.e. capitalism was never about „not stealing“, it began with the greatest thefts the world has ever seen (theft of the commons; theft of ‚church property‘ in England; fraudulent capitalization of state assets …). It’s continuation is based on appropriation, namely of a part of the laborer’s labor (the unpaid part).
The basis for this appropriation is not theft, but coercion – most of the people HAVE to sell their labor power to those with capital (otherwise they starve). Those with capital have not, and that’s the beginning of their different roles in society, which are reproduced because capitalism strengthens these differences. Please note that this coercion does not count as force, though it’s much stronger than some kinds of coercion which are illegal. This means that also our laws and what we think as „just“ and „unjust“ is influenced by our economic system. In fact, it underlies our whole society and our thinking is influenced by it.
Therefore, if one wants to get an objective view, one has to take other positions in account. You can’t simply declare every concept of possession as the same as capitalist property – because if you do that, you necessarily come always to the same conclusions. There is a world of difference between possession and property – as you see in the examples mentioned, in which both concepts clash.
That brings me to the answer to your question: If you deal with people doing capitalism, they will of course have to accept being evicted. In a commons-based society, however, if it works well, there probably won’t be many people left interested in doing capitalism with you. That was my whole point, from the beginning. If you get some people (via negotiations) to do capitalism with you, surely no one will impede you – that’s against the spirit of a free society. Also, no one would have an interest.
I have to stop here, sorry. – If you’re interested in the theory of a commons-based society, try this book, it’s really good: http://peerconomy.org/wiki/Main_Page
Hi Tim, this seems to be a quiet extensive multilogue, fine. So, let’s go on:
„I don’t argue that everything in a capitalist society is covered by property rights, things that exist in infinite amounts ( or can be copied to exist in infinite amounts ) like air and linux-distros are clearly not covered.“
I think, that it is not only about things that exist in infinite amounts (not even clean air exists in infinite amounts), it’s about water, soil and genetic resources inscribed into biological resources too (genes can be copied but not necessarily the plants or forests which harbour those genes). So, it is more tricky.
“ However if somebody has mixed his labour in with a vacant strip of land, and produced e.g. wheat, you would be hard pressed to argue that the wheat doesn’t belong to that person. He owns his body, so it would be fair to assume that he owns the actions of his body, the wealth it produces.“
The commons idea is precisely not about „vacant resources“, it is not about no men’s land, but about common possession of resources we all need to live, to produce and to be creative.
What you are talking about is exactly the John Lockean idea of property, which ended up in all teaching books all over the world, thus, I would challenge those ideas:
Let’s take petrol for instance: Someone mixes petrol with his labor, research, investment and so on, and – ok- by doing so he is entitled to appropriate the value of the product (a barrel) as far as his labor, research and investment is concerned. But IMHO, this doesn’t authorize him to appropriate the mere value of petrol itself. These are two very different things. (in a certain way recognized by John Locke when he formulated his two basic conditions)
Obviouly the problem is more complicated than described, since those who explore, use or approriate a certain common resource not only appropriate the sheer resource but normally they destroy others (in the case of petrol f.i. whole landscapes, aquifers, climate stability), and they never pay back to society for the destroyed values,
hope you get my point.
So, in some cases this can be resolved by taxes, but only a very few countries (if any) manage to do so. Normally the gains of commons resource appropriation gets privatized and the loss of commons resource value gets socialized.
I did not get your „commonist car example“ well; but for me, the decisive point in that discussion is not WHO owns? (even though, it’s a very important question). For me the very point is: what is the owner doing with the thing he owns with respect to others and with respect to our common resources? For example what do we gain, all together, if every proprietary owner of his car or even tens of millions of owners of „commonist cars“ (I guess that’s what you mean) continue driving at 8 liters/100 km? Nothing. We will still destroy the planet.
So, it’s not again all kind of individual rights. It’s about how to use what and what for and how to democratize usage rights, based on the very idea of the morally same possession rights of every citizen on the resources provided by the earth or by former generations.
yes, there is a lot of corporatism in Mexico, less in El Salvador… but, there is no governmental control in huge parts of social life at all and still a kind of „informal expropriation“. I refer to the „normal enclosure of the commons“ process driven by capitalist accumulation logic – everywhere.(f.i. They turn half of the salvadoranian territory upside down just because gold prices raised, so they will destroy livelyhoods for this and future generations. And never pay back.)
I don’t understand, what you mean. What I described, is capitalism.
It’s true, there is some poetry in it, I remembered John Holloway when I wrote the text. But there is a real background.
I try to avoid the term »dead labour«, which would be more correct. The point is, that we indeed rely on different things, which are not »living«, but being commodities they are »dead labour«, which is perfectly exchangeable against another incarnation of »dead labour«: money.
If the things we want are the outcome of a commonist production, they are means to satisfy our needs. They are embedded in the daily live of the people, which control the things and not the other way around as in capitalism. Thus »labour« is the disembedded social form of production in capitalism. In commonism there is no longer such thing.
Free trade is evil, it’s the backbone of capitalism. But why should people should stop from helping each other and giving things back and forth? Exchange in the sense of equivalent exchange is the problem we should face.
Before we go on it would be cool if we could agree on a baseline definition of capitalism, something like:
Is that okay?
hi all, hi stefan
just came by, read the 7 thesis on commonism proposed by stefan and want to congratulate!
a clear statement and an interesting new term for a new way of living together.
hope is getting stronger.
hope precedes action.
and action will generate more hope.
cheers and take care, andreas
I would really want to know more about this research by carola möller (about 2/3 of all production being non-capitalist). Where can I find the original text or more info?
(www.skapaallmanningar.se is a swedish initiativ to boost and create commons. english version to come – we’re really interested in international cooperation!)
@frederik: I did an re-investigation on Carolas findings (which haven’t been published) with more recent data, and I could confirm the result. Here is the article in english: http://www.keimform.de/2010/productive-pigs-and-unproductive-children/
»Skapa Allmanningar« means »create commons« and the subtitle »The seeds of a new way of organizing society« — which sounds very like the stuff we are doing here at keimform.de (which means »seedform« or »germform«).
Please check-out more of keimform.de if you are familiar with german, or read our english texts which cover to some extend the same content: http://www.keimform.de/category/english/
Let’s keep in touch!
stefan: thank you, an interesting read! We will check out your site, seems like an interesting project! I know some german, might be enough to get through the articles, although english is preferred 🙂
We will get an english version of our site up shortly at http://www.createcommons.org in order to facilitate international cooperation. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to do something together in the future!
@fredrik: Great, drop a note, when the site createcommons.org is up!