The constant increase in productive scales over nearly two centuries, and with them, in the division of labor and of knowledge, has produced an erosion of the relationship between people and the concrete work they do. For more and more people, it became harder to understand what their work meant and contributed to their loved ones and to society besides a salary and a few days “off” per year. That’s what was called “alienation.” Gigantic scale, work so specialized and repetitive that seemed it insignificant, homogenization of everyone’s labor and the resulting perfect substitutability of workers, made meaning—the social and intellectual utility of the labor that each person did in society—something that was alien to people’s lives. “Work” became non-life, as opposed to “time off,” which was truly human and reserved for family and friends, which is to say, a community.
It would be reasonable to think that this phenomenon would fade with the gradual reduction of the optimal scales of production and the slow emergence—as industries became more independent from the incorporation of knowledge—of multispecialization. But the truth is that new generations are deprived of even alienated work.
To be unable to access work is to be in social exile
During 15M [widespread anti-austerity protests that began on May 15, 2011 in Madrid] it became fashionable in Spain call young people who went to work in other places around the world “exiles.” Meanwhile, according to official statistics, 40% of those who remained were unemployed. These were the true exiles: they were separated from productive life, separated from collaboration and from doing things socially, and separated from a relationship with nature.
The entire life of those who tried to enter the labor market at the beginning of the crisis is an anomaly. By being alien to the very reality they were part of, they became spectators, even of themselves; once, people used cell phones in demonstrations, and now they use cameras. The separation of work soon became evident in the emergence of (anti-)consumerist narratives; consumption—the only way they can participate in an economy that’s alien to them—became, for many, the explanation for the whole social system and its failures. One of the ways of expressing that general alienation was substituting the traditional centrality of the demand for access to work with the demand for a rent guaranteed by the State.
To live outside the social space created by work is to go into social exile, to lose or never have had the position of a real member of a community: to not be among those who turn work into wealth, but among those who depend on rents.
Everything that has defined this crisis has trapped those who reached adulthood with it as permanent minors. Everything led to their solitary confinement as individual-consumer. That isolation is necessarily frustrating. It’s alienation that is felt as such, as meaninglessness. But the search for meaning outside of work—which is to say: outside of community, society, and nature—can easily lead people to search for consolation in illusory communities that absorb us without providing what makes us a useful part of a real community: the ability to contribute to the well-being of one another by producing. That’s why these have been years of growth in racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, jihadism, and political and religious sectarianism.
There’s no self-realization without work
And, precisely because of that, the old communitarian slogan of the “conquest of work” is more current than ever. “Conquering work,” recovering it as central to society by way of the community, leading it and creating it, is the only thing that can turn back the drift towards the void of the consumerist narrative, the rejection of differences, xenophobia, and the thousand and one nationalisms that arise, seeking to create even more borders and rents. It’s the only thing that can recreate meaning and allow for self-knowledge and self-realization, which is to say, each person living their own values. So, work has an inevitable moral dimension, and that’s why conquering work has the value of regeneration, of true personal re-empowerment for a whole generation and a great mass of people, which political activism or conformity will never be able to offer.
Never have technology and knowledge allowed so much well-being to be produced at scales as small as today. Never has it been so easy to become protagonists of production and of the construction of our surroundings; never have available technologies incorporated or developed as much knowledge as in our day; never have productive processes been as transparent about their relationship with their surroundings with so much facility and such impressive scope as today. And yet, despite it all, rarely before has the spirit of time been as disconnected from the possibilities of the historical moment. The cause is, once more, the impact moral of decomposition and unemployment. Unemployment is the expression of the destruction of productive capacity. In economic terms, it’s the worst form of waste, the bloodiest of inefficiencies. And the effect on the mood of anyone who suffers it is a like millstone around the neck, or an acid that destroys self-confidence, security, and conviction about their potential to create. Unemployment feeds fear, and fear paralyzes and blinds.
To conquer work is reconquer life
Taking the things that fear and insecurity would have us think are impossible and making them visible is the first way to empower those who have been exiled from work and deprived of its meaning, which will encourage them to take responsibility for their own communities. The generation that was expelled from the productive system is called to conquer work and, with it, life.
Abundance is the goal we move towards with the development of knowledge in our species. It’s not just a question of numbers, math, or accounting, but also of ethics, desires, feelings, and aesthetics. We create technology, and it, in turn, transforms us, transforms what it means to be human in the new time that we ourselves have established. And from there, we can imagine and build abundance with renewed strength.
The time has come to take the initiative, to begin to build egalitarian and productive communities, and not as experiments or “islands” in a ocean of large scales. In the beginning, they will only be “examples.” But examples, accompanied by the idea that emulation is possible, are more powerful than any form of propaganda.
The communal alternative does not provide the gregarious confidence of the political hooligan or the empty pride of the racist. Belonging to a community is recognition through work and learning, not an “essence” inherited from national culture or birth, or the result of insubstantial adherence or an ID card. It’s not the product of the permanent imagination of confrontation with some universal evil. You are building constantly with others, making things so we can all grow together, sharing more and more responsibility, and giving and receiving trust. It’s the opposite of the feeling of impunity that “frees” the “follower” who is protected by a leader, a flag, or a political brand in the din of street fighting, online bickering, or media “smackdowns.” To be a communard is to gain autonomy and security in the fraternity of learning, to be rediscovered as valuable and valued in shared work. To be a communard is to put the values we believe in into action, not compete to shout them the loudest or wield them like a menacing weapon. To be a communard does not give the static tranquility of the yogi or the mystic who seeks the silence of loneliness, but the serenity that listens to and seeks to include others, without using outrage as an excuse to do nothing or hiding behind the disdain of supposed superiority. To be a communard is a way of living, learning, and building by sharing it all with others.
We need grow with others to be able to reconquer real life. Every “individual escape” is no more than a form of “every man for himself.” Of course, when you find yourself in decomposition, you can try to accumulate a little money, find a house far away from everything, and live without knowing anything about anyone; or land a stable but low-paying job, interact as little as possible in it, and relegate life to what’s left of the day after work hours. But these strategies aren’t really satisfactory, they’re just different ways of beating a more or less orderly retreat. In the medium term, they’re a way to condemn yourself to melancholy. Isolating yourself, marginalizing yourself, even if it means living without constantly prioritizing financial survival, would mean renouncing growth, development, and carrying out personal ideals in life. It’s another form of exile.
So, existing egalitarian communities should open themselves up and become a launching point for the experience of a new generation. To be empowered is to also discover through practice that in a community, troubles, annoying as they may be, are muffled rather than being upsetting, and joys and victories have echoes that are impossible to hear alone.
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