Posts Tagged ‘primitive accumulation’
An article in today’s Phnom Penh Post announces that the Kingdom’s Arable Land All But Gone, according to a report by AdHoc, and as a direct result of the vast practice of Economic Land Concessions, which I associate with Primitive Accumulation. In order to make clear what I mean by that, compare this quote from AdHoc, with the description of the enclosure movement in England (the primary example of Primitive Accumulation):
Exploratory mining concessions had been included in this calculation, he said, because while firms granted these rights did not technically own the land, they acted like it in practice by erecting fences and expelling villagers from the area.
Now, I’m not a geographer, so haven’t been able to really sort through this other map, created by someone at the MangoMap weblog, with the title “Lies, Damn Lies, and Maps,” which seems to be somewhat critical of this original map (?) and attempts to correct it. I’d love to hear from those with more knowledge, what this is supposed to represent:
After my recent post on primitive accumulation in Cambodia, now these stories from the Phnom Penh Post:
Shooter Now Unknown. It’s unclear what to make of this. It was pretty obvious from initial reports that Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith was himself the man who shot into a crowd of workers striking outside a shoe factory. It sounds like the provincial police chief, who claimed that the suspect was identified and under pursuit, may have been planning to arrest a patsy, as the police did in the Chea Vichea case, and that national officials may be preventing that from happening. We’ll have to wait and see.
Monks Await Justice. Khmer Krom – it’s what Cambodians call the Mekong Delta now controlled by Vietnam. While ethnic Khmer in southern Vietnam appear to have a generally better nutritional profile, and experience somewhat less poverty than do Khmer (as a whole) in Cambodia, it is also clear that the Vietnamese State attempts to control ethnic Khmer display so closely that their policies amount to a form of cultural genocide. (yes, that). Khmer Krom activists are often under attack, as was made obvious in the case of the Khmer Krom activist monk, Tim Sakhorn. Moreover, it is clear that elements within the Cambodian government often cooperate with the Vietnamese government to arrest and intimidate Khmer Krom activists.
So, when another Khmer Krom monk activist was murdered, with his throat slit in a Cambodian temple in Kandal province, in 2007, few expected a serious search for the murderer. Their suspicions have been proven correct, and five years later, monks and lay-people held a ceremony to remember his death.
Meanwhile, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal is experiencing another set of serious criticisms, and coordination between the Khmer and International judges appears to be non-existent. The new International judge, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, has re-opened Case 003, to the objections of PM Hun Sen and his co-investigating Khmer judge. Meanwhile, Cambodian staffers at the court have not been paid for a very long time. While this is supposed to be the responsibility of the Cambodian government, they have disclaimed this. The European Union has just coughed up 1.7 million to help pay this staff. Meanwhile, the Open Society Justice Initiative is releasing perhaps its strongest criticisms yet of the tribunal’s process, talking about a ‘crisis of credibility,’ and the International Bar Association has released a statement claiming the tribunal faces a serious ‘failure of credibility.’
The process of primitive accumulation – the robbing and looting that precedes industrial development and the emergence of a large class of waged-laborers, according to Marxist development theory – is heating up in Cambodia. I’ve written about primitive accumulation in Cambodia previously, and have been working on applying the theory of primitive accumulation (especially through the influences of David Harvey and Silvia Federici) to the contemporary Cambodian situation for several years.
Extremely clear in the Cambodian situation (though the logic appears universal and non-particular) is that indigenous groups are often the first to experience the depredations of primitive accumulation. Look at the American example: first, Native peoples were forced off of the land deemed most valuable at the time – agricultural lands. They were forced onto lands agriculturally non-productive. Those lands, tragically, were agriculturally nonproductive partly because they hold the world’s majority of valuable, industrial economy inputs – things like uranium, oil, and metals. So now, in the American Southwest, Native groups experience exposure to uranium mining and what some have called radioactive genocide.
