P2P Foundation https://blog.p2pfoundation.net Researching, documenting and promoting peer to peer practices Tue, 17 Jul 2018 09:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 Book of the Day: Omnia Sunt Communia, by Massimo De Angelis https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-of-the-day-omnia-sunt-communia-by-massimo-de-angelis/2018/07/17 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-of-the-day-omnia-sunt-communia-by-massimo-de-angelis/2018/07/17#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71799 Massimo De Angelis. Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism (London: Zed Books, 2017). Massimo De Angelis is a thinker very much in the autonomist tradition; he mentions being a student of Harry Cleaver. This comes through loud and clear in his focus on the self-activity of ordinary people, and on the centrality... Continue reading

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Massimo De Angelis. Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism (London: Zed Books, 2017).

Massimo De Angelis is a thinker very much in the autonomist tradition; he mentions being a student of Harry Cleaver. This comes through loud and clear in his focus on the self-activity of ordinary people, and on the centrality of their self-created and -governed institutions as the kernel of a postcapitalist successor society.

For De Angelis, the defining feature of common goods is not any inherent quality of the goods in question. It is the objective fact of commoning, that is being currently governed as a commons by its members.

By and large, the commons imply a plurality of people (a community) sharing resources and governing them and their own relations and (re)productive processes through horizontal doing in common, commoning…. [I]n the last few years we have witnessed several cases of alignment of social movements to the commons, a commons which offers great potential….

…I believe there is a social revolution in the making that, if recognised and able to attract more energies from people around the world, could give us a chance to embark on a process of transformation towards postcapitalist society. My underlying conception of revolution is aligned to that of Marx which sees social revolutions — that is, the growth of alternative modes of production — as the material condition for any political revolution. A radical transformation of our world implies that people come together into communities that develop these alternatives to the logic of capitalism, multiply them and interconnect them: I understand commons to be such alternatives.

A huge portion of our lives takes place within the commons, particularly those social functions involving the reproduction of labor power and of the larger social fabric.

We are generally born into a commons, even if it only consists of interactions with our parents or carers, siblings and friends…. Values practices, such as loyalty to friends, conviviality, mutual aid, care, and even struggles, are developed in the commons.

As soon as these networks of social cooperation develop into systemic patterns in neighborhood associations, cooperatives, social centres, food networks and social movements(and given the development of communication and information technologies), these commons-based forms of social cooperation have the potential to expand and reshape their boundaries, renew their social compositions, develop multicultures of horizontality, destabilise official science… and give rise to commons ecologies, that is, plural and cooperating commons with institutions and arrangements we cannot predict.

As George Caffentzis writes in his cover blurb, De Angelis does for the commons what Marx did for capital. He posits the commons circuit (C-M-C) alongside Marx’s circuit of capital (M-C-M).

While for Marx the commodity is the elementary form of capitalist wealth, so for me common goods are the elementary form of wealth of a postcapitalist world.

De Angelis criticizes Marx for largely focusing on capital, to the neglect of the role that the commons play in social reproduction under capitalism.

The commons circuit, C-M-C, is a “selling-in-order-to-buy circuit.” The difference between the two circuits is that “[t]he first has at [sic] its goals the satisfaction of needs, and money here is a mere means for the satisfaction of these needs. The second has as its goal the realization of money: the means becomes here the end.”

This selling-in-order-to-buy circuit is nothing more than a membrane of exchange between commons and capital systems, the boundary separating commons from capital. As a subset of a larger commons circuit, the simple selling-in-order-to-buy circuit only appears as contingently necessary, and different commons may be distinguished by the degree of their dependence on capital’s monetary circuits.

* * *

The point is that unlike the capital circuit, the simple commodity circuit is just a means, hence scalable, depending on the external context, to the structure of needs and desires and the resources that can be mobilised in non-commoditised forms (through for example pooling, gift circuits or administrative transfers).

Hence the commons, by growth, can reduce its need for interaction with the circuit of capital via the cash nexus, and incorporate more and more basic functions of life into itself.

The commons are constrained by the fact that they coexist with capital and the state.

It is up to the commons, therefore, to develop their own politics to attempt to shift these constraints….

The commons and capital circuits have coexisted since the beginning of capitalism, with the boundary and correlation of forces between them constantly shifting. The “structural coupling” between the two circuits “allows one system to access and use the complexity of other systems.” The correlation of forces at any given time determines the comparative power of the commons circuit and capital circuit in setting the terms of their mutual interface through the cash nexus, and whether the boundary between them is such that capital on net uses the commons as a means to its own ends more than the commons uses capital, or vice versa.

…even if it is true that capital can co-opt commons, the opposite is also true: the commons can access the complexity of capital systems for their own development.

* * *

Commons and capital are two distinct, autonomous social systems; that is, they both struggle to ‘take things into their own hands’ and self-govern on the basis of their different and often clashing, internally generated codes, measures and values. They also struggle to be distinct autopoietic social systems, in that they aim to reproduce not only their interrelations but also the preproduction of their components through their internally generated codes and values. They do this of course, in a clear, distinctive way. Capital can reproduce itself only through profit and its accumulation, which ultimately imply the exploitation of labour, the creation of divisions among the working class, and the trashing of nature. Commons can reproduce through commoning, doing in common, which is a social process embedded in particular values that defines a sharing culture in a given time and context, through which they reproduce resources and the community that comprises them…. Commons are generated in so far as subjects become commoners, in so far as their social being is enacted with others, at different levels of social organization, through a social practice, commoning, that is essentially horizontal and may embrace a variety of forms depending on circumstances…, but ultimately is grounded in community sharing. Capital, by contrast, tends to objectify, instrumentalize and impose hierarchical order….

…[T]he commons and capital/state are often linked, coupled through the buying-and-selling site of the market, that is, the ‘economy’. Both capital and the commons buy and sell, although with different priorities and as parts of different movements…. Capital buys in order to sell at a profit… or as means of production, to turn resources into commodities…. Commons, on the other hand, tend to sell commodities in order to buy means of sustenance and reproduction. For example, some members of a household sell their labour power to gain an income in order to be able to purchase the goods necessary for reproduction of the household; or an association engages in petty trade to fund itself; or a social centre sells beer at a concert to purchase the materials to build a kitchen. Buying in order to sell and selling in order to buy are two opposite praxes…, the former governed by a life activity ultimately wasted in accumulation and the latter governed by the needs and desires of reproduction…. In other words…, while reproduction of labour power is a feature of the commons production of the commodity labour-power sold to capital, capital does not necessarily control (or controls only in part through the state and the education system) the labour of reproduction which is fundamental to the commons.

…Furthermore, the environment of present-day commons is dominated by capital loops, the circuits of capital that all wish to enclose and all wish to turn into a profitable enterprise and overwork or destitution for others. If we were to take the large, bird’s-eye view of history, of the original accumulations of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe up to the most recent transition from the post-1945 Keynesian deal to neoliberal, several books could be written about the co-evolution of capital and the commons, about how commons sustained the enclosures of the former by regenerating newer forms in different areas, and how capital has regenerated itself under the impulse of commoner struggles on the shop floor, in neighbourhoods, in bread or antiracist riots or women’s struggles.

I would add that books could be written — and I think a couple actually have been by Kropotkin at least — on how the commons was the fundamental basis of human society from the first neolithic open field villages until the rise of class differentiation and the state, and that successive systems of class exploitation and class states since then have been parasitic layers extracting surpluses from the commons.

With the rise of hyper-efficient small-scale means of production not amenable to centralized capitalist control, and the revolution in networked many-to-many communications, we’re entering a new transition period in which the productivity of the commons is becoming too great for capital to successfully enclose or parasitize upon, and in which the commons will ultimately reabsorb the whole of life and leave the parasitic economic classes and their state to starve.

De Angelis refers to the stocks of common goods that accumulate within commons systems and are available to them for internal use as “commonwealth.”

Like capital, commonwealth is thus a stock, but unlike capital the flows it generates possess different goals and it is enacted through different practices. However, like any other systems including capital, its flows aim at going back to stocks, reproduce them, replenish them and enrich them…

He advocates a synergy between the commons and the new social movements, such that

…they are weaved [sic] in virtuous cycles with their own task: the social movement to shift the subjective and objective constraints set in place by state and capital, and the commons to expand in this new space with new commons-based modes of production.

* * *

The strategic problem faced by postcapitalist commons is here how to extend the boundaries of their operations, through development, boundary commons and commons ecologies [i.e. uniting different commons into larger interconnected systems], to include the ecological and capitalist systems with which they interrelate.

He argues that the most critical area of expansion of the commons is “all those activities that serve the immediate purpose of reproducing life….” like “accessing healthy food, housing, water, social care and education.”

How can commonwealth be used to create a new commons system, one that increases the incidence of alternative modes of production, and increases the independence of commoners from capitalist systems…? How can commonwealth be used in order to increase the power of the commons vis-a-vis capital?… Capital can reproduce itself only by putting to work the physical, mental, and affective energies of people for its own purpose: accumulation…. Capital can mobilise social labour and subject it to its measure, to its valuing of things, through different means…. But the one thing upon which the power of capital is ultimately based, the one thing that enables it to deploy all the other means of its power, is its withdrawal of the means of existence, its ability to control, manage, distribute and shape the meaning of resources that are directly responsible for sustaining human and social life: water, land, food, energy, health, housing, care and education and their interrelated cultures in the first place. An increased ability to govern collectively these resources, to democratise their reproduction, to commonalise them by keeping state and market at bay, are conditions for emancipation for all in all other spheres of life and for make [sic] these spheres of life into a type of commonwealth that is enabled to feel a distance from capital…. To have access to these resources would allow people and communities not only to grow more resilient, to share conviviality and enjoy life, but to build a common social force to expand their power vis-a-vis capital….

In summary, commons that make use of the commonwealth more directly linked to (re)production of bodies and the earth is a condition for the expansion of commoners’ empowerment vis-a-vis capital, and a condition of the reduction of the degree of dependence on capital markets…. It corresponds to the development of a sphere of autonomy from capital…, that allows movements to construct a powerful ground upon which all other struggles can be waged for all sorts of other commonwealth uses.

And the intensification of capitalist crisis and further proletarization “creates the conditions for the flourishing of reproduction commons….”

This fundamental stratum of commons would, in turn,

be such a crucial strategic asset that they would form the material basis of a new commons renaissance in many spheres, building its foundation on these reproductive commons. This is because not only would they give us the benefit of new communities, new cultures, and new methods of establishing wellbeing, security and trust within complex organisation, they would also protect us from the whims of financial markets, and especially, increase our security and power to refuse the exploitation of capitalist markets. The more that capital can blackmail us into poorer conditions, higher insecurity and ever-more gruelling work rhythms, the less we have the power to refuse its logic. Conversely, this power grows the more we have alternative means for our reproduction.

The Parliamentary Enclosures of common pasture, wood, and waste in the UK were carried out to facilitate the kind of blackmail De Angelis writes of; they were motivated by the fact that independent access to the means of subsistence enabled labor to accept or refuse wage labor on its own terms. In the propertied classes’ press of the late 18th century capitalist farmers complained that, because of access to subsistence from pasturing livestock on the commons, gathering food and firewood from common woodland, and the possibility of the landless cottaging on the waste, the rural laboring classes only felt the need to work for wages intermittently. Because of their ability to fall back on the commons, they could not be forced to work as long or as hard as their employers wished.

The commons circuit’s analog to capital’s expansionary circuit is “boundary commoning.” As more activities and sources of sustenance are incorporated into the commons on a non-commodity basis, and the necessary inputs of those activities in turn are recursively incorporated, the boundary between circuits shifts in favor of the commons circuit and incorporates a larger share of society, the balance of power shifts from the capital circuit to the commons circuit and the commons has increasing say over the terms on which it interfaces with the capital circuit.

This parallels the writing of Jane Jacobs and Karl Hess on import substitution — in both cases starting with repair, gradually expanding piecemeal via the production of selected spare parts, and culminating in the production of entire ecosystems of goods — as a way of achieving community

Through commoning, the commons not only can develop new forms of social cooperation with other commons to meet new needs, or increase the non-commodity… diversity of its resources…, it can also establish new markets (such as participatory guarantees or some aspects of fair trade), and bring to the markets goods that fill an old need in new ways, with attention to environmental issues, producer ][pay, quality or minimisation of distance travelled of goods. Commoning also produces local supply chains to reduce the dependence of an area on capitalist commodities and revitalise a local economy. Commoning can thus organically articulate existing skills and resources over a territory, helping a depressed region to realise the wealth that resides hidden with it.

De Angelis denounces the “fallacy of the political,” which sees radical change as an abrupt process brought about through the seizure of political power. Rather, it is a long-term process that involves “the actual production of another form of power” by building commonwealth over time and expanding it at the expense of the capital circuit. He quotes Marx on the “beginning” of “the epoch of social revolution.”

This conception obviously implies that for a historically defined period, both commons and capital/state cohabit the social space, their struggles and relative powers giving shape to it, with the result that unevenness and contradictions are many, as well as strategic games to colonise the other’s space with one’s own values and decolonise one’s own space from the other’s values. The struggle is therefore continuous.

He calls for a social revolution based on the “multiplication of existing commons,” and “coming together and interlacing of the different commons so as to leverage social powers and constitute ecology and scale” and “growing commons powers vis-a-vis capital and the state.

The process of social revolution is ultimately a process of finding solutions to the problems that capital systems cannot solve…. This implies the establishment of multi-scalar systems of social action that reproduce life in modes, systemic processes, social relations and value practices that seek an alternative path from the dominant ones and that are able to reproduce at greater scale through networking and coordination….

* * *

The effect of a significant number of commons ecologies in a single area is intense: it produces a new culture, norms, networks of support and mutual aid, virtuous neighborhoods and villages. For sustained social change to occur, commons ecologies need to develop and intensify their presence in social space up to a point where they present a viable alternative for most people. This point is the point of critical mass.

“Territorialisation” — building up an interlinked ecology of commons, and particularly those involving survival and subsistence, in recuperated areas — is especially important.

I suggest we should take Marx’s warning about radical transformation beyond capitalism seriously, when he says in Grundrisse that if we do not find concealed in society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic.

The corollary is that the formation of the successor society will be an open-ended process, not the blueprint of any vanguard leadership, and its form will emerge from the self-creation of the commoners as creative subject.

It is only when a class of social subjects emerges out of a new mode of production that they helped to shape, sustain and develop that there emerges a new social force to contrast with capital and the state, to deeply transform them, even to commonise them and abolish their worst aspects.* Thus the class for itself that Marx contrasts with the class in itself defined by capitalist exploitation, is the class of struggling commoners, the new subjectivity empowered by the new ecology of social systems they have set in place and intertwined: the commons.

