Una terra, una vida.

 

A documentary about everyday life and struggle of landless brazilian workers.

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Partha Chatterjee on Subaltern Studies, Marxism and Vivek Chibber

Subaltern Studies, Postcolonial theory, Marxism

KAFILA - 10 years of a common journey

At the recent Historical Materialism conference held in Delhi from April 3-5, a panel was organized with great fanfare – an official panel by the HM editors – around Vivek Chibber’s new book Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital. This panel was billed to be a decisive refutation of Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial theory, not only by the chief  theorists and organizers of Historical Materialism but by many other Indians – most of whom in any case have little more than a religious faith in ‘Marxism’ and understand little of Marxism and its history.  There was glee all around and one came across the hurried announcement of a Centre for Marxist Studies that was to host further events around this book against the demon that Chibber had apparently slain. After all, Chibber  was backed by the likes of Slavoj Zizek, Robert Brenner and Noam Chomsky, all of whom  had  endorsed…

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Reflections on the brazilian social unrest: Free Pass Movement

The Free Pass Movement, in other words,  advocate for the right to the city through a constitutional amendment (PEC 90/11) that guarantees public transport as a social right. So in this sense, the right to the city relates to the broader framework of a human right (social, economic and cultural right).  And I think this perhaps explains some of the achievements of this Movement. Although it may seem at first glance a very specific demand, and in a certain extent it is. It also had this potential to articulate and resonate a plurality of claims within diverse social movements in the country. Because in the end what is at stake, I think, is the possibility for participatory budgeting where the people decides where money should be allocated, also the possibility to set what are the priorities that according to the people should be addressed in politics and this claims worked as a chain of equivalence among different sectors in society, first and most of all the students. There was a pol where it was stated that 75-80% of the members in the core of the movement had master degrees. But then it slowly conquered sympathy of workers in general from different social classes as well and it also gave some fuel to social movements in the peripheral area of Sao Paulo for instance. There as well as in the center they were not just pro-the Free Pass Movement but had different demands on health, education and so on. What is interesting to me was that, for the first time the periphery could rise and to to the streets without being afraid of police repression since social unrest was taking place in the whole city and in the whole country to a certain extent.

All together it had this exceptional symbolic value. Among so many pressing issues in the Brazilian society including violence, corruption, inequality, low investments in health and education, public discontent turned into engagement, political activism opening up new spaces for popular manifestation and also affirmed the autonomy of social movements as they did not tolerate any party flags in the protests.

And it is also interesting to notice the change of public perception from being against, to fear and then finally solidarity. What this struggle has in common with other struggles around the globe is that, it is result of the exhaustion of political channels that for long have not been able to channelize political demands. As a Brazilian political scientist described, there is a divorce between the so-called professional representatives of the people and what the people wants to be seen represented. The political elite turned politics into a routine, a rigid structure completely separate from society. While society is flux, it is change. And we can also read the movement’s achievement as the political elite trying to gain some time, next year there will be elections and so on. So in the end, I think, it is a matter of if the movements will get back to the streets forcing the system to acknowledge their claims or if they will buy the idea that the political elites are on their side. In the case of the later things will ultimately remain very much the same.

All together it had this exceptional symbolic value. Among so many pressing issues in the Brazilian society including violence, corruption, inequality, low investments in health and education, public discontent turned into engagement, political activism opening up new spaces for popular manifestation and also affirmed the autonomy of social movements as they did not tolerate any party flags in the protests.

And it is also interesting to notice the change of public perception from being against, to fear and then finally solidarity. What this struggle has in common with other struggles around the globe is that, it is result of the exhaustion of political channels that for long have not been able to channelize political demands. As a Brazilian political scientist described, there is a divorce between the so-called professional representatives of the people and what the people wants to be seen represented. The political elite turned politics into a routine, a rigid structure completely separate from society. While society is flux, it is change. And we can also read the movement’s achievement as the political elite trying to gain some time, next year there will be elections and so on. So in the end, I think, it is a matter of if the movements will get back to the streets forcing the system to acknowledge their claims or if they will buy the idea that the political elites are on their side. In the case of the later things will ultimately remain very much the same.

