Microcredit, enclosures, commons

video_button_white_dred.gifThis is an extract of a debate on microcredit broadcasted by Democracy Now! (13 December - go here for full coverage in real player) between Susan Davis, founder and chair of the Grameen Foundation, and Vandana Shiva. The occasion was the Nobel Peace price acceptance speech made by the founder of Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus. The Commoner has already pusblished a critique of Grameen Bank with the article by George Caffentzis titled Varieties of Bancocide: Left and Right Critiques of the World Bank and IMF, linking microcredit to IMF and World Bank policies.

The debate here extracted is not only informative, it is also enlightening of the gap we have to overcome in our critical discourses. Susan Davis and Vandana Shiva epitomise here two opposite ways to deal with “poverty” and “development”. Susan Davis, in a business like fashion, defends microcredit as a tool of women and community empowerment. In a world in which capitalism dominates, she argues, capital is the oil of the engine, and therefore providing capital to the poor is a way to empower them. Vandana Shiva instead argues the opposite. No, we must set a limit to capital. First comes our defence and protection of existing rights (to water, biodiversity etc.), so as to counter the logic of capitalism, then credits can come after the “rights” solution is offered to people. But hang on, argues Davis, “if people have access to a decent livelihood, then they are able to participate more fully in all kinds of campaigns to save ourselves and save the planet.” People need to create another future for themselves, she insists, while Shiva rebukes “the issue is not creating another future, the issue is defending the future that is in the hands of people right now!” Now, I think they are talking about two different things here, or at least, they are referring to two different social subjects. An indication of this is that Susan Davis calls “campaigns” what for Shiva are the defence of alternative livelihoods strategies. Obviously, if your livelihoods is threatened by enclosures and dispossession you are not just involved in a “campaign”, you fight for your life and livelihood. It is a “campaign” if the issue is of interest to you, but it is somehow disconnected from your immediate preoccupation of how to reproduce yourself and your community. But the same can apply to Shiva’s dismissal of Davis argument. She posited that “right comes first, and then we can talk about credit”, but obviously, for those women and communities who have long lost their “rights” in the past, this sequence does not help much. Davis is correct here, in the sense that the dispossessed need to have the means to reproduce their livelihoods!. But of course, the microcredit way to do so promotes cooptation into further corporate commodification, opens debt vicious cycle, and facilitate livelihoods to be pit against one another (they call this the market).

The issue here seems to be that they are referring to two different class compositions, two different subjects. Davis has in mind access to credit for the dispossessed who do not have means to reproduce the livelihoods while Shiva has in mind the defense of the commons for those who are right now targeted by neoliberal and corporate enclosures. The real issue, seems to me, is not only the defend existing commons (Shiva), but also the reclaiming of new non market commons, with the consequent political problematic of how to bridge the two positionalities, how to defend old commons in terms of water, biodiversity etc., while at the same time create and positing new commons beyond the market.

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