Category Archives: Capitalism

Quepem by the kilo: Hartman de Souza on Mining in Goa

I am posting below a requiem to Quepem by my old friend Hartman. It reads eerily like a companion piece to the curatorial essay to Manifesta 7 by Raqs, posted earlier on Kafila. Raqs wrote:

Mountains are flattened to mine bauxite, the main aluminium ore. Mountains of aluminium waste may eventually take their place…The “rest of now” is the residue that lies at the heart of contemporaneity. It is what persists from moments of transformation, and what falls through the cracks of time. It is history’s obstinate remainder, haunting each addition and subtraction with arithmetic persistence, endlessly carrying over what cannot be accounted for. The rest of now is the excess, which pushes us towards respite, memory and slowing things down.

And here’s Hartman:

As you read this, mourn the brutal rape and murder of half a dozen steep, thickly forested hills barely 12 kilometres from Quepem town in south Goa. These form an integral link of the magnificent Western Ghats that surround Goa, and as any schoolchild studying the environment will tell you, they play a crucial role in providing Goa its ecological wellbeing.

And yet, in blatant contravention of wisdom we purport to impart to children, hundreds of forests are being cut down around Quepem even as I write this. The denuded land turned inside out so fast, a hill can disappear in three months, leaving behind suppurating wounds that go down so deep the giant tipper trucks at the bottom look like the harmless toys little boys plays with.

Continue reading Quepem by the kilo: Hartman de Souza on Mining in Goa

The Rest of Now

My colleagues (Jeebesh Bagchi and Monica Narula) and I (as Raqs Media Collective) have been working over the last year on curating an exhibition titled ‘The Rest of Now’ which opened recently as part ofManifesta 7in the town of Bolzano/Bozen in northern Italy. Manifesta is an itinerant biennial of European contemporary art. I am posting below our curatorial essay, which may be of interest to some amongst you, and look forward to your responses.

The Rest of Now
by Raqs Media Collective


A hundred years ago, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, artist, poet and high priest of a muscular industrial aesthetic, was seriously injured in an automobile accident on the outskirts of Milan.  Continue reading The Rest of Now

Under Development: Singur

If you are in Kolkata between 27 June and 2 July, you may do well to visit the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, Kolkata, for an exhibition of photographs of Singur. There will also be a panel discussion and a film festival. Continue reading Under Development: Singur

An epitaph for the bull-hull economy

S. Anand draws his own conclusions from a trip to Azamgarh, about which Aditya Nigam had earlier written a post on Kafila.

While the urban elite, who can afford to indulge the growing fad of organic slow-food, would now happily pay a premium price for the hard bread (appreciating its high-fibre content) that Dalits were forced to eat owing to denial and deprivation, the rural Dalits are forced into the maida economy of Maggi Continue reading An epitaph for the bull-hull economy

Prasanta Chakravarty – Of Demos, Innovation and Affect

Carrying forward the debate around Partha Chatterjee’s article in EPW.


In the wake of the development debates around the nation, one witnesses an interesting array of articles—polemical as well as academic—that takes on headlong issues of political intervention by developing the terms of negotiation and deliberation in a certain direction. And that is the story of growing up—that democracy is the story of pragma, of mature understanding of the contestatory space. These are reminders that politics of good intentions is benign self-deception. Worse: it is apolitical, prophetic, self-indulgent.

Continue reading Prasanta Chakravarty – Of Demos, Innovation and Affect

Political Society and the Fable of Primitive Accumulation

This is a response to Partha Chatterjee, whose recent essay we had posted for further debate.

Partha’s work has been a central reference point for the work of many of us and his notion of ‘political society’ has provided an unprecedented opening, a possibility – that of thinking the ‘unthinkable’. I would go so far as to say that the enunciation of the idea of ‘political society’ has been one of the most important conceptual interventions of ‘postcolonial’ political theory – that is to say, political (and social theory) produced from/in the postcolonial world; an intervention in theory that for the first time brings in the postcolonial experience into its very heart. I shall even claim that the potential and possibilities of this concept are of far wider applicability than the geographical ‘third world’ and can provide a lens for looking at the so-called first world itself. But on that more later. Continue reading Political Society and the Fable of Primitive Accumulation

