Commons' movements and 'progressive' governments as dual power: The potential for social transformation in Europe.

AuthorBroumas, Antonios


In the neoliberal era, social counter-power emerges as the main resurgent force to contend the capital-state complex, whether in the form of labour struggles or direct democratic movements or in the form of struggles for the preservation/ diffusion of the commons. Political forces within these societies in motion do not play the role of revolutionary vanguards, instead they protect and facilitate the process of the social revolution by political or military means. At the negative pole of the duality, the failure to sustain social reproduction under extreme conditions of inequality and corruption gives rise either to 'failed states' or to progressive governments, which start building their hegemony in complex interrelation to grassroots movements. In this context, we are in need of subversive politics that weaken the bourgeois state by facilitating the emancipation of society.


capital, commons, dual power, social movements, state

The novelty of the coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the conquest or control of the state, but a struggle between the state and the non-state (humanity).


For the needs of the present endeavour, let us compare the raging social war in Europe with a boxing game. In the one--the negative--corner we have the capital-state complex, the dominant form of social power in the game. In the other--the positive--corner, the social counter-power of the European people takes many forms, depending each time on the various terrains of struggle that spread throughout the social body. At stake is the qualitative change in form, the circulation and the accumulation of social power for each one of these two competing forces.

With the aim to resolve the crisis caused by its inherent contradictions, the capital--state complex first deals a right-hand cross against the oppressed strata in Europe by reducing wages and intensifying the many other mechanisms for the extraction of surplus value. Oppressed social subjects respond with a left-hand cross of general strikes and various other ways of disobedience against the current state of reproduction of wage labour. Often, certain political economists tend to end their analysis here, hence failing to give a concise and up-to-date depiction of nowadays' social warfare. A more preferable critique of the political economy, that is, better equipped to guide us through the destruction of all forms of exploitation and domination, sets the phenomenon of social power as its central object of analysis and unearths the ways of how the forms of both the capital-state complex and social counter-power circulate and accumulate their opposing forces. Therefore, it is fully capable of acknowledging the fact that capital has long ago broken out of the gates of the factories and has reached a point where it yet threatens to metabolise the whole natural and social world according to its norms and teleologies.

Having in mind the thoughts mentioned above, we have to admit that the boxing game continues. The capital--state complex strikes further with a jab, expropriating small property and increasing taxation of the oppressed strata. Social counter-power regroups by forming grassroots movements for the defence of small proprietor networks and nopay movements. Next, the capital-state complex hits right below the belt, enclosing public space and basic goods necessary for social reproduction. Societies in motion counter-attack with struggles for the public character of goods necessary for their reproduction. The neoliberal state imposes generalised surveillance, institutionalised oppression, states of exception for the dangerous classes and postmodern forms of infant totalitarianism. Massive grassroots movements counter-impose de facto collective rights of resistance, whereas at the same time experiment with constituent practices of participatory democracy in opposition to representation. The capital-state complex responds with an uppercut by disseminating the commodity in all aspects of life in common. Networks of struggle rise to form movements for the [re] production and multiplication of the commons.

In this civil war to death, you may add as many blows as you like. The fact that until now we are being severely beaten should not be a reason for disappointment, but should rather be considered as a condition of our ongoing domination by capital. Yet, the process of natural/social metabolisation by capital has certain unexpected effects. The contradictions and externalities of capital push social counter-power to fill in the gaps and vacuums of social reproduction with its own relations and values. In this process, social counter-power acquires constitutive characteristics. Leftist governments are a reflection of this contentious process, but they are far from being the engine of radical transformation. The composition and circulation of commons in various terrains of social reproduction should better be seen as the climax of our struggles, our power unleashed against capitalist domination. We will recognise that we are winning battles, when we live more and more in life-worlds of collective freedom and autonomy, when we cover more and more of our collective needs by the sphere of the commons.

By engaging with the political economy of social movements, the present endeavour aims to contribute to a particular theory of revolutionary praxis. Its main argument is that the notion of dual power can be appropriately modified to better understand contemporary revolutionary praxis and open emancipatory perspectives for the future. The first part of the essay consists of a brief narrative of the history of dual power and its interaction with radical conceptions about revolution. In the second part, social counter-power is described as todays main opposing force to the capital-state complex and, hence, as the social subject which has the potential to emerge in dual power formations with the latter. The third part elaborates on contemporary instances of dual power and their contradictory processes. The fourth part of the essay is an attempt to unearth the complex dialectics between dualities of power and determine the dynamics that have an emancipatory potential. Finally, the fifth and last part examines the recent political processes in Europe under the prism of the subversive relationships between social movements and progressive governments discussed herein.

Dual power as revolutionary praxis in the past

The question of how to change the world has long been the holy grail of revolutionaries from all strands. Consequently, the social impact of radical theorising has been determined by the ways that revolutionary transformation is in each radical theory perceived to take place. Both anarchist and Marxist theories over the nature of revolution have the 1871 Paris Commune as their common starting point. Taking into account the Commune and prior revolutions, Bakunin and the anarchists supported the primacy of social over political revolution. According to their view, revolution is a process that can only take place at the social base and from below upwards, when the oppressed classes, which constitute the vast majority of society, turn against their oppressors by violent means (Bakunin 1973 [1871], 1990 [1873]). Concurrently, Marx (1970 [1845]) considered communism as a real movement constantly at work at the base of capitalist society, which abolishes dominant social relations and creates the new world. Nevertheless, according to Marx, revolution is the midwife of history. The revolutionary act of force is needed not to create but to give birth to the new, when communism at the social base reaches a certain stage of development (Marx 1992 [1885]).

Whereas revolutionaries of the 19th century converged on the social nature of revolutionary transformations, in the debates about revolutionary strategy opinions started to diverge and polemics commenced. Intellectuals within the social movements devised two main revolutionary strategies: destroying the state apparatus or storming the 'winter palace'. According to the first strategy, pursued by anarchists, the state was viewed as an inappropriate tool for the creation of emancipatory social relations. Eventually, anarchists advocated the destruction rather than the seizure of state power through the violent revolt of the oppressed masses. In contrast, for Marxist-Leninists the seizure of the state was seen as a necessary step towards radical social transformations that had to be conquered before being gradually withered by the proletariat (Lenin 1917a). The main force that would guide through these revolutionary transformations would have to be a political vanguard in the form of the communist party (Lenin 1901-1902).

Contrary to the simplifications of theory, the revolutionary process proved much more complicated in practice. In the beginning of the 20th century, states in industrialised countries were becoming less and less alike than the French state that was dismantled, even for some months and even only in Paris, by the Parisian communards. Massive social movements were still attacking the state and capitalist relations through insurrections and revolutions in many countries. Nevertheless, revolutionaries now faced states that had gradually consolidated their powers over societies, having enhanced their organisational capacities and their capacities to mobilise resources and produce ideologies. The revolutionary process was taking more and more the form of a duality between two powers. On one hand, the state and its apparatuses persevered to defend incumbent capitalist relations and the stratification of social life, and, on the other hand, the revolutionary movements constituted their social counter-power through the reconstruction of alternative social relations from below upwards, which were directly challenging the political, economic, ideological and military monopolies...

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