Since the first limited liability companies – the Dutch and British East India Companies – were formed, we have seen the kidnapping and enslavement of 20–60 million African people and the rape, murder and exploitation of indigenous people around the world. Colonisation was primarily about mercantile empires, not political ones. It was all about forcing indigenous, communitarian people to accept private individual ownership of resources, which could then be alienated, either by being bought or stolen. (Tanczos in Wall 2005: xiv)
The commons overcomes many of the problems with traditional state socialism because it tends to be flexible and decentralised. It has an inbuilt ecological principle based on the concept of usufruct, that is, access to a resource is granted only if the resource is left in as good a form as it was when first found. By extending this concept of usufruct, we can provide the basis of an ecological economy. By providing access, the commons enables prosperity without growth; if we have access to the resources we need, we can reduce wasteful duplication.
Preserving and extending the commons for forests, seas and other ecological resources is particularly vital. In the world’s rainforests, indigenous people almost universally use communal ownership to prevent ecological destruction of the forests. However, the commons principle can be applied far more widely. In the form of free software and access to the World Wide Web, it has already transformed the knowledge economy and decommodified access to culture and information. This, of course, is still imperfect: people in poorer communities may lack access to the Internet, and free Internet resources are still used to generate sales revenue.
Yet it already has had an extraordinary impact and shows that alternatives to private ownership are possible. It has already redistributed income from media corporations to consumers.
Derek Wall, ‘The rise of the Green left’