Principles of ENA

From 6 years of experimenting with our “survival units” and observing other community experiments, we have identified five principles that, when addressed, might together form the key to growing and promoting this new mode of production.

We seek to develop a way of life that is parallel to the capitalist mode of production. These principles should guarantee a sufficient level of self-production vis-a-vis capitalist production, but also enable a considerable transfer of capital from the capitalist mode to the local community mode of production .

The first two principles are very much derived from our own practice, and are described here as innovative concepts: our own technological and managerial solutions. The last three are elements that we adopted from the solutions already worked out to some extent by the new anti-consumerist social movements that are growing around the globe.

Together, these 5 principles are, we presume, essential for self-sustaining growth of the movement. They are also essential for actually building a (for the moment) parallel, alternative economy, as described by a growing number of scholars, as e.g. regenerative economy or doughnut economics .

Each principle (or working hypothesis) is a solution suggested for the following questions and challenges that we are confronted with in our practices:

  1. What is our drive? Why are we doing what we are doing? (motivational principle);
  2. What technology do we need? (technological principle);
  3. How do we express the cost and value of matters that are currently not sufficiently addressed by the capitalist-dominated market economy? (organisational principle);
  4. How can we, as a local community, justify claims to natural and cultural resources? (legitimizing principle);
  5. How can we establish new communities? (growth principle).

1. Network Autonomy (motivational principle)

We found that our production system should act relatively autonomously from the larger system in order to be resilient, and withstand the shocks and big policy changes that are currently occurring or upcoming. Our assumption is that communities are more resilient if they can guarantee production with minimal fixed financial costs, including the absence of debts or paid labour force. According to this principle, the production system does have a degree of integration within networks of other community based companies, as well as within the capitalist economy, but not so much for daily survival. Networking is done for reasons of extra comfort, pleasure, social and knowledge exchange, political organisation, long term security and insurance. In case of a shock, the unit should be able to retreat to the basic functions and survive. This is a motivation for a community to be autonomous within a support network of other communities, and that's why we call this principle "network autonomy".

3. Ecosystem approach (organisational principle)

As humans, we have both evolved within and actively shaped the ecosystems that support our survival. As we increasingly created and inhabited an artificial world, we have had to actively protect and even recreate these "ecosystem services", such as genetic diversity, climate control, soil fertility, protection against diseases and pests and many others.
We should make sure that nature keeps on being the support system it is, and in doing so, guarantee the survival of all our fellow beings on the planet earth.
We, as a local community, are in the right position to make decisions on the creation and management of ecosystem services.

Recently, much practical knowledge has been gained through the design of food production systems as complete ecosystems. In these systems, a lot of agricultural labour such as fertilisation, ploughing, reproduction, water conservation and pest control is performed by natural processes, and can thus be considered ecosystem services. This is being studied and practiced in Agroforestry, Regenerative agriculture, Agro-ecology and Permaculture.
The ecosystem approach provides another way of measuring value, as it measures key values not usually considered in the mainstream economy. Instead of caring to express, organise and distribute what is scarce, it cares about detecting, organising and distributing what are abundant resources. As a community, we should focus on what is locally abundant instead of trying to acquire what is scarce. For many consumers who have become accustomed to market choice, this is seen as a historic step back. However, what we really want to create is an extra choice: a choice for the services that are supplied by local nature.

2. Micromanagement of functional integration (technological principle)

Recently, the mainstream economy has discovered that the next step towards making production processes more efficient is to make the production chain circular. Companies are under high political pressure to realise this soon, as humanity faces the peak production and availability of most natural resources. Companies can do this in two ways: they can integrate more production chain steps into their process (what used to be "input" and "output") or they can try to cooperate with other companies (that are specialised in the other steps) within a commonly managed production chain. Either way, the circular economy logic goes against the capitalist logic.

The first option is going against the principles of specialisation and the division of labour, the second goes against the principle of "free market". In the capitalist mode of production, one always wants to be able to choose the best quality/price relation per input, and not get stuck with a fixed supplier. Thus, the circular economy concept is not evolving naturally within the constraints of this mode of production, and governments are putting considerable effort and resources to force the capitalist mode of production to function more within the environmental "donut". Our argument is that sectoral (functional) integration is much easier to realise on a micro level. The ecosystem approach integrates all sectors in one production system. System needs can be easily fine-tuned with the local circumstances. We want to fully exploit the potentially huge comparative advantage of this characteristic of the generative economy vis-a-vis the capitalist economy. We will call this principle the micromanagement advantage of functional integration.

4. Neighbourhood commoning 
(legitimizing principle)

Communities throughout human history have claimed the use of local resources, like access to land or fishing grounds. These are often referred to as “commons”, after the English “open fields” that local communities were allowed to use, until private land property was introduced in the 16th century and commons were gradually “enclosed” with fences . Reclaiming this right for commoning of resources might very well be an answer to the problems created by extreme privatisation and the concentration of private property and production. If backed up by democratic states, this principle could guarantee the long-term access to considerable means of production for urban neighbourhoods, like buildings, land, water, waste streams, wind and solar power.

5. Modular growth (growth principle)

Production can be easily up- or downscaled by the modularity of the production units which make up the community. Modules can be transported to - and used in - other or new settings. Communities can join or split (reproduce) technically easily. Modularity also gives the potential for exponential growth of this mode of production.

The principles are summarised in the table below, and are presented in opposition to the capitalist mode of production. The "ENA mode of production" has a striking resemblance to the "peasant mode of production", with the difference being that the agency of the latter comes mainly from rural households that are constantly faced with reducing rights in the commons, as opposed to “urban commons” that increasingly seem to manage to claim resources.

Key principles of the ENA principle as compared to the capitalist mode of production

Mode of production
CapitalistNetwork Autonomy
1. Motivational principleThriving business / profit seeking / capital accumulationThriving autonomous community supported by network / risk management/sustainability
2. Technological principleEconomies of scale in one sectorIntegration of sectors
3. Organisational principleControlling and organising scarcityControlling and organising abundance
4. Legitimizing principleShareholder owned / based on private property rights / state protecting property rightsUser owned / based on user rights of resources / state enables participatory democracy and right to commoning
5. Growth principleAcquire maximum market shareSplit and link modular means of production

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