Debunking the “Eco-Fortress Nationalism” of the AOC/Markey Green New Deal

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Photo: Farming in Karnataka, India.

Max Ajl’s People’s Green New Deal is a brutal reminder for the American left that even the most celebrated and progressive developments in American politics are still simply American politics, in other words they are a politics for America, and America first. Ajl situates both the longer history of environmental destruction and the response to it within a planetary frame without losing sight of geographical unevenness. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is where Ajl systematically debunks the American-centrism of the Cortez/Markey Green New Deal (GND). The second part is an imagination-widening exposition of an alternative People’s Green New Deal that centers the livelihood of the majority of the world’s people by putting forth an anti-imperial and anti-capitalist framework for a just transition. 

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Beyond Green Restoration: An Eco-Socialist GND

Following the resolution introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey, the term Green New Deal (GND) has become the gravitational center of climate action debates. On the one hand, conservatives, as well as some leftist circles, designate the AOC-Markey resolution as “socialist”. On the other hand, the term GND was first made public by Thomas Friedman in his NY Times column as a capitalistic and patriotic project which serves as “the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century” (p.4). It comes as no surprise that so much political confusion accrues around the concept of a GND.

Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal is the best leftist response I have read to the discussions whirling around this notion. It is clear-minded and well written. Politically, it constructs a consistent, uncompromising, anti-imperialist vision, well aware of the fact that tamed horizons are easily coopted and rearticulated by the ruling classes thanks to the elasticity of capital accumulation. Theoretically, its foundations are found in the “inherently polarizing” frameworks of dependency theory, world-system analysis, and (environmentally) unequal exchange (p.14).

Ajl evaluates GND proposals not only on the basis of targeted changes in physical production, but also in terms of their systemic implications. Some GNDs aim to preserve or strengthen capitalism, while others are designed to attack or abolish it (p.3). Correspondingly, the book is divided into two parts. The first one is concerned with what Ajl calls Capitalist Green Transitions (p.16) or “ruling class agendas” (p.20), while the second part sketches his vision of a People’s Green New Deal.

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A People’s Green New Deal – An Exercise in Just Knowledge Production

In his speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1984, Thomas Sankara makes the following astute observation regarding the African petite bourgeoisie and its public intellectuals:  

“Our professors, engineers and economists are content simply to add a little colouring, because they have brought from the European universities of which they are the products only their diplomas and the surface smoothness of adjectives and superlatives. It is urgently necessary that our qualified personnel and those who work with ideas learn that there is no innocent writing. In these tempestuous times, we cannot leave it to our enemies of the past and of the present to think and to imagine and to create. We also must do so.”

In the same speech, Sankara continues to caution against planning for the uplifting of a nation if such plans are ignorant of, or are wilfully erasing, the disinherited masses and the wretchedness inherited by them. Sankara’s postulation, emerging from the socio-political contexts of the African continent, provides a sound theoretical foundation for knowledge production in the contemporary worlds we inhabit. The popular narratives around climate change have strived to communicate the gravity of planetary collapse and measures required to avert ecological and environmental crises worldwide. Nevertheless, the urgency of envisioning a new world shows little self-reflection as to its epistemic positions and privileges. Climate change discourses in the Global North, academic or otherwise, have largely been constrained by the desire to brave the planetary crises with limited disruption to existing race and class privileges. In terms of how the problems of climate change are identified and defined and the range of solutions to address them, the western epistemologies remain rudimentary.

Consequently, the range of green new deals or the visions for just-transition and sustainable utopias remain agnostic to the everyday realities and struggles of the Global South against imperialism and colonialism. It is unclear if Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour are better placed to partake in these futures than they are now. Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal provides a refreshing and rich scholarly alternative to how an ideal green new deal should be imagined.

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 A People’s Green New Deal: A Symposium

Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal intervenes in current debates regarding green planning, green future, green stimuli, and eco-socialism. It surveys a wide range of existing literature on the ecological and social crisis, ranging from ruling-class “great transitions,” to eco-modernist elixirs of the right and the left which bank on technological solutions to today’s social and ecological problems. It then considers and critiques an array of liberal, left-liberal, and social democratic proposals, some of them going under the eco-socialist moniker, and shows how they rest on continued exploitation and primitive accumulation of the periphery. 

A People’s Green New Deal contributions lie in, first, using frameworks of dependency theory, accumulation on a world scale, and ecologically uneven exchange to illuminate the costs and consequences of distinct approaches to the climate crisis, left and right. Second, the book’s emphasis on agriculture, land use, and agro-ecology makes it unique amongst books on the Green New Deal and parallel debates. Its emphasis on decolonization, national sovereignty, anti-imperialism, and climate debt repayments from the North to the South is a third contribution. A fourth is how it deals with technology. 

