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Abolitionist Socialism

The Revolutionary Struggle for Our Commons Existence

September 4, 2020

The insurrection sparked by George Floyd’s murder has transformed US politics in a matter of months.1This article draws on insights in my forthcoming co-written book Bloom, P., Smolivic-Jones, O. and Woodcock, J. (2021). Guerrilla Democracy: Mobile Power and Revolution in the 21st Century. Bristol University Press. Black Lives Matters has emerged as a force for dismantling a status quo built on racism, inequality, and authoritarian control. Suddenly once unthinkable demands of defunding the police are increasingly seen as political inevitabilities. The urgent need to protect Black lives from state violence by any means necessary is rapidly expanding the very social possibilities of 21st century life.

The seemingly spontaneous rise and then fall of the “autonomous zone” CHOP in Seattle shows the concrete potential of a world without policing and capitalist exploitation as well as just how difficult it is to concretely produce and preserve these spaces. Though it lasted less than a month – from June 8th to July 1st – this initiative directly challenged state authority and presented a living alternative to “terror capitalism.”2Darren Byler and Carolina Sanchez Boe. “Tech-enabled ‘terror capitalism’ is spreading worldwide. The surveillance regimes must be stopped”, The Guardian (July 24, 2020). After a week of riots, the police abandoned their precinct, allowing the protestors to transform their struggle from one of direct resistance to revolutionary experimentation. In addition to making important abolitionist demands to defund the police as well as community health and rent reform, there were also internal amenities such as free medical and food tents along with genuine attempts to govern through democratic consensus. CHOP thus temporarily subverted the mainstream narrative that state authority and policing was necessary for preserving order, revealing instead in their brief creation of a cooperative “space” that they were in fact the enemies of such freedom.

Though short lived, this expanded space of freedom also illuminated a crucial historical contradiction brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement and uprising. The rise of reactionary slogans “All lives matter” and even worse “White lives matter” raises one of the most profound and significant political paradoxes of our age. The obvious and necessary Leftist response is to emphasize once again that indeed in our present social reality Black lives, unfortunately, are fundamentally devalued and made disposable when it suits the “hard” racism of the far right and the “soft white power”3Peter Bloom. “The Fascist Threat of Soft White Power.” Globe Post (June 12, 2020). of the Supposed Conservative and Liberal “moderates”. However, there is another and perhaps more far-reaching revolutionary response. It is to ask the opposite question- “How much under our present system of racial capitalism do any lives matter?” It is precisely here that past and contemporary abolitionist traditions can help provide the wisdom to expand all our freedoms. In showing how devalued Black and non-white lives are – their relegation to being ultimately little more than “human capital” for economic exploitation and political manipulation- they make a radical demand to concretely create a world where existence could be genuinely valued and flourish.

The ultimate destruction of CHOP, though, gestures to its precarity. Most obviously, it was under attack from a capitalist state threatened that another world could rise up without them. Further, it was vulnerable to internal infiltration by reactionary forces who are willing to use violence and subterfuge to stir up racist attacks and division rather than intersectional class solidarity. Nevertheless, it also puts in sharp relief the literal and figurative work that still needs to done in order to create these emancipated spaces and allow them to globally spread and flourish. A key task is discovering the new types of labour and practices necessary for the material and social production of a fundamentally different society rooted in values of cooperation, collective freedom, and shared empowerment.

A politics of creative abolitionism, thus, requires further theoretical and practical insight for its ultimate and lasting success. History is littered with inspiring but faded experiments of expanding liberty only to be engulfed, co-opted, and colonised by a hegemonic system of capitalism and racism. To counter these threats, of internal dissolution and external elimination, Marxist perspectives on production and class struggle remain crucial. In particular, Social Reproduction Theory offers an important lens from which to understand how we  reproduce our lives as capitalist subjects and how we could collectively reproduce them differently under socialism.

