Commons Politics as Reform vs Revolution
* Article: The Politics of the Commons: Reform or Revolt? By Vangelis Papadimitropoulos. tripleC 15(2): 563-581, 2017
"In this paper I present a critical overview of the contemporary political theories of the Commons, classified in three main categories: 1) the liberal 2) the reformist and 3) theanti-capitalist. Advocates of the liberal theory of the Commons take a stand in favour of thecoexistence of the Commons with the state and the market. The reformists argue for thegradual adjustment of capitalism to the Commons with the aid of a partner state, while the anti-capitalists contrast both the liberals and the reformists by supporting the development ofthe commons against and beyond capitalism. I make the case that both the liberal and the anti-capitalist theorists miss the likelihood of technology rendering redundant large-scale production in the future, and forcing thus capitalism to adjust to the Commons in the long run.The prospect, therefore, of an open cooperativism, introduced by the reformist theory, holds significant potential with respect to the future development of the Commons. For the Commons to expand and flourish, however, a global institutional reform, based on a number of trans-local and transnational principles, is sine qua non. Hence, transparency of information, distribution of value, solidarity and bottom-up self-management are the core variables of individual and collective autonomy inasmuch as they permit a community orgroup to formulate its values in relation to the needs and skills of its members."
By Vangelis Papadimitropoulos:
"In the first section, I present the theses of the three main contemporary theories ofthe Commons: the liberal, the reformist and the anti-capitalist. The criterion by whichI make this classification is the position in which these theories place the Commons with respect to the relation of the latter to the state and market operation. Whereasthe liberal theory places the Commons between the state and the market, the reformist theory argues for the reforms necessary that could force capitalism toadjust to the Commons in the long run. In contrast to both the liberal and the reformist, the anti-capitalist theory supports the development of the Commons against and beyond capitalism. In the second section, I develop a critical stance to all three theories with the aim to provide with a constructive synthesis of the politics of the Commons."
"The Commons movement is grounded on a political theory, the roots of which can be traced back to the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The unfulfilled goal of the social movements for freedom of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (Corcoran 1983; Linebaugh and Rediker 2000; Federici 2004) resonates in the modern politics of the Commons, developed in the Ricardo school of socialists and the work of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Proudhon and Marx. Since then, a number of thinkers have connected their work with the Commons: Arendt, De Beauvoir, Latouche, Gorz, Chomsky, and Castoriadis, to name just a few. Nowadays, there are three main theoretical approaches to the Commons: a liberal (Ostrom, Benkler, Bollier), areformist (Bauwens and Kostakis, Arvidsson and Peitersen, Rushkoff) and an anti-capitalist (Hardt and Negri, De Angelis, Caffentzis, Federici, Rigi, Meretz). The above classification is but a schematic one. As such, it is devoid of any crude ideological labelling. I should mention, finally, that I am referring here only to the most influential thinkers of the Commons."
"Bauwens (2014b) admits that peer-to-peer projects are said to be, most often,“benevolent dictatorships”, controlled by a core of founders on the basis of theirlarger input into the constitution of the project. This model, of course, is totally incompatible with communal shareholding and his own example of the hunter eating last from his prey. Hierarchy translates often into the obscurity of power. What’smore, most of the so-called decentralised autonomous projects developed on the Blockchain infrastructure seem to be rather libertarian than Commons-based. For these reasons, I hold that transparency of information, distribution of value, solidarity and bottom-up self-management are the core variables of individual and collective autonomy inasmuch as they permit a community or group to formulate itsvalues in relation to the needs and skills of its members. Transparency in terms of open accounting, open protocols and open supply chains, as proposed by Bauwens,is the sufficient condition for incorporating competition into an economy based oncooperation and trust. Cooperation is not to be forced in any way, but we still need tohave free access to all information available in order to be truly autonomous in our judgements and choices. Transparency is the necessary and sufficient condition ofindividual and collective autonomy.I agree with Bauwens that the key issue is the balance between efficiency andparticipation; we need not waste time in endless deliberations in search for a “final” consensus (Bauwens 2014b). It is essential, however, to abolish the distinction between directors and executants in order to wipe out the capitalist imaginary that penetrates the Commons in multiple forms. Following Castoriadis, freedom is the equality of all in participating in the formation of the law ruling society. Freedom is the equality of autonomy for individuals thinking and acting within collectivities.Therefore, we should be aware of the danger of a reversed bureaucracy that could result either in the oligarchy of a technocratic elite or in the tyranny of the Commons, both oppressing equally the heterogeneity of individuality inherent in the cultural diversity of any collectivity."
In this paper I have presented a critical overview of the contemporary political theories of the Commons, classified in three main categories: the liberal, the reformist and the anti-capitalist. The work of Ostrom, Benkler and Bollier is termed ‘liberal’ insofar as they place the development of the Commons in parallel with the state and market operation. The work of Bauwens and Kostakis, Arvidsson and Peitersen and Rushkoff is termed ‘reformist’, as they advocate the gradual adjustment of capitalism to the Commons. The work of Hardt and Negri, De Angelis, Caffentzis, Federici, Rigi and Meretz is termed ‘anti-capitalist’, given that they favour the autonomous development of the Commons against and beyond capitalism.
I argue that both the liberal and the anti-capitalist theorists (with the exception of Rigi) miss the likelihood of the Internet, 3D printers and artificial technology rendering large-scale material production redundant, thus forcing capitalism to adjust to th Commons in the long run. I therefore make the case that the reformist theory has significant potential for the future development of the Commons. I stress, however, the fact that the Commons are still in its infancy facing numerous ‘internal’contradictions such as elitism, aristocracy, monarchy, autocracy, lack of transparency and solidarity, exclusion, discrimination, racism, precarious volunteering and activism, the domination of self-interest and competition over solidarity and cooperation, the rational mastery of techno-economism, and the fear of the tyranny of the Commons over the heterogeneity of individuality. For the Commons to overcome these contradictions, a global institutional reform, followed by a number of inter-local and international principles, is sine qua non. In this framework, transparency of information, distribution of value, solidarity and bottom-up self-management are the core variables of individual and collective autonomy, as they permit a community or group to formulate its values in relation to the needs and skills of its members."