Land and the Commons: New forms of citizens' struggle. Interview with Gustavo Esteva

Interview with Gustavo Esteva on the occasion of the online launch of Development 53.1 'New Institutions for Development'.

Q: In your article you identify the current struggle for land in Latin America as one of the most important features of today's social movements. In what way is today's relation to land different to the one that characterized the last 50 years and how does it stand in opposition to mainstream development?

A: In the past, agrarian reform and property rights, with different ideological orientations and results, were incorporated in the development project and could be reconciled with the traditional struggle for land. On the other hand, today the sovereign defence of a territory, as an expression of autonomy (not separatism), implies explicit resistance to development projects and policies, conceived and implemented against the interests and perceptions of the peasants and indigenous people. These actors are now transforming their traditional struggle for land into a defence of their territory, and their resistance into a struggle for liberation.

Q: You also talk about the 'revolution of the commons' and the 'commonism of the 2000s'. What are these new commons and how do they position themselves between modernity and tradition?

A: The contemporary commons are well rooted in the tradition of the commons whose enclosure marked the beginning of capitalism. They are everywhere. Some of them are the traditional commons, when the commoners were able to resist the enclosure; they are now regenerating, both materially and spiritually, their common land and their social fabric. In some other cases people are reclaiming the commons they lost to old or new enclosures; they have a contemporary notion about what they want to do with them. And there are still other cases in which the people are creating new, contemporary commons, and also trying to apply those same principles, rules and attitudes to ecological commons (water, atmosphere); social commons (welfare, health, education); and networked commons (means of communication).

Q: What is the potential of the concept of 'buen vivir' in redefining development paradigms?

A: In my view, it goes beyond development. The concept of buen vivir cannot be reduced to models, policies or strategies. It will suffer a severe transmogrification if it becomes institutionalized.

Q: How does the new radical pluralism endorsed by many social movements fit into the idea of the nation-state?

A: It does not fit into it. We need a new political horizon, transcending the current design, increasingly obsolete. Among other things, what the social movements are looking for is not only a world in which many worlds can be embraced, as the Zapatistas say, but a world -a political regime- not based on violence and individualism.

by Laura Fano Morrissey

Click here to read the abstract of Gustavo Esteva's article in Development 53.1


Gustavo Esteva is a grassroots activist and public, deprofessionalized intellectual. Author of more than 30 books, he was advisor to the Zapatistas and participates in several social movements and civil society organizations and networks.


Photo: Latin America for Less