Felix Stalder on Tue, 2 Aug 2016 11:18:41 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Communard Manifesto (2/2)

[START 2/2]


The two faces of productivity

“Productivity” is a word that evokes rejection among large sectors of
the population. For years, salaries have been reduced, workdays
extended, and thousands of workers fired in the name of increasing
productivity. It’s normal for the word to cause a shiver, because in
stagnant situations, and in the capitalist framework, that’s exactly
what it means.

In reality, however, increasing productivity means being able to do more
with fewer resources and is the measure of all systemic alternative. The
famous “liberation of productive forces,” that the old revolutionaries
expected to succeed capitalism, is nothing more than a general
development of productivity. The engine of the increase in productivity
is technological change, understood broadly to include forms of
organizing and structures. From the community point of view, the center
of the development of productivity today is in free software, in
distributed networks, and in multipurpose, low-cost tools of production
and chains: everything that brings us closer to abundance.

Increasing productivity means “squeezing more” out of the factors: with
the same quantity of inputs, producing more value in the same period of
time. Increasing productivity means, for example, getting more energy
out of a solar panel, needing less water to produce the same amount or
more of vegetables, or having new programs that reduce the hours that we
have to spend on repetitive management tasks.

But for over-scaled capital, in stagnant situations where there’s no new
investment or technological improvement, “productivity” means, above
all, employing the labor factor more intensively. That is to say:
getting work hours for free—for example, by extending the workday
without remunerating overtime; or through personnel reduction, while
unreasonably overwhelming those who remain—which is equivalent to a
salary reduction. Alternative and sometimes complementary ways could
include reducing the quality of raw materials and, thus, their cost,
without consumers realizing it; or ceasing to take responsibility for
externalities created in production, like dumping unprocessed waste in a
river to save on filters and purifiers. No wonder the word
“productivity” can sound scary.

From the perspective of communities, however, developing productivity
means something completely different. The main way to obtain it is as
new as it is inaccessible to the typical business, which is over-scaled
and anxious for rents.

Let’s again take up the example of publishing an online book. To
calculate the productivity of the factors, we would have to find the
ratio between the number of downloads and the number of factors employed
in their production. But if, as we saw before, instead of posting it on
a single server, we share it on a distributed network, the cost of one
more download will be zero. At that point, we’re in a world of
abundance. Even if it had tremendous success, and hundreds of thousands
of people downloaded a copy, we wouldn’t need to increase the use of the
factors. The productivity of the work necessary to write, edit, and
format the book would increase with each extra download.

But embracing this path means accepting that the price of an abundant
good—which is any digitized content in a distributed network—is zero.
And with zero prices, it’s not so easy assure capital the dividends it
desires. So, publishers, software giants, pharmaceutical companies, and
movie studios try to maintain an extra-market rent, in the form of a
legal monopoly called “intellectual property.” And that’s why music
companies depend on centralized structures, which come with considerable
marginal costs, like iTunes or Spotify, to control the restricted
distribution of their products, so they can force the maintenance of
positive prices.

Artificially creating scarcity has become a way of life for over-scaled

The traditional information and knowledge industries are engaged in
artificially producing scarcity. Contemporary economic theory has
described intellectual property as “unnecessary” for years, and there
are more and more renowned economists that think that its negative
effects far exceed the positives. Large distributed networks, in which
millions of people share digital files, are as infinitely more efficient
medium to distribute a digitized product than Facebook, Twitter, Google
Books or Amazon, but the content industries have held a legal and
political grip for years, which costs them millions every year in
lawyers and lobbyists, to be able to fence off such networks by law and
jail their supporters.

In the production of physical goods and services, the contrast no is
less drastic. In contrast to a capitalist business, in an egalitarian
community, the increase in productivity translates to a reduction of the
work time that one must dedicate to be able maintain a comfortable way
of life on the basis of selling products in the market.

We need to say that reducing work means we can spend more time, not
staring at the ceiling, but dedicated to other kinds of activities, like
learning new disciplines, playing, painting, or developing contributions
to the commons in the form of free software, designs, books, or
audiovisual content in the public domain. Activities that show us what
the kind of work that will substitute wage labor will consist of as we
approach an authentic society of abundance: an expression of skills
motivated by the pleasure of enjoying interaction with others, the
pleasure of learning, experimenting, and contributing. This it the
opposite of the sophisticated form of slavery imposed by scarcity.

