In his essay “The Common in Communism,” Michael Hardt discusses the way in which a capitalist, consumer-driven economy inadvertently creates the very platform for a commons and a communism-driven way of life to take hold. He says, “Capital’s own development provides the tools for liberation from capital, and specifically here it leads to the increased autonomy of the common and its productive circuits” (11). First, he starts by encouraging readers to shift their perspectives regarding what they believe the word “communism” means. Instead of a word commonly associated with complete state control over social and economic infrastructure, Hardt reverts back to Marx’s original intent of the word, which was democratic control over the state. He writes, “I think it is better to fight over the concepts themselves to restore or renew their meaning” (2). His essay is a “critique of political economy” (2). One of Hardt’s first points is the realization of a Marx prediction come true, “that by mid-19th century large-scale industry has replaced agriculture as the hegemonic form of economic production” (4). While production formerly meant crop farming and rearing, it has shifted to a more mechanical form of consumer good production. Now, Hardt explains, the 21st century has entered into a realm of economic production, one that retains the ability to be viewed through the traditional Marxist lens. With expanding definitions of production, the 21st century also sees expanding needs of industry. Hardt noted that “Industry has to ‘informationalize;’ knowledge, code, and images are becoming ever more important throughout the traditional sectors of production” (6). Non-physical goods of the Internet and the digital world are far easier leaked to the public without purchase, thereby becoming readily available for the utilization of the commons. “There is a constant pressure,” Hardt observes, “for such goods to escape the boundaries of property and become common” (7). Hardt uses this point to discuss the benefits of open-forum software and goods, claiming: “In order to realize their maximum productivity, ideas, images, and affects must be common and shared” (7). With the increase of sharing, ideas and software that remain privately owned will see a great decline in contemporaneity and usefulness when facing up against common information. From here, Hardt takes a turn to discuss private property and its role in the Marxist theory.
“Traditional knowledge of the use of a ground seed as a natural pesticide, for instance, of the healing qualities of a plant are made into private property by the corporation that patents the knowledge” (9). Hardt’s queries into capitalism’s affinity for private property call into question the moral validity of putting a patent on a common right. When explaining commons, Hardt creates two definitions: “On the one hand, the common names the earth and all the resources associated with it…on the other hand, the common also refers, as I have already said, to the results of human labor and creativity” (7). Every advancement, tool, theory, and general betterment for ways of living for human beings that have been created is now all commonly available (nearly). Readers are left to wonder what kinds of private software or other technology may not be commonly available. Hardt asks readers, “What would it mean for something to be ours when we do not possess it?” (11). Articles like this and Dyer-Witheford’s article “Commonism” highlight a dramatic shift taking place in 2016 and years to come shortly thereafter. The shift is already being felt in the world of digital property and shared ownership, and perhaps will have an inadvertent affect on politics and social reform.
written by Shawna Marie Rodgers