Pirate Reboot – Occupy Madagascar

Graeber, David. 2023. Pirate Enlightenment, Or the real Libertalia. London: Allen Lane.

In this entertaining book, the world of early eighteenth century Madagascar piracy, and the women they liaised with, turns out to have been the font of “a great historical achievement” in that “public assemblies”, with “a decentralized and participatory system of self-governance” (91), were brought into the pirate settlements and the subsequent Betsimisaraka “confederation”. This utopian scenario involves a fabled egalitarian, talkative (endless meetings – “The Great Kabary” 104), enlightened society beyond the reach of the Royal Navy and the East India Company – a “confederation” (87), that others call a kingdom, or, as Graeber calls it at one point, “nation” (100). This is where, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, as many as a thousand pirates settled, intermarrying with sexually “adventurous” local women keen on trade (52), holding shared views of “hostility to the slave trade” (96) and with aspirations for sending their offspring for education in England (98), and much else besides.

This is a rattling good yarn, hedged often enough with noting that the sources are thin, that the main text, A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson – we are told three times – may or may not have been written by Daniel Defoe (xxiv, 12, 23) and in many ways is “intentionally provocative” (88). Graeber’s text is provocative, that is, and the provocations are many: that the relationships, and indeed the lives pirates were able to live on the islands, were effectively managed by local women, and with the arrival of the pirates, these women had been “liberated from earlier sexual restrictions” (54) – they were largely “sequestered” by Muslim or Jewish immigrants (52). As well, the salons in which such ideas were discussed in Europe were run by women we have also now forgotten (xii, 148, perhaps the books on Lady Blessington that clutter some shelves might counteract this). Provocations are to be welcomed of course – though how welcome the pirates were in Madagascar, at one point facing an uprising which saw most murdered in 1697, is not clear. There might be other reasons to wonder at the motivations.

Madagascar is massively interesting though, and there is much in this book on magic charms, myth, even some psychoanalysis, so it is a rewarding read. Yet, as Graeber mentions Defoe, as noted, several times, it’s a bit of a worry that he ignores the part of Robinson Crusoe that takes place on Madagascar – a rape and a massacre by Crusoe’s crewmates (see a forthcoming article in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing). Graeber stresses the ways the import of pirate democracy was brought into the settlements (this story is fodder for TV series like Black Sails, Crossbones, unmentioned here), and on this, his ethnographic work of some decades past, and wide reading of relevant texts, is harnessed to offer a great speculative discussion that must complicate any simplistic idea of piratical politics. Unfortunately, much of the existing scholarship on the history of Madagascar seems to suffer – we are told – from the dreaded “strain” of Marxist analysis (the “high water mark” 88) and an obsession with elites and the encroachment of the “system of trade” (88). These are problems that “corresponded to a period when Madagascar, like so many postcolonial societies, was itself experimenting with state socialism” (88). While it is hard to credit that only the work that departs from this focus is “superb” (88-89) it is nevertheless a very good point to stress that “political elite … primarily in the business of accumulating wealth and power” do tend to erase variety with the “intellectual currents” of “popular movements”. That however was the point of the initial critique of postcoloniality, used by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993), for example, to refer to refer to the betrayal of the anti-colonial struggles by new elites claiming the mantle of decolonization in a “hoax” that reintroduced neo-colonial ways. Alas, this use of the term postcoloniality has also been erased by those who take it as a temporal historical noun rather than presenting a diagnosis of disappointment in what might have been.

Which is generally how this book ends up – a sense of disappointment that doubles as an imaginative rewriting of the script for a reboot of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, now set in the Indian Ocean, with Occupy Wall Street stylings. Indeed, although this is provocation, the echoes of Occupy explicitly ring the closing bell of the book, as we discover “99 percent of all this has been lost to us” (141). Graeber means the conversations of the general assemblies of the Madagascar revolution “have, of course, been entirely lost to us” (146), but an imaginative ethnographic reconstruction of “pirate utopias discussed in the salons of Paris under Louis XV” (149) should be a welcome idea – indeed, “its hard to imagine they weren’t [discussed], since at that time, they were being discussed virtually every-place else” (149).