Democracy and Economic Transformation – Partha Chatterjee

[Political theorist Partha Chatterjee’s work has been the reference point for many contemporary theorizations of politics in India and others parts of the postcolonial world. Chatterjee has recently published an important essay, which we reproduce below. Many friends and colleagues in Kolkata and elsewhere have requested Kafila to provide the forum for this debate, considering the common interest that many of us have in issues raised here. Some reformulations by Chatterjee, especially in the aftermath of Nandigram, call for a more sustained political theoretical reflection. The article also raises issues directly related to questions of rural-to-urban migration that has seen some debate in Kafila lately. – AN]

Economic & Political Weekly

April 19, 2008 [Download PDF]

Democracy and Economic Transformation in India

With the changes in India over the past 25 years, there is now a new dynamic logic that ties the operations of “political society” (comprising the peasantry, artisans and petty producers in the informal sector) with the hegemonic role of the bourgeoisie in “civil society”. This logic is provided by the requirement of reversing the effects of primitive accumulation of capital with activities like anti-poverty programmes. This is a necessary political condition for the continued rapid growth of corporate capital. The state, with its mechanisms of electoral democracy, becomes the field for the political negotiation of demands for the transfer of resources, through fiscal and other means, from the accumulation economy to programmes aimed at providing the livelihood needs of the poor. Electoral democracy makes it unacceptable for the government to leave the marginalised groups without the means of labour and to fend for themselves, since this carries the risk of turning them into the “dangerous classes”.

Partha Chatterjee

The first volume of Subaltern Studies was published in 1982. I was part of the editorial group 25 years ago that launched, Continue reading Democracy and Economic Transformation – Partha Chatterjee

The Patriot Act of Intellectual Property

I was at a meeting recently to discuss what is now being termed, as The Patriot Act of Intellectual Property. Some of the leading economic powers including the US, European Commission and Japan have been negotiating an agreement, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which attempts to redefine IP enforcement. The Bush administration is particularly keen that they finalize this agreement before the end of his term. At the moment the substantive content of the agreement is not known, and the few details that are available are only because of a leaked document of the US government available in Wikileaks.

Continue reading The Patriot Act of Intellectual Property

Flight to Freedom: Travel Through Dalit Villages

“Do you eat piglets?” he asked as our car moved through the long road from Lucknow, via Barabanki, Faizabad, Akbarpur towards Azamgarh. “We can have roast piglets and whiskey when we end our day’s work” This was our ‘tour sponsor’, Chandra Bhan Prasad, well known now as the maverick intellectual who celebrates capitalism, consumption and globalization and who was the first to advocate a Dalit-Brahmin alliance against the Sudra (OBC) castes. Thus it was to be. We were to spend our first night in the poorvanchal on 4 June 2008, eating and drinking.

When we arrived at his village at about 8 pm, it was dark. All of Uttar Pradesh only has electricity for about seven or eight hours every day. And this was a village. That too, the dakkhin tola (the generic name for the Dalit settlement, given that, by and large, it is supposed to be situated at the southern end of the village). But true to the line that Prasad has been trying to convince us of for sometime now – and which actually occasioned this trip – within minutes, the generator started purring and the place lit up. We were in front of a fairly large pucca building that happens to be Prasad’s family house. The preparations were soon made for the feast that was awaiting us – the cooler was put on and other arrangements were made. Prasad has been at pains to underline to us, over and over again, that over the last twenty years, hunger and humiliation have disappeared from the lives of the Dalits in this area. Not that they are not poor and oppressed any more. But their lives have changed decisively.

Continue reading Flight to Freedom: Travel Through Dalit Villages

Goa: How the battle was won

By Rifat Mumtaz and Madhumanti Sardar

(Rifat Mumtaz and Madhumanti Sardar work with NCAS and are involved in campaigns against SEZs).

Recently, Goa became the only state in India to openly declare that no more Special Economic Zones (SEZs) would be set up on its territory. This was a result of relentless pressure from almost the entire state — villagers, educated middle class, professionals, activists, the church and media. Continue reading Goa: How the battle was won

Conscience of the Company

A nocturnal gas leak in 1984 took the lives of more than 7,000 people in Bhopal over a three-day span, and a further 15,000 in the years that followed. The leak came from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), now owned by Dow Chemical (DOW). The company is still denying its responsibility, and refuses to reveal the toxicological information of the gas, thwarting medical efforts to deliver appropriate treatment to more than 100,000 surviving victims. Should not there be a conscience of the company, which ensures that the Bhopal factory site and its surroundings are promptly and effectively decontaminated, that the groundwater is cleaned up, that the stockpiles of toxic and hazardous substances left at the site are removed, and that full reparation, restitution, compensation and rehabilitation are promptly provided for the continuing damage done to people’s health and environment by the ongoing contamination of the site? Should they not be ashamed of the lack of effective regulation and accountability systems, which have meant that court cases are dragging on, and corporations and their leaders continuing to evade accountability for thousands of deaths, widespread ill-health and ongoing damage to livelihoods?

Of course, our government has the primary obligation to secure universal enjoyment of human rights, and this includes an obligation to protect all individuals from the harmful actions of others, including companies. However, while the government has been frequently failing in regulating the human rights impact of business or ensuring access to justice for victims of human rights abuses involving business, the companies too have been complicit in their human rights abuses. In a democracy, a government will be taken to task for its failure. At the same time, there has also to be a call for the companies to be conscientious and accountable for their activities related to human rights. A few of them claim to engage with human rights responsibilities through voluntary consultations, relief and rehabilitation initiatives. While these have a role to play, such voluntarism can never be a substitute for concrete standards on businesses’ mandatory compliance with human rights. In India, as a minimum requirement, all companies should respect the right to information; free, prior, informed consent; and no displacement without rehabilitation, regardless of the sector, state or context in which they operate.

Continue reading Conscience of the Company

Whose woods these are….

…. I think I know?

If the latest developments at the Bali Summit are anything to go by -the answer to this question is going to become very contentious in the coming years. Armed with a mandate to cut, capture, and squester carbon; Governments, International Organisations, and private companies have been working hard at arriving at a means to bring forests under the carbon market – and possibly use carbon in forests as a tradable commodity. What this means for the future of our forests is uncertain.

There are several components that can be considered under the Forests and REDD – Reduction of emissions from Deforestation and Degraded Land in developing countries. Some of the big ones are afforestation programmes, deforestation reduction programmes, carbon capture and squestering (CCS), the rights on indigenous peoples and forest dwellers, the Clean Development Mechanism and conservation. Each carries with it an entire lexicon and phrase-ology of its own.

I mentioned in previous posts, it is one of the most interesting issues at the conference – and one I hope to deal with at length in my article for Frontline – which I shall have to work on very soon. In the meantime, jus to get interested readers up-to-speed, am appending to articles that I have written for the The Hindu. They should provide the briefest of introductions. Note that the articles correspond to standards of objectivity required in “Hard News” reportage – Shall write an opinion piece for Kafila soon. In the meantime, I would urge careful readers to read against, for, below, above and around the text.

Continue reading Whose woods these are….

REDD Salam

A week ago, I had promised a short post on the Forest Issue. As promised, here it is:

Nusa Dua: As the UNFCCC World Climate Change Conference crossed the 10,000 attendee mark , delegates braced themselves for what could be one most difficult and divisive issues of what could constitute “The Bali Breakthrough.” “The working group on Reduction of Emissions by Deforestation (and Degradation) in Developing Countries (REDD) was constituted and has begun work today,” stated UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer in his daily press briefing at the World Climate Change Summit today. The working group is tasked with arriving at a mechanism to incorporate deforestation reduction into the framework of the Kyoto Protocol and the carbon market.

Continue reading REDD Salam

The Shotgun and the Sniper

“The time for silver bullets has passed,” proclaimed Marc Stewart, “What we need is a Shotgun!” In his bright Bali shirt, Nike sneakers and Investment Banker haircut, Mr Stewart is the firm-handshaking, fist pumping, ever effusive all-American co-founder of Ecosecurities, a firm that specialises in developing and marketing carbon trading projects under the Clean Development Mechanism – CDM – of the Kyoto Protocol. With emission reductions under Kyoto less than a month away, Mr Stewart’s firm is looking to extend its market capitalisation to far beyond its existing 40 million USD. The Ecosecurity model functions in the following way – they find and help develop projects in the developing world that is eligible for credit credits under the CDM, and then sell the credits to firms in EU, and across the world, that are looking to meet their Kyoto targets by offsetting excess emissions against carbon credits. Firms like Ecosecurities pushed the carbon market to 30 billion dollars in 2006; and if Annex 1 agrees to further emission cuts (25-40 per cent below 1992 by 2020) the potential size of the market is open to the most optimistic hyperbole.

The “Shotgun Approach” suggested by Stewart was his response to the fact Continue reading The Shotgun and the Sniper

The Trojan Horse of Neo-liberal Capital in Kerala

In mid-November, a pro-tribal outfit, the Adivasi Rehabilitation Council, demanded that the Kerala Government hand over to them, land leased to Hindustan Newsprint Ltd. The Adivasis had been given title deeds to this land in 2003, when A K Antony was chief minister, but it was never handed over. They dispersed after local revenue officials assured that this would be done.

