Rethinking the Commons

in Greek
Institouto Nicos Poulantzas … unfortunately very poor sound quality

At Libre Space Foundation all our projects (currently Sat NOGS & UPsat) are open source hardware and libre software. We consider it our mission to develop, advance and promote open source technologies in space applications. All our work was, is and will be open source. — Eleftherios Kosmas

As austerity and privatization spread around the globe, there has never been a better time to fight to democratize local public life. — Paula Z Segal

Medieval commons were not, as most people mistakenly assume, places open to the public. The land was owned by a lord, over which the commoners could exercise their commoners rights, pasture their animals, cut wood, cut peat, allow their pigs to root for acorns in the autumn.

The Enclosures, denied access to the commons, denied the commoners their ancient rights.

As David Graeber documents in Debt, the market was created by the state, armies needed to be paid, the State controlled the mines and the mint. The market was created to enable producers to trade goods for the coinage of the state, which then in turn would be used to pay the taxes levied by the state.

Across Europe we see a superstate, the Single Market created for global corporations, regulated by the EU, with its own currency the euro, originally created as a cartel for Big Business, the Iron and Steel Federation, a democracy-free zone.

The commons and credit predate the market.

It was Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nation who created the illusion of the self-interested individual so loved by economists.

But as David Graeber warns this is simplistic, we have to ask who was the transaction between, what was their relationship?

Society functioned on credit, debt was what held the society together, it was self-regulated.

And as David Bollier explains, the same was true of commons, self-regulated.

The commons did not function as described by Garrett Hardin in his 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons, a myth that has dogged discussions of the commons ever since.

Assuming ten commoners, each pastures ten cows on the common. One decides, will obtain an advantage if I release eleven cows onto the common, no one will notice, but if every commoner takes the same decision, one extra cow, no one will notice, that is ten extra cows, the common will be overgrazed.

What Garrett Hardin describes is the looting of global commons by rapacious global corporations. It is where the commons and rapacious corporations collide we find Blockadia, paramilitary force used by the state against commoners on behalf of global corporations.

At Standing Rock, paramilitary force has been used by the state, including tanks and chemical weapons, to disperse Native Indians defending their land against the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

In England, local communities are digging in against fracking on their land.

Capitalism is an adaptive system, or was, 50 year long Kondratieff cycles, each new cycle driven by technological innovation. This came to an abrupt end in 2008. We are now post-capitalism.

2008 a banking crisis, morphed into an economic crisis, into a social and political crisis, and now a geo-political crisis.

2009 the German banks were bankrupt, their ‘assets’ worthless dodgy US financial instrument. They were bailed out by the German taxpayer.

2010 the German banks were in trouble again, back with their begging bowls, the Greek state was bankrupt, could not service their debt, technically the German banks were bankrupt. The German taxpayer would not stomach a second bail out of the German banks. A clever ploy, biggest ever loan to a bankrupt state, the money flows to Greece straight back out to French and German banks. Classic extend and pretend. And a bonus, control the Greek state, plunder the Greek state, force sell off of state assets at knockdown prices. The result, Greek economy shrank by 25%. To put that in context, Great Depression following the Wall Street Crash economies shrank by 20%.

2015 Syriza won a landslide victory, with a mandate to challenge the EU.

What we saw in Greece, was not ‘conventional Left politics’, this was a radical, progressive moment with popular support. Greeks were saying, enough is enough.

Across Europe corrupt socialist parties.

In Poland and Hungary, fascists in control.

A fascist on the edge of Empire in Turkey.

In Romania, a corrupt government, with the people demanding it be overthrown.

Spain and Greece, radical progressive parties formed, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece.

These are not conventional parties of the Left. Nor is Labour were Jeremy Corbyn and the new membership demanding change to have their way.

Greece dared challenge the EU. For that Greece had to be destroyed to set an example to others, the contagion could not be allowed to spread, it had to be contained and wiped out. ECB, in what was possibly illegal action, destroyed the banks to bring Greece to its knees.

Syriza buckled under the pressure, signed a surrender document. Support for Syriza has melted way following the betrayal of the Greek people. There is now a disillusion with politics. The rare exception, widespread support for Yanis Varoufakis who was not prepared to betray his fellow countrymen.

In Greece we have a puppet government of the EU. Akin to the Vichy Regime in France during WWII. There are EU officials in every ministry.

In conversation with Greeks, they draw parallels with WWII, they see their country under occupation.

EU is a fascist undemocratic, big business cartel, a junta without the uniforms, an empire ruled by a dictatorship.

I have paid three recent visits to Athens one pre-Syriza, the other two post-Syriza.

The second visit, I talked with people about setting up cooperatives as a way to move forward, seizing control of local Town Halls.

