Commons as new political subject

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Dans la collection : Commons Space

Objet(s) de commun : Union Européenne  Enjeu(x) : Politisation des communs,  Mouvement des communs  Action(s) : Commoning,  Partenariat public communs  Résultat(s) attendu(s) : Démocratie  


Auteur(s) HELFRICH Silke
Date de publication 2017/01/02
Durée 00:27:10
Langue du contenu EN
Pays Allemagne
Fait partie de Commons Space
Média Vidéo
URL de diffusion
Service de diffusion youtube
Identifiant de diffusion VXJycQm0hJc
Contexte de production Commons Space (FSM 2016, Montréal)
Producteur(s) Remix the commons
Participant(s) AMBROSI Alain
Contributeur(s) LÉONARD Nicole, EYNAUD Léa, LESSARD-BÉRUBÉ Stéphanie
Type de licence CC-BY-SA


A Belem (WSF 2009) avec les communs on a découvert qu’il fallait protéger les communs avec la résolution de Chico Whitaker mais aussi depuis Belem ce qui est arrivé c’est qu’à la fois les régimes sur lesquels on comptait beaucoup en Amérique Latine ont eu des expériences plus ou moins réussies, et il y a eu une émergence d’initiatives qui toutes peuvent se mettre sous le chapeau des communs: degrowth, peer to peer, social economy, collaborative economy, commons collaborative economy etc. So: Comment tu vois ça, cette émergence, dans ta propre expérience à toi? Comment tu l’as vécue et comment tu la perçois?

Silke: I’ve been involved in commons-related work and thinking about commons for more than a decade. At the beginning, one had the impression that as far as the public debate is concerned, you kind of knew what was going on when you were really involved. Today it is literally impossible to know what is going on because so many things are popping up, are coming together, are converging. It is really hard to keep track of them. And while a few years ago I was thinking about contributing to a commons movement, I now would say that it’s way more useful, it makes more sense to simply contribute - modestly - to commons thinking. Because clarity is very much needed (ADDED BY SILKE TO CONNECT BETTER), you have at least three different approaches to the commons. One is: you look at them as pooled and shared resources, to be owned and managed in common. This is basically the narrative that is focussed on the resources out there – the land, the code, the knowledge etc. Another one is to wonder how you actually bring commoning into being, into life. Here, the focus is on the social process: how does decision-making work in the commons? How does conflict resolution work? How does sanctioning work in the commons? How do you deal with other commons? How do you deal with a general infrastructure or the State or the market? All these questions. And if you have this focus, so you focus on commoning as a process. And a third way of looking at the commons is to look at the commons as an attitude, as a way of thinking and as a huge contribution to a broader paradigm shift that is going on. So… I think that if you understand that the commons is… basically not about the resources but about us, about the way we relate to each other, in order to make sure that there are resources left for tomorrow, for the next generation, that there’s fairness among us and that we can act as free people; then youve made a important step (ADDED TO FINISH THE SENTENCE) so the three things must be there: free, fair and sustainable society as the goal;

So if we learn that it’s about us, about how to put things in common, protect them as commons etc; if we co-develop more organizations, legal forms, protective measures for these social processes (commoning), we widen the space of the commons and automatically shrink the space of the market! Which is a good thing to do but we need to learn how does this work, what concepts we need and to speak another language because the notions we use hm…. don’t work in the commons. I cannot work about a job in a commoning process. A job is kind of working for other people’s purposes on the market to get money, to use that money to get the means to make a living. Commoning is trying to find ways to co-creatively and productively co-create these means. To – I re-start: While commoning means collectively and co-creatively trying to directly meet your needs – which doesn’t means that everybody needs to make its own bread, right, there will still be a share of tasks – you can do what you feel prepared to do, what you like to do, as long as other commons provide for other needs. So then if you get to this level, we can common in small groups and we have other commons that provide commons for other types of needs. We need to find out how to connect long with one another; so we need to learn how the spreading the commons actually works. So we think of the commons at a level of networks and from there thinking about a commons-space society automatically emerges. Because if it is true that you can basically convert everything into a commons – if the conditions are provided, if the infrastructure is there, if the people want to do so – and if you connect different commons what we basically gain is autonomy, and independence from the market. And this is the big both challenge, but also the offer of the commons: to explore new ways of providing the means for our needs. (The last thing was not good in English, it’s not providing for our needs, it wasn’t good). And this is the big challenge but also the big offer of the commons: commoning is something extremely generative and productive. Not only for deepening social relationships but also for producing things, stuff, shelter, food, clothes, even cars if people want. And if you can show that commons are productive while deepening social relations, while respecting this basic human condition that we are related together, that we cannot be without the other, then I think the commons thinking and practice will move forward and has a big future.

(8 min)

I was speaking of situations (???) when there is no enclosure, there is no state etc… when we talk about the commons in shrinking parts (???) these days we think from our experiences, open cooperativism, we think at the municipal level, big experiences like Barcelona etc, we have seen also global experience, and I mean these are kind of laboratories; and people speak now about the commons as being the mean that will lead all these movement towards a transition to post-capitalism. How do you see that, do you think it is possible?