In Cambodia, the relationship between upland indigenous groups and lowland peasants is significantly different. But much of the logic remains intact – it is in the agriculturally improductive lands of the highlands that much of today’s industrial wealth is created – mining, logging, and rubber plantations. As those lands are expropriated from indigenous groups by government-offered concessions, indigenous groups become profoundly ‘modern.’ My sense – I do not have the statistics (anyone?) – is that upland groups are now more proletarianized, proportionally (that is, they subsist primarily on wages from wage labor) than lowland Khmer. Read the rest of this entry »
Accumulation by Dispossession is the phrase David Harvey uses to discuss contemporary, so-called Primitive Accumulation: the commodification and privatization of goods, for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, and to the detriment and subjugation of all other classes. Primitive Accumulation, in turn, is the term Karl Marx used to describe the process of ‘enclosing the commons,’ forcing workers off of their relationship to the land and into the ranks of waged labor, the necessary factor of production that capitalists remain in need of, after they have accumulated and come into control of their machines of production. Here’s a link to a nice video by David Harvey discussing Primitive Accumulation, and here’s one discussing Accumulation by Dispossession.
I introduce these terms in order to contextualize the two videos below. Both are examples of Primitive Accumulation, perhaps obviously so. One takes place in the highlands, and the other takes place in a formerly middle-class neighborhood in the capital city. Both involve violence – both police and vigilante – and the law. Primitive Accumulation and Accumulation by Dispossession are taking place simultaneously in Cambodia; it occurs to me now, that this might need to be paid closer attention to.
Both videos below are from the Asia Media Lab.
Sometimes a number of stories come out all at once, and reminds you that no matter the supposed ‘distance’ from my topic, economics are often central to individual and social practice. All of these stories came in one day, in the Phnom Penh Post.
One of the themes I’ve been concentrating on in my new research is primitive accumulation in Cambodia. Primitive Accumulation, as used by Marx, is the process by which relatively ‘free’ peasants, who lived socially off the land via the management and sharing of the commons, were transformed into waged laborers, or those seeking wage labor, the so-called working class. All of this of course has a great deal of contemporary resonance in watching Cambodia (or any number of other places) today. I’m hardly the only person to have noticed this. Anthropologist Iain Baird of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has been publishing on this topic. I was fortunate enough to meet him in person last year, and he directed me to a number of his relevant articles, which I recommend.
Of course, in Cambodia, one of the great stories of primitive accumulation appear as land grabs. Dey Krahom previously, and Boeung Kak now, become relatively famous because of their location in Phnom Penh, but land grabs have been a constant threat in more rural areas for quite a long time. The Buddha sangha in Cambodia has been confronted with a scandal in the last few months, as activist monk Venerable Luon Savath has been progressively stripped of his ability to rely upon sangha requisites - especially shelter. Banned from staying in capital temples previously, he has now been evicted from Watt Ounalom. Some of his supporters – reportedly from Boeung Kak – helped him move his belongings.
More generally, Cambodia is waiting to hear the US government’s decision on import tariffs from Cambodia. Cambodia’s export markets are not terribly diverse, and therefore highly dependent on state-to-state relations with its few customers. The United States and the European Union occupy the biggest seats at the table. As a result, decisions on tariffs in the US make enormous changes in Cambodia. While the Cambodia garment industry has been adding jobs in the last quarter, the reduction or elimination of select tariffs would almost certainly result in the rapid addition of more jobs. This is absolutely necessary if Cambodia is ever to experience significant secondary industrialization and the development of a more varied urban workforce. Dependency on agricultural exports and garment work is a recipe for constant crisis. But, challenges in the judicial sector (widespread perceptions of corruption, e.g.) and in retention of profits (expatriation of profits, e.g.) remain the largest challenge in this regard.
Finally, after a series of mass faintings at factories, in which employers and upstream brands have promised investigations, etc., the Arbitration Council has declared a strike over irregular pay and 8 other significant problems illegal, and ordered the workers back to their stations. The union in question the Cambodian Coalition of Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) has accepted the decision, but this is significant in so far as it appears to be setting the stage for the new norm that the government and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) are hoping becomes reality after the passage of the new Labor Law.