I have had similar discussions in northern Spain, Tenerife and Cyprus.

As with all empires, EU is crumbling on the fringes. When collapse comes, it will be rapid.

That is why we must be planning now for that change.

So how do we formulate that change?

  • create a network of cooperating democratic sovereign countries
  • citizens seize control of their local Town Halls, open to participation and network
  • nurture the commons

Key to this is revisiting the commons, self-organising, self-regulating systems, then replicate, network.

A few examples of the commons, and what has already been achieved.

The city should be seen as a common. Not bureaucrats and politicians dictating to the people. The people should run the Town Hall, open up the Municipality, el Ayuntamiento, to public participation. The public decide the budget, the local tax to be levied, how it is to be spent, the use of public space, how the locality develops, the policies to be pursued.

In New York, Paula Z Segal founder of 596 Acres is using open data to reclaim vacant public land for citizens.

In Bologna, the city as an urban common. It began with park benches. There was nowhere to sit in the park. In 2011, a group of women in Bologna wished to donate benches to their neighbourhood park, Piazza Carducci, only as they found, there was no one to ask permission of. This dilemma highlighted an important civic lacuna — there simply was no way for citizens to contribute improvements to the city, indeed it was illegal. Now have Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons, a regulation that enables Bologna to operate as a collaborative commons, granting Bologna’s citizens a legal route to contribute to the city. What are known as ‘collaboration pacts’ with the city under the regulation enables citizens to contribute to urban improvements.

In Madrid, Barcelona and A Coruña in Spain, Frome, a small town in England, with their flatpack democracy revolution, local citizens have seized control of their local Town Halls, then opened up to public participation.

We also have to realise as they have in Barcelona, seizing control of the Town Hall is only one step, necessary but not sufficient. We also have to change the way the town functions, that it is orientated to people and the environment, the focus on small businesses and open coops. It builds resilience into the system, able to survive shocks.

Ahora Madrid has created a software platform for public participation, Decide Madrid. They could have placed a contract with a software consultancy, paid a million euros or more. Instead, they developed as Open Source Software, all could participate in its development, it was then available for other cities to use.

The Hive is reclaimed office space in Dalson in London. If we recycle waste why not empty buildings, put to community use?

Nomadic Community Gardens take derelict land and turn it into community gardens.

Seeds are one of our most important commons.

A Victorian seed catalogue was the size of a coffee table book. Hundreds of varieties of seed. We have lost most of our seed varieties, or at least lost from the commercial markets, companies like Monsanto have bought up seed companies, monopolised the markets, the seeds they supply, are dependent upon the chemical inputs they supply, to save seeds, to sell seed is becoming criminalised.

In Ghana, there was an attempt to criminalise the sale of seeds. Within the EU, can only sell seeds that are registered.

In the 1960s, India saw the Green Revolution, high yielding crops, but as Vandana Shiva has pointed out, needing high inputs, the crops grown, cash crops. The result 270,000 suicides of India farmers, often by swallowing weedkiller.

In India, by talking to their parents and grandparents, women have recovered old family seeds. These are swapped, shared, but not sold.

In Brighton, Seedy Sunday Brighton, an annual seed swap supported by Infinity Foods, a food coop.

Culture, music, fashion, is part of our heritage, yet increasingly it has been enclosed, privatised, fenced with copyright razor wire.

Paulo Coelho in The Zahir, describes a night out with young people, how their dress code identifies as part of the tribe, how dress becomes comodified and sold back as fashion.

Grindmill Songs Project is archiving folk songs by generations of women in Maharashtra villages, sung whilst toiling at the grindmill and carrying out other household tasks. The motivation for the project is the long-term preservation, translation, documentation and restoration of a very large corpus of songs that were performed by women at the grindmill. This practice has almost disappeared during the last decade with the hand-operated grindmill overtaken by motorised grinding.

Sarantaporo is a village located far up in the mountains of Central Greece, closer to Albania and Macedonia than to Athens. Being so remote, the major telecom companies never extended internet access that far into the region. The locals, however, created their own access to the internet via a wireless mesh network with the technical and financial help of AWMN and the European Union, respectively.

We have to re-imagine and reinvent employment. Post-capitalism we could go two different ways.

We can have serfs working for apps, the app creams of the profit whereas the serf provides the capital and takes all the risk; atomised workers bidding against each other in negative auctions to drive down wages, often working for less than the minimum wage; demoralised, part time, temporary, zero hours, soul destroying McShit jobs.

Or we can have open coops, collaborative commons, a sharing economy.

Uber and Deliveroo, are not only exploitation, serfs working for an app at often less than the minimum wage, they extract wealth from the local economy, often illegally operate outside of local regulation, the antithesis of a self-regulating common. We can reverse this by developing open source open coop platforms, for example Deliver2U to challenge Deliveroo.

