Re-imagining the left through an ecology of the commons: towards a post-capitalist commons transition” (Michel Bauwens and Jose Ramos) was recently published by the journal Global Discourse (Routledge, Taylor and Francis) as an exploratory proposal for a comprehensive commons transition movement and strategy that twines an ontology of human evolutionary forms with strategies for commoning. It is intended as a stepping stone discussion in the context of post-capitalist / commons transition. Many thanks to Julian von Bargen for the invitation to contribute to this special issue on the Reformulating the Left.


In the abstract we argue:

“Our main hypothesis in this paper is that in the current conjuncture, we are moving towards a ‘dominance’ of a ‘commons’ format for societal development. The commons format assumes a ‘third’ mode of development that indicates civil society and community as critical initiators and guardians of common value. The emerging commons model should be distinguished from both the regulation of capitalism by social-democracy, and state-centric Soviet types of socialism. Just as a full-fledged capitalist system could be seen as starting with the seed forms developed in the medieval city-states, so a future commons-centric society can be hypothesized from currently emerging commons-based seed forms. We believe that just as the revolutions bringing full-fledged capitalism were preceded by the development of capitalists and their seed forms, so a commons-based systemic change is necessarily the result of commoners developing their own seed forms. Therefore, the creation of a systemic ecology of the commons becomes an essential strategy for social change. The key approach for emancipation is no longer a redistribution of market value, or a state-centric appropriation of productive assets, but an interweaving of commons-based production and redistribution.”

KEYWORDS: Post-capitalism, commons, value exchange systems, Marxism and the radical left, social transformation


Here is an extract from the paper below. A preprint version can be found here.

“We thus see commons as thriving through interdependence across multiple scales and dimensions, with myriad communities enacting themselves as commoners who engage in the active creation, defence and management of their commons, but not to the exclusion of others. It might be said that in terms of epistemology, the emerging foundations of the commons perspective shares a radical perspective on the dynamic interconnections that exist between a multitude of forms, as well as a process orienta- tion (Bollier and Helfrich 2015). Arturo Escobar (2015, 355) discusses this relational dynamic as a ‘pluriverse … made up of a multiplicity of mutually entangled and co- constituting but distinct worlds’. Given this, there is a broader political, ecologic and economic context which needs to come with commoning.

First, we do not see any room for exclusionist approaches in our definition of commoning. Historically, labour movements centred on the White European male were exclusionist in orientation (for example the White Australia Policy had its origins in labour movements, and in the United States the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was also supported by labour unions), and in the current era we see, for example, the United States ‘alt-right’ that has emerged as a nativistic construction with an even more virulent form of exclusionism. In contrast to such an exclusionary understanding, our view might be understood as ‘cosmopolitan solidarity’, in which the activity of one particular group needs to do no harm to, complement, or even support the well-being of people universally, not just one group to the exclusion of another. As such, in this paper we put forward the idea of cosmo-localization, the notion that one community of produc- tive commoning on one part of the planet also can and should support other commu- nities of production and commoning in other parts of the world, through the development of a global design commons that democratizes production.

Second, given the ecological crisis that we face, commoning cannot be reductively defined in terms of one community’s activity if it runs counter to the overall health of the whole. A planetary ethos, a view that takes the health of our planetary life support systems as central, needs to guide what it means to enact a commons – the activity of a particular group needs to complement and support the general well-being of planetary life support systems.

Third, commons need to be aligned with a post-capitalist political program. Both nativism and ecological crisis need to be understood as, in certain ways, products of capitalism. Anti-globalization was indeed at first a radical green-left position, as demonstrated by the alliance of ‘Teamsters and Turtles’ at the Battle of Seattle and the wider global protest circuit (Kaldor 2000). For the good part of two decades these demands and cries for transformation have been largely ignored by our neoliberal policy makers, leading to both reactionary populism and a deepening ecological crisis (Ramos 2017a).

This paper begins with a simple depiction of the birth of a ‘civic/civil’ oriented commons, which has emerged concurrently and in the aftermath of the demise of state-socialism and the neoliberal assault. We then provide a theory of change – our proposition is that transformation and phase transition is based on the emergence of seed forms. We provide several historical examples, and we discuss the emergence of the commons as one such seed form. To provide a theoretical and ontological foundation for understanding the emergence of the commons as a seed form within a macrological time-scale, we discuss the work of Alan Page Fiske (1991) and Kojin Karatani (2014) and the implications of their work for an ecology of the commons and reformulation of the left. We then segue into a short discussion on this ecology of the commons as a response to civilizational overshoot and collapse. Within this context of civilizational crisis and the aforementioned theory of change, we trace the general outline of the transition, and describe the emergence of cosmo-localism, Design Global/Manufacture Local (DGML) strategies as a key element of the commons shift. In conceptualizing the practical elements of this proposed ecology of the commons, we present the German Energiewende as a proto-model for state-community co- creation, and a template for future possibilities. We then look broadly across the ontological forms of the city, the nation-state, and global transnational structures as emerging constituent and co-creative elements of such an ecology of the commons. We end with some implications for the left and the challenge of transforming the dark energies of populism.”











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