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The economics of Laudate Si as commons economics !

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th July 2015


There is … a different sort of economics that helps us see the sense in what Francis proposes—the economics of the commons. This is a tradition that includes the “all things in common” described in the New Testament Book of Acts and the primacy of the common good over private property, upheld from Augustine to modern social teaching. People throughout history have practiced the art of “commoning” to steward goods that states and markets are not equipped to handle. The late Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in economics for her research on how longstanding communities govern resources like fisheries and forests, and today the commons of information is undergoing a revival through practices like open-source software. Communities manage their commons in many different ways, using many of the same tools we use to manage our households—like relationship, custom, listening, ritual and love. Act like a greedy homo economicus at the dinner table, and don’t expect to be offered dessert.

Nathan Schneider does it again!

“The encyclical’s heading therefore presents it as an economics for the world we hold in common. But what kind of economics is it?

As the document’s most uncomfortable critics have pointed out, the pope has little faith in the capacity of the market mechanisms of global capitalism to smooth out our reckless abuse of creation on their own. He is less than sanguine also about the capacity of national governments to do the job, especially since many are in the thrall of the same multinational corporations that profit from doing the damage. With neither capitalism alone nor the strong arm of states to turn to, it is no surprise that critics—Catholic ones most venomously—have accused him of economic naïveté and incoherence.

There is, however, a different sort of economics that helps us see the sense in what Francis proposes—the economics of the commons. This is a tradition that includes the “all things in common” described in the New Testament Book of Acts and the primacy of the common good over private property, upheld from Augustine to modern social teaching. People throughout history have practiced the art of “commoning” to steward goods that states and markets are not equipped to handle. The late Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize in economics for her research on how longstanding communities govern resources like fisheries and forests, and today the commons of information is undergoing a revival through practices like open-source software. Communities manage their commons in many different ways, using many of the same tools we use to manage our households—like relationship, custom, listening, ritual and love. Act like a greedy homo economicus at the dinner table, and don’t expect to be offered dessert.

The Italian economist Stefano Zamagni, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, has participated in the development of Catholic economic teaching before and during the present papacy. “From an economic point of view, the environment is a common good,” he told me. “It is not a private good or a public good, which means that we cannot cope with the problem of the environment using market mechanisms per se, or government intervention.” The ideas of Elinor Ostrom and other scholars of the commons have figured prominently in the academy’s proceedings. The Belgian open-source advocate Michel Bauwens and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, have been invited speakers.

The kinds of remedies Francis proposes for our ecological sins often fit the logic of commoning. He calls for cooperative kinds of business that share wealth rather than accumulating it. He calls for prayer, for repentance and for dialogue—the kinds of things we do when something goes wrong in our household.

Especially controversial are the passages where Francis proposes “systems of governance for the whole range of so-called ‘global commons.’” Some have understood this as some kind of overreaching world government. But Zamagni insists that it is no such thing. Like the World Trade Organization, for instance, this might be something like the very agencies that capitalism relies on, though far more accountable than the W.T.O. to the world’s poorest, who are often the first to hear and suffer from the planet’s groanings.

Commoning is not a replacement for markets or states. Zamagni stresses that the consumerist capitalism that dismays Francis is not synonymous with markets as such. “The pope is not against the market economy,” he says; the problem is an idolatry that imagines markets can solve our moral crises for us. We can respect the usefulness of markets without needing to affirm their omnipotence.

This is the first third world encyclical—drafted by an African cardinal, Peter Turkson, and completed by a South American pope. Like Catholic social teaching in general, it declines to bow before the competing altars of Cold War economics. The commoning it calls for is the wisdom of the ancients, still hidden in plain sight among the “informal economies” at global capitalism’s margins. This is the art, at once, of keeping a loving home and of sharing a precious planet.”

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Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, P2P Ecology, P2P Spirituality | No Comments »

Debating Post-Capitalism (1): a critique by Michael Roberts

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th July 2015


I expect to see more critical engagements with Paul Mason’s important new book.

This first one, based on the introductory essay which appeared in the Guardian, is by the Marxist economist Michael Roberts, a long excerpt:

” I have a lot of issues with what Mason argues and concludes. He starts his article of explanation pessimistically by suggesting that neoliberalism has more or less triumphed in its aims for capitalism leaving ‘old labour’ methods and ideas in disarray: “over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.”

The first question that springs to mind here is: does Mason think there is still a ‘proletariat’ or not? Because he is right: far from the working class, even the industrial working class, declining or disappearing, it is growing globally. See my post,
https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/de-industrialisation-and-socialism/.

The proletariat may be getting larger globally but, according to Mason, it “no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.” What does Mason mean? Does he mean that the working class is no longer the force for change that Marx and Engels saw it as back in 1848 and has been looked to by generations of socialists since? It’s true that strikes and disputes have dropped away in countries like the US and the UK. But let us balance that with the huge rise in the number of strikes and other actions in emerging economies like China, Asia and Latin America, where the industrial proletariat is increasingly now to be found. Is the working class impotent as a force for revolutionary change?

Let’s leave that argument for the moment, because Mason does offer what he considers is an optimistic alternative to the class struggle. The forces of labour may have been defeated but within capitalism are new progressive trends that capitalism cannot suppress or control which could achieve a better, freer, more equal society without the need for class struggle, at least as we have known it up to now. “Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.”

This is not apparently the socialism or communism that the old methods of class struggle and revolution aimed for, because Mason wants to use the word ‘postcapitalism’ as a clear distinction from those old-fashioned terms for a new society.

So what is this ‘unseen’ postcapitalism that (only) Mason sees; what are its distinctive features? “First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences [my emphasis], will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.”

Ah! So the information revolution means that less work will be necessary in order to deliver a ‘decent life’, a world without toil. But is that true given that the world is still in the grip of a capitalist, not a post-capitalist mode of production? It would seem to me that people are spending more time at home or travelling working for capital on their computers. The edges between work and free time are especially ‘blurred’ in knowledge-producing sectors. People are made to work (solve problems) in their free time more than ever before. See G Carchedi’s groundbreaking paper on how that has panned out – Old wine, new bottles and the internet, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/workorgalaboglob.8.1.0069?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Will the information revolution reduce working time under capitalism and thus lead progressively to post-capitalism? Well, previous technological changes have not done so. John Maynard Keynes had a similar idea to Mason back in the 1930s (see my post, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/keynes-being-gay-and-caring-for-the-future-of-our-grandchildren/).

Keynes argued that “for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” Keynes predicted superabundance and a three-hour day within 60 years – Mason’s postcapitalist dream.

Well, the average working week in the US in 1930 – if you had a job – was about 50 hours. It is still above 40 hours (including overtime) now for full-time permanent employment. In 1980, the average hours worked in a year was about 1800 in the advanced economies. Currently, it is about 1800 hours. So, since the great information revolution began under the ‘neoliberal period’ of capitalism, the average working year for an American has not changed.

Mason’s next argument for the move to postcapitalism is that “information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant.”

Really? For a start, market prices are not determined by the degree of scarcity of a commodity or service. That is the essence of the unreality of mainstream neoclassical economics. The great classical economists, Smith and Ricardo, and above all, Marx, showed that prices of commodities and services are fundamentally determined by the socially necessary labour time taken to produce them. The great contradiction of capitalism is that, as the necessary labour time falls due to technical progress, it lowers the value of commodities and thus puts downward pressure on the profitability of production. And under capitalism, it is profit (surplus value) that matters, not more output (use value).

It is fine for Mason to notice that technical advances increase the productivity of labour (although we are not seeing much of that at the moment – but that’s another story). But that is only one side of the equation. The other side is the squeeze on profitability, the intensification of the class struggle and the resolution of that contradiction (temporarily and periodically) through slumps and contraction.

Mason ignores the two sides of technical advance under capitalism. Yes, one side suggests the potential for a super abundant, low labour time world. But the other suggests inequality, class struggle and regular and recurrent crises. Mason reckons that automation etc is “currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences”. Yes, that is the point, ‘postcapitalism’ cannot emerge without resolving the contradictions of capitalism.

But Mason remains utopian in his hopes that the elements of ‘postcapitalism’ are mushrooming. “Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.”

Mason cites Greece as an example. “In Greece, when a grassroots NGO mapped the country’s food co-ops, alternative producers, parallel currencies and local exchange systems they found more than 70 substantive projects and hundreds of smaller initiatives ranging from squats to carpools to free kindergartens.” The trouble with these examples of the new world is that they are more like a desperate reaction to the crisis of capitalist production, as in Greece. They will remain marginal, or be turned into profit-led operations competing in the market, as has happened to so many cooperatives and localist efforts over the last 150 years.

Mason admits that these ‘micro projects’ can only succeed in changing our world if they “are nurtured, promoted and protected by a fundamental change in what governments do.” Given that most governments in the world are pro-capitalist and driven by big business and big capital, this makes that outcome pretty unlikely. Do we not remember what the modern state is really an instrument for nurturing, promoting and protecting capital and the ruling class? “The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.” Engels, Socialism, utopian and scientific.

