Orfalea Center Thematic Research Cluster

Resistance, Autonomy, Liberation

Section Two: Decolonial Resistance, Autonomy, and Liberation in Theory and Practice

African Environmental Ethics Research Papers - Academia.edu

Conservation has, over the last couple of decades, coalesced around the language of ‘community-engagement’. Models that seemed to prop up conservation areas as those emptied of human presence are cracking under their own weight. This book grounds our understanding of people-forest relationships through the lens of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in the Nyandarwa (Aberdare) forest reserve in Kenya, home to the Agĩkũyũ people. It confronts the history of colonial land dispossession in Kenya, demonstrates that land continues to be a central pillar of Agĩkũyũ indigenous environmental thought, and cements the role of the forest in sustaining the struggle for independence. It also shines a light on seed and food sovereignty as arenas of knowledge mobilization and self-determination. The book concludes by showing how IKS can contribute to forging sustainable people-forest relationships.

More than 170 years after its initial publication, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ resounding call for workers everywhere to unite and break the chains of capitalist exploitation continues to echo throughout the world, especially as the neoliberal global order is increasingly mired in crisis. This annotated version of the Manifesto explains its analyses and pronouncements line by line, usefully providing historical context for its allusions to prominent public figures and events at the time of writing. Phil Gasper furthermore illuminates the contemporary significance of this pathbreaking text by demonstrating how Marx and Engels essentially foresaw modern economic globalization.

In this daring work of historical scholarship, late Black Studies scholar and political scientist Cedric Robinson argues that Marxist theory, as a result of its predominantly European origins, has typically downplayed Black communities as agents of change and resistance. Robinson further draws upon the works of Black leftist thinkers and writers like W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, and Richard Wright to show how the Black Radical Tradition has reconfigured Marxist theory and practice to match its historical circumstances. In the process, Robinson frames racial capitalism, the process of extracting value from racialized others that emerged from European feudal society and spread throughout the world.

In 1791, two years after the much more widely known and celebrated French Revolution, Black slaves led a revolt in the French colony of Haiti, establishing the world’s first Black republic in the process. In this classic work of Black radical scholarship, late Trinidadian Marxist historian C. L. R. James analyzes how Toussaint L’Ouverture–the revolt’s most prominent leader–and his compatriots redefined the French revolutionary ideals of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” in confronting the conditions of their enslavement. James shows how events in France and Haiti were intimately interconnected in the period under consideration: former slaves announced themselves as historical agents by contributing to the downfall of European feudalism as part and parcel of claiming their own freedom.

Based upon an influential but previously unpublished dissertation, Julius Scott’s The Common Wind analyzes the circulation of news between African diasporic communities in the Caribbean around the time of the Haitian Revolution. Reading eighteenth-century English, Spanish, and French archives against the grain, Scott explains how Black slaves, freemen, sailors, and dock workers, among other sociopolitical actors, received and proliferated “rumors of emancipation” that in turn spurred key political developments leading to the destabilization and eventual collapse of the slave system in the British and French Caribbean. 

Indian historian, journalist, and Marxist public intellectual Vijay Prashad offers an alternative history of the Cold War that centers the emancipatory potential of the idea of the “Third World.” Surveying both towering figures like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamel Abdel Nasser and lesser-known but nonetheless vital intellectuals, artists, and freedom fighters, this text charts the birth of postcolonial nations after World War II, their attempts to unite against both American and Soviet influence, and the eventual decline of Third World nationalism. Prashad recognizes the flaws in the concept at hand, but nevertheless contends that the international political arena has been impoverished by its demise.

Fanon’s most infamous work is, as a Newsweek reviewer put it, “a strange, haunting mélange of analysis, revolutionary manifesto, metaphysics, poetry, prose, and literary criticism–and yet the nakedest of human cries.” This text is best-known for its opening chapter, “Concerning Violence,” which contends that decolonization is always a violent phenomenon as a result of the fundamental violence of colonialism. However, Fanon also investigates the construction of national consciousness and national culture, articulating a framework for national liberation that avoids “tribalism” and other forms of parochialism to bring to life an entirely new human being.

Acclaimed Swedish documentary filmmaker Göran Olsson brings the first chapter of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth to life, highlighting the extent to which it inspired and drew upon anti-colonial liberation movements across the African continent. Olsson uses previously unseen archival footage captured by a Swedish documentary crew in the 1960s and ‘70s to shed light on a number of colonial regimes and the revolutionaries that sought to overthrow them, from the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) to Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (see below). Fanon’s words are displayed and read over images that epitomize European colonialism’s spatial divisions, its hunger for the wealth of Africa and the “Third World,” and its unrelenting brutality.

