Enclosure, and how to prevent it

Preventing and ending enclosure is a core commitment of commoning.

Massive enclosure of indigenous hunting-gathering land is ongoing now, eg in the far East, South America (eg the Amazon). Capacity for subsistence is taken away from people, by creating titles to land that didn’t have titles, which is then exploited – typically in monocultures on a massive scale – in capitalist agriculture. The State gets a kick-back, in windfall revenue from selling ‘public’ land which previously was subsistence land for small populations.

Meanwhile, in the industrial West, ‘public’ resources have been massively transferred to private ownership and exploitation, under neoliberal State policies. The dismantling of welfare states is enclosure too.

Three fundamental classes of means of subsistence and wellbeing have been increasingly taken out of commons, and must now urgently be taken into new commoned modes of stewardship:

  • Land – and ‘wild’ resources like air, water, minerals, genetic material, energy locked-up in natural materials and wild systems. [Natural infrastructure]
  • Means of exchange and coordination of production – currencies, forms of credit, systems of accounting machinery (eg tax rules and records, financial commodity accounting, price systems), systems of supply-chain logistics. [Economic infrastructure]
  • Labour power – the common capacities of people to know, to do and to organise, which have been enclosed by regimes of wage-work and professionalised authority. [Cultural landscape]

With any of these, it may be more a matter of discovering how to ‘common’ such things, rather than rolling-back and restoring things to some earlier, lost, historical ‘golden age’ (eg feudal rights, hunter-gatherer subsistence). All this is deeply political, way beyond market and state ‘business as usual’. A complex vision, a challenging practice.

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