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Commons outside Capitalism

Notes from the Life Despite Capitalism workshop "Commons Outside Capitalism" - 16/10/04 2-4pm


Presentation - :

Aymarathanks for coming, we are happy to be here with you since we hadn't encountered people who were interested in discussing this before. in the past the people we encountered came to us with pre-packaged solutions, from marxism or from the bible. our experience has much more to do with what we are all discussing here, which is the commons. our society, the aymara in bolivia, argentina, chile and peru, has milennia of experience outside those of occidental society. we are now studying the cultural roots to adapt our reality to the new constructs. in this experience, we are facing many other social processes, especially the dominance of social forces of european/spanish origins, which have churches, syndicates and social organisations that have been imposed on us. for us to organise means necessary confrontation with those structures, because the people who are dominant don't want to lose their domination. the latin american institutional left is also part of this, they are trying to maintain the existing state structures. for this reason we didn't find many people to talk to, because the left does not accept our self determination.

the aymara people has organised itself on a different philosophy than the occidental one. i'm not going to give you any complete solutions because we have none, many discussions are still ongoing and i can only tell you my personal opinion about what i think is already more or less a consensus among the aymara communities. i'll give some examples and then we can analyse on their basis:

  1. when we analysed the aymara culture we found that there is no word for "god". in the aymara culture there are no absolutes, contraries like absolute good and evil, god and devil. the "sacred" doesn't exist, as things that are venerated without discussion, but in the aymara culture everything is open for discussion. there exist places which are venerated and respected, but are not sacred. they are what we call "uhaca" (sp?), places which have a distinguishing peculiarity. a word that a lot of people use is "pachamma" - according to anthropologists and the church, which has appropriated this concept, it signifies the "earth goddes". for the aymaras, pachamama is the earth and the mother. we are not going to term the earth our mother as a goddess - it makes no sense. we have respect for it but we would not say that it is a goddess - it makes no more sense than saying it about our biological mother. in the aymara culture all natural entities have personalities - the mountain, the river, the forest, even this building - all have their own character. and i clarify - i didn't say 'soul' or 'spirit', over which there is still discussion, i said 'personality' or 'character', over which there is a consensus. so just like we want to be respected as person, so we respect natural entities.
  2. for us, the absolute doesn't exist. everything is relational/relative to other things, nothing exists in isolation. this means that the value of everything and anyone is directly related to, and given by, their relationships with everrything else. this is a very different way of thinking to the mentality that has been imposed by western people. the occidental attitude expressed in the bible, is that nature was created for human beings, that they are the centre of creation.

another example is the difference between christmas and the encuentro that the aymaras celebrat in april. christmas is a day when once a year everyone is nice to each other. the eencuentro, on the other had, everyone fights eachother. people the same age fight, sometimes to the death. the aymara people tried to live without violent conflict during the year, so there are two explanations for this custom, both of which may be true. one is that the fighting is a release of the penned up conflict that doesn't play out during the year. the other is that it is a pedagogical event. fighting is displayed in all its ugliness once a year, so people are motivated to avoid it the rest of the time.

the aymara belonged to a confederation of people that the spanish called the "inca empire". in those cultures, there is the notion that resources do not belong only to the people living today, but to all generations, which creates limits on resource use. so for example the use of guano in the coastal areas, which is used for fertiliser, was distributed among the communities which had access to different areas, but it was forbidden to harvest it during the nesting seasons. thanks to the careful use of this resource, ti could last for thousands of years, and even when there was a great plenty it wasn't disturbed during the nesting season because if the birds would stop coming back it would stop the renewal of the guano. the spanish, on the other hand, took the guano whenever they wanted. after independence, in 1832, a president of the peru/bolivia confederation (andre de santa cruz) had an indigenous mother. he heard from his mother how the ancestors had been using it, and wanted to ban its use in nesting seasons. but the administration which as all of spanish origin didn't fulfil the new policy. they couln't go back to the earlier use because there was another mentality. in 1860, the peruvian and bolivian government sold the resource to european companies, which exploited it to the degree that all the guano disappeared within 2-3 decades.

the same happened with silver. in what is now bolivia, there was a mountain which had the largest quantity of silver in the world. all this silver was the basis of spanish power. tradition tells that an inca was visiting the place, and heard thunder - "potokh". so he asked the ruler of the area why the noise is heard. he was told that there was silver there. so he said: this silver has to be kept for future generations. silver in the local culture is used for artefacts, not as currency, so what was already being mined was enough at that time and the mountain had to be kept for the future. there is a parapsychological interpretation by the spanish people that this referred to them. but what he meant was clearly for future indigenous generations. so as you can see there is a completely different relationship with time here than in western culture. this does not correspond to speaking only about collectivity or socialism, is it another logic.