Capitalism was the greatest promoter of productivity in history, but it
simply can’t allow itself abundance. The community, on the other hand,
needs it.

Abundance is the magic that shines through the “hacker ethic”

Anyone who has lived or spent enough time in an egalitarian community
has sensed how abundance advances through the reduction of work forced
by scarcity and its gradual substitution by work understood as a
personal and voluntary expression of the pleasure of learning and
contributing. When everything is communal and responsibility is shared,
there is no division between life time and work time. You can be
yourself, and development in work drives us to learn new things, in new
fields, and continue advancing. Then we stop being mere “technicians” or
“specialists” and become “multispecialists.” This is a way of developing
intellectually that fits naturally not only with the reduction of scale,
but above all with the development of scope, the capacity to create many
different things with the same productive base. Multispecialization is
progress towards the end of the atomization of knowledge that paralleled
the division of labor to the limit in the industrial factory.

Abundance is the magic that shines through the “hacker ethic” and
assorted user groups. It’s no coincidence that a work ethic based on
knowledge and enjoyment is extending beyond the communard world—where it
always existed—coinciding with the social expansion of the Internet and
the first forms of P2P production. The first cultural manifestations of
distributed networks cultivated the pleasure of discovering all those
applications of knowledge that do a lot of good but are not commodities.
They celebrated these being valuable, because, even though they have a
zero price, they reveal to us the fraternity of shared knowledge and, in
in time, improve the life of thousands or millions of people.

For almost a century, capitalism has been incapable of turning increases
in productivity into reductions in the workday. The “hacker ethic”
connected with P2P production shows how the development of abundance
leads, right from day one, to the progressive abolition of labor forced
by need. That form of work competes with and opposes time dedicated to
learning, living, and enjoying life.

El camino de la abundancia no pasa por producir menos

Abundance has nothing to do with consumption and even less with
consumerism. In reality, consumerism is not a “state of capitalism,” but
a compulsive form of consumption with which some people, reduced to
isolated individuals when they reach the market, try to recover from
anguish, loneliness, the anxiety of work without meaning, and an
atomized way of life that, like the system that produces them, “aren’t
going anywhere.” Part of the middle class practices consumerism with the
same fervor with which it then talks about it as if it was a universal
guilt. Some clamor to “reduce consumption” and “degrow” as a systemic
alternative. It’s a myopic view: consumerism is not the center of the
current economic system. It is the spiritual symptom, visible only in a
privileged minority, of a more serious and widespread disease—the same
one that produces the chronic underconsumption in which the majority of
humanity continues to live and the environmental disasters that move them.

To cure that disease does not mean producing less or “returning” to
pre-capitalist technologies. To renounce the productivity conquered by
scientific knowledge would mean more exclusion and poverty. To exchange
industry for artisanship and technified agriculture for less productive
forms would mean simply reducing productivity and, therefore,
squandering even more human and natural resources than the
inefficiencies of over-scaling already do. To renounce technological
development is nothing other than adopting forms of production that are
more costly in resources.

Quite to the contrary, we want to produce abundance here and now, on
another scale and using another logic—those of the community and the
needs of real people—developing more and more productive free
technologies, because only with higher productivity will we be able to
consume fewer non-renewable natural resources, fewer hours of labor
forced by need, and less capital, while still taking responsibility for
the well-being of others.

If there’s anything we can’t renounce without making things worse, it’s
abundance. It’s hard, and will continue to be, to overcome the “fences”
and “hurdles” that patents have put in the way of scientific knowledge.
A lot of damage has been done by the evolution towards the artificial
creation of scarcity in the chemical, agrarian, and pharmaceutical
industries. We must not confuse scientific and technological development
with the monopolistic and rent-seeking applications of it, which
over-scaled technology, seed, and biomedical research businesses have
made into their flagship products. In the application of genetics to
agriculture, for example, there is the promise of abundance, though even
its use by Monsanto today means a daily life of environmental
destruction, artificial scarcity, and destruction of producers’ freedom.
What will we do about the overuse of natural resources?

