On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism

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* Book: Omnia Sunt Communia. On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism. By Massimo De Angelis. University of Chicago Press (distributed by Zed Books), 2017

URL = https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/omnia-sunt-communia/


This book reveals the potential for radical transformation contained in a conceptualisation of the commons as a set of social systems, rather than just common goods. In this weaving of radical political economy, Omnia Sunt Communiasets out the steps to postcapitalism. By conceptualising the commons not just as common goods but as a set of social systems, Massimo De Angelis shows their pervasive presence in everyday life, mapping out a strategy for total social transformation.

From the micro to the macro, De Angelis unveils the commons as fields of power relations – shared space, objects, subjects – that explode the limits of daily life under capitalism. He exposes attempts to co-opt the commons, through the use of code words such as 'participation' and 'governance', and reveals the potential for radical transformation rooted in the reproduction of our communities, of life, of work and of society as a whole."



Part One: Commons as systems

1. Common goods

2. Systems

3. Elements

Part Two: From Elinor Ostrom to Karl Marx

4. Commons governance

5. The money nexus and the commons formula

Part Three: Commoning: the source of grassroots power

6. Mobilising social labour for commoning

7. The production of autonomy, boundaries and sense

Part Four: Social change

8. Boundary commoning

9. Commons and capital/state

10. Towards postcapitalism


1. Peter Linebaugh:

"De Angelis has written a deep and stunning book which established him as a major voice in the world-wide discussion of the commons. He is a “politician” only in the sense that this book begins with the exodus from capitalism, that is to say, it is based firmly in our times of the hegemony of neoliberalism and the movements against it. It is “theoretic” in two senses. First, it eschews various apocalyptic notions of revolution. This is not an ideological book though it is a book of ideas. Second, it challenges economic, cybernetic, and systems theories with fluent abstractions, concepts, and linkages of its own. Philosophy is especially required when old ideas – in this case the wretched and self-serving ideology of neoliberalism – no longer express either accurate description of social life or the horizon of aspiration.

De Angelis does not anticipate another constitutional convention of rich white men behind closed doors devising capitalist rule – enough already! – instead with the aid of powerful concepts, particularly the concepts of commons, commonwealth, and commoning, he gives us the lineaments of discourse and connections and their potentials. This is a work of science or knowledge production rather than a utopian prayer. Like Marx or Spinoza there is a terminology which at first is novel and soon opens up to view clear and practical horizons to the transformation to postcapitalism." (https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/28/omnia-sunt-communia-may-day-2017/)

2. Cristiano Gatti:

"The expression “omnia sunt communia” means “all things in common” and is a Latin expression, taken by the Bible. The quote is attributed to German rebel leader Thomas Müntzer during the massive peasant revolt of central Europe beginning in 1526. The slogan (and the book) calls for new ways of constituting human societies where enclosure, imprisonment, slavery, and war are no longer the means of production and reproduction.

In his book, Massimo De Angelis falls within the framework of rethinking capitalism, a field where Paul Mason and his “PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future” play a crucial role if only out of the term “postcapitalism” that indicates the movement in charge of “creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours”. So, in one of the worst crisis in the history of capitalism that is primarily economic and social but also environmental, Professor De Angelis affirms that neither states nor markets seem able to offer solutions but commons have become not only increasingly commonplace, but also increasingly relevant. Besides the concept of postcapitalism, the author builds his book around the idea of commons, viewed as “social systems in which resources are shared by a community of users/producers, who also define the modes of use and production, distribution and circulation of these resources through democratic and horizontal forms of governance”. According to this, the book is divided in four parts: in the Part One the author describes the elements and the structure of Commons as system, in the Part Two the book talks about Commons governance and money nexus and commons formula. In Part Three Massimo De Angelis explains that Commoning is the source of grassroots power through social labour mobilization and the production of autonomy, boundaries and sense; finally, Part Four, named “Social change”, indicates the path towards postcapitalism including the relation between commons, state and market.

The aim of the book is to provide information to construct postcapitalistic ways to reproduce more autonomous forms of social life, other than those provided by states and markets by conceptualizing the idea of commons not just as common goods but as a set of social systems. In his view, capitalism is not sustainable environmentally (pollution, climate change, etc.), socially (i.e. radical inequalities) and economically (economic crisis, unemployment, etc.) and it is not the solution to save our planet: only a commons-based postcapitalism could do.

Nonetheless, postcapitalistic world is not spontaneous and other different scenarios are possible. According to the author, it is necessary to develop postcapitalism through inventing new forms of commoning, building bridges between and beyond roles, such as employees and employers, clients and service providers, parents and nannies. It is fundamental to build new social system in which reproduction stems from the direct participation of communities of producers reclaiming, sharing, and pooling resources of various types, driven by values fundamentally opposed to those embedded in the capital circuits: solidarity, mutual aid, cooperation, respect for human being and the environment, horizontalism and direct democracy. In this scenario, social movements play a crucial role: although they don’t create reality, they have the capacity of shifting the boundaries of what is possible." (https://www.labgov.it/2017/08/16/omnia-sunt-communia/)