His mention of abolishing the worst aspects of capital and state echoes ideas found in similar thinkers of shifting the nature of states (ranging from Saint-Simon’s substitution of “administration of things” for “governance of people” to Proudhon’s “dissolving the state in society” to Orsi’s and Bauwens’s Partner State) and corporations (experiments in self-management, open-sourcing IP, etc.) even under the existing system, in order to make them somewhat less extractive and hierarchical, and lay the groundwork for a fundamental alteration in their character when the larger system they are a part of reaches its tipping point. The nature of the corporation or state agency is determined by the nature of the larger system of which it is a part (e.g. the evolution of craft guilds from a cooperative ethos at the height of the Middle Ages to an essentially corporate capitalist model dominated by large masters engaged in the export trade in early modern times). The legacy institutions that are able to negotiate the transition process and survive with some degree of organizational continuity in the successor society may still have the same names, but they will be largely different in substance.

A commons movement is not simply a movement against the valuation processes and injustices of capital as well as the hierarchies of the state, but a movement that seek [sic] to commonalize many functions now both in private and state hands, especially those functions that have to do with social reproduction, and that define the quality and the quality of services available….

Aside from the strategy of creating commons from the ground up…, another strategy is to commonalize its existing private or public systems and transform them into resilient organisations, which in turn imply [sic], much deeper democratisation and cooperation, namely basic commons coordinates.

The objective to turn more and more spheres of societies into sustainable and resilient spheres thus coincides with that of adopting commons as a central kernel of the architecture of a new mode of production integrating many types of modes of production….

Commonalisation means to shift a public or private organisation into a commons or, more likely, into a web of interconnected and nested commons giving shape to metacommonality, with the overarching goal of resilience….

For a public institution or private corporation, commonalisation does not mean that a given final result is optimal, but that a process has begun along which there is a collective effort, through the commoners’ democratic management of constraints, costs, and rewards, to increase all sorts of commoning across different social actors involved in the corporation or public service….

  1. the parameter of democracy: democratisation of a state service or a corporation along a scale that has as its two opposite poles management versus direct democracy…;
  2. maximum accountability and transparency and the ability to recall every public servant… and other stakeholder involved in the production of the service;
  3. opening the boundaries between different types of practices and subjects thus allowing maximum cognitive diversity as well as increasing the porosity of the system boundaries to a variety of subjects, knowledges and practices….

He mentions Barcelona en Comu as an example, with such experiments in direct democracy and transparency as participatory budgeting, open policy proposal wikis, etc.

Likewise, he refers to the commons being able to make use of capital on favorable terms “because there is an echo of the commons inside capital or state systems, and thus it is possible to define meta-commonal relations across capital, state and commons.” It is important to remember that state agencies and capitalist corporations are not monoliths; they are governed by hierarchies precisely because the individuals and social groups within them all have interests that may not coincide with the official goals of the organization or the interests of its leadership, so that it becomes necessary to resort to power relations in order to enclose their cooperative interactions — interactions that may function, internally, on the basis of something like Graeber’s “everyday communism” — as sources of value for the organization.  Authoritarian institutions are always subject to concupiscence, the kind of “war within their members” that St. Paul described in the individual. The commons sector can often hope to find friendly individuals and subcultures within the “Belly of the Beast.”

De Angelis sees a cybernetic principle called Ashby’s Law, or the Law of Requisite Variety (“in order to have a system under the control of a regulator, the variety of the regulator must match the variety of the system”; “the greater the variety of the system in relation to the regulator, the greater is the need of the regulator to reduce the system’s variety or increase its own variety”) as both a source of hope and a strategy for victory.

State regulations like health and safety rules are often a means by which capital artificially simplifies society by suppressing the commons, either by imposing administrative costs on the commons that small-scale production cannot absorb, or forcing it into illegality and thereby marginalizing it. For example: “Different households are discouraged from trusting each other when they cannot share at a school party their cakes and biscuits made at home, but instead have to show that they have purchased the product.” Likewise organic certification regimes with such high costs that only relatively large producers can afford them, effectively keeping small producers from legally using the “organic” label. The commons sector has in some cases responded by devising its own certification regimes enforced along Ostromite lines by the participants themselves, although the formal legality of such practices varies from location to location and the attitudes of local political authorities.

To achieve victory the commons sector must increase its internal capacity to self-regulate, while overloading its variety relative to the regulator in order to overload the latter with information.

Here a sub-system of society is comprising a set of self-regulation of the commons…. This wider commons ecology, defended and enlarged by social movements, reduces the power to regulate complexity of the state/capital regulator, who is left with the increasingly impossible task of matching society’s variety in order to regulate. This is the case when commons movements outflank the state and capital.

I would note here that a self-governed system’s regulatory capacity is inherently greater in variety relative to the internal matter to be regulated because the complexity and enforcement costs of regulation are directly proportional to the conflict of interest between regulators and regulated. This is even more so if the self-governed system is largely stigmergic or permissionless, on the model of Wikipedia or open-source software design. A commons ecology that decentralizes and modularizes the complex subsistence and reproduction activities of the spheres of capital and state, and reorganizes them on a permissionless basis, will render them far less complicated than their authoritarian counterparts.

In addition, new technologies of decentralized and small-scale production that make the commons increasingly efficient relative to state and capital also have the effect of increasing the complexity of the commons relative to state regulators. For example, the enforcement of industrial patents traditionally assumed very low transaction costs because most production was carried out by a few large manufacturing corporations, consisted of a few major variations in product design, and was marketed through a handful of major retail chains served by a centralized distribution network. When the product ecology expands by orders of magnitude to include a whole host of open-source designs or pirated proprietary ones available as CAD-CAM files on a micro-manufacturing version of The Pirate Bay, and they’re produced for neighborhood consumption by hundreds of thousands of garage factories run by workers cooperatives of a few people each, the transaction costs of enforcement become astronomical.

Finally, in the event that state and corporation attempt to render the commons more governable by forcibly simplifying them (making them more legible, in James Scott’s terminology), the enforcement of such measures is itself a form of regulation that can be thwarted by making the task of enforcement more complicated than the regulators can cope with (in particular, technologies of evasion or circumvention like encryption).

The disruptive effect on the regulator’s ability to cope with complexity can be greatly intensified, as well, when commons-based social movements engage in the kinds of leaderless swarming or saturation attacks described by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt.

If commons movements become the expression of a political recomposition that is one with a mode of production to expand, to develop and to set against the dominant mode of production, then we have acquired a common sense-horizon, not one that establishes a future model, but a present organisational unit that seeks to evolve and have a place in the contemporary cosmopolitan and globalised world because its power resides in diversity, variety and complexity….

A society is in movement because a large part of it is constituting itself in terms of a growing web of interactive commons, capable of sustaining livelihoods… and of deploying its social force not only to resist enclosures but to sustain and expand its commons. In short, emancipatory social transportation is predicated not only on increasing complexity, but also on the multiplication of commons governing such a complexity.

Somewhat similar to Negri’s and Hardt’s choice of “multitude,” De Angelis prefers “commoners” to “workers” as a name for the subject engaged in constructing a postcapitalist society, because it includes “the self-activity of this class in so far as the many-faceted (re)production of livelihoods outside capital,” and “captures both an underpinning relation to capital and a quest for the production of alternatives.” And, I would add, Marx saw the working class’s ultimate task as abolition of itself as a class; this is an ongoing task at present under capitalism, as part of the construction of the successor society here and now.

He identifies, as one of the ideological barriers to the emergence of commoners as a growing class subjectivity, the idea of the “middle class.”

…which I define not as a homogeneous social group, with a given level of income, but as a stratified field of subjectivity disciplined to a large degree to the norms of behaviour of a modern society in which capital has a fundamental role in organising social production through disciplinary markets, enclosures, governance and its profit-seeking enterprises. In other words, ‘middle-classness’ is constituted through an idea of the betterment and order achieved within the boundaries of the capitalist system.

This is especially true, I think, of the United States, which in many ways as a settler society on the frontier of Western capitalism has become simultaneously the savior of old-world capitalism and — with such components of the American ideology as “American Exceptionalism” and “the American Dream” — an intensification of its most toxic tendencies. Building class consciousness against exploitation is probably harder in America than anywhere else in the developed capitalist world because of this internalized tendency of ordinary people to see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” To see this, one need only go to any tweet or Facebook post critical of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, and look at the dozens of replies from sycophantic dudebros outraged at the blot to their escutcheon.

Among other important points, finally, De Angelis stresses the need for intersectionality within the commons as a source of unity.


Photo by nikita_nikiforov

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Fire Appeal: Donate to Stir to Action! https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/fire-appeal-donate-to-stir-to-action/2018/07/17 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/fire-appeal-donate-to-stir-to-action/2018/07/17#respond Tue, 17 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71854 Fire Appeal: Donate to Stir To Action! Donate!   On July 7th, an accidental fire in a neighbouring studio wiped out Stir to Action’s office – we lost everything. We estimate we’ve lost around £15,000 in magazine stock and archive, new office furniture, office computer, and paperwork. And, of course, the office! This loss has disrupted... Continue reading

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Fire Appeal: Donate to Stir To Action!



On July 7th, an accidental fire in a neighbouring studio wiped out Stir to Action’s office – we lost everything. We estimate we’ve lost around £15,000 in magazine stock and archive, new office furniture, office computer, and paperwork. And, of course, the office!

This loss has disrupted our whole organisation and recovering from the fire will delay selling our latest issue, which fortunately arrived a few days after the office went up in smoke, announcing our planned New Economy Programme to train a 1000 people, and other current projects.

To see us through the next six months we’re asking for support – we’re not expecting to recover everything, but here are the basics that will help us get back on our feet!

What do we need help with?

Office computer (with creative design suite)

Office Furniture: desks for our team, and equipment for workshops, evening classes, and other community events we plan to host over the next six months. We’ve already been offered free office space by a local organisation!

Magazine restock: we are looking to reprint 1,000 copies of the last four issues only, so we can sell them at events, conferences, and through our online shop.

Printing next issue: The most immediate challenge for our organisation is to fund and produce our next issue. Staying on our print schedule is important for our cash flow, but it’s also a symbol of our recovery and our supportive community. Our October issue be themed on the communities and co-operation that arise during and after disaster and crisis.

Magazine archive recall: We’re looking to rebuild our print archive from our first issue, Spring 2013, to our 15th issue, Autumn 2016 (the remaining archive would be replenished by our restock print run). We are limiting our collection to 10 copies each for storage reasons. Please send a message on this page if you don’t mind giving up a few of your back issues!

Time and patience as we rebuild and organise our upcoming New Economy Programme and other projects 🙂

Thanks for your support and solidarity!
The Stir to Action team





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Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech’s Repair Monopoly https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/tractor-hacking-the-farmers-breaking-big-techs-repair-monopoly-2/2018/07/16 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/tractor-hacking-the-farmers-breaking-big-techs-repair-monopoly-2/2018/07/16#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71839 Reposted from Motherboard/ YouTube When it comes to repair, farmers have always been self reliant. But the modernization of tractors and other farm equipment over the past few decades has left most farmers in the dust thanks to diagnostic software that large manufacturers hold a monopoly over. In this episode of State of Repair, Motherboard... Continue reading

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Reposted from Motherboard/ YouTube

When it comes to repair, farmers have always been self reliant. But the modernization of tractors and other farm equipment over the past few decades has left most farmers in the dust thanks to diagnostic software that large manufacturers hold a monopoly over. In this episode of State of Repair, Motherboard goes to Nebraska to talk to the farmers and mechanics who are fighting large manufacturers like John Deere for the right to access the diagnostic software they need to repair their tractors.

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Mumbai: Winning textile workers’ housing rights https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/mumbai-winning-textile-workers-housing-rights/2018/07/16 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/mumbai-winning-textile-workers-housing-rights/2018/07/16#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71812 A 17-year struggle by Mumbai’s textile millworkers against powerful mill-land owners, for land and housing as compensation for job losses, resulted in a historic gain of workers’ rights over a part of urban industrial land. Mill workers of Mumbai have a 150-year tradition of struggle. When the mills went into decline in the 1980s and... Continue reading

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A 17-year struggle by Mumbai’s textile millworkers against powerful mill-land owners, for land and housing as compensation for job losses, resulted in a historic gain of workers’ rights over a part of urban industrial land.

Mill workers of Mumbai have a 150-year tradition of struggle. When the mills went into decline in the 1980s and 1990s, they continued to fight, first for their jobs, and when mills closed anyway, for their right to live in the city. Six hundred acres of mill lands belonging to 50 or so textile mills had become prime real estate and was developed into luxury offices, apartments, clubs and malls. This was land that had been given to mill owners over a century ago solely for industrial purposes. Workers demanded a part of the land for workers’ housing. The struggle resulted in legislation granting rights over a portion of the land. 8,000 apartments have been offered so far and construction of a further 18,000 units is ongoing. The government says it is looking for more land to meet the target of 100,000-150,000 units. The struggle continues.

GKSS, an independent mill union/committee set up in 1990, organised demonstrations, occupations, lobbying with parliamentarians, negotiations with government, media advocacy, street barricades, sit ins, and marches. The state overtly and covertly supported the mill owners. What worked in the end was dogged persistence, an effective strategy of broad and multiple alliances, the political and electoral importance of mill workers, and the sympathy of lower level police and bureaucrats who were from mill families.

This struggle is unique for its strategies, and the importance of fighting for concrete gains for the constituency and for the broader community.

Would you like to learn more about this initiative? Please contact us.

Or visit the Mill Workers Action Committee’s Facebook

Transformative Cities’ Atlas of Utopias is being serialized on the P2P Foundation Blog. Go to TransformativeCities.org for updates.

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Book of the Day: Srnicek and Williams’ Inventing the Future https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-of-the-day-srnicek-and-williams-inventing-the-future/2018/07/15 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/book-of-the-day-srnicek-and-williams-inventing-the-future/2018/07/15#respond Sun, 15 Jul 2018 10:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71795 Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (London and New York: Verso, 2015, 2016). I approached this book with considerable eagerness and predisposed to like it. It belongs to a broad milieu of -isms for which I have strong sympathies (postcapitalism, autonomism, left-accelerationism, “fully automated luxury communism,” etc.). So I... Continue reading

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Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (London and New York: Verso, 2015, 2016).

I approached this book with considerable eagerness and predisposed to like it. It belongs to a broad milieu of -isms for which I have strong sympathies (postcapitalism, autonomism, left-accelerationism, “fully automated luxury communism,” etc.). So I was dismayed by how quickly my eager anticipation turned to anger when I started reading it. Through the first third of the book, I fully expected to open my review with “I read this book so you don’t have to.” But having read through all of it, I actually want you to read it.

There is a great deal of value in the book, once you get past all the strawman ranting about “folk politics” in the first part. There is a lot to appreciate in the rest of the book if you can ignore the recurring gratuitous gibes at horizontalism and localism along the way. The only other author I can think of who similarly combines brilliant analysis with bad faith caricatures of his perceived adversaries is Murray Bookchin.

