Interventions in spain: the commons

Spain, in the of 15M, has become a laboratory of radical political thought and practice.  Debates and gestures resonate in multiple and proliferating communites of resistance and autonomy.  What follows is but one example, but an example rich in consequences: the effort to think a politics of the commons that challenges capitalism.  From the Madrilonia Collective and Periodico Diagonal, a defense of the commons (in translation) …

The Commons: A very current old idea

To impose itself, capitalism had to destroy the social reproductive autonomy of rural communities; so it was in medieval Europe, as in modern America and in contemporary Africa.  The commons however have survived and threaten to counter -attack present day neo-liberalism.

Companies and capitalist markets demonstrate time and time again that they have not been conceived for a sustainable management of life on the planet.  Welfare states absorbed some of the tasks of social reproduction (pensions, health, education, labour rights), but today these are privatized and eliminated without hesitation.  The idea spreads that it is necessary to construct new bases for our societies: more democratic and sustainable bases.  And here the commons reappears, a sort of set of economic rights that guaranteed and guarantee in many parts of the world access to resources necessary for life (water, forests, lands), as well as their common management by the community, that is, the participation and the responsibility of the community in their division and maintenance.

We were not born proletarians, though capitalism has made us so in privatizing what belonged to all.  The usurpation of these rights by nascent capitalism in late medieval Europe involved the first expropriation of the means of production and reproduction: without lands or forests, the peasants became proletarians.  And so this would happen in the whole world, with the conquest of America, the colonization of Africa and Asia, and as happens still, continuously, when capitalism proletarianizes us by taking away our access to health, to education, to knowledge, resources made between us all and which make us strong before the dependence of salaried labour.

The struggle for the commons is therefore an old struggle, anti-capitalist and democratic, testified to today in the struggle for a non-mercantalized education, an education managed directly by teachers, parents and students, or in the struggle for an equal and free access to the internet, constructed each day by the on-line community.  These examples are particularly relevant because the heart of what is at stake is the collective construction of common matters and of the norms which govern their use and benefit, which in turn generate and ground a diversity of communities.  This is not only a matter of goods administered collectively, but the construction of community (and democracy) around the management of the resources necessary for life.  Synthetically, we can say the following:

  1. The commons are not intended as a nostalgic return to a bucolic and happy past.  They are living experiences in many parts of the world, not free of conflicts and negotiations, which aim to guarantee in a democratic way universal and sustainable access to resources; they therefore transgress the logic of accumulation and surpass capitalist society.
  1. The commons are not “what belongs to everyone and to no one at the same time”, open fields without regulation.  They are organized processes of (re)production that require (porous, inclusive, diverse, and overlapping) communities that guarantee this sustainability and universal access to resources.
  1. The struggle for the commons is on the move.  What they should not be is a more efficient manner of managing resources for their integration in the capitalist system, as desired by the World Bank. Nor should they serve the purpose of externalizing the costs of reproduction that makes capitalist production possible, but rather contribute to the construction of autonomy, equality and economic democracy.
  1. In the current struggles for democracy and for our economic rights, the hypothesis of the commons may prove to be terribly useful.  …


The Madrilonia Collective has elaborated a far detailed apologu for the commons under the title La Carta de los Comunes.  The text is available on line, in spanish.

From the musicians collective Fundación Robo

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