At stake, is the struggle to reimagine and rematerialise a “commons existence” that abolishes our  racialised and exploitative capitalist lives for one which encourages the creative exploration of how to socially reproduce a “life empowering” reality rooted in values of shared ownership, collective decision-making, and collaborative organisation. Central to these efforts is the fostering of an intersectional “commons sense” that directly challenges racial capitalism through radical new norms of equality and the diverse skills and wisdom required for collectively building this revolutionary new world together.


Abolishing Capitalist Lives

The current insurrection has shifted the political discussion from reform to abolition. It reflects a radicalised desire to creatively destroy repressive white power structures as well as the deeper racialised knowledges and historic social logics which sustain them. The rise of “autonomous zones” are a living monument to the past and present influence of abolitionist theory and praxis for inspiring contemporary revolutionary struggles both in the US and globally. That is why it is so politically dangerous and historically misguided to trivialise them, as many in the mainstream media have or to simply reduce them to rebooted versions of the radical resistance spaces that marked the recent “Square” and “Occupy movements”.

Instead they follow in an abolitionist tradition of Blacks escaping from racial bondage and oppression to establish and experiment with their own spaces of freedom. Indeed while the US has prided itself on being from its colonial beginnings a global “city on the hill” and “beacon of freedom”, its perhaps most genuine and relevant historical legacy of freedom is the figure of the slave escaping the bondage of plantations for a freer world. Moreover, it was precisely their continued oppression once emancipated that revealed how limited this supposed freedom remained. The legacies of share cropping, Jim Crow, segregation, and mass incarceration daily discredited official US claims of “justice and liberty for all.”

Central to these efforts is the fostering of an intersectional “commons sense” that directly challenges racial capitalism through radical new norms of equality and the diverse skills and wisdom required for collectively building this revolutionary new world together.   

Yet these spaces also reawaken a parallel – and sadly all too often forgotten history of Black Americans establishing new communities born out of both necessity and a shared aspiration for liberation. CHOP, in this respect, harkens back to traditions of sanctuary “maroons” and radical guerrilla community building. From the very start of their enslavement in North America, Blacks escaped into the “wilderness” and braved harsh often seemingly unliveable conditions for a free existence. This includes the famous “Great Dismal Swamp”4See Nevius, M. P. (2020). City of Refuge: Slavery and Petit Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp, 1763-1856. University of Georgia Press. Also Maris-Wolf, T. (2013). Hidden in plain sight: Maroon life and labor in Virginia’s Dismal Swamp. Slavery & Abolition34(3), 446-464 and LeMenager, S. (2005). Marginal Landscapes: Revolutionary Abolitionists and Environmental Imagination. Interdisciplinary Literary Studies7(1), 49-56. maroons in Virginia which was continuously inhabited by Africans and Black Americans from 1680 up to the Civil War. However, it was also evident in lesser known examples, such as the community created by British trained Black soldiers immediately after the Revolutionary War on the Savannah River which was both a thriving settlement as well as a base for community members to launch attacks on Georgia plantations and troops.5See Gerrity, S. (2014). Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons.

More formally, it speaks to a US history of Black Americans searching for genuine emancipation through migration and community building. This is witnessed as early as the “exodusters” movement of 1879 where Southern Blacks sought refuge in “Free Kansas” from the daily repression they faced in post-Reconstruction South and given aid in their journey by the bourgeoning Black American community in Saint Louis.6See Jack, B. M. (2007). The St. Louis African American Community and the Exodusters. University of Missouri Press. More formally, this tradition was reflected in the establishment of the Black owned settlement “Nicodemus” in “Free Kansas”7Hinger, C. (2016). Nicodemus: Post-Reconstruction Politics and Racial Justice in Western Kansas (Vol. 11). University of Oklahoma Press. Also Heiman, N. A. (2007). The spirit of Nicodemus (Doctoral dissertation, Wichita State University). at this time to the later success of the so-called “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa,8Messer, C. M., Shriver, T. E., & Adams, A. E. (2018). The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa’s 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth. American Journal of Economics and Sociology77(3-4), 789-819. Also Brophy, A. L. (2003). Reconstructing the dreamland: The Tulsa riot of 1921: Race, reparations, and reconciliation. Oxford University Press. Oklahoma where Blacks had created against all odds a prosperous business district uniting principles of entrepreneurial innovation and mutual aid before it was destroyed by the notorious Tulsa race riots in 1921.