Silke: To me that is a basic need. To be very clear about what we want to achieve. And being clear about what we want to achieve means not only being clear about how do we name the goal – I would say free, fair and sustainable society – but only on the basis of what kind of thinking and through what kind of practices we want to achieve that goal. So do we want to do dirty politics, do we want to engage in dirty politics, do we want to engage in manipulation, do we want to engage in representative democracy, do we want to find a party of… for commons? Do we want to spend our energy in lobbying? We need to answer those questions in order to move forward the commons agenda. Or do we think that the best way of moving forward the commons agenda is generating spaces and opportunities for two ways of transformation: first, real commoning experiences – like having a summer school four weeks where people engage in social processes while learning to think like a commoner and this will at the end of the week be an embodied experiences; it goes directly through them; it goes through their hearts and though their hands; this is one way: real concrete commoning experience that will leave a trace in people’s bodies and people’s minds. And the other way is actually learn how to think like a commoner: so really go deeper into the history of ideas and understand where we are based upon in the history of ideas, but also in our worldview: what is our image of the human being we stand upon? How is the way we look at transition models for society? What is the language we need to convey the core ideas of the commons? We need to understand this, figure it out and then determine the criterion which are kind of the no-goes for a commoner. Say: is it ok to just produce without chemicals and do it, do the transaction the same way another market transaction is, that is making better food but selling it for a higher price and thus excluding the people who don’t have access to money? Is that a way of doing commoning or is it just greening the economy? So we need to really understand the specifics of commoning through… determining and defining together the principles of the commons. Two examples: if each commons is based on natural resources, and each commons is a knowledge commons and we know that we cannot treat a natural resource the same way we treat knowledge because if you wanna share a natural resource I will only get half and you will get half; if you want to share knowledge, I can keep the whole knowledge, I share it with you, you can have the same knowledge and we will get even more; so this is very different, we cannot apply the same rule. So this is why one of the basic principles of the commons is free knowledge. And another basic principle of the commons is fair share to each person involved. And fair share to each person cannot mean one dollar one share: it actually means one person one share. Another core principle is that all affected persons, all of the people who are affected by a rule, a law, a commons, a resource system should take part into the decision-making process about this. Another core principle is you cannot have the same recipe, the same… another basic issue is you cannot think of recipes when you think of governance of the commons. You will always have to adapt your basic principles to the context, to the local context and cultural conditions involved. So there are plenty of things like this we really need to be clear about conceptually and intellectually and then apply in different fields of politics.

(14 min)

But you still didn’t respond to my first question: how do you think the commons could… maybe you think the commons don’t have to enter politics…

Silke: Ah…. Based on what I just said: I think that perhaps the most efficient way to enter the commons into politics is to enter commons-thinking into academia, that is: how is it even possible that when economics is thought and taught at academia it is basically about private goods. And a 10% about public goods. It is basically classical, even neoclassical, economy. So we need to kind of have an impact in the way economy is thought. We need to have an impact in the way politics, sociology etc is taught. And I think that anthropologists can help us a great deal in showing that there is something incredibly universal in the commons. Because it is not ’par hasard’ that you find examples of the commons and commons governance all over the world in virtually every realm of life. And you find them throughout human history. So I think that if you kind of dig deeper in the history of ideas, bring back to the surface, change the way we teach economy, sociology and politics, and history, and kind of co-create a new thinking that will have its impact on the way of doing politics because the people who do politics think differently: that might be a little bit more efficient than doing lobbying at parliaments, because it will go to the roots of the problem. Decolonizing our minds.

(17 min)

Do you think you have to work only on this, at this cultural educational level?

Silke: I think in the commons there is no such thing as an “only”. Because if you talk of “only” as a kind of an exclusive perspective as if the other efforts would not be valuable, I always think we need multiple strategies; and perhaps if you wanna change the world and you learn what kind of pillars the world stands upon and you really want to shake it – you better shake the pillars than the whole surface, because it is easier to do. In a way it is hard to do because you need to find out actually what these pillars are. I am very convinced that these pillars are our way of thinking. And our way of thinking has converted us into the kind of human beings we are the way we interact out there in the streets. And… that we find kind of normal that we people ask what do you need for a living, people will respond money: but it is obviously not true, it is just an intermediary thing. What you need to have a good life is good relationships, diversity of relationships, help etc. and certain things you actually cannot buy. So if you learn how to re-think the world and understand what are the pillars the current system is based upon then we can shake the pillars and that will be a powerful tool, and certainly the only one.

(18min 50)

But how long will it take? With neoliberalism, more than 200 years of capitalism… we surely know other things than individualism but how long will it take to have this change in the mentalities of people and during this time, do you see other things we could do to tackle the problem?

