I am interested in ‘Marxism’ as a field or a force-field in the sense in which we think of electromagnetic or gravitational fields, where objects and bodies impact on other bodies and objects, and have effects, without necessarily coming into contact.
Ever since the 2008 financial crisis and the beginning of the end of the neoliberal order, when sales of Marx’s writings, of Capital in particular, went up dramatically, there have been prognostications of the ‘return of Marx’. Indeed, there has also been an attempt, for a much longer time now, especially after the collapse of Soviet-bloc socialism, of a ‘return to Marx’. Both the millennial expectation of Marx’s Second Coming and that of a ‘return to’, display a distinct theological orientation – insisting on a return to the pristine source, uncontaminated by the ‘deviations’ wrought by Leninist or Maoist-inspired practice in the underdeveloped regions of the world.
It is interesting that though Marxism was born in Europe, it has found its most enduring habitat in the Global South, but this has meant very little in terms of its overall theoretical formation and structure. Thinking about this encounter of ‘Marxism’ and the ‘Global South’ – the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America – is a daunting task for the sheer range of experiences and questions it has thrown up. It has thrown up fundamentally new concerns as well as produced, in practice, some of the most grotesque outcomes. But the task is also daunting because despite the range of experiences that Marxism has gone through and has put us through, it has not so far given us any serious body of theoretical knowledge that reflects this experience. It has not given us anything like the way, say, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Sinhala Buddhism have produced their own versions of Buddhist philosophy. One could also perhaps say the same thing about Christianity in Europe, where – at least up to a point – its philosophy was elaborated and innovated or transformed by the best minds of their time.
Many words are walked in the world. Many worlds are made. Many worlds make us. There are words and worlds that are lies and injustices. There are words and worlds that are truthful and true. In the world of the powerful there is room only for the big and their helpers. In the world we want, everybody fits. The world we want is a world in which many worlds fit…Our words, our song and our cry is so that the dead will no longer die. We fight so that they may live. We sing so that they may love. – Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (1996), Zapatista National Liberation Army. Cited as epigraph in Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.
The New Grave-Diggers of Capital?
‘The world we want is a world in which many worlds fit’. This neatly sums up the idea of the ‘pluriverse’. Reading it, I was reminded of an interview of ‘Subcommandante Marcos’, ‘leader’ of the Zapatistas, some years ago. In that interview, Subcommandante Marcos (then anonymous) recounted that he and his colleagues at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico, who joined him in the Chiapas mountains in 1984, were Marxists and had basically gone there to organize the indigenous people. And for Marxists that bascially meant to ‘raise their awareness’ about capitalism and exploitation.
The aim of this essay is to make connections between things that are usually studied separately – environmental history, political economy, conservation practice and adivasi politics – and I apologize in advance for the demands it makes upon the reader’s attention. The belief that this potential convergence could do with wider discussion is my sole justification for putting it up here.
Environmental history in India is not a very old discipline – the first mongraphs began appearing in the 1980s, and more and more books and papers have been added to the historiography since 2000. Let us examine certain themes as outlined in a cross-section of recent scholarship.
One key debate centers upon whether the colonial period can be regarded as an ecological watershed. An influential book by Ramchandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil argued that, before the advent of colonialism, there existed a harmonizing tendency between human beings and the environment, a balance between resource use and preservation mediated largely through the caste system: colonialism shattered this equilibrium and the values associated with it. This idealizing view, eliding different time periods and state structures, was bound to come under attack and much subsequent scholarship has been devoted to unpicking its conclusions.
Sumit Guha shows how at least one natural resource, namely wild grass for fodder, had become scarce in the Deccan by the Maratha period thanks to the demands of armies, nobles and zamindars, who engrossed it by enclosing tracts of common land. This fierce arbitrariness fostered a system of free grazing and discouraged sustainable management through collective protection of the commons. Meanwhile the argument that sacred groves are strands of untouched forest – repositories of biodiversity – is refuted by Claude Garcia and J-P Pascal in their study of Kodagu. Far from being untouched, groves there are heavily used and managed, and show clear signs of degradation associated with use. Continue reading Staking the Terrain – Political Economy, Environmental History and Nature Conservation: Shashank Kela→
I wish I could start with the ritual “I love you” which the Occupy Movement is supposed to inspire. To be honest, it has been a space of turmoil. But also, virulent optimism.
What I outline below are not criticisms of the Occupy movement. I am inspired that the dynamic of the movement thus far has been organic, so that all those who choose to participate are collectively responsible for its evolution and development. To all those participating — I offer my deepest gratitude and respect. I am writing today with Grace Lee Boggs on the forefront of my mind: “The coming struggle is a political struggle to take political power out of the hands of the few and put it into the hands of the many. But in order to get this power into the hands of the many, it will be necessary for the many not only to fight the powerful few but to fight and clash among themselves as well.” This may sound dramatic and counter-productive, but I find it a poignant reminder that, in our state of elation, we cannot underestimate the difficult terrain ahead and I look forward to the processes that will further these conversations.