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Mondays, Near Wall Street: Commoning the City

What

A Common(s) Course: Commoning the City and Withdrawing from the Community of Money

When

5:15-7:15pm every Monday (Session 1 this Monday September 16th)

Where

16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor

Who

Free and open to all

730 days before our first session, Monday (Sept. 16), of our weekly seminar on money and the commons, Wall Street was occupied.

In the month leading to the occupation, along with George Caffentzis, Silvia Federici, David Graeber and many friends we explored the linkages between the grammar and logic of debt and that of the common(s). In the midst of the assemblies leading to the occupation, we wanted to ask:

  • What do we owe to whom?
  • What is the nature of this religion, or debt-tripping machine, which extracts money from the poor to pay for the excesses of the rich?
  • What are the prospects for a movement against debt?
  • At whose altar are these sacrifices or austerity measures being made?
  • Are the toxic outcomes of extreme processes of extraction, eviction, enclosure, dispossession capitalism's proposal of a common(s)?
  • How can we avert or defend against a capitalist and statist recuperation of struggles for a common(s)?
  • Could the common(s) be both a means and horizon of struggle against the social relations which are structured by and through debt / money?
  • Could the re-cultivation of a notion of common(s) and commoning open up the imaginary of a politics of the Multitude - beyond the binaries of the State and the People (posited by Hobbes) and the zombie categories of Public and Private (which function increasingly as placeholders for Corporate-State and Individual-Corporation)?
  • If the structured and legally privileged social relations today are ones based on hierarchy, often masked as exchange, could we begin to develop practices of real exchange? What would be the appropriate forms to intermediate such 'real' exchanges?
  • How should we understand processes of communization, commoning, sharing, and free cooperation as distinct from one another and more importantly from relations of hierarchy and exchange? What would be the appropriate forms or processes to cultivate such relations?
  • How would one cultivate spaces or practices of commoning which could be resilient to their reabsorption into hierarchical and exchange based logics?

Many things have happened in these nearly two years. And many more critical questions have emerged. For example, questions about the forms of self-organization outside existing structures and institutions which have monopolized the scene of politics of the 19th and 20th century. Additional questions about the disproportionate force of states and police to dictate through the arbitrary use and abuse of law, surveillance, force and violence the terms of struggle. Questions about race, gender, class, and other categories of privilege, domination, everyday violence which would not go away simply by struggling against the 1%. And furthermore, basic questions confronting the dynamics of struggling against processes, logics and structures which act not only against us but through us, inhabiting our mental conceptions, practices, modes of relating with one another.

For some, the occupation of Wall Street and the incredible resonance it had globally, especially in extending a series of movements confronting the corporate-state monopolization over the reproduction of life, reaffirmed the necessity to revolt and reintroduce forcefully a critique of state and capitalism. Something which was not considered imaginable in public debate both pre and post 1989, at least in the USA.  

For others, it represented once again a chance to reconnect the struggles last conjoined in the height of movements in the 60's, which Chris Marker once referred to as two separate and irreconcilable trajectories, those who revolt against poverty and those who revolt against wealth.

But the ambivalence that marks the multitude, which is in no small way dictated by the seeming impossibility to withdraw from the communities of money, has allowed or forced many to reintegrate themselves back into the matrices of power and domination.

If 'Occupy' is not seen as a thing, or a brand, or a self-assigned group of revolutionaries, activists, individuals, or an organ or body of a nascent political movement, in short as an object, or delimited localized thing, but is seen in its continuity, seen instead as a force or intensification of the insurrectionary imagination lurking behind the seemingly passive and apathetic multitudes; then, this force or intensity, which includes an array of growing tactics, gestures, modes of disruption across continents and squares (with names such as indignados, occupy, capulcu, or even ultras) has only begun to manifest itself. We hope that the ongoing inquiries, such as our own and of other friends, can be a part of process of collectively reflecting, imagining, and building up the capacities, imaginaries, and solidarities for its subsequent manifestations.

