Patchin: Towards a theory and political history of Africana Agrarianism
ABSTRACT: This is a theoretical dissertation that seeks to explore the implications of using an Africana agrarian development philosophy to examine the historical evolution of African-American communities and social movements in the United States.
The central theme of this study is the importance of re-centering the land question as a theoretical tool used to construct narratives of the cultural development of African-American rural and farming communities. Particular emphasis is placed upon using the notion of an ecological revolution to explain African-American responses to the socio-economic problems that have emerged from their relationship to the American state and, the resultant paradigms that have developed, within the tradition of African-American political philosophy, to both perceive and address these issues.
This excerpt is from a dissertation prepared for the in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Clark Atlanta University, August 2011.
Committee Chair: Hashim Gibrill, Ph.D.
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
The shiny apple (New York) is bruised but sweet and if you choose to eat, you could loose your teeth, many crews retreat; nightly news repeat who got shot down and locked down, spotlight the savages, nasdaq averages; my narrative rose to explain this existence, amidst the harbor lights which remain in the distance.
This dissertation, in many ways, seeks to take the form of a narrative. By definition, it is also a conversation. Its ultimate goal is to explore the centrality and importance of the land question2 to African-American social movements. Its implications, however, are global and transcend historically African people’s very limited experience in the Western Hemisphere. We use the terms narrative and conversation because a dissertation can best be understood as a dialogue On one hand, this conversation seeks to demonstrate to those who have helped to shape my intellectual development at Clark Atlanta University my commitment to and understanding of the legacy of our department3 as a social and intellectual space dedicated to exploring both problems and solutions associated with African emancipatory politics in the broadest sense. On the other hand, it is indeed a narrative This project seeks to (1) tell the story of African people’s relationship to the earth, (2) reveal how this relationship was transformed by the expansion of European cultural hegemony and the emergence of the American state, and (3) explore to what degree our understanding of this phenomenon can give us greater insight into the historical and contemporary dimensions of African social movements in the United States.
In many ways, this project is an extension of my master’s thesis titled The Re-Emergence of Indigenous Political Philosophy, where we attempted to contribute to the maturity of what has often been described as a genuine, Africana social science tradition through an exploration of the conflict that seemed to have existed between proponents of an authentic “African” political tradition, with its roots in pre-colonial Africa versus an authentic “Black” political tradition emerging out of the socio-political experiences of African people in the United States. In simpler terms, the historic squabble between cultural nationalist political thought and Black radicalism seemed to be in full swing during my early years as a graduate student in the Atlanta University Center. Although the phenomenon was clearly not original it took on new dimensions due to the expansion of a significant body of literature that emerged out of what would come to be known as the African Centered Movement. The goal of my thesis was to account for the conditions under which this renewed interest in indigenous African political thought had emerged. I argued that,
African intellectuals have always struggled to construct paradigms through which they could evaluate both the internal and external struggles peculiar to the development of African people. Over the past sixty years these paradigms have been fashioned in some way, shape or form by the western liberal capitalist tradition and/or the Marxist tradition, in both hybrid and orthodox forms. Both paradigms emerge out of the historical development of traditional and modem Europe. Although we have attempted to modify them to meet the needs of our struggle, we have continued to hold on to their basic assumptions.
In short, the call for an authentically African centered political tradition, rooted in indigenous African culture, attempted to expand beyond the confines of the western political canon in both liberal and radical forms. Its most common strategy was to reformulate the age-old debate delineating the differences that existed between the “African worldview” and the “European worldview.” In more specific terms, indigenous African spirituality, and its impact upon indigenous African political institutions and socialization structures, differed markedly from the vulgar materialist, interest driven, hyper-secular nature of European political culture, according to proponents of African centered thought. The emphasis upon an African spirituality, however, did not fit neatly into the mainstream discourse associated with African-American political theory. In addition, proponents of an African-centered approach to political philosophy and political economy often failed to outline clearly a specific set of principles that were, (1) genuinely rooted in pre-colonial indigenous African cultural formations and (2) capable of addressing comprehensively the myriad social and material problems associated with the African world in the last quarter of the 20th century. As Kwame Agyei Akoto argues,
The ideology (African centered thought and nationalism) has been forcefully and clearly addressed for generations, but overall the ideology has lacked coherency and adequate theoretical clarity to apply at the grassroots level of organizing, or apply to the conditions encountered in personal interactions. The conceptions of culture, history, politics and spirituality have not always been presented in a coherent fashion.
