FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Some Principles of the Commons

by PETER LINEBAUGH

Human solidarity as expressed in the slogan “all for one and one for all” is the foundation of commoning.  In capitalist society this principle is permitted in childhood games or in military combat. Otherwise, when it is not honored in hypocrisy, it appears in the struggle contra capitalism or, as Rebecca Solnit shows, in the disasters of fire, flood, or earthquake.

The activity of commoning is conducted through labor with other resources; it does not make a division between “labor” and “natural resources.”  On the contrary, it is labor which creates something as a resource, and it is by resources that the collectivity of labor comes to pass.  As an action it is thus best understood as a verb rather than as a “common pool resource.”  Both Lovelock’s ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ and the environmentalism of Rachel Carson were attempts to restore this perspective.

Commoning is primary to human life.  Scholars used to write of ‘primitive communism’.  ‘The primary commons’ renders the experience more clearly.  Scarcely a society has existed on the face of the earth which has not had at its heart the commons; the commodity with its individualism and privatization was strictly confined to the margins of the community where severe regulations punished violators.

Commoning begins in the family. The kitchen where production and reproduction meet, and the energies of the day between genders and between generations are negotiated.  The momentous decisions in the sharing of tasks, in the distribution of product, in the creation of desire, and in sustaining health are first made here.

Commoning is historic.  The ‘village commons’ of English heritage or the ‘French commune’ of the revolutionary past are remnants from this history, reminding us that despite stages of destruction parts have survived, though often in distorted fashion as in welfare systems, or even as their opposite as in the realtor’s gated community or the retailer’s mall.

Commoning has always had a spiritual significance expressed as sharing a meal or a drink, in archaic uses derived from monastic practices, in recognition of the sacred habitus.  Theophany, or the appearance of the divine principle, is apprehended in the physical world and its creatures.  In north America (“turtle island”) this principle is maintained by indigenous people.

Commons is antithetical to capital.  Commmoners are quarrelsome (no doubt), yet the commons is without class struggle.  To be sure, capital can arise from the commons, as part is sequestrated off and used against the rest.  This begins with inegalitarian relations, among the Have Lesses and the Have Mores.  The means of production become the way of destruction, and expropriation leads to exploitation, the Haves and Have Nots.  Capital derides commoning by ideological uses of philosophy, logic, and economics which say the commons is impossible or tragic. The figures of speech in these arguments depend on fantasies of destruction – the desert, the life-boat, the prison.  They always assume as axiomatic that concept expressive of capital’s bid for eternity, the a-historical ‘Human Nature.’

Communal values must be taught, and renewed, continuously.  The ancient court leet resolved quarrels of over-use; the panchayat in India did – and sometimes still does —  the same, like the way a factory grievance committee is supposed to be; the jury of peers is a vestigial remnant which determines what a crime is as well as who’s a criminal. The “neighbor” must be put back into the “hood,” as they say in Detroit, like the people’s assemblies in Oaxaca.

Commoning has always been local.  It depends on custom, memory, and oral transmission for the maintenance of its norms rather than law, police, and media.  Closely associated with this is the independence of the commons from government or state authority. The centralized state was built upon it. It is, as it were, ‘the pre-existing condition.’  Therefore, commoning is not the same as the communism of the USSR.

The commons is invisible until it is lost.  Water, air, earth, fire – these were the historic substances of subsistence.  They were the archaic physics upon which metaphysics was built.  Even after land began to be commodified during English Middle Ages it was written,

But to buy water or wind or wit or fire the fourth,                                                                      These four the Father of Heaven formed for this earth in common;
These are Truth’s treasures to help true folk

We distinguish ‘the common’ from ‘the public’.  We understand the public in contrast to the private, and we understand common solidarity in contrast to individual egotism.   The commons has always been an element in human production even when capitalism acquired the hoard or laid down the law.  The boss might ‘mean business’ but nothing gets done without respect.  Otherwise, sabotage and the shoddy result.

Commoning is exclusive inasmuch as it requires participation.  It must be entered into.  Whether on the high pastures for the flock or the light of the computer screen for the data, the wealth of knowledge, or the real good of hand and brain, requires the posture and attitude of working alongside, shoulder to shoulder.  This is why we speak neither of rights nor obligations separately.

Human thought cannot flourish without the intercourse of the commons.  Hence, the first amendment linking the rights of speech, assembly, and petition.  A moment’s thought reveals the interaction among these three activities which proceed from lonely muttering to poetic eloquence to world changing, or

Bing! Bing!   the light bulb of an idea
Buzz! Buzz!   talking it over with neighbors or co-workers
Pow! Pow!    telling truth to power.

PETER LINEBAUGH teaches history at the University of Toledo. The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is the Magna Carta Manifesto. He can be reached at: plineba@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com

More articles by:
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece
John Laforge
Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Raise Calls for Denuclearization
Dave Lindorff
Moving Beyond the Sanders Campaign
Jill Richardson
There’s No Such Thing as a “Free Market”
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Moves Against the Gulen Movement in Turkey
Winslow Myers
Beyond Drift
Edward Martin - Mateo Pimentel
Who Are The Real Pariahs This Election?
Jan Oberg
The Clintons Celebrated, But Likely a Disaster for the Rest of the World
Johnny Gaunt
Brexit: the British Working Class has Just Yawned Awake
Mark Weisbrot
Attacking Trump for the Few Sensible Things He Says is Both Bad Politics and Bad Strategy
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Think Three’s a Crowd? Try 2,000
Corrine Fletcher
White Silence is Violence: How to be a White Accomplice
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail