The Future of the Commons

‘Excerpts from The Future of the Commons, by David Harvey, in Radical History Review Issue 109; Winter 2011


“Suppose, says Marx, a capitalist begins production with $1,000 in capital and in the first year manages to gain $200 surplus value from laborers mixing their labor with the land, and the capitalist then uses that surplus in personal consumption. Then, after five years, the $1,000 should belong to the collective laborers, since they are the ones who have mixed their labor with the land. The capitalist has consumed away all of his or her original capital…

While this logic might sound outrageous, it lay behind the Swedish Meidner plan proposed in the late 1960s.

A tax on corporate profits, in return for wage restraint on the part of unions, was to be placed in a worker-­controlled fund that would invest in and eventually buy out the corporation, thus bringing it under the common control of the associated laborers.

Capital resisted this idea with all its might, and it was never implemented. But the idea ought to be reconsidered.The central conclusion is that the collective laboring that is now productive of value must ground collective, not individual, property rights. Value, socially necessary labor time, is the capitalist common, and it is represented by money, the universal equivalency by which common wealth is measured. The common is not, therefore, something extant once upon a time that has since been lost, but something that, like the urban commons, is continuously being produced. The problem is that it is just as continuously being enclosed and appropriated by capital in its commodified and monetary form…

The point is not to fulfill the requirements of accumulation for accumulation’s sake on the part of the class that appropriates the common wealth from the class that produces it. The point, rather, is to change all that and to find creative ways to use the powers of collective labor for the common good.”

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Categories: Academics, Commons, Economics


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