Resisting Rural Dispossession

Dip Kapoor brought together a collective of works that highlight many stories that have not been widely told, stories of localized resistance to large-scale land acquisitions and land grabs. These processes have occasionally included these actors, but often presented them as victims without agency, not actors expressing their agency. In this regard, "Against Colonization and Rural Dispossession: Local Resistance in South and East Asia, the Pacific and Africa" (2017) is a good addition. The book in an edited volume, I share three quotes that stood out:

Narrative: "These struggles are misrepresented by accounts of colonial historiographers and writers who depict our story as one of 'loss'. In their story, we have 'lost' our land and cultural knowledge. These are colonially blurred, minimizing, if not euphemizing, versions of the history of my people. In our experience, these things have not been lost, but 'taken'. These extensive and intensive experiences of a collective people so heavily and systematically dispossessed require a deeper understanding than the nouns 'loss' or 'dispossession' can only begin to offer." (p. 29)

Inequality: "While Adivasis constitute 22 percent of the population in Odisha, they account for 42 percent of the development-displaced persons (DDPs), and at the national level, of the 21.3 million people estimated to be DDPs between 1951 and 1990 due to mines, dams, industry, and parks, they account for 40 percent" (p. 71)

Gender: "The women then stood in a line as a fence of shins (pagar betis) to stop the truck. Some even climbed the truck to unload the confiscated coconuts, while others seized and hid the truck's keys. They took the police as hostages and demanded the release of their fellow villagers. Some women involved in holding the police hostage admitted that the spontaneous action was to avoid bloody fights if they let their husbands physically attack the police – so they ask their men to stay behind while they took the lead. They even provoked, if not cautioned, the police by accusing them of trying to sexually harass them. The experience of taking the police as hostages emboldened them to confront the constant threats and intimidation from police and company laborers / hired thugs, especially when their husbands were imprisoned and they were vulnerable." (p. 111)

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Resistance and Decolonization

Amilcar Cabral (1924-1973) is one of Africa's great anti- and de-colonial activists and writers, and led the struggle for the independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Another post, on Davidson's "No Fish is Big Enough to Hide the Sky", also covers Cabral. This post focuses upon a collection of his ideas in "Resistance and Decolonization" (1977). Some of what he left us with:

  • "At the end of the day, we want the following: concrete and equal possibilities for any child of our land, man or woman, to advance as a human being, to give all of his or her capacity, to develop his or her body and spirit, in order to be a man or a woman at the height of his or her actual ability. We have to destroy everything that would be against this in our land, comrades. Step by step, one by one if it be necessary - but we have to destroy in order to construct a new life. This is the principal objective of our resistance." (p. 77)
  • "We have remained clear that we don't struggle against the Portuguese people. Everyone in our Party knows that. We do not struggle against the Portuguese or the Portuguese people; we struggle against Portuguese colonialism, against the Portuguese colonialists. We are fighting to clear out the Portuguese colonialists from our land. Yet we are even clearer: we in Guinea and Cape Verde, PAIGC, don't struggle against Salazarism or fascism in Portugal. That's the work of the Portuguese, not ours." (p. 83).
  • "Our political resistance should orient itself around three fundamental points: 1) to realize national unity in our land and to place it entirely in the service of the struggle, in the service of our people, under our Party's flag; 2) to isolate the enemy from all of its allies, from all of its collaborators, from all those who offer some support against our struggle - without forgoing our principles; and 3) to orient our struggle in such a way, to work so well, that we should never forget our struggle is fundamentally political, and that we must assure the victory of our political resistance." (p. 89)
  • "Our cultural resistance consists of the following: while we liquidate the colonial culture and the negative aspects of our own culture in spirit, in our midst, we have to create a new culture, also based on our traditions, but respecting everything that the world has won today for serving people." (p. 117)
  • "Culture proves to be the very cornerstone of the liberation movement, and only societies or groups that have preserved their culture are able to mobilize, organize, and struggle against foreign domination. Whatever the ideological or intellectual characteristics of its expression, culture is an essential element in the historical process. It is culture that has the ability (or responsibility) to elaborate or enrich the elements that make for historical continuity and, at the same time, for the possibility of progress (and not regression) of the society." (p. 173-174)
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From Poverty to Famine in Ethiopia

Rural live in Ethiopian history is largely absent in the historical record – historians are able to work with a wealth of material from the long written record in the country, but these tends to only reflect a small segment of society. James McCann's "From Poverty to Famine in Northeast Ethiopia: A Rural History 1900-1935" (1987) provide important insight into the everyday lives of rural people, as well as the conditions and changes that pushed people living in poverty into famine. A unique contribution made by the author is the role of the state – not its absence per se, but its presence in over taxing rural residents.

