The “cancer of business” took over from the old European societies, feudal first and colonial centuries later, and smashed them from within in a long process of almost six hundred years. Capitalism, which started off as marginal—urban in a rural world, dynamic in a traditional society, equalizing in a system in which identity was based on lineage and origin—was revolutionary right from its first steps. In the city and its markets, it created new lifestyles and mentalities, new forms of knowledge, new freedoms, and new collective belongings.
Capitalism shaped the world because, before changing the State, it was able to create a new form of human experience
Capitalism created a new form of human experience and, by doing so, dynamited established relationships, its castes and its classes. It wasn’t the work of a generation. It could only deploy its full potential after centuries of evolution and entrenchment, of turning fairs—temporary markets—into a large, permanent urban workshop and, later, turning the guild craftsman into a factory worker under the thumb of the merchant investor, who bought the materials and carried the products to distant markets. It was only then that industrialization made a profound social transformation out of what, until then, had only been “tendencies.” It was the great revolutionary moment of the bourgeoisie.
In the first place, capitalism made a commodity of land, the principle means of production of the times. In the process, the agrarian and forest commons—the oldest and most widespread form of property—came to occupy a marginal place. And, with it, the real community of the family, the clan or the village, in which everyone knows each other by face and name, because they are linked to them by interpersonal relationships and affection. The vacuum was filled throughout the nineteenth century by another innovation: the imagined community of the nation. “Imagined” not because it was unreal, but because those who are considered its members don’t know more than a tiny portion of the others, and have to imagine the rest through common attributes, practices, values, and memories, which are always debatable. Fraternity based on the friendship of personal relationships and shared work will give way to an abstract fraternity in search of a “common good” that the new social classes linked to wage labor make a permanent part of social discourse.
Secondly, work became indistinguishable from whoever did it, because of the homogenization of the processes in the new productive space of society: the factory. The new relationship with work and, through it, with society and nature, was impersonal and anonymous, and no longer had to do with “being,” with lineage, or with geography. The vacuum created by the dilution of the servant, the communard and the guild craftsman was filled by a new abstract human type: the “individual.”
Although it may sound strange today, that whole advance—which allowed humanity to grow in number, well-being, and knowledge like never before—was produced thanks to making a commodity of everything that, until then, had not been, like land, which hadn’t usually been rented or sold, only possessed.
Even for the revolutionaries of the nineteenth century, it was impossible to deny the progressive nature of the great works of capitalism. They were well aware of how the industrial boom brought Humanity towards abundance, increasing knowledge and its practical consequence, technology. They were witnesses of the formidable historical spectacle of a world in revolution where distances were cut, the population multiplied, energy and water flowed in people’s houses for the first time, and the most distant and closed empires saw their walls give way before the onslaught of global commerce in manufacturing. For the first time in history, humanity as such took on a real existence: through new markets, we would all end up connected with everyone throughout the world; and in the factory, the immense majority of society would share a common experience—and therefore, would come to be the same thing—to the rhythm of the new mechanical geniuses. Capitalism, as they saw it, was preparing an egalitarian society through equality of living conditions, work, and social relationships that that it was, itself, expanding.
Revolutionaries that loved crises and large scales
But those revolutionaries saw something more: the growth of capitalism, in the first place, wasn’t the least bit linear. Its crises, like all prior crises, produced underconsumption (scandalous, miserable situations for those excluded from production). But, in contrast to the crises of agrarian societies, capitalist crises weren’t crises of under-production, but of “over-production”: it’s not that the factories couldn’t produce enough for the needs of all, it’s that the very dynamic of the economic system made it impossible for them to sell it to the great masses that needed it, because they didn’t have the money to buy what was produced. Additionally, the revolutionaries asserted that all this happened regularly, in cycles in which each decline necessarily led to a confrontation between an ever-more concentrated group of owners and an ever-more global and uniform class of workers. Everyone would struggle in a large global revolution for control of the States that held the social structures in place until, similar to what the bourgeoisie of the eighteenth century did in the French Revolution, the proletariat would take control of the State with one purpose: to direct a massive process of decommodification, giving way to a society of abundance where the essential purpose of production was to serve this or that need, instead of being sold as objects and services for a price.
Marx and Kropotkin never proposed to to close the factories. They thought that crises of overproduction signaled a limit of capitalism, the limit at which the logic of the commodity clashed with human needs. But they saw in the technology of mass production and in the ever-greater scale of the businesses a reflection of the progress that would lead the working class to “change the world from underneath.” They thought that by eliminating the commodity nature of objects, the “productive forces would be released,” which is to say, that productivity would be developed even more, and with it knowledge, well-being, etc. The very scale of production would also develop, until it constituted a great global factory-State, so productive that it could satisfy the material needs of all humanity with nothing more than volunteer work.
Nothing of the sort happened. No “global revolution” took place. Since 1871, there were local and national revolutions in which communists and anarchists looked for its first signs. Most were overthrown; none was able to produce on a larger scale during the following cycle of growth and crisis; and those that triumphed never brought about the decommodification of production. On the contrary, they gave power to repressive, totalitarian regimes, with very hierarchical and inefficient nationalized economies and such low levels of well-being among workers that they belied every delusion of the “liberation of productive forces.” When the Soviet Union fell and China took its first steps towards capitalism controlled by the Communist State, communism and socialism were discredited as alternatives. In the ’90s, their place was taken by “anti-capitalism,” which fluctuated between affirming that another world was possible and denying that capitalism and the human species could survive together, but avoided explaining how the former would become real and what made the latter inevitable. To a certain degree, this was the result of the sense of profound failure of “alternative” thought that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But, lacking a theory of its own, it would become an invertebrate socialism, a “big no” into which anything and everything would fit. It was, in a certain way, a leftism chastened by false socialist paradises, hesitant when it came to describing any future society, and far removed from any pretense of building functional models in the present.
The Communard Manifesto
- The dilemma of our time
- Abundance within reach
- Inequality, unemployment and demoralization
- What is decomposing is not only the economic system, but what the human experience means
- Capitalism and its critics
- Capitalism shaped the world because, before changing the State, it was able to create a new form of human experience
- Revolutionaries that loved crises and large scales
- The history we weren’t told
- The new world will be born and affirmed inside the old
- New relationships, here and now
- Scale and scope
- From the era of economies of scale…
- …to the era of the inefficiencies of scale
- Today, capital is too big for the real productive scale…
- … and the optimal scale is approaching community dimensions
- Building abundance here and now
- Abundance has to do with production, not with consumption
- A scarce product in a decentralized network is abundant in a distributed network
- The “P2P mode of production” is the model for the production of abundance
- The two faces of productivity
- Artificially creating scarcity has become a way of life for over-scaled industry
- Abundance is the magic that shines through the “hacker ethic”
- The path of abundance does not mean producing less
- What will we do about the overuse of natural resources?
- Connecting the dots
- Conquer work, reconquer life
- To be unable to access work is to be in social exile
- There’s no self-realization without work
- To conquer work is reconquer life
- From adding to multiplying
- The scene will be urban
- The tasks of the communards
- You are the protagonist
- Appendix: concrete things you can do with this manifesto
- Expand the conversation
- Prepare to “make community”
You are the protagonist of this Manifesto. You can be part of a growing movement and build here and now, a meaningful life and a different world .
Natalia Fernández, las Indias
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The Communard Manifesto is the result of a collaborative process. It started with an 8.000 words proposal by las Indias. Open discussion -both live and on line- doubled its length and pulished its style. Then volunteers from three different continents started to translate it to Catalan, Portuguese, French, German and English.
María Rodríguez, las Indias