Pirate-affiliated “Besimisarka women dominating markets, and forming commercial alliances with wealthy men to act as their commercial agents” so that these men – pirates remember, unsavoury scurvy lot – with “substantial amounts of tradable commodities” (68) could unload their plunder, should indeed provoke us to think of the origins of the global trade system. It might be worth sampling some more of the “scholarship” on Defoe/Johnson. Graeber ignores any engagement with this, but Defoe had at one point endorsed the idea that England should trade directly with the pirates and that the notorious Captain Avery should be offered a deal. Was Defoe involved in conversations ahead of his times or not? – he had apparently “suggested the possibility of offering” Avery “a pardon in exchange for a portion of his wealth in the Review of 18 October 1707” (Novak 2003: 581). Novak also notes that in a South Sea Company pamphlet (before it spectacularly failed in 1722), Defoe had written in favour of trade with the pirates settled in Madagascar (2003, 569). This should not surprise us at all, Defoe was an advocate, as Alan Downie notes, of colonial expansion “through trade, not through force of arms” (Downie 1983, 74). Yet he disapproves of pirates and illicit trade too (Downie 1983, 82n). He “is not the prophet of progress he is so often painted” and was “primarily concerned with the preservation of England’s present advantages” (Downie 1983, 78). Downie warns against distorting Defoe’s message (Downie 1983, 83). Underneath the piratical posturing in Johnson/Defoe, there is ultimately a commitment to business-as-usual that we might today register as neo-colonial today – we should ask about how anyone gets involved in this – women, pirates, their children, the intellectuals in the salons…

Defoe is against war and for trade. A trade underpinned by violence that wins for England 300 years of EIC and imperial dominance starting, more or less, with Drake and Raleigh writing their accounts as benign memoirs (Hakluyt [1589] 1962). Siraj Ahmed makes the case in his book The Stillbirth of Capital, that “commerce between English pirates and the East India Company […] occurred at the very origins of the British Empire” and via a deft allusion, finds that “Defoe had a much more critical understanding of ‘capitalism’ than we have attributed to him” (Ahmed 2012, 56).

It may be a “strain”, but the erasure of the antecedents of capitalism are found lying at the heart of capital to this day, as set out already by Marx as “the old dodge of every conqueror who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has robbed them of” ([1867] 1990, 507). Plunder laundered through trade domesticates theft, making it difficult to conceive of the lost conversation here as being more than capital’s delusion about the propriety of its actions. Th pirates were not wrong to resist the British Navy, the opportunism of trade as a way out of a tight spot makes sense, the context is complicated, magic plays its part – yet, what it leaves us with today is continued duplicity and double-dealing. Seems to me that the “confederation” is alive and well, and we do well to be provoked to rethink who was involved.

John Hutnyk Feb 2023

Ahmed, Siraj. 2012. The Stillbirth of Capital: Enlightenment Writing and Colonial India. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Downie, J. Alan. 1983. “Defoe, Imperialism, and the Travel Books Reconsidered.” The Yearbook of English Studies, Colonial and Imperial Themes 13:66-83.

Fanon, Frantz. (1961) 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press

Hakluyt, Richard. (1589)1962. Voyages (8 Volumes) Edited by John Masefield. London: Dent.

Marx, Karl. (1867) 1990. Capital: Critique of Political Economy. MEGA II(9). Hamburg: Dietz.

Novak, Maximillian E. 2003. Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions: His Life and Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1993. “Situations of Value (Interview with Pheng Cheah).” Australian Feminist Studies, 17:141-162.

Study Study Study – then read like Bhagat Singh

Most interesting post of the day, and by far, has been this attached article on Bhagat Singh and anarchism, shifting to socialism. A few points fist though. I find this the most urgent imperative support for the importance of using a good library. This can never be overstated. Get into the stacks, and learn learn learn (as Godard says Lenin said, though this popular Russian slogan appears as study study study*)

[*”By any means we have to set ourselves a task to refresh our government staff: first, to study, second, to study, and third, to study, — and then check it so that our science would not remain a dead character or a fashionable phrase (which, truth be told, happens often with us), so that the science really would penetrate flesh and bone, become a part of everyday life at the fullest and for real”.

Better Less, but Better; Pravda, №49 March 4, 1923; also: Compendium of Works (in Russian), vol. 45, page 391.

«Нам надо во что бы то ни стало поставить себе задачей для обновления нашего госаппарата: во-первых — учиться, во-вторых — учиться и в-третьих — учиться и затем проверять то, чтобы наука у нас не оставалась мертвой буквой или модной фразой (а это, нечего греха таить, у нас особенно часто бывает), чтобы наука действительно входила в плоть и кровь, превращалась в составной элемент быта вполне и настоящим образом».

Лучше меньше, да лучше, газета «Правда, №49, 4 марта 1923 года. Также: ПСС, т. 45, стр. 391]


Follow the link to read or listen to this piece from the wire.