Mason then raises what many utopians have advocated before him: that if only we can change the way we think, we can change the structure of economic and social relations. “And this must be driven by a change in our thinking [my emphasis] – about technology, ownership and work. So that, when we create the elements of the new system, we can say to ourselves, and to others: “This is no longer simply my survival mechanism, my bolt hole from the neoliberal world; this is a new way of living in the process of formation.”

So first we must change our mentality and then the state can nurture these micro-level projects. Cart before horse? As we are locked within the confines of the capitalist production relations (both private and state), it is these relations that must be changed so that new ways of thinking can bloom.

Mason recognises that his ‘alternative model’ is not yet with us. Instead he forecasts a new capitalist crisis ahead – although this prediction is based purely on a Keynesian analysis of low real wages keeping demand low and a new credit bubble threatening another financial crash.

Mason reckons that neoliberalism “has morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures.” Well, I thought that it was capitalism that was subject to ‘recurrent catastrophic failures’. But like other modern revisions of Marxist economics, apparently it is only neoliberalism, a special form of capitalism. In my view, neoliberalism, a ruling class policy and strategy to drive up profitability by raising the rate of exploitation, is actually the norm for capitalism. It is only in rare and short periods that capitalism looks to invest in new technology to raise profitability, as in the immediate postwar period.

Mason makes much of Marx’s discussion of the role of technology in his Fragment on Machines from the Grundrisse written in 1857 (http://thenewobjectivity.com/pdf/marx.pdf). Mason suggests that Marx makes the same point as he does: that capitalism expands technology and scientific knowledge to the point that a world of abundance and free time for all becomes reality.

As Mason puts it: “In an economy where machines do most of the work, the nature of the knowledge locked inside the machines must, he writes, be “social”. …“It suggests that, once knowledge becomes a productive force in its own right, outweighing the actual labour spent creating a machine, the big question becomes not one of “wages versus profits” but who controls what Marx called the “power of knowledge”.

But again, this is a one-sided and utopian view of technological progress. If you read the Fragment carefully, you can see that Marx is not posing some steady and harmonious development of a world of abundance through scientific knowledge embodied in an ‘ideal machine’. Yes, use values will multiply through technological advance, but this creates a contradiction within capitalism that will not disappear gradually. Under capitalism, increased knowledge from science and human labour is incorporated into machines. But machines are owned by capital not society in common. The class struggle does not disappear under the ‘power of knowledge’. On the contrary, it can intensify. For more on this, see G Carchedi’s Behind the Crisis, pp 225-232 (http://digamo.free.fr/carched11.pdf).

So it is not true that as Mason argues that “Something is broken in the logic we use to value the most important thing in the modern world.” And that “the knowledge content of products is becoming more valuable than the physical things that are used to produce them. But it is a value measured as usefulness, not exchange or asset value.” Use values are expanding dramatically in the information revolution, but the law of value still operates. Information is not free under capitalism. Indeed, every day, capitalism is trying and succeeding in measuring, capturing and owning information for profit.

But Mason continues to pursue his utopian view of the knowledge revolution. He pleads “If I could summon one thing into existence for free it would be a global institution that modelled capitalism correctly: an open source model of the whole economy; official, grey and black. Every experiment run through it would enrich it; it would be open source and with as many datapoints as the most complex climate models.” If only capitalism would operate in such a way as to create our superabundant postcapitalist world! But it won’t.

Mason returns to reality: “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

But he sees the contradiction, not between capital and labour, but between monopolies and free networking. This fragments the class struggle (which he seems to deny exists any more) into a battle of individual free minds and the knowledge-controlling forces of hierarchies. For Mason, the battle is between millions of people on their computers on the worldwide web (possibly in their pyjamas like me now) trying to change the world through the exchange of information against the forces of big business and their controlling structures. This replaces the old labour versus capital struggles.

Is such a prospect realistic or possible? The old-fashioned industrial proletariat is still out there and getting larger as more millions are urbanised and brought into factories to make the servers, fibre cables, robots, processors, software and other commodities necessary to create the ‘knowledge revolution’ for those of us in our pyjamas.

If Mason is telling us that the development of the productive forces have now created the pre-conditions for a society of abundance and an end of class exploitation, then that is right but it is nothing new. It what Marx said 160 years ago. It is what Engels said in 1880 when he summed up the state of capitalism and Marxism as scientific socialism as opposed to utopian socialism. “The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day-by-day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now, for the first time, here, but it is here.” (Socialism: utopian and scientific).

But Mason also seems to be saying that this new information/knowledge revolution is by-passing the contradictions of capitalism, the law of value and the exploitation of labour by capital. If so, then he is wrong. The contradiction between socialised production and capitalist appropriation remains. There is nothing new in the knowledge revolution that can change that. It requires the conscious action of labour to reconfigure “the social infrastructure”, as Mason calls it, to “make a fundamental change in what governments do”. Without that, ‘postcapitalism’ will remain a utopian dream.”

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Posted in Commons Transition, P2P Books, P2P Theory, Politics | No Comments »

Documentary: what are the conditions to move from relative political democracy to full economic democracy ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th July 2015


An excellent documentary, with english subtitles, coming from Sweden:

“This is a solid, thought provoking documentary covering a relevant economic topic in-depth. The question of capitalism’s grip on the modern world is highly relevant today and the film questions if we should be pushing for a democratic cooperative way of doing business, showing case studies of businesses who are surviving as democracies within a capitalist system.

A film by Patrik Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, André Nyström and Nils Säfström. Distributed in cooperation with Fria Tidningar Media Cooperative.”

Watch the documentary here:

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Posted in P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Rights, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

Can political movements become enabling movements ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th July 2015


The rapid transformation of the priorities of Syriza from a party promising radical change to a party that signs on to carrying out extreme neoliberal policies may require a fundamental rethinking of emancipatory politics.

Here is the thought of R.C. Smith:

“It remains true that, in spite of Syriza’s failures to date, the Greek people need not rely on the relic of the Party. It is possible that the Greek people, its communities, like in any other western country, can still plot a rebellious course of action through grassroots pressure and transformation.

It was always difficult to image that, within the realm of representative democracy, a leftist party could be elected with the expectation that they will be the sole driver of progressive transformative social change. This type of old leftist politics is dead. Instead, what is needed today is new progressive thinking. New forms of revolutionary politics and organisation and social philosophies of societal transformation. The revolutionary process requires guidance, but guidance by a political party (be it a Leninist or a social democratic party) is or should be a non-starter. This sort of guidance perpetuates, as we have seen time and again, the institutional and corporate world.[1] To the contrary: as part of a longstanding, widely developed and recognized thesis at Heathwood, emancipatory politics must have a grassroots centre of gravity and emphasis.

If the election of Syriza was a big moment for the Greek people and for leftist politics, it was always the case that beyond the victory of Election Day, another onslaught of terrifying rhetoric would come, as images of economic Armageddon are propagated by the European elite in attempt to undermine or coerce the direction of policy and action. To date, no other analysis has been more accurate. The challenge from the very first day was whether the party could resist the coercive powers of the instrumental, institutional, and administered world (to borrow the words of Adorno). It was always going to be the case that aside from potentially offering certain resistances to austerity, which Syriza has largely failed to do, the biggest success of the government will have been defined according to whether it can establish a set of policies for the immediate relief of precarious social and economic life, and also how it might put together a plan to assist the process of revolutionary transformation by way of radical reformism that supports the greater autonomy of social movements.

Can Syriza – and particularly Alexis Tsipras – resist the temptation of fetishizing the party and the role of the leader (Fromm), instead focusing on encouraging, supporting and, indeed, creating conditions for the flourishing of autonomous participatory movements, which is the real source of sustainable transformative transition to a post-capitalist world? Presently, it does not look very good. Syriza has offered little to no clue that it embraces an actual progressive mandate. In the end, only time will tell whether the leftist Greek government has the courage to resist old temptations and look toward radical new political horizons, which translates in the increasing critical diminution of their own hierarchical, authoritarian power as a political party – that is, the critical deconstruction of the hierarchical power of the party itself. Indeed, the emancipatory course – the goal for Syriza or any other leftist party – is to take up the democratic challenge, which, ultimately, means a course for the eventual abolishment of their own power. The ‘bigger picture’ – an actual egalitarian (and, impliedly, participatory) democracy – cannot exist under hierarchy, under a party or leader. It would be largely representative of a social landscape of horizontality.

One may instantly refute that in the current system a form of representation is required; because involvement in traditional, institutional politics is unavoidable. This may be true. Negotiations concerning Greece’s future might require temporary hierarchy, as we’ve seen in the past few weeks. But once this hierarchy is no longer responsive to a participatory mandate, it loses all validity. In this sense, Syriza so far bears no legitimacy as being part of a revolutionary movement in terms of the current course of history (as testified by its failure to call for police to cease its assault on protesters?).

