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The Book

* Book: Commoning: With George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici. Edited by Camille Barbagallo, Nicholas Beuret and David Harvie. Pluto Press, 2019



By Michelle Wenderlich:

"Commoning is an edited volume of articles written by various Marxist and feminist thinkers, movement practitioners, historians, and academics, including Peter Linebaugh, Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar, Stevphen Shukaitis, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Marina Sitrin, and many more. Together, they cover a wide range of topics from “revolutionary histories,” “money and value,” and “reproduction” to “commons” and “struggle.” What brings these authors of various stripes together? They have all been influenced by George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici.

Caffentzis and Federici have been major figures since the 1960s in the intellectual development and propagation of, and active struggle for, various movements, including the feminist, antiwar, alter-globalization, decolonial, Zapatista, and Occupy Wall Street movements. They are especially renowned for their work on social reproduction, specifically for connecting the history of capitalism and colonialism with the assault on womens’ bodies, rights, and freedom, as well as questioning the nature of work and class struggle in daily life. In addition, as the title of the edited volume suggests, Caffentzis’s and Federici’s work often revolves around the concept of commoning.

Commoning is the social and daily practice of self-organization to meet people’s needs and desires."



By Michelle Wenderlich:

"Commoning is thus the thread that binds these diverse articles together. In the piece that most directly presents a framework for commoning, Massimo De Angelis explains the framework for commoning to be, as Federici suggested, “the strategic site from which to envision a horizon of emancipation for all”:

Just as for Marx the commodity is the cell form of the capitalist mode of production, so the common good is the cell form of post-capitalist wealth, wealth-in-common, shared wealth. Yet this formulation does not tell us anything about how we share, nor how we produce and reproduce what needs to be shared in different contexts. These questions can be posed within a framework of the commons as social systems. Commons are social systems comprised of two sets of elements. First, the material and immaterial elements that constitute commons-wealth, what is shared; and second, the social relations among the people within these commons communities, the rules and norms, both formal and informal, they use to coordinate their actions and their social relations.

In another piece, Olivier de Marcellus asks big questions about organization and the relation of commons to the state. He brings up Alvaro Linera’s communitarian socialism, “in which the ‘illusory’ commons monopolised by a minority in the old State could be progressively reclaimed by organisations and communities,” to suggest that the state could be turned into commons over time. As experiments in direct democracy at the municipal level, De Marcellus points to “rebel cities” that seek to impose real democratic participation from the “outside” of the concentrated power of the old state.

The pieces in the book are quite varied, both in their subject matter and sometimes in their treatment of commoning. For instance, Edith Gonzalez critiques Federici’s view of the state and commons: “Federici’s theory of the commons recreates the image of a new emancipatory economic model based on reproduction in counterposition to the failed revolutionary goal of the conquest of state power, but without being able to overcome it.” In contrast, Marcela Olivera and Alexander Dwinell are fully convinced (along with Caffentzis and Federici) that the state must remain separate from commoning. They review their experiences in Cochabamba’s Water War and the attempt to gain social control of the public water utility: “Our approach is to seek to defend and improve the historical regulation of water access under the idea of usos y costumbres, an approach that is incompatible with the state and the framework of laws that define its existence.” They see state regulation of social life as another form of enclosure.

Other pieces are less explicit about the practice of commoning. One major takeaway is that commoning is a historical practice and ongoing locus of struggle, which offers an alternative system of value to capital and often starts with the unseen work of social reproduction. For example, Camille Barbagallo and Viviane Gonik bring up issues of care and reproductive labor to illustrate how paid and unpaid aspects of “productive” and “reproductive” work are connected, and how all have had a historical role in constituting current manifestations of race and gender. They examine the binary of paid/unpaid labor of enslaved people and women (and more recently of migrant women of color) and its connections to dehumanization and oppression. The typology of labor helped create stronger divisions between men and women, invisibilizing women’s paid work as well.

Continuing on issues of reproduction, Bue Rübner Hansen and Manuela Zechner address the practicalities of extending kinship and reproductive labor beyond the nuclear family in a piece that also examines kinship as a game that orbits (and creates) a field of belonging around its subjects through shared life and work. Marina Sitrin’s piece provides a clear summary of newer thinking about recent mass movements based in “prioritiz[ing] social relationships and care-based organising, and the focus on means as inseparable from ends.” These movements often create their own solutions rather than demanding them from the state, drawing on practices of the Zapatistas and those in Rojava who are creating autonomous and self-organized societies outside of and in opposition to the state.

