Book Review of Jan Breman’s Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market

This post is written by John M. Talbot, Chair of the Political Economy of the World System section of the American Sociological Association.

It is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog.

Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market: Profits from an Unfree Work Regime in Colonial Java, by Jan Breman. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015. Pp. 404 + 8 Plates €99 (hb). ISBN 978-90-8964-859-4.

This is a book of impressive scope. It tells the story of coffee cultivation on Java under Dutch colonialism from its beginnings in the early 1600s through to the end of the notorious Cultivation System in the late 1800s. It focuses on the Priangan Highlands of West Java, which was the main coffee-producing region during most of the colonial period. It was here that a system of forced cultivation was introduced in the early 1700s. This evolved into the model for the Cultivation System that was imposed on the whole island in the 1830s.

The book begins by describing the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC’s) efforts to take control of the thriving inter-regional trade conducted by Javanese, Gujaratis, Malays, Arabs, Chinese, and others; and to extend its territorial control inland from Batavia (modern day Jakarta). The two efforts were interrelated because the competitive advantage of the existing traders was based on the relationships they had established with the local nobility controlling agricultural production on Java. Once the VOC imposed its political control inland, it exerted monopoly control over exports from West Java, and through that over the Batavia node of the larger inter-regional trade. Continue reading

Rethinking Agrarian Transitions and Left Politics in India

Free Issue of Journal of Agrarian Change to mark 50 years since Naxalbari

Photo courtesy Alpa Shah.

This post is written by Jens Lerche, Reader in Agrarian and Labour Studies in the Department of Development Studies, SOAS and Editor in Chief of Journal of Agrarian Change, Alpa Shah, Associate Professor (Reader) in Anthropology at LSE, and Barbara Harriss-White,  Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at Oxford University.

It is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog.

It is now half a century since the small uprising in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal led to the spread of a Maoist inspired revolutionary armed struggle in India, that is still ongoing. But with the Indian state now bent on crushing these Naxalites, and with the more general challenges faced by parliamentary communist parties across India, the question of how to analyse the agrarian economy – the basis of left strategy for a communist society in many parts of the world – remains of the utmost importance. There are many unresolved questions for scholars, activists and left parties alike.

How important are semi-feudal production relations? Should the aim be to eradicate semi-feudal relations in agriculture and to develop a modern, industrially based capitalism? Is global agribusiness exploiting Indian farmers and if so, is this the main problem for both big and marginal farmers? Should the focus still be on land reforms and if so, what kind of reforms and why? Or should landless peasants, labourers and petty producers unite against rural and urban capitalists, along class lines? And what does the analysis of the agrarian economy mean for struggles against dispossession by mining and industrial conglomerates and the neo-liberal industrial development they are proponents of?  Continue reading

Notice – London workshop on Chinese labour regimes, 22 June

Photo courtesy CLGP, Queen Mary University of London.

‘Chinese labour regimes: mutations, expansions, resistance’ 
A Centre on Labour and Global Production workshop
Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Campus
Thursday 22 June, 2pm – 6pm

 

“The ongoing wave of strikes in China is the latest manifestation of a dynamic that can be summed up in the phrase: where capital goes, labor-capital conflict shortly follows” — Beverly Silver

 

The emergence of China as a global economic power in recent decades has been striking – Its ~10% per annum GDP growth since 1989 is but one indication. This economic boom has been accompanied by enormous changes to the domestic labour market, as hundreds of millions have made the change from rural agricultural to urban industrial workers. At the same time, strikes by workers have been rising since 2004, and have intensified since 2010, when the government stopped releasing official statistics. In 2016, China Labour Bulletin had recorded 2,662 worker collective actions – an increase of 20% from a year before.

 

Meanwhile, Chinese capital has been flowing overseas in search of new investment opportunities, with over $130 billion invested last year alone, an increase of 55 percent on 2015. Major investments stretch across the globe, from Latin America (the canal in Nicaragua) to Europe (the Port of Piraeus in Greece) and Africa (natural resource extraction throughout the continent), competing increasingly with North America and European capital under greater pressure due to the differential impact of the economic crisis.

Continue reading

Interview: Agrarian Political Economy of Left-wing Governments in Latin America with Leandro Vergara-Camus

This post is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. 

The Journal of Agrarian Change has recently published a Special Issue entitled, Peasants, Agribusiness, Left-wing Governments and Neo-Developmentalism in Latin America: Exploring the Contradictions’ (JAC Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2017), edited by Cristóbal Kay and Leandro Vergara-Camus. In this interview, Leandro Vergara-Camus (Senior Lecturer, Development Studies at SOAS) talks about the rationale behind the special issue and its major conclusions. The Special Issue is free to access online till May 31, 2017.

