turbulence article: the communal and the decolonial

February 21, 2013

 

In recent years, many on the left, including those in global social movements, have looked towards the ‘pink tide’ in Latin America as a new bastion of hope. We are talking of that wave of countries from Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, to Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, whose recently elected, left-leaning governments have broken with the neoliberal policies of the ‘Washington Consensus’. But is there really an affinity between Latin American indigenous revolutionary visions or projects and those of ‘the left’? Walter Mignolo suggests that while indigenous concepts like ‘the communal’ may, superficially, seem very similar to the leftist notion of the commons, they have important differences. By overlooking these differences, or reading them from within leftist and European logics, we perpetuate forms of violence and coloniality that indigenous movements have been fighting against.

[…]

The first civilisations to suffer the consequences of the formation and expansion of Western civilisation were the Inca, the Aztec and the Maya. One of these consequences was the dismantling of the communal system of social organisation that some indigenous nations in Bolivia and Ecuador today are working to reconstruct and reconfigure. From the European perspective, the communal may sound like socialism or communism. But it is not. Socialism and communism were born in Europe, as a response to liberalism and capitalism. Not so the communal system. The communal systems in Tawantinsuyu and Anahuac (Inca and Aztec territories, respectively), or societies in China before the Opium War, eventually had to deal with capitalist and (neo-)liberal intrusion, as well as European responses to such intrusions; but they themselves pre-existed the capitalist mode of production.

[…]

But what exactly, then, is the communal? Patzi Paco refers to collective rights to the use and management of resources, at the same time as he speaks of the rights of groups, families and individuals to share in the benefits of what is collectively produced. He makes clear that, while the communal has its ancestral foundation in agrarian societies in the Andes, these characteristics have survived and adapted well to contemporary conditions. The communal system is open to ‘persons’, indigenous or not, as well as to different types of ‘work’: in a communal system the distinction between owner and waged worker, as well as boss and employee in administrative organisations (banks, state organs, etc.), vanishes. To understand the scope of this proposal, it is necessary to clear our heads of the ‘indigenous = peasants’ equation that the coloniality of knowledge has imposed upon us, alongside the rhetoric of ‘salvation’. Moreover, the notion of ‘property’ is meaningless in a vision of society in which the goal is working to live and not living to work. It is in this context that Evo Morales has been promoting the concept of ‘the good living’ (sumaj kamaña in Quechua, sumak kawsay in Quichua, allin kausaw in Aymara or buen vivir in Spanish). ‘The good living’ – or ‘to live in harmony’ – is an alternative to ‘development’. While development puts life at the service of growth and accumulation, buen vivir places life first, with institutions at the service of life. That is what ‘living in harmony’ (and not in competition) means.

[…]

This idea of a communal system as an alternative to the (neo-)liberal system today, which emerged from the memories and lived experiences of Andean communities, has a global scope. This does not, however, mean that the ayllu system should be exported in a manner similar to other, previous models (Christian, liberal or Marxist). Rather, it is an invitation to organise and re-inscribe communal systems all over the world – systems that have been erased and dismantled by the increasing expansion of the capitalist economy, which the European left has been unable to halt. If ayllus and markas are the singular memory and organisation of communities in the Andes, then it is the other memories of communal organisation around the globe which predate and survived the advent of capitalism which make possible the idea of a communal system today – one not mapped out in advance by any ideology, or any simple return to the past. The Zapatista dictum of the need for ‘a world in which many worlds fit’ springs to mind as we try to imagine a planet of communal systems in a pluri-versal, not uni-versal, world order.

[…]

The progressive left’s ignoring of Patzi Paco’s proposal may end up as an excuse to prevent indigenous and peasant leaders and communities from intervening in de-colonising the current mono-cultural state – which the white (criolla/mestiza) right and left continue to fight over. A pluri-national state must be more than just the left in power, with the support of the indigenous, against the right, with its support from the international market.”

read the whole text on http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/decolonial/

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