  • Cabral, Amilcar. “National Liberation and Culture.” BlackPast, 10 Aug. 2009, https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/1970-amilcar-cabral-national-liberation-and-culture/. Accessed 19 August 2020.

Socialist agronomist Amilcar Cabral co-founded the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and led its guerilla struggle against Portuguese colonial rule from 1963 until his assassination by Portuguese intelligence agents in 1973. Becoming one of Africa’s foremost anti-colonial voices in his lifetime, Cabral delivered this speech in 1970 to commemorate Eduardo Mondlane, the recently slain leader of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO). Cabral ruminated on the key role played by culture in national liberation struggles, arguing that colonized peoples had to reclaim their histories and traditions if they were to both politically and psychologically overcome imperialist domination.

Between 1984 and 1987, communist revolutionary Thomas Sankara instituted sweeping social, political, and economic changes in the West African country that he renamed Burkina Faso or “The Land of Incorruptible People.” This documentary recounts how Sankara oversaw the planting of 10 million trees, the vaccination of 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles, and the outlawing of forced marriages, among other remarkable achievements, all the while calling for debt cancellation and the rejection of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s neoliberal agenda across Africa. On a more somber note, it details how Sankara was ultimately betrayed by one of his closest friends, in one of several coups orchestrated across the continent by former European colonial powers and American intelligence agents.

  • The Battle of Algiers. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, performances by Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, and Saadi Yacef. Rialto Pictures, 1966.

This classic Italian-Algerian film contextualizes and dramatizes the campaign of guerilla warfare carried out by the Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) against French colonial authorities between 1956 and 1957. Shot on-location and primarily starring non-professional Algerian actors, the film draws attention to the inhumane tactics employed by the French colonial state to suppress the Algerian drive for independence, in addition to showcasing the key roles played by women in the resistance movement. It offers a complex take on violence and counter-violence within the colonial context, resorting neither to nationalistic triumphalism nor to false equivalences between the warring parties at hand.

This documentary complements Caroline Elkins’ lecture on Britain’s concentration camps in colonial Kenya (see previous section) by offering firsthand insights into the Mau Mau Uprising. It features several interviews with Gikuyu elders who took up arms against colonial rule between 1952 and 1960. It perhaps most crucially foregrounds the eco-social awareness of the degradation of forests and the communities who depended on them that inspired so many to risk their lives. 

This classic work of subaltern studies challenges the conventional assumption, even among many leftist scholars, that India’s peasants spontaneously rebelled against British colonial authorities and their local collaborators. Guha contrarily identifies and analyzes several elements of a peasant rebel consciousness, such as banditry and other forms of rural criminality, traditional mechanisms for collective assembly, and the subversive demarcation of territory. Guha effectively demonstrates that the drive for independence from colonial rule long before the predominantly bourgeois nationalist agitation of the Indian National Congress and its storied leaders.

Anthropologist and political scientist James C. Scott challenges the notion that oppressed subjects consent to their sociopolitical domination when they do not openly and spectacularly revolt. Drawing upon several months of fieldwork conducted in a small Malaysian village in the late 1970s, Scott frames “foot dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so on” as “everyday forms of peasant resistance–the prosaic but constant struggle between the peasantry and those who seek to extract labor, food, taxes, rent, and interest from them.”

Here, Scott focuses on Zomia, a expanse of 2.5 million square kilometers that cuts across parts of five Southeast Asian nations, India, and China and contains approximately one hundred million minority peoples (at least at the time of writing). Scott argues that Zomia is the largest remaining part of the world whose peoples have not yet been fully incorporated into nation-states. He contends that the hill peoples of this region are best understood as maroon communities who have evaded state-making projects in their respective valleys by developing livelihoods, social organizations, ideologies, and cultures to this end.

In 2000, the Zimbabwean Government, under the direction of late President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union, stirred international controversy by encouraging poor Black farmers to reclaim lands disproportionately held by their white settler counterparts. This article historicizes Zimbabwe’s land issues by tracing the latter back to the initial settlement of the country, the restrictive conditions imposed upon its independence by the British Lancaster House Agreement, and the further restrictions imposed by the neoliberalization of the country’s economy.

La Vía Campesina is an international peasants organization with 182 member organizations across 81 countries, representing over 200 million farmers. This open book chronicles how it has been at the heart of international struggles for peasants’ rights since its foundation in 1993. It pays particular attention to how the organization as a whole and its constituents have fought for food, water, and land sovereignty, as well as women’s liberation and the dignity of Indigenous peoples, migrants, and waged workers.