it is said that in the aymara culture property is neither collective nor private, but public/private, because the separation between the two does not exist. when an aymara child is born, the community dedicates them a set of pieces of land of different qualities, that they have for their entire life, and which is enough for supplying their basic needs and beyond, so that they would be self-sufficient. but agricultural labour on this land was collective - the whole community worked on everybody's land. everyone worked according to their abilities, but everyone would get the harvest from their own pieces of land. there were also collective lands for the whole community, in case of emergencies, floods or draughts. so there was always a regard for the future.

i am not here to say that it's a fantastic system for everyone - it's how our own culture functions and we have no intention to impose it. but we wanted to explain how we see these things. maybe it's useful for the issues of contemporary globalisation times, adding a grain to the solutions, but the point is to show that there are alternatives.

questions (q) answes (a) and interventions (i)

q- how are the lands administrated, are their people in charge?

a- no bosses in aymara culture, but in each community or federation a person is chosen from a different family for a year to administer resources. this is not done by election/voting, but rather by consensus that is informed by intimate familiarity with people and their talents and characters. there is always an attempt to dissolve power and not let it concentrate.

q- coming from india, there are a lot of similarities historically, but also a huge difficulty to sustain indiginous ways of working in the face of western pressure. what makes it possible for you to sustain these structures despite colonialism?

a-nothing is pure, it changes all the time, and we are precisely trying to figure out what existed before te spanish arrived.

q- beyond the reflection on the roots, what are the forms of resistance happening to enroachment on the traditional aymara lifeways?

a- the sad thing is that some of our main enemies are those who should normally be on our side. clearly the traditional elite, landlords etx. are fighting against us, but sadly the left parties are doing the same, since they are fighting for power within the same structures. perhaps they want to solve our poverty on an individual basis, but not as a people. our struggle is as a people.

q- in much of india, the comons available to adivasas / indigenous peoples have been negotiated in the context of repeated invasion, so it's a licensed commons, subject to be removed, rather than absolute commons. have the aymara achieved absolute commons and how?

a- well in bolivian and peru the land belongs to the state, and in aymara areas there is a right to the sopsoin, not to the subsoil and resources underground. this is also only where we havebeen able to provide documented proof that the areas have been cultivated by aymara for generations, and in other areas it's administered by the state. it is also important to remember that in bolivia the indigenous people are a majority, so they have more power to determine how the land is run. we don't want to take power but to change the way in which the country is structured.

i- regarding the selection of leaders, there is a great example from the revolutionary dockers of genoa, who have to have someone running the work teams. someone was asked how people are selected, and they said that it just becomes apparent at a certain time (film exists)

i- Bolivian state has forced the poeple to buy their own land (18th C/19th C). Currently, the communities are asked to say how much land they are actually using and the rest has to be made state property - "sanitising operation of property" - people who do this receive individual land rights as a result. Churches are pushing for thes kind of measures to be accepted, which is peculiar.

part of a collective in North West Spain - Escanda. One of the reasons why they went to the countryside there was that they see now a historical opening in Europe. Currently there is reform of common agricultural policies in Europe. Because of the liberalisation pushed for by the WTO et al, the protective measures developed after WWII are being dismantled and diffent regions with differnet patterns of technology and land have to compete. Reform process will lead to excess resources being made available as they will not be able to compete after liberalisation. This reform has changed paradigms in Europe - no more support for production but of producers, not linked to product but to conditions of production - environment etc. - areas where there is ageing population etc, will loose out - biodiversity, knowledge and culture is being lost, at the same time there is an opening to get "means of production" - if you want to work outside of the market - you can get access to land (not as property but to use) - "Access" - user rights - escanda currently trying to get 30 years. Trying to build a skill-sharing place where people can learn new and old knowledge that are needed to build collective self-sufficiency. This is part of the global justice movement, a place of exchange. learn skills: pass them on and form groups that can come together on the basis of affinity to get access of land that is not interesing for capitalism. The idea is not to extract ourselves from society but reinforce and strengthen the dynamics of resistance. Create a basis of self reliance to show that people can be self sufficient and try to be inspiring - people from Escanda are also involved with global justice stuff.