The book also encourages us to expand our economic analyses and look at how social struggles and daily life (cornerstones of anti-capitalist commoning) affect the capitalist economy and dynamics of profit. Both Dave Eden’s chapter on capitalist energy crises and Nick Dyer-Witheford’s examination of theories of the end of work through robots and artificial intelligence take this perspective. In both cases the authors use Caffentzis’s writings to examine underlying dynamics of profit and struggle. Dyer-Witheford points out the role of “the tendency of the rate of profit to fall,” which equalizes an average profit rate globally, in staving off an AI takeover because unmechanized, labor-intensive production has still been cheaper in the Global South. However, Dyer-Witheford is less convinced that this tendency will hold going forward, when the underlying labor conditions might be shifting. Eden highlights the dysfunctionality of capitalist markets—which in Australia manifest in inflating energy prices and simultaneous non-investment in renewables—and also looks at exploitation of labor, crises of social control and uprisings, and dynamics of land ownership and political capture. What is common between these chapters is that they all circle back to anti-capitalist struggles."


The Concept

= the act of creating, constructing and maintaining a commons

"A verb to describe the social practices used by commoners in the course of managing shared resources and reclaiming the commons. Popularized by historian Peter Linebaugh." [1]

Massimo De Angelis:

"Commoning, a term encountered by Peter Linebaugh (2008) in one of his frequent travels in the living history of commoners’ struggles, is about the (re)production of/through commons. To turn a noun into a verb is not a little step and requires some daring. Especially if in doing so we do not want to obscure the importance of the noun, but simply ground it on what is, after all, life flow: there are no commons without incessant activities of commoning, of (re)producing in common. But it is through (re)production in common that communities of producers decide for themselves the norms, values and measures of things. Let us put the “tragedy of the commons” to rest then, the basis of the economists argument for enclosures: there is no commons without commoning, there are no commons without communities of producers and particular flows and modes of relations. Hence, what lies behind the “tragedy of the commons” is really the tragedy of the destruction of commoning through all sorts of structural adjustments, whether militarised or not." (


"The analytical project of a critical political economy of the digital commons would build on the processual or dialectical understanding of the digital commons. According to Broumas (2017a), this approach frames the commons as ‘fluid systems of social relationships and sets of practice for governing the (re) production of, access to, and use of resources’ (1509). This definition draws attention to the social relations that are produced and reproduced alongside the relationship to the commons.

Linebaugh (2008) frames this active creation by using the verb ‘commoning’. In describing the practice of commoning, Linebaugh outlines four characteristics of commoning:

1) commoning is ‘embedded in a particular ecology with its local husbandry’;

2) it is ‘embedded in a labour process’ that exists in a particular field of praxis;

3) it is collective; and

4) it is ‘independent of the temporality of the law and state’ (44–45).

Commoning is therefore not just about understanding commons as resources but about the active pooling of common resources with a deep connection to the history, culture, and ecology of the place where they exist. As such, commoning is imbued with a complex relationship between subjectivity and the objects (i.e. common resources) to which those subjects relate.

Broumas (2017a) explains that in this type of relationship ‘the community itself is constantly reproduced, adapting its governance mechanisms and communal relationships in the changing environment within and outside the commons’ (1509–1510). This framework helps us to understand the commons and the complex interplay of subjectivity and community that is at work within commons-based communities."



Proposed by Tim Rayner:

'With all this interest in the commons, it is time that we considered the ‘ethos’, or way of being, that underpins the practice of commoning. I offer the following principles as contributions to this debate. If nothing else, they have helped me consolidate my own intuitions about commoning.

Commoning is based in four broad principles. These principles shape the psycho-symbolic space that is sustained by people who participate in commoning.

1. Plenitude: Commoning proceeds from a place of wealth. We do not need to accumulate more than we possess. Together we have all that we require.

2. Mutual benefit: Commoning hinges on a spirit of reciprocity and justice. My gain does not need to mean your loss. Genuine success produces mutual benefit.

3. Spiritual abundance: Commoning challenges us to discover our inner abundance and to add it to a shared stock of potential. The term abundance comes from the Latin ab-unda, meaning the wave, which overflows. Commoning requires us to cultivate the overflowing generosity that represents true spiritual health.

4. Transition: Commoning is a threshold activity. To make common is to participate in an unfolding movement for social change, with positive implications for politics, economics, and the planet. Each act of commoning – be it a matter of collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer production, open space technology, or democratic assembly – is an experimental contribution towards a new social and economic paradigm." (


Commoning as a political strategy:


"the challenge is how to engage in a constituent process of new social relations, which can only be a process of commoning, able to keep at bay and push back the form of commoning predicated on capitalist relations and, therefore, capitalist value practices. One basic condition for meeting this challenge is that we face up a hard reality of what we are up against, that is capital as a social force and field of social relations that seeks to reproduce itself through boundless expansion. This means first, that struggle is both necessary for the subjects and ubiquitous across the social fields inhabited by capitalist relations. However, it also implies that struggle is the life-blood of the system’s dynamism.