Note to a friend (also to me as placemarker):

The Manifesto ​translation we have now ​seems​ pretty good, though I like the very first one in English​ in 1850​, I am sure you can guess, because the first sentence, ​”​ein gespenst geht um in Europ​a“​, which we have now as ​”​a spectre is haunting Europe​”​ was first translated, and published by the​ chartist and slavery abolitionist​,​​ Helen M​a​cFarlane​. Her rendering of that first line has it​​ ​as the immortal, ​and ​child terrifying: ​”​A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe​”​! Gotta love it. 

Macfarlane though married a vicar and died young​.

but it is probably well worth exploring her life and writing​

​This reminds me to read more about here – there is a biography​:


Darwin’s Political Wackiness

In the updated 1844 edition of the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin offers his view on political systems (as indeed many do about the acephalous societies of South America – Clastres, even Lévi-Strauss) but here, well, not even ‘of its time’ is an excuse for this foolery – cheap shots at indigenous Australians and Maori notwithstanding, the structured racist-species-ism is built in:

‘The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes, must for a long time retard their civilization. As we see those animals, whose instinct compels them to live in society and obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so is with the races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or a consequence, the more civilized always have the most artificial governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at afar higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New Zealanders, – who, although benefited by being compelled to turn their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most absolute sense. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the domesticated animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a chief can arise dU there is property of some sort by which he might manifest his superiority and increase his power. I believe, in this extreme part of South America, man exists in a lower state of improvement than in any other part of the world. … The Australian, in the simplicity of the arts of life, comes nearest the Fuegian: he can,  however, boast of his boomerang, his spear and throwing-stick, his method of climbing trees, of tracking animals, and of hunting’ (Darwin 1844: 241)

Voyage of the Beagle

The reserve army of labour – (latent)

Well, this is a new blip on the slow process of getting people paid recognition for work. There are a few other things like this – eg the publons rank graph too, though in all cases I’d prefer cash – even the ‘good old days’* of a couple of hundred dollars worth of books was not actually pay. This, however necessary and part of the business, remains a corvée system. Pretty much all editors, writers and reviewers are massively underpaid for the effort they contribute, and – just for casual comparative purposes – I’d like to see the salaries of the company management. I heard tell it was something near 7 figures. Now, how will I compare thee – a certificate of the recognition or 7 figs. Sigh.

* the good old days entailed some bad next days, like the one where my publisher took me to a NLB party one afternoon, then dinner and on to some boozy ending at 1am at the Alonquin bar tended by Jack and Clarence. Much hilarity, but a sore head the next morning. Some publishing heads surely have integrity, but the consolidation is such that now most (a narrow centralised cabal of conglomerate owners) are too corporate for words.

On Hazzard and White

Two little intro to the author books that I think are absolute gems – and they will get inside your ear to tell you more about the world and Australia than you can usually get, well, anywhere.

Christos Tsiolkas on Patrick White and Michelle de Kretser On Shirley Hazzard



Translation Citation

It makes some sense to check the most often quoted, beloved bits, and expand them a little to see what that author might also have been saying Sometimes it is quite a different, more nuanced, thing than the standard citation allows. As a possible example, the third sentence here

From: The Task of the Translator:

“Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel. For this very reason translation must in large measure refrain from wanting to communicate something, from rendering the sense, and in this the original is important to it only insofar as it has already relieved the translator and his translation of the effort of assembling and expressing what is to be conveyed.” Walter Benjamin,

“The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, 1969), p. 78.

Another Kind of Concrete

Another Kind of Concrete by Koushik Banerjea

Started reading: I’ve been editing other people’s writing for a living for years, but the best writer with whom I’ve had the pleasure, an active tornado / aficionado of mixed metaphors that needed only a very light sweep, has now perpetrated a massive novel. As if crushing Rudyard Kipling’s assassin into Fred Perry fashions with a John King inspired Hobson Jobson tattered globaloid South Londonium Times. The relevance of decades past is still present in the farcical form of politics now, but the evocation and detail of growing up then is rendered in sentences packed with explosive meanings. I’ve only started it today – birthday reading – but it does not disappoint.

Updated: This is a partition novel, but only in the way that Ritwik Ghatak or more recently Moinak Biswas’s films are partition novels. Nothing of the cod Imperialism of Freedom at Midnight or Viceroys House here (those two anyway are the same elite-prejudicial Rolls Royce chauffeured India ‘tour’ schlock).