Besides, if it is to be expected that ‘in a reified society, political issues will present themselves in a reified and mystifying way’,[2] and therefore the presence of temporary hierarchy may be unavoidable in certain situations; this is not to say that Syriza or any other leftist party should not work toward the transformation of the representative system. As many European Green parties currently argue, for example: one of the key policies for any progressive political party should be to challenge the current status of democracy, even if that means the very existence of the party itself in the long run. The very idea of a possible transition to an actual egalitarian (participatory, horizontal) democracy demands it – it demands or requires roots in grassroots politics. As Richard Gunn explains: “general elections are top-down affairs …/ now it’s time for social movements to come into their own. Participatory social movements are, or should be, the centre of gravity of an emancipatory politics – because emancipation exists in and through human interaction …/ [this] interaction is unlikely to result from hierarchy – in my view, an emancipatory movement must start as it intends to go on. That is, it must start (and continue) in a prefigurative way.”[3]

Yet, if participatory social movements are the centre of gravity of an emancipatory politics, these movements undoubtedly need support at the start. Moving beyond rigid debates between total and stifling hierarchy and the opposite of horizontalism, radical reformism can play a vital role. But radical reformism must be rooted in a revolutionary culture – that is, again, in the efforts of autonomous participatory movements. In other words: the question now with regards to the Greek Crisis might be on some level whether Syriza can still position itself from within the current coercive and ideological social reality of neoliberal capitalist Europe – even when buckling to external pressures to accept austerity – to create systematic subversions from within that context. If truly progressive, if truly a believer in actual democracy, if truly a party of the progressive and emancipatory left, it must find a way to do so. But the bigger question is whether it is willing to align itself with the grassroots, with Greek communities, in their struggle to potentially attempt to create a revolutionary, transformative culture.

What I mean by this last statement is not only how it is philosophically necessary that Syriza prioritise the enabling of resources, time, and space for progressive movements to develop and experiment with alternatives. It is also necessary for the course of economic transformation, that the current left government make its focused task to support the grassroots in whatever possible, in effort to develop an alternative to capitalism from the bottom-up.

What is required, today, is a prefigurative grassroots politics – the sort that we’ve already witnessed in various incarnations in different revolutionary cultures throughout the western world.

In a past series of research papers, I already began to layout an alternative philosophy of systemic change along these lines, which develops and expands on the argument presented in an ongoing project by Heathwood on emancipatory politics and radical (or actual) democracy. It is not possible here to provide a thorough account of the arguments and analyses presented in that series. What can be said is that an emancipatory political philosophy of fundamental system change should reject the idea of a Grand Soir and, instead, take a many-sided, integral view of the process of grassroots transformation. Against the belief in parties and or a radical takeover of the system by a political camp – especially as the driving force of societal transformation, which more often than not proves authoritarian, disempowering, and reproductive of dominant social structures and paradigms – an emancipatory politics would instead be multifaceted, holistic, participatory and prefigurative. It would take into account not only the philosophical, political and economic facets of fundamental systemic change; but also the psychological, emotional, relational, existential, anthropological, developmental, and even epistemological dimensions of change and of the particular needs of people. Based on a theory of how systems actually work, and how change actually unfolds, an emancipatory political philosophy would see social transformation as transitory, and as a transformative political and economic process inasmuch as a many-sided transformative healing process.[4]

Indeed, while I agree with Jerome Roos and others at ROAR Magazine, particularly with regards to Greece’s need for a “Plan C” – that is, for a social and political project oriented toward the commons and communality – to say this is not enough. Capitalism, as a mode of social relations, is alienating. Capitalism’s coercive legacy in this regard cannot be completely overcome in a relatively short period of time. It is a matter of transition, if nothing else. Thus I share ROAR’s commitment to the grassroots, with the caveat that the grassroots politics we’re talking about is prefigurative and mutually recognitive.[5]

In the global context, what is common amongst many progressive democratic movements is not only a shared emphasis on direct (participatory) democracy and horizontality. The deeper connection is an underlying dynamic of mutual recognition – understanding mutual recognition in an egalitarian and emancipatory sense. Positioned against the hierarchical, undemocratic and one-way relations of power that characterise the capitalist world, the mutually recognitive interaction of grassroots politics opens on to a landscape that is inclusive and participatory. Through participatory public engagement, commonising can emerge.[6]

The task of a progressive left government, then, is to find a way, to create set of policies, rooted in and supportive of the further development of the grassroots. In Greece, it is not as though the grassroots does not already exist. In fact, in some communities it is already very strong and healthy. As Jerome Roos recently cited with regards to the Greek context (but also applicable to Europe more generally), we already witness a remarkable proliferation and, indeed, experimentation with commons-based initiatives across a number of social spheres: “think of solidarity kitchens, social clinics, self-managed workplaces, mutual aid networks, alternative currencies, and so on”.[7]

Although examples of emancipatory grassroots movements may vary, in a popular or mainstream sense – consider Occupy-style initiatives, 15m, the movement of the squares, the Indignados, and so on – it is not that a progressive grassroots politics need to necessarily be explicitly political. Grassroots politics can also take less obvious and less directly political forms. Alternative education (as in Summerhill, the Alpha Project for homeless people or the Social Science Centre, Lincoln), basic community projects such as community-based agriculture or energy initiatives, emancipatory constructs regarding the re-organisation of media and communication and, even, technology-focused initiatives – all of these may have an emancipatory grassroots logic.[8] Against the bleak and hopeless narrative of dominant neoliberal capitalist media, the truth is that a lot is happening on a grassroots level in a diversity of forms and across many different sites of resistance.

If we’re ever going to transcend capitalism and eventually move beyond its coercive legacy, the process of healing and transformation must come from below. The goal for Syriza or any other leftist party, then, if it is to have any relevance, is to support the grassroots in the development of an alternative social world from within the current system, and work toward the abolishment of its own required existence as an entity. In the meantime, its power should only be considered in the sea of horizontality, in midst of a mutually recognitive and prefigurative grassroots landscape, never free from normative critique and the challenge of demonstration. This is the only way it can suffice to be an actual progressive partner for people.

So how can Syriza redeem itself? Well, redemption should begin in and through acknowledgment of grassroots demand. As to what those demands might be, they are likely to vary given the particularity of the community, its needs, and the particular needs of its people. But for the government to move forward with any semblance of progressiveness, it must open the channels for mutual exchanges of communication. Perhaps delegates from community democratic assemblies would be one option to making communication direct and effective?

With regards to greater economic transformation – that is, transformation of the economy – I offer several comments which may be of assistance to various grassroots movements, whether in Greece or elsewhere.

There are, generally speaking, two broad levels of focus with regards to the development of alternatives to capitalism. “The first is an alternative to how capitalism organizes enterprises in terms of their internal workings and relationships.”[9] The second is an alternative “to how capitalism organizes the economy as a whole.”[10] Concerning both levels, we can celebrate the fact there are alternative models available in the here and now. From Participatory Economics to Economic Democracy, P2P, Collaborative Economics, the Sharing Economy, worker co-operatives, social enterprises, non-profit organisation (to name just a few) – alternative economic possibilities, varying from market to non-market models, are emerging all around us. The problem is, none are perfect. A lot more development has to take place. A lot more experimenting on a grassroots level has to happen. That is to say that there is still much to do with regards to the process of undertaking further study and critique and redevelopment.

To the best of my knowledge, most of the more ‘concrete’ alternatives – by which I mean theories and models that have been considered extensively on a micro and macro level, and could be considered as immediate substitutes for neoliberal capitalism through a process of deep, radical reform – are market-based alternatives. Of course market-based economics come with a whole list of problems and questions – including structural problems that are in many ways in conflict with actual egalitarian democratic social relations. But if the notion of transition is key to conceptualising a course that begins to move beyond capitalist coordinates in the present, we can at least start to navigate the structural antagonisms of market-based alternatives as we move into a progressive market system which, in turn, would open more space for the experimentation of other future progressive systems – perhaps even a non-market alternative, which should be the ultimate goal. In other words, the position I am drawing on here is one that sees economic transition in phrases. From within one progressive market-based system might another more emancipatory system emerge. From there, perhaps more space develops and more ideas are conceived with regards to non-market possibilities on a micro and macro level. Revolutionary transition is therefore participatory inasmuch as it is a democratic, grassroots and unfolding process.”

Moving then to the Closing Reflections of his long essay, R.C. Smith writes:

“So where does that leave us? Where does that leave the Greek people, or the hope for transformation in the UK or Canada or the US or wherever else? Quite simply: there is no hard and fast answer. It’s a transition, one small step at a time. It is going to be a struggle: such is the demand of an actually progressive (participatory) politics. But the requirements of Syriza should at least be clear. If they refuse or fail, then the grassroots only has to return to exactly where they have started from.

As Theodoros Karyotis recently wrote in his article for ROAR Magazine:

Syriza’s failure to deliver on any of its campaign promises or to reverse the logic of austerity lifts the veil of illusion regarding institutional top-down solutions and leaves the grassroots movements exactly where they started from: being the main antagonistic force to the neoliberal assault on society. Now is the moment for a broad alliance of social forces to bring forward a ‘Plan C’, based on social collaboration, decentralized self-government and the stewardship of common goods. Without overlooking its significance, national electoral politics is not the privileged field of action when it comes to social transformation. The withering away of democracy in Europe should be complemented and challenged by the fortification of self-organized communities at a local level and the forging of strong bonds between them, along with a turn to a solidarity- and needs-based economy, and the collective management and defense of common goods.

