20 Jul 2011
From crisis to commons
What apparently began
as a financial crisis that turned into an economic one is soon to be
called a “political crisis.” The abject destruction that capitalists have
created with their “management” of the two great commons of
labor and the planet’s eco-system will stop being considered a
“tragedy of the common” (where no one in particular is responsible)
and come to de-legitimate the capitalist class as a whole. These
crises have been predicated on the presumption that labor and the
planetary eco-system are common resources to be used and abused
for the profit of anyone who has (or successfully pretends to have)
the capital to appropriate them.
The capitalist class is unable to control the common pool of re-
sources that make up our means of production and subsistence with-
The Crisis has shown for all who have eyes to see that State
and Market have certainly failed in their claim to provide a secure
reproduction of our lives. Capitalists have conclusively shown (once
more) that they cannot be trusted to provide the minimal means of
security even in capital’s heartland. But they hold hostage the wealth
generations have produced. This pool of labor past and present is
our common. We need to liberate, to re-appropriate that wealth—
bringing together all those who were expropriated from it, starting
with the people of the First American Nations and the descendants
of the slaves, who are still waiting for their “forty acres and a mule”
or its equivalent. We also need to construct collective forms of life
and social cooperation, beyond the market and the profit system,
both in the area of production and reproduction. And we need to re-
gain the sense of the wholeness of our lives, the wholeness of what
we do, so that we stop living in the state of systematic irresponsibil-
ity towards the consequences of our actions that capitalism fosters:
throw away tons of garbage and then don’t think twice, even if you
suspect that it will end in some people’s food, as smoke in somebody
else’s lungs, or as carbon dioxide in everyone’s atmosphere.
This is the constitutional perspective we can bring to every
struggle. By “constitutional” we do not mean a document describ-
ing the design for a state, but a constitution of a commons, i.e., the
rules we use to decide how we share our common resources. As the
indigenous Americans put it, in order to collectively eat from a dish
with one spoon, we must decide on who gets the spoon and when.
This is so with every commons, for a commons without a con-
sciously constituted community is unthinkable.
This means we have to craft a set of objectives that articulate
a vision in any context of class struggle, turning the tables on capital
at every turn. First, we need to establish what violates our rules as
we are constituting the commons. What follows is a sample of such
We cannot live in a country:
* where 37 million people are hungry;
* where the cost of surgery kicks you out of your home;
* where going to school rots your mind and leaves you in debt
* where you freeze in the winter because you cannot pay the
* where you return to work in your 70s because you have been
cheated out of your pension;
* and where work that produces murder and murders its work-
ers is sold as a path to “full employment.”
These are very elementary taboos, but they have to be loudly
pronounced. Though the system has shown itself to be bankrupt,
many still listen to its siren songs.
The time has come for us in the anti-capitalist movement to pro-
pose a constitution of rules by which to share the commons of past
labor and present natural resources and then concentrate on building
political networks capable of realizing it.
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