Presentation of the working group Commons

, by  Frédéric Sultan

“We speak of ‘commons’ every time a community of people is driven by the same desire to take charge of a resource that they’ve inherited or created and this organises them in a democratic, convivial and responsible manner to ensure access, use and longevity in the general interest and concern of ‘Buen Vivir’ together and for generations to come.” [1] The ‘commons’ chart a new horizon that rebuilds these social practices to emerge into a collective story based on the values of cooperation and sharing for the emancipation of the people, the solidarity and respect for our environment.

Today, most of the population is born into a world dominated by an ultra-liberal ideology. This ideology, because it rejects the value of collective action and solidarity, is destructive to the social link, but also to that of the people and our environment, the Earth. Global businesses dominate the States and control the territories.

Civil society reacts to the difficulty in at least two ways: by protesting and extreme voting, but also by inventing and reinventing forms of solidarity and reciprocity, of collective ownership and governance that beat at the rate of technological, demographic, ecological and world transformations. Old alternatives resist and new ones are invented. It’s no longer even necessary to list emblematic example or underline the diversity of the concerned domains. Farmers, city dwellers, young and old people, women or men, workers or volunteers actively work for their community on a daily basis. Of course, lots of these people don’t use this term commons to describe their actions, but recognise their connection to this notion and easily understand what they gain from it to be able to coordinate together at certain times.

However, we must consider the fact that the accumulation or juxtaposition of local initiatives, by itself doesn’t have a sufficient transforming effect on society capable of replacing the ultraliberal ideology and narrative that accompanies it.

The world economy is impacted by forces that are fed by the commons. A significant part of the economy is founded on the production of wealth by people networking, whose subordination relationship with the capitalist firm becomes more distant. But a very big part of this wealth, if not the whole, is captured by multinationals in the digital realm, who reproduced and emphasised the defaults of capitalist firms in terms of exploitation of people, their data, their bodies, their culture, of the monopolisation of wealth and domination of public institutions and states.

The ESS is involved in the sharing economy. Of the course of its history, it has constructed solutions to the needs of society based on the solidarity and emancipation of employees. It is used to thinking and acting collective and inviolable ownership (organisation without individual ownership), part of the added value is put in indivisible reserves, distribution of zero or limited profit, reinvestment in social projects, double quality of participants (at the same time employee and members, or members and client etc). But it couldn’t or didn’t know how to emancipate itself from the capitalist economy or as we can see transforms it in depth. The ESS cuts the risk of being blown away by the power of financialised and netarchical capitalism.

The activists for an economy commons based find also allies with local authorities , interested by a renewed ability of citizens to collaborate with them, to bring initiatives that stimulate the local economy and sometimes also strengthen their civil and democratic capabilities. The meaningful experiences spread from the ‘sharing city’ (Seoul) to the ‘City in commons ’ (Barcelona) via the ‘co-city’ (Bologna). But then again, the difficulties aren’t impossible to overcome. The power relationship between capitalist businesses and citizens is asymmetric most of the time.

Therefore, continuing the question of how to move the commons based economy away from a niche logic, or from the compensation for the misdemeanours of capitalism (care), a field permanently eroded by the commodification of the social sphere, of the environment and of the complex public goods: health, education, training/qualification, lodging, digital technology, infrastructures…

This will not be able to happen without investment in political fields and public authority. It must be noted that the ways of representative democracy and bureaucratic institutions who dominate the functioning of the state, harm the movement. The practices inferred by the designation/representation system of the elected, contradict the commons vision based on subsidiarity and horizontal distribution of the power. They waste the energy of activists. Trying to slide progressively into laws, amendments, propositions remains a huge test of patience, It happens at such a slow rate, that there is a real risk of being surpassed by the right and extreme right. How to do politic, i.e. act on behalf of institutions to change policies, with an individual and collective attitude in compliance with the collaborative dmension of the commons vision?

An answer to this question is to make the movement of municipalities the crucible of political proposals that result in solidarity work between people and the groups supporting the commons. It isn’t about spreading the word amongst the elected, to convince them of the worth of our propositions, that to give value to collective action and its methods as a way of transforming politics and examining and reforming institutions on different scales.

Such a process is easier to carry out on a local scale, which offers a greater closeness to the elected and civil servants, but it’s not possible to miss out on the larger areas of the state and supra-national levels that influence the local areas. It is also by teaching on the commons that allow the sharing of practices, and legitimises a way of life in line with the values of the commons. With the commons, the altermondialist movement is thus positioned ahead of this challenge to:

  • Understand this phenomenon and improve the singular experiences that enhance the-hole.
  • Fix the practices in a shared narrative that can be substituted for an ultraliberal ide-ogy.
  • Contribute to its structuring to renew political practices and forms of democracy.