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[ox-en] Reopening the Commons: Reversing the Enclosure


Nowadays, almost everybody is forced to sell their labor power in order to
survive (or, at least, to avoid hardship and official harassment). This
necessity seems so natural to us that we seldom think about why it exists
and how it came about.

Yet, historically the situation that (almost) everybody has to sell their
labor power is rather new--it only emerged with capitalism. ~Wage labor
<WP> and capitalism depend on each other: Without capitalist companies,
there would be nobody (by and large) to sell your labor power *to,* so wage
labor could only be an occasional phenomenon (as it was before capitalism).
And without wage workers, capital accumulation would be impossible, since
their surplus labor is the source of profit (and of its derived forms,
interest and rent).

That wage workers are *forced* to sell their labor power (due to a lack of
alternatives) is just one side of the coin. The other side is that they are
*allowed* to do so--in contrast to slaves, who cannot sell their labor
power since they themselves have already been sold by others.

~Karl Marx <WP> therefore coined the term "doppelt freie Lohnarbeiter"
("doubly free wage workers") for the situation we (most of us) find
ourselves in: On the one hand, we're free human beings who have the legal
right to sell our labor power (not slaves or serfs). On the other hand,
we're "free" of the means of production, i.e. we generally don't have
access to tools and resources that would allow us to produce for ourselves,
without having to sell our labor power or the results of our
labor--otherwise we wouldn't be forced to sell our labor power, thus
creating a surplus for a capitalist.

The creation of the doubly free wage worker was a historical process that
accompanied and enabled the emergence of capitalism (described by Marx in
his chapter(s) on the ~"so-called primitive accumulation"
<> in
Capital I [~German original
<>]). One aspect of this
process was the liberation of slaves/serfs (introducing the legal
possibility to sell your labor power); the other aspect was the "~enclosure
of the commons <>," the privatization
of land and other resources which had formerly belonged to all (introducing
the factual necessity to sell your labor power). Both these aspects had to
come together to create the specific status of the "doubly free wage
worker"--which nowadays is so widespread that is seems "natural" to us,
though it isn't.

The emergence of the necessity and possibility to sell your labor power was
thus the result of specific historic conditions. Apparently, there must be
other historic conditions which would make them disappear again.

Since the workers (or would-be workers) are "free" in a double sense, there
are two ways in which they can lose their wage worker status:

1. They can lose their *right* to sell their labor power, reverting from
   legally free human beings to serfs or dependents of some sorts. Losing
   the option to switch employers (provided they can find a new one), they
   would be bound permanently to a single master.
2. They can lose the *necessity* to sell their labor power, gaining access
   to a sufficient share of the means of production to be able to live
   without the need to earn money.

In the modern world, the former tendency can already be observed in areas
where warlordism <WP---> or gang <WP> activity become widespread. If you
work for a warlord or a gang, you are bound to an organization which cares
for you, but which you cannot leave without risking your life.

The latter option would require a reversal of the historical process of the
"enclosure of the commons": a **reopening, recreation, and restoration of
the commons.**  And indeed we can see many traces of such recreations and
reopenings already taking place, as new commons are created (free software,
Wikipedia etc.) and struggles for old, or former commons (land, water etc.)
are increasing.

So we're still faced with two very different futures, which ~Rosa Luxemburg
<WP> contrasted as "socialism or barbarism" almost hundred years ago.
Though nowadays, seeing that the reopening of the commons is an essential
precondition for the positive alternative to appear, we might prefer to
call it commonism

On the practical side, this means that we should do everything we can to
support the reopening and recreation of the commons, whether by
contributing to ~open manufacturing
<> projects, by struggling
for the general and free access to resources, by supporting projects based
on sharing and joint production, or in some other suitable way. Endeavors
that just try to modify and "improve" the logic of capitalism and money
making--whether ~alternative currencies <>,
~capital-less money making schemes
<>, or
~struggles for copyright reform without questioning the logic of capitalism
<> [de] --are a waste of
time. The important thing is to strengthen the commons and the logic of

Best regards

|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian ---------
|   Homepage:   |   Blog:
|   Better Bayesian Analysis:           |   Peer Production Everywhere:
|            |
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
How does one hate a country, or love one? ... I lack the trick of it. I
know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how
the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the
hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving
it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love
of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good
        -- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

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