The end of the overuse of natural resources will not be reached by
producing less or returning to outdated technologies, but on the path
towards abundance.

This can be seen clearly in agricultural exploitation. In Israel, where
the kibbutz and cooperative movement was the nucleus of agrarian
production and the leader in technological innovation, production
between 1948 and today multiplied by sixteenfold, three times more than
the population. And while irrigated land went from 30,000 to 190,000 Ha,
12% less water is consumed. That is, technological development
encouraged by the communitarian sector increased general productivity—by
no less than 26%—significantly reducing the cost of producing one more
unit, and, to that extent, approaching abundance. But increasing the
productivity of the factor even more—we were told for decades—would lead
to a regional collapse if production continued increasing. Instead, more
productivity and more production, far from leading to a greater stress
on resources, reduced the total consumption of water.

But strengthening communities and the productivity of the communitarian
sector it is not the focus of the official narrative or the political
consensus in Europe or among US liberals. In that narrative, fed for
decades by catastrophism that ran through all messages, from the
Hollywood blockbusters to official documents from the UN or the EU, it
was all about justifying, at all costs, the way that States paid big,
over-scaled businesses’ transformation costs to avoid a disaster that
themselves had created and reported. In the name of the imminent
catastrophe, we needed to pay car companies for their infrastructure
costs as they moved to electric cars, and give crazy subsidies to big
energy companies, assuring their centrality when technology was already
pointing towards renewable, distributed electricity. The process was,
and is, a festival of rent-capture and corruption that has even drawn in
Mondragon, the group of cooperatives that, for years, has been a global
model precisely because of its excessive scale and its distance from
community models.

It couldn’t be any other way. For years, adhering to the ecologist
narrative meant choose between two false options. The first: ignore
misery and the hunger for the majority of the world, and advocate for
reducing productivity. The second: join the list of those who want to
take away even more sovereignty from people and communities and give
more rents to monopolies. Obviously, it’s a no-win situation.
Connecting the dots

If we connect the dots of economic change in our time, certainly the
first thing that comes into view is a great crisis of scale in which
large funds and companies of dysfunctional volume are asphyxiating the
two main institutions of the system—the State and the market—and
accelerating their global decomposition, decomposition that has enormous
human and environmental costs. But if we expand the framework, we also
see that the “globalization of the small,” free software, and
distributed networks have created the first system of technological
non-commercial innovation—the “P2P mode of production”—and a growing
industrial sector—the direct economy—which is supported by it, is
competing face to face with overscaled agrarian and industrial
businesses, even though it has communal dimensions.

And if we dig a little, still we’ll find something more: we’ll discover
that communitarianism is a parallel, underground movement, which has
accompanied capitalism since its youth, exploring the paths of a new
life experience and planting the seed of a society of abundance, while
it waited for its time to arrive. In its time, the scale of change could
be accepted by self-organized egalitarian communities. From that time
forward, distributed networks of communities would be able to lay the
foundation for real competition between systems, just as capitalism did
with its feudal and land-based forerunner.

We think that time is arriving. But to be able take advantage of it, we
first need to conquer something that the narrative of decomposition is
grinding down: the centrality of work.

Conquer work, reconquer life

The constant increase in productive scales over nearly two centuries,
and with them, in the division of labor and of knowledge, has produced
an erosion of the relationship between people and the concrete work they
do. For more and more people, it became harder to understand what their
work meant and contributed to their loved ones and to society besides a
salary and a few days “off” per year. That’s what was called
“alienation.” Gigantic scale, work so specialized and repetitive that
seemed it insignificant, homogenization of everyone’s labor and the
resulting perfect substitutability of workers, made meaning—the social
and intellectual utility of the labor that each person did in
society—something that was alien to people’s lives. “Work” became
non-life, as opposed to “time off,” which was truly human and reserved
for family and friends, which is to say, a community.

It would be reasonable to think that this phenomenon would fade with the
gradual reduction of the optimal scales of production and the slow
emergence—as industries became more independent from the incorporation
of knowledge—of multispecialization. But the truth is that new
generations are deprived of even alienated work.
To be unable to access work is to be in social exile

During 15M [widespread anti-austerity protests that began on May 15,
2011 in Madrid] it became fashionable in Spain call young people who
went to work in other places around the world “exiles.” Meanwhile,
according to official statistics, 40% of those who remained were
unemployed. These were the true exiles: they were separated from
productive life, separated from collaboration and from doing things
socially, and separated from a relationship with nature.