An Oxford study has shown that robots and automation will replace nearly half of all jobs. That it has not yet happened, or has been delayed, is due to the creation of what David Graeber calls bullshit jobs. Automation of soul destroying McShit jobs should be welcome, but what do we do with all these out of work workers? Do we let them starve, and who will consume the output of the robots if no one has any money? If we pay a Universal Dividend, as proposed by Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25, this grants these workers the economic freedom to participate in and draw upon the collaborative commons.

Open design, cf open source software, community develop the design, the design is then available to other communities, open coops, to construct the hardware.

UpSat and Sat NOGS, developed by the Greek Libre Space Foundation, open source hardware and libre software, is an open source satellite and ground station network.

Greece is not short of sunshine. Develop community owned and controlled local area energy networks, into which feed renewables paid a fair price, consumers pay a fair price, any surplus generation fed to other local grids via a publicly owned National Grid, any ‘profit’ either ploughed back into the network or used to fund local community projects, watering the collaborative commons.

Local currencies retain and recycle money within the local community.

FairCoin and FairPay card were developed to have a cooperative currency that circumvents the banks.

David Bollier is author of Think Like a Commoner, Κοινά: Μια σύντομη εισαγωγή, Pensar desde los comunes. The Spanish edition, Pensar desde los comunes, was crowdfunded then printed locally, with free e-book. Translation from English to Spanish by Guerrilla Translation.

Pensar desde los comunes — Guerrilla Translation

Guerrilla Translation is a P2P translation collective and cooperative founded in Spain, whose members love to translate and share knowledge about the commons, P2P, and the socio-environmental issues affecting us today.

Think global — print local. We’re a consortium of commoners in Latin America and Spain taking action towards a new model of publishing and distribution. Our group includes P2P-minded translators and copyleft publishers starting a new process for translating, publishing and distributing books in a decentralized way that also reduces or eliminates expensive, wasteful long-distance shipping.
Our team’s plan, with the help of this crowdfund, is to translate a specially selected book into Spanish. Its content will be made freely available online and its message will be materialized locally through small scale printing and distribution in several locations: Spain, Peru, Argentina and Mexico, with more nodes to come.
The book we have chosen to translate and follow our model is David Bollier’s popular Think Like a Commoner. This book explores the rich history and promising future of the commons — a self organizing social system for the stewardship and enrichment of our collective wealth. By thinking as commoners, we open ourselves to the process of commoning, crystallizing actions and reimagining systems in order to empower collaboration and community benefit.
Using David Bollier’s Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons as a first prototype, we want to pioneer a new mode of artisanal, decentralized text translation and international book distribution and publishing. This model makes the best use of the digital knowledge commons by freely offering the translated text online while printing and distributing hard-copy books at the local level through nodes in various locations. In this way we avoid centralized production and environmentally unsustainable international shipping.
Production and labor costs for translation, design, formatting and manufacturing will be covered by the crowdfund. Work will be performed globally and locally, as appropriate, by the consortium of: Guerrilla Translation (Spain, Portugal and Argentina); Traficantes de Sueños (Spain), Tinta Limón (Argentina), La Libre (Perú), Sursiendo (México).
In order to bolster commoning as challenge to the standard narrative of market economics and defend our shared wealth from enclosure, we must create new relations and structures of production. We are proposing this nascent distributed physical production network, and are initiating it through this project. A successful campaign will allow us to ‘learn by doing’, and repeat the experience with new books and texts in the future. We also want to find other partners, and to help create similar localized networks for book publishing in other languages.

Collaborative commons, we contribute and in turn draw from the collaborative commons. As we see with open source software.

It was unfortunate that David Bollier did not follow the excellent example set by Charles Eisenstein with Sacred Economics.

Charles Eisenstein, in keeping with his idea of a Gift Economy, gift to others with no expectation of return, you can purchase Sacred Economics from a bookshop (if you can find), download as an e-book (pay what you wish), or download for free.

I downloaded for free, paid him back by recommending to others, and more recently, have purchased two copies, one for myself, one to be given to a friend as a gift.

Pensar desde los comunes, the Spanish edition of Think Like a Commoner, is available as an e-book, but only as pdf, not as epub or kindle format.

Re-imagining Value: Insights from the Care Economy, Commons, Cyberspace, Nature is available as a free pdf. I do not know if available in other e-book formats, ie epub or kindle.

Value in the Commons Economy: Developments in Open and Contributory Value Accounting is also available as a free pdf. I do not know if available in other e-book formats, ie epub or kindle.

Commons Transition: Policy Proposals for an Open Knowledge Commons Society is available as a free e-book, in all three formats, pdf, epub and kindle.