This site describes in greater detail how provisioning works at SSM, a commons that started back in the 1979, in Cologne, Germany. We clarify how SSM is trying to engage with "the reality, the real economy" as opposed to the mainstream economy of conventional markets, finance and consumerism.
The starting point of SSM's 'real economy' is not to accept "exclusion through an econonomistic logic." That means not regarding prices as the controlling reality of life:
Our economy is mutual and dynamic. And it doesn't begin with setting prices. Prices and money play a certain role, but not the decisive one. Prices come rather late in the process. It's about the way we understand "economy," about the decisions we take, not about money. It is as Karl Heinz Brodbeck thml says. He opened my eyes: "Money is a collective illusion, but illusions work." Rainer Kippe, cofounder
One of SSM's cofounders claims that "in the mainstram economy they cannot see any more what really works. What really works is hidden to them like under an engine hood."
It's very interesting. What we do seems impossible to an economist, who has studied mainstream textbooks. According to classical theory, what we do can't work. But in fact, we do it everyday. It's just reality. Economic theory says: you need capital, soil and workforce. We had no capital. Our building were in ruins; they would have been destroyed in the "normal economy." And our people were excluded and had nowhere to go. With these three factors we created an 'economic surplus'. Because people can create, they have value money cannot create. We didn't have a long theoretical and philosophical discussion about it. We just put it into practice. It is hard to find people who come and say: "What you are doing is wrong."In fact, we are the proof that the dominant economic theory which is being taught everywhere is wrong. Whomever comes here says: "Wow, fantastic!" Only, if you are a mainstream economist, you can never understand what we do. Rainer Kippe
"In SSM you can observe, what economy is about: It's giving and taking, it's breathing in and breathing out. People come in and give us support and people come in and ask for support." (Rainer Kippe)
# How does Provisioning in the Commons occur?
SSM Second Hand Shop. source
"The community shall survive, not the firm. Which kind of work we do is not so important." (Rainer Kipping)
At the beginning, in the 1970s, SSM was trying to solve every problem without input from the outside, using and repairing the machinery available to it and relying only on the knowledge and skills within the group. As time went by, they had to realize that they were "not able to keep up with the challenges" and started contracting for services. Separating commons and commerce -- and the different logics that each entails -- became an issue.
But in reality this separation is not possible.
These are the words of cofounder Rainer Kippe. The SSM location itself illustrates the point. There is a yard in the middle and four buildings around it, with rooms and flats to rent and others where SSM members live. So SSM work and life are deeply blended.
For the first time we are constructing a new building. For the first time in more than 40 years we are not just using what is already there.
For the first time, the structural works, shell and core are now realized by a construction company. Everything else, including the water system, electricity, plastering and the interior work, is being done by the group.
Even though commerce and commons are blended at SSM, it remains conceptually and mentally necessary to Separate Commons & Commerce. SSM refers back to Fritjof Bergman, the father of the new work concept, who helped SSM members understand that the two spheres and cultures of commons & commerce have to be dealt with differently.
In SSM's operations, this means that in the realm of commerce with outsiders, SSM accepts payment for services for removals [of what?], landscape clearings, transportation of furniture, or renting rooms, while internally they apply a commons logic as described below. Working with conventional markets is seen as an unfortunate necessity:
In this very capitalist environment we have to do this. We have to do removals, clearing work or something else.
Share the Risks of Provisioning is a common practice at SSM. If there is not enough income, the groups starts a process of self-reflection to understand the reasons (Are we doing enough to get jobs? Are we really widely known in the City?) and act accordingly. But they also analyze the political context (European jobs are privileged over SSM services) and address these issues publicly.
To Pool & Share information, ideas and knowledge is essential for the project's success. It works at every level of what they call their "socio-economic process." Pooling & Sharing information transcends the project itself. SSM has a website (html ), amd has contributed for decades to the monthly journal for self-organization, Contraste (html ). It also makes a point of sharing knowledge in everyday circumstances. Newcomers are invited to join the group, stay a few weeks at the site and engage in "convivial learning."
Everybody can come here, share our way of being and working for a certain time - one week, two weeks, a month.
SSM widely shares ideas and knowledge during cultural or political activities in the neighborhood, which SSM actively supports by providing help, furniture or their trucks if needed.
Regular legal assistance is provided for free, especially for poor people, in case of social or legal problems.
Everything is elastic, but finally we have a cap: the number of people.
Actually, there is a second cap that SSM must deal with: the monetary income that can be shared. If additional activities fail to generate more income, SSM reduces its payments for all. However, it does not dismiss people, nor will it ask the "welfare state" for help.
Sometimes SSM members realize that there is a need to say: "This new TV simply won't be bought," which also expresses resistance to the logic of consumerism. Such topics are usually being discussed and lead to dynamic processes that allow for "going deeper and ask what people really need."