The entire life of those who tried to enter the labor market at the
beginning of the crisis is an anomaly. By being alien to the very
reality they were part of, they became spectators, even of themselves;
once, people used cell phones in demonstrations, and now they use
cameras. The separation of work soon became evident in the emergence of
(anti-)consumerist narratives; consumption—the only way they can
participate in an economy that’s alien to them—became, for many, the
explanation for the whole social system and its failures. One of the
ways of expressing that general alienation was substituting the
traditional centrality of the demand for access to work with the demand
for a rent guaranteed by the State.

To live outside the social space created by work is to go into social
exile, to lose or never have had the position of a real member of a
community: to not be among those who turn work into wealth, but among
those who depend on rents.

Everything that has defined this crisis has trapped those who reached
adulthood with it as permanent minors. Everything led to their solitary
confinement as individual-consumer. That isolation is necessarily
frustrating. It’s alienation that is felt as such, as meaninglessness.
But the search for meaning outside of work—which is to say: outside of
community, society, and nature—can easily lead people to search for
consolation in illusory communities that absorb us without providing
what makes us a useful part of a real community: the ability to
contribute to the well-being of one another by producing. That’s why
these have been years of growth in racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia,
jihadism, and political and religious sectarianism.
There’s no self-realization without work

And, precisely because of that, the old communitarian slogan of the
“conquest of work” is more current than ever. “Conquering work,”
recovering it as central to society by way of the community, leading it
and creating it, is the only thing that can turn back the drift towards
the void of the consumerist narrative, the rejection of differences,
xenophobia, and the thousand and one nationalisms that arise, seeking to
create even more borders and rents. It’s the only thing that can
recreate meaning and allow for self-knowledge and self-realization,
which is to say, each person living their own values. So, work has an
inevitable moral dimension, and that’s why conquering work has the value
of regeneration, of true personal re-empowerment for a whole generation
and a great mass of people, which political activism or conformity will
never be able to offer.

Never have technology and knowledge allowed so much well-being to be
produced at scales as small as today. Never has it been so easy to
become protagonists of production and of the construction of our
surroundings; never have available technologies incorporated or
developed as much knowledge as in our day; never have productive
processes been as transparent about their relationship with their
surroundings with so much facility and such impressive scope as today.
And yet, despite it all, rarely before has the spirit of time been as
disconnected from the possibilities of the historical moment. The cause
is, once more, the impact moral of decomposition and unemployment.
Unemployment is the expression of the destruction of productive
capacity. In economic terms, it’s the worst form of waste, the bloodiest
of inefficiencies. And the effect on the mood of anyone who suffers it
is a like millstone around the neck, or an acid that destroys
self-confidence, security, and conviction about their potential to
create. Unemployment feeds fear, and fear paralyzes and blinds.

To conquer work is reconquer life

Taking the things that fear and insecurity would have us think are
impossible and making them visible is the first way to empower those who
have been exiled from work and deprived of its meaning, which will
encourage them to take responsibility for their own communities. The
generation that was expelled from the productive system is called to
conquer work and, with it, life.

Abundance is the goal we move towards with the development of knowledge
in our species. It’s not just a question of numbers, math, or
accounting, but also of ethics, desires, feelings, and aesthetics. We
create technology, and it, in turn, transforms us, transforms what it
means to be human in the new time that we ourselves have established.
And from there, we can imagine and build abundance with renewed strength.

The time has come to take the initiative, to begin to build egalitarian
and productive communities, and not as experiments or “islands” in a
ocean of large scales. In the beginning, they will only be “examples.”
But examples, accompanied by the idea that emulation is possible, are
more powerful than any form of propaganda.