It is a novel you’ll read and worry that there is no way your kids can survive school. The only glimmer of hope would be to turn all schools into libraries, with a caged ball pen outside for soccer fanaticism for those who won’t read. Teachers are uninterested, overworked, and only the librarian has the time to even look and see who her students were, So Rachel wets herself through stress, K negotiates that national front and sweaty red-faced headmasters. The caretaker of the school almost the lone conduit of common sense in the first half of the book – K adding letters [co and ide] to spell confide where the caretaker was failing to wash off the NF graffiti.

The prose is like, I dunno, Paella, an old curiosity shop, two million mutinies, trinkets, and your great grandmothers sewing box all rolled into the one jumble: Tales of bundled decay as travellers spill their guts, pens scratch paper, the storyteller’s art leaves the lasting impression of a solitary tear rolling down a rugged cheek. The familiar landscapes of the Postcolonial city made strange by mixing college street and Canning Town, but hardly strange at all. page 91

Finished: On FB I wrote that being ill was my excuse for catching up with novels, but I interrupted the stream of hackery to give a progress report on this as its the best book I’ve read in ages, despite that I am half way through, and despite the book persuading me that no child should ever be entrusted to the English school system (no disrespect for teachers as they have no time to teach – the ancillary roles of school librarian and caretaker the only sites of care, time, hope, as is the case so often). Despite even, maybe because of, the cantankerous voice, so resounding with alliterated simile, each page has its puns, jibes, jabs and jaw, I’m only half way through, but wanted to note the progress (and how mixing College Street and Canning Town makes strange landscapes familiar). The middle section on the mother of K is really astonishing, not just because of the angular history that has been there all through the book – I’ll perhaps later track all that, I could have a guess at most of the missing footnotes – but because of how brilliantly the mother’s inner life has been rendered, intimately understood, lovingly portrayed, so that at present, half way through, I’m thinking contemporary literature here takes a step forward at last from the all fine but almost formulaic earlier epochs of – 123 sounding off down the years: – Rushdie, Kureishi, Kunzru… or Lessing, Coetzee, Smith… for sure beyond, Hornby, McEwan, Self … but don’t take my word for it, I’m still reading it – here is the author himself snapshotting a London bus in Lewisham on a particular day in the summer of ’77 – and this is just a taster…

Kaushik Banerjea’s Another Kind of Concrete, 2020. There is a new one coming later this year.

Another Kind of Concrete – Koushik Banerjea

being ill is my excuse for catching up with novels, but I interrupt the stream of hackery to give a progress report on this as its the best book I’ve read in ages, despite that I am half way through, and despite the book persuading me that no child should ever be entrusted to the English school system (no disrespect for teachers as they have no time to teach – the ancillary roles of school librarian and caretaker the only sites of care, time, hope, as is the case so often). Despite even, maybe because of, the cantankerous voice, so resounding with alliterated simile, each page has its puns, jibes, jabs and jaw, I’m only half way through, but wanted to note the progress (and how mixing College Street and Canning Town makes strange landscapes familiar). The middle section on the mother of K is really astonishing, not just because of the angular history that has been there all through the book – I’ll perhaps later track all that, I could have a guess at most of the missing footnotes – but because of how brilliantly the mother’s inner life has been rendered, intimately understood, lovingly portrayed, so that at present, half way through, I’m thinking contemporary literature here takes a step forward at last from the all fine but almost formulaic earlier epochs of – 123 sounding off down the years: – Rusdhie, Kureishi, Kunzru… or Lessing, Coetzee, Smith… for sure beyond, Hornby, McEwan, Self … but don’t take my word for it, I’m still reading it – here is the author himself snapshotting a London bus in Lewisham on a particular day in the summer of ’77 – and this is just a taster…

Opening of Another Kind of Concrete.

Cleaver: concluding thoughts

Cleaver leaves with a final bit about education in his conclusion that also seems sensible (if still US-o-centric) :

‘We have many potential allies among our schoolmates or among our colleagues. Yes, administrators – at the behest of business – impose rigidities that cripple our learning. But the possibilities of resistance among students has been amply demonstrated by both local and widespread student movements, among teachers… by recent successful mobilizations and strikes in a growing number of states and at the university level by TAs and adjuncts forming unions. In courses, students can minimize doing what they are told to do and divert their energy into following their own individual and collective intellectual and political noses, while teachers can undermine rigid curricula by introducing more interesting materials and giving students as much time as possible to contemplate and think about them. They can subvert the whole edu-factory system by bringing its character to students’ attention, by suggesting that they find ways to use available resources for their own purposes and by opening discussions about alternatives to incarcerated learning’ (Cleaver 2019: 483).

