Set the Prairie Ablaze

Commonwealth

I am just revisiting the third in the series, and I expect there will be lots of nice nuggets that present themselves.  Just in the preface:

The standard view…assumes that the only alternative to the private [of the capitalist market] is the public, that is, what is managed and regulated by states and other governmental authorities…

They propose instead a third alternative, the common, which is the affects, information, knowledge, codes, language, and wealth that we produce ourselves, together, in common.  What we must do is to recognize the common, learn what it can do, win it back, and expand its powers.  It is the common we must struggle for, not capitalism or socialism:

The seemingly exclusive alternative between the private and the public corresponds to an equally pernicious political alternative between capitalism and socialism…Socialism and capitalism, however…are both regimes of property that exclude the common.  The political project of instituting the common, which we develop in this book, cuts diagonally across these false alternatives–neither private nor public, neither capitalist nor socialist–and opens a new space for politics.

They want us to focus on and expand our capacities for collective production and self-government, “not only to define an event but also to grasp the spark that will set the prairie ablaze.”

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David Harvey: at times also awesome

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As luck would have it, we are reading an old piece of Harvey’s in my planning theory class, the 1978 piece from Planning Theory in the 1980s. Rereading that piece (and, yes, perhaps some lingering guilt at having called him “lazy and slow-moving” in a post yesterday) has prompted me to praise Harvey, to say what an incredibly concise and dead-on critique of planning he offers. The gist is that the instinct of planning, its deepest hope, is to soothe, to salve, to solve, to create agreement, to calm the waters. To preserve order. This instinct is essential to the preservation of capitalist economic relations, and so to the domination of the bourgeoisie over everyone else. Harvey’s words:

In striving to affect reconciliation, the planner must perforce resort to the idea of the potentiality for harmonious balance in society. And it is on this fundamental notion of social harmony that the ideology of planning is built. The planner seeks to intervene to restore “balance” but the “balance” implied is that which is necessary to reduce civil strife and to maintain the requisite conditions for the steady accumulation of capital (p. 224).

and

…definitions of the public interest…are set according to the requirements for the reproduction of the social order which is, whether we like the term or not, a distinctively capitalistic social order (p. 224).

Despite the many flavors of planning theory that exist, he argues,

the commitment to the ideology of harmony within the capitalist social order remains the still point upon which the gyrations of planning ideology turn….Perhaps there lies at the fulcrum of capitalist history not harmony but a social relation of domination of capital over labor (p. 231).

[I can’t resist saying, though, and q.v. my post yesterday: he does reduce everything to capitalism, and so he misses the fact that planning is also a state activity, and the state also very much wants to preserve the social order in which it wields sovereign power. Its policies also seek to preserve the domination of the state over its subjects.]

Eugene Holland: Nomad Citizenship

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Add Eugene Holland to the list of people (Balso, Negri, Badiou) who see communism as necessarily operating at a distance from the State.  He develops the idea of “free-market communism” as a way to

deploy selected features of the free market to transform communism and free it from a fatal entanglement with the State (xvi).

His goal is to force

orthodox Marxism to acknowledge that hitherto existing communism has featured a centralized authoritarian State and that the free market offers an essential corrective to State-governed social relations (xvi).

Of course, by “free market” he does not mean a capitalist market. That is what he thinks the idea of communism can do: it can force those who equate capitalism with a free market

to acknowledge that hitherto existing capitalism has inexorably produced exploitative oligopolies and monopolies that ruined free markets…. Communism offers an essential corrective to the wage relation on which capitalist exploitation is based (xvi).

The idea of his paradoxical concept of free-market communism, he says, is to force us to think about free markets and communism in new and more productive ways.