I quote at length from their discussion of folk politics:

As a first approximation, we can… define folk politics as a collective and historically constructed political common sense that has become out of joint with the actual mechanisms of power. As our political, economic, social and technological world changes, tactics and strategies which were previously capable of transforming collective power into emancipatory gains have now become drained of their effectiveness…. Petitions, occupations, strikes, vanguard parties, affinity groups, trade unions: all arose out of particular historical conditions. Yet the fact that certain ways of organizing and acting were once useful does not guarantee their continued relevance…. Our world has moved on, becoming more complex, abstract, nonlinear and global than ever before.

Against the abstractions and inhumanity of capitalism, folk politics aims to bring politics down to the ‘human scale’ by emphasizing temporal, spatial and conceptual immediacy. In terms of temporal immediacy, contemporary folk politics typically remains reactive (responding to actions initiated by corporations and governments, rather than initiating actions); ignores long-term strategic goals in favour of tactics (mobilizing around single-issue politics or emphasizing process); prefers practices that are often inherently fleeting (such as occupations and temporary autonomous zones); chooses the familiarities of the past over the unknowns of the future (for instance, the repeated dreams of a return to ‘good’ Keynesian capitalism); and expresses itself as a predilection for the voluntarist and spontaneous over the institutional (as in the romanticisation of rioting and insurrection).

In terms of spatial immediacy, folk politics privileges the local as the site of authenticity (as in the 100-miles diet or local currencies), habitually chooses the small over the large (as in the veneration of small-scale communities or local businesses); favours projects that are un-scalable beyond a small community (for instance, general assemblies and direct democracy) and often rejects the project of hegemony, valuing withdrawal or exit rather than building a broad counter-hegemony. Likewise, folk politics prefers that actions be taken by participants themselves—in its emphasis on direct action, for example—and sees decision-making as something to be carried out by each individual rather than by any representative. The problems of scale and extension are either ignored or smoothed over in folk-political thinking.

Finally, in terms of conceptual immediacy, there is a preference for the everyday over the structural, valorising personal experience over systematic thinking; for feeling over thinking…; for the particular over the universal…; and for the ethical over the political…. Organizations and communities are to be transparent, rejecting in advance any conceptual mediation, or even modest amounts of complexity…. As a result, any process of constructing a universal politics is rejected from the outset.

Understood in these ways, we can detect traces of folk politics in organizations and movements like Occupy, Spain’s 15M, student occupations…, most forms of horizontalism, the Zapatistas, and contemporary anarchist-tinged politics….

…But no single position embodies all of these dispositions…. The ideas that characterise this tendency are widely dispersed throughout the contemporary left, but some positions are more folk-political than others…. [T]he problem with folk politics is not that it starts from the local; all politics begins from the local. The problem is rather that folk-political thinking is content to remain at (and even privileges) that level…. Therefore, the point is not simply to reject folk politics. Folk politics is a necessary component of any successful political project, but it can only be a starting point…. [Finally,] folk politics is only a problem for particular types of projects: those that seek to move beyond capitalism. Folk-political thinking can be perfectly well adapted to other political projects aimed solely at resistance, movements organized around local issues, and small-scale projects…. Strategic reflection—on means and ends, enemies and allies—is necessary before approaching any political project. Given the nature of global capitalism, any postcapitalist project will require an ambitious, abstract, mediated, complex and global approach—one that folk-political approaches are incapable of providing.

…[F]olk politics lacks the tools to transform neoliberalism into something else…. The project of this book is to begin outlining an alternative—a way for the left to navigate from the local to the global, and synthesise the particular with the universal.

…If complexity presently outstrips humanity’s capacities to think and control, there are two options: one is to reduce complexity down to a human scale; the other is to expand humanity’s capacities. We endorse the latter position.

They trace contemporary folk-political wisdom to the experience of the late ’60s, when the New Left rejected the parallel growth of totalizing bureaucracies in Western corporate capitalism and state communism. Much of this critique, they stipulate, is valid.

…At its most extreme, however, this antisystemic politics led towards the identification of political power as inherently tainted by oppressive, patriarchal and domineering tendencies. This leaves something of a paradox. On the one hand, it could choose some form of negotiation or accommodation with existing power structures, which would tend toward the corruption or co-optation of the new left. But on the other hand, it could choose to remain marginal, and thereby unable to transform those elements of society not already convinced of its agenda. The critiques many of these antisystemic movements made of established forms of state, capitalist and old-left bureaucratic power were largely accurate. Yet antisystemic politics offered few resources to build a new movement capable of contending against capitalist hegemony.

…[The dissemination of feminist, anti-racist, gay-rights and anti-bureaucratic demands on a global level] represented an absolutely necessary moment of self-critique by the left, and the legacy of folk-political tactics finds its appropriate historical conditions here. Simultaneously, however, an inability or lack of desire to turn the more radical sides of these projects into hegemonic ones also had important consequences for the period of destabilization that followed. While capable of generating an array of new and powerful ideas of human freedom, the new social movements were generally unable to replace the faltering social democratic order.

As the old Keynesian/Social Democratic order became destabilized, neoliberalism managed to dominate the debate over a replacement order and control the framing of alternatives, and the Left was unable to offer a coherent, unified counter-proposition. And neoliberalism, by partially conceding to the racial and gender justice demands of the left, gained additional leverage in pursuing its economic agenda

It was against this backdrop that folk-political institutions increasingly sedimented as a new common sense and came to be expressed in the alter-globalisation movements. These movements emerged in two phases. The first, appearing from the mid 1990s through to the early 2000s, consisted of groups such as the Zapatistas, anti-capitalists, alter-globalisers, and participants in the World Social Forum and global anti-war protests. A second phase began immediatedly after the 2007-09 financial crisis and featured various groups united by their similar organisational forms and ideological positions, including the Occupy movement, Spain’s 15M and various national-level student movements…. Drawing influence from the earlier social movements, this latest cycle of struggles comprises groups that tend to privilege the local and the spontaneous, the horizontal and the anti-state…. On its own, however, this kind of politics is unable to give rise to long-lasting forces that might supersede, rather than merely resist, global capitalism.

These are all themes which Srnicek and Williams stated even more crudely and explicitly—if you can believe it—in their accelerationist manifesto of 2013, which they went on to develop into this book. Anything local or horizontalist is “luddite tree-hugging crypto-primmie hippie crap.”

In fairness, in the Afterword to the new edition they issue the disclaimer—no doubt sincere—that the “folk politics” they denounce does not equate localism, horizontalism or prefiguration as such—just the current folk-political tendency to pursue it for its own sake when it is not suited to the situation or is actively counter-productive. Rather, it’s an implicit tendency frequently found within localism, horizontalism and prefiguration. To be more exact, “the concept [of folk politics] is designed to pick out a particular subset of characteristics from them.”

But what they consider problematic about this subset of characteristics is itself conceptually flawed:  they distinguish “good” attempts at local counter-institution building (e.g. the Black Panthers’ community initiatives like school lunches, community patrols, kindergartens, etc.) from “bad” folk-political localism insofar as these movements sought to “scale [their] efforts” in keeping with a global strategy rather than to “withdraw” into a “prefigurative paradise.”

The very reference to “scaling” betrays their failure to examine their real implicit bias against decentralism and horizontalism as such, and all the questionable assumptions behind it. They repeatedly use the expression “scale up”:

…[P]references for immediacy in democracy… hold back its spatial scalability. To put it simply, direct democracy requires small communities…. The very mechanisms and ideals of direct democracy (face-to-face discussion) make it difficult to exist beyond small communities, and make it virtually impossible to respond to problems of national, regional and global democracy…. Small communities of the kind required by direct democracy are not a suitable goal for a modern left movement….

How can it be expanded and scaled up?

But like others I have encountered who share their unconscious technological assumptions, they throw the phrase around without making it at all clear what they mean by it. For example, in an argument with an apologist for industrial agriculture I pointed to the superior productivity of soil-intensive horticulture in terms of output per acre (e.g. Jeavons’s raised bed techniques that can feed one person on one-tenth of an acre); their response was “Yes, but how will you scale it up?” I kept pressing them to explain what that meant: “Why does it need to ‘scale up’ at all? If one person can feed themselves with a tenth of an acre, or a village can feed itself with fifty acres, why does any single operation need to be larger?” I get the impression some advocates of “scaling up” are unable to grasp the possibility of 300 million people brushing their teeth in an uncoordinated effort using their own toothbrushes, unless it is somehow “scaled up” to everybody brushing at one time with a single 10,000 ton toothbrush—coordinated by a central body that formulates tooth-brushing guidelines. If an individual action is already taking place at the optimal scale, the best way to “scale up” is probably to proliferate horizontally.

Their fundamental aesthetic distaste for decentralism and horizontalism as such—all their protestations to the contrary, sincere or not, notwithstanding—is almost palpable. To verify this, we need only look at the much harsher, and less qualified, language in their original manifesto. They go so far as to quote favorably from Lenin’s denunciation of left-communist ideas on self-management as an “infantile disorder.”

Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution. We Marxists have always spoken of this, and it is not worth while wasting two seconds talking to people who do not understand even this (anarchists and a good half of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries).

Behind their shibboleth of “scale” is a broader set of unexamined assumptions that amounts to a “folk politics” of their own:  a set of managerialist just-so stories, inherited from leading economic ideologists of the mass-production era like Schumpeter, Galbraith and Chandler, about the inherent superior efficiencies of large scale and the superior productivity of capital-intensive forms of production. This comes through, repeatedly, in their very choice of examples to illustrate what they consider toxic folk-political versions of localism.

Indeed, highly inefficient local food production techniques may be more costly than efficiently grown globally sourced foodstuffs.

Here I can only suggest an intensive reading course that focuses heavily on Jeavons, Frances Moore Lappe and Permaculture. Most neoliberal defenses of industrial factory farming involve numerous strawman fallacies, typically juxtaposing mechanized chemical agribusiness against archaic stand-ins for “organic” agriculture that ignore modern organic agriculture’s massive incorporation of soil science and microbiology, and the superior efficiency in output per acre of intensive techniques. In addition the “inefficiency” critiques of the food-mile movement and food localism they cite, in particular, are flawed in many ways. Srnicek’s and Williams’s point that long-distance shipping of out-of-season produce may be more energy-efficient than greenhouse growing may be correct in some instances. But for in-season produce Ralph Borsodi’s observation that nothing can beat the efficiency of production at the actual point of consumption stands. “Food-mile” critiques still assume fairly conventional, transportation-intensive retail distribution systems, as opposed to the form food production is likely to actually take in a post-capitalist shift from the cash nexus to social economy: the production of most in-season fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc., in rooftop, backyard and neighborhood gardens, and exchange in neighborhood farmers’ markets.

They also accept at face value all of neoliberal capitalism’s claims about the superior efficiency of “comparative advantage” based on outsourced production and globalized logistic chains. “The rapid automation of logistics presents the utopian possibility of a globally interconnected system in which parts and goods can be shipped rapidly and efficiently without human labour.”

In so doing, they ignore cases where diverse local economies with small-scale production at the point of consumption are objectively more efficient. Indeed they smugly dismiss advocates of industrial relocation as essentially nothing more than Luddite hippies, motivated by false nostalgia and yearning for the “simplicity” of a world long gone.

Other movements argue for an approach of withdrawal, whereby individuals exit from existing social institutions… Often these approaches are explicitly opposed to complex societies, meaning that the ultimate implied destination is some form of communitarianism or anarcho-primitivism.

(Never mind that movements like autonomism also adopt an “approach of withdrawal,” which is explicitly based on the possibilities of advanced technology. They beg the question of whether the best approach to transition, in regard to existing institutions, is to conquer or withdraw from them. Their framing, quoted earlier, of “exit” and “building a counter-hegemony” as mutually exclusive alternatives, is fundamentally flawed; advocates of Exodus see their project as building a counter-hegemony through exit.)

In their localism these tree-hugging folk politicos, they say, ignore the “interconnectedness” of the world.

Shared between all of these [variants of localist ideology] is a belief that the abstraction and sheer scale of the modern world is at the root of our present political, ecological and economic problems, and that the solution therefore lies in adopting a ‘small is beautiful’ approach to the world…. The problem with localism is that, in attempting to reduce large-scale systemic problems to the more manageable sphere of the local community, it effectively denies the systemically interconnected nature o today’s world. Problems such as global exploitation, planetary climate change, rising surplus populations, and the repeated crises of capitalism are abstract in appearance, complex in structure, and non-localised…. Fundamentally, these are systemic and abstract problems, requiring systemic and abstract responses.

…Though undoubtedly well-meaning, both the radical and mainstream left partake in localist politics and economics to their detriment.

In their paean to interconnectedness, they ignore the fact that a great deal of this “interconnectedness” is artificial, resulting from state subsidies and protections to economic activity and division of labor on a scale far beyond the point of diminishing returns. As Murray Bookchin argued, much of the “complexity” used to justify centralism is unnecessary. It can be “rationally simplified”

by reducing or eliminating commercial bureaucracies, needless reliance on goods from abroad that can be produced by recycling at home, and the underutilization of local resources that are now ignored because they are not “competitively” priced: in short, eliminating the vast paraphernalia of goods and services that may be indispensable to profit-making and competition but not to the rational distribution of goods in a cooperative society [“The Ecological Crisis and the Need to Remake Society”].

To take one example of a manufactured need for large scale, consider auto production. Most of existing engine block weight results from the need for additional horsepower for rapid acceleration in freeway driving. And Detroit’s three-story stamping presses result entirely from design choices (i.e. curved body panels) made for purely aesthetic reasons. In a society with mixed-use communities built on the pre-automobile pattern for travel by foot, bike or public transit, and with light rail for travel between communities, the private automobile’s ideal users would be those in low-density areas outside of towns not served by light rail heads (e.g. truck farmers needing to get in and out of town). This could be accomplished with the light engine blocks of the original Model-T factories, or for that matter with light electrical motors produced by local industry. And flat body panels could be cut out in a neighborhood garage factory.

Besides that, “interconnectedness” is not a generic quality—there are different kinds of interconnectedness, and a critique of strawman “localism” that does not differentiate between them is useless; far better is an approach (like the P2P Foundation’s “Design Globally, Produce Locally”) that tailors itself to what’s appropriate for different spheres of life.

And the cooptation of new, decentralized production technologies and job shop production over the past few decades by corporations with global supply chains was only possible by state intervention. Massive transportation subsidies play a role, of course, but perhaps more important is the use of patent and trademark law to give global corporations a legal monopoly on the disposal of outsourced production. They—they, who chide others for clinging to past models in the face of material and technological reality—ignore recent and ongoing developments in production technology that enable a growing share of consumption goods to be produced with cheap micro-manufacturing tools for neighborhood and community consumption, including outside the cash nexus in the informal, social and household sectors, not less but more efficiently than can be done for their much-vaunted global supply and distribution chains.

The most forward-thinking specialists in lean, just-in-time manufacturing themselves say as much. For example H. Thomas Johnson, who wrote the Foreword to Waddell’s and Bodek’s Rebirth of American Industry (a magisterial book on adapting managerial accounting models to the Toyota Production System), argued that introducing Taichi Ohno’s production model into a transnational corporate framework amounted to putting new wine in old bottles.