Once a week the "Kölner Tafel" brings food. People take part of it for their needs while another part goes to the community kitchen. If people take too much or there is not enough for the community kitchen, the topic will be discussed and the practice changed, not through formal meetings but through informal communications, which work fine.
Cap & Mutualize (but don't Trade internally). The normal SSM way is
like in former times on the countryside: We offer something to eat and to drink to everybody, just like this. You ask for food and people just give you something.
The same happens with bicycles. Everybody has one ("I have three and I didn't pay for any of them"), but there is only one car and two trucks. Additional ones are usually not needed as people live and work on the site. If somebody needs a bike, s/he simply takes it. It's usually available.
If you really, really, look at it: economy is nothing separated from other realms of life. Economy is an exchange of energies, because we are not living alone. Take the flats and rooms available for example: Our system is flexible, you know. In a room where one person lives, two can live for a certain time. Then we decide how to continue.
As less abundant resources like money need to be capped, the handling of money has transformed over the years. SSM had a single bank account for about 20 years. Today, there are several accounts. They also serve to "cap" the daily use of money for consumption and make sure that the small rent, electricity and other services can be paid without problems each month according to the Cap & Mutualize principle. The arrangements work very well. Recently the group was able to pay for a new truck without asking for support and solidarity from other groups (they wouldn't accept credit from a commercial bank).
Trade with Price Sovereignity. SSM needs a stable monthly flow of money to pay what cannot be produced by themselves (gas, fuel, electricity), what needs to be paid to the state (taxes, rent, sewage, water treatment), and for social services (every member has a healthcare and social insurance for 150 Euro per month, per person).
You have to have cash, because we are in this system. It is the economy-economy reality that is putting pressure on us and forces us to trade.
Most of these costs are fixed. In some cases SSM is able to get special terms for necessities because the authorities take into consideration the social services the group is providing.
Trading on the market for "removal and household clearings" means that an hour of work by SSM members costs 15 Euro compared to 10 Euro on the informal market. The 10 Euro price doesn't reflect market prices but depends on the context and the social conditions in the neighborhood. SSM roughly calculates 10 Euro/hour income + a lump sum for the truck (40 Euro/H) + taxes and insurance for the truck + a "freight lump sum," adding costs for other items as needed.
When SSM was asked if it is able to assert "price sovereignty," Rainer Kippe replied:
People call us, then two of our people go and have a look at the site. They try to estimate the hours it will take to do the job. So the numbers I gave you are just a basis. It is clear that our people who go there are free to decide the price. Sometimes they try to get a higher one. But they are also allowed to make a lower price if we need a job. So, those in charge (two out of ten people working in the area), who see the real situation, are entitled to determine the price.
Another element is renegotiations of prices if the calculated hours turn out to be way more than expected. Our people
"are in absolute solidarity, if not they wouldn't do this work together, also customers tend to be."
Produce Cosmo-Locally. SSM doesn't trade with any new product. It focusses on renovation and reuse.
Protect & Extend Value Sovereignty. SSM founders and others have always rejected the idea of commercial loans "because one never knows what will happen tomorrow." They made sure the minimum is there but it would not be enough for an investment like the new building, which they bought for 170.000 Euro thanks to a private donation and the same sum given by the municipality. SSM explained: "We give home to homeless people. Usually the local government pays hotels for it, night by night."
This is way different from dependency. It's like saying to the authorities: We do a good project. That's what everybody confirms. So it's a matter of fairness, that we [SSM] give you [the local government] the opportunity to join and invite you to participate. The public will enable us to continue doing good.
SSM is located far away from the city center of Cologne in a former industrial neighborhood. People in the neighborhood can't afford the sometimes really precious pieces of furniture. As a result, external traders came and bought furniture for a relatively low price from us and resold it elsewhere for a higher price. Our solution: three SSM people started an eBay-shop. "You have to work on it seriously and be meticulous. Every day at least 10 parcels leave SSM via with postal service." SSM's eBay rating is 99% positive, the highest ranking. "Each month we get about 3000 - 4000 Euros via eBay."
The Hall, where furniture is sold. source
Finance Commons Provisioning. In the context of their services for removals, clearing works etc from people who died or left their homes, SSM gets almost everything for free. The stuff is being collected and stored. Kippe says: "We get everything: tiles, constructing material, beams, windows, building blocks, furniture -- whatever you can imagine. We store everything and use it when needed. We don't buy anything. We don't have to buy anything. We just get it. People just give it to us." Income for SSM projects is generated through: 1) a secondhand shop (see photo); 2) an eBay shop html ; 3) refurbishing and selling old furniture at another site html ; 4) a flea market where toys, games and clothes for children can be resold three times a year. Those who want to participate can contribute or 6 Euro to SSM or "sheetcake". What is not needed for individual, daily consumption is being invested in the commons.