Furthermore, second, this dynamism is predicated upon and produces a new vertical segmentation of the condition of reproduction of labour power. The “working class” is divided in a wage hierarchy and no ideological call for unity will ever bring the different segments to work together in the direction of a radical transformation of their production in common beyond capital, and therefore beyond their hierarchy. Struggle therefore is also divided across a wage hierarchy, which implies that the possibility of its capitalist governance, predicated on division and exclusion at a point of crisis, are quite broad." (

2. On Creating lines of flight, without capitalist landing:

"This is of course a crucial question for all those whose perspective is the sustainability of the “beginning of history”, the persistence and development in time of new forms of commoning, of producing in commons that push back those compatible with the selfpreservation of capital.

From the point of view of the subjects, the clash of value practices implies first of all a “refusal”, a “no” to indignity, as Holloway (2004) so clearly put it. However, we have an immediate problem on our hand. How can we refuse capital’s measure without actively and self-consciously participating in the constitution of other common measures? And how can we participate in this commonality without at the same time setting a limit, refusing capital’s measure of things and its drive to separate, subsume and co-opt? 7 The setting of a limit to the “beast” and the problematic of how to constitute and sustain the “outside” which is brought to life by the many struggles, are two inescapable strategic coordinates of the beginning of history." (

3. Value struggles

"The vacuum is filled with an ideological struggle that seek converted. In a Western urban environment this might be expressed in this way: capital wants you to eat meet, you must become vegan; capital wants you to earn money, you build a life-style without money; capital wants you to compete, you proclaim “solidarity”, and so on.

However expressive of real desires and processes of identities production that seek disengagement from capital’s value practices, an ideological struggle of this type can only produce, precisely, singular identities, individual and groups whose values system is predefined as ethical choice. But commoning is not only based on pre-existent values, preexistent “ethical” choices. The commoning we seek is also and most importantly a field of production of values, and the precondition for this production is that a wide range of different ethics, different cultures, different life-styles, and, as we will see, different power positions within the planetary wage hierarchy participate in the co-production of new systems of values, of producing what is of common value together." (

4. We have to avoid struggles that lead back inside the problematic of the end of history, not for the creation of an outside, a beginning of history:

"The bottom line of the discussion so far is that the minimum condition for alternatives to be able to both reproduce themselves and set a limit to capital is that they constitute processes of commoning through which cooperating subjects seek, establish, represent, and communicate a field of value production which is not only opposed to that of capital, but also propositive and constituent of new social relations at every occasion of struggle. In this sense, the process of commoning beyond capital is a process of destructive creation as opposed to the process of creative destruction of Schumpeterian memory. While for the latter the creation of the new and the correspondent destruction of the old is concerned with the mutation of the forms of capitalist social relations, we can understand the concern of destructive creation the destruction of these very capitalist relations and the correspondent creation of new forms of commoning predicated on different value productions. Here the emphasis is on the constituent processes of commoning other than capital, rather than on mutated forms of capitalist commoning." (

From The Production of Commons and the “Explosion” Class By Massimo De Angelis

Commoning Today cannot ignore Climate Change

Nathan Schneider:

"the ancient practice sometimes called “commoning”—that is, treating the means of livelihood as the common birthright of everyone. The whole world, after all, is ultimately God’s. Thus Gratian understood that by natural law omnia sunt communia—all things are common—and thus St. Thomas Aquinas held that poor people’s right to necessities trumps the property rights of the rich. Thus, alongside England’s Magna Carta came the Charter of the Forest, which ensured that the landless masses would have the right to sustain themselves with the fruits of common land. Thus Leviticus required that farmers leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that the poor could live off the remains—and so, to protect the health of the land, every seven years it was to be left fallow.

Commoning was the original bulwark against poverty, an economic system built around meeting the needs of the poor and sustaining the environment. It was a natural fit for early Christians, many of whom were on the fringes of society. The medieval church went on to maintain churches and land for common use; it was no accident that with the Reformation came a surge in the enclosure of land into private estates.

Throughout history, commoners have had to fend off the urges of the wealthy to enclose common resources. “The pre-eminent challenge is to assure the greatest integrity of the commons, so that the fruits of commoning are not siphoned away by clever, covetous businesses and governments,” writes David Bollier in his essential new introduction to the commons, Think Like a Commoner. While commoning might coexist with a market or state, it is neither. Commons are governed by the customs of the poor, not the bureaucracies of the rich.

Today, movements framed around the commons are resisting attempts to privatize such essentials as water, seeds and medicines. Climate change itself results from a kind of enclosure—an economic system that allows polluters to treat the atmosphere as theirs to disrupt and profit from." (