The cheap fossil fuel energy sources that have always supported [large-scale manufacturing] cannot be taken for granted any longer. One proposal that has great merit is that of rebuilding our economy around smaller-scale, locally-focused organizations that provide just as high a standard living [sic] as people now enjoy, but with far less energy and resource consumption. Helping to create the sustainable local living economy may be the most exciting frontier yet for architects of lean operations.

Lean production guru James Womack observed (Lean Thinking), similarly, that “oceans and lean production are not compatible.” Simply shifting inventories from giant warehouses of finished product or intermediate goods to warehouses disguised as trucks and container ships isn’t really reducing overall inventory stocks at all. It’s just sweeping the batch-and-queue bloat of Sloanism under the rug. The outsourced component manufacturers are located on the wrong side of the world from both their engineering operations and their customers… [in order] to reduce the cost per hour of labor.”

The production process in these remotely located, high-scale facilities may even be in some form of flow, but… the flow of the product stops at the end of the plant.

In other words, Williams and Srnicek are drinking the neoliberal capitalist Kool-Aid in taking at face value the claims of efficiency for global supply and distribution chains. They really do not reflect superior efficiency at all, but rather the irrationalities resulting from perverse incentives under capitalism. Far more efficient, as a high-tech manufacturing model, is a networked local economy of job shops with CNC machines like that of Emilia-Romagna/Bologna, oriented to supplying local markets; or better yet, an economy of even cheaper and smaller tabletop CNC machines in workshops producing for multi-family cohousing projects, neighborhoods and micro-villages.

In short, Srnicek and Williams are at least as guilty as any they criticize of failing to adapt their strategy to changed circumstances; in this case they fail to acknowledge the radical technological advances in cheapening, ephemeralization and reduced scale of production machinery, and to take advantage of their promise for creating a counter-economy outside the existing capitalist economy and leaving the latter to starve for lack of labor-power or demand, instead of taking it over.

They apply similar assumptions to political organization and strategy, treating stigmergic, horizontalist movements enabled by network communications tech as “a rejection of complexity,” or as “unscalable” when they’re actually a different kind of scalability. And accusing the new wave of horizontalist movements of having no strategic vision for scalability or “counter-hegemony” is ridiculous. Whatever you think of it, the municipalist strategy that emerged from M15 and allied movements in Europe is a coherent strategy. If anything US Occupy is an outlier in treating the occupations and General Assemblies as ends in themselves without using them as the launchpad for building an ecology of counter-institutions.

One of the most revolutionary effects of networked communications technology is lowering the transaction costs of stigmergic organization over larger spatial areas.

Stigmergic, or networked, organization is characterized by a module-platform architecture. The way it “scales up” is not by creating progressively larger organizational units under a common management, but by proliferating small units horizontally.

And a key benefit of stigmergic organization is that, in a large horizontal network consisting of many nodes, a useful tactical innovation can be rapidly picked up and adopted by many or most nodes in the network—essentially amounting to the coordinated use of that tactic by the network—without any central coordinating or permission-granting authority being required.

Criticism of Occupy for failing to coalesce around a set of demands like post-work is misplaced, and reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of that movement. Occupy was a platform for an entire stigmergic network of movements, providing a common enemy, a common toolkit, and common symbolism. Any anticapitalist movement opposed to economic inequality and the 1% could access this platform and avail itself of this toolkit, regardless of its specific agenda or goals.

In the case of Occupy, local nodes of the movement developed promising innovations (see the Appendix to my book The Desktop Regulatory State, pp. 379-84) that for the most part were not picked up by the rest of the network. For this the movement deserves legitimate criticism. But it is misleading to chalk this failure up to the horizontalist model as such. This brings us, in turn, to a criticism of the authors that I will repeat later: their reliance on Occupy as a model is itself misleading. The Occupy movement, arguably, was an outlier in the degree to which it relied exclusively or primarily on the encampments as an organizational model, and pursued a version of “prefigurative politics” limited largely to the general assemblies and other internal aspects of the encampments themselves.

Srnicek and Williams argue that spontaneous uprisings like urban unrest in 1960s America, or the Occupy movement, can be very effective in putting pressure on ruling elites. But they fail to do so unless they make alliances with more permanent organizations that can help translate the immediate pressure into concrete political action. For example the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt building ties with organized labor, or Spain’s post-M15 social movements “engag[ing] in a dual strategy both within and outside the party system.

No horizontalist movement that I’m aware of objects to alliances with more permanent organizations. Indeed such alliances with local labor unions, civil rights and social justice organizations, churches, etc., have been part of the basic toolkit of horizontalist organization going back to Saul Alinsky and community campaigns. Speaking for myself, I have no objection even to a dual strategy that includes political parties and electoral politics, so long as efforts within political parties do not crowd out, coopt or suck energy from efforts at counter-institution building. But Occupy’s failure to do so was not a failure of “horizontalism” or “localism.” M15, which the authors here mention favorably, was very much a horizontalist movement.

Their caricature of “prefigurative politics” is equally dishonest. Prefigurative politics is not lifestylist attempts at building “temporary autonomous zones.” It is an attempt at planting the seeds or creating the building blocks of the future society right now, with the intent that they coalesce into something that eventually supplants the existing society.

Contrast Srnicek’s and Williams’s contemptuous dismissal of local prefigurative institutions as doomed exercises in lifestyleism with Massimo De Angelis’s analysis of them as examples of an emerging commons-based alternative mode of production, in Omnia Sunt Communia. The goal is “expansion of the commons systems and their greater integration in commons ecologies” culminating in the future with “claiming the wealth produced by all social cooperation as commonwealth.”

If anyone is guilty of imposing a one-size-fits-all strategy regardless of suitability to the situation, it’s Srnicek and Williams, who ignore the existence of a strategic vision when it is found anywhere but in their own preferred model.

That’s not to say that the building of counter-institutions should not be coordinated with political efforts of various sorts, including the organization of resistance to the state or even parties like Syriza and Podemos. But ideally efforts within party politics will, while promoting political objectives like UBI or copyright rollback, also run interference on behalf of local institution-building efforts and actively promote public awareness and enthusiasm for them. Ideally, a political effort that gains power at the polls like Syriza will pursue a good cop, bad cop strategy in negotiating with neoliberal forces like the European Central Bank: “We’ll try to negotiate with you, but we can’t control what our local comrades on the ground are doing on their own.” The worst-case scenario is what actually happened, with Syriza being coopted by the ECB and used as a stick against the post-Syntagma movements.

And if Occupy made a grave strategic error in fetishizing the General Assemblies as an end in themselves, rather than sporulating into an ecology of institution-building movements like M15—which I agree with Srnicek and Williams that it did—an equally grave error would have been for it to either be coopted internally by the Workers World Party or Avakian cultists, as very nearly happened and was averted by David Graeber and his horizontalist allies, or coopted externally by efforts like Van Johnson’s to transform it into a voter mobilization arm for the Democratic Party’s neoliberal agenda.

Occupy was greatly at fault for not building permanent local alliances on the pattern of Community Campaigns or Corporate Campaigns with a whole range of established labor, environmental and social justice organizations, and directing their energies into building lasting counter-institutions in cooperation with other existing movements after the camps were shut down.

Compare this to M15 in Spain, which actually pioneered the general assembly model picked up by Occupy in the United States. Unlike American occupiers, who mostly viewed the dissolution of the camps as the end of the movement, the Spanish Indignados took the dissolution of their large general assemblies as a jumping-off point to create small, permanent neighborhood assemblies devoted to building commons-based counter-institutions. These continuing efforts by the Indignados—coming from an ideological space every bit as “horizontalist” as Occupy—eventually grew into the municipalist movements that have achieved major political influence in Barcelona, Madrid and other cities, and spread further to cities across Europe.

Even in the United States, although the direct lines of influence from Occupy are weaker, there is an array both of preexisting municipalist movements in cities like Cleveland and Jackson that were invigorated by the Occupy movement, and many other such local movements that have grown directly out of it.

Even so, it’s true that purely stigmergic coordination may be insufficient in some cases, and that movements must be coordinated by discussion in larger federal bodies. Again, though, the focus on Occupy is misleading. Those municipalist movements in Europe, starting in Spain and spreading through cities all over Europe (Bologna and Antwerp particularly notable among them), have created Assemblies of the Commons and other federal coordinating bodies on a continent-wide scale. But that doesn’t fit the authors’ narrative regarding the failures of “horizontalism.”

Srnicek and Williams  acknowledge Argentina’s achievements compared to Occupy, most notably the factory recuperations. Nevertheless they find them wanting. There was some coordination between neighborhood assemblies in Argentina, but such inter-neighborhood assemblies “never approached the point of replacing the state, or of being able to present themselves as a viable alternative” in providing functions like “welfare, healthcare, redistribution, education, and so on…”

Beyond these organisational limits, the key problem with Argentina as a model for postcapitalism is that it was simply a salve for the problems of capitalism, but not an alternative to it. As the economy started to improve, participation in the neighborhood assemblies and alternative economies drastically declined. The post-crisis horizontalist movements in Argentina were built as an emergency response to the collapse of the existing order, not as a competitor to a relatively well-functioning order….

In the case of both neighborhood assemblies and worker-controlled factories, we see that the primary organisational models of horizontalism are insufficient. They are often reactive tactics that fail to compete in the antagonistic environment of global capitalism.

Yes, prefigurative counter-institutions tend to arise in periods of downturn and crisis, and then to fade away or be coopted in times of recovery. But there is more to the picture than the normal business cycle. Besides cyclical downturns, there are secular or systemic crises characterized by long-term falling direct rate of profit, stagnant wages, growing levels of precarity and underemployment, etc. And these tendencies carry with them a longer-term shift to counter-institutions as normal means of survival. James O’Connor noted, in Accumulation Crisis, that workers not only shifted their efforts in part from wage labor to direct production for use in the household and social economy during downturns, but did the same thing on a more permanent basis in response to long-term systemic downturns.

What it boils down to is an inability on their part to understand “prefiguration” on its own terms. One of their greatest shortcomings, in such strawman attacks on prefigurative institutions, is their failure to take into account that capitalism is a system in terminal crisis. They take a snapshot approach, juxtaposing prefigurative institutions and attempts at “withdrawal” against a triumphal capitalism, and then warn that prefigurative projects will be coopted into the capitalist framework. Prefigurative movements will fail,

partly because they misrecognize the nature of their opponent. Capitalism is an aggressively expansive universal, from which efforts to segregate a space of autonomy are bound to fail. Withdrawal, resistance, localism and autonomous spaces represent a defensive game against an uncompromising and incessantly encroaching capitalism.

But it is Srnicek and Williams who are guilty of misrecognizing the strategic situation. They fail to address the question of whether the system is a system with an end, which won’t be able to keep “encroaching” because it is exhausting its potential for expansion. As they point out themselves:

With the dynamics of accumulation at the heart of capital, a non-expansionary capitalism is an oxymoron.

Yes. Capitalism can only survive by expanding. And it is reaching, or has already reached, the limits of all the kinds of artificial abundance in subsidized resource inputs, and artificial scarcity as a source of rents from enclosure of various commons, which have to this point allowed it to keep expanding. Therefore…?? So close to getting the point, and yet so far.

Srnicek and Williams treat the correlation of forces between the horizontalist movements and their counter-institutions, and the forces of state and capital, as largely static rather than a moment in a multigenerational transition process. But all these local counter-institutions and other building blocks are developing against the backdrop of the decaying system within which they exist.

They are not ephemeral exercises in lifestylism, doomed to be periodically wiped out like Zion in the Matrix trilogy. By far the majority of people and groups engaged in prefigurative efforts see themselves as “scaling up” by creating counter-institutions which will proliferate horizontally and become building block institutions of post-capitalist society. And exodus (“withdrawal”) is based on a strategic assessment of capitalism’s crisis tendencies and vulnerable points, with the aim of taking advantage of the possibilities of new technology for directly producing for consumption in whatever cases it has become cheaper and more efficient to do so than to work for wages and purchase on the cash nexus, in order to starve the wage system and the engine of accumulation.

In the framework of De Angelis, the circuit of capital and the circuit of the commons have coexisted and interacted since the beginning of capitalism, with the correlation of forces between them constantly shifting. We’re in the early states of a transition process in which the correlation of forces are shifting permanently towards the commons.

This longer transition process will be one of the local building blocks coalescing into a whole and supplanting the old system as it becomes progressively weakened and bankrupted and retreats from the scene. And the coalescence of the new system, as various components are adopted more and more widely and grow into an ecosystem, will occur precisely as a “killer app” made necessary for survival by the collapse of the old system. What occurred in Argentina as a local and cyclical phenomenon, and compelled the partial and temporary adoption of alternative economic models, will of necessity occur on a more widespread and permanent basis when the collapse is global and systemic.

Prefigurative alternatives are not the strategic means by which to defeat a properly functioning capitalism in full bloom. They are the seeds of a new system which will gradually develop to replace a system in decay.

And simply assuming that capitalism will coopt them as the basis for a new lease on life via the next Kondratiev wave or “engine of accumulation,” etc., begs the question of whether it can.

Michel Bauwens and Franco Iacomella argue that capitalism is beset by twin crisis tendencies that undermine the two central supports it has depended on up to now for its continued survival and expansion. Those two supports are artificial abundance of cheap, subsidized material resource inputs, and artificial scarcity of information.

1. The current political economy is based on a false idea of material abundance. We call it pseudo-abundance. It is based on a commitment to permanent growth, the infinite accumulation of capital and debt-driven dynamics through compound interest. This is unsustainable, of course, because infinite growth is logically and physically impossible in any physically constrained, finite system.

2. The current political economy is based on a false idea of “immaterial scarcity.” It believes that an exaggerated set of intellectual property monopolies – for copyrights, trademarks and patents – should restrain the sharing of scientific, social and economic innovations. Hence the system discourages human cooperation, excludes many people from benefiting from innovation and slows the collective learning of humanity. In an age of grave global challenges, the political economy keeps many practical alternatives sequestered behind private firewalls or unfunded if they cannot generate adequate profits.

The capitalist economy is reaching the point of Peak Resource crises (e.g. Peak Oil) and the state’s inability to subsidize and socialize input costs as fast as capital’s need for them is growing (thanks to the “fiscal crisis of the state”), and at the time the “intellectual property” laws that capital depends on for a massive and growing share of its profits are becoming increasingly unenforceable.

Likewise, in dismissing (as another manifestation of “folk politics” and “immediacy,” of course) local obstruction and resistance movements like #NoDAPL, they miss the real point: how the proliferation of such movements, against the backdrop of capitalist decay, amount cumulatively to yet another crisis tendency that will further stress the dying system and hasten its death by attrition.

In the specific case of anti-pipeline movements, the combination of obstruction and physical delays, legal and administrative challenges, divestment movements, and sabotage of already completed pipelines, have together become a permanent part of the cost-benefit calculation of any new pipeline project, and reduce the likelihood on the margin that such projects will be completed in the future. In so doing, they have exacerbated (and continue to exacerbate) the system’s declining capacity to provide the extensive addition of subsidized inputs capital relies on for its profits. This is a real shift in the correlation of forces between the dying old system, and the new one-coming into being–regardless of whether or not it is coordinated on a dying level. The system’s growing vulnerability to such disruption, and the increasing feasibility of such disruption, are themselves part of the system’s death process.

