Rethinking the Social Sciences with Sam Moyo

By Praveen Jha, Paris Yeros and Walter Chambati

This book is a tribute to Sam Moyo. Apart from the great mind and big heart that he was, Moyo was also one of a few in our age to distinguish himself in setting new standards for knowledge production in the social sciences. Some might expect such a feat to require the approval of established centers of learning in the North. But his litmus test was relevance to the tectonic shifts underway in Africa and the South since decolonization. Moyo became a leading light in the quest for epistemic sovereignty at a crucial juncture, when Africa and the South as a whole were succumbing to neoliberal adjustment, and when his own country, Zimbabwe, was gaining independence.

Who was Sam Moyo?

Moyo belonged to the generation of Pan-Africanist intellectuals responsible for defending the gains of liberation and devising strategies of epistemic survival in the midst of structural adjustment. Their epicenter was the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), of which Sam eventually became president. He distinguished himself by his relentless drive to build and defend research capacities in Africa, refusing the lure of professional stability and fame abroad. Those who had the good fortune to meet him would affirm that he pursued this mission with flair, generosity, and a ‘charming inflexibility’ on matters of ideology. In 2002, he founded the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (AIAS), in Harare, Zimbabwe, against all odds, in the midst of radical land reform and Western sanctions.

Moyo also forged ahead with the building of new solidarities across the South to recuperate a common front. This he did via CODESRIA, as well the Third World Forum (TWF) and World Forum for Alternatives (WFA) led by Samir Amin, in which he participated over many years. In the 2000s, he also spearheaded the Agrarian South Network (ASN), a new tri-continental initiative with its own research agenda, regular activities, and publishing outlet, Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy. Those of us who were closest to him knew that the whole of this work of art was much larger than the sum of its parts: new epistemic standards were being set for generations to come.

We locate Moyo’s trajectory in the Pan-Africanist tradition of political economy, where we made significant contributions to the evolving land, agrarian and national questions at continental level and in his home country. In the introductory chapter of the book, we trace his overall contribution to tri-continental solidarity in the social sciences and the development of a global research agenda. We bring to light Moyo’s leading role in the frontlines of the struggle for epistemic sovereignty in Africa and the South at a time when neoliberal restructuring set its sights on autonomous knowledge production and when epistemological questions succumbed to a potent ‘cultural turn’. Moyo fought with great perseverance for autonomous institutions in Africa and the South and for the integrity of the intellectual traditions produced in the struggles for liberation. He defended an approach to political economy which was homegrown in Africa and fundamentally anti-imperialist, against Western intellectual trends, whether materialist or culturalist. This was the vision and mission that defined his Pan-Africanism, tri-continental solidarity, and cosmopolitanism.

In this volume, we bring together friends, comrades, and colleagues who interacted with Moyo in different moments of his life, and some over a long period of time. Herein are included several contributions published in the special issue of Agrarian South devoted to Sam’s life and work (Vol. 5, Nos. 2–3, 2016), but mostly new contributions that were presented at the Memorial Conference held in his honor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, in February 2018, as well as further contributions solicited subsequently. Reflecting the breadth and depth of Moyo’s global reach and the affection that people had for him, most regions of the world are represented in the volume, with contributors drawn from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. As editors, we gave no specific suggestions to the contributors other than to feel free to write on whatever Moyo inspired in them, or would like to have read from them. The result – we hope our readers will agree – is a marvelous tribute to brother Sam and a sui generis contribution to the research agenda in contemporary political economy.

Sam Moyo’s epistemic vision

The first part of the book is dedicated to an assessment of Moyo’s contributions to the social sciences by colleagues who worked closely with him or followed his work over time. Dzodzi Tsikata discusses his institutional contributions and the evolution of his research agenda on the land and agrarian questions. William Martin situates Moyo’s work as a countermovement against Western-led ‘African Studies’. Gladys Lechini brings to light Moyo’s role in the South-South convergence of social science communities in the 2000s, especially between CODESRIA and the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO).

Lyn Ossome assesses Moyo’s contribution to the land and agrarian question in light of current scholarship in gender studies. Ian Scoones reflects on the application of the Marxist method in Moyo’s work. Kojo Amanor recuperates Moyo’s method in environmental studies and particularly his analysis of the cooptation of the green agenda under structural adjustment. Tendai Murisa closes this first part with a review and assessment of Moyo’s work on Zimbabwe’s land question.

Land, Labour and Agrarian Questions

In the second part of the book, we bring together contributions to Moyo’s research agenda in contemporary political economy. Prabhat Patnaik presents a model for understanding ‘income unemployment’ in a peripheral workforce devoid of a stable wage relation and underwritten by ongoing primitive accumulation. Arindam Banerjee takes issue with interpretations of the Global Food Crisis post-2006 to argue that a longer food crisis has been evolving due to the generalized income deflation in the South. Archana Prasad focuses on the changing form of expropriation of forest resources through contemporary multilateral agreements which commoditize and cartelize nature via carbon stocks.

Smita Gupta analyses the new Land Acquisition Act in India whose provisions enable the exercise of the state’s eminent domain to expropriate lands and resource rights of small and marginal farmers, Adivasis, Dalits, and women, among others. Sandeep Chachra reflects on the future of cities in light of the ongoing agrarian crisis and rural-urban migration in the South. Anamitra Roychowdhury brings the section to conclusion by examining the character of the unregistered manufacturing sector in India and its ability to provide gainful employment opportunities in light of rural-urban migration.

Unfinished Dialogues on Revolution and Liberation

The final part of the book takes forward exchanges with Moyo that were abruptly suspended by his untimely passing, but which continue to require collective reflection for time to come. Samir Amin takes issue with contemporary notions of ‘emergence’ in the South and argues that it remains necessary to articulate a new model of industrialization shaped by the renewal of non-capitalist forms of peasant agriculture. Issa Shivji reflects on Moyo’s contributions to the peasant question and the forms of accumulation and organization that are necessary to the resolution of the national question. Utsa Patnaik provides insights into Marx’s thought on the drain of wealth from peasants and workers in the colonies and argues that, although his analysis remained incomplete, it should not be overlooked or serve as an excuse to omit colonialism and imperialism from the analysis of capitalism.

C.P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh assess current tendencies in the world economy, arguing that capitalism is disintegrating under its own weight but without, as yet, spawning sufficient alternatives towards a new order. Erebus Wong, Wen Tiejun, Sit Tsui, Lau Kin Chi defend the ongoing relevance of China’s Land Revolution of 1949 and provide insight into how the problem of hyperinflation was resolved by relying on subsistence agriculture and anchoring value in staple grains. Dinesh Abrol focuses on the current challenges in building a peasant-worker alliance in India under a deepening neoliberal policy framework led by right-wing authoritarian populism. Yoichi Mine brings this section to a close by comparing radical activism in the 1970s among Japanese social movements and South Africa’s Black Consciousness movement and traces the trajectories of radicalism in Japan.

Moyo was steadfast in his conviction that knowledge production is above all a collective endeavor and that the advance of the intellectual traditions of the South requires systematic solidarity. There is no better way to celebrate his life and work than to plough ahead in the manner that we have done in this book.   

Praveen Jha is professor of economics at the Center for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) and adjunct professor at the Center for Informal Sector and Labour Studies (CISLS), School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India.

Paris Yeros is professor of international economics at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC), São Paulo, Brazil, and coordinator of the postgraduate program in world political economy

Walter Chambati is executive director of the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Harare, Zimbabwe.

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