Limited engagement here, as my energies are being absorbed elsewhere. Here are some links regarding Cambodia that you should read.
- Ang Choulean awarded Fukuoka Prize!
- Mass Faintings at Factories
- Primitive accumulation and National Forest Reserve given to Rubber Plantation company
- Violent Land Evictions in Kompong Speu
- Angelina Jolie photo
- Bamboo Trains! Read the rest of this entry »
I mentioned recently that I’d read the horrifying, amazing work of Silvia Federici recently, specifically her book Caliban and the witch: women, the body, and primitive accumulation. The argument, summarized briefly, is that
Caliban and the Witch shows that the body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance, as the female body has been appropriated by the state and men and forced to function as a means for the reproduction and accumulation of labor. (16)
In another section, Federici argues that Marxist ‘primitive accumulation’ involves the ‘enclosure’ not only of communal lands but also of social relations that stretches back to the origin of capitalism in 16th-century Europe and America.” (9)
In investigating the history of the enclosure (or ‘capture’) of women’s labor and bodies, especially their reproductive capacities, Federici looks to the 16th century of Europe, immediately after the Black Death killed off 1/3 of the European population. The state response was frankly sexually domineering. The following is a lengthy quotation, but I dare you to stop reading it once you’ve begun (bold emphases are mine):
“As Jacques Rossiaud has shown in Medieval Prostitution (1988) in France, the municipal authorities practically decriminalized rape, provided the victims were women of the lower class. In 14th-century Venice, the rape of an unmarried proletarian woman rarely called for more than a slap on the wrist, even in the frequent case in which it involved a group assault (Ruggiero 1989:91-108). The same was true in most French cities. Here, the gang-rape of proletarian women became a common practice which the perpetrators would carry out openly and loudly at night, in groups of two to fifteen, breaking into their victims’ homes, or dragging their victims through the streets, without any attempt to hide or disguise themselves. Those who engaged in these ‘sports’ were young journeymen or domestic servants, and the penniless sons of well-to-do families, while the women targeted were poor girls, working as maids or washerwomen, of whom it was rumored that they were ‘kept’ by their masters (Rossiaud 1982: 22). On average, half of the town male youth, at some point, engaged in these assaults, which Rossiaud describes as a form of class protest, a means for proletarian men – who were forced to postpone marriage for many years because of their economic conditions – to get back ‘their own,’ and take revenge against the rich. But the results were destructive for all workers, as the state-backed raping of poor women undermined the class solidarity that had been achieved in the anti-feudal struggle.” (47-48)
Now, let’s read the most recent figures published by End Child Prostitution, Abuse, and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT):
End Child Prostitution, Abuse, and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT) published figures of rape, of sex trafficking, and of debauchery based on reports in five local newspapers: Koh Santepheap, Rasmei Kampuchea, Kampuchea Thmey, the Cambodia Daily, and the Phnom Penh Post-vp, where there were 322 cases of rape reported. The number increased by 16.77% compared to 2008, where there had been only 268 cases, and by 6.52% compared to 2007, where there had been 301 cases. The 332 cases victimized 337 persons, among whom 202 were underage girls and 2 were boys. Most of the victims were Khmers, but there were also Vietnamese, Cambodian Muslims, and Australians. It should be noted that gang rapes [when two or more men rape one girl] increased to 29 cases – in each case there were 2 to 7 perpetrators involved, and 5 victims were killed after they had been raped.
(translation via The Mirror)
Add in the notoriety of ‘bauk,’ the practice of gang rape that has become nauseatingly common in Cambodia, and some similarities become clear. On the other hand, there are important differences: rape is illegal in Cambodia, and has harsh penalties, though enforcement is almost non-existent, especially for the poor; women currently compose approximately 85-90% of the garment industry’s working class (a polar reversal of the 16th century French examples), though the gendered resentment might have similar wellsprings.
What I’m reading. Comment if you want to know more about anything in particular.