Clik here for the web site Passe Livre.


Decoloniality of Power and further application of the concept

Decoloniality of Power and further application of the concept

Decoloniality of poweris an approach adopted by Latin Americanists to define a strategy for breaking away with the colonial legacy. This approach emerged within the Subaltern Studies project that by definition puts in parallel the experiences of postcolonial societies in perspective and relates to the broader field of Postcolonial Theory. The coherence in this field has been under harsh criticism. But to the time to date the critics have not yet consider the nuances of postcolonial critique but have conceived it as a whole. Subalternity does imply a non-European mode of thinking and it is in fact fostered in opposition to Eurocentrism. I believe it would be naive to expect a non-European perspective to converge with European ideals. But nonetheless the authors involved in the Subaltern project – e.g. Quijano and Mignolo – are keen to draw a convergence between contemporary postcolonial and European societies. I do agree that both regions have a lot to learn from each other in both praxis and theoretical experiences. This mostly palpable if one draws a parallel between the current austerity measures in Europe and the implementation of the Washington Consensus in Latin America. In both cases such policies spurred popular discontent and the need to reconceptualize the political.

The ripening of nations in Latin America has often occurred in a non-linear fashion. Although that is also true for the case of Europe – take as an example the atrocities of last century. The affirmation or empowerment of a people within a polity, those who have no part in society, has for a while now taken place in Latin American politics. When in 2006 Bolivia, Evo Morales was elected president and the indigenous question received a greater attention, it indeed marked a shift in the country. Nationality of power was then established (Ribeiro 295). In this specific case one can interpret the maintenance of coloniality in the moment that Gonzales Sanchez de Lozada, also known as Goni, was elected after a massive campaign strategy put forward by a North-American consultancy agency, a common practice throughout Bolivian electoral practice (Pogossian). Goni who spoke an americanized spanish – since he lived in the US for most of his life – and was an enthusiast of market capitalism got strong support from the Bolivian elite who saw in his conservative figure the possibility to maintain its status quo by intensifying public cuts. Followed by the mobilization of the indigenous groups who marched to La Paz and requested his impeachment, decoloniality filled the political imaginary in Bolivia. Moralesrumble attitude and positive discourse enabled a nationality of power i.e. the articulation of demands from those who previously had no part in society and now were able to affirm their political subjectivity.

However Morales presidency managed to do so within the same structure of nation-state that is the result of enlightened European ideals. Which is why – if we consider the imaginary of decolonialitynationality of power is but a synthesis of colonial and postcolonial structures with the potentiality of liberation in its core. That in part not excludes but can explain the strong opposition of Bolivian elite and also recently, manifestations of indigenous groups (Mignolo, “Yes We Can”) against Evo Morales and his communitarian socialism – being the indigenous the same group in society that prompted his candidacy. That does not take his merits away but signals the complexity involved in empowering a social group and making changes from within the same structures that once served to delegitimize the same social group. The further step in decoloniality of power would entail not state-provided communitarian socialism but rather communal organization of society in the modes of Andean civilizations. And this represents a clash between figures such as, on one side, Slavoj Žižek (1998) and Chibber Vivek (2013) that defend a Marxist interpretation of history denying the relevance of the Subaltern project, and on the other, Mignolo and Quijano with an outlook grounded on culture. The forerunners of decoloniality do not engage much in how the concept can be applied in Latin American societies where a return to pre-Colombian communal forms prove to be enviable or at least unlikely to happen(Ribeiro). And the Marxists either simply ignore the production of knowledge in Latin America (Žižek 1998; see also Mignolo 2013) or do not dissociate between the nuances of Subalternity in Latin American, African or Indian scholarships (Vivek). In his recently groundbreaking book – according to the critics – entitled Postcolonialism and the Specter of Capital Vivek refers to Quijano once (2) without any engagement with his work and Mignolo is not even cited.

After the 2008 crisis Latin Americanists have been keen to affirm that Europe can take lessons of the current Latin American experience (Mignolo 2012; Quijano 2000, 2007; Sader 2011). I understand it with a double meaning. Europe can learn from the failure of Latin American Left to reject the austerity measures imposed under the Washington Consensus but it can also learn from the political articulation that paved the way to progressive politics in both national and transnational extension. It can be argued that a transnational coalition that envisions a common goal despite local particularities was the result of a gathering together in the name of a common frontier: coloniality of power and its Eurocentrism. This argument indeed draws a line of coherence and opposition between the global south and north. But how to explain the major whole played by Brazil in this process? The only country in the region that was the capital of colonial power, which fostered the ambition to create a Brazil empire (Ribeiro). Not to mention that throughout its history it has been disconnect from the Spanish speaking countries in the region having Portuguese as the official language. The betterment of Brazilian society and its excluded emulates the same principles that Evo Morales identified in the indigenous movement or that of in the periphery of Caracas that Hugo Chávez embodied. This understanding is crucial in order to make sense of decoloniality of power and avoid the temptations of the nationality of power.

The ones that have no part speak many languages and operate in diverse mind-sets. In this respect, I believe the Subaltern project has not done enough to go beyond a reaction to Eurocentrism and toward a critique to global capitalism. There are growing similarities between on one hand, post-Washington consensus Latin America which was an economic and political agenda imposed by local elites together with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and a few North-American banks (Klein 2007; Black 2013) and on the other, resembling current austerity measures recently implemented Europe by the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF). As the Greek intellectual Costas Douzinas suggests, there is in place neocolonial relations between western and south Europe. Resentment led the Subalterns to look away from Europe as an ideal model and go through an introspection. Not long ago public discourse referred to Greece in a diminishing way very much similar to that of the founding statement of the Washington Consensus in relation to Latin America (Black 2013; Douzinas 2011). Golden Dawn and Syriza are two opposites of the exhaustion of institutionalized political channels that in the case of Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela led to a revitalization of the political system. The unfolding of the current crisis in Greece is still uncertain. But so far little has been done toward a mutual recognition as equals within the EU. Dominique Moïsi, a French political scientist, once describe the world as being divided in a geopolitics of emotions where Europe is consumed by fear related to the economic downturn and influx of migrants (“Geopolitics of Emotion”). Asia as hope related to economic prosperity and the Arab-islamic World, humiliation due to constant foreign intervention in the region. It seems to me that Europe has has internalized these conflicts and what we have is Greece being downplayed in European politics as a colonial subject (Douzinas) and extreme right movements such as Golden Dawn seizing the opportunity to construct a discourse in opposition to this feeling of humiliation and subjugation.

These political deadlocks a lot reassemble those experienced in Latin America during the Washington Consensus. The theoretical grounds of Subalternity may prove to have some relevance also within Europe social and political dynamics. I believe a whole new positioning can be adopted by using coloniality of power as a tool of analysis. Not necessarily a complete negation of European legacy but rather a continuous articulation of both the differences and similarities between these two regions. From both sides the other is an intrinsic feature of their polity formation. And that should be a starting point for a dialogue of theory and practice concerned to the betterment of society within its particularities but not overshadowing the bonds among these includingthe common goal to a more just and equal world.

References

Black, William K. “Blocking a Bad Idea That Enriches the Rich: Peterson, Austerity and the Washington Consensus.” Huffington Post 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 April 2013.

Douzinas, Costas and Papaconstantinou, Petros. Greece is standing up to EU neocolonialism: The usurious conditions of the Greek bailout reveals Brussels’ colonial mindset – but Athens is showing citizens can resist.” The Guardian 27 June 2011. Web. 10 April 2013.

Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Penguin Books, 2008. Print.

Mignolo, Walter D. 2013. Yes, we can: Non-European thinkers and philosophers. Aljazeera 19 Feb 2013. Web. 10 April.

———. 2012. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global futures, Decolonial Options. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Munoz-Pogossian, Betilde. Electoral Rules and the Transformation of Bolivian Politics: The Rise of Evo Morales. 2008. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008. Print.

Quijano, Aníbal. 2012. ‘Live Well’: Between the Development and the Descoloniality of Power. In: Latin American Critical Thought: Theory and Practice. Ed. Alberto L. Bialakowsky. et al. 1st ed. Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires: Clacso, 2012. Print.

———. 2007. El Giro Decolonial: Reflexiones para una diversidad epistémica más allá del capitalismo global. Ed. Ramón Grosfoguel. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Bogotá: Siglo del Hombre Editores: 93-126.

Ribeiro, Gustavo, Lins. Why (post)colonialism and (de)coloniality are not enough: a post-imperialist perspective. Postcolonial Studies. 14. March (2011):285-297. Web. 12 April 2013.

Sader, Emir. The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left. London: Verso., 2011. Print.

Vivek, Chibber. 2013. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. London: Verso.

Žižek, Slavoj. 1998. A Leftist Plea for Eurocentrism. Critical Inquiry. 24. 4:988-1009.


Social movements in Latin America: MST

Latin America has become an epicentre of innovations in the social and political terrain (Sader xiii, 9). The change of political landscape was the result of both the democratization process from the early 80’s on and implementation of neoliberal policies within the Washington Consensus under Geogre H. W. Bush mandate. At the same time the massive outflow of profits, interest payments and royalties and the growing exploitation and impoverishment of the working people led to the growth of »new social movements« throughout the 1990’s (Petras 2009). It has to be stressed that the adjective »new« refers to different circumstances in which movements are functioning and not in the sense that social movements are a completely new phenomenon in society.

At the close of the twentieth century, Latin America underwent a number of changes in the socio-political panorama involving the agrarian and workers sectors. Among the more important peasant movements that emerged were the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation-EZLN) in Mexico, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Workers’ Movement-MST) in Brazil, and the Confederación de Naciones Indígenas del Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador-CONAIE) in Ecuador, along with important Paraguayan and Bolivian movements (Teubal 2009:11).

Brazil is certainly a trending topic at the moment. Rio de Janeiro and the “cleaning of favelas” (Wacquant 2003); “urban fear” in São Paulo (Sílvia De Moraes Rial and Grossi 2002); indigenous peoples in Amazonia and in Andes (Hoffman French 2004; Carvalho 2000; Walch 2005); “violence and music”. It will not be and exaggeration if I compare this topics with the Mediterranean twin “shame and honour” (Albera 1999; Herzfeld 2003) and with the Orientalism between romantic and wild East (Said 1978). Also in the Balkans several anthropologists observed similar ambivalence and Muršič claims that “we must not overlook the double nature of stereotypes. Every stereotype has both, and affirmative and a neglecting component. In its deeply rooted ambivalence (or manifold valence) it can function in various ways (Muršič 2007:88). In trying to avoid stereotyping I will present a different, less know fight, that some people living in Brazil fight for almost 20 years now, before mentioned movement MST (Landless Rural Workers’ Movement).

The Rural Landless Workers Movement (MST), with over 300,000 active members and over 350,000 peasant families settled in co-operatives throughout the country, represented the biggest and best organized social movement in Latin America. The MST built a broad network of supporters and allies in other social movements, like the urban Homeless Movement, the Catholic Pastoral Rural (Rural Pastoral Agency) and sectors of the trade union movement (CUT), as well as the left-wing of the Workers Party (PT) and progressive academic faculty and students. The MST succeeded through ‘direct action’ tactics, such as organizing mass ‘land occupations’, which settled hundreds of thousands of landless rural workers and their families on the fallow lands of giant latifundistas. They successfully put agrarian reform on the national agenda and contributed to the electoral victory of the putative center-left Workers Party presidential candidate Ignacio ‘Lula’ Da Silva in the 2002 elections (Petras 2009).