Hence, the ethos of abolitionism is one rooted simultaneously in radical destruction and creative reconstruction. In this respect, it serves as an ongoing challenge to not only the universalist applicability in practice of liberal freedoms but the narrowness in which it conceives “human life” and its social possibilities. The present struggles against mass incarceration and police brutality are at their roots a blow against what the French thinker Michel Foucault described as the “biopolitical” realities of modernity. Instead of manifesting abstract Enlightenment principles of “liberty and freedom for all”, they have evolved into an exploitative and disciplining world focused on profitably “managing” our lives.  The growth of mass imprisonment and the need to give voice to prisoners and those who are daily brutally repressed by public and private policing, inform an abolitionist ethos of what Foucault terms “active intolerance” to systems of oppressions and their devaluation of our existence as bodies to be simply socially and economically processed.9See Zurn, P., & Dilts, A. (Eds.). (2016). Active intolerance: Michel Foucault, the prisons information group, and the future of abolition. Springer.

Yet the proclaimed “future of abolition” cannot and should not be confined to such a radical refusal of the existent order. Rather it must a parallel affirmation of what could be possible if we were to eliminate these harsh and ultimately dehumanising present realities. For this purpose, it is instructive to return to the roots of radical abolitionism. The warranted and welcomed present day celebration of Frederick Douglas, for instance, risks eliding the full scope of his radical politics – ones which should continue to resonate with and compel the struggles for freedom of today. His narrative does not stop at the full scale rejection of the chattle slavery for which he was borne into and escaped. It is also a condemnation of the restricted liberation of the North which he found refuge within, a world where he found himself a “part of no part”.  His writings and activism, represent according to Donald Pease “a people not allowed to speak for themselves in the name of a political collectively—a democratic people to come—that as yet has no recognizable part in the United States biopolitical order… while simultaneously setting the stage for the emergence of an alternative to the existing order.”10Pease, D. E. (2016). From the Camp to the Commons: Biopolitical Alter-Geographies in Douglass and Melville. Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory72(3), p.11.

This bold call to at once eliminate and create is manifest in the work and activism of contemporary abolitionist. In particular, Black feminism, as Stephen Dillon notes “understands race, gender, and sexuality not as static categories of identification but as processes that produce value and disposability for individuals, populations, and forms of knowledge.”11Dillon, S. (2016). “Can They Ever Escape?” Foucault, Black Feminism, and the Intimacy of Abolition. In Active Intolerance (pp. 259-276). Palgrave Macmillan, New York., p. 259. It thus acts as a direct challenge to the biopolitical production of modern lives generally. Struggles against the biopolitical coercion of inmates – such as the forced sterilisation of mostly non-white prisoners in California between 2006 and 201012Whatcott, J. (2018). No Selves to Consent: Women’s Prisons, Sterilization, and the Biopolitics of Informed Consent. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society44(1), 131-153. – illustrate the discrete and dangerous ways that primarily Black and Brown bodies are deemed “disposable” and therefore do not fundamentally “matter”. Further, they point to deeper threat and abiding allure of white privilege, as it shows how easily and professionally authorities can deem your body and life unworthy if it serves their interests.

