„Neither ‘left’ governments nor ‘left’ social movements can do much more in the short run (next five years) than engage in defensive actions, whose guiding characteristic should be actions that ‘minimize the pain’ of the working strata generally, and the most oppressed and poverty-overwhelmed in particular.“, says Immanuel Wallerstein on this blog.
Dear Mister Wallerstein, I disagree. What we can do is, what generations of commoners have always done. We can: Strengthen the Commons. Now!
This is the title of a thesis paper developed in collective authorship in the Interdisciplinary political salons „Time for commons“ of the german Heinrich Böll Foundation‘s. I call it „Commons Manifesto“. This blogpost is a short version of the manifesto, full pdf available here: http://commonsblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/commonsmanifesto-engl.pdf
Let us see, why I disagree:
Strengthen the Commons. Now!
… The… current, interrelated crises in finance, the economy, nutrition, energy, and in the fundamental ecological systems of life … are sharpening our awareness of the existence and importance of the commons. Natural commons are necessary for our survival, social commons ensure social cohesion, and cultural commons enable us to evolve as individuals. It is imperative that we focus our personal creativity, talents and enthusiasm to protect and increase our social wealth and natural commons. This will required an eye on the goal to change some basic structures of politics, economics, and society.
More social prosperity instead of more gross domestic product!
When the economic growth curve drops and the GDP sinks, it seems threatening to us. Yet appearances deceive. … A reduction in the GDP does not necessarily signal a reduction in the real wealth of a society. To recognize this fact widens our perspective and opens the door for new types of solutions.
The commons can help us overcome the crisis, but it requires systematic advocacy. …
Commons are diverse. They are the fundamental building blocks and pre-condition of our life and social wealth. They include knowledge and water, seeds and software, cultural works and the atmosphere. Commons are not just “things,” however. They are living, dynamic systems of life. They form the social fabric of a free society.
Commons do not belong to anyone individually nor do they belong to no one. Different communities, from the family to global society, always create, maintain, cultivate, and redefine commons. When this does not happen, commons dwindle away — and in the process, our personal and social security diminishes. Commons ensure that people can live and evolve. The diversity of the commons helps secure our future.
Commons are the foundation of every economic activity. Thus, they must also be the result of what we do. We have to constantly revitalize our commons, because everything we produce relies upon knowledge we inherit, natural resources that the Earth gives us, and the cooperation of our fellow citizens. … Without vital commons, production is impossible. …
Commons are often destroyed and thus driven from our consciousness. One reason that commons are threatened is because many individuals claim a limitless right to use things. … But:
There’s something new afoot — a movement to reclaim the commons!
It is a movement that reminds us what is worth keeping. A movement that seeks to reclaim what belongs to us, that affirms human dignity and creates something new. This movement to build and protect the commons expands the horizon of what is possible.
Commons are being rediscovered and defended. People all over the world are defending themselves against attacks on the web of life that sustains them — against dams and mining projects that destroy life and land. Against a wasteful economy that fuels climate change. Against efforts to turn education and health into profit-oriented thinking. Against the re-engineering of our genetic heritage and overzealous restrictions on access to knowledge and culture. The commoners seek only to reclaim that which belongs to them, whether they are communities struggling to win back control over water utilities, indigenous communities seeking to protect its land in the Amazon Basin, or the worldwide movements for climate justice and an open and neutral internet.
Commons are newly created and built upon. Countless people are creating new things for all and meaningful social and physical spaces for themselves. They invest energy in community gardens, carry out sustainable and ecological agriculture, and design intergenerational living and working spaces. They produce free software and free knowledge, and create films, music, and images to be shared. Thus emerges a treasure of free culture available to all. It is maintained and enhanced by many, and has become as indispensable as Wikipedia. Taken together, scientists and activists, citizens and politicians are developing a robust and innovative commons sphere – everywhere.