The MST’s rural settlements are characterized by cooperative relations, collective planning, and self-management. Solidarity, social justice, and autonomy are its fundamental ethical values. It has established a monthly newspaper to communicate its ideas, an educational system based on the “work-and-study” method, and an intense process of political-ideological formation through study groups on radical theory. Within these groups is emerging a newly developed consciousness of the necessity for social owner- ship of the means of production (Martins 2000). Hammond explores the appearance of MST movement in the media and claims that the treatment of the MST in the Brazilian media is diverse, presenting a mixture of sympathy and hostility. The sympathetic coverage itself varies, moreover, in acknowledging the movement’s political significance (Hammond 2004).

»The National March for Land Reform, Employment, and Justice« of 1997, led by the MST, was an effective instrument for articulating the demands of the working sectors and the poorest population. The two-month-long march arrived in Brasilia with the support of the left political parties, the press, and the church. The marchers publicly presented the authorities with a set of proposals that constituted the outline of the Popular Project, intended to be an alternative to the neoliberal policies adopted by the international capitalism and implemented by the Brazilian state (Martins 2000).

The MST practice is being closely observed by the landless themselves and by Brazilian society in general, not as a laboratory experiment in free-market policy, as Latin America has been used in the past decade, but as the embryo of a new society that will emerge from the efforts of the popular sectors. The Popular Project, involving mass, direct, radical, continuous, and sustainable actions of resistance, has to be constructed in a process oriented from the base that respects the social heritage, conceives of alternatives for the majority, presents ideas in a simple and convincing way, transforms ideas into projects for structural change, makes people understand and fight for them, and mobilizes forces (Martins 2000).

Throughout the American continent, agrarian communities are engaged in ways of life that differ greatly from those fostered by the agrarian reforms of the twentieth century. There is a new emphasis on the autonomy of communities, the production of food in accordance with communal needs and food sovereignty, and respect for traditional cultures, the environment, and biodiversity. Some indigenous communities, such as the juntas de buen gobierno in Chiapas, have achieved substantial democratic and social improvements. This can also be said with regard to the Brazilian settlements, which have often been turned into successful cooperatives (Giarracca et al, 2006).

Literature:

Albera, Dionigi

1999    »The Mediterranean as an Anthropological Laboratory.« Anales de la Fundación Jaquin Costa, pp. 215-232

Carvalho, Georgia O.

2000    »The Politics of Indigenous Land Rights in Brazil.« Bulletin of Latin American Research, 19(4), pp. 461-478.

Giarracca, Norma

2003    La protesta agrorural en la Argentina. In: José Seoane, ed. »Movimientos sociales y conflicto en América Latina.« Buenos Aires: CLACSO, pp. 197-209.

Hammond, John L.

2004    »The MST and the Media: Competing Images of the Brazilian Landless Farmworkers’ Movement.« Latin American Politics and Society, 46(4), pp. 61-90.

Herzfeld, Michael

2003    »Localism and the Logic of nationalistic Folklore: Cretan Reflections.« Comparative Studies in Society and History, 43, pp. 281-310.

Jezernik, Božidar, Rajko Muršič in Alenka Bartulovič, ur.

2007    »Europe and its Other: notes on the Balkans.« Ljubljana: Filozofska fakulteta.

Martins Dias, Monica

2000    »The MST Challenge to Neoliberalism.« Latin American Perspectives, 27(5), pp. 33-45.

Petras, James

2009    Latin America: Social Movements in Times of Economic Crises. Global Research, 12. 8. 2009. Available at: http://www.globalresearch.ca/latin-america-social-movements-in-times-of-economic-crises/14747. 5. 5. 2013.

Sader, Emir

2011    The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left. London: Verso.

Sílvia De Moraes Rial, Carmen and Pillar Grossi

2002    Urban fear in Brazil: From the favelas to The Truman Show. In: »Urban Ethnic encounter. Erdentug, Aygen in Freek Colombijn«, eds. »Urban Ethnic encounters: the spatial consequences.« London in New York: Routlege, pp. 109-126.

Said, Edward

1978    »Orientalism.« New York: Vintage Books

Teubal, Miguel

2009    »Agrarian Reform and Social Movements in the Age of Globalization: Latin America at theDawn of the Twenty-first.« Latin American Perspectives, 36(4), pp. 9-20.

