Plebs, common goods and alternatives to capitalism

Curators: Katarzyna Czeczot, Łukasz Moll, Michał Pospiszyl

The seminar will be held on Zoom. Each event requires separate registration via the application form on our website. We will e-mail the link to the meeting to registered participants. After the lecture, we are planning a discussion which will be streamed on our Facebook and YouTube channels, as well as recorded and archived on YouTube and in Resources on our website. If you don’t consent to making your image public, we ask you to keep your camera and microphone off throughout the entire event. You can send your questions on the chat. We encourage everyone to join the discussion.

The second semester of the series will be focused around the problem of the exterior of the state, capital and history. We will concentrate on rifts in the social order which both in terms of time and space break out the capitalist reality.

Our thinking will be organised by three main concepts:

– common goods as transhistorical exterior, seemingly anachronistic and lost in the course of consecutive waves of hedging and privatization, and yet recurring in the social struggle and organizing the horizon of the future;

– margins as a secondary and minor space which nevertheless creates the opportunity to dislocate any order and any centre; it is a space of muted perspectives, a shelter for the escapees and lost subjectivity;

– popular, insurrectionary Enlightenment as a kind of underground tradition of liberation, subjected by the classical Enlightenment to repression and suppression, erasing it from history.

What opportunity is provided by the criticism of capitalism carried out from the perspective of these three, liminal notions? What can we achieve by colliding them? To what extent could they become strongholds of a different world – a world of an ecological catastrophe extended in time? And what could the plebs do with them?

Leading theoretician and historian of the commons and plebeian subjectivity, Silvia Federici, will present her latest research on the role of women as guardians of the common goods. Historian Marcus Rediker will present the figure of Benjamin Lay, radical transatlantic abolitionist who developed grass-root and anti-liberal model of the Enlightenment. Philosopher Massimiliano Tomba will draw the marginal, underlying current of modern revolutions – radical, bottom-up and drawing from self-organising forms of doing politics. Marta Petrusewicz will talk about alternative visions of modernity, and Tomasz Rakowski about the autonomy of subordinate classes under the conditions of aggressive modernization.

The model of criticism at which we are aiming will reach for everything that opposes, evades and does not lend itself easily to the dialectic of history. Assuming that in the era of the ecological crisis the train of history rushes straight over the cliff, we propose considering to what extent we can open other possibilities of history, beginning with those who did not fit into the train car in the first place.

The fundamental question will relate to if and how we can combine various struggles of marginal subjectivities. What model of politics would be required in such a scenario? To what extent can we use traditional political forms based on representation? And finally, what kind of narrative could contribute to the commoning of horizons?


28.01.2021 | 18:00 | Thursday
Markus Rediker (lecture and meeting in English, without interpretation)

Revolutionary Commoning: A Vision from the Eighteenth Century

26.02.2021 | 18:00 | Friday
Silvia Federici (lecture and meeting in English, without interpretation)

Body, Reproduction and the Commons. Perspectives for the Grassroots Feminism

25.03.2021 | 18:00 | Thursday
Massimiliano Tomba (lecture and meeting in English, without interpretation)

Re-imagining the Present. Alternative Trajectories of Modernity

22.04.2020 | 18:00 | Thursday
Marta Petrusewicz (lecture and meeting in Polish, without interpretation)

Alternative visions and practices of progress on the 19th century European periphery

27.05.2020 | 18:00 | Thursday

Tomasz Rakowski (lecture and meeting in Polish, without interpretation)

Flows, cooperations, circles of the possible. Affective states in late socialism and post-socialist reality

Plague, plebs and alternatives to capitalism

(February 2020)

Layabouts? Sluggards? Pathology? Groups assigned to the social margin – vagrants, beggars, the impoverished and the unemployed – are usually perceived as a “problem to be solved”. Even though various ways of facing it were proposed – from repression and deportation, to education and work at the grass roots, to empowerment and raising revolutionary awareness – what they all shared was the paternalism based on the fact that the excluded plebs have nothing to offer.

Today, thanks to various revisionist research, we are gaining a completely different perspective on those erased from the history and pushed into the grey zone. We are starting to notice quiet resistance tactics, informal support and solidarity networks, alternative circuits of the embodied knowledge or subversive ambitions toward autonomy from the state and capital. The history of the plebeian way of life is composed of the fates of women accused of witchcraft, mountain-dwelling runaways and thugs, radicals and heretics from pirate ships or illegal migrant networks. Its fundamental factors include defending old and manufacturing new commons which we want to see as laboratories experimenting with non-capitalist forms of life.

In the times of the ecological catastrophe, crisis of liberal democracy, collapse of social bonds and rise of various populisms, we want to ask the question about the perspectives of radically democratic, community-based and sustainable “plebeianism”. Leading researchers of the commons will help us look for an answer. In our seminar, we start from acknowledging that in English commoner can be someone common and someone using common sense, but at the same time dependant on access to the commons and oftentimes dreaming of a genuine commonwealth. We assume that plebeian narratives have the chance to radically expand our political imagination. The latter is precisely the objective of the series of eight two-day meetings that we organize (in the form of a lecture plus a 3 hour long seminar).

(April 2020)

Historically, epidemics fulfilled two functions. They served the consolidation of power, increasing oppression and control over the subservient classes, but sometimes they resulted in the periods of the hierarchy collapse, the breakdown of the previous law and order. Unlike any other events in the social history, plagues supported utopian thinking and fantasising about the world in which everything would be turned upside down: horses ride their riders, masters serve their slaves and animals hunt the hunters. During our lectures we will take a closer look at plagues as events in social history. We will ponder what are their causes and possible consequences, in what relation epidemic crises are to the crises of capital and the ecological catastrophe. We believe this is the time for infectious ideas.

The development of the disease situation prevents us from organising our meetings and our guests’ international travel. We hope that in several months we will be able to return to the intended formula, but in the meantime we propose a temporarily changed format of the seminar: a series of online lectures titles “Plague, plebs and alternatives to capitalism,” prepared by the curators for the broader audience. We trust that this formula will be interesting and that it will enable us to build a community in this temporary isolation, a community of hope for the return to the normalcy and not just to business as usual.


28.04.2020 | 18:00 | Tuesday

Michał Pospiszyl

When did people begin to get ill? The state, monoculture and pathogens.

28.05.2020 | 18:00 | Thursday
Łukasz Moll
Sowers of the plague, reapers of the revolution. How to inoculate Europe against the post-pandemic racism?

18.06.2020 | 18:00 | Thursday
Katarzyna Czeczot
Plague and modernity. Do we need monstrous politics?