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.
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.