In the case of resisting transnational mining corporations, a combined strategy of raising the costs and difficulties for extractive corporations and substituting (on a partial but increasing scale) locally salvaged and recycled inputs, is an approach with potentially systemic effects. That’s all the more true when local import substitution for raw materials, components, etc. is adopted as a solution to increasingly costly and disrupted supply and distribution chains.

Srnicek and Williams themselves seem to recognize as much:

If a populist movement successfully built a counter-hegemonic ecosystem of organisations, in order to become effective it would still require the capacity][to disrupt. Even with a healthy organisational ecology and a mass unified movement, change is impossible without opportunities to leverage the movement’s power. Historically speaking, many of the most significant advances made by the labour movement were achieved by workers in key strategic locations. Regardless of whether they had widespread solidarity, high levels of class consciousness or an optimal organisational form, they achieved success by being able to insert themselves into and against the flow of capitalist accumulation. In fact, the best predictor of worker militancy and successful class struggle may be the workers’ structural position in the economy.

They mention dock-workers, auto workers and coal miners as examples of workers who, at various times in the past, have been able to leverage their structural position into achieving significant victories against capital. I would add that transport and distribution workers, in particular, have a long history of expanding industry strikes into national or regional general strikes starting with the Pullman Strike of the 1890s. Attacks on the distribution system by non-workers (e.g. the highly effective blockade of Israeli shipping on the U.S. West Coast by BDS activists) have also been quite disruptive, especially when joined by workers. And the recently-emergent system of global supply and distribution chains operating on a just-in-time basis is especially vulnerable to disruption.

And again, while strategic coordination to heighten the disruptive effect would be altogether desirable, the fact remains that the increased incidence of such disruptive attacks as part of the background noise of the system, the increasing feasibility of carrying them out, and the increasing vulnerability of global JIT capitalism to disruption by them, are all part of the transition process even without strategic coordination.

And in fact they are strategic in effect, insofar as connectivity is the strategic link in global capitalism, and its vulnerability to disruption is its central strategic weakness.

The same is true of another leverage point against Bauwens’s and Iacomella’s other systemic vulnerability: the declining enforceability of copyrights and patents. The proliferation of cheap, ephemeral production technologies means that the main engine of accumulation has shifted from ownership of the physical means of production to legal control of who is allowed to use them. So anything that undermines this legal control is striking a blow at the heart of the accumulation process.

On the other hand, Srnicek and Williams fail to address a key leverage point against capitalism, and one that has been heavily addressed by autonomists like Negri and Hardt:  its vulnerability, thanks to cheap, ephemeral production technologies scaled to direct production for use in the household sector or for neighborhood and community markets, to exodus. The availability of such alternatives enables the partial and gradual withdrawal of labor from the capitalist wage system and its shift into the social economy–hence depriving the capitalist system, on the margin, of resources it needs and increasing the pressures on it.

Against this backdrop, strategies of obstruction and withdrawal do indeed “scale up,” and make real strategic sense, in a way that Srnicek and Williams fail to recognize. Local economic counter-institutions, by creating possibilities for subsistence outside the global corporate system and draining it of resources, have an effect that is cumulative and synergistic. And coupled with networked resistance campaigns against mining companies, oil and gas pipelines, etc., they achieve a still higher synergy. Even uncoordinated actions that cumulatively raise the costs of resource inputs or undermine artificial scarcity rents from information, obstruct connectivity and disrupt production chains, or sap capital of needed labor-power and demand on the margin–especially in an environment in which such actions, obstructions and withdrawal are proliferating and are facilitated by material and technological developments–are themselves part of the terminal crisis.

So the primary drivers of the post-capitalist transition are likely to be spontaneous. On the one side the crisis tendencies of capitalism, increasing levels of unemployment and underemployment and precarious living conditions of the working class, the failure of employer- and state-based safety nets, Peak Resource Input crises and the state’s faltering ability to provide capital with the subsidies it needs to remain profitable or to enforce patent and copyright law, the state’s inability to suppress cheap and efficient sources of direct subsistence outside the wage system. On the other, the availability of such small-scale, high-tech means of direct production for use in the social economy, and the proliferation of commons-based institutions for co-production and mutual aid. At the same time that growing unemployment and underemployment and the collapsing safety net makes the turn to alternatives imperative, alternatives are coming to hand on an unprecedented level. The only real question is how much path dependency and cultural inertia must be overcome for the pressure on one side to connect with the vacuum on the other, and for a tipping point to be reached; nevertheless the likelihood that such a point will be reached amounts to an issue of hydraulics.

As Srnicek and Williams themselves note:

…Capitalism did not emerge all at once, but instead percolated to a position of dominance over a course of centuries. A large number of components had to be put in place:  landless labourers, widespread commodity production, private property, technical sophistication, centralization of wealth, a bourgeois class, a work ethic, and so on. These historical conditions are the components that enabled the systemic logic of capitalism eventually gain traction in the world. The lesson here is that, just as capitalism relied upon the accumulation of a particular set of components, so too will postcapitalism. It will neither emerge all at once nor in the wake of some revolutionary moment. The task of the left must be to work out the conditions for postcapitalism and to struggle to build them on a continually expanding scale.

And this transition is not something to be brought about only through political activism and the exertion of will, or that will be inevitably be suppressed or coopted by capitalism absent such activism and exertion. There are also material forces in place making for some such transition, on the same pattern as the internal decay of classical political economy and feudalism from their own internal contradictions, and the emergence of successor systems from the coalescence of many components according to laws of growth.

To the extent that they acknowledge the possibility of capitalism being a system in terminal decline, they do so only in passing, as they state that

[a] post-work world will not emerge out of the benevolence of capitalists, the inevitable tendencies of the economy or the necessity of crisis… [T]he power of the left… needs to be rebuilt before a post-work society can become a meaningful strategic option. This will involve a broad counter-hegemonic project that seeks to overturn neoliberal common sense and to rearticulate new understandings of ‘modernisation’, ‘work’ and ‘freedom’. This will necessarily be a populist project that mobilises a broad swath of society….

Perhaps so. Nevertheless, the relative importance of large-scale social mobilization and electoral politics is at its lowest point in over a century, and the importance of prefigurative counter-institutions has grown correspondingly.

That is not to deny that strategic coordination would be invaluable, or that such a transition would be smoother and less painful with the help of friendly forces in electoral politics. I would be the last to deny the possible role of other forms of strategic engagement with the dying system, in addition to the creation of prefigurative building-blocks and working from the ground up, as part of the mix.

Attempts to engage the state to make it less statelike, to (in Proudhon’s phrase) dissolve it in society, are as old as the anarchist movement. In my opinion there is much promise in projects to transform the state along the lines of Michel Bauwens’s “Partner State,” and in concrete efforts like the local municipalist platforms and regional commons assemblies in Europe to achieve something much like that. And there is more to be gained than lost by putting sympathetic parties like Syriza inside national governments—so long as it is clearly understood that their primary role is to run interference on behalf of the social movements efforts on the ground to construct a new society and give them more breathing room, and not (as was actually the case with Syriza) to undertake the primary effort of building the society themselves or using the social movements as bargaining chips in negotiating with the European Central Bank.

Once we get past the part of the book devoted primarily to the critique of “folk politics,” the subsequent sections on the reasons for the triumph of neoliberalism and their own program for a post-capitalist agenda are quite good. Like David Graeber they see the origin of cash nexus-dominated societies and wage labor, not as the natural outgrowth of a “tendency to truck and barter” or the “original accumulation of capital,” but as an imposition of the state. Likewise “private property”—as opposed to possession—as a construct. The process of imposing the cash nexus has entailed the artificial creation of property rights—most notably the nullification of common rights to the land through enclosure, and the creation of “intellectual property”—in order that there be more scarce private goods to truck and barter in. And they understand the massive scale of the ongoing state intervention required to keep the cash nexus functioning.

Our view is that, contrary to its popular presentation, neoliberalism differs from classical liberalism in ascribing a significant role to the state. A major task of neoliberalism has therefore been to take control of the state and repurpose it…. [Unlike classical liberals], neoliberals understand that markets are not ‘natural’. Markets… must instead be consciously constructed, sometimes from the ground up.

At the same time, they credit the Mont Pelerin Society and all the neoliberal nodes clustered around it of building a toolkit of proposals and waiting until the time was opportune to put it forth as an alternative—namely during the crisis of Keynesianism in the 70s. But that is arguably what the decentralist Left is doing in building an ecosystem of counter-institutions, ready to be adopted as survival mechanisms when capitalism hits its terminal crises.

We argue that a key element of any future-oriented left must be to contest the idea of ‘modernity’. Whereas folk-political approaches lack an enticing vision of the future…

Once again we’re back to the straw, which the authors can never leave far behind. In contrasting their embrace of “modernity” with “folk politics,” under which heading they lump essentially all horizontalist movements, they (deliberately?) obscure the existence of movements like autonomism that are very much about reclaiming a vision centered on technological progress.

But straw aside, I’m entirely in favor of their proposal for a recuperated version of the postwar Mont Pelerin strategy, with the Left presenting broad images of an appealing future centered on the liberatory potential of technology.

The classic Leninist strategy of building dual power with a revolutionary party and overthrowing the state is obsolete. Proponents of the Bolshevik Revolution model appear more useful as historical re-enactors than as guides for contemporary politics….

Given the limits of these other approaches [insurrection and reformism], we argue that the best way forward is a counter-hegemonic strategy…. A counter-hegemonic strategy entails a project to overturn the dominant neoliberal common sense and rejuvenate collective imagination. Fundamentally, it is an attempt to install a new common sense…. In this, it involves preparatory work for moments when full-scale struggle erupts, transforming our social imagination and reconfiguring our sense of what is possible. It builds up support and a common language for a new world, seeking to alter the balance of power in preparation for when a crisis upsets the legitimacy of society.

The point is, there already are a number of loosely associated subcurrents of the Left promoting similar versions of such a vision right now; just off the top of my head right now, I can think of the P2P Foundation, Grassroots Economic Organizing, the Solidarity Economy Network, and countless networked municipalist efforts like those in Barcelona, Madrid, Bologna, Cleveland and Jackson. And as a pop culture theme, it has resonated with the public at least since Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ideas like Universal Basic Income and social media memes like Fully Automated Luxury Communism are spreading virally, and will increase their reach and impact exponentially as tens of millions are unemployed by automation in the next two decades. It would be wonderful if all these tendencies could do more to create mutual synergies, and promote the general concept of post-scarcity and reduced work as a visible alternative to neoliberalism. But far from engaging in such a cooperative effort, Srnicek and Williams are basically trying to put themselves forward as the inventors of this vision, and caricature all the subcurrents that have already been promoting it all this time as a bunch of Luddites.

The book’s treatment of “synthetic”–as opposed to both “negative” and “positive”–freedom is especially good.

Whereas negative freedom is concerned with assuring the formal right to avoid interference, ‘synthetic freedom’ recognizes that a formal right without a material capacity is worthless. …[W]e are all formally free not to take a job, but most of us are nevertheless practically forced into accepting whatever is on offer…. This reveals the significance of having the means to realise a formal right, and it is this emphasis on the means and capacities to act that is crucial for a leftist approach to freedom…. The more capacity we have to act, the freer we are…. A primary aim of a postcapitalist world would therefore be to maximise synthetic freedom, or in other words, to enable the flourishing of all of humanity and the expansion of our collective horizons….

Underlying this idea of emancipation is a vision of humanity as a transformative and constructible hypothesis:  one that is built through theoretical and practical experimentation and elaboration…. What we are and what we can become are open-ended projects to be constructed in the course of time…. This is a project of self-realisation, but one without a pre-established endpoint. It is only through undergoing the process of revision and construction that humanity can come to know itself…. Emancipation, under this vision, would therefore mean increasing the capacity of humanity to act according to whatever its desires might become.

They echo Gramsci on the transition from the “realm of necessity” to a realm of freedom. Reduction of necessity is positive freedom. For much of human history, living in a community entailed having a guaranteed right of access, or share, in the community’s common ownership of much of the means of livelihood. And the movement for commons governance entails treatment of a growing share of the prerequisites for action as a social commons.

A full range of synthetic freedom must seek to expand our capacities beyond what is currently possible…. That is to say, freedom cannot simply be equated with making existing options viable, but instead must be open to the largest possible set of options. In this, collective resources are essential. Processes of social reasoning, for instance, can enable common understandings of the world, creating a ‘we’ in the process that has much greater powers to act than individuals alone. Equally, language is effectively cognitive scaffolding that enables us to leverage symbolic thought to expand our horizons. The development, deepening and expansion of knowledge enable us to imagine and achieve capacities that are otherwise unattainable. As we acquire technical knowledge of our built environment and scientific knowledge of the natural world, and come to understand the fluid tendencies of the social world, we gain greater powers to act.

They also agree with Toni Negri and Michael Hardt on a number of topics. For example, the growing share of productivity that results from collective capacities like scientific knowledge, language, culture, etc. We are at the point where emergent aspects of human interaction are becoming the greatest source of productive capacity.

They agree, likewise, with much of their class analysis, e.g. in acknowledging the decomposition of the traditional proletariat and the need for a new revolutionary subject to replace it. However they choose “people” as the new revolutionary subject, which carries vaguely monolithic implications and doesn’t correspond very well to Negri’s and Hardt’s “multitude.”

In order for the “people” of populism to merge, however, additional elements are necessary. First, one particular demand or struggle must come to stand in for the rest…. The difference between a populist movement and folk-political approaches [is that] whereas the  former seeks to build a common language and project, the latter prefers differences to express themselves as differences and to avoid any universalizing function.

Their failure to recognize the benefits of a unity-in-diversity or of stigmergic organization, on the pattern of the multitude, is probably connected to their dim view of Occupy.

In arguing for cross-sectoral alliances between wage-workers, the unemployed and those engaged in unpaid reproductive labor, Srnicek and Williams also echo autonomist thinkers like Negri and Hardt, Harvey, etc.:

This requires… a recognition of the social nature of struggle, and the bridging of the gap between the workplace and the community. Problems at work spill over into the home and the community, and vice versa. At the same time, crucial support for union action comes from the community, and unions would best be served by recognizing their indebtedness to the invisible labour of those outside the workplace. These include not only domestic labourers, who reproduce the living conditions of waged workers, but also immigrant workers, precarious workers and the broad array of those in surplus populations who share in the miseries of capitalism. The focus of unions therefore needs to expand beyond supporting only dues-paying members…. Unions can involve themselves in community issues like housing, demonstrating the value of organised labour in the process. Rather than being built solely around workplaces, unions would therefore be more adequate to today’s conditions if they organised around regional spaces and communities.

