Life despite Capitalism

Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 October. London School of Economics. Clement House. Aldwych. (Holborn tube, central line)

03.Oct.04 - Life Despite Capitalism is a project/forum of collective reflection to discuss what we are for, to articulate the different values and practices we adhere to in our diverse struggles and therefore to develop and weave together new political discourses that approaches the question of alternatives to capitalism. It is a project grounded in the belief that if other worlds are possible, it is people themselves who create them and not some transcendent power with a "correct" line such as parties, states, or gods.

The "Life Despite Capitalism" heading echoes another one that was used in previous European and World Social Forum events. We call this stream "life despite capitalism" instead of "life after capitalism", in order to problematise alternatives as something in the here and now, not simply in a distant future "after capitalism" has been abolished. This means a capacity to do and produce things, and relate and learn from each other, in ways rooted in dignity, respect and common access to resources. Such activities challenge daily the competitive and commodifying modes shaped by production for profit, and the hierarchical and vertical forms of rules of states and corporations.

Saturday 16 October 2004

9:30 - 12:30 Initial plenary
12:30-14:00 Lunch

14:00-16:00 "Roots" (first set of workshops, on communication commons, "public services" as commons, food as commons, workplace commons, and free movement as commons)

16:30-18: 30 "Swarm" (second set of workshops, on "powers", "commons" and "democracies" and reflection on "moments of creative excesses")

Sunday 17 October 2004

9:30 -12:30 Final Plenary


The opening plenary will allow a series of speakers to rapidly evoke half a dozen very diverse kinds of commons which will be discussed in the first series of workshops. Other speakers will present reflections on the powers we exercise in our doing, the democratic forms of grassroots participation we employ that we will discuss and problematise in the workshops and final plenary.

After the first plenary, we have two rounds of simultaneous workshops followed by a final plenary. The first round of workshops, called "ROOTS", will develop the various experiences of commons and therefore of reclaiming our powers and communities, as they apply to particular themes: virtual communication commons, "public services" as commons, food as commons, workplace commons, and free of movement as commons. Speakers introduce the issue trying to address what these commons are, and how and to what extent these commons represent a challenge to capital, how and to what extent it is capital that rides these commons, and what are the possible challenges ahead. Life history experiences are shared, questions and insights discussed.

The second round of workshops, called "SWARM", will allow the participants in the first round to recombine along broad conceptual themes such as "powers", "commons" and "democracies" and reflection on "moments of creative excesses" with which our struggles change the culture and context of our lives. In this set of workshops, the people and themes of the previous workshop will cross-pollinate. Each workshop would be also given the task to come up with proposals for further work, action and initiatives.

In the final plenary we will have both space for report back from the workshops and collective reflection. There will be a report back from both series of workshops. Then both invited speakers and participants will comment, problematise issues, and critically engage with the discussion of the. Speakers in particular will be asked (to paraphrase Foucault) not to impose their ideas, but to use their skills to note and give volume to the ideas emerging from the collective. Hopefully proposals for future initiatives and practices will take form, common ideas thus integrating themselves in the discourses of our concrete struggles.

Having no simultaneous translation equipment and limited time, the plenary will be primarily in English. Speakers in other languages will be translated into English. Informal translation groups will be organised for non-english speakers.

Weaving discourses of empowerment

In our effort to weave together new political discourses that approaches the question of alternatives to capitalism, we are aware the importance that discourses and the values they embed have in guiding social action, outreach and help "mobilise" and constitute new social relations across the social body. Discourses select things, decide what is important to pursue, and what is not important, what comes first and what comes last. In the discourse we want to develop, we believe that the values of our final ends are not distinct from the organisational means we employ. It is on this basis that we problematise the world around us and the practices we ourselves pursue.

In the last two decades, neoliberal globalisation has carried out massive attacks on public goods and services of various kinds. Going beyond privatisation, this agenda has commodified and individualised more spheres of life -- e.g. public spaces, collective skills, education, etc. By analogy to the original Enclosures of common land, these attacks can be understood as new enclosures of present-day commons, where the state acts as a prime agent. At the same time, the neoliberal agenda has eliminated or marginalised social-democratic forms which previously mediated between the state and civil society. Despite the semblance of choice and diversity, we are also witnessing a flattening of difference, a homogenisation of every commodity from food to software.

On the other hand, in recent years the anti-capitalist forces have grown in strength and coordination. They have developed new social forms and international networks of resistance and struggle, which go beyond demands upon the state. In all their diversity, these struggles are posing the question of commons, empowerment and grassroots democracy.

We understand all forms of struggle as rooted on some types of community, whether newly created forms brought about by struggles, or existing communities who defend themselves from enclosures and attacks. Often struggle develops communities for articulating alternatives and for appropriating resources as a collective good, in ways independent of state authority or antagonistic to it. Other times, existing communities develop struggles that in turn changes the nature of communities and their mutual relations.

Communities and commons are therefore the basis for the exercise of social powers at whatever scale of social action. Commons suggest alternative, non-commodified means to fulfill social needs, e.g. to obtain social wealth and to organise social production of whatever type. Commons are necessarily created and sustained by communities, i.e. by social networks of mutual aid and solidarity. As our movements have shown, commons and the process of people's empowerment that creates them cannot be separated from the learning practices of direct democracy, horizontality, participation, and inclusiveness to decide what are the goals and modalities of social production.

Rather than falsely counterpoise the state to the market, our strategies of struggle can identify the state-market nexus as the problem and develop strategic alternatives around extending new types of commons, strengthening and creating corresponding communities and problematising the forms of relations within them. Such activities can make "alternatives" relevant and real to many people not yet drawn into the anti-capitalist movement, yet engaged in processes of production of commons. Indeed, the commons as a contemporary project has the problem of being either invisible (the electromagnetic spectrum), criminalized (file swapping, freedom of movement), co-opted in the competitive race (workplace commons), sentimentalized (as in the real estate mania for "commons" in housing estates and shopping malls) or the immediate product of crisis (and hence taken as transitory - until capitalism takes hold - and marginal as in the urban gardens of the planet which feed in part about 20% of the world’s populations). It needs a common voice. It is time we go for it!