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(en) A new commoner* #11 The Autonomist journal

Date Mon, 19 Jun 2006 20:15:05 +0300

The Commoner N. 11. Spring/Summer 2006 is online, http://www.thecommoner.org
Re(in)fusing the Commons
Angela Mitropoulos, Autonomy, Recognition, Movement [.pdf
Nick Dyer-Witheford, Species-Being and the New Commonism [.pdf
Precarias a la Deriva, A Very Careful Strike - Four hypotheses [.pdf
P.M., The golden globes of the planetary commons [.pdf

George Ciccariello-Maher, Working-Class One-Sidedness from Sorel to
Tronti [.pdf <http://www.commoner.org.uk/11maher.pdf>]

Silvia Federici, The Restructuring of Social Reproduction in the United
States in the 1970s [.< PAN class="Apple-style-span" style="font-size:
10px;">pdf <http://www.commoner.org.uk/11federici.pdf>]

Ida Dominijanni, Heiresses at Twilight. The End of Politics and the
Politics of Difference [. /SPAN>pdf


After ten issues, The Commoner makes the first timid steps toward
changing format and organisation, towards making more explicit and
visible the practices of cyber commoning it is grounded on. Watch this
space, we are slow, but things will happen. Meanwhile, enjoy the edition
that our two guest editors, Nate Holdren and Stevphen Shukaitis, have
put together, an edition in which the different contributions are
traversed by the problematic of commoning.

Commoning, a term encountered by Peter Linebaugh in one of his frequent
travels in the living history of commoners’ struggles, is about the
(re)production of commons. To turn a noun into a verb is not a little
step and requires some daring. Especially if in doing so we do not want
to obscure the importance of the noun, but simply ground it on what is,
after all, life flow: there are no commons without incessant activities
of commoning, of (re)producing in common. But it is through
(re)production in common that communities of producers decide for
themselves the norms, values and measures of things. Let us put the
“tragedy of the commons” to rest then, the basis of neoliberal argument
for the privatisation: there is no commons without commoning, there are
no commons without communities of producers and particular flows and
modes of relations, an insight we have focused on in issue 6 of this
journal, entitled “What Alternatives? Commons and Communities, Dignity
and Freedom.” Hence, what lies behind the “tragedy of the commons” is
really the tragedy of the destruction of commoning through all sorts of
structural adjustments, whether militarised or not.

As the guest editors of this issue rightly point out, the question of
commoning is linked to the question of “refusal of work,” that magic
expression used in the 1970s to highlight the frontline clash of value
practices. The term, however, is not meant as a refusal of doing, of
commoning, of (re)producing in common, but on the contrary is an
affirmatio of all this in the only way possible when in the presence of
a social force, capital, that aspires to couple its preservation to that
of the commoners through the imposition of its measures of things. In
these conditions, “refusal of work” as refusal of capital’s measures,
and commoning as affirmation of other measures are the two sides of the
same struggle. How can we refuse capital’s measure without participating
in the constitution of other common measures? And how can we
participate in this commonality without at the same time setting a
limit, refusing capital’s measure? The setting of a limit to the beast
and the constitution of an “outside” are wo inescapable coordinates of
struggle. It is through the problematic of this polarity that we could
read the very diverse contributions of this issue of The Commoner.

Massimo De Angelis


In June 2005, at the centenary celebration of the Industrial Workers of
the World, historian and Midnight Notes Collective member Peter
Linebaugh made a provocative remark in a talk about the commons. He said
the World Bank also talks about commons.[i]
<http://www.commoner.org.uk/#_edn1> An important difference in how we
think about the commons, he suggested, should be that we pay attention
to practices of commoning, as human activities. In light of this remark,
we would like to suggest a gloss on the title of this journal. Commoner,
not only as someone who dwells within and rel es upon the commons, but
also as someone who commons. To common: to produce and hold in common.
Just as capitalist production has as its fundamental product social
relations in the form of the capital relation, commoning produces social
relations in the form of commons, freely associated humanity. It is in
this sense that we want to link the commons with the work of Mario
Tronti, linking commoning with the refusal of work.