Such concerns extend far beyond the repression of non-whites who are incarcerated. There is a broader danger of disciplining these anti-racist movements and insurrections to reinforce prevailing capitalist and reformist hegemonies. The serious issues raised by these struggles are incorporated into corporate friendly official narratives of Liberal progress. As such abolitionist ideas are “re-represented” as part of an illusionary “post-racial” vision of the  US that is on the surface more inclusive but no less exploitative.13Banks, C. (2018). Disciplining Black activism: post-racial rhetoric, public memory and decorum in news media framing of the Black Lives Matter movement. Continuum32(6), 709-720. The repressive realities faced by non-whites and their genuine demands for transformative change are once more made managed and made invisible by sanitised “racial grammars” that do little to dismantle the root causes of white priviledge and racial capitalism.

It is imperative then to ensure that this insurrectionary moment is able to disrupt these elitist discourses of cosmetic change for a political vision that at once directly addresses the historic oppression of non-whites while universally expanding the possibilities for everyone. The brilliant contemporary political theorist Melvin Lee Rogers draws on the work of Du Bois, to show how rhetoric and emotional appeals can strategically combine to “enlarge America’s political and ethical imagination regarding the status of African-Americans.”14Rogers, M. L. (2012). The People, Rhetoric, and Affect: On the Political Force of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk. American Political Science Review106(1), 188-203. The broadening of our political and ethical horizons though requires us to be beyond resistance in order to ideologically and concretely articulate what a “post-abolitionist” society could and should look like. Nevertheless, as one of the foremost current abolitionist thinkers Robin D.G. Kelley observes in their book Freedom Dreams, the making of such “spaces of freedom” are inspiring but all to rare and fleeting. Indeed, quoting him at length, in this respect, he notes that

In the poetics of struggle and lived experience, in the utterances of ordinary folk, in the cultural products of social movements, in the reflections of activists, we discover the many different cognitive maps of the future, of the world not yet born. Recovering the poetry of social movements, however, particularly the poetry that dreams of a new world, is not such an easy task. For obvious reasons, what we are against tends to take precedence over what we are for, which is always a more complicated and ambiguous matter. It is a testament to the legacies of oppression that opposition is so frequently contained, or that efforts to find “free spaces” for articulating or even realizing our dreams are so rare or marginalized.15Kelley, R. D. (2002). Freedom dreams: The black radical imagination. Beacon Press, 11.

For these “spaces of freedom” to go from experiments to sustainable radical alternatives, serious attention will need to be paid to the concrete knowledges and practices necessary for creating liberating forms of “actually existing socialism” in the 21st century.

The intentional construction of these spaces is crucial, therefore, for infusing anti-racism resistance into creative revolutionary movements. As noted, abolitionism has always had within its political DNA this spirit of radical reconstruction. In the present era this has been translated into a concrete and credible reimagining of a society without policing as it is currently conceived and practiced. This would include the defunding of police and the ending of mass incarceration to be replaced by enhanced social services, community health professionals, and restorative justice. These transformative policy visions build on the call of Angela Davis to “envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment–demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.”16Davis, A. Y. (2011). Are prisons obsolete?. Seven Stories Press.

These futures, significantly, are already being experimented with and created in the present. As Nick Estes presciently reminds us “freedom is a place” and must be continually manifested and cultivated through practices such as “anti-colonial placemaking.”17Nick Estes. “Freedom is a Place: Long traditions of anti-colonial resistance in Turtle Island”. Versopolis Review. (March 20, 2020). The resistance of capitalism and colonialism must be intertwined with the fostering of alternative ways of existing together, such as “indigenous social relations” based on “radical relationality” with others and the environment in opposition to market based competition and extraction. This politic of reinventing the social through localised struggles with potential global implications is evident as well in such place-based revolutionary abolitionist “place” like the “Oakland Power Projects” and the “Sogorea Te Land Trust” – each of which represents a living attempt to put in place emancipatory and commons-based principles for building communities.