For this reason, an effort was made to situate the re-emergence of indigenous Africana political philosophy within the context of what I described as the “pursuit for a true social science by indigenous people of color who have been both victims and compradors of western cultural and economic exploitation.” Because indigenous African cultural thought assumes that the motive force for human development, and therefore socio-political organization, is spiritual development, an attempt was made to survey, within the western cultural tradition and Africana political thought (APT), discourse that spoke to and/or explored the notion of a spiritual universe and its role in shaping our understanding of politics, broadly defined, and national liberation. To this end, the thesis explored new developments in the areas of indigenous knowledge, theoretical physics, ancient western political thought, African nationalist thought during the anti-colonial period, and development theory. Although the process was rewarding, the task of defining and describing an authentically indigenous, African political philosophy, within the U.S. context, remained incomplete. It is the purpose of this dissertation to advance that project through engaging what we have termed the land question.
Statement of the Problem
When men speak they say the world has been spoiled. When women speak they say the world has been spoiled. It is because good leadership has disappeared among them. The way the sun rises has not changed. The way the night falls has not changed. The way people are born has not changed.
In recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the issue of environmental quality is inextricably linked to that of human equality. Wherever in the world environmental despoliation and degradation is happening, it is almost always linked to questions of social justice equity, rights and people’s quality of life in the widest sense.
Most assessments of the collective social conditions of African communities, globally speaking, reveal a picture that is both bleak and seemingly insurmountable, Of the fifty states categorized as “least developed countries” by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) secretariat, thirty-four of the fifty are located in sub-Saharan Africa.” Collectively, sub-Saharan African countries have the highest infant mortality rate at 172/1000 births, the lowest secondary school enrollment ratio at 18.89%, and the lowest adult literacy rate at 49.8°%. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst effected region in the world by HIV and is home to 64% of the world’s population living with AIDS, approximately 24.5 million people. Three fourths of all women infected with the AIDS virus live in sub-Saharan Africa. Forty-six countries suffer from some of the highest levels of malaria.’4 Africa ranked second regionally, only to Asia and Oceania, in the number of conflicts taking place, nine of which are categorized as severe crisis or war.
The condition of African communities in the diaspora, in many ways, is analogous. Afro-Latino people represent one third of Latin America’s population yet comprise of fifty percent of the region’s poor. For African people in the United States, the portrait is similar. African-American children are four times as likely as white babies to have their mothers die at childbirth. African-American youth are forty-eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth. Firearms have killed more African-American children and teens over the past six years than those who were murdered during the recorded history of lynching in the United States. In 2001, an African-American boy of pre-school age had a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime. For African-American girls, it was I in 7. Close to 600,000 African-American males are serving sentences in state and federal prisons. At the same time, fewer than 40,000 earn bachelor’s degrees each year. One in three African-American males between the ages of 20-29 is under correctional supervision and control. African-American girls represent the fastest growing group of detained juveniles. African-American people comprise only 14% of the known drug using population within the United States yet represent 37% of those arrested and 53% of those in state prison on drug offenses.
