27 Nov 2008

The indigenous revolution for ecology

Over the course of more than 10,000 years, the rich biodiversity of the Andes-Amazon region has created a culture that is closely interlocked with Pachamama (Mother Nature). This culture is marked by deep knowledge of nature and is highly agricultural. Ours is one of the seven zones of the world to have originated agriculture. It has yielded the greatest variety of domesticated species.

This has given rise to a cosmic vision different from the Western outlook that views the creator as a superior immaterial spirit who created man in his image and likeness and created nature to serve him. For the indigenous cosmic vision, humanity is a daughter of and part of Mother Earth. We must live in her bosom in harmony with her. Each hill or peak, each river, each vegetable or animal species has a spirit.

The Morning Star click here have very generously published my article on the indigenous today, they have done a bit of an edit which is great because I was more ill when I wrote it so they have smoothed out a few wrinkles.

Here it is! Or you can buy the MS today from your friendly newsagent.

John Riddell who I met for a pint in London a couple of weeks ago, helps put together Socialist Voice a Canadian ecosocialist network...a lot of this article draws on one of his essays which you can read here.

oh big list of blogs by indigenous activists here!

Any way on to the article...

DEREK WALL looks at how the struggles of indigenous people are leading the way towards ecological sanity.

MANY scholars have been mystified as to why Karl Marx studied indigenous peoples in his later years rather than finishing Das Kapital or updating the Communist Manifesto.

But I believe that Marx's fascination was justified and that all socialists and ecologists should find out more about indigenous people.

It's not about patronising rainbow warrior clichés or being stuck in the past.

Marx and Friedrich Engels were well aware that indigenous peoples generally practised "primitive communism," showing that market relations are far from inevitable in human societies.

In an excellent review of Marx's work on indigenous peoples, my friend John Riddell writes that Marx notes that "the vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman etc societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies."

Today, indigenous people are at the militant cutting edge of the Latin American left. In just about every Latin American state, they have been organising for democracy, a break with US elites, for socialism and for ecology.

Riddell notes the following story from the great Peruvian revolutionary leader Hugo Blanco.

"A member of his community, he tells us, conducted some Swedish tourists to a Quechua village near Cuzco. Impressed by the collectivist spirit of the indigenous community, one of the tourists commented: 'This is like communism.'

"'No,' responded their guide, 'Communism is like this'."

I personally have been lucky enough to work with Blanco, who has a long-standing interest in ecology and Marxism, developed after spending time with the Zapatistas in Mexico.

Blanco led a rebellion in 1962 to liberate Peruvian peasants who were then so oppressed that they could be physically branded by landlords.

He was threatened with execution, imprisoned and exiled. He is still active today - very active indeed - and back in Peru.

About a month ago, I received a call from his son Oscar, who told me that his father had been jailed at the behest of a landowner after supporting a struggle by local peasants to take back land that had been seized illegally. He has been released following international protests.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is famously interested indigenous people too. He suspended coal mining in north Venezuela following protests from indigenous groups, which are protected under Venezuela's constitution. Chavez has also given cheap oil to Native Americans in the United States.

Blanco, Chavez and Marx are far-sighted revolutionary socialists who have been passionate about the importance of indigenous peoples.

Latin American indigenous movements are keen to build socialist economies that work. A near universal demand from Argentina to Canada is traditional communal control of land.

They are not "Luddites" or "primitives." They are generally keen to embrace modernity when it brings real benefits and their political organisations are just as reliant on mobile phones or the internet as any other political organisation.

Indigenous people are at the forefront of real action on climate change because they don't want to see the rainforests destroyed by logging, mining or oil exploration.

In West Papua, for example, indigenous communities see the forest as the basis of their economy and society. Without it, they will die.

Less well known than their Latin American counterparts, the indigenous Free West Papua movement is led by Benny Wenda, who was exiled to London after escaping from the Indonesian military.

