Leadership concerning the commons
Protecting the commons is part of the historic struggle raging under the social surface between contentious classes. The effective leadership to organise the people to claim the commons must develop from the ranks of the people. A leadership founded on the bases of the classes that will play historically progressive role in upholding people’s cause only can be justified to have the people’s trust, writes Omar Rashid Chowdhury
THE commons are in crisis. The commons were and still are effectively and often elusively encroached, plundered and exploited by the prevailing global system. The commons, property of public, are usurped systematically with ‘bards’ of the system praising its ‘great conquest’ all the while. In this present world stage, the usurpation is an accelerated and wider reality.
In the wake of crises threatening both ecology and economy, protecting and claiming the commons can be just one of the ways of people’s survival through these crises. But how can the commons be protected and claimed in the face of a brutal onslaught of the prevailing system?
The answer to the question is of social nature, say Craig Parks and Jeff Joireman of Washington State University, Pullman and Paul AM Van Lange of Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam in their research report in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. They ‘emphasise the urgent need to broaden thoughtful use of public goods’ as they discuss their scientific findings on conditions that foster cooperative use and protection of the common resources in the report.1, 2
The act of protecting the commons is a popular act. People are one of its basic driving forces. Craig and his co-researchers argue that people help out in urgent situations if their leaders act in a transparent and trustworthy way. Strong sense of belonging and smaller community, size where one’s contribution can be easily identified, are also factors that affect people’s role in protecting and claiming the commons. Cognitive disconnection or people’s inability to grasp the idea of the vast threats to the common resources also plays a part in affecting people’s initiative to protect the commons. The researchers also argue that policymakers, in promoting optimal use of public goods, must concentrate on building public’s trust to garner cooperation.3
Yet, questions remain unanswered. Why looting of the commons still continues despite calls and efforts by governments and organisations to protect these? Is it because people cannot trust their leaders? Or is it the leaders’ incapability? If that is the case, then who can lead the people to protect their commons?
Leading people to protect the commons is historically impossible by a leadership that is rooted in the prevalent production relations. The ‘leading’ or dominating classes are inherently incapable of leading the masses. Though history finds, in countries, sections of the ruling classes played the role of leaders in the primary stages of the present system. The moment these classes plunged into accumulation, expansion and appropriation they lost justification and capacity to lead the masses regarding claiming the commons. Historically, these dominating classes have ‘alienated’ themselves from the masses they rule and in the process have only maintained a farce of leadership.
Essentially, as long as a system immersed into maximisation of profit continues to function, the protection of the commons by people’s active participation under the leadership of the present ruling classes is a faraway dream. Words like ‘democracy’ and ‘sovereignty’ do not exist in the handbook of the system that practices neo-liberalism.
‘The free mobility of capital between sectors, regions, and countries is regarded as crucial. All barriers to that free movement (such as tariffs, punitive taxation arrangements, planning and environmental controls, or other locational impediments) have to be removed, except in those areas crucial to “the national interest”, however that is defined. State sovereignty over commodity and capital movements is willingly surrendered to the global market.’4
Neo-liberalisation, rather than generating wealth and income, has achieved redistribution. It has continued with the processes of accumulation by dispossession only in a more rapid and expansive way. ‘These include the commodification and privatization of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations (compare the cases […] of Mexico and of China, where 70 million peasants are thought to have been displaced in recent times); conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc.) into exclusive private property rights (most spectacularly represented by China); suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption; colonial, neocolonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land; the slave trade (which continues particularly in the sex industry); and usury, the national debt and, most devastating of all, the use of the credit system as a radical means of accumulation by dispossession. The state, with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality, plays a crucial role in
both backing and promoting these processes.’5
‘In societies, usurpers of the commons are helped by section of law enforcers and section of jurists, by section of media and section of political leadership. In societies, legislation, administration and jurisdiction turn servile to the commons robbers, and long hand of law ‘fails’ to catch neck of the commons thieves.’6
‘To demolish commoners’ power to claim enclosed commons, commoners are demobilized, deactivated, depoliticized; their organizations and determining section of leadership of these organizations are purchased and co-opted and the committed section of the leadership is made isolated; the vacuum in the areas of commoners’ politics and resistance thus created are stuffed with slogan mongering pseudo- , ultra- and philistine-fighters, and all out efforts are made to perpetuate ignorance, confusion and indiscipline.’7
The ‘leadership’ with a saintly face full of promises continues encroachment of the commons all the while keeping the people in the dark. The case of ‘cognitive disconnection’ comes into play as people are intentionally kept ignorant, alienated and indifferent. As ‘simulated, re-created, or edited versions of events and experiences’ clutter our consciousness ‘direct contact with other people, other communities, other sources of knowledge, and the natural world’ turn faint and fainter. Even this very act of dominating and subtly dictating people’s consciousness is commons-robbery as the process of free thinking and reacting to events is tampered with.8
As the present ‘leadership’ hangs a curtain of false hopes and aspirations in front of the people and sometimes to keep them rejuvenated takes projects that work as ‘incentives’ or a form of psychological bribery, the people fail to effectively organise to protect their commons. Force or false hopes are used or planted by the system. Constant continuation of these acts ultimately results in a loss of credibility of ‘leadership’ and consequently their justification to lead.
Leadership is not an independent function, nor can it be exclusively personified. Its roots are in broader society, in social classes and processes. Justification and credibility of the leadership are also innate functions of these. The dominant leadership’s only function is to be collaborator and active participant in the system’s gluttonous process of usurping and appropriating the commons and establishing property relations antagonistic to people’s existence, organisation and democratic rights that in turn are also part of the commons.
Protecting the commons is part of the historic struggle raging under the social surface between contentious classes. The effective leadership to organise the people to claim the commons must develop from the ranks of the people. A leadership founded on the bases of the classes that will play historically progressive role in upholding people’s cause only can be justified to have the people’s trust. And only then can the commons be claimed successfully by the people.
Omar Rashid Chowdhury studies civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
1. CD Parks, J Joireman, PAM. Van Lange, ‘Cooperation, Trust, and Antagonism: How Public Goods Are Promoted’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2013, 14 (3): 119, DOI: 10.1177/1529100612474436.
2. CKW De Dreu, ‘Human Cooperation: Challenges for Science and Practice’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2013, 14 (3): 117, DOI: 10.1177/1529100613496959.
4. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, New York, Oxford University Press, 2005, 66.
5. ibid, 159.
6. Farooque Chowdhury, ‘Claiming The Commons That Capital Consumes’, Countercurrents.org, August 7, 2012.
8. Jerry Mander, ‘Privatization of Consciousness’, Monthly Review, Vol. 64, Issue 5, October 2012.
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