The Infrastructure Project – Sri Lanka port city

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 10.21.48Akhil Gupta addresses the development of the port at Columbo, Sri Lanka:

His short text begins:

On March 5, 2015, the new government of Sri Lanka headed by President Maithripala Sirisena announced that it had suspended a controversial $1.5 billion project headed by a Chinese firm. The Colombo Port City Development Project entailed creating a landfill of 575 acres in the city of Colombo’s harbor, with hotels, apartments, and office buildings that would attract as much as $13 billion in foreign investment. The project had resulted from a deal between the previous president, Mahinda Rajapakse, and China’s president Xi Jinping. Its suspension was reported to cost the Chinese firm in charge of the project $380,000 a day, idling as many as five thousand people. Given that China is Sri Lanka’s largest aid donor and has already invested $5 billion in the country, it is expected that construction on the project will soon resume. However, the harbor project’s suspension points to the temporality of infrastructure, to the everpresent gap between the start and completion of infrastructure projects.

Later he writes ‘I want to emphasize the temporality of infrastructure. It is assumed that projects, once started, will be completed.’. Indeed. I am reminded of how in 2007 the south side of the Thames suddenly had a large number of frozen concrete. Pools of water gathering in already poured foundations, reinforcing metal grid-work rusting in the rain, no movement on site except for some student film crew making cut-rate avant-guarde porn (media teaching programmes may have been one of the few recession-proof areas). Things started ticking again, but there was a moment of beauty in the frozen scene of crisis capital, and some will look forward to its next outing.

If you want to read the rest of Gupta’s piece, its here. And the Infrastructure Toolbox project from which this comes is here.

But back in Columbo, more recent newspaper reports suggest the ‘suspension’ is suspended and that work is about to get going again. See this report on 17 September 2015 announcing the resumption of the project: Columbo Telegraph here.

Local groups are still concerned with a number of issues. For example: ‘A multi story barrier to the clean ocean breeze that Colombo currently enjoys, will be shut off forever. In its place the Carbon monoxide, Ozone, dust and PM2.4 will increase. There is no reference at all in the port city project documents available to us that addresses, blocking the inflow of fresh air into Colombo. There is nothing in the documents that indicate the levels of Carbon monoxide, PM2.4, Oxides of Sulfur and Nitrogen that will be produced by the port city. There are no studies to indicate how these pollutants will flow and if they will affect the citizens of Colombo.’ Also ‘the degradation of the quality of surface waters that have rendered much of the shallow aquifer polluted. Does the EIA for the Port City suggest where the water to run this city will come from? … then there is the question of power; will Sri Lanka have to suffer the health ill effects of coal -fired power plants to supply the new city with its needs? And the garbage, already we are coking in our garbage, will Colombo be the repository of garbage for the new city? None of this is addressed in the EIA for a new city. Must we say goodbye to the old city destined to come a slum of the new city?’ (Ranil Senanayake Columbo Telegraph Sept 20, 2015)

Quid pro Quo – Subversive Festival, Zagreb (2nd vid)

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My third talk in a series of three on capital was at the Subversive Festival in Zagreb. The second talk is here (Translating Capital in Context) and it makes sense to see the second talk first [the first one in Rijeka was not recorded, but was based on my text on Citizen Kane], not least because it will help explain why the conceit in this third talk has Marx relocated to India, which of course he was always deeply interested in, but he never went, only picking up bits of info, and some myths – eg the horror stories of Jagannath etc – from his wide-ranging and varied reading. I think it is justified to deploy Marx to Calcutta, at least in fantasy, though its true not even Engels took his father’s advice to go to Calcutta to start in business. The old boys were European bound, but this did not mean they did not seek out the revolution elsewhere.

What also should be mentioned (the parts here are – great job – edited and slightly reordered, and the opening by Bernard missed) is that in this talk I set out to look at three different moments. 1) the arrival of Clive in Calcutta after the ‘sham scandal’ of the Black Hole in 1756; 2) the first all-India war of Independence, the so-called ‘mutiny’ 100 years later and; 3) the quid pro quo return of originary capital to the site of the East India Company shipyard in London in present times, under the aegis of the Farrell’s development of Convoys’ Wharf, Deptford, for Hutchinson Whampoa.

I am slowly writing this out as a long, too long, chapter, so this version is pretty schematic, but you will get the drift of new work. Thanks for stopping by. Thanks also to the crew at Subversive, especially Karolina Hrga, and Bernard Koludrović who was chair.


“Marx writing on India is key to understanding Capital. My argument is that we can make sense of Marx today by examining his theoretical and journalistic work together, each informed by an emergent anthropology, by historical hermeneutics, by a critique of political economy and by attention to a global political contest that mattered more than philosophy. Marx reading history, already against the grain and without being able to make actual alliances, is nevertheless seeking allies in a revolutionary cause. Is it possible to observe Marx coming round to realise, after the shaping experience of the 1848-1852 European uprisings, the possibilities for the many different workers of the world to unite? I consider the sources Marx finds available, what he reads, and how his writing practice parses critical support as habitual politics, and how far subcontinental events, themes and allegories are a presence in the key moves of his masterwork Capital almost as if India were a refocused bromide for Europe, just as slavery is for wages. I will take up four cases – the ‘founding’ of Calcutta by Job Charnock (disputed); the story of Clive sacking Chandernagore and going on to defeat Suraj-ud-duala at Palashi/Plassey in 1757 in retaliation for the ‘Black Hole’ (did it exist?); Disraeli verbosely saying nothing about the so-called Indian ‘mutiny’ 1857 (‘the East as a career’); and the question of legalizing Opium in China and the advent of Matheson-Jardine Company after the East India Company comes to an end (‘quid pro quo’). All of this brings us back to the realities of global investment and regeneration in Europe today, as international capital returns to the port of London to redevelop the old East India Company shipyards in Deptford.”

15/5/2014, 21h, Cinema Europa, Zagreb, Croatia
John Hutnyk: Quid pro quo: the East as a career
7th Subversive festival: “Power and Freedom in the Time of Control”
Moderator: Bernard Koludrović