The communal alternative does not provide the gregarious confidence of
the political hooligan or the empty pride of the racist. Belonging to a
community is recognition through work and learning, not an “essence”
inherited from national culture or birth, or the result of insubstantial
adherence or an ID card. It’s not the product of the permanent
imagination of confrontation with some universal evil. You are building
constantly with others, making things so we can all grow together,
sharing more and more responsibility, and giving and receiving trust.
It’s the opposite of the feeling of impunity that “frees” the “follower”
who is protected by a leader, a flag, or a political brand in the din of
street fighting, online bickering, or media “smackdowns.” To be a
communard is to gain autonomy and security in the fraternity of
learning, to be rediscovered as valuable and valued in shared work. To
be a communard is to put the values we believe in into action, not
compete to shout them the loudest or wield them like a menacing weapon.
To be a communard does not give the static tranquility of the yogi or
the mystic who seeks the silence of loneliness, but the serenity that
listens to and seeks to include others, without using outrage as an
excuse to do nothing or hiding behind the disdain of supposed
superiority. To be a communard is a way of living, learning, and
building by sharing it all with others.

We need grow with others to be able to reconquer real life. Every
“individual escape” is no more than a form of “every man for himself.”
Of course, when you find yourself in decomposition, you can try to
accumulate a little money, find a house far away from everything, and
live without knowing anything about anyone; or land a stable but
low-paying job, interact as little as possible in it, and relegate life
to what’s left of the day after work hours. But these strategies aren’t
really satisfactory, they’re just different ways of beating a more or
less orderly retreat. In the medium term, they’re a way to condemn
yourself to melancholy. Isolating yourself, marginalizing yourself, even
if it means living without constantly prioritizing financial survival,
would mean renouncing growth, development, and carrying out personal
ideals in life. It’s another form of exile.

So, existing egalitarian communities should open themselves up and
become a launching point for the experience of a new generation. To be
empowered is to also discover through practice that in a community,
troubles, annoying as they may be, are muffled rather than being
upsetting, and joys and victories have echoes that are impossible to
hear alone.

From adding to multiplying

Communitarianism has no paradise to sell, and does not spout admonitions
or threaten skeptics with a catastrophic future. “To reconquer work”—for
and with one’s own inner circle—is a path that will surely interest many
people who propose a rebirth in the midst of the crisis, perhaps without
knowing that what they are doing, with their community and its
affections, would ensure the rebirth of an entire world.

The time has come to carry out what the bourgeoisie was able to do to
overcome feudalism: turn the expulsion from work created by the system
into an alternative society. The medieval bourgeoisie grew its first
cities with servants who had escaped from bondage to their lord’s land
and joined the first small commercial societies. The new egalitarian
communities had to expand with those expelled from the productive system
to give rise to the first transnational networks of communities oriented
towards abundance. This is an alternative world beyond the borders of
command pyramids and the law of the jungle that we experience in so many
companies, and also beyond the omnipresence of commodification and the
alienation of labor, a world where “everyone shares everything” through
communal ownership and savings, and “everyone receives according to
their need”.

The scene will be urban

The community experience has historically been centered in rural areas.
Rural settlements provide a space for a direct relationship between work
and nature which continues to be essential to communitarian approaches.
However, in Kassel, Washington, Nazareth, or Madrid, the new comunards
no longer buy fields to work. They buy apartments, offices, and shops.
They’re building autonomy for a new generation of communities in sectors
based on knowledge and in urban settings. Their range is expanding more
and more: intelligence and data, training, specialized hardware, free
software, restoration, cultural objects, ecological products… These are
all services and products created on a small scale but with large scope,
which are focused on the direct economy as a form of relationship with
the market.

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, communitarianism has
survived because it was able to demonstrate how egalitarianism and
idealism pay. In this last decade, it has grown globally because it
learned how to add. It learned to add very diverse people and build a
life experience, a glimpse of abundance in daily life, that many already
openly call “post-capitalist.” Now our challenge is learning to
multiply. We know how to offer an alternative, the “conquest of work,”
to the generation exiled from the productive system by the crisis.

And that challenge will be faced, above all, in cities, among other
things because, from the point of view of the human experience, the
relationship with nature is measured by the ability to transform our
productive activities. A software developer today has a more intense
relationship with nature than a medieval peasant ever had.