To know that the first steps out of capitalism, however tentative and fragile, is not impossible, is significant. It provides, as Lambert Zuidervaart reflects when writing on Adorno, a real sense of hope in the midst of hopelessness. Indeed, in the same way I have closed so many of my essays: the point is that emancipation must begin as it aims to go on. No matter how one looks at, we have it all to do. If policy is not there to help, this does not mean the first step out of capitalism is lost. Economic Democracy provides an immediate alternative on both levels of transformation – it is within our grasp, even in terms of a prefigurative politics. It is within people’s grasp in the context of existing economic systems and even within existing businesses.

Moving forward, and with regards to the notion of creating revolutionary culture: solidarity, irrespective of policy support, must be created amongst movements and initiatives and campaigns across various or, indeed, diverse sites of struggle – that is, a solidarity that recognizes both the particularity and universality of struggle for a better world. To put it differently: revolutionary theory must recognize transformation as the outcome of a plurality of sources within “the differential fabric of society”.[21] Solidarity must be achieved amongst diversity of progressive movements, whether they’re the fast-food workers’ movement or a student occupation or an environmental campaign or a community agriculture initiative or civil rights struggle or an anti-oppression campaign. Despite the differences in particular focus, despite one’s particular individual focus of concern, progressives throughout the west ultimately share in one way or another a common universal struggle: that is, anti-capitalist struggle.

But if a more concrete object of solidarity is required, then, if not a form of recognition of the various struggles themselves (for a better society), it could, in the least, be found in the anti-capitalist struggle for democracy. Against a system which runs counter to the well-being of all; counter to the prospect of actual democracy, equality and egalitarianism; counter to environmental justice and agrarian rights; counter to participation and freedom; the many diverse sites of resistance today should recognize the fundamentally (bad) social reality in which they all exist. Conscious solidarity of the whole, as Adorno once described it, does not take anything away from the particularity of suffering, conflict and struggle of each group or each community or each individual. It simply recognizes the particular in the context of the systemic whole.

Is such a form of solidarity already being forged among people, communities and the grassroots in Greece? I am not in a position to answer. What I can say is that even in places like the UK, conscious solidarity seems present in certain movements at certain times (however fleeting). However, if it is the case that greater economic lines of sight are required; here, again, Economic Democracy might be proposed. It could be proposed as a potentially widely accessible platform for the basis of many things, including the beginning stages of the process for (re)democratization of food, labour, political-economy, environmental management, the university, and so on. The message is clear, open, engaging, and inclusive. In confronting the bigger picture, Economic Democracy is an easily understandable concept and theory. Seen as the first systemic step, it could be relied on in different ways by progressives across all sections or sectors of society.

In closing: if Economic Democracy is the initial focus, then when all starts to feel lost on a policy level, with neoliberal governments destined to refuse to respect the voice of the people, strategic confrontation with the status quo is still obtainable, particularly by pressuring the inner-most structural constitution of the system: i.e., challenge existing business to democratize. Inject the concept of worker self-management and co-ops into the mainstream. Boycott, if collectively necessary. Turn the capitalist notion of ‘money is power’ on its head. Subvert and pressure and create from within, in whatever way conceivable. Like guerrilla gardeners, plant seeds of transformation within the existing (bad) social architecture – institutions, cultural practices, and interpersonal relations – of contemporary society. From alternative education movements to open-source tech projects and community-based medical initiatives, revolutionary change can occur in the most surprising of places. It is more than possible that, with a concerted effort, the end of capitalism could be closer than what we may all expect or anticipate. But for that to happen, one thing is clear: the development of a revolutionary culture, of conscious solidarity, and all that it entails, is necessary if not vital.”

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Three initiatives that point the way for a Plan C in Greece

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
25th July 2015


Excerpted from Theodoros Karyotis:

“Greece is probably a peculiar case within Europe in that the state never had a positive role of economic redistribution and the welfare mechanisms were rudimentary even when they existed in the “good days” before the crisis severely hit. This is probably why within the social movements there are presently many voices that not only are anti-austerity or anti-neoliberal, but envision a whole new path that leads us away from state-sponsored capitalism.

What follows is the presentation of 3 movements, which revolve around the following core values: resistance, horizontality, participation, solidarity and defence of the commons, through practices that challenge the dominant discourse and promote popular education and self-initiative.

When the sale of Thessaloniki’s water company was announced in 2011 as part of the Troika’s conditions, citizens promoting direct democracy and cooperativism met with the water workers’ trade union in the occupied squares of the Greek “indignados”. There, they elaborated a proposal for a viable alternative to both corporate privatization and state administration of water services. They formed a new movement called Initiative 136, based on the simple premise that if 136 Euros is provided by each household in the city, the citizens can raise the amount needed to buy the water company, protect it from corporate greed and manage it through local cooperatives in a non-profit manner, thus ensuring democratic participation, social justice and access to this vital good for everyone. After securing funding from cooperative banks, Initiative 136 presented its bid in the public tender for the privatization of the water company. Its bid was rejected by the institution carrying out the privatization, with no sufficient justification, so Initiative 136 started a legal battle to overturn this decision, parallel to the process of organizing the community and applying political pressure against privatization.

In May 2014, Initiative 136 was one of the main promoters of a grassroots referendum where 98 per cent of the voters rejected water privatization. Massive popular opposition and a Supreme Court decision have since obliged the government to freeze the privatization process. This, however, is only a partial victory; Initiative 136 continues organizing to make social control of water a reality.

Another recent experiment is the occupation, and subsequent operation under workers’ self-management, of the construction materials factory of Vio.Me. in Thessaloniki. In February 2013, 2 years after the employers abandoned the factory, the 40 members of the Vio.Me. workers’ union, organized through assemblary and horizontal decision making, with the support of a wide solidarity movement, restarted production in the occupied factory. At the same time they switched production towards environmentally friendly cleaning products that are distributed through solidarity channels, especially the structures of the blooming social and solidarity economy that is rapidly growing around Greece. The workers of Vio.Me face the hostility of the Greek state, which refuses to create a legal framework that allows the normal operation of the factory and conspires with the exowners against this new endeavour. But there is also resistance from a large sector of the communist Left, which accuses the workers of aiming to become “small capitalists”. According to the traditional Left’s mode of thinking, whatever is not state-owned is private: Society cannot have any self-determined and independent existence outside the dominant institutions of the state and the market.

Despite such a hostile environment, Vio.Me has had significant success in sustaining the worker’s families, in has created a big international solidarity movement. In April 2014, after overcoming several legal and bureaucratic hurdles, the workers formed a cooperative, based on the very principles that had been guiding their endeavor since the beginning: collective decision-making through the workers’ assembly, collective ownership of the means of production, and non-profit operation, as any surpluses will return to the wider community.

The third movement I would like to mention here is Thessaloniki’s social solidarity clinic. It is one of the oldest and biggest in a network of clinics around Greece that are run by volunteer health professionals. They are providing free healthcare services to a target population of approximately 3 million Greeks and immigrants that have no social security coverage at the moment. They operate remarkably efficiently by horizontal decision making, they finance their activity only on donations of individuals, barring companies and governmental institutions, and they try to engage the community and the patients themselves in their processes of self-management. At the same time they are part of a wider movement in Greece that demands universal healthcare by engaging in direct action, applying political pressure and trying to create public awareness. At great personal risk, solidarity clinic volunteers who work as physicians and nurses in the public health system, honour their oath by “smuggling” into the public hospitals uninsured patients that need
treatment or examinations that the solidarity clinic cannot provide.

I started this presentation by saying that the political, economic and social rights of the Greek population are under attack, but what I presented here was not big crowds protesting and demanding that their rights are respected. Rather, I chose to present examples where groups of people organize from below and just try to take back what has been robbed of them: Water, healthcare, livelihood. They have fallen out of trust with political and governmental institutions. They envision a different world and at the same time they create the instruments to move towards it. New instruments that are autonomous from existing structures of power, that work outside of the spaces of representational democracy, which are so consistently co-opted, undermined or appeased by the traditional holders of power.

These movements seek not only to create new spaces of political participation and debate, but to operate on a different set of principles: Solidarity, cooperation, selfmanagement, participation, community involvement and defence of the common goods. In short: They organize prefigurative arrangements of political governance from below rather than wait for social or economic rights to be granted by an omnipotent instance of power.

This is not to say that social movements and organizations should stop demanding the enforcement of negotiated rights. Rather, we have to be aware of the limits of the rights discourse and the individualisation it produces in front of instances of power, and be ready to overcome it when it helps perpetuate asymmetrical power relations, by legitimating the domination of those who “grant” them over those who “claim” the rights. We have already seen how Thessaloniki’s social solidarity clinic is a defender of universal healthcare as a right, but also a promoter of community healthcare as a commons. Self-managed initiatives don’t reject the idea of rights altogether, but they renegotiate those rights within the context of the community and they challenge the role of the state as enforcer and guarantor of those rights, promoting instead the collective empowerment of the rights holders themselves.

Capitalism is going through a structural crisis. It has reached its energetic, environmental and social limits. Can the practices of commoning, of solidarity, gift and sharing economy, through their questioning of capitalism’s core values –private property, methodological individualism, political representation– offer us a sneak peek of a new economic and political configuration? Or do we run the chance of offering capitalism a way out of its problems, by helping alleviate the social reproduction crisis that neoliberal policies have created?

To get out of its dead-end, capitalism is trying to get what Massimo DeAngelis calls “a commons fix”: It tries to utilize commons-based alternatives, especially solidarity structures and cooperatives, as a cheap and easy way to provide welfare support, healthcare, income, protection from unemployment, etc. Through a discursive shift from the Thatcherite “there is no thing such as a society” to the official U.K. state policy of “the big society”, the people are left to fend for themselves while the state pulls the welfare rug from under their feet.

This is why the creation of “tame” and co-optable versions of commons practices (disguised as “social entrepreneurship”, NGOs, solidarity networks, etc) is now an institutionally sanctioned practice in a hyper-neoliberal European Union in crisis: They are providing cheap alternatives to the rapidly privatized and dismantled public welfare system for the reproduction of the workforce and preservation of social peace.

In this light, merely building commons alternatives is hardly enough from the point of view of social emancipation: What is needed is an articulation of radical and dynamic commons endeavours that seek not to complement state and capital, but to foreshadow their substitution with a new set of social practices and institutions that can guarantee a future for the next generations. While capitalism will keep on trying to disrupt, coopt and utilize the flow of social cooperation, commons initiatives have to be articulated in a diverse and militant constitutive process that will extend commons practices and institutions in ever more areas of social life, thus leaving gradually less and less of people’s lives in the hands of the state and the market.

The existing experiments in social appropriation and self-management of workplaces, public utilities and services around Europe can light the way in this direction.”

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A Commons Approach to European Knowledge Policy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th July 2015


We stand at a crossroads between a backward-looking regime of proprietary policies based on archaic economic models – and a burgeoning new system that respects the power of innovation and social practices in open networks, inviting us to make the most of an emerging world of knowledge commons. EU policies can help to strengthen the relevant social, cultural and environmental work of tens of thousands of “knowledge commoners”- networks of innovative communities- around Europe. They are part of the structural environment that enables society to fully reap the benefits of knowledge sharing and collaborative production.

* Policy Paper: A Commons Approach to European Knowledge Policy. Sophie Bloemen & David Hammerstein. Commons Network and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2015

Here is the summary of this very important paper from the Commons Network, followed by the full executive summary:

“How can we address the high prices of medicines that are straining health budgets? How can openly sharing green knowledge help an agreement at the climate change talks in Paris this year? How could TTIP further privatize knowledge and what can we do about it? What does it mean to say the Internet belongs to everyone?

The Commons perspective sheds light on the democratic governance of knowledge for the common good and identifies knowledge as a shared resource that is a collective responsibility. It emphasizes equitable access to knowledge resources such as health-care, the need to prioritize ecological sustainability in knowledge policy and to promote participation in the management of an open and democratic Internet.

In the paper A Commons Approach to EU Knowledge Policy, Sophie Bloemen & David Hammerstein explain the commons perspective and apply it to various domains of policy that need urgent attention in Europe today.” (http://commonsnetwork.eu/a-commons-approach-to-european-knowledge-policy/)

* The Executive Summary by Sophie Bloemen & David Hammerstein:

“Thanks to the Internet and scores of new digital technologies, the past two decades have seen revolutionary changes in economic production, much of it stemming from unprecedented new forms of collaboration in the creation and sharing of knowledge.1 The sharing of useful knowledge brings significant economic, social and environmental benefits, allowing people to have access to valuable knowledge goods, to participate and to exercise their democratic rights.

Unfortunately, many of the economic and legal structures that govern knowledge and its modes of production – not to mention cultural mindsets – are exclusionary. They presume certain modes of corporate organization, market structures, government investment policies, intellectual property rights and social welfare metrics that are increasingly obsolete and socially undesirable. The European Union therefore faces an urgent challenge: How to manage knowledge in a way that is socially and ecologically sustainable? How can it candidly acknowledge epochal shifts in technology, commerce and social practice by devising policies appropriate to the current age?

Such a shift is important if the EU is to assure the vitality of its scientific research, enhance social wellbeing, as well as maintain its economic position in the world. Policy structures have to enable ordinary people to freely access and share knowledge and reap the benefits of collaborative technologies. Without such legal rights and practical capabilities, Europeans will not be able to act as sovereign democratic citizens in the face of powerful large state and corporate institutions. In this sense, EU policies for knowledge-creation and sharing have profound implications for well-being, human rights and social justice.

To be sure, the European Union (EU) embraces the idea of the “knowledge economy” as an area of competitive advantage; its Lisbon strategy declared the EU’s ambition to become ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy in the world’. Paradoxically, this ambition is undercut by the EU’s fierce commitment to expanding intellectual property rights (IPR) and enforcement, which often undercut the great competitiveness and innovation unleashed by collaborative knowledge-creation. Indeed whether these policies are serving the purpose of fostering innovation is subject to debate while enclosing knowledge has led to high costs for society and the exclusion of many from accessing knowledge goods. The lack of access to medicines and a weaker dissemination of climate change technologies are prime examples.

EU policies generally focus on the narrow benefits of IRP-based innovation for individual companies and rely on archaic social wellbeing models such as GP growth and narrow outdated models of human motivation. The EU has failed to explore the considerable public benefits that could be had through robust, open ecosystems of network-based collaboration. For example, the EU has paid little serious attention to the enormous innovative capacities of free, libre and open source software (FLOSS), digital peer production resulting in for example Wikipedia, open design and manufacturing, social networking platforms, and countless other network-based modes of knowledge creation, design and production.

Additionally, much of the EU’s public investment in research and innovation does not sufficiently take into account the public interest. With the exception of recently adopted open access publishing requirements and some proposals towards open science, it uses public funds to subsidize proprietary technologies for example in health or environment, while scanting on the larger payoffs that could result from public investments in knowledge that remains a public good available to all.

Within this context, the fate of the Internet as a central gateway to knowledge and information must be a primary concern. The Internet is a foundational infrastructure of our time. It is therefore worrisome that large private actors are increasingly laying claim to this indispensable public infrastructure and cultural space, while public policies that would assure net neutrality are defeated. These developments are threatening the future of democracy and open society as well as innovation and competition.

The commons perspective, as a new framework for understanding knowledge, can contribute to some important, long-overdue EU policy discussions. The commons embraces knowledge as a shared resource and its management a joint responsibility. It points towards policies that facilitate equitable access to and the sustainable management of knowledge. Rather than a narrow focus on intellectual property or economic value alone, the commons approach requires us to attempt a more comprehensive understanding of value and policies that serve the common good.

Commons thinking takes a community and ecosystem perspective, placing issues of stewardship, social equity and long-term sustainability at the forefront of policy. With the commons paradigm, we aim at going beyond a purely individual rights- and marketoriented worldview: the very perspective that many consider to be at the root of current economic and environmental crises. Instead of conceiving of society as a mere collection of atomized individuals principally living as consumers, commons thinking points to the reality of people’s lives as deeply embedded in social relationships, communities, histories, traditions and nature.

As such a commons approach embraces the new opportunities for civic participation, nonmarket self-provisioning and reduced inequality as well as greater de-centralized innovation. The perspective points towards policies that for example favor open sharing of knowledge and alternative incentive models that could make medicines far more affordable; generate more useful, localized environmental knowledge and technologies; and facilitate more copious knowledge transfers to a Global South struggling to meet basic human needs. The compelling logic, benefits and ethic of a commons approach to knowledge, could improve policy in certain areas such as health, the environment, science and culture, and the Internet.

* Here Come the Commons:

Given the social and environmental needs that could be more easily met through greater sharing of knowledge, the EU needs to ensure that knowledge is accessible as a public good (if not as commons), especially in the fields of health, environment and education. It also needs to protect against centralized corporate control of our knowledge infrastructure, and assure that the entire ecosystem of knowledgeproduction and distribution remains open and decentralized. There must be the structural space and legal protections for quasi-autonomous knowledge commons to thrive.

The agenda is clear and extensive: more nonexclusive and socially responsible licensing, open innovation programs, strong net neutrality rules, the decentralization and democratization of infrastructure, open data policies, a science commons infrastructure, and trade policies that promote knowledge sharing and technology transfer, especially for ecological needs.

An agenda at the EU level to expand the knowledge commons might include:

• Non-exclusive licensing.

The EU should favor those forms of licensing for research that generate the highest possible social benefit, particularly when public funding is involved. Socially responsible or non-exclusive licenses on patents would enable broader, less expensive access to biomedical innovations as well as immediate follow up innovation by competitors.

Another priority for which the same logic holds is the sharing of knowledge for green technologies to fight climate change. Mandatory open-access publishing rules and the use of Creative Commons licenses will also accelerate knowledge sharing.

• New policies and institutions that support knowledge commons

In light of the considerable benefits of collaborative sharing, the EU should develop new policies and types of institutions that support durable knowledge commons.

Support for alternative incentives for biomedical research such as prizes, dissemination of green technologies, the use of patent pools and data-sharing, could also require new legal design, funding and the establishment of international frameworks.

• A halt to the further enclosure of knowledge through additional intellectual property protection

The EU should refrain from further adding to the imbalance between excessive IP protection and knowledge sharing for the common good; by not i) adopting misguided trade secrets regulation, ii)enacting upward harmonization of IP through trade agreements and iii) exporting of unbalanced norms to third countries through trade agreements

• Multilateral treaties or Conventions that promote common goods

Instead of using multilateral treaties solely to promote market exchange of private knowledge goods and the enclosure of knowledge, the EU should support proposals designed to invest in R&D and promote knowledge sharing among countries. This could produce enormous social benefits by expanding global knowledge commons. This could be particularly important within the international climate change discussions.

• Policies that recognize the Internet as infrastructure and Public Space

Net neutrality regulation is one obvious way that policy can assure universal and affordable access to the Internet as a basic human right. Open standards for software and technical protocols are another way to treat infrastructure as a commons, spurring competition, better government procurement and greater democratic accountability. EU policy should also address issues of ownership of data, the role of the market on the Internet and the commodification of users.

We stand at a crossroads between a backward-looking regime of proprietary policies based on archaic economic models – and a burgeoning new system that respects the power of innovation and social practices in open networks, inviting us to make the most of an emerging world of knowledge commons. EU policies can help to strengthen the relevant social, cultural and environmental work of tens of thousands of “knowledge commoners”- networks of innovative communities- around Europe. They are part of the structural environment that enables society to fully reap the benefits of knowledge sharing and collaborative production.

Let´s not miss this opportunity.”

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Interview with Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval on the Politics of the Common

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th July 2015


The interview was conducted by Amador Fernández-Savater. Dardot and Laval are the authors of a book on neoliberalism and a book on the ‘common': “Common, Essay on revolution in the 21st Century”.

* “What was your intention in writing the book? Why set out this key idea of the common here and now?

Pierre Dardot: This book follows the same trail as our previous works, particularly The New Way of the World. The latter ends with a somewhat elliptical expression: “the reason of the commons”. We wanted to suggest that the ‘counter-conducts’ we spoke about in the book, that is, the practices of resistance and subjectivation, ought to be articulated as a new political reason, an alternative political reason to the neoliberal reason we had analysed.

What we were not so sure about was this very articulation, or, to put it another way, what kind of direct and positive participation in conducts of resistance could help build an alternative rationality. We had in mind an opposition between two principles: competition (a principle of neoliberal logic) and the common [lo común], but it was still very abstract. Ultimately, what was at stake was what we might call the positivity of practices of resistance: we cannot be satisfied with a resistance to power that is purely defensive or reactive. Rather, we have to think about a resistance that can produce new rules. It is only in this way that we will be in a position to overthrow neoliberal reason.

Christian Laval. We were prepared to map out the path from resistance to emancipation, in that sense moving beyond Foucault and his mistrust of the “big projects”. But what was ultimately decisive in writing this book, with this title, were the different movements contesting the private and state-led appropriation of resources, spaces, services, etc. And, most especially, the movement of the occupation of squares (15M, etc) which has set forth new demands with an incomparable energy.

In all these movements a radical questioning of ‘representative’ democracy has developed, in the name of a ‘real’ democracy, linked in certain cases to ecological demands concerning the preservation of ‘common goods’ (urban spaces above all). So something that was for us still rather a matter of intuition at the end of The New Way of the World has now taken shape. We believe that the common is the principle that literally emerges from all these movements. The common is not, then, something that we have invented, but rather emerges from current struggles as their own principle.

* What is your definition of the common?

Pierre Dardot: The definition of the common that we propose at the beginning of the book does not seek to be a general definition, independent of time and place. If we go back to the etymology of this term (cum-munus) it is certainly not to give the impression that the common has always held the meaning we give it today. In Aristotle, the koinôn is what arises from the activity of common endeavour that constitutes citizenship, the activity that involves the back-and-forth between the rulers and the ruled. In the Roman Republic, the word munis meant, above all, the dimension of obligation imposed upon all magistrates that held public office. Today, by the lights of the movement of the squares, the term has a rather different meaning: the only valid political obligation is that which proceeds, not from belonging to the same thing, but from participation and involvement in the same activity or task. This demand is one of participative democracy and as such it stands opposed to representative democracy, which authorises a few to speak and act on behalf of the many.

* Could you explain the difference between your approach to the common and what we find in other discourses at play in more or less the same field? To be specific: 1) What distinguishes the common from the public-state owned? 2) What distinguishes the common from ‘common goods’? 3) What distinguishes your thoughts from those of other intellectuals such as Toni Negri and Michael Hardt?

Christian Laval: The public-state-owned rests upon two demands that are perfectly contradictory: on the one hand, it purports to guarantee universality of access to public services; on the other, the state administration reserves the monopoly over running these services, thereby reducing users to consumers, and excluding them from any kind of participation in their running. The commons must be precisely to put an end to this baleful division between “public servants” [funcionarios] and “users”. To put it another way, the common could be defined the public/non-state: to guarantee universality in access to services through direct user participation in their running.

Pierre Dardot: Secondly, the common is for us a political principle and not a property that might pertain by nature to a certain kind of “goods”. We distinguish between the common [lo común] as a political principle that is not to be instituted but rather applied, and the commons, which are always instituted through the application of this principle. The commons are not ‘produced’, but rather ‘instituted’. This is why we are very reticent with regard to ‘common goods’. Because all goods considered in this way share this quality of being ‘products’. We think this reasoning needs to be turned around: every common that is instituted (whether natural resource, knowledge, cultural space etc.) is a good, but no good is in itself common. A common is not a ‘thing’, even when it relates to a thing, but rather the living tie between a thing, an object or a place, and the activity of the collective that takes charge of it, that maintains it and cares for it. The common can only be instituted as that which cannot be appropriated.

Christian Laval: Finally, our perspective also calls into question the thesis set out by Negri and Hardt of a spontaneous production of the common, which would be at once both the result and the condition of the process of production (in the same mode as the expansive dynamic of the forces of production in a certain kind of Marxism). We think that by idealising the autonomy of immaterial labour in the era of ‘cognitive capitalism’, this thesis fatally ignores the mechanisms for subordinating labour that capital nowadays operates.

* ‘There are no goods that are not common goods [by their very nature, by their intrinsic qualities], but rather commons to be instituted.’ These are the words that round off your work and in a certain way summarise it. How is the common instituted? What kind of institutions are appropriate?

Pierre Dardot: To institute does not mean to institutionalise in the sense of rendering official, of consecrating or of recognising a posteriori what has already existed for some time (for example, in the form of habit or custom), nor does it mean to create out of nothing. It means to create the new with -and starting from- what already exists, as such in conditions passed down independently of our activity. A common is instituted by a specific praxis that we call ‘instituent praxis’. There is no general method for the institution of any given common. Each praxis ought to be understood and carried out in situ or in loco. That is why we must speak of ‘instituent praxes’ in plural.

Christian Laval: Opening up a service that had been until that moment closed down, in a psychiatric hospital, following a discussion with the health workers and the patients, involves an instituent praxis, though it might be a ‘micropolitical’ extension, as Foucault would have it. Similarly, instituting a seed bank for peasants or setting up a cultural centre for common use. And it is these practices that prepare and build the revolution understood as ‘auto-institution of society’.

* There is a classical suspicion among the more egalitarian and horizontal movements with regard to the idea of ‘institution': the danger of bureaucratisation, the consecration of tradition, the excessively rigid channelling of the ‘flow’ of the movements, etc. How would you respond to this suspicion? How should we think of the institution in a way that responds to these risks? How can we crystallise without freezing?

Christian Laval: Throughout history: there is a ‘curse’ that lies in wait for social mobilisations, for movements of struggle, for revolutionary experiences: the alternative between their swift dissolution due to lack of structure, or their bureaucratisation. Certain writers hold that we cannot escape the petrification of movements, their degradation into a fixed organisation, headed up by a small conservative oligarchy. Sartre, for example, thought that the insurrectional episode of the groupe en fusion inevitably led to an institutional reification. The concept of institution therefore wound up in one thing: the inertia of a dead body.

But this thesis can only be understood as the reverse of the old Marxist-Leninist theory of the Party that saw, in the absence of a disciplined organisation capable of seizing the centre of power, the cause of the defeat of revolutions (particularly the Paris Commune). The Marxist-Leninist party, the keeper of the knowledge of history, was no more than a simulacrum of State, based on the model of the central bureacracy. The challenge of contemporary movements consists in having the capacity to refute this double fatalism.