In expanding the spatial focus of union organising, local workplace demands open up into a broad range of social demands…. [T]his involves questioning the Fordist infatuation with permanent jobs and social democracy, and the traditional union focus on wages and job preservation. An assessment must be made of the viability of these classic demands in the face of automation, rising precarity and expanding unemployment. We believe many unions will be better served by refocusing towards a post-work society and the liberating aspects of a reduced working week, job sharing and a basic income.

They are entirely correct in calling  for the development of a broad common post-work Left agenda in preparation for the coming economic and political crises over automation and technological unemployment—already foreshadowed by the increase in precarity, the shift to poorly paid service sector jobs and the disappearance of full-time benefits as a norm.

Their concrete political agenda—full automation, universal basic income, reduced standard working hours and destruction of “work ethic” culture—is fairly unremarkable for their milieu, although their explanation of the harm done by the work ethic and the benefits of Basic Income for the bargaining power of labor is unusually lucid. But their pose of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the Left, which is allegedly not doing any of these things, and the novelty of calling for an ecosystem of leftist movements and organizations promoting this common agenda on the Mont Pelerin model, is a bit much given the array of thinkers from Dyer-Witheford to Negri and Hardt to Rifkin to Mason, the apparent “steam engine time” for UBI in Western politics, and growing popular fear of technological unemployment from automation.

Things like shorter work hours and Basic Income are definitely suited to viral memetic propagation and to the coalescence of a networked alliance of movements sharing those goals or something similar to them. But such an alliance is appropriate for specific movements and organizations under the Occupy umbrella—quite conceivably a majority of them—not Occupy itself. In Spain, M15 as such did not venture into formulating a concrete political agenda (or at least the most visible approximation of such a venture, Podemos, did not fare particularly well); rather, various constituencies within M15 reconfigured themselves at the local level in assorted commons-based municipalist movement and made significant gains both at the local level and a networked nation- and continent-wide political force, not as Indignados per se.

The discussion of “organisational ecology” and attendant practical recommendations is quite good, aside from the obligatory dig at “folk politics” in passing.

On a purely quantitative level, the left is not noticeably ‘weaker’ than the right—in terms of its ability to achieve popular mobilisation, the reverse seems to be true. Particularly in terms of crisis, the left seems eminently capable of mobilising a populist movement. The problem lies in the next step:  how the force is organized and deployed. For folk politics, organisation has meant a fetishistic attachment to localist and horizontalist approaches that often undermine the construction of an expansive counter-hegemonic power.

Once again, it’s hard to decipher, behind all this straw, what actual aspects of horizontalism and localism they see as militating against an “organisational ecology.” To return to my recurring example of recent municipalist movements, we have not only the post-M15 movements in Spain but allied movements across Europe from Antwerp to Bologna to Greece, as well as the Evergreen project in Cleveland and Cooperation Jackson and dozens and dozens of similar movements in the U.S. and UK. Besides these mutually supporting local movements there is a growing, multi-layered and robust support network of academics, think tanks, and networked assemblies promoting this model, from the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives to the Right to the City Alliance. I myself have, for several years, strenuously advocated that such movements expand their ties both locally and globally with the open-source movement and the open hardware/maker movement in order to create the kernels of multifaceted local commons-based economies including not only cooperative retail but micromanufacturing, Permaculture, pro-information freedom policies and exclusive use of open-source software by local government and universities, municipal high-speed broadband, land trusts, transformation of unused public buildings into community hubs, etc. And many projects are engaged in just such institution-building projects. The entire movement, in short, eminently illustrates what Srnicek and Williams call for:

…Every successful movement has been the result, not of a single organisational type, but of a broad ecology of organisations. These have operated, in a more or less coordinated way, to carry out the division of labour necessary for political change. In the process of transformation leaders will arise, but there is no vanguard party—only mobile vanguard functions. An ecology of organisations means a pluralism of forces, able to positively feedback on their comparative strengths. It requires mobilisation under a common vision of an alternative world, rather than loose and pragmatic alliances. And it entails developing an array of broadly compatible organisations…. This means that the overarching architecture of such an ecology is a relatively decentralized and networked form—but, unlike in the standard horizontalist vision, this ecology should also include hierarchical and closed groups as elements of the broader network…. The divisions between spontaneous uprisings and organisational longevity, short-term desires and long-term strategy, have split what should be a broadly consistent project for building a post-work world. Organisational diversity should be combined with broad populist unity.

And, yet again, I am banging my head on my desk wondering what strawman caricature of “localism” and “horizontalism” the authors consider incompatible with the above statement.

I also agree that “media institutions are an essential part of any emergent political ecology aimed at building a new hegemony…. [Its tasks include] creating a new common language…, generating narratives that resonate with people,” etc. Creating visible organizations with spokespersons who get included into TV journalists’ rolodexes is vital.

The brain trust ecology must include not only post-capitalist counterparts of the Mont Pelerin Society  and CFR, but Gramscian “organic intellectuals” from the movements on the ground who are directly involved in creating the institutions.

My biggest area of skepticism regarding their agenda is “full automation.”

…logistics is at the forefront of the automation of work, and therefore represents a prime example of what a postcapitalist world might look like:  machines humming along and handling the difficult labour that humans would otherwise be forced to do.

No doubt global supply and distribution chains would be the most efficient way of producing some goods in a postcapitalist future (although, equally no doubt, a much smaller share of total production than Srnicek and Williams assume). And the transportation and warehouses involved in these networks are a logical target for 100% automation. But a great deal of production, probably including the production of most components and the final assembly of a majority of consumer goods and the production of most fruits and vegetables, is likely to be on a small-scale, on-demand basis near the point of consumption. The ideal means of production for local manufacturing are high-tech CNC machinery. But production in small workshops in Kropotkinian agro-industrial villages is far less amenable to automation of processes like handling feedstock, and is likely to involve human craft workers (working short hours in self-managed shops) reprogramming the machines and transferring intermediate products from one machine to another; total automation, in contrast, would require much higher levels of centralization and scales of production, with most production and distribution being coordinated by long-distance logistics with an extremely “thick” and materials-intensive infrastructure.

And getting back to the theme of capitalism and the state being subject to systemic decay, and people turning to the building blocks of the successor society and developing them as a necessity for survival, the transition is likely to take the institutional form of a growing share of production shifting from corporate control, wage labor and the cash nexus into the social economy, with micro-villages and other multi-family primary social units taking over production for direct subsistence. The long-distance logistics networks that are eventually automated with self-driving trains and ships, RFID chips and GPS tracking are apt to be much smaller in volume than those of the present.

For all the good in this book, and all that it offers of value to the broader post-capitalist and post-scarcity milieu of which Srnicek and Williams are a part, their approach itself is fundamentally opposite to that of the autonomists and other horizontalists — and in every case, they come off the worse in comparison. Autonomists and horizontalists, no less than accelerationists, acknowledge the importance of strategic coordination, integration and coalescence into a macro system, including the creation of federal bodies, media ecosystems and the like. But for them, the primary orientation is one of respect for the agency and self-organization of ordinary people as revolutionary subjects and creators of the successor system, and for the myriad of counter-institutions they are building in the interstices of the dying state-capitalist system. The larger systems of coordination, the media ecologies, and so forth, are an emergent phenomenon following from the primacy of efforts on the ground.

For Srnicek and Williams, on the other hand, the main focus in building a post-capitalist society is what the capitalists and their state have already built or are building; the strategy is to accelerate that construction process and put it under new management via a macro political process. At best, their attitude towards commons-based counter-institutions is permissive tolerance towards a secondary praxis that’s fine as long as it doesn’t divert effort or resources from their primary political strategy; at worse it’s contemptuous dismissal as a “folk-political” distraction from the real effort.

Photo by azule

The post Book of the Day: Srnicek and Williams’ Inventing the Future appeared first on P2P Foundation.

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How these 3 citizen-led initiatives saved and restored public land https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/how-these-3-citizen-led-initiatives-saved-and-restored-public-land/2018/07/14 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/how-these-3-citizen-led-initiatives-saved-and-restored-public-land/2018/07/14#respond Sat, 14 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71802 Open spaces are key to the health and vitality of cities. Walkable, safe, green spaces increase the possibilities for people to meet and nurture relationships beyond family, friends, and colleagues. But a discussion about Sharing Cities can’t focus on open spaces alone. Gentrification should be a part of that discussion. If we, promoters of Sharing... Continue reading

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Open spaces are key to the health and vitality of cities. Walkable, safe, green spaces increase the possibilities for people to meet and nurture relationships beyond family, friends, and colleagues. But a discussion about Sharing Cities can’t focus on open spaces alone. Gentrification should be a part of that discussion. If we, promoters of Sharing Cities, do not manage to address the tension of gentrification by finding strategies to secure the livelihoods of the people who produce the urban commons and to disarm profit-maximizing interests, then the tragedy of the urban commons will only be reinforced. The way the sharing economy discourse was co-opted by profit-oriented platforms shows how quickly Sharing Cities could fall over the barrier and become just another way to reproduce existing patterns of domination.

Social capital is shaped and molded by space. This same social capital is crucial in the successful self-organization of the commons, according to the late political economist Elinor Ostrom. Thus, in places where people can mobilize social capital, decades of urban planning practices are being challenged.

Digitalization is also an opportunity: It allows people to collect and make use of data in creative ways on an unprecedented scale. This has a huge potential for the urban commons. City administrators hold large amounts of land data that is so far hard to access or use, but when it becomes open data, it can unleash bottom-up innovations.

Last but not least, we should not forget that practices that foster Sharing Cities may have actually been there for decades. Some of those practices may be seen as old-fashioned, but might prove useful today. —Adrien Labaeye

1. Bottom Road Sanctuary: A Post-Apartheid Community Managed Nature Sanctuary

The area around Zeekoevlei lake, in South Africa, has had extremely high concentrations of threatened native plant species. This is partly because its northern bank was used as a garbage dump for many years. Then, in 2005, the city of Cape Town rezoned the area into parcels of land to be purchased by people who suffered through the Apartheid. The residents who moved in joined forces with nature conservation officials and local environmental organizations to restore the wetland. In practice, this meant residents largely left the space open and undeveloped. Some residents have actively removed invasive species, allowing a particularly threatened plant species, the fynbos, to thrive again in its natural habitat. The Bottom Road Sanctuary now has over 50,000 native plants, attracting many kinds of wildlife. It also has walkways, benches, and barbecuing spaces for nearby residents to share. —Adrien Labaeye

2. Gängeviertel: Repurposed Historical Building for Public Art and Culture

The city of Hamburg decided to tear down a deteriorating historical building complex in a neighborhood once known as “das Gängeviertel.” In August 2009, artists formed a collective to oppose the destruction of the 12 buildings, and advocated that they instead be repurposed as a public space for creativity. The collective succeeded in saving the Gängeviertel, and held a launch celebration. The event brought 3,000 residents of Hamburg into the space for exhibitions, film screenings, concerts, and other cultural events. The collective then transformed into a co-operative in 2010, and presented a concept plan for the complex to the local urban development authority in Hamburg. The city approved the plan and granted the co-op’s use and management of the buildings. In the six years since, several of the buildings have been renovated by the city and tens of thousands of people have visited the cultural complex. In 2012, the German UNESCO Commission celebrated the Gängeviertel initiative as a successful example of urban development that promotes cultural and social participation through the preservation of public spaces and democratic city policies. —Adrien Labaeye

3. Chisinau Civic Center: Vacant Lot Reclaimed as a Public Park for Community Gatherings

A neglected plot of triangular land once lay in the city of Chisinau in Moldova. Cars regularly drove over it. Some used it to dump their garbage and construction rubble. Now, the site is a lively public space, known as the Chisinau Civic Center. The transformation was initiated by the local nongovernmental organization the Oberliht Association, and was created together with local officials as well as artists, architects, scientists, students, and community members. In the very beginning, they held a public picnic at the park as a way to invite nearby residents to get involved in the park’s restoration. The organizers then built a wooden platform in the center of the park with support of the nearby residents. This eventually led to the Civic Center becoming a play area for children, as well as a place for community gatherings, film screenings, games, exhibits, and performances. —Cat Johnson

These three short case studies are adapted from our latest book, “Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons.

Cross-posted from Shareable

Photo by humblenick

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Essay of the Day: Coexistence of Decentralized Economies and Competitive Markets https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/essay-of-the-day-coexistence-of-decentralized-economies-and-competitive-markets/2018/07/13 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/essay-of-the-day-coexistence-of-decentralized-economies-and-competitive-markets/2018/07/13#respond Fri, 13 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71792 In this paper, we explore novel ways for decentralized economies to protect themselves from, and coexist with, competitive markets at a global scale utilizing decentralized technologies such as Blockchain. Article: The Wolf and the Caribou: Coexistence of Decentralized Economies and Competitive Markets. By Andreas Freund and Danielle Stanko. J. Risk Financial Manag. 2018, 11(2), 26... Continue reading

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In this paper, we explore novel ways for decentralized economies to protect themselves from, and coexist with, competitive markets at a global scale utilizing decentralized technologies such as Blockchain.

Article: The Wolf and the Caribou: Coexistence of Decentralized Economies and Competitive Markets. By Andreas Freund and Danielle Stanko. J. Risk Financial Manag. 2018, 11(2), 26

Michel Bauwens: There are several interesting aspects to this article. First the authors are from Tata Industries, who are reportedly very concerned about the future of their industrial verticals and actively looking for successor systems. Second this article is very liberal in quoting the work of the P2P Foundation about the institutionalization of peer production. And third, it examines how our models fit with the emerging possibilities of the blockchain , tokens and programmable organizations, i.e. ‘Distributed Autonomous Organizations’.

However, in doing so, it also does something very problematic in our view, ie it assumes that the current wave of crypto projects conform to these generative, commons-based vision of our economy, while they clearly don’t. While current crypto-based projects are interesting new models, most of them are extractive to people and the planet, and use the commons and open source in the context of achieving value capture. Without a clear distinction between generative and extractive economic modes, we justify the worst excesses of the current crypto-based economy.


Andreas Freund and Danielle Stanko: “Starting with BitTorrent and then Bitcoin, decentralized technologies have been on the rise over the last 15+ years, gaining significant momentum in the last 2+ years with the advent of platform ecosystems such as the Blockchain platform Ethereum. New projects have evolved from decentralized games to marketplaces to open funding models to decentralized autonomous organizations. The hype around cryptocurrency and the valuation of innovative projects drove the market cap of cryptocurrencies to over a trillion dollars at one point in 2017. These high valued technologies are now enabling something new: globally scaled and decentralized business models. Despite their valuation and the hype, these new business ecosystems are frail. This is not only because the underlying technology is rapidly evolving, but also because competitive markets see a profit opportunity in exponential cryptocurrency returns. This extracts value from these ecosystems, which could lead to their collapse, if unchecked. In this paper, we explore novel ways for decentralized economies to protect themselves from, and coexist with, competitive markets at a global scale utilizing decentralized technologies such as Blockchain.”


