Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

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

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
October 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Clinton, Assange and the War on Truth
Michael Hudson
Socialism, Land and Banking: 2017 Compared to 1917
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in the Life of CounterPunch
Paul Street
The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont
Jason Hirthler
Censorship in the Digital Age
Jonathan Cook
Harvey Weinstein and the Politics of Hollywood
Andrew Levine
Diagnosing the Donald
Michelle Renee Matisons
Relocated Puerto Rican Families are Florida’s Latest Class War Targets
Richard Moser
Goldman Sachs vs. Goldman Sachs?
David Rosen
Male Sexual Violence: As American as Cherry Pie
Mike Whitney
John Brennan’s Police State USA
Robert Hunziker
Mr. Toxicity Zaps America
Peter Gelderloos
Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy
Robert Fantina
Fatah, Hamas, Israel and the United States
Edward Curtin
Organized Chaos and Confusion as Political Control
Patrick Cockburn
The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory
CJ Hopkins
Tomorrow Belongs to the Corporatocracy
Bill Quigley
The Blueprint for the Most Radical City on the Planet
Brian Cloughley
Chinese Dreams and American Deaths in Africa
John Hultgren
Immigration and the American Political Imagination
Thomas Klikauer
Torturing the Poor, German-Style
Gerry Brown
China’s Elderly Statesmen
Pepe Escobar
Kirkuk Redux Was a Bloodless Offensive, Here’s Why
Jill Richardson
The Mundaneness of Sexual Violence
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Choreography of Human Dignity: Blade Runner 2049 and World War Z
Missy Comley Beattie
Bitch, Get Out!!
Andre Vltchek
The Greatest Indonesian Painter and “Praying to the Pig”
Ralph Nader
Why is Nobelist Economist Richard Thaler so Jovial?
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuela Regional Elections: Chavismo in Triumph, Opposition in Disarray and Media in Denial
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure
GD Dess
Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters
Ron Jacobs
Stop the Idiocy! Stop the Mattis-ness!
Russell Mokhiber
Talley Sergent Aaron Scheinberg Coca Cola Single Payer and the Failure of Democrats in West Virginia
Michael Barker
The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”
Murray Dobbin
Yes, We Need to Tax the Rich
Dave Lindorff
Two Soviet Spies Who Deserve a Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize
Rafael Bernabe – Manuel Rodríguez Banchs
Open Letter to the People of the United States From Puerto Rico, a Month After Hurricane María
Oliver Tickell
#FreeJackLetts
Victor Grossman
From Jamaica to Knees
Michael Welton
Faith and the World: the Baha’i Vision
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?
Graham Peebles
Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism
Louis Proyect
On Gowans on Syria
Charles R. Larson
Review: Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden’s “Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby”
David Yearsley
Katy Perry’s Gastro-Pop, Gastro-Porn Orgy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail