Review – Decolonial Communism, Democracy and the Commons

A collection of essays which could be a key resource for those seeking to create economic alternatives, edited by Catherine Samary and Fred Leplat. Reviewed by Derek Wall

November 22, 2019 · 3 min read
Oliver E. Williamson and Elinor Ostrom at a press conference. By Prolineserver 2010, under a Wikipedia/Wikimedia cc-by-sa-3.0 license

The cosy neoliberal consensus has collapsed. The notion that a new liberal economics based on rolling back the state – except for taxpayer subsidies for big corporations – was the only game in town no longer convinces. The ‘third way’ politics based on such assumptions looked unassailable at the turn of the century but the politics of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and their like is seeming as distant as the age of the dinosaurs. Since the financial crisis of 2008, rising economic insecurity has led to drastic political change and mainstream market-based economics is increasingly questioned.

Economic alternatives are being sought that move beyond the inequalities generated by the market and inefficient, top-down state intervention. It is significant that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is keen to experiment with alternatives that go beyond simply nationalising key industries.

This collection of essays is likely to be a key resource for all those seeking to create economic alternatives that are democratic, ecological and promote equality. Decolonial Communism, Democracy and the Commons argues, broadly, that mainstream economics is still colonial, resting on the exploitation of the vast mass of the planet’s population to achieve prosperity for a minority. It surveys a wide variety of attempts to create socialism in the past, including the self-management experiments in Yugoslavia, to show how a decolonial future might be created. There is also much discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of attempts by the Latin American left, from Chile to Venezuela, to construct diverse democratic economic structures.

The essays are written in a lively but clear style and outline a number of key concepts and debates. Perhaps the most interesting is the piece entitled ‘The Struggle for Commons in the Balkans’. The concept of commons, collective ownership that moves beyond markets and state control, is examined. The revolutionary implications of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win a Nobel prize in economics, for her work showing how commons might work in practice, are outlined. The limits of Ostrom’s work – for example, her failure to analyse the place of colonialism and capitalism in destroying common ownership – are also discussed. The practical struggles to defend public space in the Balkans from corporate control make this section of the book particularly inspiring and important.

For an economy that works, democratic control is necessary – and the rich and the powerful are always going to resist this. Thus, a key insight that runs through this collection is that economic solutions are not enough; politics always comes in.

Decolonial Communism, Democracy and the Commons is published by Merlin Press/Resistance Books.

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