Towards the constitution of a new think-tank for a post-capitalist transition in the Mediterranean
by Massimiliano Mollona
The Institute of Radical Imagination is a think-tank inviting experts – political scientists, economists, lawyers, architects, hackers, activists, artists and cultural producers to share knowledge on a continuous base with the aim of defining and implementing zones of post-capitalism in Europe’s South and the Mediterranean. The think-tank works nomadically across the nodes of the network – Madrid, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Palestine, Naples – and connects with other nodes in “global south” – Eastern Europe, Latin America, South-East Asia.
IRI is a hybrid between a travelling research centre, a refuge for intellectuals and artists at risk, a radical museum and a policy-making body generating ideas and applied knowledge that respond to specific urgent needs on the ground – more than a structure, an intellectual logistical infrastructure operating across existing arts, academic and activist networks.
AREAS OF INTERVENTION
- Legalisation of the commons
- Radical pedagogy
- Work and labour commoning
- Rethinking Citizenship
- Space and architecture of the commons
- Economies of the commons
1 / LEGALISATION OF THE COMMONS
As culture becomes the main economic driver of post-industrial cities, cities are becoming sites of urban rebellion and of commoning led by artists and cultural producers. Discussions around the commons normally revolve around the commons as: (1) a physical resource (2) intellectual property or (3) labour. In Italy, the lawyers from the Costituente dei Beni Comuni – a legal commission set up by the parliament during the referendum against the privatisation of water in 2005 – managed to transfer the legal framework for common good onto the realm of cultural organizations. Led by lawyer Ugo Mattei, occupied cultural centres such as the Teatro Valle become legalized commons (‘fondazione’ dei beni comuni). More recently, the municipality of Naples, in conversation with the group of lawyers (Giuristi Democratici di Napoli) associated with the activist space Asilo Filangieri (Naples) agreed to give to residents of the Asilo a monthly ‘social income’ in recognition of their role as generators of cultural and political – relational – value in order to cover the ordinary and extraordinary maintenance costs of the building – a spectacular UNESCO-protected palace in the historic centre. Unlike the agreement of Teatro Valle, which was under private law, the agreement between the municipality of Naples and the Asilo Filangeri is under public law, considers as commons both the physical space and the work of the activists and attempts to capture a broader political, cultural and economic notion of the public There is also considerable work that is being done on urban commons in Spain and on intellectual property right and industrial patenting in Greece. The issue of urban common also touches upon the legal and institutional relationships between political movements and various state levels and the coexistence of autonomous and horizontal forces within a common logistical infrastructure – including configurations of democratic confederalism, communalism and municipalism. What are the next strategic steps for IRI in terms of greater embeddedness in the urban fabric and of establishing ongoing collaborations with social centres and occupied spaces across Europe and the global South? What can IRI learn from the modus operandi of urban commons and how can IRI, and its network, support these? What practical tools can be developed – such as Basic Income pilot projects or an internal currency of the commons – to facilitate the struggles of commons that share similar languages and practices, for instance, in Spain and Italy?
Or conversely how to activate south-to-South networks of solidarity across urban experiences and contexts, such as Greece, Turkey, Cairo, Zagreb or Palestine, that are radically different?
2 / RADICAL PEDAGOGY
The global backlash against universities and academics, in the forms of extreme marketization (as in the UK), nepotism (Italy, Greece) and violent state repression (Turkey and Hungary) has led to the worldwide collapse of public education and the privatization of knowledge. In this context, there is an urgent need to both reclaim the public role of universities and of commoning of cultural production through alternative institutional forms. In fact, the first priority of the Institute of Radical Imagination is to devise its own institutional framework, mission and modus operandi at the crossroad of knowledge production, art and activism.
