Freeing Space: Reflections on a Map
Maps determine how we view the world. They circumscribe our collective imagination.
There are, always have been, and always will be spaces outside of Capitalism. Many of us have been taught to believe there are no alternatives and there never have been options for a civilization beyond a small handful of forms of domination (slavery, feudalism, authoritarian state socialism, capitalism, etc). This is false both historically and in the present day. Despite the current Neoliberal form of Capitalism that attempts to colonize every corner of our physical and mental universe in the pursuit of profit, there are a number of spaces outside of its reach, whether newly liberated or older than Capitalism itself. Freeing Space is an attempt to map those spaces.
Much like the state, Capitalism is an expansive entity. Where the state accumulates power and will not relinquish it voluntarily, Capitalism progressively subsumes the world under the market and, hand in hand with the state, actively works against whatever vestiges of collective self-sufficiency are left. Over the last centuries, we have seen common lands enclosed, the peasantry eradicated, and territory divided into parcels to be sold or leased. Today, even the care labour that was once the realm of the family is taken care of by the market. For most of us, the market is the only means of sustaining ourselves: if we want to eat or have a roof over our head, we need to pay for it, and to pay for it, we need to sell our labour-power.
The state has reduced self-governance to the freedom to vote once every four years, and capital has reduced self-sufficiency to the freedom to choose which food you buy. The expansion of these entities (the centralization of power by the state and the expansion of the market by capital) does not look at political colors. The People's Republic of China is as capitalist as the United States, and many of the most radical among us keep Capitalism going merely by keeping themselves alive. At a fundamental level, Capitalism’s power over us derives from our basic dependence on its infrastructure, a form of power more ubiquitous and therefore harder to perceive than subjection to laws and political institutions. Deactivating its power would mean undoing our basic dependence on its infrastructure.
Fukuyama's thesis of the End of History has been much derided, but three decades later, state and capital still form the backdrop of our lives. Whether we want to or not, we are inserted in a system that exploits us, and there is a real dearth of alternatives. Mark Fisher called this capitalist realism: "the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it."
But is it? Millions of people experiment with non-capitalist forms-of-life, and thousands of projects attempt to wrest some freedom from state and market. The rule of capital has never been absolute, but something of our own doing. In the words of David Graeber:
"The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently."
Maps determine how we view the world. They circumscribe our collective imagination. We wanted to map the outside of Capitalism, to show that there is an alternative, or better: many alternatives, many attempts to make a world of many worlds. We defined four criteria based on what we thought a post-state and post-capitalist world should aspire to:
1. Not profit-driven,
3. Democratically operated, and
4. Non-exclusive on grounds of identity.
In practice, these criteria functioned more like guiding ideals than solid criteria, sometimes for lack of information, sometimes because the ethos of a space seemed more important than ticking a few boxes, and sometimes simply because we were given large datasets that we chose to include as a whole. In the future, we will make it possible for people to maintain the map and add new spaces themselves.
In this mapping effort we were confronted with several difficulties. The main one was the question of what belongs on this map and what doesn't. A map is always an abstraction; its few colors will never do justice to the many shades of reality, and in the making of this map some nuance has been sacrificed on the altar of legibility. One distinction we chose to omit is that between spaces that have never been part of Capitalism (common lands, indigenous territories) and those that emerged in resistance to it (squats, info centers, community-supported agriculture). These two types of space are of a fundamentally different nature, and we can debate about the extent to which the criteria mentioned above succeed in grasping both categories: while indigenous territories are generally not part of Capitalism as we know it, they are not always democratic and non-discriminatory.
Moreover, few of the mapped spaces can be said to exist fully outside of capital's reach in the sense that their inhabitants do not rely on Capitalism at all, and while we chose not to map state institutions, many of the mapped project spaces may rely on some type of government funding. The world is not black and white, and to be outside of state and capital is, after all, a matter of degrees. That being said, we are convinced that the spaces on this map work towards the construction of a world in which the market is no longer the only means of keeping us alive, and politics is not reduced to voting another puppet into power.
Historically, the left has thought of revolution in terms of time rather than space; a revolution is a systemic overhaul, sometimes even introducing a new calendar to mark a before and an after. But today, it may be useful to rethink revolution in spatial terms - an approach that in leftist circles goes by the name of communization. There are areas in which Capitalism is less present, areas less beholden to the law of the market, areas that do not rely on the exploitation that capital inevitably implies. As Jasper Bernes wrote in Belly of the Revolution:
"Previous generations of communist theorists have misunderstood the transition to communism as temporal in nature, passing through the intermediate stage of socialism, when it is in fact better thought of as spatial transition: the geographical spread of an immediately social communism that is contagious for the precise reason that it is fully realized."
Aside from this ideological program, Freeing Space also has a practical side. There are different gradations of being inserted in Neoliberal Capitalism. Few of us can say we are completely free of it, and few of us have no interactions outside of it. Either way, Capitalism feeds itself on our energy, and the key to overcoming it lies in spending that energy elsewhere. That may be as simple as buying your produce from a community-supported farm rather than from a Carrefour grocery store, or renting a room in a Mietshäuser Syndikat building rather than on the open market. In some cases, this will be more expensive, as local and sustainable agriculture cannot compete with global networks that exploit both labour and the soil. In other cases, it will be cheaper, as the landlord's cut is removed. In all cases, it leads to forms-of-life that do not feed the hydra of capital.
In many cases, we feed the hydra as a matter of convenience. We buy at the local supermarket because we do not know where else to get food; we find our flat on the market because it's what's available. This map will aid people in finding alternatives by visualizing the non-capitalist infrastructure that already exists. If Capitalism dominates not so much by winning elections as by controlling our infrastructure, the question of how we live and feed ourselves is inherently political. Our hope is that this map helps us expand our shared capacities, that it stimulates the creation of networks of mutual aid, and that it aids the construction of worlds outside of state and capital.