According to recent economic data, the income and earnings of African-American men are 72% of the income and earnings of white males. For African-American women it is 86% of the income and earnings of white women. In addition, nearly three times more African-Americans than whites are living below 125% of the poverty line. The poverty rate for rural African-American communities is 33%, 3 times that of the rural white population. Only 64% of the rural African-American population in the United States has health insurance compared to 81% of rural whites. Less than 50% of African-American families own homes compared to 70% of white families. African Americans, on average, live to 72 years of age compared to 78 years for whites. African-American people in the United States are 4 times as likely to die from diabetes, 16 times as likely to die as a victim of homicide and 10 times as likely to die of HIV AIDS.
The socio-economic data described above is well known by grassroots activists, academicians, professional politicians, public intellectuals entertainers, religious leaders, and “everyday people” across the ideological spectrum within the African-American community. Whether it is on the corner, in the barbershop, nail salon, church, school, the workplace, or on television issues like the down low brother, low wage paying jobs, problems with urban education, incarcerated youth, drug abuse, single mothers, unresponsive professional politicians urban violence, white racism, etc. are popular topics of discussion. What is not often discussed is the degree to which the state of the earth itself parallels the social conditions and contradictions we see within the African- American community.
According to the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment initiated in 2001, “over the past 50 years humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.”
This rapid transformation can be viewed on multiple levels. The ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1990 Since the early 1900’s, the average global temperature has risen .6 degrees Celsius. The rate of change since 1976 has tripled the rate of change for the century as a whole. In 2004, the average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached 377.4 parts per million, by volume. The average carbon dioxide concentration has increased more than 19% since 1959. Since the beginning of the industrial age, it has increased by 35%. The impact of global warming is far reaching. Higher temperatures and rapidly changing precipitation rates have driven non-human animal species northward to higher elevations, impacting the timing of breeding, migratory seasons and plant blooming. The increased use of fossil fuels for energy, coupled with the expansion of industrial agriculture and its dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers, has altered both carbon and nitrogen cycles. Both cycles are intimately related to two primary life processes, photosynthesis and respiration. The use of synthetic nitrogen, for example, has increased fivefold since 1960. More than 50% of the increase contributes to pollution of our fresh water systems through a process called excessive nutrient loading (ENL). ENL is responsible for the decrease in available drinking water increased nitrous oxide emissions contributing to global climate change, eutrophication in fresh water systems, where excessive plant growth contributes to a decrease in available oxygen, and hypoxia in coastal marine ecosystems, where the depletion of oxygen contributes to die-offs of fish and other aquatic life creating the infamous “dead zones” evocative of the Louisiana coastline in the Gulf of Mexico. Due to modem industries heavy dependence on logging and mineral extraction, over 5000 of the world’s forest cover has been lost since 1950. Of the fourteen terrestrial biomes on earth, more than half of the surface area of six terrestrial biomes has been converted to agriculture. It is in the world’s tropical rainforest where 50% of the world’s species reside. This has contributed to the population decline of nearly one in four mammal species. Since the birth of the modem era, humans have increased the species extinction rate by as much as 1000 times the rate typical over the planet’s history. Over the past few decades, coral reefs and mangroves, central to the health of marine ecosystems, have been either degraded or lost by as much as 40%. In addition, human consumption habits have contributed to two thirds of the world’s major fish stocks being fished at or beyond the capacity to recover naturally Since 2000, Arctic temperatures have increased to twice the average rate of the rest of the world. Sea ice in the bioregion has declined between 15-20% in the last thirty years, which is wreaking havoc on indigenous plant and animal species. Since 1960, the construction of major dam projects has quadrupled. Currently, three to six times more water is held in man made reservoirs than in natural river systems. Many argue that the world’s hydrological cycles are being altered, and this is causing extreme drought, for example, the conditions in the southeastern United States and East Africa and the increasingly destructive and more frequent hurricanes in areas like the Gulf of Mexico. As Mos Def, hip-hop activist and intellectual, aptly alerts us,
New World Water makes the tide rise high.
Come in and it’ll make your house go “Bye”
Fools done upset the Old Man River.
Made him carry slave ships and fed him dead niggaz
Now his belly full and he about to flood somethin
So I’ma throw a rope that ain’t tied to nothin.
