Commons Debate in Dakar

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Introduction and Context

Via Biens Communs,

"The World Social Forum and the World Forum on Science and Democracy will be two opportunities for the commoners to interact with other civic and social movements.

A list of discussion is now open for volunteers at :

Discussing the Commons in the World Forum on Science and Democracy (WFSD)

The World Forum on Science and Democracy (WFSD) will be held on February the 4th and 5th. Its objective is twofold :

  • questioning the functionning of the scientific institutions and funding (science and technology political orientation, means of production of knowledge, independence fo scientists…)
  • promoting alternatives considering Science as a common (open archives, open educational resources, open scientific publication, open data…).

Two frames are proposed by the WFSD : plenary sessions and self organized workshops. We would like to propose a set of workshops and a plenary session based in the two following issues :

  • Struggles for Commons knowledge : open science, diversity in the production of knowledge, alliance…?
  • How researchers address the issue of the elaboration of the notion of commons and the analysis of the populare experiences, with and by social and civic movements ?

Perhaps the result of such workshops could be a note written with participants, not at all a declaration, but a proposal of shared agenda of work for the period from now to Rio + 20.

We will be pleased to organize this with all the organizations that will be in Dakar and will be volonteer to work with a such approach or at least that agree to discuss it and to participate in the elaboration of a shared program.

Discussing the Commons in the The World Social Forum

The World Social Forum (on February the 7th and 11th) is a place to try to built a large political debate and discussion. A such process aims at to take in the table of the discussion political questions linked with commons, to move towards a politicization of the issue of the commons, and a shared strategy by activists and social movements. The articulation of such questions could allow us to elaborate a global vision of the place and the role of the commons in the project of social and political transformation with social movements.

Some questions suggested to make the proposal concrete :

  • How to design the welfare state at the age of commons ?
  • How do the Rights of Mother Earth and the Commons approach complement each other in re-designing international solidarity?
  • What about popular education in the commons context ?
  • What are the transformations of political processes and governance in the era of the commons? How are changing the ways of doing politics ? what consequences and opportunities for social movements?
  • What rôle does economic actors play in the commons (free software, wiki…, foundations, corporations, mutualism, local solidarity economic actors, …) in the economy at global and local levels ? How ? what alliances ? Business …and so what ?
  • What are the roles of the commons regarding the consequences of the exploitation of natural resources (war, slave-work, environmental diseases, destruction of cultural patrimony, … ) ?
  • What are the structures needed by social movements, and that they will assume, in order to be able to spread the idea of the commons as a political objective or demand, and to build an inclusive dynamic that allow people who are not at this point producers of commons to become part of the game ?
  • this list is open to new questions …

Other existing initiatives in relation with the Commons at Dakar could be linked in order to be able to agglutinate the proposals of activities in the World Social Forum.

  • A list of discussion to prepare the work on The Commons in Dakar.

A list has been created for bringing the discussion on the commons to Dakar in February 2011 at the World social Forum and at the World Forum Science and Democracy. The address of the list is : Anyone can be registred at

This space is wide open to all women and men who wish to exchange their ideas and experiences of the commons for social and political change.

The discussion list is moderated for non-registered and non moderated for registrants. The archives are accessible to registered people. We do not want that languages will be an obstacle to participate, but we are not able to provide a systematic translation of the discussions. So we recommend using preferably English, French or Spanish in the list. This list is hosted by VECAM and moderated by Valerie Peugeot, Herve Le Crosnier, Alain Ambrosi and Frederic Sultan. You can contact them by sending an e-mail to

This proposal was made with the input from Rosa Acevedo, Alain Ambrosi, Genevieve Azam, Michel Bauwens, David Bollier, Nicola Bullard, Beatriz Busaniche, Silke Helfrich, Wojtek Kalinowski, Gaelle Krikorian, Hervé Le Crosnier, Heike Loeschmann, Olivier Petitjean, Valerie Peugeot, Simon Emmanuel Roux, Miguel Said Vieira, Frédéric Sultan. The most of them have subscribed to the discussion list.

If you wish to take part in this discussion in order to prepare for Dakar, join us!"

Question 1: How to design the welfare state at the age of commons ?

Response 1: Brigitte Kratzwald

For this question also look at the notes from our ICC workshop:

And - especially as to the social forum in Dakar - it is important to consider the huge differences in current welfarestate-systems around the world. We always have to start from the existing siutation and what can be an improvement in one country might be a step backwards in another. While surely in developing countries self-organised health and educational services often are the only possibility to get any, in Europe we have to think about how to apply the logic of the commons within the existing systems rather. And by the help of the commons to develop them in a way that they can exist without economic growth. Because, in my opinion, one of the main shortcomings of current welfare systems is their dependence on waged labour and thus on economic growth, so that they are not working in growthless ecomonies which we should aim on because of ecological reasons. So one important point could be not to reproduce these shortcomings in developing countries.

This could mean what we called in Berlin to defend the essence of the welfare state but not its form.

But I think there are a few things that hold for all countries. Most important: we must not abandon the demand for redistribution of wealth. Commons need resources and we should not take the accountability from the state for providing the necessary resources and a proper administration for education, health care, etc.

The second point is the importance of involving people in decision making, so through the idea of the commons, public services can come nearer to the citizens, not reducing them to customers "buying" the services some experts think, would meet their needs, while at the same time reducing people's control over their lives.

For example the state can provide stuff and knowledge for energy of IT-services, but the people decide about production and distribution.

