Beginning of History

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Book: The beginning of history. Massimo De Angelis

= about the Commons as a political movement inaugurating a new era of history


From a summary essay:

On Commoning:

"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." (

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."

On Common Rights:

"It is because this organic relation between the activity of the commoners and the commons that “commons” rights differ, in their constitution, from legal rights such as “human”, “political” or “social” rights. In the latter sense, a “right” is a legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way. A title deed constitutes evidence of such a right.

For the medieval English commoners instead,

- common rights are embedded in a particular ecology with its local husbandry. . . . Commoners first think not of title deeds, but human deeds: how will this land be tilled? Does it require manuring? What grows there? They begin to explore. One might call it a natural attitude. Second, commoning is embedded in a labor process; it inheres in a particular praxis of field, upland, forest, marsh, coast. Common rights are entered into by labor. Third, commoning is collective. Fourth, commoning, being independent of the state, is independent also of the temporality of the law and state. It goes deep into human history" (Linabough 2008: 44-45).

More Information

  1. Essay by Massimo De Angelis
  2. Circulation of the Common