Two weeks ago, I participated in a great four-day long conversation on the Future of the Commons.
(version with internal links at the original posting)
“Sitting in the train to Klagenfurt, I am looking out the window and see vinyards passing, the river Rhein on the left, little towns and scattered houses on the right. Patterns of human culture, inscribed in the landscape, a living synthesis of the natural and the human world.
I am on my way home from the most incredible meeting that I had the pleasure to enjoy in recent years, assembling 21 people from the most different branches of intellectual and political activity: historians, networkers, project managers, marxists, software producers, feminists, political ecologists and social activists in a castle in Crottorf, near Siegen:
Andoni Alonso (philosopher of technology), Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation), Iain Boal (Retort), David Bollier (On the Commons-Blog), Nicola Bullard (Focus on the Global South), George Caffentzis (Midnight Notes Collective), Massimo de Angelis (The Commoner), Andreas Exner (writing this), Silvia Frederici (International Feminist Collective), Hermann Hatzfeldt (owner of the castle in Crottorf, who generously provided us the space for this amazing event, leading an excursion through the ecologically managed forests of the Crottorf surroundings), Silke Helfrich (Publisher), Prashant Iyengar (Alternative Law Forum), Peter Linebaugh (the commons historian par excellence), Stefan Meretz (Keimform-Blog), Pat Roy Mooney (ETC group, former RAFI), Franz Nahrada (GIVE), Richard Pithouse (Rhodes University, political activist), Christian Siefkes (Peer economy, Keimform-Blog), Wolfgang Sachs (Wuppertal Institute), Miguel Vieira (Epidemia).
A full list of biographical informations you’ll find under this link.
Our topic was the “Future of the Commons”. How to conceive them as a perspective for changing the world into a place where well-being for all is possible, was the thread of our discussions.
Thinking about the meeting, I remember the time when I moved from Vienna, where I had lived and studied for about 15 years, to Klagenfurt, located in the South of Austria, when at times I experienced very strongly the enormous natural and cultural richness of our life. I was jobless then for half a year, but felt very fulfilled, though. Exploring the beautiful landscapes of Carinthia together with my girlfriend, I really became aware of the diversity of nature – trained as a vegetation ecologist I have the necessary intellectual sensorium, but in these moments I came to appreciate the diversity emotionally as well, as an asthetic experience. To enjoy richness, sensitivity is required as well as the capacity of differentiation.
Our meeting so much revived this sense of richness in exploring commons as a new approach towards societal transformation, bringing us into confrontation with each other, synthesizing opposing views, interweaving ideas and emotions, building a shared vision of theory, talking, singing, walking, laughing.
Silke Helfrich, David Bollier, Massimo de Angelis and Stefan Meretz came to know each other at last years Elevate festival in Graz, Austria. They gave talks about the commons there and decided after the festival to meet again, inviting friends to push the discussion further into common grounds.
Those four people already display a beautiful range of activities. Silke Helfrich has published a most interesting volume on the commons debate named “Wem gehört die Welt” together with the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, the think tank of the Green party in Germany. You can access the full version in the internet. David Bollier published several books on the commons and is active in the field in many ways, as illustrated by the Commons-blog he manages. Massimo de Angelis has co-founded the online-journal “The Commoner” in 2000, a project of “weird marxists”, as he told me with a smile. (The current issue is to be recommended, with lots of papers on energy issues.) Stefan Meretz is a software engineer and theoretician who writes regularly in the Keimform-blog exploring the idea of seed forms of a post-capitalist society.
Our discussions freely evolved over the four days we were “trapped in the castle” as someone put it, without any fixed schedule, giving us in itself an example of the freedom commoning can make possible in the best case. After having done a collective brainstorming of the issues we were interested in, ranging from the relation of commons and criminilization to political economy and basic income, Stefan and Silke arranged the catchwords under headlines. The following days we were tackling each question after the other, with short, rather spontanous inputs, often illustrating opposing views on a specific aspect of the commons.
How exciting these moments were, when the group explored the political economy of the commons, their strategic value in an evolving “movement of movements”, that strives to let go the old in order to give room to the new. It’s hard to sum up the diversity of arguments and world views that were made visible by the debate. However, for me, this simple formula someone shared with us at the end of our meeting best catches the heart of the process: “The commons are the socialism of the 21st century”.
I won’t give a protocol of our discussions here at the moment. First of all, Massimo de Angelis made video-interviews with us in English, complemented by German interviews done by Stefan Meretz, which will show in itself a part of the variety and cross-fertilizing quality of this endeavour. Someone compared our style of debate to “plant-breeding”, and I feel that’s quite a good description of what happened here. Secondly, Stefan recorded the whole discussion, and it may be that a selection might be made available online.”