But, certainly, looking on the welfare state from a commons perspective means much more than re-structuring existing services. The welfare state from its origin stems for the problems caused by industrial capitalism. Actually, many of the problems those services are supposed to solve, are a consequence of the existing system of production. Thus the increasing health and social costs are also due to the destructive nature of this system. If we only give the social and health services back to the people, we still accept the role of repairing the damages done by a globalised finance capitalism and thus externalizing it's costs.

So, in my opinion, social security and public health should actually be the products of commoning, we had to organise the reproduction of our society in a way that these damages would not occur. And there for example in developing countries the access to natural commons as soil or water could play an important role in reducing the need for welfare state services.

Response: Sam Rose

The co-governance of resources recognized as a "commons" calls for more direct engagement from participants on all scales. Delegation to representatives should decrease. Therefore, so should the need for a "state" to mediate "welfare" of people.

Question 2: Politics and Governance implications for Social Movements?

What are the transformations of political processes and governance in the era of the commons? How are changing the ways of doing politics ? What consequences and opportunities for social movements?

Response 1

Brigitte Kratzwald:

The most important aspect in my opinion would be that regulations would develop bottom up and not top down, by what you can call “customary law communities”. Some information on that you can find here:

Through mechanisms like that global problems can be dealt with on a local or regional level which gives social movements much more opportunities to involve in decision making.

Question 3: What role do economic actors play in the commons?

What rôle does economic actors play in the commons (free software, wiki…, foundations, corporations, mutualism, local solidarity economic actors, …) in the economy at global and local levels ? How ? what alliances ? Business …and so what ?

Response 1

Brigitte Kratzwald:

I think that economic actors play an important role in the commons. If one does not want the commons to replace all forms of production for markets - and I personally do not like to replace one hegemonic system by another hegemonic one - we need to prevent that corporations and enterprises exploit and overuse the commons and exclude other people from using them. This is only possible, if economic actors simply become commoners too. They have to stick to the rules for the use of resources they together with other commoners have agreed on. They are not allowed to sell those resources but only the products they produce by help of these resources. There are a lot of examples for that, watersheds, fishing places, forests, free software, etc.

The other aspect is, as all the other commoners, they have to give something back to the commons. Contributing to its maintainance or to the livelyhoods of other commoners by providing part of their products free for their community. These commitments limit the amount of production of an enterprise and its expectations for profit, because it only gets a limited amount of resources. And I think this is quite what "real" CSR should mean, an enterprise using resources in a sustainable way and contributing to the wellbeing of the community it is situated in.

The next role is to develop technologies that reduce the use of resources or improve the possibilities of recycling to achieve closed production loops. The issue of digital commons exploiting natural commons Martin rose in the last discussion is a case in point. I think C2C-production would be a big step to a commons-based society and enterprises can take a leading role in that.

And the last thing is that, if entrepreneurs want to really produce sustainably they themselves need their social commons, because they will not be able to produce at the same price as other enterprises do, as they cease to externalize their costs. So they need a local market, which in times of the internet could also be a virtual "local" market, where they interact with consumers who share their concerns about the commons. I think that local markets can be an important commons, provided that prices in those local markets are not shaped by the mechanism of demand and supply but by the needs and possibilities of producers and consumers and the local natural environment, where sometimes also consumers can share the risks of the producers by giving money in advance like in CSA-projects, while enterprises consider local needs in their policies.

So in my opinion, enterprises can and must be commoners - but we should not mix up the two different spheres. Enterprises are commoners if they use some resources together with other commoners and fulfil their commitments to the commons. But the enterprise itself cannot be a commons as it produces commodities it wants to sell on the market to make the profit it needs to survive. This profit however would not be on the costs of the commons but based on the protection of them. And in the case of cooperatives would be distributed amongst the associates. And to achieve this we need a proper set of rules and a appropriate political framework.

An update on the role of enterprises:


"Enterprises - as juridical persons (is this correct English?) - because it are the enterprises that use resources, pollute water and air, etc. We should not reduce it to the individual responsibility of the entrepreneurs, but it should be part of the constitution of enterprises. Enterprises can be owners of things (and not the enterpreneurs), why shouldn't they be able to be commoners? I know that - and this I suppose is your main concern - the idea of a capitalist enterprise as a unit striving to maximise its profit is not compatible with the idea of the commons and in that I agree with you. This is the main problem of entrepreneurs (i.e. individuals) who personally want to act socially and ecologically responsible, but cannot succeed as long as their enterprises have to compete on global markets.

But I know as well that there are many people (who like to be entrepreneurs, but want to escape this dilemma) who for themselves try to define the role of an enterprise not through profit, but through its contribution to the benefit of the community (in German "Gemeinwohl"), and I think they are very serious about it. Already now there are examples where enterprises are part of commons regulations and through this fact they are also part of the local community, that to a certain degree, reduces the pressure of global market competition. Thus they are as dependent on commons as those of us who are not so much in favour of entrepeneurship as you and me ;-). But still we have some common interests and there could be fruitful cooperation and mutual benefit, provided we don't mix up things as mentioned before."


What I see is that some people, who from what reasons ever prefer being entrepreneurs to being commoners, try to develop a new concept of entrepreneurship that in many aspects seems quite compatible with the production of commons. And as I don't want to force my concept on other people, I'd like to work out where cooperation is possible and what are the contradictions and conflicts. In this process we also have to shape the links between such enterprises and commons. And in my opinion the rights and duties to a commons have to be linked to the enterprises independently from the individuals running them. But of course this is not to disguise individual failures behind an enterprise as a legal person, but to make sure that these rules and duties continue even if the owner changes. Everybody is only allowed to run this enterprise if he conforms to these rules.