The emergence of CHOP as part of this 21st century abolitionist struggle, hence, is a call to abolish capitalist life in order to save not just Black and Brown lives but all life.  The current racialised system regularly reveals how little it values human beings in practice while relying on repressive systems to show that even amidst this general exploitation and disposability how some lives do in fact still continue too socially matter more than others. It is a daily reminder to non-whites that they are ultimately their very existence is expendable and to whites that without this system of racial privilege so too could theirs be. To declare that “Black Lives Matters” then is to proclaim that the escape to a better and freer world is still possible.


Producing a Commons Existence

While the rise of CHOP was certainly exciting, its fall should be sobering and equally instructive. Its external destruction showed how precarious concrete emancipation is in our capitalist society. Yet for these “spaces of freedom” to go from experiments to sustainable radical alternatives, serious attention will need to be paid to the concrete knowledges and practices necessary for creating liberating forms of “actually existing socialism” in the 21st century.

It is tempting, of course, to merely treat racism as an issue of economic inequality – one that can be easily solved through social democratic reforms of greater wealth distribution and stronger social safety nets. These would certainly alleviate many of the main symptoms but would do little to dismantle the deeper logics and relations which perpetuate both racism and capitalism. These approaches have been rightfully critiqued and forcefully condemned when proposed by otherwise “progressive” forces. As recently and rightly put by Peter Ikeler in Spectre:

In reality, the struggle for Black lives against repressive police violence is but the leading edge of a growing upheaval against a racialized capitalist death cult—vividly displayed by the US government’s disastrous, profit-before-all-else response to COVID-19. It is not a narrow, single-policy movement by any stretch.18Peter Ikeler. “To End Police Violence, End Racial Capitalism: A Reply to Dustin Guastella.” Spectre (July 20, 2020).

Rather, it is crucial to take seriously the insights of Cedric Robinson in his theorisation of “racial capitalism.”19Robinson, C. J. (2000). Black Marxism: The making of the Black radical tradition. Univ of North Carolina Press. Also see Melamed, J. (2015). Racial capitalism. Critical Ethnic Studies1(1), 76-85. Thomas, D. C. (2005). The Black radical tradition-theory and practice: Black studies and the scholarship of Cedric Robinson. Race & class47(2), 1-22. Thomas, D. C. (2013). Cedric J. Robinson and racial capitalism: Africana liberation resistance structures and black internationalism in the twenty-first century. African Identities11(2), 133-147. As he astutely notes, capitalism was not separate from racism but emerged within an increasingly racialised world. The awareness of this historical reality has helped lead to a greater acknowledgement of the ways in which anti-racism and anti-capitalism must be always combined. The production and policing of difference has been used to not only separate populations but categorise them as exploitable human capital. “It is not that capitalism and racism are separate and distinct systems; it is that racism is the essential interface that grafts an abstract capitalist system onto living, thinking humans and their societies” Sean Larson argues, “‘Racial capitalism’ is, therefore, just the name for capitalism that exists in the real world, i.e. the only kind.”20Sean Larson. “The Abolitionist Road to Socialism”. Rampart Magazine (July 23, 2020).

Yet it is also here where abolitionism and socialism truly unite. Not merely in their dual commitment to the eradication of racism and classicism but also in the development through struggle and solidarity of an alternative society freed from their oppression. This requires gaining greater knowledge of the concrete practices and techniques conducive to such emancipation. While Audre Lorde (1984) astutely and famously maintains that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, she also uses this realisation as a call to develop radically new skills and perspectives for “learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”21See Lorde, A. (2012). Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Crossing Press. Also Collins, P. H. (2002). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. routledge. Lorde, A., & Rich, A. (1981). An Interview with Audre Lorde. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society6(4), 713-736. In this spirit, the praxis of abolitionism is socialism and the praxis of socialism is abolitionism.

Social Reproduction Theory is crucial for the connecting these radical traditions.22See Bhattacharya, T. (ed.) Social reproduction theory: Remapping class, recentering oppression. Pluto Press, 2017. It has been a vital recent intervention into established Marxist perspectives by stressing the work (often unaccounted for, unpaid, and invisible) required for socially maintaining market economies. It reveals the totalising effect of capitalism as all spheres of human existence must be made to ultimately reflect its exploitative demands. It also reveals the fundamentally inter-sectional qualities of any socialist analysis and struggle which must take seriously the diverse roles that different populations play in this social reproduction.

