Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017

Commons not Capitalism

By Peter Linebaugh for Counterpunch. The constitution of the U.S.A. began when an assembly of rich white bankers, lawyers, and slave owners gathered behind closed doors in Philadelphia in 1787. They organized a government which in the first instance monopolized money-making and war-making and in the second instance did so with a series of legal mechanisms to minimize democracy – the Electoral College, the 3/5s clause, the Senate, the Supreme Court – so familiar to us. They were led by “the father of the constitution,” a man owning more than a hundred slaves, James Madison. He makes clear the fear that underlay this constitution; it was omnia sunt communia. The states ratified this constitution over the next two years in no small part because of the tireless efforts of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison collected in The Federalist Papers. The tenth of these papers tells it all. There Madison expresses his fear of “theoretic politicians,” that is, those who advocated an “agrarian law” or equalization of land, those who favored “perfect equality,” those who were “equalized in their possessions.” In brief, the U.S.A. was to become a massive state against the commons. This was an appeal to the men of property, the men of private property, the men who commanded property as capital.

How To Form A Global Counter-Economy

Commons not Capitalism

By Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis for Open Democracy. We outline a list of six interrelated strategies for post-corporate entrepreneurial coalitions. The aim is to go beyond the classical corporate paradigm, and its extractive profit-maximizing practices, toward the establishment of open cooperatives that cultivate a commons-oriented economy. First, it’s important to recognize that closed business models are based on artificial scarcity. Though knowledge can be shared easily and at very low marginal cost when it is in digital form, closed firms use artificial scarcity to extract rents from the creation or use of digitized knowledge. Through legal repression or technological sabotage, naturally shareable goods are made artificially scarce so that extra profits may be generated. This is particularly galling in the context of life-saving medicines or planet-regenerating technological knowledge. Open cooperatives, in comparison, would recognize natural abundance and refuse to generate revenue by making abundant resources artificially scarce.

Re-Imagining Value: Care Economy, Commons, Cyberspace & Nature

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By David Bollier. What is “value” and how shall we protect it? It’s a simple question for which we don’t have a satisfactory answer. For conventional economists and politicians, the answer is simple: value is essentially the same as price. Value results when private property and “free markets” condense countless individual preferences and purchases into a single, neutral representation of value: price. That is seen as the equivalent of “wealth.” This theory of value has always been flawed, both theoretically and empirically, because it obviously ignores many types of “value” that cannot be given a price. No matter, it “works,” and so this theory of value generally prevails in political and policy debates. Economic growth (measured as Gross Domestic Product) and value are seen as the same.

Newsletter: Privatization vs. The People

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By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers for Popular Resistance. The essence of privatization today is to turn a public good into a profit center for Wall Street. US economic policy has created a wealth class that is grotesquely wealthy and under-taxed so that it has the money government needs to provide public services. This forces the government to borrow money from or sell a public service to the privateers or to create a public-private partnership (disguised corporate welfare and crony capitalism) in order to provide essential services. There is another way. We’ve reached a tipping point, as evidenced by the worldwide revolt through Occupy, the Arab Spring, the Indignados and other movements. We can reverse the trend toward privatization and inequality by claiming the commons for our mutual prosperity. If we believe in a more just, sustainable and democratic world, a world based on the common good, we will build the foundation for a world in which people work together to solve common problems and create an equitable economy that betters the lives for all.

Building The Commons As An Antidote To Predatory Capitalism

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By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese for Moving Beyond Capitalism. We’ve reached a tipping point in awareness of the effects of the current global economy that has erupted in a worldwide revolt as we can see in the Occupy, Arab Spring, Idle No More and Indignado movements. People are searching for alternative ways of structuring the economy and society that are empowering and more just and sustainable. Part of this work includes understanding and building the “commons,” which is the opposite of the predatory market economy. As we will describe below, concentrated wealth is derived by taking from the commons for personal gain in an undemocratic way. We can reverse the current trend toward privatization and wealth inequality by claiming the commons and using it for mutual prosperity. The commons cannot exist without a participatory governance structure. Therefore, building the commons is a fundamental step toward real democracy.

Barcelona’s Struggle To Create The City As A Commons

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By David Bollier for Shareable – On a visit to Barcelona last week, I learned a great deal about the city’s pioneering role in developing “the city as a commons.” I also learned that crystallizing a new commons paradigm — even in a city committed to cooperatives and open digital networks — comes with many gnarly complexities. The Barcelona city government is led by former housing activist Ada Colau, who was elected mayor in May 2015. She is a leader of the movement that became the political party Barcelona En Comú (“Barcelona in Common”). Once in office, Colau halted the expansion of new hotels, a brave effort to prevent “economic development” (i.e., tourism) from hollowing out the city’s lively, diverse neighborhoods.

Here’s What a Commons-Based Economy Looks Like

The People’s Assembly in Parliament Square, London. Lee Nichols.

By David Bollier – So what might a commons-based economy actually look like in its broadest dimensions, and how might we achieve it? My colleague Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation offers a remarkably thoughtful and detailed explanation in a just-released YouTube talk, produced by FutureSharp. It’s not really a video – just Michel’s voiceover and a simple schematic chart – but the 20-minute talk does a great job of sketching the big-picture strategies that must be pursued if we are going to invent a new type of post-capitalist economy. Michel focuses on the importance of three specific realms that are crucial to this new vision – ecological sustainability, open knowledge and social solidarity. Each is critical as a field of action for overturning the existing logic of market capitalism.