Indigenous people are also highly active in ecological struggles to preserve forests in much of India and parts of Africa.

However, in Latin America, they have won some big victories recently. Blanco founded the newspaper Lucha Indigena (Indigenous Fight), which chronicles many of these struggles and the political debates of indigenous people. I imagine it being sold, Morning Star-style, on picket lines and protests in the Amazon.

If you can't get to the Amazon to buy a copy, regular articles will soon be appearing at hugoblancogaldos.blogspot.com

As Marx found, you need a whole second lifetime to explore indigenous society, given its huge diversity, but two particularly important struggles are worth flagging up.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia recently signed the country up to a free trade agreement with the US. It was accompanied by an attempt to open Peru to foreign corporations for oil extraction.

As part of the agreement, the Peruvian government tried to pass a law that would have made it easier to buy up communally owned indigenous land.

It would have allowed a huge increase in damage to Amazonian rainforests and accelerated climate change through oil extraction and deforestation.

But, in September, more than 50 very different indigenous ethnic groups united to fight the law with direct action.

They were well aware that corrupt deals would have led to their land been stolen and devastating ecological consequences. Their protests rocked the country, they defeated the plan and Garcia's poll ratings are now down to 18 per cent.

The people best suited to preserving the Amazon are indigenous people who live in it, but, rather than supporting them, many environmental NGOs are calling for debt-for-nature swaps and carbon offset schemes that would essentially privatise the forests and displace indigenous people.

In Colombia, right-wing death squads are clearing indigenous people so that tropical forests can be cut down for biofuel.

The right-wing government of Alvaro Uribe is planning a huge expansion of biofuels with the support of the EU, which is insisting on creating a market in biofuel.

In the US, Barack Obama wants to press ahead with biofuel plans too.

If we care about socialism and ecology, we have to support the struggles of indigenous people. Groups such as the Colombia Solidarity Campaign need our active involvement. Indigenous people provide a beacon of hope in the struggle for ecological sanity.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, a leader with indigenous origins, said it all when he described indigenous peoples as "called upon by history to convert ourselves into the vanguard of the struggle to defend nature and life."

Some links to read
Indigenous people can save planet from climate chaos.
The indigenous rebellion in Peru in 2008!
Louis Proyect on Marxism and the indigenous

Karl Marx and the Iroquois

Some ngo ish indigenous and enviroment links.
A critique of Ward Churchill's critique of Marxism.


Anonymous said...

Benny Wenda is from the Koteka Tribal Assembly, an association in support of cultural interests. They just happen to all want independence and the 46 year military occupation to end.

West Papua held national elections in Jan/1961, but the Freeport corporation had wanted the Papuan gold & copper since 1959 so their director Robert Lovett told JFK to appoint McGeorge Bundy as US National Security Adviser. That's why JFK was told lies that he had to force the Netherlands to sell the people of West Papua to Indonesia, from whom Freeport got their mining license.

The United Nations got a $200m bond scheme for their part in the US deal.

Derek Wall said...

thanks Andrew, I try and support Benny when I can.

and Caroline Lucas the Green Party MEP does some good work to free West Papua.

I guess I know more though about Latin America, I am also sure that there are indigenous struggles right across the globe that we should be finding out more about.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

Derek, I followed your link from Socialist Unity:


but could not see the relevance.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, thank you for sharing. I agree, indigenous struggles are leading the way towards ecological sanity. Let us hope the world pay's attention!

Entdinglichung said...

see also http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article5256 & http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article3058 on Lumad struggle on mindanao

Anonymous said...

Hey Derek, it's Rowland from By Any Means Necessary and I just thought I would let you know that my blog has moved to bermudaradical.wordpress.com

The old site I am leaving up, so there won't be a need to change the URL you have posted in this article.

Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles

Derek Wall ’s article entitled  Imperialism Is the Arsonist: Marxism’s Contribution to Ecological Literatures and Struggles , argues that Ma...