Decades before the first socialist and libertarian groups of any weight were formed, an alternative trend had started down a long path with a very different focus: communitarianism.
The new world will be born and affirmed inside the old
The basic idea of communitarianism is that the new world will be born and grow inside the old. Profound changes in social and economic relationships—system changes—are not the product of revolutions and political changes. It happens the other way around: systemic political changes are the expression of new forms of social organizing, new values, and ways of working and living, that have reached enough maturity to be able to establish a broad social consensus. As of a certain point in development, a “competition between systems” is established. The new forms, until then valid only for a small minority, begin to seem to be the only ones capable of offering a better future for the large majority. Little by little, they expand their spectrum and their number, encompassing and transforming broader and broader social spaces, and become the center of the economy, reconfiguring the cultural, ideological, and legal basis of society from within.
For communitarians, egalitarian forms should accompany capitalism in its evolution as a parallel society, not as a utopia—the promise of a society to come—except as a heterotopia: a different, alternative social place, with values and ways of its own. At first, they do it from behind, through learning, utilization and re-elaboration of existing technology and, as of a certain point, entering in competition with it. This perspective was called “constructive socialism.”
The first objective was always to show the feasibility of a decommodified life, “here and now,” on any scale. Communitarianism is not centered on creating political parties, but networks of small productive egalitarian communities. The maxim of economic organization comes to be “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”: communities of goods, revenue, and savings are established, production is organized by consensus, and from the beginning, the highest diversification is sought to serve the diversity of personal needs and gain autonomy for all.
New relationships, here and now
From 1849 to today, egalitarian communities have always been working: Icarian communities, Russian artels, Israeli kibbutzim, US, Japanese, or German egalitarian farms… They’ve been on practically all continents, they’ve had different names and nuances in different times and places, they’ve been through all manner of crises, and their members have made enormous sacrifices. In place of the centrality of the class nature of the collectivist narrative, they wrote a story of their community and their experience, which gave substance to the central idea of constructive socialism: building—here and now, within the community and between it and its surroundings—social and economic relationships that are desired or postulated as valid alternatives to the existing socioeconomic system, without delegating power to parties or organizational structures outside of the communities themselves. Without thinking of themselves as “experimental” or having detailed “roadmaps,” they have created a heritage and a culture themselves, little by little. They are the seeds of a society of abundance.
In the framework of the young and expansive capitalism of the nineteenth century, or the capitalism of technological revolution and permanent war that followed up through the present, if these “decommodified islets” want to maintain their autonomy and approach abundance, they have to enter the market: to live without needing money at all within the community, they must learn to think like merchants outside of it. It’s no contradiction: being in the market is the only way to not lose the technological pace of the system they want to overcome. But, at the same time, it’s the way to bring the first cultural and technological fruits of the new society to the old society. It is, in many senses—including the moral, since it aspires to expand the improvement in living conditions to more people—the first step towards a competition between systems.
The bourgeoisie, in its medieval infancy, introduced the revolutionary principle of equality of origin and a few technological improvements that expressed their vision of the world into some small spaces in feudal society. All of them happened far from the center of the production of value at the time, the fields. The medieval commercial bourgeoisie invented important things, but eccentric for the times, like the check, the letter of exchange, and double-entry accounting. In contrast, communitarianism demonstrated from the first day the feasibility of an economic organization thought of in terms of the needs. It was the first to make a reality of equality in spite of differences in gender or social or geographical origin, and across the 20th century, left a series of pioneering technologies: weatherization and sanitation in popular housing; the improvement of agricultural productivity, like drip irrigation, seed improvement, or the scientific management of dairy facilities; the development of free software for distributed networks; and the first analytical tools for public intelligence. These are innovations that continue to be significant and closer and closer to the productive core of the economic system.
In what little we’ve seen of twenty-first century, that sense of a cultural and technological “membrane” between the past and the future, between capitalist society and the small, decommodified space of egalitarian communities, has become even more clear. The appearance of new ways of producing based on new forms of communal property—like free software—and distributed communication architectures—linked directly to decommodification and the creation of abundance—put forth the notion that we are on the threshold of a new phase in which we will be able to change the nature of that competition between systems.
But, above all, what justifies a new time for the development of communitarianism is an irreversible economic change that has been imposed gradually: the reduction of the optimal scales of production. This decline in the optimal productive scale explains the deep trends that have produced the current economic crises, and why the political and corporate responses are often times counterproductive. And any alternative is not centered on social class or the nation, but on community.
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