The Rudder of the Commons



Within libertarian communist circles, there is agreement on the necessity of a commons of some form. However, actual decision making rules and rudders of the commons are not thoroughly discussed. This leaves our commons without a rudder. Directly Democratic assemblies are not just a rudder for a commons, but that which has the ability to bring the commons into existence.

Common owned property allows for communities to directly manage their own affairs. Worker control over means of production is often over emphasized within the left. Worker ownership of the means of production can be compared and contrasted to community ownership over the means of production. The proletariat should have self management rather than rule over the economy. In fact, people should be liberated from toil through automation. Non-authoritarian collective property should exist, but not at the expense of common property. To do nothing more than put workers in charge of workforces is to leave us with an economy but not a polity. Anarchists who are critiqued as “economic reductionists” are often critiqued as such due to their analysis of what is, but a critique of economic reductionists should also encompass what economic reductionists think ought to be. We do not want the community controlled by workers but by commoners.

If we are going to have a commons we need a decision-making process and body. This should not be in the hands of private/state and even worker control. All of which would centralize decision-making power to various degrees. Worker control over the community is far less centralized than state and private ownership, but centralized nonetheless when compared to the alternative of municipalized economies. Constitutional Direct Democracy would prohibit rulership, find out what people’s preferences are, dialogue about various preferences, find compatibilities and incompatibilities between preferences, and resolve incompatibilities by a majority decision that leaves people free to disagree/stay in the association yet not partake in that decision/move uninhibited by hierarchical relations, protest, debate the issue, and re-appeal.

We are not all going to agree on every decision everyone makes anytime anyone makes any decision about anything on a sub-municipal/municipal/confederal level. The question then becomes how we resolve such disagreements. A non hierarchical constitution will ensure that the disagreements that happen are not based on questions of rulership, but questions of different options for managing common pool resources and cities.

The process of creating and maintaining a commons will require a policy making body of some form that is capable of existing with disagreements, while remaining non hierarchical. The face to face relations will create a community setting where we can be accountable for our decisions, collaborative, and potentially foster communion within the community that allows for a reduction in authoritarian relations of any kind. The idea that we will have a commons before we have community institutions is rather foolish, and if we leave the community institutions as a project for after the commons already exists, the commons will not be claimed in the first place.
There are a few regressive tends that remain dominant within anarchism. There is the anti organizational tendency, which often is not merely against organization when it comes to means, but can also be against organization when it comes to ends. There is economic reductionist and non-political variety of organization, which is for organization, but in the economic sphere. There is also activism that is based on procedural unanimity at the expense of the principles of direct democracy.

One of the contradictions that I have seen within people is a “pro-commons” yet anti organizational tendency. These people advocate a lawless commons. In rebellion against hierarchical institutions, they have rebelled against institutions full stop. According to these anarchists, hierarchy arises from organization, making organization closer to the root problem than hierarchy itself in their eyes. In this sense they are anti organization more so than they are against hierarchy. Other people are for some kind of organization just “after the revolution”. In this sense, they are against the very institutional forms that could create the revolution until after the revolution. Revolutions will not come through mere periodic and informal actions and organizations.

If people are going to be in favor of common-pool-resources, then they ought to be for some kind of rudder. Or they can drift off into anarchism without a commons, an amorphous blob without the conditions and relationships required for freedom. Or people can drift off into a procedural unanimity, where the solution to disagreements is to make sure disagreements do not happen. Or we can drift off into the workerism and economic reductionism that many anarchists have rightfully tried so hard to escape from. Unfortunately, the way many have tried to escape from economic reductionism is through various degrees of anti rational solutions.

Let me stress that the commons cannot be static nor brief and periodic; It must be maintained, it must develop in a liberatory direction, it must be steered. To give up on institutions is to give up on the commons and by extension the dream of a libertarian communist society. The commons does not develop rationally without decision making bodies and without decision making processes. Purely informal organizational and non organizational means for formal organizational ends are insufficient. The idea that a commons will exist in anything but a primordial form before community assemblies exist puts the “cart before the horse” as we strive towards a better society.

Periodic community based activism and community technology projects can serve as “gateway drugs” to a community assembly and a commons. However, a “primordial commons” and a “primordial community assembly” created through such means will not become a vessel for societal change until these practices are institutionalized. Periodic direct action should not be confused with institutionalized direct action despite important relations between the two and similarities.

Common property ought to be based on use. Rather than a form of ownership of that which a community does not use, common property ought to be bounded by usufruct. If we overcome private property and state property only to have a common/collective/personal property system divorced from use, we have not actually solved the problem of ownership at the expense of usufruct, merely minimized it. Ownership at the expense of usufruct can lead to ecological disaster.

The process of maintaining a commons becomes a means towards post-scarcity. Knowledge shares, skill shares, tool shares, community programs to create a guaranteed minimum, and municipalized production and distribution allow communities to become more resilient in the present as people aim towards a larger project. We do not need to wait until after the revolution to begin the very process that is capable of leading to a revolution.


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