Pierre Dardot: We have to tackle this feeling of historical impotence that says that effective and lasting politics can be nothing other than the monopoly of the dominant. And to this end there is only one solution: to create institutions whose principle is such that the rules can be the object of a constant collective deliberation so as to avoid a bureacratic ‘freezing-over’. What is essential is that the institution, whatever it might be, should have the capacity to open up to the unforeseen and adapt to new necessities: its functioning must therefore allow at every moment a relaunching of the instituent.”

* At what point are we right now in this struggle?

Christian Laval: The dominant forces in Europe and the world have deliberately entered into a logic of political confrontation, under the pretext of returning debt to creditors, in order to break these fractions of the population that resist neoliberalism and rip the heart out of any will for political rupture. We are entering a new period of struggles. Greece and Spain are the vanguard. The important thing is that they must not remain alone, and that other forces in other countries must come to their aid in order to break these austerity policies.

The situation of confrontation on a European scale shows the practical need for a new internationalism. And hence one of the current risks, undoubtedly the major risk, is that when confronted with the ravages of neoliberalism, some end up succumbing to the deadly siren calls of nationalism and sovereigntism. This is what is currently happening in France, not only on the far right with the Front National, but also in the ‘radical’ left.

* We believe one of the virtues and strengths of your book is that it can appeal both to those involved in grassroots experiences as well as those who have opted for the ‘assault on the institutions’. Regarding grassroots movements, how might your book help to rethink and reassess one of their major problems, that of duration? How can the (egalitarian, inclusive etc) political practices that emergge in exceptional moments of struggle be turned into ‘habit’ or ‘custom’?

Pierre Dardot: Regarding the movements, the reach of our book, at least that which we are seeking, is that the institutional dimension of ‘real democracy’, in the words of 15M, be taken seriously, that it become the object of experiments, debates, collective reflections. For us, real democracy is a matter of institutions. And this is the condition for ensuring the duration and the strength of the movements. It is for this reason that we are opposed to all these illusions regarding the spontaneous development of ‘immanent communism’ in grassroots struggles. These illusions are dangerous, because they short-circuit the decisive question of the institution, that is, in our perspective, the investigation regarding the effective forms of instituent praxes. The dialogue can be established on these grounds.

We should not underestimate how difficult it is to invent new institutions whose functioning is geared explicitly towards preventing their appropriation by a small number, the distorting of their purposes, or the ‘rigidification’ of their rules. The question is not how to ‘create’ new ‘customs’ or ‘habits’, because neither one nor the other can be the object of acts of institution, but rather how to allow practical rules to prevail that allow for debate, deliberation, collective decision-making even in the very definition of the rules that organise collective life.

* And regarding public institutions, how might one contribute from these towards the common? Is it possible, for example, to transform public institutions into institutions of the common

Christian Laval: As we have said, there is a close relation between the ephemeral nature of mobilisations and the more or less ‘grassroots’ spontaneity that condemns any kind of political activity in the name of distrust regarding everything that looks like “politics”. But at the same time, it is not enough to “conquer power” and “occupy the positions” of the State in order to change things. The deep and undoubtedly irreversible crisis of representative democracy in the neoliberal era clearly shows the need to invent another politics, another relation to politics. And that is precisely the challenge of the politics of the common.

Pierre Dardot: We must remember that the common does not come from the State. The State is by no means the owner of the common, except illegitimately. It is from the very inside of society’s movement, through the struggles that transform it, that new political forms are invented. Institutions are born out of conflict. It has been forgotten, no doubt owing to the degeneration of the organisations of the socialist and labour movement, that workers in the 19th century were able, under very difficult conditions, to build new institutions in their day, such as unions, cooperatives, mutuals etc.

The current abundance of associations of struggle and defence of citizens links back to this history while at the same time gives it a deep renewal. It is not only the workplace that needs to be reinstituted politically, as socialists of years past wanted, but all social activities and all spheres of life: the hospital, the school, the home, the city, the culture.

Christian Laval: There is no preestablished plan for this new politics. We only have concrete experiences that need to be considered, compared, synthesised. For example, all that has been explored for years under the name of ‘participatory democracy’ at a local level, in very different regions and under very varied forms, in Latin America, in England, in the Kurdish region of Rojava with its communalist utopia etc. And, above all, this irresistible wave on a global level of collective care of ‘common goods’, which entails (despite its erroneous designation) the participation of citizens in its definition, care, production. The example of the democratisation of water services in Naples, as promoted by the mayor Luigi de Magistris, stands out in this sense, despite its limits.

* To be more specific: what message would you give to the municipal initiatives (Ahora Madrid, Barcelona en Comú, Marea Atlántica) that view ‘the defence of common goods’ as a key axis of their programmes?

Pierre Dardot: One of our ‘proposals’ is to transform public services into instituted commons. This would mean that they would no longer belong to the State as if it were the proprietor, the sole custodian, the overall authority. A public service is only worthy of that title if it is a service that society gives to itself in order to realise its rights and satisfy its needs. We need to break the monopoly of state administration in order to guarantee universality of access to these services: users must be considered, not as consumers, but rather as citizens who take part in the deliberations and decisions that concern them, alongside the ‘public servants’.

Christian Laval: Another condition to be imposed: politics must not be a matter for professionals. Politics is not an office, and least of all an office for life. On the political plane, one of the hinges of the revolution we are tasked with today is the radical modification of the definition of the political mandate, at every level, in order to eliminate the political ‘caste’, who, ever closer to the ruling economic powers, has done so much harm to our societies.”

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Umair Haque on the era of demagogic leadership

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2015


True leaders lead people to an impossible destination. It does not exist in the world. It exists in being. They lead us towards to our better selves. Those seared, impossibly, defiantly, courageously, with happiness, purpose, meaning. Lives which may swim in the mighty river of grace, and, because they give thanks for the boundless privilege of life, bestow the gift of mercy and love upon each and every fellow traveller they meet. That is the defining characteristic of every leader that history remembers as truly great?—?whether Mandela, MLK, or FDR; Lennon, Cobain, or Orwell.Demagogues do not lead us to our better selves. They lead us to the very opposite: our worse selves. They condemn people to become nothing more than twisted, stunted caricatures of who they were meant to be. And by doing so, they diminish what is truly most valuable in the world: human potential. For the tragedy of the demagogue is this: the demagogue is an anti-leader.

Excerpted from Umair Haque:

“In this little essay, I want to advance a small thesis. Many of today’s leaders aren’t worthy of the word. Because they are not leaders at all. So what are they?

Let me explain, with a simple example.

There is no good reason for Wolfgang Schauble and Angela Merkel to force, as they are surely doing, Greece to exit the euro. None. Zero. Zilch. Nearly every serious economist in the world agrees that it will cost Germany far more than the relative pittance Greece owes the EU (50 billion euros, or one third of one percent of EU GDP).

There is no good reason for David Cameron and George Osborne to be inflicting 15 years of austerity on an already-depressed UK. Zero. Zilch. None. It is a society in which real living standards are stagnating, inequality is spiralling, and the average person’s future is ever more uncertain. No good reason at all for them to be demolishing the BBC (the world’s finest broadcaster), the NHS (the world’s best healthcare system), and all the UK’s other great historical public institutions. Why not? The UK’s deficit rose in the first place only because of bank bailouts, and even the IMF has both renounced austerity and agreed that advanced economies can not just sustain, but probably need, a deficit to operate at optimal levels of productivity.

I could repeat these stories with reference to politicians around the globe. In Canada, Australia, Japan, China, Russia, and, of course, the USA?—?where an entire generation of conservative politicians proclaims they “do not believe in” the incontrovertible scientific fact of climate change. Here is the issue: there is simply no support?—?whether economic, ethical, or moral; whether scientific, rational, or humanistic?—?for most of their policies, stances, perspectives.

So what gives? What happened to this generation of leaders?

There is something very different about many of today’s so-called leaders. And it is not merely that we, or they, are the helpless victims of “late capitalism”, or any other number of modish buzzwords, for, like every kind of buzzword, that sophomoric grad-school 101 level non-explanation does not illuminate much at all, except perhaps our own outmoded beliefs.

It is that they are demagogues. Let’s review what “demagogue” actually means. Here’s a decent definition:

“a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.”

Let me explain why that’s important, using the example of the 80s. A generation of conservative politicians then?—?Thatcher, Reagan?—?and the like?—?ripped up and rewrote social contracts wholesale.

So what is the difference between them?—?and the Merkels and Schauebles, Osbornes and Camerons, Jindals and Jebs, of today? A very great one indeed. There was great intellectual and perhaps moral support for the decisions the leaders of yesterday?—?in the age of modernity?—?took. Here’s a simple example. We may disagree now over trickle-down economics, since prosperity hasn’t trickled down. But at the time there was at least a reasoned position in support of it, built on a consensus amongst thinkers. You may think of the Laffer Curve as a simple illustration: it may have been proven largely wrong now, but at least there was an effort to produce a reason to slash public services then.

The neo-demagogues of meta-modernity are very different. There is no serious intellectual, moral, or ethical support for their decisions at all. There’s not a serious economist left in the world who agrees with their economic policies; political scientist with their social policies; etcetera. As a simple moral measure of how far today’s not-quite-leaders have slunk, consider: even the Pope—in his much celebrated Laudato Si?—?has challenged them to rise to today’s great challenges.