The growing political struggles to demilitarize the police are part of a larger movement to reduce the capacity of the bourgeois state to use its weaponry and violence to threaten and destroy this emancipated commons existence.

In a certain sense, SRT already shares a similar spirit to abolitionism. In broadening the horizon of work beyond the workplace, it opens the space for crafting movements that are seeking to dismantle the oppressions infecting society as a whole. The call for “mass strikes” by women, for instance, reflects an internationalist agenda in which the halting of social labour can grind global capitalism to a halt, thus bring to the fore new previously largely untapped forms of labour power.  However, it can also yield important insights for fostering abolitionist communities in practice incorporating socialist principles.

Already SRT has informed how we can distinguish between “life-making activities” and “profit producing labour.”23Mark Bergfeld and Sara Farris, “The COVID-19 Crisis and the End of the ‘Low-skilled’ Worker”. Spectre (May 10, 2020). In times of crisis these distinctions are especially significant as they allow for a clear assessment of what is an “essential” socialist economic activity and what is an “inessential” capitalist activity. It further puts the spotlight on transforming such essential “life-making activities” into more empowering and emancipated forms of work based on cooperative rather than competitive values. Hence, underpaid care work is reimagined as part of community funded and shared “care networks” of mutual aid. These efforts draw inspiration from emerging perspectives on “radical care” that explicitly counter-pose “new age capitalism”24Cederström, C., & Spicer, A. (2015). The wellness syndrome. John Wiley & Sons. and its emphasis on corporate friendly mindfulness with grassroot traditions of solidarity and collective wellbeing.25Hobart, H. I. J. K., & Kneese, T. (2020). Radical CareSurvival Strategies for Uncertain Times. Social Text, 38(1 (142)), 1-16.

Abolitionist movements are themselves promoting such emancipated community spaces, stressing core principles of community accountability, social safety, and mutual support. This ethos is well capture in A. Naomi Paik’s ideas on “abolitionist sanctuary”26Paik, A. N. (2020). Bans, Walls, Raids, Sanctuary: Understanding US Immigration for the Twenty-First Century (Vol. 12). Univ of California Press. – in which radically safe spaces can be produced for protecting those made most vulnerable by contemporary police and security apparatuses while fostering these alternative social relations. This notion is witnessed in practice in the creation of Minneapolis “Sanctuary Hotel”27Jared Brey. “The Story Behind the Minneapolis ‘Sanctuary Hotel’”. Next City (June 23, 2020). following the George Floyd murder – where activists repurposed a Sheraton hotel whose reservations had been cancelled due to protests as a volunteer run shelter and community centre for homeless people. While certainly inspiring, this also points to the need too further articulate and put into practice what precisely constitutes “abolitionist labour” for its social reproduction. What indeed is the actual work involved in ensuring that all our lives really matter?

Current experiments with creating a “commons existence” help to theoretically and practically address these questions. They are focused not only on offering a “sanctuary” and escape from racial capitalism but encouraging, experimenting, and spreading anti-racist non exploitative social realities. The Lilac intentional ecological co-housing community is an illuminating case study where residents exist as self-described “commoners” and work together to explore the types of behavioural and physical spatial designs necessary to reproduce a more cooperative and liberating existence. This experiment with collective democracy, shared spaces, and autonomous relations aims to highlight the possibilities of establishing “a parallel set of social and spatial relations and values alongside traditional public and private ones to illustrate an emerging geography of post-capitalist transitions.”28Chatterton, P. (2013). Towards an agenda for post‐carbon cities: lessons from Lilac, the UK’s first ecological, affordable cohousing community. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research37(5), 1654-1674.