Some Speculative Questions on Money

And so, to reiterate, our common(s) course focuses on money, as a basis of reflection and discussion.

  • What does the subversion of money mean today? And how may it relate to the circulation of movements organizing for alternative currencies or for the abolition of money?
  • How can an analysis of money inform or conjoin to contemporary struggles against debt?
  • Contemporary struggles against money, largely focus on increasing the supply of or access to money, create a people's money, or a proletarian form of money. But what could it mean to call for an abolition of money?
  • How does organizing around such a perspective compare to historical and contemporary efforts to 'democratize' money? Is it helpful to think in terms of transitional forms or non-reformist reforms?
  • Beyond the metaphysics of money (as power, as value, as symbol, as object), how do contemporary heterogenous class relations define money? That is, how is "money" understood and enacted from the perspective of class composition? What are the various and different 'meanings', 'uses', and 'relations' of money (phenomenologically and in the circuit of capitalist reproduction) amongst various sectors of the class as well as capital? How does money define class hierarchy in the ontology of capitalist society (and how fluid are these definitions)? How is it that/and in what ways does a singular money-form differently entangle different sectors of society? Are there strategic connections/disconnections in the order of money based on inter- and intra-class differences?
  • Under what sort of social relations do alternative and non-monetary forms of exchange emerge and grow? What kinds of relations can surpass those of exchange? What is the role of the state or corporate interests in co-opting or squashing such relations? Can different networks and infrastructures of commoning online give some indication of the challenges and potentials for forms of commoning in the city which can evade co-optation?
  • What is the relation between the state's monopoly on the use of violence and its monopoly over money?
  • How can a reflection on money enhance and open up a critical space for rethinking existing social relations?
  • Rather than begin with the money form, could one instead begin with the kinds of social relations one aspires to and then find the appropriate strategies to facilitate modes of exchange or cooperation?

We begin here. But we also resume several threads of collective inquiry:

  1. One is the wide expansive research we started with Brian Holmes, Claire Pentecost and many many friends in 2005 called Continental Drift, where we tried to share and consider the radical changes since 1989, to teach and learn from eachother about the complexities of neoliberalism and its entanglement in logics of state, of militarization, of spatial processes, and processes impacting the reproduction of life on the planet.
  2. Two is the molecular seminar we organized with Bifo and other friends in 2008, exploring not only the material and physical limits of resources of the planet, but the psychic and affective black holes (anxiety, depression, suicide) imposed by contemporary capitalist modes of labor in the metropolis; which separate, compartmentalize, and compatibilize every aspect of the production process, including the life and time of those working and workless, to become part of a precarious, mutating and recombinant logic of connection and constant speculation.
  3. Three is the Debt/Commons seminar we organized with Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, and David Graeber in 2011 just before Occupy. Where we unfolded together, however brief and sketch-like a grammar of commons and commoning in unison with a reflection on what capitalism posits as a kind of negative commons (e.g., ecological degradation, toxic waste, debt...).
  4. Four is a seminar that David Harvey organized with CUNY students around money this last spring at the graduate center, which a few of us followed.

As we formulated in a text for a meeting with George Caffentzis in May of last year, entitled 'Outliving Money':

"Even if money is recognized as the god of capitalist society, the critique of money, unlike the critique of capitalism, remains relatively misunderstood or undertheorized. Is money a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a measure or storage of value, a bearer of information, a symbol of a particular type of social relation, a unit of force, a marker of processes of primitive accumulation, dispossession and enclosure? In the efforts to reclaim a common(s), build economies based on solidarity and interdependence, cooperatives of free association and free cooperation, what is to be done with money? Can we outlive money?"

We also hope that in addition to this, related inquires will emerge. And friends, wherever they may be or go, can contribute to the development of this or related common places of militant research, collective inquiry, radical situations of learning, and experimentation, conjoining to knowledges and experiences which enhance the ability to act, self-organize, and resist capitalist realism - resist racism – resist state and police violence - resist patriarchy - and generate movements toward a horizon of a common(s), and toward non-capitalist forms of doing and life.

