In an earlier post, I pointed to David Harvey’s text on reclaiming the city as a site of the commons. Below, Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis highlight Occupy’s efforts towards “building [the] reproductive commons” as an oppositional struggle. And Jodi Dean and Marco Desiriis discuss “the commons” as a political demand, as well as the limitations of the commons as a practice divorced from an oppositional political strategy.
For years now people have expressed the need for a politics that is not just antagonistic, and does not separate the personal from the political, but instead places the creation of more cooperative and egalitarian forms of reproducing human, social and economic relationships at the center of political work.
In New York, for instance, a broad discussion has been taking place for some years now among people in the movement on the need to create “communities of care” and, more generally, collective forms of reproduction whereby we can address issues that “flow from our everyday life (as Craig Hughes and Kevin Van Meter of the Team Colors Collective have put it ). We have begun to recognize that for our movements to work and thrive, we need to be able to socialize our experiences of grief, illness, pain, death, things that now are often relegated to the margins or the outside of our political work. We agree that movements that do not place on their agendas the reproduction of both their members and the broader community are movements that cannot survive, they are not “self-reproducing,” especially in these times when so many people are daily confronting crises in their lives.
Often these initiatives seemed to remain confined at the local level and lack the power to link up to confront the status quo. The Occupy movements show us that this need not be the case. [emphasis added] [Source: “Feminism, Reproduction and the Occupy Movement”, interview with Max Haiven (11.25.11).]
George Caffentzis also cites Federici on this point, and connects it explicitly to the public/private division in capitalist society:
[The] ‘round-the-clock bodily presence [at the encampments] makes the occupy movement self-reproducing, in Silvia Federici’s sense. In other words, before the rise of the Occupy movement, there was an unfulfilled desire “to put an end to the separation between the personal and the political, and political activism and the reproduction of everyday life,” in her words. This erasure of these separations is exactly what the Occupy sites provided as a political experience in response to the concept of politics as a performance that one does as an event at a particular place and time (whether it be “violent” or “non-violent” is irrelevant in this regard) and then returns to the quotidian life. Much of the excitement of the Occupy movement was the creation of a new living topos in the center of the city that had been previously deserted and that was being used to transform the quotidian, a place that was generative of political action and at the same time a living space for hundreds in the desert of cities.
The truly subversive intent of the Occupy site is to transform public space into a commons. A public space is ultimately a space owned and opened/closed by the state, it is a res-publica, a public thing. A common space, in contrast, is opened by those who occupy it, i.e., those who live on it and share it according to their own rules. The worldwide movement of occupiers (through their practice) is demanding common spaces where they can live on in order to give body to their political thoughts. That is why the first acts of the Occupations involve housework: where are we to sleep, eat, urinate, defecate, clean up, etc.? This is not trivial, for in discovering the power of bodies that present themselves instead of being re-presented by others, their continued presence multiplies that power and momentum. This is what the government and Wall Street especially hate about the occupations and why there has been so much violence unleashed against them: they prefigure another way to organize society and to create a new commons. The parliaments and council chambers are temples of absence, while the Tahrir Squares of the world are places where a general will is embodied and in action.
Indeed, the 21st century Occupiers, instead of going to the Egyptian desert have gone instead to a more desolate desert at the center of their Cairos to save the world! [Source: “In the Desert of Cities: Notes on the Occupy Movement in the US” (01.27.12)]
Arguing that the commons should be the central demand of the Occupy movement, Jodi Dean and Marco Deseriis begin with the limitations of the commons:
For the autonomists, the organizational forms of the movement are already functioning, in many ways, as institutions of the commons. Such a perspective fails to recognize that the vast majority of the resources managed by the movement are produced and distributed according to capitalist logic.
….the autonomist perspective cannot address the issue of the long-term sustainability of the movement insofar as it fails to recognize that the massive accumulation of wealth in the private sector is a major obstacle for an expansive politics of the commons. In our view, the autonomous organization of the movement and a politics based on radical demands have to go hand in hand if durable transformations are to be achieved. Once an expansive politics of the commons is adopted as the centerpiece of the movement’s strategy, demands become tactical devices in the service of such strategy rather than floating signifiers power can use to divide and conquer. From this perspective, every attempt the state makes to co-opt the movement through concessions enables an expansion of the communal management of common-pool resources—setting in motion institutional transformations whose political and symbolic power should not be underestimated. [Source: “A Movement Without Demands?” (01.03.12)]