Because of the transformation of the arctic bioregion, the shrinking of the world’s mountain glaciers, and an increase in the annual human withdrawal of water from natural circulation by as much as 35 times since the late 17th century it is predicted that wars over oil will be replaced by wars over water in the 2lst century.
Despite the fact that there are obvious parallels between the socio-economic conditions of African-American communities and the rapid degradation and instability of the earth’s biosphere, contemporary APT has yet to embrace fully the implications of a worldview and political vision that weds a consciousness of social Justice and African community development to a land based consciousness. A cursory overview of contemporary literature on APT and the general areas of African-American politics and Africana studies will support this assumption.
Survey of Literature
Existing academic texts covering the broad area of African-American politics either totally ignore or scantly cover environmental or land based issues. African Americans and the American Political System, African-American Perspectives on Political Science, and African Americans and the Public Agenda are classic examples of the tendency to ignore the subjects altogether. Fortunately, Hanes Walton Jr. and Robert C. Smith’s American Politics and the African American Quest for Universal Freedom is an exception that is debatably worth noting. Out of three hundred and four pages, Hanes and Smith spend less than a half page on the Environmental Justice Movement (EJM). The literature on African-American political thought exhibits the same tendency. The multiple works of Manning Marable, Beyond Africana and White: Transforming African-American Politics, Race and Labor Matters in the US Economy co-edited with Immanuel Ness and Joseph Wilson, Speaking Truth to Power: Essays on Race Resistance and Radicalism, Black Liberation In Conservative America and Black American Politics: From the Washington Marches to Jesse Jackson, follow this same pattern. Marable’s Race, Reform and Rebellion deviates slightly from the norm in an attempt to historically locate what he calls the Second Reconstruction, African-American social movements between the years 1945-2001. Marable begins the discussion through an analysis of the failure of the First Reconstruction (1865-1877). Inspired by Dubois’s Black Reconstruction and C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow, he identifies the failure of land reform during the First Reconstruction as the principal reason for its demise, hence the need for a Second Reconstruction. According to Marable “the failure of the federal government to recognize the necessity for massive land distribution, along the lines of what Blacks themselves called “forty acres and a mule,” would be the principal reason for the failure of the First Reconstruction.”
Although Marable begins with this analysis, land issues are noticeably absent from the remainder of the text. Attempts to categorize streams within APT follow this same pattern. Anthony Bogues, in his essay Teaching Radical Africana Political Thought and Intellectual History, suggests that the tradition of radical APT is characterized by a second sight. Second sight is described as a commitment to both engage the western intellectual tradition while at the same time constructing “new historical narratives and political discourses” that speak to what Frantz Fanon classically describes as the “call for a new human.” Clearly present within Bogues discussion are the categories of class gender, and nation as the basis for “different traditions peculiar to different sites” within the universe of APT. The land question, however, is noticeably absent as both a tradition and site. John T. McCartney’s Black Power Ideologies: an Essay in African-American Thought and Michael Dawson’s Black Visions: the Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies either ignores or treats the land question as a small tributary in the tradition of APT. Dawson’s “six historically important Black political ideologies,” radical egalitarianism, disillusioned liberalism, Black conservatism, Back Marxism, Black feminism, and Black nationalism, as well as Cha Jua’s three “ideological traditions in Black political thought and practice,” Black integrationism, Black nationalism, and Black radicalism, fail to take into consideration the role of the land question in shaping the contours of APT.
