Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Economic History and the Independent Goan

Last fortnight this column made a plea for a serious attempt at constructing an economic history of Goa; a history that takes as its starting point the recognition of Goa’s late entry into global capitalism. Responding to the argument a friend pointed out that it was not enough to point out that the local capitalist was also a possible loser as Goa was forcibly prized open as a market for India and the world. It was necessary to also look at role the local bourgeoisie will play when the ‘victims of history’ try to ‘compel’ the State into actions that would secure their interests. What would their stand be and for what reasons? Would their class interest be in keeping British-Indian bourgeoisie and global capital out, creating a protected enclave for themselves, or will they continue to play second fiddle to these forces? Common sense would instantly suggest that local capitalists would choose the latter option, and yet I believe that a detailed and researched answer may possibly yield a more complex reality of the manner in which local capitalists operate. This reflection would also open out options open to us for strategic association to stem the neo-colonial practices that current developmental solutions in fact represent.

Right now though I would like to ignore the local capitalist and focus on the manner in which Goan identity emerges through its historical location. The Goan it is believed, by both local and external capitalist, is an unreliable worker. They are lazy, so├žegad and disappear at festivals since they loving partying. An earlier approach I adopted to moving past this obviously negative portrayal of the Goan was to locate this representation in the politics of post-colonial India. The British saw the Portuguese in exactly the same terms, since the Portuguese were great miscegenators the Goan was also tarred with the same brush, and the British Indian inherits this way of looking at Goa. Economic history however would also allow us another, not particularly divergent reading of this scenario. Understood theoretically capitalism emerges to release labour from the holds of such social structures as feudalism. In releasing labour though, it provides its own punishing way of encapsulating them once again. Historically capitalism has emerged through the dispossession and impoverishment of labour, a perfect example being the depopulation of the English countryside to create the urban industrial hubs of the Industrial Revolution. Capitalism thrives and sustains itself on the insecure and impoverished worker. It is only in this condition that it can effectively sustain itself, when faced with the worker ensconced in a variety of social relationships and capable of sustaining oneself outside of the industrial economy the capitalist machine falters.

Goans will never tire of indicating that in the Portuguese days there was no poverty. This of course is a myth; it was poverty that forced the migration of Goans into the broader world. But while there was poverty, there was also a relationship to society and land that allowed for basis sustenance and survival. It is this security of the Goan labourer who refuses to be pulled out of the comfort of the social and ecological safety nets that the capitalist cannot deal with or understand. We have to recognize then, that the project of the industrialization of Goa – as so tenderly forwarded by our Governor- demands the necessary destruction of social and ecological security of Goa. These are not necessarily conscious evil plans, but the necessary logic by which capitalism must reproduce itself. At the end of the day the supposedly lazy and unmotivated Goan turns out to be the smart cookie who engages with industrial employment on her own terms. She uses it to supplement an existing income and provide forms of temporary escape from the embrace of existing social networks that also need to be challenged. The capitalist system ofcourse cannot deal with such independent actions, predicated as it is on predictability, which is why it is the Goan’s choices that must be castigated.

Slowly but surely voices are emerging that are sounding the call for a rethink on the developmental policies of the State. These calls and voices are not anti-developmental since we are all obviously imbricated in the fabric of the global economy. These calls represent demands for a more democratic method of planning, a method of planning that respects local cycles and independence, and that is insistent that existent wealth must not be cast away merely to suit the demands of blinkered bureaucrats.
(Published in the Gomantak Times 17th January 2008)

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