Collectivism, Universalism, and Struggles over Common Property Resources in the 'New' Europe

in Social Analysis
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Anyone who studies post-socialist political economy probably has to begin a discussion of ‘the commons’ and common property resources by explaining the relationship between common property and collectivism, and the enormous impact that liberal and neo-liberal thought and institutions have had on the social economies of the Eastern European commons. In this article, I want to do this in three ways. First, I argue that contemporary accounts of socialist and post-socialist common property resources and practices have been shaped by the commitments of neo-liberalism and have had the very particular effect (and perhaps intent) of discrediting certain kinds of collective action and common property institutions. Second, I illustrate the ways in which a new definition of the commons has emerged in Europe—one that struggles to harmonize juridical and political aspirations for a peaceful and inclusive European Union with a common economic project and space of harmonized markets and trade policy. These twinned projects of this new ‘common economic union’ and their own versions of what constitutes a public, a commons, as well as their universal value, are increasingly conflated with post-colonial notions of a return to Europe and with deeply historical and racialized views of identity and commonality. The building of markets through the institutions and projects of structural adjustment and shock therapy has resulted in a thoroughgoing integration of the economies of the region with those of the broader international market and a fundamental recomposition of class forces in the region.