These seminars will be molecular in organization, but begins will a group composed of individuals involved with 16 Beaver, friends from CUNY, and other friends of the space including George Caffentzis, Silvia Federici, and David Harvey who will collectively care for this inquiry. So this is less an invitation to an event and more a call to begin this process together.

We hope you will be able to join us.

Preliminary Notes on the Potential Form and Horizon of this Common(s) Course

  • This is not a university course. It starts in the middle and will end not through an arbitrarily chosen date on a calendar. Rather, it will end when the interest or need or desire for it is not longer there.
  • Although one strand of its pre-life comes from a graduate seminar in a city university; collectively, for all of us involved in caring for this inquiry, the desire is to link this to autonomous forms of education and learning which have as their basis a conviction that knowledge is not separated from political action and political life.
  • Moreover, we see this effort and what we have been doing for the last 14 years now, as a part of the emergence of constituent processes which foster and create common places which bring together different investigations and inquiries into a space of sharing and potential transfer into the practice of everyday life and everyday political struggle (the two being inseparable).
  • Intellectuality today has meaning, if there is at once a desire to interrogate existing and prevailing mental conceptions of the world while looking for horizons that may inform how one lives or can live. Moreover, this intellectuality stands in direct opposition to the standardized relation to knowledge prevailing inside many universities today, which outside the problems of commodification of education, actually validate knowledge only in its recirculation inside the academic context itself or in the capacity for compatiblization into the overwhelming dictates of industry and capital. A knowledge that is not placed on the path of indentureship and slavery but rather leading toward processes of emancipation would have to counter this dominant logic by situating itself in liminal spaces which mend the link between knowledge and action. A link which today has been subsumed and contained by the knowledge/work nexus.
  • That is why, our proposal today is that we cannot simply remain satisfied with politicizing our places of work. Work has sufficiently absorbed all the qualities of politics, including our basic capacities of relating to the other, our performativity, our speech, but in a manner that has delimited the function and use of each of these.
  • In a more simple manner, one could say in only politicizing our places of work, we risk making of politics a work. This would not be an argument against politicizing or organizing with others inside the workplace. Instead, it is an emphasis to also engage with spheres outside what one does as a 'profession' or 'work' to experiment with the potential to rediscover and reclaim other spheres of doing, of activity, of politics.
  • Politics cannot be work, because politics, is not simply a task one conducts to produce a result, nor is it simply the performance of a power one does not innately possess. Politics implicates an ability to redistribute and put to question the very structures of collective life which can, among other things, make a particular form of activity considered productive work and another form of activity considered unproductive, without value, even a threat.
  • Let it also be said here, since this space has among other things been one associated with art, what can be called poetry or art, is also not a simply a kind of work or labor. It can be this, it can be a profession, like any other. But similar to political activity, it can be the kind of activity that can put to question what humans or other animals do or can do. And in this way, it can be also be a form of refusal. It can be a form of strike. And contrary to what some have argued, art is not a specific form of doing, rather it is precisely, or has the capacity to be or open up the space for, the potential undoing of every type of doing. Art and poetry have the capacity to insist on the necessity of the unnecessary of any given consensus or hegemony.
  • A Short Note About Attendance. Those who can come to every session will hopefully enrich and be enriched by it. Yet, the attempt is to create as open a process as possible for people who may share a horizon of non-capitalist life, to follow together and develop conversations and hopefully emergent practices over a longer period of time. So those who cannot make it every week are still encouraged to come. And when suitable we will post readings, audio, video, and/or notes to help each other follow the threads. At the same time, we hope it could become a commitment that could eventually surpass the ones we give to normative institutional structures such as places of work or university and become a part of our everyday life. To attend this course is to care for it and how it may take shape. There will be no credits or certificates no fees no registrars no grades no deans and no liens.
  • Let us aspire toward situations of learning that can learn to revoke, unwork, undo, unlearn, disown, put into play, make use of, profane, render inoperative rather than 'produce' knowledge, especially when the dominant form of that production of knowledge is leading to apocalypse.

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