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The Riches Of Nature V. Private Property: An Interview With Gerardo Cerdas

10:10 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell

Read Part 1 of this interview here.

Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

Primeval forest surrounds a waterfall

Can humanity thrive by reclaiming the commons?

All the peoples of the world, without exception – except for modern culture – have always based their material culture on the concept that property is communally owned. Property – land, food, etc. – was always shared. This has been the case for tribal, nomadic societies and for other, more politically developed societies in different parts of the world. Private property, as something natural and inviolable, is a product of history, and as such can be stripped down to its roots, and more importantly, can be modified within a utopian vision integrated into our political practice.

I’m not romanticizing history; I’m not saying that everything was better in the past. Obviously, there was violence. Obviously, the accumulation of wealth has always existed in different forms, especially since the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years back. This accumulation gave certain people, like kings, priests, and warriors, more power and privilege than other members of society.

But the notion of one person or a group of persons having exclusive, sovereign rights to property: this did not exist. Property was collectively held. And the excessive ownership of this property by a group of people brought about the collapse of a society.

The concept of private property is something relatively new in human history, no more than five or six centuries in gestation. It’s been affirmed progressively during the violent expropriation of communal rights to the land and its fruits, first in Europe and later in areas that fell under its colonial dominion, from the Sixteenth Century until today. The industrial revolution and the [French] revolution of the Eighteenth Century helped concretize the exclusive and inalienable concept.

Our society needs to move towards a new understanding that our way of creating and destroying wealth needs to be based on other principles. Collective wealth, as in the concept of the global commons, belongs to all of us, not just to those of us who are alive today, nor even those who will come after us in the future, nor just to human beings. We need to do what we can to have a sustainable life, to have a quality, dignified life that also allows all other living beings to have a quality, dignified life, now and in the future.

The dominant, hegemonic civilization that exists today is an anthropocentric civilization. In this civilization, human beings, “man,” take center stage. We act as if the natural world were nothing more than a series of reserves that are there for us to exploit and use indiscriminately and irrationally. But the riches of nature are there for all of us.

Perhaps a metaphor that I could use to illustrate this is sunlight. The light that the sun gives off doesn’t belong to anyone. It can’t be captured, sold or bought, even though it can be stored in solar cells. The same goes for the air, and for the plants, and so on. Nothing belongs to anyone specifically; everything belongs to us all. Ancestral indigenous communities always understood this very clearly. There is a great book that has helped me to understand this, called The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi. It makes very clear how the development of capitalism and the notion of private property were imposed over the concept of the communal ownership of the earth, of nature.

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Raising Hope Across Borders: Transnational Social Movements & Power

9:07 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

An interview with Gerardo Cerdas by Beverly Bell

Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

A protestor in an Anonymous mask and Brazilian flag bandana

Can international solidarity help the people find a voice?

Q: Why is it important to build transnational social movements?

Of course, there are specific issues and power structures in each country, but it’s important to overcome borders and make a transnational movement because the root causes of injustices, of exclusion, of the violence and discrimination we face are the same. They are systemic issues. They are global issues.

As social organizations and movements, we need to move forward beyond merely the national level and see the big picture. And to understand how the specific reality we live in is related to the reality of other countries and other communities. Inasmuch as we’re able to realize that, we’ll also be able to raise peoples’ hopes, to strengthen the struggles of each other and bring about transformation, on a much bigger scale than anything we could do at a merely national level.

It would do no good or very little good to bring about some great transformation in just one country if things remain exactly the same in other countries. Because that would just mean that exclusion, injustices and exploitation would keep taking place as usual in all those other places. And that would be a continuous threat to any progress that’s been made in one specific country. So we need to move beyond the local and national level. The sort of transformation we need can only be achieved if we unite our efforts and join forces together.

Q: So talk to us a little bit about Grito, please, and what it works on.

