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Fairness and the Commons

An Interview with Eric Duran

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January 12, 2015
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cross-posted from Commons Transition

Here we present a Commons Transition interview with Enric Duran. Prior to co-founding the Catalan Integral Cooperative — a Commons Transition partner project creating a cooperative, self managed public system in Catalonia — Duran became famous for his 2008 “bank action”, an act which involved defrauding 39 Spanish banks of nearly €500,000 and subsequently distributing these funds to a variety of activist movements and social causes. He presently lives as a fugitive outside Spain, and is currently busy organizing the FairCoop Open Cooperative, a community-built effort to alleviate global economic inequalities through the use of mutual credit, reputation systems and cryptocurrencies.

Eric Duran. Photo by Gladys G. Afán.

Regarding  Commons Transition, the first question is, can you define Commons Transition, and what it means to you?

Well, for me, when we are talking about transition and developing commons, what we are talking about is moving away from a capitalist economy based on private incomes and private profits, to a new kind of economy, where the main focus is the commons.

Do you see some existing examples of Commons Transition today?

There are more and more examples of commons resources. Free knowledge is a commons and it’s expanding; every day there are more and more tools for this. But what’s more difficult is to organize as a whole system or way of living related to the commons, no? This is not yet so widespread, perhaps because these commons are being created as volunteer work by people, or with some kind of specific funding, but not connected as a systemic whole.

You are one of the co-founders of the CIC, the Catalan Integral Cooperative. Can you tell us a little bit about the CIC, and in what ways it already embodies Commons Transitions, and how it will continue to do so in the future?

Yes, the Catalan Integral Cooperative is a transition movement to build an autonomous system of organizing our lives, outside of the government and capitalism, and in that sense it is building not only alternative economics but also alternative politics and alternative public spaces. It’s already working on building commons as a central priority of different actions, yet it’s not so connected to other global commons that are being created. So, one step for the future is to connect this local and regional work to the global, world-related commons.

Why do you think it’s important to carry out this work outside of government?

Well, there are a lot of things that are important. It’s important to put together people with knowledge, people who are skilled, to do what needs to be done. Also, economic resources are needed in order to share these things for the commons, and not for private profit. It needs to be done in a sustainable way, so that it won’t be broken after beginning a broad process. We need to have sustainable ways of funding and making it all possible.

How realistic is a Commons Transition at the local, national, and global levels?

It’s realistic when we start to do it – it’s not about theoretical propositions, you know? It’s about doing real actions, and at all of these levels there are already different initiatives – at some levels, a lot – that are in process. What we really need, I think, is to put all of these existing things in a framework, structured in a way that they can be recognized and understood together as a systemic, commons creation, not only as isolated projects.

What practical steps, both at the personal and collective levels, can we take to enable Commons Transition?

Hm. One of the practical priorities could be to create general layers – general in their interconnections – that make it possible to decentralize an autonomous initiative so it could be connected at the practical level. This is, basically, a technical infrastructure job, but it also means combining ways of thinking and acting that make these things happen. It’s not only about every network doing things for their internal needs, but also for some of these people to be doing things with the vision of the whole system that can be created, related to the commons. We also need to create ways to invest in related commons, in making the projects possible, and in a way that’s sustainable for all parts involved, to make it possible in the long-term – because other ways of funding related to private profit are still more widespread, but we really need to do a lot of work on funding the peer-to-peer, commons society.

So, imagine that we achieve a commons-based society, or, a first example of one. What do you think could be the risks, what should we be on the lookout for?

Well, if we achieve this, I don’t see any risk – this is what we are going to enjoy, really, making this happen. The risks are in the ways we try to do it. One risk could be if we weren’t able to put together different related initiatives that can be duplicated…and so, really, to not be able to work together with people that have the same focus and the same goals.

How can the commons movement defend itself from hostile outside pressures?

I think that when we focus on creating peer-to-peer based commons production, with a project that has the possibility of being globally useful, what is important is to create a plan to make this for everyone, and not only as an experiment, or as a minority action. Because sometimes people that are, perhaps, trying to do things for the commons come up with experiments, theories, ideas, but then later, a private company… because they’re not going to do all the work…later, a private company does this in a private, for-profit world. So we need to be more ambitious at this level. We know we have good ideas and we know that this can work. We must also try to make the economic plan and decentralized cooperative plan to make it happen with our values. If we make it happen with our values, others can do their projects but we will already be there with these big projects.

Where do you see a Commons Transition taking place?

I see that this is working at the global level. I can also see this in different movements, like for many years in the free software movement and now, the maker movement. And also there are more grassroots movements related to housing that are working in an ecological way for the commons…but in some instances, we are more autonomous and we’re making a transition, and perhaps at other times it’s more of a fight to defend against private powers.