Complicating the typical perception of anarchism as a purely Eurowestern phenomenon, American anarchist author and organizer Peter Gelderloos uses a range of historical and anthropological examples to show how consciously stateless, autonomous, and anti-authoritarian societies and communities have existed and even thrived throughout global history. Gelderloos addresses numerous questions often asked of anarchism as a mode of political organization and social existence, such as its supposed contravention of human nature, its capacity to meet the needs of persons operating within it, and its power to overcome the forces of state and capital in the first place. 

Here, Gelderloos dares to question the uncritical acceptance and imposition of pacifism within transformative social movements across the world. He endeavors to show that nonviolence as a monolithic strategy–as opposed to one part of a broad diversity of tactics–is arguably racist, patriarchal, statist, ineffective, ineffective, and deluded. Gelderloos demystifies pacifism’s most famous success stories, such as the Indian Independence Movement, the African American Civil Rights Movement, and the American Anti-war Movement, showing how their internal complexities and their failures have been disguised to inhibit militant anti-systemic critique and insurgency.

South Asian American teacher, writer, and activist Maia Ramnath seeks to bring “an anarchist approach to anticolonialism and an anticolonial approach to anarchism” in this text. Covering both iconic figures, organizations, and movements and their lesser-known counterparts, she reconceptualizes South Asian struggles against colonialism and neocolonialism, stressing that emancipatory impulses within the region have by no means been entirely restricted by the terms of nationalism or statehood. Ramnath concludes with a grounded call for solidarity between anti-authoritarians in the the Global North and South that grapples with their substantially different situations. 

Eurocentric histories of classical anarchism tend to overlook the significant contributions made by colonized peoples to struggles against the state, capital, and other coercive hierarchies. This reader documents how, over the past 150 years, Black anarchists have played a critical role in mass strikes, national liberation movements, tenant organizing, prisoner solidarity, queer liberation, and the formation of autonomous organizations across the globe. As Black and Afro-diasporic communities everywhere rebel against state violence, criminalization, and dispossession, the articles collected here are essential for understanding and developing the anti-authoritarian spirit of their uprisings.

Kahnawá:ke Mohawk scholar-activist Taiaike Alfred calls upon the Indigenous Peoples of North America to renew their struggles for self-determination against their 500-year history of painful and destructive colonization. Alfred offers a trenchant critique of Native elites operating within Western political structures, contrarily calling upon Native and First Nations to reclaim their traditional consensus-based decision-making processes as a means of fostering economic self-sufficiency. 

Argentine semiotician Walter Mignolo and cultural theorist Catherine Walsh synthesize recent scholarship on coloniality, decoloniality, and modernity, providing a useful overview of the colonial matrix of power (CMP) and the historical and contemporary movements that have contested it. Walsh and Mignolo by no means seek to define decoloniality as a “new abstract universal,” instead emphasizing relationality or “the ways in which different histories and embodied conceptions and practices of decoloniality… can enter into conversations and build understandings that both cross geopolitical locations and colonial differences.” 

As decoloniality has gained traction within educational institutions, many social justice-oriented educators have called for the decolonization of schools, syllabuses, research methods, and pedagogies. In this article, Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang reassert “what is unsettling about decolonization”–namely, that it necessitates the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. As well-intentioned as many academic attempts at decolonization may be, they run the risk of reaffirming settler-colonial power through resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation.

A follow-up to the Development Dictionary (see previous section), Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary contains over one hundred essays on transformative initiatives and alternatives to the currently dominant processes of globalized development, including its structural roots in modernity, capitalism, state domination, and masculinist values. It offers critical assessments of mainstream solutions that ‘greenwash’ development and presents radically different worldviews and practices from around the world that point to an ecologically wise and socially just world. From agroecology to direct democracy and liberation theology, this collection addresses numerous aspects of a shared pluriversal future–a world in which many worlds can fit–and outlines how “ordinary” people everywhere can work and are working towards such a future.

This stunning documentary by Abby Martin of The Empire Files (see below) features exclusive footage of the Great March of Return, a series of protests against the Israeli blockade of Gaza and overall occupation of Palestinian territory held near the Gaza-Israel border between March of 2018 and December of 2019. It shows the dire living situations of the vast majority of Gaza’s residents and the excessive force employed by the Israeli state to suppress Palestinian resistance.

The murder of George Floyd by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin in late May of 2020 sparked a wave of protests against police violence and policing itself across the United States and the world. While much has been and continues to be written about this intense cycle of resistance and repression, this piece offers a particularly thought-provoking analysis that draws attention to the proletarian, militant, and multi-racial (though undeniably Black-led) character of the George Floyd Rebellion and attempts at co-optation mounted by state authorities and the Black (and, of course, white) bourgeoisie. This piece is best read alongside others published on the same site, such as “The Rise of Black Counter-Insurgency” and “How It Might Should Be Done.”

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