“Based on available research, decentralized socioeconomic models, also often referred to as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) or Commons6 structure typically have three main components (Giotitsas and Ramos 2017; Filippi et al. 2007):

  • Entrepreneurial Common (EC): An EC is the commercial interface with external ecosystems and gives funds it raised from selling goods and services or other activities such as investments in other ecosystems in the form of tokens to the For-Benefit Common (FBC) and receives goods & services to market and sell from the Production Common (PC) in return. This requires exchange between an EC token and Fiat and a PC token that is governed by the FBC. Tokens generally represent a unit of value as defined by the participants of a DAO, and there may be many tokens within a DAO. In addition, the EC is responsible for financial and monetary policy in the DAO since issuing a token is effectively creating a currency with all the accompanying complexities. We will discuss this in more detail when we discuss our proposals for the coexistence of decentralized economies and competitive markets;
  • Production Common (PC): A p2p group that produces goods and services collaboratively based on the purpose of the ecosystem as established in the FBC. A participant’s contributions are valued in PC tokens which can be exchanged to EC tokens or other tokens through an exchange utility, as detailed out in one of our four proposals below. Assets created in this common are held in common by the FBC with claims rights by the contributors based on their value contribution to the asset in order to enable a fair sharing of value generated both commercially and through reputation;
  • For-Benefit Common (FBC): The FBC is the governance common that is responsible for setting the DAO vision and impact goals, sets consensus rules and incentives for the DAO commons, sets the exchange rules for the EC and PC Tokens within the commons and externally to other ecosystem tokens and fiat, sets the ownership/membership and sharing rules for the DAO commons, defines and enforces reputation also in relation to non-DAO reputation measurement and management models, sets collaboration and giving rules with internal and external entities, and acts as the interface to not-for-benefit entities etc.

This three-zone model is designed to

  • Insulate the economically vulnerable FBC and PC from extractive external markets through the EC commons by limiting token exchanges between the common markets that have direct interfaces to competitive markets.
  • Enable social impact results through the FBC without a strong dependency on market results. The FBC decides the use of funds coming from the EC. As a result it is independent of “shareholder value” as defined by external and extractive markets; therefore it is accountable to the PC and EC participants.
  • Allows the EC to focus on raising funds for both the FBC and PC either through selling products and services or raising funds for future products and services and social impact efforts.
  • Enables the PC to focus on core competencies to create new products and services aligned with the overall DAO values independent of the EC.

It is worth noting that decentralized economies as described above typically have three characteristics in common (Commons Transition Primer 2018, Commons-Based Peer Production Directory 2018, 2017):

  • Open Value Accounting: An accounting system that allows one to record not only tangible assets and assess their value in a unit of value measure, but also to record tangible and intangible value contributions from participants to an asset and subsequent value translation into a unit of value measure such as a token in a decentralized socioeconomic model;
  • Decentralized Commons Market: A decentralized marketplace for the free exchange of assets and services governed by business rules established by a governing commons through participant consensus. The decentralized marketplace is transparent and has verifiable and marketplace transactions. In order to motivate participation in a decentralized commons market (DCM), a DCM has an incentive model for both tangible and intangible value contributions and open asset ownership representation through a set of defined unit of value measures such as tokens. The rules for DAO membership and voting are normally based on consensus processes;
  • DCM Reciprocity: Reciprocity in this context means that the return on investment beyond a certain value7 is capped but not frozen by requiring reciprocity contributions to the DCM in the form of tangible or intangible value contributions that equal or exceed returns. Example: For a return of a 100 token investment in a DCM asset beyond say 10 tokens, an actor needs to make a value contribution after applying an exchange rate of token to utility token quantifiably equivalent to 1 utility or 1 reputation token for every token earned beyond 10 tokens.

As we will see below, this is in stark contrast to competitive markets.

Central to making the three zoned model operate is effective governance. There is an evolving literature on the governance of decentralized markets discussing issues and challenges creating inefficiencies and potentially additional costs as well as benefits and efficiencies.” (http://www.mdpi.com/1911-8074/11/2/26/htm)

Photo by reynermedia

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Project of the Day: Arts for the Commons https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/project-of-the-day-arts-for-the-commons/2018/07/12 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/project-of-the-day-arts-for-the-commons/2018/07/12#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71788 Rosa Jijón /Francesco Martone: Arts for the Commons (A4C) is a collective exercise meant to provide a platform for artists and activists exploring the connections and synergies between visual production and efforts to reclaim the commons, address outstanding issues related to human migration, borders, social and environmental justice, liquid citizenship. By creating opportunities for exchange,... Continue reading

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Rosa Jijón /Francesco Martone: Arts for the Commons (A4C) is a collective exercise meant to provide a platform for artists and activists exploring the connections and synergies between visual production and efforts to reclaim the commons, address outstanding issues related to human migration, borders, social and environmental justice, liquid citizenship.

By creating opportunities for exchange, mutual action and sharing, A4C not only operates as a platform but attempts to create a new commons, a synthesis between arts and political engagement.

A4C intends to explore the  interstitial spaces between power and communities, traditional arts system and society, states and territories. We pursue documentation as artistic practice.

In an historical phase of what Antonio Gramsci named “interregnum” whereas we know what we leave but do not know what we will find, A4C is a space for collective search, experimentation, creation of what post-colonial philosopher Homi Babha named ” a third space”, that transcends traditional definitions of arts and politics. Particular attention will be devoted to building bridges and opportunities for collective work, exchange and dialogue between European and Latin American artists and activists.

Our first steps have moved along the issue of migrations and war, starting with the participation at the Nationless Pavillion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, to the pop-up exhibition “From the shores of Tripoli to the hills of Moctezuma” in Rome-based gallery Ex-Elettrofonica,  to continue with “Dispacci-Dispatches” an exploration in the history of Italian colonial wars in Libya by means of displacements and re-enactment of historical chronicles and documents read in various locations of the Quartiere Africano (African quarter) in Rome, built to celebrate fascist colonies in Africa.

SHOWREEL A4C #ArtsForTheCommons from Rosa Jijon on Vimeo.

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Michel Bauwens on P2P, the commons and the imagination https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/michel-bauwens-on-p2p-the-commons-and-the-imagination/2018/07/12 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/michel-bauwens-on-p2p-the-commons-and-the-imagination/2018/07/12#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71764 Rob Hopkins: Last week, close to my home, was the Transition Design Symposium. It brought together people from around the world interested in what design can bring to the need for an urgent societal Transition, and for 2 days its attendees basked in glorious sunshine and fascinating interactions.  I managed to catch up with Michel... Continue reading

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Rob Hopkins: Last week, close to my home, was the Transition Design Symposium. It brought together people from around the world interested in what design can bring to the need for an urgent societal Transition, and for 2 days its attendees basked in glorious sunshine and fascinating interactions.  I managed to catch up with Michel Bauwens who was attending and speaking at the conference, and we took some time for a short chat sitting under a tree in sunshine.

Michel spends half his time in Belgium and half in Thailand, and is the founder of the P2P Foundation, a global organisation of researchers working in collaboration to explore peer production, governance and property.  He is a writer, researcher and speaker on the subjects of technology, culture and business innovation.  “It’s about Open Source communities”, he told me. “A lot of it is like what you are doing with Transition, perhaps a bit of a difference would be that I try to look more at the trans-local, trans-national levels, and how we can build counter-power to trans-national capital”.  I started by asking him when he uses those terms, ‘trans-local’ and ‘trans-national’, what does he mean?

“You’re probably familiar with Ezio Manzini?  He talks about “small, local, open and connected”.  For example, permaculture, in one way it’s very local.  You’re thinking, “I’m doing something here, right now”.  At the same time, the learning of permaculture is really global.  People are connecting globally around permaculture.

One permaculture may not be significant, but 5,000 in the world, you’re actually doing something about the global structure.  But a difference I think is you can use the global to support the local and I see the global as its own arena.  We need something like the guilds in the Middle Ages.  We need leagues of cities.  We need leagues of co-ops.  In Fukushima you can’t just say, “I’m going to have a fishing co-op in my village”.  Sometimes you need scale to answer certain issues that can’t be solved at any local level.

In terms of the imagination, how do you see the work that you do impacting imagination and the invitation to imagination, and what’s your sense of the state of health of the imagination in the world that you’re trying to bring these ideas to?  What are the challenges that you see around that?

One of the things where we’re stuck in our imagination is that we see the private and public as a dichotomy, and we see civil society as some kind of left-over, you know, when you come home tired. Once you bring in the commons, you go already from two to three. Any problem becomes solvable with civil society, with autonomous creativity, with local imagination. Then you can still think about how market and state solutions and forms come into play, but you’ve already broadened it.

The second shift that is very important is where do we think value comes from? As long as you think value comes from the market, you’re very limited in what you can do. Because you can only imagine what’s existing and live on the crumbs. Once you start saying, “No, value is what we value”, you claim value sovereignty. Then you can say, “Well these people are creating value, and these people are creating value.” The realm of possibilities opens up.

That hopefully stimulates the imagination. The biggest challenge now is the reactivity that is induced by social media. I have it in my own life. I really have to be careful because you can spend so much time reacting to input. How do you make the space where you can just think? I see that as a big challenge for our society.

Huge.  And can you tell a little bit about the work you’re doing in Ghent?

I was asked by the city itself, by the Mayor and the Director of Strategy of the city, first of all to map urban commons.  These are commons-orientated civic initiatives.  In order to be in my map, if you like, you would have to have a commons, a shared resource, and we noticed that it went from 50 to 500 in ten years.

Then we worked on, “What do they want?” What do the commoners want so that the city can react and support these initiatives?  Then we looked at institutional design.  How can public commons co-operation occur?  We came up with a few things, like commons accords, which is inspired by the Italian experience where they have this regulation in Bologna.

It allows recognition of the commons, which is very important, because otherwise they can just send the police.  The second thing is the notion of contributory democracy, which requires some explanation.  It’s basically about you have a democratic mandate, as a city.  You’re elected and you say, “We want an ecological transition”.  Then you want to be participatory so you create full transition council.  But you have to invite in the big players, which actually maybe don’t want a transition.  So you get what is called ‘predatory delay’.

The third step is that there are actually citizens carrying out a mandate.  They are doing what we say we want.  Therefore they have legitimacy and have a voice because they’re showing us the way.  This is for me then a way to integrate the commoners and the pioneering initiatives.  The ones that are really bringing down thermodynamic costs: lowering the footprint; producing good food with a lot less waste and energy.  But also social outcomes.

The people actually doing it in the context of market and state failure get their place in the institution.  Then their example can become inspiration for a generalisation of these solutions.

And you’ve seen the process since you started it as something that unlocks imagination, or invites imagination? 

Most of these people think that they’re just doing marginal things against the stream.  That way it also limits their imagination.  They think, “Oh, we’re just doing it for ourselves”.  Once you see you’re part of a broader movement, and you’re recognised by society, it gives you a lot more moral strength to continue and to increase your level of ambition.  We’re doing this for the world.  We’re doing this to change our city.  It’s not just one little thing…

There’s a bigger narrative…

Yeah, yeah.

One of the questions I’ve asked everybody that I’ve interviewed for this book is that if you had been elected as the Prime Minister of Belgium, and you had ran on a platform of ‘Make Belgium Imaginative Again’, and you felt that actually you needed the imagination to be back…  Rather than having a National Innovation Strategy, we need a National Imagination Strategy in terms of education, and policy making, and so on and so on, what might you do in your first few weeks in office?

One of the things I really like, and something today, is the Maker movement, because one of the problems in the West has been this split between thinking and doing, Descartes and everything.  The fact that we now have people who are thinking about what they want to do, and how to do it, and are then doing it and reflecting on their action –it’s an anthropological revolution.  I would make this a new model.  Just open up universities to making maker spaces.

And I know this is not a direct answer but I want to make sure you have this.  It’s the notion of circular finance.  If you can prove to me that your activity lowers the human footprint, lowers thermodynamic and social costs, then I’m going to share the benefits with you and finance your transition.

So if you have a Community Land Trust like in France which demonstrably diminishes the pollution costs and health costs in the Department, then that money that is saved in negative externalities can be used to finance positive transition.  Just look at it systematically, for mobility, housing.

The next thing I would do is job creation.  We have the Brahminic left, educated people with cultural capital but not necessarily money, then we have the Merchant right, but there are people without both.  They are the ones suffering, and they are the ones voting for parties that are destroying our democracy.  I know people don’t like the word ‘jobs’.  I don’t want a job myself, personally, but I think a lot of people do.

It’s a good word, I think.

So create jobs to regenerate the planet…  If you want 100% organic food in a city like Ghent for 5 million meals a year, you can hire 15 farmers.  You can have a zero carbon transport system, and you can have cooks.  Just to have 100% organic food we need 12% of people in the countryside.  Six times more people.  This is the kind of thing we need to be doing, you know.

So given the world that we have in front of us at the moment, and what the world could be, there’s a lot of imagination –

Yes, I think I have too much imagination!  That’s what my wife says…

Where do you think that has come from?  Do you think you had an imaginative education?  How have you cultivated that?

I was a very lonely child.  I was an only child.  My biggest enemy was boredom.  If you’re bored, you have time to imagine.  That emptiness paradoxically became the richness.

I was going to say it was your greatest enemy, but it sounds like it was also your greatest friend in some ways as well?

Yeah.  It’s the oyster thing, right?  So you have the grain of sand in the oyster which creates the pearl.

Yeah, yeah.

It’s how you transform your suffering into some positive that makes your life successful I think.  So the other thing was I was very weak physically as a child.  So my intellectuality became the only thing I could do to actually have a sense of self-worth.  So that’s, I guess, the two together.

Originally published on RobHopkins.net

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Farming with nature https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/farming-with-nature/2018/07/11 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/farming-with-nature/2018/07/11#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://blog.p2pfoundation.net/?p=71706 Republished from Rethink.earth Frederik Moberg: Around the world, innovative agroecological farmers increasingly challenge the dominant industrial way of farming. Combining local and scientific knowledge, they put resilience thinking into practice to feed growing populations and cope with climate change, water scarcity, market volatility, and more. Twelve years ago, in 2006, Haregu Gobezay was unemployed and... Continue reading

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Republished from Rethink.earth

Frederik Moberg: Around the world, innovative agroecological farmers increasingly challenge the dominant industrial way of farming. Combining local and scientific knowledge, they put resilience thinking into practice to feed growing populations and cope with climate change, water scarcity, market volatility, and more.

Twelve years ago, in 2006, Haregu Gobezay was unemployed and her family with six children relied on her husband’s salary to cover all their expenses. Today, Gobezay and her husband manage a 12-hectare farm with mango, orange, mandarin, and avocado plantations in Mereb Leke District of the Tigray Region in northern Ethiopia. They also keep a few dairy cows, and chickens for egg production.

They no longer rely on a single crop. The finger millet they used to grow often suffered from weed invasions and termites, and the yield was low due to thin and nutrient-poor soils. Now they grow a wide range of different crops. This has helped them tackle many challenges, and made it possible for them to employ almost a hundred people and make a good profit from selling mango and other fruits.