Demaogues are irrational, insensible, not beyond reason?—?but scurrying in the abyss deep below it. They are simply, as the definition simply says, “arousing the passions and prejudices of people”. Let’s take immigration as a simple example. David Cameron’s government has literally banned immigration in the UK. But decades of the logic?—?not to mention evidence?—?confirm that immigration only benefits advanced economies. So demagogues do not act rationally or sensibly, reasonably or sanely?—?whether in terms of economics, morality, politics, or anything else that might justifiably be called a system of thought. Why not? They prey on our emotions; they exploit our biases and prejudices; like magicians, they devour our fears and dangle before us our wishes. They are sorcerers of our animal beings. Pumping the bellows of unreason, they stoke the dark fires that burn deep in the human soul.

It’s true: empiricism alone can never guide us in the human world?—?but still, we must struggle not merely to be prisoners of our biases and prejudices. And that is precisely what demagogues reduce us to. Unthinking servants of our own worst selves. The selves that, instead of thinking, dreaming, wondering, rebelling, defying, creating, loving?—?are filled with spite, greed, jealousy, fear, and, at last, hate, of the self and the other, of god and man, of life and death alike.

There are many ways in which, in this Age of Fracture, the institution of modernity are decaying, sputtering out, breaking down. But one of the most significant, insidious, and damaging is that they no longer seem to reliably produce leaders?—?but demagogues. And, in turn, demagogues are, of course, historical bellwethers of decline, stagnation, disintegration.

True leaders lead people to an impossible destination. It does not exist in the world. It exists in being. They lead us towards to our better selves. Those seared, impossibly, defiantly, courageously, with happiness, purpose, meaning. Lives which may swim in the mighty river of grace, and, because they give thanks for the boundless privilege of life, bestow the gift of mercy and love upon each and every fellow traveller they meet. That is the defining characteristic of every leader that history remembers as truly great?—?whether Mandela, MLK, or FDR; Lennon, Cobain, or Orwell.

Demagogues do not lead us to our better selves. They lead us to the very opposite: our worse selves. They condemn people to become nothing more than twisted, stunted caricatures of who they were meant to be. And by doing so, they diminish what is truly most valuable in the world: human potential.

For the tragedy of the demagogue is this: the demagogue is an anti-leader. He is not merely the absence of leadership. But the opposite. He is not just the drought. He is the locust and the flood. His followers aren’t merely left no better off?—?but also no worse off. Life’s most valuable creation is what is truly wasted by demagogues. The one thing we may each call our own. Ourselves.

Demagogues reduce us to being empty, twisted, broken husks of the people we should have been. People who, in the act of wasting their days on spite, greed, envy, and anger, fail to develop, grow, become themselves?—?and do great and mighty, noble and soaring things. That is why history condemns not just demagogues. But also the people who eagerly follow them. For they are prisoners. But they are also jailers. Each of whom holds the key to the cell next door.

I don’t think this is the end of leadership?—?forever. But I do think that leadership is in deep, serious, and historic trouble today. As both art and science, practice and pursuit, creation and gift. In all these ways, I think that leadership demands abiding, radical reinvention?—?and further, that reimagining it is going to require coming squarely to terms with the failures and shortcomings that have produced a hollow generation of demagogues with scarcely a single true leader amongst them. And so it is up to each and every one of us who wishes to be a leader to understand precisely why. For we can no longer conveniently leave the necessary, worthy, difficult work of leadership at the doorstep of the boardrooms and backrooms.”

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The “why” of everything in just over 1000 words

photo of David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte
22nd July 2015


86989A post dedicated to setting down in black and white the great conceptual frameworks within which we understand the world.


The nature of the human race

Since the origin of our species, we humans have grouped ourselves to satisfy the needs of our own existence, which is to say, to produce everything that makes our survival possible. By joining into community to produce, humans make it the essence of their social organization to transform nature. However, in the course of time, a new result appears, which surpasses the initial objective of the mere production of tools and food:knowledge.

Applying knowledge allows humans to make their work produce more and more results. Acquired knowledge, by collectively transforming Nature, which is to say, by working, will materialize in new tools and ways of producing: what we calltechnology. Because production is a social, collective act, technological development will also drive changes in the organization of labor that, at certain times, will call into question the relationships ofpower between the different groups in each social organization.

Scientific truth and social stories

foucault y sartre mayo 68This inherent conflict makes it necessary to understand and justify alternatives. That is,knowledge of social matters appears as a result of the change promoted by knowledge and the evolution of ways of transforming of Nature through technology. But while the empirical knowledge about Nature that is materialized in science and technology of each age objectively expresses the transformative power of the species as a whole, knowledge of social matters will be always mediated, because in the discussion of social matters, each interest group, each power group, will understand as true those values and stories that effective at transforming or conserving the relations that align with their own interests and uncertainties.

In the same way, every community tends to define itself and explain the world, within the general conditions it lives in, according to a story that is effective for its objectives. That’s why what serves to describe the origins of the great tendencies, motivating stories, and ideas about historical change do not necessarily explain the behavior of the path of a real community in history. The Hutterites of the sixteenth century can be told as a product of the gigantic scenario of politics and class conflicts in the Europe of that time, but their descendants, current Hutterite communities, cannot be explained except as the result of the endogenous dynamic of a series of real communities of their descendants, reaffirming themselves until they are frozen into a set of beliefs and traditions that have been tremendously effective in their setting for almost five hundred years.

The base

We real communities and individuals tend to define ourselves by ideas that are really just a set of answers to questions which we have only partly chosen to ask and which we constructed using the elements we had at our disposal. We have limits on knowledge of our times, on our historical context, and on the place we occupy in society. But also we have autonomy within the limits of the general development of knowledge and of social relationships existing in every age.

A ethic of autonomy, an ethic that can try to be emancipating for individuals and communities, must begin with knowledge. As we saw, knowledge is the result and the central tool of the human experience, our main weapon against uncertainty, and the point of connection between our species and Nature, between technology and society, and between historical change and social relationships. It’s not developed in a sort of big, open general chat, but within given contexts, under certain rules, and starting from a particular identity among those who take part in the conversation. All knowledge is, to some extent, community knowledge. That’s why the projection of an ethic of knowledge is not “political,” a theory of the State, but a theory of human communities that uses them to explain the societies in which they exist. To see the social world not only as an inter-communitarian terrain with many social “truths” in play, and also many kinds of truth, means accepting conflict as inevitable, but also understanding that, most of the time, the framework of that conflict can be agreed on.

Abundance as a goal for communities and species

futurismoNot being “political” in a strict sense does not mean, however, that being founded on an ethic of knowledge necessarily condemns us to a story without a goal.

While transforming Nature is the original definition of the species, which is motivated by the need to overcome uncertainty and scarcity, the development of knowledge—which turns species time into historical time—is the only creator of meaning in the great macro-story of the human experience. Obviously, this tale is not linear, always ascendant, or predetermined to reach any specific place. Knowledge is a product of the transformation of nature and in good measure is dependent on it. That’s why eras, societies, or communities where that transformation stops end up “forgetting” knowledge and technologies that were previously known and losing skills and structures, until they revert to subsistence economies; societies that, like several tribes still existing today, find a fragile “stationary state” in isolation, or communities like the Amish or the Hutterites, which simply “choose” not to grow. These are not more authentic or “human,” but just the opposite, the most dehumanizing and alienating, because they deny and abort what is central to the human experience on the basis of a social system in which passion for knowledge and diversity suffer what can only be iron control.

Thought founded on an ethic of knowledge has to be projected not only onto the knowledge of a community, but also onto a Socioeconomics oriented towards abundance. Abundance means that knowledge has been developed to where it allows the species to transform and produce to make freedom possible for each of its members. What constrains everyone’s freedom in every social order, what makes such constraint necessary, is the need to organize according to the best technology possible to overcome scarcity. A society of scarce surpluses is a stratified society, supported by the power of the groups that manage it. Abundance as a historical stage would therefore mean the end of uncertainty as a primary engine of knowledge, and the end of conflicts that result from a social structure determined by scarcity.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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Posted in Commons, Culture & Ideas, Integral Theory, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Epistemology, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Theory, Politics, Sharing | 1 Comment »

Paul Mason on what we learned in Greece about the future of democracy and post-capitalism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
22nd July 2015


A very considered analysis by Paul Mason on the recent events in Greece, in two parts, and what it means for social change in the rest of the world. At the Democracy Rising conference in Athens. He also gives a preview of the contents and analysis of post-capitalism, the topic of his next book.

There is an uncanny ressemblance with the analysis of the P2P Foundation.

Paul Mason shows that neither progressive Keynesianist policies ror democracy are no longer possible in the Eurozone, that neoliberalism is holding back a fifth Kondratieff wave. But that a commons-based ‘social factory’ has emerged, of which we are all a part as networked individuals, making us agents of change towards a post-capitalist order. What needs to be done then, is to create a regulatory framework that allows this evolution to emerge more fully.

Watch the videos here:

Part One:

Part Two:

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