These radical attempts to expand freedom unite abolitionism and socialism into a shared revolutionary project of discovering what is necessary to socially reproduce a liberating existence. They form – returning us once more to Frederick Douglas – what he referred to as “alter-geographies” of freedom. And they serve as core components of replacing the tyranny of racial capitalism with abolitionist socialism.


Fighting for Our Commons Lives

This analysis began with highlighting a profound paradox of the current anti-racism uprisings. The radical fight to ensure that “black lives matter” articulates the revolutionary question of “in our contemporary world, how much does any life truly matter”? The abolitionist calls to for equality and protection is an imperative force for collectively reflecting on how existence is presently materially “valued” and what type of society this ideologically and practically reproduces. The danger is when such abolitionist socialist demands are made separate – so that anti-racism becomes focused only on achieving capitalist equality and anti-capitalism is divorced from the need to take seriously the “actually existing” diverse oppressions of those living within it.

Conversely, the ongoing creation of emancipated spaces and practices fosters a dynamic and shared “commons sense”. This term draws upon, obviously, Gramsci’s famous “common sense” signalling the cultural norms and discourses which daily legitimised and reproduced capitalist hegemony. The risk is always that class struggle will remain in the realm of battles for sovereign power, seeking only to replace one ruler with another as opposed to abolishing the very foundations of this rule for something radically different and more liberating. The praxis of “abolitionist socialism” – its efforts to explore the possibility of adopting commons values, Communist modes of production, and socialist forms of work – allows for the organic development of the very concrete skills and knowledges which can abolish racial capitalism and realistically forge a shared view of what a socialist world could and should look like in our lifetimes.

Such a revolutionary ethos brings new urgency, creativity, and militancy as well to contemporary abolitionist struggles. The call to “defund the police” and eradicate jails becomes both an end itself and an invitation to radically recreate society. The invasion of CHOP serves as a 21st reminder of the optimism and pessimism of the 19th Paris commune. Updated to the present day, the growing political struggles to demilitarize the police are part of a larger movement to reduce the capacity of the bourgeois state to use its weaponry and violence to threaten and destroy this emancipated commons existence. They also take aim at the disciplining authority at work, giving greater freedom for the common’s to infilitrate and transform our lives as workers. These efforts further connect up with the need to abolish the imperial state apparatuses which suppress such liberation movements worldwide.

The fostering of this “commons sense” – forged both through radical experimentation and shared resistance – is also a catalyst for new forms of intersectional revolutionary movements. Conventionally, intersectionality concerns the diverse operation and effect of oppression. Yet once radicalised as part of a “commons” struggles, it also represents the flowering of the full diversity and context-specific efforts to create a “commons existence”. This echoes what Barbara Biesecker29Biesecker, B. A. (2017). From general history to philosophy: Black Lives Matter, late neoliberal molecular biopolitics, and rhetoric. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 50(4), 409-430. refers to as the challenging of the “common sense” of “All Lives Matter” with a new “common sense” of “singularly plural coexistence” catalysed by the “Black Lives Matter” struggles. In concrete terms, such a radically novel “commons sense” is glimpsed in the “gynpunk” collective which is a ““as a queer collaboration of hackers and feminists” that “focuses on bodies as reconfigurable and hackable technologies, and adopts the devices of gynaecology as weapons of resistance by 3D-printing speculums and making their own centrifuges and microscopes from discarded hardware.”30Thorburn, E. D. (2017). Cyborg witches: class composition and social reproduction in the GynePunk collective. Feminist Media Studies17(2), p. 153.

The promise of “abolitionist socialism”, therefore, threatens the very existence of capitalism, showing with every protest and commons creation that another world is not only possible but within our collective grasp. However, the work of dismantling racial capitalism must take seriously the actual work involved in socially reproducing a liberated Communist society both today and tomorrow. The only way to ensure that our lives truly matter, thus, is to fight for our commons existence.



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