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Re: The political economy of indigenous societies
by D.Parthasarathy
22 April 2002 04:26 UTC
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An Australian aboriginal scholar had exactly the same perspective on the 
coups in Fiji against democratically elected governments. Since the 
governments were led by people of Indian origin, and the coups were 
accompanied by attacks on them, most people assumed ethnic differences at 
the heart of the conflict. However the people of Indian origin also were 
rooted in a profit and export oriented economy based on land alienation 
and impoverishment of the 'indigenous' Fijians. The coups enjoyed popular 
support therefore because they promosed a return to a different kind of 
(non-capitalist) economy. This was the gist of the analysis that I got.


On Sun, 21 Apr 2002, Louis Proyect wrote:

> Robert Biel, "The New Imperialism" (Zed Books, 2000):
> Resistance can arise not just in households or families, but also at 
> the level of organised movements. Grassroots protest can appear 
> negative, destructive, obstructive and bloody-minded. But what 
> colonialist anthropologists branded as primitivism was a stubborn 
> refusal to comprehend a profit-oriented rationale which indigenous 
> peoples correctly perceived as absurd. Against an invading economy 
> that gave value only to commodities, societies struggled to preserve 
> their way of life oriented to use-value. Sometimes colonial ventures 
> were met simply by withdrawal: a French scheme for founding settler 
> colonies in Indochina collapsed because the peasants retreated to the 
> hills and refused to work the land. Struggles were often consciously 
> directed against economic symbols of colonialism. Thus, in the 
> Maji-Maji uprising against the German colonial regime in Tanzania, 
> peasants defied their leaders' advice to continue cultivating cotton 
> and asked, 'How can we start a war? How can we make the Germans 
> angry? Let us go and uproot their cotton so that war may arise. Enemy 
> communications were also targeted, as they were seen as a symbol of 
> the extraction of raw materials. In India, peasant rebels encouraged 
> the smashing of railways which, even though they provided employment 
> opportunities, were viewed as a symbol of colonial enslavement. The 
> nineteenth-century Senegalese resistance leader Lat Dior Joob 
> concentrated his forces on preventing railway-building.
> These strategies are not merely negative, but imply the defence of an 
> autonomous system of production and consumption; this emerged clearly 
> when there was a possibility of controlling territory. Maroon 
> communities in Jamaica were able to assert their independence not 
> just militarily but at the level of a functioning political economy. 
> In the Cauca region of Colombia from colonial times until the end of 
> the nineteenth century, this kind of movement was endemic. Using 
> crops such as plantain, the land could be productive according to a 
> non-capitalist logic of sustainability, with high yields in 
> proportion to energy inputs. Escaped slaves in many parts of the 
> Americas established self-governing communities with a functioning 
> political economy in all its aspects. What has been underestimated 
> until recently was the extent to which they collaborated and fused 
> with Native Americans to create a new political economy incorporating 
> techniques from both cultures. Although the above examples apply to 
> sparsely populated regions, a similar point could be made with 
> respect to the large area of China controlled by the Taiping 
> Rebellion (1851-64). Britain's massive plunder of resources extracted 
> such a surplus that the safeguards restricting exploitation within 
> the old Chinese social system collapsed. The ruling elites, who 
> reached a political agreement with the enemy, made the situation 
> worse by also squeezing the masses. Peasants responded by seizing 
> power over quite wide areas, and when they did so, they attempted to 
> restore the old economy geared to what local people needed to 
> consume; but since it was impossible to turn the clock back, they 
> worked out new methods, such as redistributing land and organising 
> different crafts in central workshops. The system worked, and it was 
> overthrown only by foreign intervention in collaboration with 
> domestic propertied classes.
> Although seeking to restore the self-managed communities of the past, 
> these movements were also forward-looking because the situation had 
> changed. In so far as traditional rulers reached agreement with the 
> aggressors, they forfeited the right to represent the nation; 
> democratic elements took over, and in effect became the nation. The 
> restorationist aspect of popular struggles means the reassertion not 
> of a particular set of social practices, but rather of the basic 
> logic of traditional societies, with their sustainability and 
> production geared to need. Many writers of international economic 
> theory have attacked the notion that people should produce what they 
> need to consume and consume what they produce, and have argued 
> instead that specialisation and a heightened international division 
> of labour are more efficient. I will examine this more fully later, 
> but it should just be noted here that popular movements often find it 
> easier than economists to cut through the verbiage to the heart of 
> the issue: in the real world, international specialisation and 
> division of labour are usually exploitative.
> Grassroots protest movements always seem to be 'there', ready to 
> flare up when conditions are right. In their ideologies, the 
> slave-outlaws of Latin America or the Taiping movement articulated 
> millenarian communistic ideas through a mixture of Christian and 
> traditional symbolism, for the spectre of communism was by no means 
> haunting only Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. But these 
> ideologies should not be viewed (as conservative elites sometimes 
> aver) as a foreign import; on the contrary, as Mariategui pointed out 
> (in the case of Peru), they have an indigenous basis in their concern 
> to preserve communitarian solidarity structures within traditional 
> societies. It might seem that the strength of these movements lies 
> precisely in their links with the communitarianism of the past, and 
> would wane once urbanisation and globalisation undermine these links. 
> But there is a significant counterargument, which I will take up 
> later, that trends to self-sufficiency can be reproduced within 
> capitalism, as a spin-off of the dualism that is an essential aspect 
> of accumulation. In this sense, the grassroots element can also be 
> 'reborn' in an urban context whenever the official economy fails, 
> even in the North, where the element of continuity with 
> pre-capitalist practices is very weak. Official society can repress 
> these struggles, but cannot obliterate them.

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