q-I come from Southern Spain - want to give personal opinion about what we as social movements should do - we should look back and think of ourselves as indigenous Europeans - we have to search in our own history for the emancipatory experiences, as peasants b4 industrial rev, as people sharing land- remind ourselves that we are coming from a cultural breakdown - we have been separated and uprooted from our own experience. Example: I come from Andalucia - a place where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together with no problems, sharing their skills and their worlds. After the conquerers came, in 1492, they expelled the Jewish people and then the Muslims - we are coming from this violence and we need to reconnect - we need to reconsider how we relate to mother earth, we do feel it in the same way as the Bolivian friend, we just have to remind ourselves.

c- we need to do something about cities- when we talk about self-sufficiency, we need to think about this within cities, the way in which the city still retains some openings for a public space, a kind which is different from the unfulfilling situations now - what alternatives are there for cities - cities where the most poor and the most capabile are - building things from the bottom up. Both in cities and in the rural context, one of the things I have found most inspiring - permaculture - an entire paradigm of design and planning for ecological principles, for food production etc, working with the ecological system - not against it. Lot of possibilities for cultivation in the cities -all these housing blocs in cities, there is land between them where fences stand - take the fences out and you can grow food for what the people need and find intelligent structures. Reclaiming commons in an urban setting - great deal of creativity - might not be our utopian dream but necessary.

c- theme of relationsihp betwen europe and the rest of the wolrd- needs to be thought about in the present - esp. on the question of the commons - capitalism makes commons in other parts of the world compliant with capitalism. Indigenous people in the rain forests of Costa Rica - people continue as indigenous peoples but get funding - if anything however, is seen to br useful for the corporation, it is taken over. So, commons can be made compatible. First nations of Canada - have been given rights to their fishing grounds, but this has been down through granting permits - but these can be sold on the stock market! Globalisation makes possible the kind of spaces suchas escanda - we need to discover and force open these spaces, but at the same time be aware that most people in the world are facing problems of mald shortage not excess, this is serious. Agree with permaculture, but in many large african scities, a lot is produced within the cities, need to learn from experience where this has been done out of necessity, so that we can do so out of choice.

c- there was a whole movement around shepherd's bush area in the 50's and 60's (Latimer Rd) - think that bascially people were either squatters or council house tenants, when the council decided to do something with the land, they took it away, but was a tremendous initiative to use land.

c- uprootedness of people: seems that people move into urban places after dispossessions and there is a complete disconnection and memory is erased -revcovery needs to part of struggle - whether 40 or 400 years, reapproriate the enitre land and its memory - what opportunities does this restructuring in the ERU offer? One of the possibilities for appropriation are the "leftovers".

c- reactionary responses to globalisation - keeping national identity - we need to make sure that there is a clear distinction between what we are doing and these right wing responses to globalisation, not just a question of reviving and going back :selective reappropriation, mix up different culturesa and konwledge too - possiblity to do this.

q- do people in Escanda get gvt support either collectively or as individuals

a- no, not really - line is that there will no contual acceptance from the gvt but develop indendepcy - now doing a study on the possbility to use local producer ocllectives for renewable energies- forth used gvt money as otherwise would hasve had to go to an comapny - do selectively choosing where it makes sense and focussing on independence.

q- gender: women's role in terms of division of labour in aymora - many people make the argumnet that the nuclear family is central to capitalism - what kind of family was part of that system that was so diffent.

a- there is many elements of the composition of family that have ben under discussion - some consensus - human beings are not complete on their own - male and female makes completion. When the children are still young, they have to learn everything about the other sex. representatives that are elected for a year - it is the couple - normally between 33 and 35 years old -never an indiviaul. different ages have different status and roles in community. Only one term, no re-election - considered just this way. point of culture is to avid injustice and confrontation at all costs. resistance to colonialism has also always been through couples, mobilising and organising against resistance.

q- same sex relationships - allowed?

a- accepted as a different kind of relationship - is considered natural. now there are more problems bacuase of the influence of the church. you can also change who you are with - the woman takes the children and the new man would recognise them as his own. The idea of being able to use a woman is something that came with the invasion, derived from the "prima noche" - the European practice of the landlord having the first night when a feudal couple gets married. By the way, when a couple is elected, there is no party, only after their term.

Created by: uri last modification: Saturday 16 of October, 2004 [11:03:05 UTC] by uri

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