Agroecology has the explicit goal of strengthening the sustainability of all parts of the food system, from the seed and the soil, to the table, including ecological knowledge, economic viability, and social justice.

Gobezay started with planting vegetables; she then added fruit trees, and peanut plants as cover crops that fertilise the soil by fixing nitrogen from the air, with the help of bacteria living in their root systems. Eventually, she brought in dairy cows and started cultivating pasture plants such as alfalfa, Rhodes grass, and elephant grass under the trees.

To improve soil fertility further and to increase soil organic matter, the family now prepares compost in 20 big pits. In addition, a biogas plant on the dairy farm produces bio-slurry compost and energy for cooking.

The family also uses “push-pull” technology as an additional source of income. The technology was developed in Africa to control Striga weeds and insect pests, particularly stemborer moths, without using chemical pesticides. It involves growing maize, sorghum or mango trees together with flowering plants such as Desmodium that repel, or “push”, the pests, and planting other plants such as elephant grass around the crops to attract, or “pull”, the pests. Desmodium eliminates Striga weeds and repels the stemborers, which are instead attracted to the elephant grass. By growing Desmodium, the family’s farm has become a source of seeds for scaling up the push-pull technology in the whole region.

Haregu Gobezay runs an agroecological farm in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of A. Gonçalvés

More and more farmers around the world are turning away from chemical-intensive single-crop farming in favour of production methods based on diversity, local inputs of for example compost, and ecosystem services. This kind of “agroecological” farming has seen a revival in recent years as a response to the many challenges facing agriculture globally. There is growing evidence that agroecological farming systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soils, and sustain yields, providing a basis for secure livelihoods.1

Today’s agriculture produces enough food for the global population, but it has not given everyone everywhere access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. Agriculture has also contributed to soil degradation, a misuse of natural resources, and the crossing of crucial planetary boundaries that have kept Earth in a relatively stable state for the past 11,000 years, since before agriculture was invented.

Agriculture takes up almost 40% of the planet’s ice-free land surface, accounts for 70% of the freshwater used in the world, and produces about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.2 The current food production system increases humanity’s dependency on fossil fuels and contributes to climate change. Meanwhile, climate shocks and extreme weather events can cause food price volatility that affects both consumers and producers around the world – hitting hardest in poor countries.

The agricultural system has also doubled the flows of nitrogen and phosphorus around the world predominantly through the use of chemical fertilisers, causing severe water quality problems in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. It is also the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss. A growing number of international studies and assessments stress that more attention, public funds, and policy measures should be devoted to the agroecological approach in order to avoid these negative environmental impacts.3-7

Biodiversity is key for soil health and fertility, and resilience. A multitude of organisms inhabit the soil, decomposing organic matter and making nutrients available. Illustration: E. Wikander/Azote

Strengthening the resilience of farmers

Agroecology is the “ecology of the food system”8 and a farming approach that is inspired by natural ecosystems. It combines local and scientific knowledge and applies ecological and social approaches to agricultural systems, focusing on the interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the environment. Agroecological methods can also help farmers cope with climate change by enhancing resilience.

Agroecology has the explicit goal of strengthening the sustainability of all parts of the food system, from the seed and the soil, to the table, including ecological knowledge, economic viability, and social justice. To reach this goal, agroecological methods strive to minimise or exclude the use of fossil fuels, chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, and large-scale monocropping – cultivation of a single crop on vast tracts of land.

An agroecological approach includes a number of agricultural methods, such as diversification of crops, conservation tillage, green manures, natural fertilisers and nitrogen fixation, biological pest control, rainwater harvesting, and production of crops and livestock in ways that store carbon and protect forests. It also emphasises the importance of local knowledge, farmer empowerment, and socio-economic regulations, such as environmental subsidies and public procurement schemes.

Agroecology has become something of a buzzword in recent years, and the big question is: can agroecological farming feed a global population estimated to reach almost 10 billion people in the coming decades? A growing mound of evidence says yes – the approach can help change the world’s food production for the better, and produce enough food to feed the world.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production where the hungry live – especially in unfavourable environments,” said Olivier De Schutter in 2011, in his role as United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food.

De Schutter and many others have also concluded that agroecology is a good way to increase the resilience of farming systems. But few have really investigated in depth how agroecology and resilience are linked in practice among smallholder farmers around the world.

In 2014 André Gonçalves, a professor of agroecology at Instituto Federal Catarinense in Brazil and technical advisor at Centro Ecológico Brazil, took part in the third international resilience conference in Montpellier in France. He became increasingly fascinated with the concept of resilience and wanted to incorporate it into his work on agroecological farming methods.

After the conference, he decided to organise a series of field trips around the world together with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) and their partner organisations, to look for practical examples of how agroecological methods affect farmers’ resilience.

The field trips took place over several years and took him to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Philippines, Sweden, and various places in his home country Brazil. His travels resulted in new insights into how innovative farmers and organisations have been using agroecological approaches to cope with the challenges of climate change and other disturbances, such as degradation of soils, pest outbreaks, chemical pollution, and escalating prices of chemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers.9

Rainwater harvesting is one important strategy in Ethiopian agroecological farming that builds resilience to drought. Photo: A. Gonçalves.

Connecting agroecology and resilience

Gonçalves quickly concluded that agroecology is not a one-size-fits-all solution, instead it is about taking the local socio-economic and ecological conditions into consideration.

“In my definition agroecology is all about values such as social justice and economic aspects. Otherwise, it would be reduced to the technical dimension,” Gonçalves says. To capture these aspects his analysis focused as much on social and economic measures as on ecological ones to strengthen agricultural resilience.

In 2016 he organised a workshop at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), gathering practitioners and scientists from around the world to take a closer look at how agroecology and resilience thinking relate to each other. He co-organised the workshop with Karin Höök, a senior consultant and expert in agriculture and environment at NIRAS Sweden. She has collaborated with Gonçalves since the early 2000s. Through her previous work as head of the international department at SSNC, Höök became interested in resilience thinking and how it can be applied to make agriculture more sustainable.

“Resilience theory is extremely interesting and relevant for agricultural development, but it has often come across as more of a popular buzzword than concrete real-world applications,” Höök says. “Now that is changing and we see more and more concrete tools and practical examples of how it can contribute to sustainable agricultural development.”

In 2016, Elin Enfors Kautsky, researcher and research coordinator at the SRC, co-authored a paper suggesting different ways to put resilience-based interventions into practice in agricultural landscapes.10 The authors concluded that improving ecosystem services and the resilience of agricultural systems to a changing climate, extreme weather events, pest outbreaks, market volatility, institutional changes, and other pressures is critical to achieving a range of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Following the workshop, where Gonçalves also met Enfors Kautsky, he continued to compare his observations and experiences from the field trips with the seven principles for building resilience,11 which have become increasingly popular in analysing resilience and putting it into practice. The comparison revealed that certified organic farming and other agroecological approaches often go hand in hand with resilience thinking, and tended to improve both farm revenues and household income. For example, Gonçalves saw many examples of the first resilience principle in the extensive use of diversity of crops, farming techniques, and livelihoods.

The Tumaini Women Group in the Gatuanyaga Village, Kikuyu community, one of the communities that Andre Goncalves visited during his field trip, is an example of broadened participation, cooperation and social-environmental responsibility to improve living conditions. André Gonçalves is fourth from the left in the back row. Photo courtesy of A. Gonçalves.

Building resilience in agroecology

Gobezay and her husband in Ethiopia are by no means the only ones working for a diversity-based farming system. In Uganda, Gonçalves met Vicent Ssonko and Yakubu Nyende, who grow organic pineapples together with bananas and a variety of other plants such as beans, maize, and groundnuts. If the international market for organic pineapples collapses, they will still earn an income from selling bananas at the local market. Beans and groundnuts are important components of a balanced diet, increasing food security and nutrition. They also fixate nitrogen and improve soil fertility, without the need for chemical nitrogen fertilisers.

Diversity is also used to tackle other challenges. Pepito Babasa, a Philippine rice farmer from the Southern Luzon region, often experiences typhoons and floods. He makes sure he plants a diversity of different rice varieties known to withstand floods and droughts to secure his harvest.

The second principle of building resilience – managing connectivity – manifests in many ways in agroecology. Gonçalves found examples ranging from how farmers had access to markets to sell their crops, to the distance of their fields to the habitats of pollinators, and natural enemies of pests. Recycling nutrients and organic matter from one field to another is also an important way of managing connectivity in the agricultural landscape. An example of where this is put into practice can be seen in farmers making and using compost as a natural fertiliser on agroecological farms in Ethiopia. Agroecological methods also support ecological connectivity between the agricultural landscape and the surrounding forests in the Brazilian and Ugandan agroforestry systems that integrate crops, trees, and animal husbandry.

Using compost for maintaining the fertility, organic content, and water-holding capacity of soils is also an example of the third resilience principle – managing slow variables and feedbacks. In Ethiopia, the Tigray region’s innovative use of compost has earned world recognition for transforming an area suffering from impoverished soils, erosion, and droughts into increased harvests and incomes while improving groundwater levels, soil fertility, and biodiversity.

Gonçalves also found that farmers had a good understanding of the fourth principle: the landscape as a complex adaptive system. “To adopt agroecological practices simply requires a certain degree of complexity thinking,” he says. “While industrial agriculture is based on a linear approach and a cause and effect relationship, organic and other forms of agroecological agriculture requires a holistic view of agricultural production.”

A plant disease or pest outbreak in industrial agriculture, for example, might be seen as a direct consequence of a virus or insect, and would be controlled by using pesticides. Smallholder agroecological farmers, however, perceive diseases and pests as consequences of management, with many possible causes such as soil fertility, water availability, plant variety, and seasonal shifts.

Learning, participation, and decentralised governance – the fifth, sixth, and seventh resilience principles – were often strongly linked to each other in the farming systems Gonçalves visited. For example, the Ecovida Agroecology Network in Brazil brings together more than 5,000 farmer families in the three southernmost states of the country – Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul – in a network that promotes agroecology and sustainable, resilient use of natural resources. The farmers organise peer-to-peer learning and encourage broad participation that includes poor landless smallholders, larger farmers, and food-processing facilities.

The Ecovida network’s structure and distribution is also a classic example of polycentric governance. The network is divided into several self-governing organisations that interact, manage, and enforce rules within certification and sustainable agriculture. All individual members have a vote and all decisions in their respective organisations are taken collectively.

Similar networks connecting learning, participation, and polycentric governance were present in many other places visited by Gonçalves: PELUM is a network of civil society organisations working with grassroots communities in Kenya and nine other African countries; MASIPAG is a farmer-led network of people’s organisations in the Philippines; NOGAMU is an umbrella organisation of producers, processors, and exporters of the organic sector in Uganda; and there were several networks and organisations that promote sustainable farming in Ethiopia and in Sweden.

Agroecological approaches often go hand in hand with resilience thinking. André Gonçalves’ research has looked at how the seven resilience principles manifest in practice in agroecological farming. Illustration: E. Wikander/Azote

A shift in the world’s food system

Gonçalves concludes that “actively applying resilience thinking is an important basis for the agroecological farming in the case studies, making smallholder farmers less dependent on loans, fossil fuels and chemicals”.

He believes that agroecological and resilience-building approaches to agriculture are feasible alternatives to chemical-intensive monocultures, and that these methods will be crucial for reaching sustainable development goals. Several other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

Line Gordon, deputy director of the SRC, led a study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal in 201712 that looked at how food production has influenced human health and nature from the 1960s until today. The researchers propose eight ways to rewire the world’s food system and rethink how we produce our food, concluding that “we need to rewire different parts of food systems, to enhance information flows between consumers and producers from local to global scales, influence food-system decision makers, and re-connect people to the biosphere through the culture of food”.

Their suggestions include many agroecological aspects and call for better recognition and understanding of the many ecosystem services and social benefits that food-producing systems deliver beyond food itself, such as pollination, water filtration, and recreation.

More recently, the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, José Graziano da Silva, also called for healthier and more sustainable food systems, mentioning agroecology as a way forward. During his opening remarks at the 2nd International Agroecology Symposium in Rome in April 2018 he said: “We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer healthy and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment. Agroecology can offer several contributions to this process.”

Graziano da Silva’s statement resonates with an article published in 2014 in Solutions magazine,13 where a group of leading resilience researchers argued that efforts to improve short-term efficiency and optimisation in food production may be setting us up for a bigger fall down the road. “An agriculture that causes long-term or widespread environmental crises is not resilient, no matter how economically successful or how much food is produced, making its profitability and productivity irrelevant,” they wrote.

The group of researchers, led by Elena Bennett from McGill University in Canada, concluded that agriculture needs to be both resilient and sustainable, and this requires radically new approaches to agricultural development. A narrow focus on increasing production efficiency may reduce resilience, for example by degrading soils and making crops more vulnerable to pest and disease outbreaks and climate shocks. The food production system instead needs approaches and methods that produce sufficient quality and quantities of food while supporting healthy ecosystems.

Agroforestry systems mix crops, trees and animals, and provide resilience by e.g. strengthening ecological connectivity with forest fragments, maintaining biodiversity and managing slow variables like soil fertility and water quality. Photo: K. Höök.

Thinking less about bigger crop yields and more about resilience and sustainability also requires new metrics for evaluating the food system. This is also emphasised by Gonçalves and recently echoed by environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev in Nature where he wrote: “I never fail to be astonished at the inadequacy of the metrics we use to evaluate [food] systems. The most common yardstick is ‘productivity per hectare’. This measure of the yield or value of a particular crop relative to the area of the land on which it was grown is too narrow. We need alternatives that account for the interacting complex of agricultural lands, pastures, inland fisheries, natural ecosystems, labour, infrastructure, technology, policies, markets and traditions that are involved in growing, processing, distributing and consuming food.”

So, even though an agroecological transformation towards more resilient agriculture might come at an initial cost, it will make it possible to maintain human well-being for the long-term. A growing number of resilience researchers and practitioners argue that it is the only way to provide a diet that is healthy for both people and the planet.

The many farmers Gonçalves visited around the world represent the opportunities of this shift from a narrow productivity focus to a food production system that is both more sustainable and resilient. To be effective, it is also important that such approaches that challenge our current farming system are included in the training of next generations of farmers around the world.

“We must invest much more in resilience through participation and education of youth, for example by integrating agroecological approaches in the curricula of schools, training centers, farmer field schools, school gardens, and also at university level,” Gonçalves concludes.

Lead photo: Vicent Ssonko grows organic pineapples together with bananas and a variety of other plants such as beans, maize, and groundnuts. The pineapples are sold on the international market, and bananas on the local market. Beans and groundnuts contain important nutrients for a balanced diet, they also fixate nitrogen and improve soil fertility. Photo courtesy of A. Gonçalvés


Editor: Marika Haeggman; Top editor: Ida Karlsson  Reviewer: Jamila Haider

The text of this article is in the Creative Commons, but the images are copyright as indicated in the captions.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


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