What is the relationship between refusal of work and commons? Well,
first, what do we mean by refusal of work? It has been noted before that
'refusal of work' is not simply 'refusal to work,’ but it is refusal of
the work relationship. Work has at least two moments: the purchase by
the capitalist of our bodies nd time in the form of the commodity labor
power, and the capitalist attempt to make use of our bodies and time
after the purchase is made. Refusal of work spans both moments: the
attempt to break out of the need to sell oneself as a commodity, and the
attempt to resist or completely refuse being made use of if one has sold

How does this relate to commons? We see it this way: another name for
the compulsion to sell labor power is 'enclosure.’ And it is only within
the enclosed spaces of workplaces (which, to be clear, for us include
homes, classrooms – potentially any moment of life) and by resort to the
violent mechanisms of enclosure that the capitalist can make use of us
for surplus value production. The commons, then in these terms is two
things. It is a name for spaces, times, histories, memories, moments of
life that are not – or at least not fully – enclosed, ruled by and
functional for capital. It is the uses of our bodies and times that are
different from and antithetical to the capitalist use. We do not only
mean this in an abstract and utopian sense. The commons were
constructed; the new commons are being constructed. Commoning is a
process of organization. In a sense the commons are always already
organized. They do not exist without organization(s), sometimes formal
but more often informal.

The simple fact of producing the commons is a moment of refusal of the
values of capitalism. Refusal of work is simultaneously an attempt to
pro uce new commons, new forms of commoning (we can all point to
relationships, memories, styles, images, and knowledges produced through
our involvements in strikes, demonstrations, and other forms of
refusal), an attempt to defend existing commons, and a use of existing
commons to attack – or defend ourselves against – capitalism. If we do
not have a type of commons in the social relationships with our comrades
then our efforts are less likely to succeed. Stan Weir recognized this
when he stressed the importance of informal work groups, and emphasized
their empirical existence within important struggles.

This issue of the Commoner was originally intended to commemorate the
40th anniversary of the publication of Mario Tronti's Operai e Capitale,
a text which had an enormous impact on the Italian far left and whose
influence is most present today in the work of Antonio Negri. Part of
the project for we commoners is to analyze the facts and questions that
Tronti posed: “How is the working class made, from the inside, how does
it function inside capital, how does it work, how does it struggle, in
what sense does it accept the system, in what way does it strategically
refuse it?”

Our goal for this issue is a modest one: to show the continuing
relevance of Tronti's work and to draw more attention to this neglected
body of Marxist thought.[ii] <http://www.commoner.org.uk/#_edn2> We
expect that we are largely preaching to the choir when it comes to the
readership of the Commoner. Some of the contributors to this issue have
decided to directly engage with and develop Tronti's work at a
theoretical level; others carry out inquiry into trends and practices
within the global movements of commoners and of capitalism. While Angela
Mitropoulos opens the issue by applying ideas from Tronti’s writings to
explore issues around immigration and autonomy, Ida Dominijanni closes
it by exploring the relation between Tronti’s thought and the feminist
politics of difference. As Nick Dyer-Witheford explores connections
between species-being and the specter of commonism, Georg
Ciccariello-Maher begins to draw together a line of thought based on the
logic of separation that connects thinkers such as Sorel, Tronti, Negri,
and Fanon.

In exploring the connection between refusing work and creating new
commons it is important to not give the impression that this is not a
difficult or in some cases even impossible task, especially for those
who are engaged in forms of caring and affective labor. For as argued by
Alisa Del Re, to build a conception of utopia upon refusing work that
does not take into account the labors of social reproduction most often
carried about by females is to base one’s notions of freedom on the
continued exploitation of female labor. This issue is taken up by
Precarias a la Deriva in their consideration of what form a strike from
such constra ned positions might take as well as a previously published
article by Silvia Federici from the early 80s which elaborates on the
revolt against housework that took place during the 70s coming out of
campaigns such as Wages for Housework.

What runs through all the contributions is the attempt to understand
refusal and commoning in order to practice both better. To us, commoning
and refusal are one and the same. Freely associated production of social
relations is precisely the real movement that abolishes the present
state of things. Refusal defends and produces the commons. Let us then,
following the whimsical suggestion of p.m., hang golden globes all over
marking points for the congealing of new planetary commons and revolt.
he commons nourish and produce refusal. In the words of the IWW
constitution, by the subversive practices of the global movement “we are
forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”

Nate Holdren + Stevphen Shukaitis

[i] <http://www.co moner.org.uk/#_ednref1> Peter Linebaugh, “Magna
Charta and Practical Communism,” talk delivered at the centenary of the
Industrial Workers of the World, 2005. Those interested can find the
text and audio of a similar presentation that he delivered to the
“Contested Commons / Trespassing Publics” conference at Sarai in New
Delhi here: http://www.sarai.net/events/ip_conf/ip_conf.htm.

[ii] <http://www.commoner.org.uk/#_ednref2> At the time of this writing,
less than 1/3 of Tronti's first book and no other work by Tronti have
been translated. Interested readers can consult the available passages
online (http://affinityproject.org/theories/tronti.html), and a recent
electronic discussion of Tronti
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