3 / WORK AND LABOUR COMMONING
De-commodification of Work – Cultural Work and Immaterial Work
In 2009 the OECD calculated that half of the workers of the world worked in the informal economy. By 2020 it will be 2/3 of the global working population. In fact, the technologically determinist assumption, made by some post-capitalist scholars (Mason, 2016 and Srnicek and Williams, 2015) that the world is moving towards automated, information-driven and attention-based ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2016) or even the idea of a global proletariat (Standing, 2016) underestimates the huge scale of the global informal economy, the low-skilled manual jobs in the service and tourism economies and the feminization and racialization of the economy that started in the peripheries in 1990s, has now reached the old centres. More research needs to be done on contemporary forms of precarious, domestic, informal and semi-rural employment for instance, on the subsistence of eco-femminist perspectives of Maria Miers (1999) and Vandana Shiva (2005); the domestic economy and the reproductive commons discussed by Silvia Federici (2012) and Federica Giardini (2015) and on the informal economy (Breman, 1996, Mollona, 2005). Informal workers tend to self-organise themselves in anti-establishment and community-based political groups and undercommons for instance, the urban cooperatives in El-Alto (Zibechi, 2005) and Rio de Janeiro or Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. An important form of labour commoning is cooperative work. Cooperativism was central in anti-colonial, anti-capitalist and anti-dictatorship movements in Latin America, India and other non-aligned regions in the 1970s and 1980s. Then in the 2000s it was appropriated by the start-ups in Silicon Valley -for instance see the domesticated version of cooperativism by Wolff (2012). Can the IRI organize itself along the principles of mutuality and of cooperative labour?
4 / RETHINKING CITIZENSHIP
Notions of economic development and progress are intrinsically political in the way they are premised upon imaginary and fantasmatic constructions of citizenship and personhood. Because capitalism is a form of economic dispossession based on the systematic de-humanization of “the other”, no economic and political commons are possible without a radical openness towards the other. New forms of gender and sexual discriminations linked to the feminization of labour are emerging. The right to appear of lesbian, gay, queer and transgenders is under attack. The catastrophic impact of the European refugee crisis on the European Left shows that the enclosures and ‘expulsions’ (Sassen, 2015) of late capitalism – based on racism, homophobia and the coupling of appearance
and privilege – require new and expanded notions of personhood and citizenship. What would a basic charter of citizens’ right, one which takes the extreme point of view of refugees, exiles and dispossessed migrants, look like? How can a new human-right discourse be developed – one which is neither universalist nor culturally relativist but recognizes the structural complexities, unevenness and queerness of late capitalism? How can artists and cultural producers contribute to imagine ‘other’ form of personhood and citizenship – equal and yet unique, open and fluid? With its location in the Mediterranean and the South of Europe, IRI is committed to work towards the construction of a charter of “citizenship of the commons”, sketching an horizon of radical solidarity rooted in the experiences of exile, forced migration and expulsion.
5 / SPACE AND ARCHITECTURE OF THE COMMONS
The refugee crisis has highlighted the relationship between space, mobility and inequality. The main markers of colonial dispossession and dependent development in the global South have been processes of urban favelisation, slummification and mass rural-to-urban migration associated with trajectories of forced industrialisation and debt dependency. Moreover, the logic of late capitalism is multi-scalar and entangled in broader processes of nation-building and neo-colonialist “development” with planetary economic, social and ecological impact. Most of such global and planetary trends of spatial inequality resist western and ethnocentric terms of gentrification, occupation and privatization. How can the relationship between space and power and the notion of common space be rethought from a non-ethnocentric and decolonized perspective? IRI is committed to experiments of urban co-habitation, commoning and post-capitalist architecture.
6 / ECONOMIES OF THE COMMONS
Parasitical Finance and Sharing Economy
How can IRI develop a post-capitalist economy – sustainable, “diverse” and demonetized? What kind of economy is the economy of commons? Can commons rely just on reciprocity or redistribution? Can common and capital coexist? Can the market be used for non-capitalist or anti-capitalist purposes? The post-industrial capitalism identified thirty years ago by the likes of Fumagalli, Moulier-Boutang and Negri has mutated into a new kind of financial-industrial-immaterial capitalist complex dominated by high-tech giants (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google – FANG) and invisible monopolistic platforms. Unlike the outmoded logic of industrial capitalism – rigid, dyadic and mechanical – the “social logic of derivatives” (Randy Martin) is polyphonic, infrastructural and animistic – open to parasitical contaminations, re-appropriations and subversion. In order to bypass the traditional functioning of the capitalist market, subvert the anti-social logic of capitalist money, deflating the capitalist system from within, and re-embed value within relationships of care and social reproduction IRI will develop projects of parasitical finance (see for instance the Robin Hood project), alternative currencies (for instance faircoin) or sharing economy.