Voices (Towards Other Institutions) #11
Anno 2020, the question “How will we live together?” is increasingly becoming: “How to collectivize together?”. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us a perverse national competition over medical supplies and infrastructure, and there is no reason to think that the mentality of states, when facing the many more climate catastrophe fueled pandemics, mass crop failures and millions of climate refugees yet to come, will be any different. Having turned increasingly dependent on private corporations such as big pharma and the securitization industry, international cooperation and solidarity have turned into mere words printed on non-binding declarations. In truth our governments have been pulled into a paradigm of disaster capitalism that considers even our extinction as a market opportunity for geo-engineering and space colonization. Only rare exceptions, such as the current Podemos government in Spain, have – at least temporarily – nationalized private healthcare infrastructures in the midst of the pandemic.
These exceptions are what we need to build on to undo the predatory mechanisms that underlie the ruins of our public institutions under the control of private corporations. Planetary redistribution and reparations are our only pathway towards some form of justice and meaningful survival, but this demands a struggle over the commons that have been patented away from us. From the perspective of what remains of the state under corporate influence, such claims are perceived as acts of war. To demand air, water or land invokes the principle belief that not all can be commodified; or rather, that they were always to be held in common in the first place. For them, that spells revolt.
Just as Spain temporarily nationalized its private health care infrastructures, so were various banks (temporarily) nationalized during the 2008 economic crisis. There still remains such a thing as an impulse towards collectivity in times of crisis, for in these moments, privatization is revealed as an oppressive luxury, that can only last for as long as systems are not entirely collapsing. But as soon as this is the case, the spirit of collectivization – even temporarily and opportunistically – manifests itself, offering a glimpse of the world we could make if we would take it as our guide rather than an emergency measure that is, in the end, merely aimed at maintaining the status quo.
The term collectivization of course invokes traumatic responses, for good reasons. Nonetheless, its association with relentlessness – rather than its association with brutality – serves our present struggles well. For indeed, collectivization concerns everything and everyone when it comes to recognizing and redistributing our commons. But a 21st century take on collectivization will need to redefine the mechanisms necessary to engage such processes to ensure egalitarian life-forms. First of all, by questioning if collectivization must always be the same thing as nationalization.
In the current lawsuit that I developed with lawyer Jan Fermon against Facebook, we demand the trillion-dollar company to be recognized as a public domain, and its ownership transferred to its 2.5 billion users. This is not nationalization, but cooperatization, as it turns the Facebook corporation into a transnational cooperative, owned and collectively governed by its users. We further need to challenge the destructive embrace of industrialization in 20th century collectivization practices, for its extractivist mechanisms are not just extractive of resources and non-human lifeforms, they have also proven to be extractive of the very possibility of a shared future as such. And this opens the question, with whom are we to collectivize? Popova, Stepanova and Rodchenko recognized early on that objects in socialism were no longer commodities but “comrades.” This political recognition needs to be expanded to other-than-human lifeforms as well, in equal defense of their stake in collectivization to ensure shared socialized ecologies with one another.
The possibility of a deep future demands a 21st century practice of “collectivization”, but the struggle over its meaning, practice and stakeholders, and the question who or what constitutes the “we” in “How will we live together?”, has only just begun.
Jonas Staal is a visual artist whose work deals with the relations between art, propaganda, and democracy. His most recent book is Propaganda Art in the 21st Century (MIT Press, 2019). You can join the lawsuit against Facebook on http://www.collectivize.org