Commons are maintained and cultivated. People are fostering neighborhood institutions, looking after playgrounds, running citizen foundations, and creating and sharing stories, culture, and our collective memories. They are engaging themselves, personally and directly, with the common wealth and are pushing the state to carry out its duties to protect the commons. For that they gain something in return, because to live in a culture of commons means giving and taking. This culture establishes both rights and duties. Their commitment … corresponds to the wish for creativity and inspiration. It is fueled by our self-directed passions, desire for social conviviality, and a sensitivity and mutual recognition of each other. …
Commons inspire and connect. To take them into account requires a fundamentally different approach in perception and action. Commons are based on communities that set their own rules and cultivate their skills and values. … In a culture of commons, inclusion is more important than exclusion, co-operation more important than competition, autonomy more important than control. …
To live in a culture of the commons means: to assume shared, long-term responsibility rather than pursue an ethics of dominance. A culture of the commons honors fairness over unilateral benefit optimization, and interdependence rather than extreme individualism. The commons helps us confront one of the major social justice issues of our time: No one may extract more from the commons than what he gives back to the commons. This applies to market players as well as the state. Whoever replenishes and expands the commons, rather than just drawing from them, deserves social recognition and praise. In the interest of this and future generations, market players, the state, and each individual must align their behavior and thinking with the commons. This must become a fundamental element in any calculation of economic, political or personal success.
Neither no man’s land nor boundless property
The commons is not only about the legal forms of ownership. What matters most is whether and how community-based rights to the commons are enforced and secured….(We have to) recognize that each single use has implications for resources that belong to us all. With my phone I transmit my message through the electromagnetic spectrum of finite capacity. My car pollutes our shared air. My work may contain a novel thought, but I also depend upon the commons of culture and knowledge. The usage rights of fellow commoners are stop signs for individual usage rights.
Absolute and exclusive private property rights in the commons therefore cannot be allowed. This principle applies regardless of whether the things are of a tangible or intangible nature, or whether they are associated with natural, cultural or social spheres. In order to avoid overuse and under-utilization – the dramatic plundering of fish or the “orphaning” of creative works – more than ever, any form of property (itself a creation of the state) has to be measured by two conditions:
- Each use must ensure that the common pool resources are not destroyed or over-consumed.
- No one who is entitled to access and use the shared resource, or who depends on it for basic needs, may be excluded. …
The commons helps us reconceptualize the prevailing concept of property rights. …
(Our demands are simple and we can help to put them into practice:)
- What is public or publicly funded must remain publicly accessible. Public research, for example, must be available to everyone. There is no overwhelming reason to grant publishers and pharmaceutical corporations excessive and exclusive copyrights and patents over publicly funded research. Legislatures, at the behest of business, have nevertheless done so, making scientific journals inaccessible and vital medicines overly expensive. Alternatives arise from the commons movement. …
- Commons are the basis of life in a double sense. Without natural commons, no survival. Without cultural commons, no human development. Everyone is directly affected by the issues raised here. Even businesses need commons in order to earn money in the future. We all need commons to survive and thrive. This is a key principle, and it establishes why …
- commoners’ usage rights are always to be given a higher priority than corporations’ property rights. Here the state has a duty to protect the commons, a duty which it cannot abandon. However, this does not mean that the state is necessarily the best steward for the commoners’ interests. The challenge is for the commoners themselves to develop complementary institutions and organizational forms, as well as innovative access and usage rules, to protect the commons.
- (We) The commoners must create their own commons sector, beyond the realm of market and state, to serve the public good in their own distinctive manner.
- But: Just as commons and people are different, so are the organizational forms of user communities. We encounter them everywhere and with many faces: as self-organizing groups, civil organizations, private agencies or networks, as cooperatives or custodial organizations. As small neighborhood communities or the international Free Software movement. The rules and ethics of each commons arise from the needs and processes of the commoners directly involved. Whoever is directly connected to a commons must participate in the debate and implementation of its rules.
Agents of the commons do not have one center, but many centers. We need them locally, regionally and globally. Conflicts can be resolved directly in well-arranged communities and their commons. But the global commons is an almost insolvable challenge, because where does the “world community” really come together and define itself as such? How should it agree upon the sustainable usage of its shared resources? The more complex the system, the more important that there be an institutional and transparent framework for the careful management of the commons. …
Commons need more than just rules. We must realize that rules require the art of proper application. … A culture of the commons publicly recognizes any initiative or project that enhances the commons, and provides active financial and institutional support to enhance the commons sector. …
Awareness of the commons means … a fundamental shift in thinking about the foundations of society. It means using, sharing, and multiplying our common wealth in a free and self-determined way. …
Our society needs a great debate and a ubiquitous movement for the commons. Now!