Newsletter: Billionaires Fear Revolt As People Power Grows

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By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers. Last week there was a populist revolt from across the political spectrum. Congress received tens of thousands of phone calls every day from people who are clear which side they are on: they want people and planet before profits; they want an open, transparent democracy not a secretive oligarchy. The campaign to stop Fast Track for corporate trade agreements like the TPP is a clarifying moment. It is democracy vs. oligarchs making decisions for us. It is transparency vs. secret law. It is the people vs. big business. It is a mobilized people vs. big money. These are the issues that unite people into a movement of movements. These are conflicts that let us know who is on the side of the people.

Reimagining Our Collective Powers Against Austerity

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By Max Haiven in Roarmag. You ask about the utility and power of claiming a “right to the commons,” and how that might inform the circuit of struggles we are today encountering in Canada, where I live. I think the answer here depends on how you imagine “rights.” Is a right something granted by a state or sovereign, or is it something that emerges more organically from communities as they struggle? I think the latter is true. And so then how can we speak of a “right” to the commons? I think we cannot imagine that this right will ever be “granted” to us by those in economic and political power. In the end, the ideal of the commons (horizontalist, grassroots democracy, sustainable reciprocity, community-level decision-making and radical autonomy) is completely antithetical to the state-form and the Eurocentric regime of sovereignty that has, to date, been the “container” of “rights” as we are accustomed to imagining them.

We’re Building A Moral Commons, & We’re All In This Together

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Shared vulnerability is empowerment. This is a theme embraced by other activists around the country. It might be the key to an emerging thread: the ethical prerequisites to a consciousness of economic justice. In my work promoting cooperative economic structures and policies, I wanted to know more about the precise role played by consciousness. On the one hand, as Karl Marx wrote, “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” One doesn’t merely imagine oppression away, and the new age obsession with language and symbol change can often become a substitute for real material change. On the other hand, our values inform our behavior, and even the most scientific-minded revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky emphasized that consciousness must precede (and accompany) revolution.

The Big Shift Needed To Protect Earth: Restore The Commons

Spruce No. 1 mine. Photo Courtesy of Vivian Stockman / Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

The focus for most people’s dreams would be the familiar places they love—neighborhoods, cities, suburbs, villages and countryside. Think what could happen if we declared these places commons, which belong to all of us and need to be improved for future generations. Citizens would stand up, lock arms with their neighbors and demand new political and economic directions for our society. They would open discussions with business leaders, government officials, scientists and design professionals on how to create resilient, equitable, greener communities. But the conversation wouldn’t stop there. We’d plan for less carbon and waste and poverty, but also for more fun and joy and conviviality—which are equally strategic goals.

For Earth Day, A Commons Dream

Photograph: Charles O’Rear, Environmental Protection Agency

At a time when ecological destruction is more dire than ever, the work of protecting the planet depends on dreamers just as much as of scientists, activists, public officials and business leaders. Earth Day, when millions of people voice support for environmental causes, is the perfect time to recognize this. While it’s critical to wrestle power away from those who believe that corporate profits are all that matter, we won’t achieve a sustainable, just future without serious attention to imagining a different kind of world. That’s why it’s great to see artists playing an increasingly active role in the climate justice movement today. What bold blueprints for a green planet will arise if we unleash the full power of our idealism and ingenuity?

Newsletter: Private Affluence, Public Squalor

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Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk of The Rules write in “Capitalism is Just a Story and Other Dangerous Thoughts” that our system of neo-liberal capitalism is one story that is told about the way the world works. In this story, natural resources are turned into commodities so they can be monetized. As in the feudal age, the wealthy few are taking more and more, cutting the rest of us off from the treasures we once shared and expanding the wealth divide so that more of us become ‘serfs’. 1neofeudalLadha and Kirk go on to say, “our only absolute limitation is our collective imagination, expressed through our will to change the mythologies that hold this house of cards together.” For once we see neo-liberalism and its related “isms” of colonialism, imperialism and racism for what they are and what they do, we are closer to being free of their grip and creating a new story.

Uniting To Save Our Post Office

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In the face of aggressive attacks, a wide range of national organizations have come together to create A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. These organizations are united in the demand that the public good must not be sacrificed for the sake of private investment and profit. A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right. The Alliance is fighting to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come. The launch of A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service featured the debut of a 2-minute video, “Our Postal Service,” featuring actor-activist Danny Glover. For Glover, it’s personal. In the video, he recounts what the Postal Service has meant to his family and many others.

Justice Must Flow: Economic Democracy & The Water Commons

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A game you could play with this article would be to substitute the word “air” every time you read “water.” Commodification of water seems silly enough in the abstract. Now in the throes of artificial scarcity, U.S. cities, counties and states are running out of water even as they turn control over managing water supplies to private corporations. At the beginning of February, as chronicled by Victoria Collier, New Jersey authorized the fast-track sale and leasing of water utilities to private corporations “without public notice, comment, or approval.” As I write this, more communities in New Jersey are “studying water privatization, while the city council of Columbia, South Carolina is resisting business interests’ pressure to privatize water there as well.