- Scott, James C. 2009. The art of not being governed: an anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. Should be a groundbreaking correction to the pernicious and tenacious stereotypes about upland and lowland cultures, genesis, maintenance, and relationships. So thoroughly revises reflexive assumptions about mainland Southeast Asia that the book resists quick summary. A lengthier review may be required. Required reading for SEAsianists, Sociology.
- Holt, John Clifford. 2009. Spirits of the place. Buddhism and Lao religious culture. In many ways this book represents a landmark in the English-language study of Lao religion. Taking upland-lowland realities seriously, Holt treats the interaction between ‘animist’ and Buddhist systems and rituals (and peoples) from a theoretical and historical point of view. A bit weaker in the last two chapters, the first three would serve excellently as an introduction to both the theory and realities of Lao religion and history. Strongly Recommended to SEAsianists and Buddhist Studies.
- Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the witch: women, the body, and primitive accumulation. Stunning. A corrective to Marxist theories about the genesis (transition) to capitalism, Federici argues convincingly that a necessary and (logically) prior moment in the developing of formally free, male, waged productive labor, is the production of a denigrated, reproductive, female, unwaged domestic laboring class. She then ties in, also completely convincingly, the witch-hunts of roughly two and a half centuries of (primarily) European history (though her last chapter traces the witch-hunt throughout colonialism’s path). Required reading for Anti-capitalists and Feminists.
- Jerryson, Michael K, and Mark Juergensmeyer, eds. 2010. Buddhist Warfare. A much-anticipated and somewhat controversial volume that traces the connections between the Buddhist religion – stereotyped as a pacifist religion – and warfare. The essays are uneven, though some of this unevenness is undoubtedly tied to the wild diversity of attitudes and approaches (insider, outsider, political scientist, anthropologist, sociologist, religious studies, etc.) represented. (Note that google books does not show the actual cover on their page. Actual cover has a picture of a Lao Buddhist novice monk holding an automatic pistol). Recommended to Buddhist Studies.
- Kummu, Matti, Marko Keskinen, Olli varis, eds. 2008. Modern myths of the Mekong: a critical review of water and development concepts, principles, and policies. Of great interest and contemporary currency, this volume contains a few critically important moments, but is of such wildly uneven quality that I cannot recommend it in its entirety. I’m personally most impressed with the essays by Jussi Nikula (“Is harm and destruction all that floods bring?” – an introduction to ‘flood-pulse’ ecosystem functioning) and Lustig, Fletcher, et al. (“Did traditional cultures live in harmony with nature? Lessons from Angkor, Cambodia.”). This latter is somewhat misleading, since ‘traditional’ here seems merely to mean ‘historical,’ which in many ways means ‘nothing.’ As a specific case study of Angkor, however, their evidence is clear and the conclusion not negotiable – Angkor was not ‘ecologically neutral.’ Not recommended as a volume.
- Watts, Peter. 2008. Blindsight. Hard Sci-Fi. Very very cool, cerebral: is consciousness worth it, from the perspective of the species? And exactly how would an empathic vampire act in space toward a half-brained crew member who can’t be convinced to act in the interests of self-preservation? Essential for Hard Sci-Fi fans.
- Wu Ming. 2005. ’54. Just awesome. From the same collective author responsible for Q, this time the group tackles the year 1954 – the height of the cold war, the rise of the global heroin industry, and Cary Grant. And Hitchcock. Awesome.
- Germano, William. 2008. Getting it published: a guide for scholars, and anyone else serious about serious books. 2nd Ed. Essential for academics.
- Germano, William. 2005. From dissertation to book. Essential for academics.
- Silvia, Paul J. 2007. How to write a lot: a practical guide to productive academic writing. Recommended if you need help scheduling your writing.
- Boice, Robert. 2000. Advice for new faculty members. Recommended for academics.
- Lamont, Michèle. 2009. How professors think: Inside the curious world of academic judgment. Recommended for academics facing tenure review, or charged with some form of ‘assessment.’
Look at those last five titles. I’ve read all of them in the last month. Can you guess what I’m working on?