Standard text in the field of Africana Studies follows this same pattern. Maulana Karenga’s Introduction to Black Studies approaches the land question within the tradition of Dubois and Marable as an issue of concern for African-American communities during the Reconstruction period. Marable’s three hundred and eleven page edited volume, The New Black Renaissance: The Souls Anthology of Critical African-American Studies, dedicated to a “renaissance or refoundation of the Black intellectual tradition in the neoliberal age of empire and globalization,” only devotes a chapter by Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie to unearthing the origins of the term 40 acres and a mule. Molefi Kete Asante and Maulana Karenga’s four hundred and fifty seven page edited volume, Handbook of Black Studies, ignores the land question entirely with the exception of a three-page article, by Elisa Larkin Nascimento, titled Kilombismo an African Brazillian Orientation to Africology. Essentially an overview of the theoretical significance of Afro-Brazillian intellectual Abdias do Nascimento’s idea of Kilombismo for Africana studies, Larkin-Nascimento argues, “kilombismo’s stance is strongly ecological” based upon its foundations in the “profoundly environmentalist philosophy of African religious culture in Brazil, in particular Cadomble.” In addition, Larkin-Nascimento places the emergence of Kilombismo as a political theory within the context of the popular Afro-Brazillian national movement that emerged in 1980 to reclaim the Serra de Barriga, the former land base of Palmares. According to Nascimento, “Kilombismo opposes environmental pollution and favors all forms of environmental improvement that can ensure healthy life for children, women men, animals marine life, plants, forests, rock and stone, and all manifestations of nature.”
Surprisingly, Talimadge Anderson and James Stewart’s, Introduction to African-American Studies. Transdisciplinary Approaches and Implications devote two and a half pages to environmental justice and racism as an extension of the sub-field of “Science, Technology and African Americans.” Specific emphasis is placed upon the necessity for African-American Studies to explore the “complexities of monitoring and assessing the many and multifaceted ways science and technology can be used to reinforce existing inequalities”.
Naturally, the question why is the land question noticeably absent within the tradition of APT arises? We can account for its absence for two interrelated reasons. The first is the crisis of overspecialization; the second is the crisis of the urban bias.
Crisis of Overspecialization
If one looks closely at the historical development of APT, it will become quite clear that one of its central aims has been to challenge the western social science (WSS) canon and its legitimacy as an instrument to understand the complexities of African life and social problems. Consistently, it argues that overspecialization is one of WSS’s major flaws. According to James Stewart,
Although the prevalence of interdisciplinary social science initiatives is increasing, discipline specific research remains the norm. This high level of compartmentalization reinforces tendencies to produce studies yielding only minor incremental additions to knowledge about highly specialized topics and there are few incentives to develop the type of comprehensive analysis envisioned by Africana Studies theorists.
Overspecialization is a function of two problems within the western academic tradition. The first can be linked to the scientific method as an epistemological construct.
According to Judith Soule and John Piper, at the foundation of modern science is the concept of reductionism. Reductionism is predicated upon three specific values: simplification, quantification, and objectivity. Simplification, according to Soule and Piper, is valuable in the sense that “it allows us to discover critical factors- that have a strong influence on a system.” Its weakness lies in that “it narrows the set of causal factors considered, and even more, the set of effects observed, it opens us to the danger of missing a great deal of the functioning of complex systems.” Quantification attempts to “search for simple, elegant portrayals of the rules of nature (and human social reality) through the use of mathematical principles. The obvious challenge is that the behavior of both
nature and human beings “does not fit neatly into numbers.” Objectivity, the mantra of the western scientific community, moves from the assumption that both natural and social scientists can study nature and social reality “without self-involvement and value prejudice” because what we are studying is “outside of ourselves.” Out of the three core principles, objectivity has been challenged most often by non-western social scientists. Mack Jones in his article, Worldview, Social Sciences and the Understanding of Social Realities argues that,
how social scientists explain, describe and assign meaning to social reality is determined to a great extent by the assumptions that inform their research and writing. That is to say that all efforts to know the world, to understand and explain reality, must necessarily begin with certain prior assumptions about the very nature of that reality, a reality that not only has been created by the people themselves, but one in which they have a vested interest in seeing in a positive light. These prior assumptions that condition inquiry are derivative of their worldview.