This review forum assesses the contribution of A People’s Green New DealSakshi situates APGND in terms of a counter-epistemology to Eurocentric and empire-blind resolutions, if not really solutions, to the social and ecological crises to which mainstream Green New Deals are addressed. Sheetal Chhabria assesses APGND’s contribution to thinking on a planetary scale about appropriate planning for a just transition, while criticizing the book’s uncritical embrace of certain Indian nationalist tropes. Güney Işıkara raises questions regarding political agency and organization, the role of national-level planning in any form of national-level green transition, and how to approach anti-imperialism on a world scale.  

Read the contributions:

Review of Macroeconomics by Alex M. Thomas

Macroeconomics: An Introduction by Alex M. Thomas, Cambridge University Press, 2021.

This recently published introductory Macroeconomics textbook written by Alex M. Thomas provides a refreshingly novel approach to teaching Macroeconomics to undergraduate students. As the author points out in the Preface, this textbook offers a “problem-setting approach rather than a problem-solving one, as is the case with most economics textbooks” (Page xvi, emphasis mine). The textbook has nine chapters, and the chapters have enough material to whet the appetite of a broad audience – Chapters 1,2,6 and 9 deal with the history and philosophy of Macroeconomics, Chapters 3-5 deal with the core economic theory of money and interest rates, output and employment levels and economic growth and Chapters 7 and 8 talk about the macroeconomic policy of achieving full employment and tackling inflation. In this review, I would focus on four issues – the commitment of the book towards enhancing pluralism in Macroeconomics, the importance given to studying macroeconomic theory, the idea of relating macroeconomic concepts to the context which is being studied and an explicit concern to make Macroeconomics accessible to an undergraduate audience residing in underdeveloped parts of the world.

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The Changing Face of Imperialism: Colonialism to Contemporary Capitalism

By Sunanda Sen and Maria Cristina Marcuzzo

How is imperialism relevant today? How has it mutated over the past century? What are different theoretical and empirical angles through which we can study imperialism? These are the questions we deal with in our edited volume on The Changing Face of Imperialism (2018).

We understand imperialism as a continuing arrangement since the early years of empire-colonies to the prevailing pattern of expropriations, on part of those who wield power vis-à-vis those who are weak. The pattern of ‘old imperialism’, in the writings of Hobson, Hilferding and Lenin, were framed in the context of the imperial relations between the ruling nations and their colonies with political subjugation of the latter, captured by force or by commerce, providing the groundwork for their economic domination in the interest of the ruling nations. Forms of such arrogation varied, across regions and over time; including  the early European invasions of South America, use of slaves or indentured labour across oceans, and the draining off of surpluses from colonies by using trade and financial channels. Imperialism, however, has considerably changed its pattern since then, especially with institutional changes in the  prevailing power structure.

The essays in the volume offer a renewed interpretation, which include the alternate interpretations of imperialism and its changing pattern over space and time, incorporating the changing pattern of oppression which reflects the dynamics underlying the specific  patterns of oppression. The pattern can be characterised as ‘new imperialism’ under contemporary capitalism as distinct from its ‘old’ form under colonialism. The varied interpretations of imperialism  as in the literature do not lessen the significance of the common ground underlying the alternate positions, including the diverse pattern of expropriations under imperialism.

The volume offers fourteen chapters by renowned authors. In this blog, we organise them in the following manner: the first five of those deal with the conceptual basis of imperialism from different angles, the next three chapters deal with contemporary imperialism, and then the rest six chapters of book deal with India, colonialism and contemporary issues with imperialism.

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How To Write About Pipelines

Writing about Indigenous rights or climate and environmental justice movements as a non-Indigenous person is difficult and complex. The magnitude of difficulty becomes manifold if the authorial voice falls somewhere on the white, western knowledge spectrum. What we have to say matters less than what we have learned in thinking with the Indigenous people and their knowledge forms. For non-Indigenous scholars, there is a constant need to be alert to the possibilities of reproducing colonial power structures and epistemic frameworks while engaged in knowledge production. The only way out of this conundrum is to constantly learn from Indigenous voices and epistemologies and be sensitive to structural inequities and epistemic injustices that have marred the academe. It is not adequate to merely provide nodding acknowledgement to the idea of environmental justice. Interrogating the colonial and settler colonial structures within environmental movements must be a continuous process. Particularly, the idea of Indigenous environmental justice is yet to assume the place it deserves in the literature on environmentalisms, environmental activism, or even Marxist ecology. While Black-Green solidarity and alliance is an indispensable condition for the flourishing of the environmental movements, the work towards achieving it has been disappointingly slow. These concerns resurfaced as I read Andreas Malm’s new work How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

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Economics Through the Lens of Women – A Review of Giandomenica Becchio’s A History of Feminist and Gender Economics

There is a long-standing debate on how economics as a subject is gender blind giving rise to various branches within the subject that seek to address ‘the woman question’ (as early feminism has been labeled) within the discipline. Giandomenica Becchio’s book A History of Feminist and Gender Economics is not merely an attempt to understand the history of economics and how the various dimensions of ‘the woman question’ have entered the discipline of economics over the years. The book also explores the work of women economists who mostly remained unheard in the discipline, the women who struggled to enter into the academic realm and the debates within these economists about addressing ‘the woman question’.

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