Wacquant, Loic

2003    »Toward a Dictatorship over the poor? Notes on the Penelization of poverty in Brazil?« Punishment and Society, 5(2), pp. 197-205.

Walsh, Michael

2005    »Will Indigenous Languages Survive?« Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, pp. 293-315.


Summer Course: “Slavery: The Past and Present of Social (Un)Justice. Introducing the Decolonial Option” (NL)

lookinbeyondthereal

Picture 7

“Slavery remains as the most telling event and process in the formation of Western Civilization and the modern/colonial world in the Atlantic, from the XVI to early XIX centuries. An aberration upon which Western modernity built its economic foundations at the same time that managed to “normalize” the dispensability of human lives. Dispensable where lives of people considered lesser human and subjected to be enslaved and dispensed with when they were no longer necessary. Slavery was not only a set of processes and events. It was, above all, the consequence of a frame of knowledge that established a hierarchy of human beings. That frame of knowledge was and is what today we know as “racism.” Slavery was deeply rooted in epistemic un-justice.

The fourth edition of the Middelburg Decolonial Summer School focus on ” Slavery: The Past and Present of Social (Un) Justice.” It is designed to investigate the logic…

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Nationalism and Subaltern Studies

Opposing to Eurocentric definitions of nationalism we might consider a premise based on Anderson’s Imagined communities in an article Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America, written by José Itzigsohn and Matthias vom Hau. They propose a different view:

Anderson argues that early nineteenth-century “creole pioneers” invented nations in the struggle for Independence from Spain, thereby establishing a “blueprint” for nationalism around the globe. Anderson’s argument about the Latin American origins of nationalism did not work out. Critics were quick to point out that ideas about popular sovereignty and citizenship employed by insurgent creoles originated in Western Europe (Greenfield, 1992; Guibernau, 1996), and that Anderson’s elite-centered argument ignored the agency of subaltern actors (Lomnitz, 2001; Mallon, 1995; Thurner, 1997). We maintain, however, that it is worthwhile to follow Anderson’s invitation to explore how the Latin American experience can inform theories of nationalism.”

Here we stumble upon a merely new field of studies called Subaltern studies. Ileana Rodríguez, the editor of The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader, explains the project of subalternity which began in India as a political and epistemological criticism of history. In year 1981, Ranajit Guha defined the subaltern very broadly as anyone who is subordinated “in terms of class, caste, age, gender and office or in any other way.” Historical knowledge, subalternists contended, organized the past in line with the governmental efforts of the modern state. Opposition to state policy was deemed logical and political if carried out in a language that the state could contest and eventually incorporate.

In the funding statement of Latin American Subaltern Studies Group (LASSG), which was released in 1993, it is written:

»De-nationalization is simultaneously a limit and a threshold of our project. The deterritorialization of the nation-state under the impact of the new permeability of frontiers to capital-labor flows merely replicates, in effect, the genetic process of implantation of a colonial economy in Latin America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is not only that we can no longer operate solely within the prototype of nationhood; the concept of the nation, itself tied to the protagonism of Creole elites concerned to dominate and/or manage other social groups or classes in their own societies, has obscured, from the start, the presence and reality of subaltern social subjects in Latin American history. We need, in this sense, to go backward to consider both pre-Columbian and colonial forms of pre-national territorialization, as well as forward to think about newly emerging territorial subdivisions, permeable frontiers, regional logics, and concepts such as Commonwealth or Pan-Americanism”.

In the process of trying to understand nationalism in Latin America we must recognize theories developed in Latin America because they may present a different standing point and lead us to epistemological criticism of history.

Literature and Further readings

Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Itzigsohn, José and Matthias vom Hau. 2006. Unfinished Imagined Communities: States, Social Movements, and Nationalism in Latin America. Theory and Society, 35 (2), pp.193-212.

Latin American Subaltern Studies Group. 1993. The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America. Boundary 20, (3). Duke University Press pp. 110-121.

Ileana Rodríguez (ed.).2001. The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. Durham and North Carolina: Duke University Press.