Overall I have liked this book as much as I expected, with just the occasional quibble that I’ll attribute to his location, and to some sort of residual anarcho-communist anti-Leninism he can’t seem to get over. He curiously minimised the important schmatic conclusion of volume one where Marx talks of the ‘expropriation of the expropriators’. I’ve written on this end, chapter 32 – it is very schmatic and badly translated in English – but Cleaver eschews any discussion of why Marx includes it in favour of offering his opinion on the USSR – reduced to ‘state capitalism’ (Cleaver 2019: 90) and directly moving to a discussion of two Hegel phrases at teh end of the chapter as occasion for Harry to tell us about dialectics and the Science of Logic. Not in itself uniniteresting, but the rush paast that important section – die Hülle wird gesrpringt – seems whlly unusual in an otherwise pretty through book, that is absolutely recommended.

Soapbox: on slips and trips.

In the business of selling cultures for quids, and other random translations

Once upon a long ago, there was a time when I was more rebelliously young, and I wrote a piece on the future of anthropology. At proof stage they did not correct, and so I thought they had accepted, my rather racy sentence which read ‘For fuck’s sake, this has gone on too long, now anthropology needs to…’ and whatever it was I was arguing – something about not pretending people in ‘tribes’ did not watch telly or listen to hip-hop. It was the first sentence, so at proof stage was the time to tell me I was being childish. Instead, they just changed it without telling me and it appeared in print, in a major journal, as: ‘For God’s sake…’ anyone who knows me will agree that change is far worse than any other they might have tried out… 

The second story is much grander and concerns Gayatri Spivak and her translation of Chotti Munda and his Arrow by Mahasweta Devi for Blackwell. In the preface, Gayatri takes pains to explain that in Mahasweta’s story there are a number of words that are English or derived from English, such as Gorment for Government or ‘countred for encounter (which is when a revolutionary is found dead with hands tied behind their back after an ‘encounter’ with the police, as I discuss in both Critique of Exotica and Pantomime Terror). These words in not quite English are meant to seem a bit jarringly foreign in Bengali, so to indicate their tone/idiomatic resonance, Gayatri writes that she has forgone the usual practice of italicising foreign words in a text, which anyway in English translation would not be needed, but in order to preserve their disruptive status in the story she has underlined them. 

Blackwell then added a note on the next page, something like [I will be more precise when I’m next at my books]: ‘This text is printed as received from Professor Spivak except for the standard copyediting, such as italiciziing loan words and correcting typographic slips. 


Two Robinsons, one more to come…

Robinsonades: pertaining to allegories from the East India Company in Ceylon and other islands, from Marxism to Post-structuralism, and in which, dear reader, a 300-year-old adventure book may still have something to say’ in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 2020, 21:2, 279-286, DOI: 10.1080/14649373.2020.1766236 


Robinson on Con Dao: Mango Writing and Faltering Diplomacy in the Precursors to Crusoe in Vietnam’ in Southeast Asia Research 2021 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0967828X.2021.1994353#.YYVKsbiYIYQ.linkedin

‘The Inaugural John Berger Memorial Lecture’ – by Professor Nikos Papastergiadis, Uni of Melbourne

18 November 7pm Melbourne (3pm Ho Chi Minh City)

Live streaming link: https://www.facebook.com/events/759576902107439/

or https://twitter.com/i/broadcasts/1RDxlgjRmLgJL

Nikos Papastergiadis is the author of a bunch of books, starting with a masterpiece on John Berger Modernity in Exile (here) and several other works and interviews (eg see here)

The event also serves to launch this book:

Yes, me holding the hardback version…
and yes, my copy is signed.

World Rhino Day

The great Pachyderms (obsolete taxonomic category of old) – I’ve written about Ganda the rhino who circumnavigates Africa, from Gujurat to Marseilles in 1515, a gift from Sultan MuzafarII, ruler of Cambay, sent to the Portuguese King, after the Sultan had declined Alfonso Albuquerque’s request to build a fort in Surat. Ganda, and his keeper Ocem, get to Marseilles in 1516 but sink off the coast of Italy (Ganda was chained to the deck. Sad). The Indian rhino these days is endangered; is the mascot of the security wing of the army (5th Assam I think); and deserves a better fate. See below for a link to a short history of World Rhino Day, and to my article on Ganda, and a great littel vid on Albrecht Durer’s print of Ganda (done without seeing him in the flesh). A pity, since who could not love a mug like these? Gotta have a thick hide, eh?


My chapter on Ganda was in this book, cover below, from Jadavpur Uni Press – a link to an earlier version is below since I don’t have a pdf, but you can also read Niranjan Goswami’s introduction on the google links straight after the cover below:

Here is the draft of the essay – a few changes in editing…

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And then, finaly, there is this really good vid explaining much about Durer’s rendering of Ganda:

also see this link

Class – and critique – in Bad Marxism, poking fun.

