It is impossible to talk about primitive accumulation without talking about commons. On the other hand, the reverse is not just possible but seems to be the norm, at least since commons began to gain general public currency after Ostrom’s Nobel prize and Hardt and Negri’s popularisations. Relieved from their role in specialist historiographical discussion about the transition to communism, commons nowadays seem to be on everyone’s lips. But the upsurge of the popularity of the commons, both as a theoretical concept and as a political idea, comes at a price. At least locally, commons seem to gain popularity in inverse proportion to the concept of primitive accumulation.
Thus liberated from their anti-capitalist (or, at the very least, pre-capitalist) charge, commons began to function as a projection screen for the same old weary left-liberal political fantasies and to take up space abandoned by the notion of civil society. Neither state nor market – so it must be civil society, or, in a somewhat modernised left liberal speak, the community. Safe and responsible enough to be included in ‘sustainable development’ agendas, but still appearing fresh and radical, commons seem like a godsend to exhausted left liberal political imaginary.
But there is another trajectory of thinking about the commons, one that doesn’t see them as community ghettos but as a way to transform (and, in a long term, transcend) the existing society. This involves taking the struggles to the workplace, social services, political and financial institutions, and breaking with the reductionist view of the commons as involving only natural resources and selected goods (like health or knowledge). Why shouldn’t money, state budget, public utilities and means of productions be common?
Potential topics of discussion include:
a critique of reductionist/liberal theory of the commons;
the commons in historical perspective;
material and immaterial commons;
public (goods, services, utilities) and/versus common;
commons and communism (socialised production, withering away of the state, abolishment of wage labour).