The book begins with a series of questions: "What accounts for Ethiopia's vulnerability to famine when it boasts one of Africa's most efficient agricultural systems who technology has sustained sophisticated state systems for millennia? To what extent did northern Ethiopian patterns of property, marriage, and ideology resist or contribute to the overall impoverishment of the rural economy? Did crises in the rural economy as a whole affect the distribution of labor and productive resources between classes or within households?" (p. 5-6) Through a series of short, readable chapters, McCann grapples with answering these questions amidst sparse available data.

On daily life: "Farmers in northern Wallo who daily shouldered their plows and drove their oxen to the field or collected fuel for cook fires regularly faced a labyrinth of decisions with determined the success of their farm expertise. The obstacles in the form of a shrinking resource base, a capricious environment, and obligations to feed a ubiquitous aristocracy have already been outlined. Yet the resilience of their way of life and the expansion of their agricultural system suggest that as workers and consumers highland men and women were effective managers of the resources at their disposal." (p. 68)

On gender: "Given the preference for virilocal residence and frequency of divorce, a pattern of vulnerability for women becomes clear. On divorce many women in peasant households retained few if any resources. Older women or those with young children had fewer prospects because they were liabilities unless they owned livestock. Whether they or their husbands initiated divorce, women almost always left the homestead because the land belonged to the husband. Women could retain rights to land their genealogical claims had brought to a marriage, but those rights were meaningless without oxen and mature male labor to cultivate the land" (p.54)

On taxation: "Over the course of the next two decades [from the 1920s], competition over rural revenues between the state and local elites intensified and caught peasant households in much of northern Ethiopia in a precarious squeeze that likely threatened the margin of surplus needed for social and physical reproduction or rural society and subtly shifted political and social relations between classes. I believe that these pressures, combined with difficult environmental conditions, spurred the frequent rebellions in the north and cemented a cycle of economic decline." (p. 134)

On resistance: "What was the root cause of such widespread resistance? Close examination of the patterns and timing of resistance suggests that environmental factors provided an important, and possible casual, backdrop to political events. The 1917-18 period was one of extreme environmental dislocation in Tigray and Lasta. Generalized conditions of drought, insect invasions, and influenza created severe economic strains locally well into 1920. These conditions threatened peasant subsistence and increased the willingness to resort to violence to provide the means for the survival of the household" (p. 120-121) Again: "Peasants were willing to take up arms and challenge state or local authority out of a sense of desperation" (p. 142).

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No is Not Enough

Naomi Klein has written some great books: "No Logo" (2000), "Shock Doctrine" (2008), and "This Changes Everything" (2014). She is a prolific writer, activist and regular on the speaker circuit. When I picked up "No is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need" (2017), I was surprised to see no references – that is not to say the book is not informed, but that it is different from the typical Klein style. More like a transcript of lectures than a heavily researched tome.

Essentially this book is about the rise of Trump (as an individual and what he represents), and how to create new pathways forward. Klein says before getting to resisting, we need to better understand the factors at hand (p. 8). Those who have read Klein's other books, and/or are followers of news from the Left, the first 188 pages will be a recap. The second part of the book is about telling a "different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs. This values-based vision must offer a different path, away from serial shocks – one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides" (p. 8). For Klein, "the firmest of no's has to be accompanied by a bold forward-looking yes – a plan for the future that is credible and captivating enough that a great many people will fight to see it realized" (p. 9). If successful, we might "arrive at a radically better future" (p. 11).

Klein writes that "Trump didn't just enter politics as a so-called outsider, somebody who doesn't play by the rules. He entered politics playing by a completely different set of rules – the rules of branding. According to those rules, you don't need to be objectively good or decent; you only need to be true and consistent to the brand you have created" (p. 33). And, herein lies some of the keys to resisting – understanding how a counter narrative can work in this context. For this, the author returns to the "culture jamming" (p.43) that arose following the publication of "No Logo" (2000).

"Faced with a share trauma, or a common threat, communities can come together in defiant acts of sanity and maturity. It has happened before, and the early signs are good that it might be happening again" (p. 190). Examples? Women's march (p. 197), activism against the 'Muslim ban' (p. 198), immigrant strike (p. 200), march for science (p. 201), Indivisible Guide (p. 203), standing rock (p. 222-230). Resistance is emerging. But, Klein argues that resistance is not enough – we need a vision for the future, a different plan, an alternative path. For this, the Leap Manifesto (process and product) was given as an example of what this can look like. An alternative, value-driven vision for the future, one that inspires people to create a new way forward. 

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