Not that there’s necessarily just one. In the Tomich book he discusses slave systems in the Caribbean, mainly in Martinique, where among other things he discusses slave-owning planters that gave slaves garden plots and time off to cultivate them. There ended up conflict over time for tending the garden and time working for the slave owner, and a developing customary right to the former. (I know I’ve also seen reference to slaves having something like rights to commons, have to try and find the reference.)

I in no way want to minimize the utility of the gardens for slaves, but I do want to mention something – this provision of commons to the slaves was functional for slave owners: it lowered the costs of keeping the slaves alive, by making the slaves’ subsistence the result of their own cultivation rather than the masters’ purchase of needed commodities. It lowered the maintenance price of slaves.

Several brief notes on this. First, this is relevant to arguments around housework and value. Fortunati‘s argument, for instance, is that unwaged reproductive labors are value productive. An alternative argument (I believe made by Harry Cleaver but I’ll have to doublecheck) is that these labors make it possible to lower the price of labor power as part of stretching the buying power of the wage, in the same way that the garden plots of the slaves lower the cost to slave owners of keeping slaves.

In a sense, the slaves’ appropriation of their ‘free’ time and the waged laborers’ of unwaged laborers’ activities is also appropriation of the same by capital. As Fortunati puts it, housework is an exchange between women and capital, mediated by male workers. This means that capitalist appropriation doesn’t only proceed through dispossession of the working class; the proletariat owns some things. This means that when Marx refers to the vogelfrei proletariat, translated by Fowkes as “free and rightless”, this is an overstatement, at least Fowkes’ translation is, in that the proletariat need not be wholly free in the negative sense of being wholly divested of possessions. More to the point: not all of the proletariat has to be dispossessed. Among other things, one portion of the proletariat might collude with – or carry out – dispossession of another portion, as with the forcible holding of women in common that Federici discusses. This last is a second form of commons, one much different than the type I began with, that practiced by some slaves; the second form is of course indefensible and I don’t mean to posit any connection between them, except to say that something being “commons” or “commoning” is not alone enough to make it a good thing. There are modes of commons and commoning; some are ambivalent, some are simply objectionable. This means also that capitalism is not the only issue.

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