Grito de los Excluidos has this vision of connecting forces, connecting agendas, creating spaces for unity amidst the diversity of movements and peoples’ organizations across the continent. The organization was established in 1995 in Brazil, and we have several different focus areas. We’re working on everything related to the defense of the common good and of nature, on militarization, and on the criminalization of protest. We do a lot of political education. We also do a lot of work on the rights of migrants. For instance, we established the World Social Forum for Migration, along with other organizations, in 2004. This has been a very enriching experience for us; it’s allowed us to work with organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Q: For folks in the US who know nothing about this, what does it mean to have a continental social movement?

When we say “continental,” we’re primarily talking about Latin America and the Caribbean. But we’re aware that there is social, economic, and cultural exclusion in the US, even though there isn’t a group of people who are part of Grito de los Excluidos there.

Q: Gerardo, when you said “raise peoples’ hopes,” what did you mean by that?

I meant to really believe that transformation is possible. We are in a very tight spot – we’re screwed, you could say. There’s a great deal of poverty, a lot of exclusion, a lot of violence, a lot of injustice in our countries. Working people and our natural resources are being terribly exploited. We’re up against a huge monster, an economic, political machine of monstrous proportions. It would be very easy for us to lose hope, to lose heart, to just give up the struggle entirely and say “To hell with it. There’s no way we can overcome these massive forces, so let’s just go about our lives and forget about it.”

But we know that if we’re here today, it’s because our grandparents, our ancestors, didn’t give up the fight. They raised our hopes.

And we know that, sooner or later, things will start to change. Not just for us, but for humanity as a whole. This system that we all live in may continue to dominate us for a couple more centuries — who knows how long — but we believe in the transformative power that humans possess. Things weren’t always how they are today and things won’t always be this way in the future. Things change, they transform. Empires are born and they eventually die. Political and economic systems eventually fade away.

For now, we’re the ones in the thick of it. But then it will be up to our children, including those who aren’t born yet, to continue in the struggle. And if we don’t raise their hopes, give them hope, then what will happen in the future? Are we all just going to give up this struggle? No, we have to keep fighting, even if we aren’t the ones who are able to see the dawn break through the darkness. Economic systems take a lot longer to be transformed [than our lifespans]. It might be our children’s children who see it come about – who knows? But it will happen. We have to keep struggling and wait.

Q: But the powers that be, like the United States, are enormous. Why do you believe that people with no money, without institutionalized power of any sort, can change all of this?

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Solidarity Economies: A Guerrilla War Against Capitalism, Part 1

8:52 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

An interview with Nicolás Cruz Tineo

by Beverly Bell and Jessica Hsu

Nicolás Cruz Tineo is an economist and director of the Dominican Republic-based Institute for the Development of Associative Economics (IDEAC by its Spanish acronym). IDEAC provides technical support to encourage solidarity economies. Cruz also serves as the executive secretary of the Network of Solidarity Economy Organizations (REDESOL).

The facade of Wheatsville grocery cooperative at night, with its sign lit up.

Cooperatives are part of building a solidarity economy.

At the first World Social Forum at the end of the 90’s, participants started looking for alternatives. There are a lot of authors who started to theorize about different forms of economies. They started to rescue the idea of solidarity economy, based on the experience of cooperatives, indigenous practices, practices from different parts of the world and different economies.

This came to be called the solidarity economy, basically a concept rescued by Chilean sociologist Luis Razeto Migliaro. It refers to different economic practices in which monies and profits are at the service of the common good. They are practices based in the articulation of collaborative and cooperative process among people, and where the center of the actions is the well-being of people.

Solidarity economy goes far beyond a simple practice. It’s a science that is taking shape and that is based, to a certain point, on the contributions of Marxism and contributions about the labor economy developed by Marxists. For me, I add five elements. First is self-management: a way to democratize the management of the economy. Second is gender: the participation of women through employment and recognition of domestic work as a contribution to the economy. Third is fair trade at an international level, a movement which shows the market is false. Fourth is food sovereignty, based on the rights of people to produce and to consume what they produce. Fifth is ecological economy which can be changed to save the biosphere which is the entire system of life, the social, political and natural processes that comprise life on our planet.