The second major problem associated with overspecialization is very much linked to the pursuit of tenure. The traditional tenure process is predicated upon the professional intellectual’s capacity to distinguish himself! herself as a scholar by becoming a “specialist” who studies a given social or natural phenomenon. This inevitably leads towards the compartmentalization of knowledge because success is intimately linked to the ability of the researcher to differentiate their knowledge production process from their colleagues. Generally speaking, the professional intellectual is not encouraged to engage in research as a collective process. The privatization of knowledge then, becomes a precondition to obtain a higher salary and job security.
Reductionism, coupled with the tenure process, logically creates a context where social scientists are limited, often self-consciously, to a narrow discipline focus as they attempt to study phenomenon that are inherently complex and more suited to an approach that is interdisciplinary in nature. APT in many ways, is still informed by this tendency.
Crisis of Urban Bias
Echoing Mack Jones’s notion that a scholar’s worldview informs how he she approaches the study of particular social problems, it is important to consider how APT has been informed and too often, straitjacketed by core values within the western worldview. This is particularly important for the set of beliefs that represent what we are calling the urban bias. In basic terms, the urban bias, as a set of values, assumes the following:
- The mark of an “advanced society” is the degree to which human communities are removed from rural life in a general sense, agrarian life in particular.
- Urbanization is a principle feature of “developed” societies.
- “High levels” of technological development and mass consumption are principle features of developed societies.
- Pre-colonial and pre-modern socio-economic and technological formations are“primitive.” This is particularly true of communities that emerge out of the cultural and historical experiences of indigenous people of color.
The urban bias’s impact upon APT is far reaching. We will attempt to illustrate this through a brief discussion centered on one issue that has historically shaped discourse within the tradition of APT, culturalism versus political economy as a tool of analysis.
Historically, Africana nationalist political thought, in its contemporary academic manifestation as African centered thought, has received criticism for what some describe as racial essentialism and a preoccupation with narrow conceptions of culturalism. Critics of African centered thought have often challenged its theoretical basis, citing the absence of a class and/or materialist analysis as its central weakness. For Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua in his discussion Black Studies in the New Millennium: Resurrecting Ghosts of the Past, both Afrocentrism and postmodernist theories have limited Black Studies, since the mid-1980s, to the realm of culturalism According to Cha-Jua, “both nationalistic Afrocentrism and inclusionist postmodernism evade political economy and slight critiques of economic exploitation and structural oppression.” He goes on to add that social scientist, with a particular emphasis on historians who adopted John Blassingame’s call for an approach to Africana Studies that “concentrates on community building,” shifted their focus from external to internal factors. In Cha Jua’ s words, “this framework failed to create a balance between examinations of the external and structural forces, that condition African-American life, and the internal factors that reveal the social relations, cultural values and socio-political architecture of the Black community.” The term culture, co-opted from the field of anthropology and used within the tradition of APT, emerges from four principal sources that have their roots theoretically and socially within anti-colonial movements and struggles for social justice among African communities in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century: (1) the political philosophy of Malcolm X through the organizational vehicle of the Nation of Islam and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, (2) Amilcar Cabral‘s conception of the relationship between culture and national liberation, (3) Maulana Karenga’s Kawaida Theory, and (4) Harold Cruse’s critique of African-American leadership in his seminal text The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. More specifically, Malcolm X, as a theoretical personality, has contributed to the notion of cultural autonomy and revolution, in a popular sense, i.e., African identity politics, and Amilcar Cabral has contributed theoretically to clarifying the relationships between culture, strategies, and tactics associated with mass organization and nation building. Maulana Karenga’s use of the term culture, principally, through Kawaida Theory, in many ways is a synthesis of Malcolm X’s popular emphasis under girded by the political philosophies of Cabral, Gramsci, and Mao Tse Tung. Harold Cruse’s critique of the “Negro intellectual’ hastens us to consider the centrality of indigenous African-American culture in the formation of a vibrant, politically astute, creative African-American leadership against the backdrop of western cultural hegemony Cruse’s notion of a cultural revolution is worth considering.