Could you give us a concrete example where a commons-based dynamic would solve a present day problem?

One of the challenges that we have in this process is how to create distributed systems of organization that work, not only technology-based, but human-based. And these human-based projects are very important, because without these we run the risk of moving from central government or money-based governments to full technological dependency. So, one interesting bit of commons-related work which is applies to a lot of initiatives is a commons-based reputation system. I see this as a human-based way to create and maintain distributed projects related to commons, so it’s not only technological nodes that maintain networks, but human-based, and our ability to do it together depends on our human values.

I love that. Okay, so let’s talk about the CIC and FairCoop as related but different things. How did they each relate to Commons Transition and what are the differences between the CIC, FairCoop, and Commons Transition?

Well, regarding the CIC, I think that the first four years have been very focused on the local and regional levels and not so much on the global. That’s okay for the physical network of people and connections that we have in Catalonia, but at another level it’s not so okay – at the level of sharing technological tools and knowledge tools with people that are on the same path around the world. So, one of the things I see as important for the CIC is to take in the vision and the knowledge of other people working on the same things, and also to share better, or in easier ways, ideas about things that could work from the CIC to others – to share both ways.

What about FairCoop?

Well, FairCoop, as a more recent initiative created with a direct connection to the commons movement, has had a focus on the commons and the global from the very beginning, and that complements the work the CIC has already been doing. So FairCoop can cooperate with the commons by building or being involved with other groups also creating commons projects, as well as helping regional transitions happen around the commons by connecting them through this global initiative.

What do you think of the concept of the partner state, do you think it’s possible that with new initiatives like Podemos or Syriza, something like this may happen? Or do you think it will be a totally grassroots, bottom-up process through initiatives like the CIC…or, maybe a combination halfway point between both?

I don’t see the states becoming partners at the levels of innovation because they are working for the majorities, they are working for success. Sometimes they are populist, and what is populist is not so innovative, because people don’t understand it. So, at this level, these innovations are going to be autonomous; sometimes we are working in a commons-based way and at other times, in private enterprise, in order to be innovative. But after this, it depends if we are going to expand, if we’re going to achieve more mass at some point – if we can have more relationships, but I think this is still very far off. So I don’t see…perhaps at the level of research in universities things are working, but that doesn’t really have any direct relation with the government, it’s related to public funds but not really with how the government is. And to have more direct relationships and to think about public in the hands of the government, political relations to the commons, perhaps we will need bigger success stories at the global level with the commons, no? Perhaps before, we will need some kind of Facebook or Twitter or more kinds of Wikipedias – although Wikipedia is a commons – in different sectors, not only knowledge but also economics, that are successful and create change.

Back to the CIC and its adoption of the Commons Transition Plan, what led the CIC to incorporate the plan and in what way it is being modified?

We’ve seen the Commons Transition Plan work done in Ecuador with the role of the partner state. Because we’re not thinking of this kind of relationship with government, one of the main changes was to eliminate this partner state and to see this as a creation of autonomous institutions that can work at the local and regional level as well as in relation to other regional or global institutions around the world that can help. So we are thinking here, perhaps part of the process of the CIC could be…to be not only physical assemblies based on physical consensus, but also to have some of the tools more distributed in a way that could be more easily extended to people that are not organized politically, but people that want to change their way of living but for different motives; maybe they are not so political, or, so involved in being in assemblies. That is one of the problems we have with the CIC, there is a big difference today between the people who go to assemblies and people that only use the services.

Why was the Commons Transition Plan chosen?

I think the values in this plan are very close to the values of the CIC. We also saw that the main ideas are related to the self-management and self-organization that the CIC supports. For this reason, the work is very connected; we can benefit from it and adapt and enrich it with our work. It was also a good excuse to make this connection with the P2P Foundation and to see how from a grassroots level, from the bottom up we can make this kind of process possible.

What are the next steps both for the CIC’s adoption of the Commons Transition Plan, and the ongoing relationship with the P2P Foundation?

I think that the short term steps are to decide on how to work the collaboration, what are we going to do when we are working together on the Catalan situation. Next steps will be organizing this work: how we are going to research, how to start having discussions and reaching conclusions at some point about the roadmap we can create for this Commons Transition Plan.

Now, back to FairCoop, how is it promoting the principles of Commons Transition with its member projects?

I think, informally, there is support at the level of sharing information and knowledge related to Commons Transition, but right now the main focus is not yet on this sharing and extension, because we need to focus on building and identifying the best tools and projects for this Commons Transition. So what we’re doing now is choosing and prioritizing projects to work with. What is especially interesting here are projects that can be transversal to a lot of decentralized and open projects that can use this infrastructure we want to build.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for making this Commons Transition website, and we will try and help to keep it up-to-date.

Certainly, it’s a deal!


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