But when nothing was done about it, the tribals regrouped and went into the land again, building little huts and vowing to start farming. Around November 26th, the 200-odd families were physically removed by truck-loads of CPM cadre.

J Devika on the need for a new perspective on Left politics:

When the CPM-led LDF coalition swept into power in the elections to the Kerala State Legislative Assembly in 2006, the victory was widely interpreted to be the individual triumph of V S Achuthanandan, who seemed to be nothing less than the personification of Principled-Opposition-to-the-State-and-Global-Capital. During the campaign, VS received the mantle of A K Gopalan, whose brilliant strategies of mass mobilization and militancy had made him the most admired and best-loved of all communists in Kerala. Throughout Kerala, life-size posters of a smiling VS proclaimed him Paavangalude Padatthalavan (NM – something like garibon ka masiha)

Continue reading The Trojan Horse of Neo-liberal Capital in Kerala

Theses on Feuerbach, Woody Allen and Nandigram

In Wolfgang Becker’s film Good Bye Lenin set in East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young boy tries to protect his invalid mother from the shock of learning about the transformation that has overtaken their country. When despite his elaborate deception, she manages to see a television programme showing thousands of cheering Germans at the remnants of the wall, he tells her that the capitalist west has fallen, that refugees from West Berlin are pouring into the East, and that East Germany has welcomed them with open arms. And she believes him.

Thing is, there was no historical inevitability to the fall of communism. The story the boy tells his mother in Good Bye Lenin could well have been the way things went in history, but for the self-destructiveness of Stalinism – its hubris, its fetishization of a certain notion of industrialization and progress, its anti-democratic core, its contempt for the “people” it claimed to represent (or rather, the people it claimed to be.)

Continue reading Theses on Feuerbach, Woody Allen and Nandigram

Response to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn et al on Nandigram

We read with growing dismay the statement signed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others advising those opposing the CPI(M)’s pro-capitalist policies in West Bengal not to “split the Left” in the face of American imperialism. We believe that for some of the signatories, their distance from events in India has resulted in their falling prey to a CPI(M) public relations coup and that they may have signed the statement without fully realising the import of it and what it means here in India, not just in Bengal.

We cannot believe that many of the signatories whom we know personally, and whose work we respect, share the values of the CPI(M) – to “share similar values” with the party today is to stand for unbridled capitalist development, nuclear energy at the cost of both ecological concerns and mass displacement of people (the planned nuclear plant at Haripur, West Bengal), and the Stalinist arrogance that the party knows what “the people” need better than the people themselves. Moreover, the violence that has been perpetrated by CPI(M) cadres to browbeat the peasants into submission, including time-tested weapons like rape, demonstrate that this “Left” shares little with the Left ideals that we cherish.

Continue reading Response to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn et al on Nandigram

Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali: The Seductions of Stalinism

Once more, Stalinism’s seductions have taken over even libertarian Leftists and Trotskyists, who, one would imagine, should know better about the methods of this devious ideological machine. Leading intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn have issued a statement addressed to “Our Friends in Bengal”, which you can read here. The statement offers the solemn advice that in the face of Iraq and the impending attack on Iran, ‘it would be impetuous to split the Left’. Suddenly, as if by magic, ‘all Leftists’ from anarcho-communist Chomsky, Trotskyist Tariq Ali, and many many Liberal Leftists – all become ONE with Stalinism (‘The Yet-Unsplit Left’). For it will be apparent to any one who reads the statement that the appeal not to split the Left is made not to the CPM, but to those who oppose its crypto- capitalist policies.

Continue reading Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali: The Seductions of Stalinism

A little Biology, A little Arithmetic, A lot of Politics: Sudhanva Deshpande on Nandigram, again

Dear Sudhanva,

*A Biology Lesson*
The discussion on Nandigram is heading in interesting directions across lists and blogs, (even as the Army walks the talk in Kolkata tonight) and I find this situation of accumulating discursive intensity actually very productive. Let a hundred rejoinders blossom, and a few good schools of thought contend. So I welcome your rejoinder and criticism of my text. And I for one, stand chastised by your incisive criticism of my posts (responding to your earlier writing) on the reader-list, and on Kafila.