 

Continue reading

Book Review of Jason Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life by Henry Bernstein

Cover image of Jason Moore's book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital

Henry Bernstein is Emeritus Professor of Development Studies in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS and Adjunct Professor in the College of Humanities and Development, China Agricultural University, Beijing (e-mail: hb4@soas.ac.uk). 

This post is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. It is a summary of the talk given by the author as part of the Agrarian Change Seminar Series.

Capitalism in the Web of Life. Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, by Jason W. Moore. London and New York: Verso, 2015. Pp.316 + xi. £19.99 (pb). ISBN 978-1-78168-902-8

This book has been keenly awaited by those who have followed Jason Moore’s sequence of extraordinary articles over the last 15 years or so, some of which have appeared in the Journal of Agrarian Change.

Moore’s book is not an easy read. This is not because it is not clearly written, which it is (though a few passages still elude me), but because of the massive challenges the author has set himself, and therefore his readers. While a follower of his work over the years, it has taken me some time to separate and outline the five main ingredients of the book, and in a fashion that inevitably omits much of interest and provocation. It seemed to be a good use of my effort in assembling (and trying to connect) those main ingredients to share them with others as a kind of guide to engaging with this book which is evidently one step, albeit a very big one, in what is a continuing (monumental) work in progress. It leaves me with many issues and questions which will continue to stimulate and exercise me, several of which I indicate briefly here. Continue reading

India’s Land Question

Cybercity IT Park in Pune, India. Photo: Wikipedia

Cybercity IT Park in Pune, India. Photo: Wikipedia

Michael Levien is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on India and seeks to advance a nascent sociology of dispossession. He teaches on international development, agrarian change, dispossession, and social theory.

This post is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. It is a summary of the talk given by the author as part of the Agrarian Change Seminar Series, October 19, 2016.

While the Indian state dispossessed millions of farmers for dams and public sector infrastructure during the period of state-led development (c. 1947 to 1991), land dispossession has become unprecedentedly contentious during India’s neoliberal period. These new farmer protests, unlike the smaller number of anti-dam movements of the 1980s, have actually stopped major investments, made “land grabs” an electorally salient issue, and forced changes to India’s eminent domain law. At the centre of these protests have been privately developed Special Economic Zones (SEZs), for which India’s state governments began dispossessing rural land in the early 2000s. In this talk, based on my book-in-progress, I drew on nineteen months of ethnographic, archival and interview research focused on villages dispossessed for one of North India’s largest SEZs to address three major questions: what do SEZs tell us about how land dispossession has changed with the shift from state-led development to neoliberalism in India? What are the consequences of this change for dispossessed farmers? And what are the implications of this change for our understanding of India’s land wars? Continue reading

Notice – New Virtual Issue – ‘The Political Ecology of Agrarian Change’

S. C. Streams Black Diamond Mine, Pennsylvania, USA, 1946. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/NARA.

S. C. Streams Black Diamond Mine, Pennsylvania, USA, 1946. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/NARA.

This notice is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. 

Journal of Agrarian Change, Virtual Issue, April 2016: The Political Ecology of Agrarian Change

Editor: Liam Campling

This virtual special issue collects work on the political ecology of agrarian change. Over the last 15 years, Journal of Agrarian Change has published dozens of articles on the ecology and environmental history of agrarian political economy. Notable among these is the 2010 special issue ‘Productive Forces in Capitalist Agriculture: Political Economy and Political Ecology’ (Vol.10, Issue 3), which is available for free online. Continue reading

Notice – Special Issue July 2016: A Festschrift for Henry Bernstein

Photo: Rice farmers in Kerala, India, courtesy Mathieu Schoutteten @ Flickr

Photo: Rice farmers in Kerala, India, courtesy Mathieu Schoutteten @ Flickr

This notice is part of the Journal of Agrarian Change blog, hosted on the Development Studies at SOAS blog. 

Journal of Agrarian Change 16(3)

Special Issue – The Political Economy of Agrarian Change: Essays in Appreciation of Henry Bernstein 

Guest Editors: Liam Campling and Jens Lerche

Henry-Bernstein-Photo JoACIssue Cover

This special issue of the Journal of Agrarian Change presents five essays and an interview in appreciation of Henry Bernstein. Henry Bernstein’s contributions to peasant studies, agrarian political economy and development studies are significant, from his seminal 1977 paper ‘Notes on Capital and Peasantry’ onwards. His book Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change has been translated into Bahasa, Chinese, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish, and serves as a textbook for students of agrarian political economy in many corners of the world. With Terence J. Byres, he led and nursed what are now the main spaces for debate in agrarian political economy and political sociology – founding the Journal of Agrarian Change in 2001 and editing it for seven years, and before that, joining Byres in 1985 as co-editor of The Journal of Peasant Studies, where they worked together for 15 years.

Continue reading