It’s true that this relationship remains hidden from participants in
most overscaled industries, where deliberation is replaced by sets of
rules, practices, and “procedures”; where reflection on the best
objective is substituted by decisions on the best method, and the
coordination of wills is substituted by checklists and task-completion
oversight. But in community, purposes and tools are part of a design and
knowledge that everyone is aware of and agrees to. And above all, the
position of advancing abundance, the front line, is wherever the direct
application of knowledge is closest to production. And generally, the
setting for that is the city.
The tasks of the communards

Egalitarian communities should undertake a path that allows them to go
from the current model, based on the resistance and resilience of the
“small community,” to another that starts from a large network of
egalitarian and productive communities. We must feed the new sprouts,
which are capable of maintaining themselves in the market, and at the
same time, create more spaces of abundance and decommodification.
Additionally, we need to take decommodification beyond our interior, and
make it permeate all our surroundings. It’s time to begin the
competition between systems.

A time is coming when we will have to learn to grow in many new ways:
incorporating new members, incubating communities, teaching community
techniques in neighborhoods, or creating popular universities of a new
kind, that give tools for multispecialization.

We have to confront a gigantic problem created by over-scaling—from
smallness, with smallness, and step by step. We have to use diversity
and abundance to break out of the traps that a culture in decomposition
tends to constantly fall into, which magnify defeatism, pessimism, and
the idea of “every man for himself”. It’s not going to be a stroll
through a rose garden, and we’re certainly not going to be able to make
headway without encountering serious resistance.
You are the protagonist

Imagine yourself as a new kind of pioneer, as the leader of a large
collective adventure.

You’re not alone. Thousands of people joined communard initiatives
throughout the world over the last year: egalitarian communities,
kibbutzim, cooperatives that unite work and housing… Not too far from
you, there’s a community already underway. You can participate in its
activities, collaborate in its development projects, or join it as
another communard. With other enthusiasts, you’ll build productive urban
communities that are able to create effective abundance in their
settings, which is to say, to compete with the market.

You’ll be the leader of an adventure that will demand—as it did of the
generations of communards who preceded us in centuries past—effort and
commitment in exchange for making life useful and significant. But in
contrast with those generations of pioneers, who lived in an era in
which abundance remained out of reach, you can aspire to something more
than living better. Today, it’s our turn to demonstrate that the best
life serves to create abundance for everyone, and is already preparing
to be able to offer a place and a meaning to everyone.

Las Indias, May ninth, 2016

Translation to English by Level Translation

Appendix: concrete things you can do with this manifesto

If you’ve found ideas in the preceding paragraphs that agree with your
state of being in the world and your understanding of relations with
others, there are many things you can do, starting now. You don’t have
to immediately leave everything behind and organize an egalitarian
community, it’s more about using this Manifesto for what it’s intended
to be: a tool to empower you and your community.
Expand the conversation

            Do you have a blog? Publicize your reading notes and the
opinions you’ve formed. Don’t forget to link to
https://lasindias.com/the-communard-manifesto ‎so your readers can
access the complete text in the format they prefer.
            Publish a link to this manifesto in social media wherever
you have an account.
            Email the PDF version to people you usually discuss social
and economic matters with, and the EPUB version to people who normally
read electronic books or on a smartphone, who will appreciate it more
than the PDF.
            You can organize a presentation of the Manifesto. If you
write us an email, we’ll be able to send you copies on paper, and we’ll
do everything possible so that at least one of us can accompany you at
the presentation.
            Ask for a room at the library or cultural center in your
neighborhood, and invite your friends and acquaintances over the net.
Put up posters on bulletin boards at the same library and other places
you may know where interested people may pass by.

Prepare to “make community”

In the “las Indias Club“, you’ll find events and activities throughout
the year that you can participate in. There are cultural and social
activities: from poetic soirees and historical expositions to projects
in free software, P2P production, and the direct economy. Also, once a
year, in the second week of October, we organize an international
conference in which we interview and learn from people from across the
world who have created or implemented all kinds of projects with small
scale and large scope: energy cooperatives, hardware products,
agricultural egalitarian communities…

We have also a space for permanent conversation, “La Matriz“, which we
invite you to join, and which is fed by posts from our blog and the
blogs of a good part of the members of the “las Indias Club”.

And, of course, there are hundreds of egalitarian communities throughout
the world, including ours, that await your visit with open doors. Write
us and share your concerns and ideas with us.


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