I was looking something up and stumbled upon a quote of me that I did not recognise – that class ‘does not make much sense’. I am pretty appalled to be called left libertarian and neo-Weberian from a Northern think-tank (!!) – and completely misquoted – in this way by Ebert and Zavarzadeb in an otherwise marvellous chapter called ‘Hypohumanities’ from the 2010 book Class in Education: Knowledge, Pedagogy, Subjectivity, edited by Deborah Kelsh, Dave Hill & Sheila Macrine. I reproduce page 44 from that chapter, as follows:

Ha! – Do our authors think Marx and Engels really do have a bipolar view of class as ‘ossified and simplistic, if not simple’ – rather than this being a caricature that I expose. But no, I am associated somehow with Laclau and Hardt and Negri too – the very people I was critiquing in the book from which these misquotes are taken out of context. Yes, I said something almost like those they attribute, but there are important differences if you read with care. I’m afraid my point is missed and they attribute associations that do not stand up if attention is paid to the actual words, which are relational: ‘as much sense’ and makes ‘less sense’. They might also attend to the context in which these sense are deployed as there is no way that I am erasing production – on the contrary, I am making that same accusation of those who do not see class in the context on international production, outsourced imperialist capital and a brutal immiseration of a more diverse (non cloth cap wearing) global proletariat.

What I actually wrote in a book that spends a lot of time talking about Marx’s analysis of multiple class conflict in the Eighteenth Brumaire is that a notion of class from 1847 used today:

“does not make as much sense if rigidly restricted to a bipolar opposition of the kind necessarily sketched in the polemical opening of the Manifesto nor within rigidly maintained notions of nation. The working-class hero is best thought of as a far more diverse identity than that of the cloth-capped union man. For sure, the idea of class struggle makes less sense today in a national context but retains all its urgency and coherence if the international division of labour is, rather than ignored, taken as a key part of the calculus.”

I then do quote, on that same page, Gibson-Graham, and I see my interpreters do also, but it is a funny inverted honour to associate me with those I was saying were unable to even approximate Marx’s developed analysis (and recognise the Manifesto of Marx and Engels as a polemical text, about which their view moves). Marxism and class struggle are to be understood in a materialist international framework where ‘the immiseration of a global proletariat proceeds apace’ where the ‘division of labour prevails’ and ‘not to say the nation has no power, nor military might with heavy weaponry’ (p191)

Which leaves me a big surprised and amused that no matter how much one takes care to ask for at least some attention to the ways Marx’s text is framed and develops over his writing and rewriting and the contexts of that writing and the audiences, and which all the while should not be taken to be as ‘bad’ as so many commentators make out. Bad Marxism was the name of the book after-all, as if that had one single and only referent.

Of course in the end, its all welcome I guess – as I also pointed out on that very same page they quote, where I objected that:

“accusations of ‘bad’ Marxism as a way of silencing debate is an old routine. Divinations of correct line
Marxism act as a form of censure and as assertions of correct behaviour or discipline. The use of citation and counter-citation in hegemonic maintenance is not something ever completely avoided, the mystification of authority and pedagogic demonologies are also symptoms – there are so many contests and contexts. Given all this,
I am inclined to see debate over the line as evidence of vitality and leave it to the secret tribunal of the central committee to decide in the very last instance where we ‘really’ went wrong, so long as that grim finale never actually comes” (p 192)

Spivak – citizen as agent

If you joined the Handbrick of Marxism book-launch with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak last evening you will have seen her talk on citizens as agents, global Marx, supplementing vanguardism and other themes – tagging Ambedkar, Du Bois and Disha Ravi… incalculability, poetry of the future, redistribution, much more. A tour de force – though you need to be on FB to see the replay – Gayatri speaks from 16.35 to 42 50 and then from 1.42 responding mostly to citizen as agent questions: See  https://www.facebook.com/Sputnyk/posts/10158743776800211

Book Launch: Routledge Handbook of Marxism and Post-Marxism
Prof Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Columbia) and Dr Trevor Ngwane (Johnannesburg) in conversation with the Editors and Contributors

Huge props to Lucia Pradella for organising and Feyzi Ismail for smooth-as chairing.

