Proposed Strategy for the Commons Movement in 2015

Michel Bauwens

What do we need to work on NOW ?

We are definitely going to a period of dislocation in 2015. The Greek debacle has shown the difficulty of any strategy based on national sovereignty and the end of any real political democracy for European nations ; the difficulties in China , Brazil and elsewhere show the period of high growth for emerging economies has come to an end; and the success of candidates like Donald Trump, which obtains 40% approval rating by promising to deport fifteen million people, shows the potential return of barbarism in the heart of the over-developed world.

Do we have any realistic perspective at change right now ? In the current conjuncture, there are still mass political or electoral mobilizations that seem to have potential, and we are thinking here about the emergence of social justice (anti-austerity) candidates in Spain (En Comu, Podemos), Corbyn in the UK and Sanders in the U.S. Our initiative, led by Stacco Troncoso and team, aims at bringing commons and peer production alternatives to these movements, so as to avoid too strong focuses on statist solutions. It is our hope to foster dialogues in the political world about the part of the commons transition in any alternative. However, the evolution in Greece should of course caution to any overt optimism, for example at the level of the real openness of such movements for commons and civic alternatives, as well as their true willingness to challenge the status quo.

But I think the more long-term focus is to work on the civic-economic front, i.e. building alternative new modes of productions, new relations of production, and new property and governance models, right now, i.e. to ‘hurry slowly’ in rebuilding a true alternative base for different political and civic mobilizations.

I have discussed elsewhere our political proposals , i.e. our proposals for the re-organization of emancipatory politics around the commons, through Assemblies and Chambers of the Commons, and our wish to see Commons Transition Circles.

Here I would like to focus on the economic proposals. How do we create a new commons-oriented social fabric around the creation of livelihoods ?

Three strategies come to mind:

  • a first level is the work that we need to do to create commons-centric entrepreneurial models, based or inspired by open cooperativism, i.e. models in which the commoners co-own and co-govern entrepreneurial forms that co-create commons. Come to mind the work of, a more collectivist approach; the work of Enspiral, a coalition of 250+ social entrepreneurs working with the Loomio open source platform for democratic decision-making and the co-budget entrepreneurial commons for re-investement; the Sensorica open hardware network and its open value accounting efforts; and the Ethos Foundation led by Robert Pye, who is experimenting with fairer forms of equity that recognize non-market contributions. Other people are working on the technological infrastructures needed by such coalitions (like the OpenApps Ecosystem and the OpenVocab projects, Wezer, and others).
  • the second level of work is on territorial economic eco-systems in which the flows of commons-created value becomes more integrated ; indeed, even as we are now able to return to more crafts-like form of ownership of the means of production, thanks to distributed manufacturing, the power of control still lies in the broader systems, and not just in the mere ownership of 3D printing machines and microfactories; so the efforts like the one of Stephanie Rearick and team in the Mutual Aid Network in Madison, Wisconsin; commons value mapping efforts like in Lille, and initiatives like SolidarityNYC are very important at this state ; virtual efforts at more global organizing like the FairCoop project are also important.
  • the third level of work, where we still see very little happening, as far as I know, is at the level of platforms that would challenge the ownership, control and value extraction models of netarchical capitalism (Uber, AirBnB, Facebook) ; this is the necessary work of the creation of platform cooperatives, and the conference organized by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider in New York in November, will be a good start to evaluate the state of the art.

None of these three strategies, all of which have started but are very emergent, will solve urgent crisis, but they will set the stage for a more broader transition later on. I am personally convinced that progressive strategies for resistance and change, like the ones we saw in Greece, that have no serious commons component, are in a great danger of failure ; and we know that neoliberal forces will use nominal commons strategies to destroy the solidarity mechanisms of the welfare state. Post-Keynesian anti-austerity proposals are no longer enough (such as Quantitative Easing for the People), if they are not accompanied with support for a real change on the ground, away from the capital-labor model and towards sustainable, open and free, and solidary production and value distribution models.

In our vision, it is the integration of the economic work of peer production, outlined just above, and the broader work of social and political re-organization around commons-centric institutions, which will set the stage for a rebirth of an offensive social and political movement that will have a good chance to promote a phase transition to a commons-centric political, social and economic society.

Lead image by Phillip Chee

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