Silke: I learned I guess one of the reasons I engaged into the commons discourse and work and networks is because it is energizing me, and I learned to rely on those things that energized me. Because the most important thing we need to continue fighting for the commons is the energy within us. So… I stopped wondering how long it will take and looking at the concrete results. And as you just said: there is an emergence of commons practices and an emergence of commons debates all over the world right now and this is a very exciting thing. And the other thing I learned and I am not an historian but as a human being or in my personal biography – and I come from east-Germany – is that sometimespolitical and historical change comes all of a sudden. So… in 89 the wall came down and I remember very well that five months before the wall came down nobody really expected it. And this is not the only experience of a sudden change, so I hope this sudden won’t be triggered by a catastrophe; by the consequences of climate change; by the consequences of huge migratory movements etc.

(21 min 30)

So, what do you think of the new concepts of like… commons assemblies, commons chambers, this kind of things. Are these pro-stances of the commons entering the politics?

Well first of all I think that the commons assemblies and chambers are not new at all; that this is how the commons have always been working. And that this is the very basic idea of deepening and enlivening democracy so… one of our opportunities so to say is that hm… democracy is in crisis, representative democracy, democracy be of shape where the political interests are channeled through political parties is in crisis; you can see this all over the world, especially in the northern hemisphere. And there is a need to re-invent democracy in the sense of deepening and enlivening democracy and I think the commons can contribute to that debate precisely through ideas like commons chamber etc but it is not the only thing, it is not… we should not think about the commons in organizational forms. Because one of the most important things we need is to re-skilling us in commoning. Because for many people it is hard to think about spending their time in collective decision-making. And why is it hard to think? Because their lives have been shaped in such a way that they need to work hard for other purposes 8 hours a day, five days a week. So… I think it is not new. But this precisely is telling that it is powerful because ideas that have basically existed throughout mankind’s history cannot be anything else than powerful, right?

(23 min 45)

So what do you think for example of the elaboration of a charter?

Silke: A charter for me... If you wanna start a commons, the thing you need to start with is getting a clear idea of what are your basic principles. Getting a clear idea of what do you wanna achieve. So… for me, starting with a charter is like a very basic process of starting a commoning process, of transforming the way you do politics, of transforming the political and social relationships of all those involved. Because there are things you cannot anymore thing as commoning in a small group where everybody knows everybody. So starting with a commons charter, an urban charter, whatever charter, setting down in assemblies, in digital conversations, in a longer process and understanding it as a process which will never be finished – because a charter is no law you cannot change: it is something that those who have written the charter can change according to their needs – this is actually a first important step to take because if you’re not clear about your basic principles and your goals, you will probably be coopted.

(25 min)

What do you think of the urban charters in Italy for example? Do you think all of these charters have been really co-created by people themselves or how do you see them? (That’s a personal question). Silke: Exactly, I don’t know. I don’t wanna judge Christian’s work. (laughs) and I don’t know enough about it and I just want to express excitement about the things I don’t know from within.

(26 min)

Because when Christian talks about it and says he was not really (?????)

Silke: Exactly, it is a too quick, the growth is too quick I think. I don’t wanna answer.

Ok the last question would be how do you think that a forum like the world social forum could help for the motion of the commons?

Silke: To be honest, my impression is that it is the first time that proposing the commons as subject as commons and not kind of paraphrase with another wording or something really attracts people and I think that it is because it is the first time that the WSF takes place in the North. Because it seems to me that here it is something new to people whereas in other regions of the world they have only always been involved in the commons and defending their commons etc and there has always been kind of a fear that there is a northern discourse overtaking our realities. Whereas here it is wonderful for me to see for example this morning where they has a workshop that was packed with people and the quality of the contributions where just excellent and people where really involved in different fields of action so… I think that it is an enormous opportunity to connect these people who otherwise would have never had a chance to meet because it is not your culture, it is not your country, it is not your language, it is not the technology of the platform you use. So I would have wished to have a hundreds of commons events at this WSF and I have the feeling that all of them would have been full of beautiful discussions and people.

Thank you very much. If you have something to add…

Silke: no I have nothing to add.

(28 min)

Entrevue réalisée à l'occasion du 12ème Forum Social Mondial tenu à Montréal du 9 au 14 août 2016. Pour la première fois dans l'histoire du FSM un Espace des Communs offrait différents ateliers et activités culturelles avec la participation de « commoners » théoriciens et praticiens de nombreux pays.
Entrevista realizada en ocasion del 12mo Foro social Mundial realizado en Montreal del 9 al 14 de agosto de 2016. Por primera vez en la historia del FSM un Espacio de los Comunes ofrecia varios talleres y actividades culturales con la participacion de « commoners » teoricos y activistas de numerosos paises.
Interview taped at the 12 th World Social Forum in Montreal August 9th to 14th 2016. For the first time in the history of WSF a Commons Space held various workshops and cultural activities with the participation of commoners, both theoreticians and practitioners, from numerous countries.