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GAF Lockdown Reading Group discusses: The Commons, the building blocks for a society beyond capitalism?

10 September, 2020 @ 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm

Our aim with these meetings is to discuss different subjects each time so it is not necessary to have joined a previous session to participate. Before each meeting we will share a variety of readings of different lengths to give some background information on the subject to be discussed. Participants are invited to pick and choose what they would like to read in preparation. No prior knowledge of any of the subjects is necessary as our aim is to make these events as inclusive and broad as possible.

In this reading group we will be discussing the commons, how we have experienced them and what opportunities they offer to build a new society. The commons is a very broad term, that has become even broader with the inclusion of the digital commons and all the other facets of the “new” commons. According to Italian commons activist Giovanna Ricoveri “The commons are goods or means of subsistence which are not commodities, and therefore they constitute a social arrangement that is the complete opposite of the one created by the market economy” and according to Charlotte Hess “the vision more broadly involves people working together, cooperatively, to build methods of production, service provision, and exchange which create value and well-being while integrating ecological care, justice, and long-term planning to the best of diverse communities’ abilities.” Join us as we find out more about them.


  1. Can you give an example of commons that you have experienced or been part of? What did it offer you? How did it affect your quality of life and sense of community?
  2. What makes a well-managed commons, thus avoiding the “tragedy of the commons”? What skills are needed and what kind of community relationships?
  3. How are the commons linked to reproductive labour and subsistence living? Do you think they can be a means of creating a new collective paradigm of living and subverting capitalism?
  4. What opportunities do you see in your community or neighbourhood to reclaim commons or set up new commons? How would you go about doing it?

We would like to remind you that you don’t need to do all the readings, just pick and choose the ones you want to do. We would highly recommend doing as much of the reading as you are up to in preparation.


Basic Reading

  • VIDEO The Commons – Anarchist Collective (36mins)
    • A basic intro on what the commons are and how they differ from private property and public property.
  • VIDEO The Struggle for the Commons by Silvia Federici (2011) (14mins)
    • Facing mass unemployment, precarisation, evictions and cuts in social services, more and more people in the US and other parts of the world are reconquering public spaces in order to create new forms of production and reproduction: the Commons.
  • VIDEO The Commons movement in Italy: interview with Ugo Mattei (2013) (13mins) *
    • Overview of the fight of returning public utilities and production of goods to common ownership in Italy from private hands, using the example of the Water Company in Naples.
  • TEXT Taking Back Ownership – Transforming Capital into Commons: interview with Molly Scott Cato and Ugo Mattei (2016) (easy read)
    • Discussion on the commons in contemporary society, if they can coexist with capitalism and how they can relate to the institution of the EU.
  • TEXT Elinor Ostrom’s 8 Principles for Managing A Commons (2011) (very short read)
    • Listing of the 8 principles Elinor Ostrom ascertained are necessary to succefully manage a commons in refutation of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons.
  • VIDEO Sustainable development and the tragedy of commons by Elinor Ostrom (8.30mins)
    • Brief overview of Elinor Ostrom’s work in debunking Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons.
  • TEXT Defending, Reclaiming and Reinventing the Commons by Maria Mies & Veronika Benholdt-Thomsen (2014) *
    • Discusses how the privatisation of the commons destroys communities, pauperises populations and damages the environment and makes the link between the enclosure of the commons with the “enclosure” of reproductive labour by the domestication of women.
  • TEXT Feminism and the politics of the commons by Silvia Federici (2011) *
    • Discusses the link between reclaiming the commons and re-commoning reproductive labour as the way towards rebuilding a self-sufficient collective society.

Advanced Reading

  • TEXT The New Enclosures: Midnight Notes Collective issue 10 (1990)
    • Introduction pp1-9
      • Overview of the strengthening of international capitalism via the new enclosures of the 1980s and 1990s and the changes to the international working class’s conditions.
    • The dept crisis, Africa and the new enclosures pp10-17
      • How the African depth crisis of the 1980s was used to enclose and privatise the common land in Africa and enforce structures of free market economy on the continent.
  • TEXT Commonism by Nick Dyer-Witheford in Turbulence 1 (2007)
    • Discusses the circulation of commons and the conditions they would create for new collective projects and waves of organising.
  • VIDEO Management of Natural Commons by Joshua Farley and Ugo Mattei (2013) (35mins)
    • An investigation into the practicalities of managing the commons and creating new commons with capitalist society.
  • TEXT Ecofeminism, Commons, and Climate Justice by Patricia E. (Ellie) Perkins (2017)
    • Discusses the new commons and the links between the collective struggles for the reclaiming of the commons, climate justice and feminist struggles.
  • TEXT Commons against and beyond capitalism by George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici in Community Development Journal (2014)*
    • This essay contrasts the logic underlining the production of ‘commons’ with the logic of capitalist relations, and describes the conditions under which ‘commons’ become the seeds of a society beyond state and market.
  • VIDEO Commons against and beyond capitalism? interview with George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici (2h)
    • Órla O’Donovan interviews Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis about their work on the commons.
  • VIDEO Women, Reproduction, and the Construction of Commons by Silvia Federici (2013) (1h44)
    • Silvia Federici discusses gender, the commons, and ways of approaching contemporary collectivity.

Further Reading

  • TEXT Governing the Commons by Elinor Ostrom (1990)
  • TEXT Living with the Commons: Local Institutions for Natural Resource Management by Are J. Knudsen (1995)
  • TEXT The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All by Peter Linebaugh (2008)
  • TEXT The beginning of history: value struggles and global capital by Massimo De Angelis (2007)

Join Meeting

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10 September, 2020
8:00 pm - 9:30 pm
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Green Anticapitalist Front London

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