FLP: Announcing the upcoming release of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong Vol. IX – Redspark


This is how to do an announcement!. It is well worth reading for both what it says about translation work (as I work on the difficult texts of Bác Hồ) and for its deeply cautious and researched engagement with the GPCR

“It does not serve the interests of the bourgeoisie to train younger generations outside of their class to think independently and to ask critical questions—complicated questions that require investigation, study, and ongoing reflection to answer in an appropriately nuanced or dialectical way. This can be true of sincere, committed comrades as well. For instance, it’s simpler to read Mao, or quotations of Mao, or Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc. in order to find the evidence we need to “prove” that what we believe is correct, rather than do more in-depth reading and analysis. But the fact is, unless we tear away the lenses that obscure our understanding of the GPCR, ones that condemn it as a violent, chaotic expression of excess, as well as ones that take Mao’s word as gospel, we will fall into the same traps as the red guards of Beijing and Qinghua University, the very traps that Mao pointed out and roundly criticized in many of the articles in this volume.”

“The fact that the factionalism and dogmatism that eventually plagued the Red Guards (and caused Mao to disband them) plays out in Maoist circles today is an indication that we who call ourselves Maoist, have yet to understand and put into practice many important lessons of the GPCR. Some today continue to hold up Mao and what he said as proof of the righteousness of their own actions and the wrongheadedness of others—without real study and research into what he really thought and why. It’s the very practice of which Mao criticized Lin Biao and the Red Guard leaders: shouting that every word was absolutely true, but then disregarding what he actually said, much less trying to understand why”

Theres much more that’s interesting… Read the whole thing (about 10 mins) : https://www.redspark.nu/en/theory/flp-announcing-the-upcoming-release-of-the-selected-works-of-mao-zedong-vol-ix/

Don Miller’s new book! Time and Time Again

via Don Miller’s new book! Time and Time Again

Don Miller was the mystical magical master of metaphor at Melbourne Uni in the politics department when it was mad for theory. In those days, Alan Fu Davies, John Cash, Nikos Papastergiadis, Scott McQuire, Glenda Sluga and others met regularly in the open coffee area (now boarded up as cubicle offices) to discuss psycho-social politics, Foucault, Derrida, Spivak, Rose, and where Anthony Giddens came and tore his stretch denim jeans on an armchair and Jean Baudrillard talked about everything as simulation and was asked ‘so why do you write’.

Don has now perpetrated another book, his fourth, a long time coming, but a beauty. Happily published by Pavement, it is endorsed by the great and the good of time studies, but it is much more. Also a theoretical book, but filled with examples, cases studies and commentary on everything relevant to Australian politics, global theory, matters of the minute and problems of the ages. It is infused with sport and science, India and Europe, Melbourne to its core yet never parochial in a way that will wind some people up and get others scratching their heads to think. The ‘think piece’ indeed was Don’s meter, asking his students to sit under a tree and consider their assignment before writing them in – as he encouraged – prose that challenged the stiff conventions of Political Science in its day, and today.

Time itself is more than a metaphor, but then nothing can escape time, or metaphor. The book benefits hugely from years beyond the university, talking to people as a conversationalist, a life coach, an advisor and a neighbour. A product of travels across the globe and across the shelves, armchair readings of psychoanalysis and on the spot samples of subcontinental conflicts, dilemmas and designs. The book is a conceptual challenge to tik-tok and clock time, taking temporality through its paces, trialling different angles, wearing away, shifting, displacing the assumptions of the watch, how duration has a face, apparent and hegemonic, which orders time and is thereby disrupted by those who champion fluidity of thought and action. McEnroe’s sublime.

In his blurb for the book, the China specialist Michael Dutton, also a one-time member of the Melbourne Uni Politics Department, says Miller ‘hones in on the ethereal and the everyday quotidian yet paradoxically political character of timing’. Too much perhaps, but that hits the head of the nail in ways most florid writing cannot. Don’s prose never exceeds its remit, but its remit is to provoke you to think again, to think of how style is bound up with what a book says, to think of multiple times of reading, and living. To accept the gift of being responsible for reading and thinking and living in your time and for all time as a finite yet multiple being. The longer perspective is not in the length of the book but the time that these thoughts will stay at the back of thinking, a contemplation engine informing and reforming thoughts and schedules. Make time to read this book, it will be worth the wait (for the delivery, in this time of Covid, will also pass fast enough, in due course).


Buy it here: http://pavementbooks.com/time-and-time-again/

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Domesday’s eastern roots.