Ecological economy is also an indigenous concept, an expression of how the relationship among humans and between nature and life can be harmonized, because solidarity economies look at the preservation of life. I’m not just talking about human life, but of all life, of Earth, the Cosmos. It is based on a state of interdependent coexistence with people. It recognizes that our happiness is based on that spirit; not in consumption, not in competing and showing that I am better or bigger than you, but simply: I give you, you give me, we share, and from that blooms a new form of culture. I hope that a new cycle will begin where human spirit and love shall be the dominant forces on the planet.

There are solidarity economy authors who speak of ‘amorizacion’ or ‘loveization,’ that is, recovering love among humans. There’s a whole debate that historically capitalism was based on the philosophy that man is inherently evil and selfish. Economists like David Ricardo and Adam Smith used as a basis the idea that economics exploit human selfishness, thus creating a favorable atmosphere for free competition. The solidarity economists propose the opposite. They say, humans have historically tended towards socialization, getting together, collaborating. If they had not, from the times of primitive humans even, we would not still be life form on this planet because the only way for us to survive as a species is by collaborating and taking care of one another. The competitive spirit, the spirit of struggle, to wage war… those were encouraged by capitalist ideas that nowadays neoliberals have exacerbated to an extreme. Competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and consumption are the dominant ideologies nowadays.

Solidarity economies suggest something different: that we are human, we cooperate with one another, we love, we struggle for the love of humanity, and that the future of our planet, our life, is based on our having a culture of brotherhood, sisterhood, collaboration, cooperation. Thus, it should be an economy of love.

That is the crux, the nucleus of difference between solidarity economy and capitalist economy. In the former, there is no exploitation of nature, life nor human. That is to say, human labor is a source of creation of goods for the common good, not for anyone to appropriate.

Examples on a local level include so-called eco-villages, small communities that have been created by people who want to exist completely outside of the formal system. They create their structures and ways of living together in community. In terms of production, there are co-ops, systems of international cooperation.

Then, there are many expressions of solidarity economy on an international level. For example, there is the social bank in Italy, the solidarity bank, ethical bank, responsible consumer movement. In all countries, there are people who don’t consume products that are not eco-friendly, or products that come from factories who exploit child labor, etc.

That is why the anti-capitalist debate and struggle nowadays are not frontal struggles, but a guerilla war directed at having poor communities be able to keep the wealth that is created within that community. The war against capital is fought by retaining that wealth created by the workers in the hands of the workers. There are a thousand ways to do this. [One example] is a rice producer who will sell to an intermediary who buys for the lowest price possible. In a conventional market, the producer keeps 30%, while the market takes 70%. If that rice producer partners with 10 or 12 other producers, they can create a co-op, and that co-op will play the role of the intermediary and business[person].

The co-op pays a fairer price that is higher for the producer, lower for the consumer. The workers can keep a larger amount of wealth in their hands, thus the capitalist [intermediary and businessperson] does not become richer, keeping the wealth in fewer hands. Distributing the wealth limits the possibility of making profit, and in that sense you are waging a war on [capitalism]. It is not using armed struggle, but rather accumulating economic power, little by little, so that the capitalists’ economic power is stopped. I am presenting it quite dramatically, but it is basically that.

We can’t work just in economic terms; we also have to work in cultural terms. We have to penetrate universities’ schools of economics, community anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. We have to work in sciences, culture, and knowledge. That’s what Evo Morales is doing [in Bolivia], what Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela, what Correa is doing [in Ecuador], Kirchner in Argentina: democratizing the media and giving space to popular communication, popular TV, popular broadcasters.

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Facing Off: The Integration of Capital v. The Integration of Peoples in the Americas

10:21 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

from a speech by João Pedro Stédile,

Co-coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil

Edited by Beverly Bell

João Pedro Stédile is an economist, co-founder and co-coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, and leader among Latin American social movements. He gave the following talk to hundreds of Haitian farmers at the 40th anniversary assembly of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) on March 18, 2013.

Anti-Monsanto activist with skull & crossed bones flag, gas mask

International anti-Monsanto activists are natural allies of South American agricultural workers movements.

I’d like to bring to you the perspective of the Landless Workers Movement on this complex historic moment, and on the social movements we’re building in Latin America.

