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Primitive Accumulation, Postmodern-Style

Catholic bishop Erwin Kräutler, of the Altamira diocese in the western Amazon region of Brazil, reportedly has a half-million dollar bounty on his head, all for opposing the dispossession of indigenous peoples and farmers by ranchers and other interests, debt slavery, and sexual slavery.

The situation may have a liberation theology angle, though this would seem not to be terribly pertinent, given that the abuses, economic and otherwise, are manifest. Resisting injustice is not Marxist praxis.

(HT: Henry Karlson.)

Comments (10)

Liberation theology, which urges Catholics to take a greater role in social and political activism, was pioneered in Brazil, most famously by the Franciscan priest Leonardo Boff. However its exponents have been sanctioned by the Vatican, which views the movement as unorthodox.

Ah, yes, I'm sure that was the problem with liberation theology. AFter all, the Catholic Church has always considered any concern with social and political activism to be unorthodox. /sarc

Really, I think the story only detracts from this bishop's work by associating him and his brave stance with liberation theology. But maybe that's at his own desire. Perhaps the implication of the story--that he is an advocate of liberation theology and equates it with opposition to slavery and rule by thugs--is correct. If so, then that mars his own work.

I concur wholeheartedly. There is no necessity of appealing to a gaggle of heretical theologians to perceive the injustices being perpetrated in Altamira.

I would only add, for now, that the facade of resisting injustice is in the portfolio of marxist praxis, a handy tool so to speak.
A minor point and to be taken as such.

To be certain, the imposture of resisting injustice remains in the Marxist playbook; but the case here is pretty straightforward: the Brazilian constitution enshrines the rights of the farmers and indigenous peoples, while loggers, ranchers, and other primitive accumulators simply disregard the law by staking claims - as though this were a frontier, which, by law, it is not - and killing those who resist/object. I don't discount the possibility that there could be a vaguely Marxist hue to some of the resistance, but the injustices are real.

May I ask what "postmodernity" has to do with abuses that have plagued mankind for eons?

Well, I'm a partisan of the theory that postmodernism is more than a matter of critical theory, that it is integral with the post-national tendencies we observe in economics, culture, finance, and so forth. So while the types of injustice being perpetrated in Brazil are archetypal human evils, the socio-economic context is rather more circumstantial; those ranchers and loggers aren't producing primarily for the domestic market, after all - they're producing for the wealthy export markets of North America, Asia, and Europe. Moreover, the quasi-feudal conditions imposed upon many of the poor and dispossessed are emblematic of this 'postmodern/globalist' economic culture; theorists refer to them as instances of "flexible accumulation", meaning that, temporally, they follow the weakening or abolition of legal regimes which secured the interests of the workers, and of the forms of communal solidarity which stabilized their lives, giving them some refuge from predatory "businessmen". On the macro-level, 'postmodern' here refers to the internationalized economic context within which these injustices are occurring; on the micro-level, 'postmodern' actually refers to a reversion to pre-modern conditions of dispossession and appropriation. The two are obviously interrelated, as the latter is a sort of sacrament of a certain species of political economy (as evidenced in the various financial crises of the past several decades, in Asia, Russia, and Latin America) while the former is the current apotheosis of that species of political economy.

If they weren't murdering people, threatening people, sexually preying on little girls, refusing to pay wages, beating people up who complain, controlling the police force by widespread bribery and corruption, and generally acting like a law unto themselves, I wouldn't mind their being big and employing everybody.

But they are doing that stuff. So that's like saying, "If we had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs, if we had some eggs."

It does show that capitalism can operate properly only within a framework of the enforcement of contracts (including employment contracts), law and order, including independent policing rather than corrupt police forces, clear property demarcations (which the article also mentions are in a complete mess in these regions), and a zero-tolerance policy towards forced labor by the private sector.

Capitalism does indeed presuppose and continuously require a framework of law, but what is transpiring in western Brazil is, in part the creation of capitalism (the subjection of formerly non-market forces and values to market disciplines; in this case, by forcing traditional farmers and some indigenous peoples off of their land - so that it can be 'enclosed', basically), and this 'creation' necessitates the destruction of actually-existing arrangements, inclusive of those putatively guaranteed by the constitution. The question, therefore, not only concerns the fact of law, but which law.

I do believe that any enterprise or association of enterprises large enough to employ most of the region's people would also be wealthy enough to suborn most any government; it is almost always possible to increase gross profitability in the short and medium-term by means of various forms of exploitation. The historical exception would be the mid-twentieth-century social-democratic consensus of the Western world, which has withered since the 70s; this, however, requires a sense of solidarity that has long since vanished, and entails its own problems, big government first among them.

That may all be true, but it sounds to me like at this point the workers would be happy just to get the wages they are promised, on time, to have their daughters left alone, crime punished, and so forth. It's not like I'm hearing a lot of agitating to "give back their land." In fact, it sounds like a lot of them came naively to that region where they hadn't been before to _get_ land, and then it didn't turn out as the government had advertised.

Both dynamics are operating concurrently. In reality, the Brazilian government likely erred when it promised some farmers land in this remote, jungle region; land in jungle regions, once cleared of the rainforests, easily yields up its topsoils, and quickly becomes something like a savanna, ill-suited to anything other than the grazing of animals. Even so, while it is assuredly better to receive promised wages than to suffer exploitation, even death; it is better still to receive the land that was promised, rather than having it illicitly claimed by wealthier, more powerful interests, who then 'expect' that you will work it for a pittance.

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