Continue reading A little Biology, A little Arithmetic, A lot of Politics: Sudhanva Deshpande on Nandigram, again

Two ‘Nations’ At War: The Struggle Over Forest Rights

The process towards the implementation of ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ is entering its crucial stage. In the present political environment, charged with an electoral context, the government is bound to notify the draft rules. The original co-sponsors – majority of tribal organisations and rights groups, and left and progressive political parties – are in agreement about mobilising support for its implementation. However, similar to the time of declaration and implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the apathy and the opposition towards these rights and entitlements of the poor, is becoming shrill and shady. Special Economic Zones (SEZs) can be notified in no time in this country, but the millions of tribals and forest dwellers have to wait endlessly for anything that goes in their favour. There is a cost of action and there is a cost of inaction. The coalition government has to decide which is more expensive!

It is ironical that since the time of the discussion and the passing of the Forest Rights Act, conflicts in the forest areas have not subsided, and forced evictions and displacements continue to be a regular occurring. And this is unfolding at a time when after more than two decades of work within the UN system, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in September 2007, with India speaking in favour of it. The declaration was adopted by a vote of 143 to four with 11 abstentions. The vote was called by Australia, New Zealand and the US. Only Canada joined these three states in voting against it. The declaration recognizes the rights of indigenous people to the land, territories and natural resources that are critical to their way of life. It affirms that the rights of indigenous people are not separate from, or less than, the rights of others; they are an integral and indispensable part of a human rights system, dedicated to the rights of all. The declaration presents the Indian central and state governments a historic opportunity, which they must seize by adopting it, and entering into a new relationship with the tribal people, based on a principled commitment to the protection of their human rights. Through the Forest Rights Act, the government can work in good faith to implement their domestic law, and practice this vitally important, and long overdue, human rights instrument.

Continue reading Two ‘Nations’ At War: The Struggle Over Forest Rights

The ‘Solidarity Economy’ – Off the Beaten Track

In the beginning of this year, Ecuador became one more of the South American countries to turn Left. The new Left-wing President, Rafael Correa called, soon thereafter, for a “new socialism of the twenty-first century”. The last few months have witnessed sharp conflcits between the President, backed by a popular struggle the corrupt right-wing oligarchy that pervaded the system. We reproduce below two recent articles, one by Roger Burbach and another, in the nature of a report by Kintto Lucas, which indicate some of the fascinating new directions that Ecuador is set to now move along.

Sometime ago we had posted in Kafila, an interview of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which was remarkable for two things: (1) Morales’ reference that when he met Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the latter told him to follow Hugo Chavez and not him; that is to say, adopt the democratic road to socialist transformation. This is a commitment that many of the new regimes in the South American continent, backed by powerful mass struggles, are now displaying. The Ecuadorean struggle for and the Leftist victory in, the new Constituent Assembly is a further indication of this new direction. The second important point was Morales’ insistence that ‘we’ (the indigenous people) live in an entirely different relationship with ‘Mother Earth’. Thus: “We say the “Mother Earth,” because the earth gives us life, and neither the Mother Earth nor life can be a commodity. So we’re talking about a profound change in the economic models and systems.” Of course, this is something that neither the Indian ruling elites nor their Leftist counterparts can ever understand, drunk as they are on the heady brew of Capital and Consumption – even if that will lead the world to its rapid end. The likes of the CPM leaders – the Buddhadebs and Bimans for example – would in the end like to claim that “see we reached the end before you”, rather than dare to chart out a different path. It takes real courage – and of course the existential perspective of an ‘indigenous’ leader – to say that we want a radical break form this destructive model.

The news from Ecuador is important in both these respects. It is a different vision of ‘socialism’ – not a vision that wants capitalism to first destroy the planet before socialism can begin its work (for what?!) So, the Ecuadorean government now talks of ‘socialism’ as a shared economy and one moreover, that will be based on the protection and preservation of the oil wealth and bio-diversity of the country rather than its sale for global consumption.

ECUADOR: Support Grows for Letting Sleeping Amazon Oil Lie
By Kintto Lucas

QUITO, Aug 23 (IPS) – The innovative offer by the government of Ecuador to refrain from exploiting its largest oil reserve, in exchange for international compensation for nature conservation, is attracting increasing support. While oil prices are soaring, Quito is adopting the civil society initiative calling for the Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha (ITT) oil reserve, the country’s largest, to remain untapped. The ITT reserve is located in Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, in the Amazon region provinces of Pastaza and Napo.

Continue reading The ‘Solidarity Economy’ – Off the Beaten Track