It seems like that old “goodness gracious me” sketch about the funny uncle that was claiming everything in Britain was ‘Indian’ was, – yup, Indian – accurate after all:

Reading Wittfogel and on page 214 he finds the Domesday Book, tdocumenting property rights for landlords of yore, has Arab [Saracen – Ghengis – ok, almost Indian] origins…

‘When in 1066 the Normans conquered England, some of their countrymen had already set themselves up as the masters of southern Italy, an area which, with interruptions, had been under Byantine administration until this date: and some of them had established a foothold in Sicily, an area which had been ruled by Byzantium for three hundred years and after that by the Saracens, who combined Arab and Byzantine techniques of absolutist government.

We have no conclusive evidence regarding the effect of this Byzantine-Saracen experience on William and his councilors. But we know that in 1072—that is, thirteen years before William ordered the description of England—the Normans had conquered the capital of Sicily, Palermo, and the northern half of the island. And we also know that there were considerable “comings and goings” 43 between the Italian-Sicilian Normans and their cousins in Normandy and England, particularly among the nobility and clergy. The latter happened also to be actively engaged in administrative work.44 No wonder, then, that on the basis of his knowledge of the period Haskins, the leading English expert on English-Sicilian relations in the Middle Ages, suggests “the possibility of a connexion between Domesday Book. and the fiscal registers which the south had inherited from its Byzantine and Saracen rulers.” [cites himself]

Haskins’ hypothesis explains well why a typically hydraulic device of fiscal administration appeared in feudal Europe. It also explains why for hundreds of years afterward this “magnificent exploit” had no parallel in that area. Evidently, systematic and nationwide registration was as out of place in feudal society as it was customary in the realm of Oriental despotism’ (Wittfogel 1957: 214)


from Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power and yes, the Orientalism and the anti-communism are strong in this one, and comparative studies on this scale are wild speculation at the level of conclusion, but int he detail, well, the detail is amazing. It is like a randomised global free association generator.

Back cover copy for the 25th-anniversary edition of Rumour of Calcutta?

Highly unlikely, but if there were to be a collection of quotes for such an edition, this fine example would do very well as a back cover quote alongside the old ones. It is from a very fine-looking book by Nabaparna Ghosh – A Hygienic City-Nation: Space, Community, and Everyday Life in Colonial Calcutta 2020 Cambridge. I am excited to read the rest of the book, as I’ve only seen an early part so far. Of course, I mean the second part of this paragraph, though great to again be in the company of Arturo, and earlier Chris Pinney and others. This is on page 9:

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The book itself – out in stores soon I believe (you can have a sneaky peak and read about 20 pages on Google books).

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Vietnam – Brazil

Comparative. Who’d have thought to do this one – but, its done, and there’s an intriguing and generous review – of J. Warren’s Cultures of Development: Vietnam, Brazil, and the Unsung Vanguard of Prosperity, from the Journal of Vietnamese Studies Vol 14, No 4 (they have made their content free up till May). Unfortunately, the book itself is mega expensive.

Click on the image to get the review:

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Robinsonades: we are all a bit Robbo now.

Several Robinsinades are out.

But folks seem a bit confused about which Daniel Defoe to get into right now. As the world splutters towards total collapse,  I mean, do you read his notes on the plague year first, or go for a refresher course on self-isolation in Robinson?


I’ve articles in the works on this, and have been translating an excellent essay from German on Crusoe/Croix/Kreutznaer/Kreutzer by Wulf Hund. But today, recognizing the new viral potency of the Crusoe effect, I am stumbling through a new version. We are all Robbo now.

Update: two of the texts above mentioned by me are out:

Hutnyk (2020) ‘Robinsonades: pertaining to allegories from the East India Company in Ceylon and other islands, from Marxism to Post-structuralism, and in which, dear reader, a 300-year-old adventure book may still have something to say’ in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 21:2, 279-286, DOI: 10.1080/14649373.2020.1766236


Hutnyk (2021) ‘Robinson on Con Dao: Mango writing and faltering diplomacy in the precursors of Crusoe in Vietnam’ in Southeast Asia Research https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0967828X.2021.1994353#.YYVKsbiYIYQ.linkedin


Sundarbans, Climate, Tigers, Law.

Liquidity of the Sundarbans:

If the Tigers and Cyclones Don’t Get You, the Law Will

This forms the first part of a new research concentration for me, and owes much to colleagues at Jadavpur Uni now battling the BJP monstrosity. This sort of work relies upon the University remaining an open, critical, creative and thinking place. And such works as discussed here – more than three, a whole series of works are considered, reaching back to when I first met the history and philosophy folks at Jadavpur – are indicative of what remains that is good in the university, despite all that is happening.

50 e-prints for those quick off the mark, here: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/AVPTDBBTQNKUBBVHPHSV/full?target=10.1080/00856401.2019.1663884


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