[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
It is not the ‘tragedy of the commons’ that we are told of, but the ‘tragedy of enclosures’ that are at the roots of scarcity, deprivation and unrest. Neoliberalism empowers transnational corporations, weakens governments and relegates citizens to being servile consumers.
The ‘commons’ consists of the ‘biodiversity’ or ‘genetic’ commons, ‘physical or environmental commons’, the ‘knowledge commons’ and the ‘institutional commons’. The commons are the fundamental basis for existence of communities – their public space, their culture sphere, and their heritage – for society to function harmoniously. These commons are inherited from the past generations and are to be held in trust for future generations with the state as a trustee providing sustenance, security and independence. This requires the peoples to operate on a collective rather than an individual basis.
Neo-liberal globalization seeks to enclose these commons – to commodify them – with fences and borders as private property to be policed and protected. It invades the commons, appropriating them and transferring them from communally managed resources to the ‘market’. The commodification into privatized properties of the global commons is a recurring theme of neo-liberal globalization. It creates, perpetuates and intensifies disputes, resistance and consequent violence. The states take on the role of an instrument of capital and market, to contain and repress peoples’ resistance.
Neoliberal projects have varied in their concrete shapes across time and space – from the ‘proto-neoliberalism’ of ideological formulation in the pre-1980s, to the ‘roll-back neoliberalism’ of deregulation and dismantling of Keynesian-welfarism in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the current ‘roll-out neoliberalism’ of active institution building such as regulatory bodies for under-regulated markets besides authoritarian governance.
During these three phases of its transformation, the dominant discourse has moved from state failure to deregulation and decentralized governance and to paternal authoritarian state, rights-based participatory development and free market economy. The modes of political rationality shifted from ideological critique to ideological projects to that of technocratic management. The sources of resistance moved away from Keynesian orthodoxy of welfarist state and socialism, to organized labour and sectoral mobilization and to cyber-activism. The dominant intellectual frontier shifted from monetarist economics to supply-side economics and now to bourgeois sociology. The principal agents who were theorists and philosophers gave way to politicians and now to policy functionaries and technocrats. The service delivery was subject to spending cuts followed by privatization and now to marketization. The phase of fiscal crisis was met with systemic indebtedness and now we are in the phase of debt repayment. The intellectual approach moved away from confrontation to conciliation and now to cooptation.
The economic tale of globalization and the political script of neoliberalism are both simple – of limitless markets and competitive freedom in clean fanatical terms of unmediated market hegemony, cultural homogenization and institutional convergence with the single most best way in corporate governance. They explicitly depict countervailing interests or oppositions as unrealistic and outmoded. The results of globalization are politically negotiated and mediated. Neoliberalism is also differentiated. Its discourse, produced in the ideological centres such as the US and UK, are constantly extended and mediated in other parts of the world. They are also contested and challenged through resistance. The contours of neoliberalism too are constantly redefined.
Under neo-liberal dispensation, the space of resistance moved away from the ideological arena to issue-based and sectoral mobilization; and further to creative engagement and participation; campaign, advocacy and lobby mode; and anti-globalization, anti-privatization and ‘another world is possible’ rhetoric. What is striking is that the apolitical approach to resistance increasingly got co-opted, enclosed and confined to event management exercises within the progressively marginalized democratic space, rather than taking on to revolutionary transformatory politics. Those that refuse to be enclosed are repressed. Security and terrorism has manufactured a consent for more effective state mediated militaristic enclosures.
Retracing Steps and Moving Forward
More than ever before, reclaiming ‘life’ mean finding ways to recover the commons and its governance, and the state from the clutches of capital. It also means the recovery of social movements from neo-liberal ideologies of cooption to which they have slipped into. The alliance between various concrete existing social and political movements for ending exploitation – ethnic, caste, gender, racial, class and any social group as a community – is possible only when these movements break away from the confines of their ‘enclosures’ into a cohesive coming together to forge themselves into a ‘revolutionary commons’ for struggle, recovering and refining the ideology of revolutionary transformation.
The ‘revolutionary commons’ has to base its commonness in the ‘recovery of the commons’ – its ‘biodiversity’ or ‘genetic’ commons, ‘physical or environmental commons’, the ‘knowledge commons’ and the ‘institutional commons’. The programmatic expressions of this struggle for recovery of the commons has to grounded with the basic expressions of local communities to take command of the physical space (territory) and its resources, and exercising a counter hegemonic collective power over them to govern themselves – its ‘physical or environmental commons’ and the ‘biodiversity’ or ‘genetic’ commons – forging ‘non-centralised’ governance structures to demolish all hegemonic structures. This process triggers the recovery of ‘democracy’ and its recreation based on equity and justice as the fundamental pre-requisite of democracy exercised through participatory democracy and consensus decision-making. The emergence of non-centralised governance structures at community level is not only a counter to hegemonic structures but also a prerequisite to the demolition of hegemonic structures. It is also the basis for the creation of heterogeneously inclusive democratic governance. The focus of the struggle shifts from individual rights to power of people over resources and governance at community level, going beyond the legal rights to creating the spaces for establishment of peoples’ control for progressive transformation in all matters of production and community life.