Just when it seemed like the capitalist system was eternal, a crisis in the system exploded in 2008. The first consequence has been the ideological defeat of neoliberalism, because neoliberalism says that the market will resolve everything, and that idea has been shot down. The second consequence has been the decline of the political power of the US. They still have the strength but no one believes in them anymore. On the contrary, the whole world is mad at the gringo capital.

Periods of crisis in capitalism are always a sign that the door is open for change in the world, but at this point, we don’t know in which direction. For that reason it’s very important what [deceased Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez told us: study, reflect, and comprehend reality in order to be able to change it.

At this moment, there is a strong project of recolonization of the continent according to the US’s interests. We defeated them with the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA), but now they come with their military forces, bilateral trade treaties with Mexico and with Colombia and with Chile, a treaty for the Pacific, and the control of Central America and the Carribean. And all of the politics of Obama are in that direction: reconquer the continent for the interests of his businesses. Don’t be fooled by the color of his skin; he is a representative of gringo capitalism.

There’s also a sector of the domestic bourgeoisie in our countries that wants to profit from our riches. They propose a international integration, but of the capitalist type. Companies from Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia are running around Latin America making investments and profits, with the support of those governments.

But another key element of this moment is that of integration among our peoples. No people from a single country can liberate itself, because the enemy now is international capitalism with its banks and its companies. In all countries of Latin America, for example, Monsanto controls the transgenetic seeds and the agrochemicals, the market for corn and soy. It finances our governments, buying senators, congresspeople, mayors, and yes, even bishops to bless the transgenic seeds. So, when you rise up against Monsanto here in Haiti, you are helping all of the farmers of Latin America. When we in Brazil take experimental farms from Monsanto and destroy them, we are also helping all of Latin America.

To help us integrate and fight our common enemies, we have to have programs of economic integration. We have to fight against the dollarization of our economies, and force our governments to create a new Latin American-wide currency. It’s essential that the governments on the left and the progressives of Latin America leave the sphere of the dollar. Chávez even proposed a name for this new currency, the sucre.

We also have to build up our integration through communication. In the old days, the capitalists used the churches to dominate us ideologically. Now they can’t, so they use the television. But the television is just an instrument of communication, so it can be a weapon of education as well. And for that reason as well, Chávez was a visionary. He proposed that we construct TeleSUR, a Latin American TV network under the control of the people, to deliver news.

In the political field, we in the South are advancing with the construction of the [regionally integrated] Southern Zone and, throughout all of Latin America, CELAC [the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States]. This is very important because CELAC is the grave of the OAS [Organization of American States], the political arm of the gringos. It was the OAS that first proposed MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the UN force occupying the country] and that provided soldiers. If we had only CELAC, which doesn’t include Canada and the US, there would be no foreign troops in Haiti.

For integration among our peoples, we also have to educate a new generation of youth for liberation. The capitalists want the youth only for consuming drugs and cell phones, but we need them to be teachers and doctors and engineers. Here Fidel gave us a great lesson with the construction of the ELAM [the Latin American School of Medicine], that’s a great school for training doctors. I want to tell you that in Brazil, more Black doctors have been trained in Cuba than in all of the faculties of medicine in Brazil. Put another way, the poor of Brazil that want to be doctors go to Cuba. We in Via Campesina [the worldwide coalition of farmers, peasants, and landless people] are doing our part by creating a network of agro-ecology schools.

What you are doing here in this school [the agro-ecology training center of the Peasant Movement of Haiti] is revolutionary. It’s anti-imperialist. It’s anti-capitalist. The imperialists want to control our seeds to control our plates and our lives. Building a school of agro-ecology in the countryside, and taking control of your seeds, is the same as building a fort of guerrillas. Guerrillas of Black descent.

We need to take one more step in integrating peoples, which is to organize mass struggles. When people stay seated, they’re no good for anything. We have to put our energy in each country to build struggles against our principal enemies: the banks, the transnational companies, and the media controlled by the bourgeoisie. And I hope we will join together the fights from our countries and create a common struggle. I hope we achieve very soon one united battle to definitively defeat Monsanto, Nestlé in milk, Cargill in corn, and mining companies.

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