One of the main topics discussed in the Notebook 5 of the Grundrisse is the passage of transformation from the commune to the city. While the commune is, in a too simplified sense, a free gathering together, the city is a mandated and ruled gathering. While the commune “appears as a coming together, not as a being together, as a unification made up of independent subjects, landed proprietors, and not as a unity” (483), the city is the place of the sovereign, the walled community that hosts at its center the one who rules. While the distinction between state and stateless societies is important, Marx does not develop this in depth. For Marx land independence, or land appropriation and its usage, presupposes sovereignty and the figure of the sovereign. Something presupposes the nomos of the earth, so to speak. The commune escapes division, since “the land which cannot be divided if it is to serve as means of production in this specific form” (483).
To relate to the land without the necessity of a nomos, or a sovereign, Marx proposes that the individual proprietors refuse union. The fact that since the appropriation of the earth means the appropriation of the “natural conditions of labour […] as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials” (485), signals that the way we immediately relate to the earth presupposes a “relation of the earth […] always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form” (485). This means that the first struggle of humankind is the strive for affirming live with and within a territory, a form of living that does not consider private property or private forms of working, but positive and affirmative gestures of existence and coexistence. While all this picture is idyllic, or utopian, the form of relationship that Marx is proposing to understand the organization of the commune signals a threshold where utopianism reaches its limit. Since no individual has any existence or life outside of the commune, because those who live in commune do not exist “for [themselves] except in the assembly of the commune members, their coming-together for common purposes” (486), then, the commune eludes the nomos, the state and its oppression, but it erases, in a way, individuality, difference. At the same time, the assembly of the commons, their coming-together, or movement towards each-other, announces the possibility of a commonality, of a commune, with individuals and groups, a pack a formation like the one of the nomads, for whom “what is in fact-appropriated and reproduced here is not the earth but the herd; but the earth is always used communally at each halting place” (491). The commune, then, is the project without plan that seeks social reproduction in an apotropaic way: eating what kills and haunts, while persisting and affirming existence.
The task in the times of Marx and today is to work and create the commons. The commons are the necessary presupposition of labour, of the land, for humankind to exist. At the same time, the commons are what humankind is yet to become, a plastic moment that is habitual. There is something magical about “appropriation,” of encountering oneself with an instrument, a tool, a body, something, that is so different and yet so keen with one strives for affirming oneself. While in the bourgeois world the worker sees the realization of their social existence by the way their skill is expressed by the production line, in the commune, skill has no name, but has still a presence. The skill is “what posits [the worker] as the owner of the instrument” (499), if we are all posited in front of our “instruments” as owners, then, “appropriation” has found a way to let something from its magic to flee capitalist territorialization. To be in front of big projects in a capitalist society reaffirms our oppression but also our chance for building the commons. Marx mentions that, when dealing with the construction of highways, for instance, capitalism faces a point of exhaustion, because building a highway escape what capitalism can do, it even exceeds what the state is able to do. Building for the multitude is always “a necessary use value for the commune, because the commune requires it at any price” (526). In a capitalist society surplus time and value to build a road exist, there are the materials, and costs, but without the “concentration” of the masses, the project dies. Concentration is defined by Marx as “always the addition of the part of labour capacity which each individual can employ on road building, apart from his particular work; but it is not only addition” (528 emphasis added). Concentration is an addition that is not only addition of labour. This addition is something that is heaping up in the way the workers present themselves in front of the project. Addition is a concentration of bodies, an assemblage, the surplus of the commons. While, of course, a road, or perhaps any project that requires the presence of the masses, is always what capitalism demands, and not what the commons need, the desire of the masses stays still always subaltern to whatever domination expects from them. Capitalism will always speculate with its constructions as a way of realizing value, while “living labour creates value” (543) in unexpected ways.