The new young generation must first clear the way to cultural revolution by a critical assault on the methods and ideology of the old-guard Negro intellectual elite. The failure and ideological shortcomings of this group have meant that no new directions, or insights have been imparted to the Negro masses. This absence of positive orientation has created a cultural void that has spawned all the present-day tendencies towards nihilism and anarchism, evident in the ideology of the young.
This is not to suggest that any of the personalities listed have a historical monopoly on the concept of culture and its introduction into APT. What it does suggest is that the language used most often within APT, emerges out of their formulations. This is particularly true for the dichotomy that is often posed between cultural nationalism and Black radicalism. What is critical to understand, particularly through the theoretical contributions of Cabral, is that culture, as a concept, includes both the material conditions and the ideological realities of a given national community, in relationship to one another. Cabral states in his discussion National Liberation and Culture that “culture, the fruit of history, reflects at every moment, the material and spiritual (ideological) reality of society, of man the individual, and of man the social being, faced with conflicts which set him against nature and the exigencies of common life.” Definitions of culture used in contemporary literature and debates however, do not express this duality, by default, in the African centered context, through theoretical exclusion in the context of Black radicalism, hence brother Cha Jua’s notion of culture and political economy are separate yet interrelated areas of social analysis. This, in fact, is a misread of Cabral’s contribution to APT For this reason it is important to re-emphasize the view that culture is the product of the duality that exists, in Cabral’s terms, between the ideational/spiritual and material realms of human experience. Given this analysis, culture, in a basic way, can be defined as the totality of people’s thought and practice; the dynamic interaction that exists between a group’s worldview and the social relationships and institutions that are created to support it. More than anything else, culture defines how human communities develop.
Figure 1. Interrelationship between a Given Community’s Worldview and Core Social Relationships and Institutions in the Formation of a National Culture.
All cultures address two fundamental areas of human life. The first area seeks to define relationships between human beings on various levels, i.e., defining what it means to be a “person,” notions of gender, family, age (human growth and development), relationships between communities, etc. in the broadest sense. The second area informs human relationships to the natural world/land base; this includes perceptions of the earth, how humans relate to other non-human life forms (animals, plants, etc.), how humans define their material needs, and how natural resources are extracted and transformed for human consumption and use. The two areas act as opposite poles of the same reality, eventually giving birth, in a dynamic context, to what we call human culture. Echoing then, Brother Sundiata’s discussion that post-modernism and Afrocentricity share a preoccupation with culturalism to the exclusion of political economy, this study argues that contemporary African centered thought, Black radicalism, and post-modernism share a preoccupation with the urban bias The most important weakness of African centered political thought, in its attempt to respond to critiques posed by the tradition of Black radicalism, lies within its inability to reconcile the “rural roots” of indigenous Africa with the population it seeks to serve in a contemporary sense, i.e., predominantly urban universities and urbanized, working class, African-American communities. Hence the significance of Russell Adams assertion in 1977 that, “the proper place to begin to understand the nature of the contemporary Black Studies movement is not the campus but the city.” Indigenous African culture, the basis upon which African centered thought claims to stand, is profoundly rural and earth based in its orientation. How then can scholars and activist embracing the tradition, living and developing socially and intellectually within an urban context, grapple appropriately with its material and ideational constructs? In sharp contrast, radical, western political economy, which has heavily influenced the Black radical tradition, developed as a response to the rapid transformation of Western Europe’s countryside and the emergence of urbanization and industrialization as prevailing models of human material and ideological and social development, consequently the heavy emphasis among Black radical theorist on the history, culture, and social problems of urbanized, African working communities As a result, very little work has been done, within the context of APT, on the theoretical contributions, historical development, value and contemporary relevance of rural based, African-American social movements. This dissertation will seek to fill that gap. A specific emphasis will be placed upon how the Africana Agrarian Tradition (AAT) can inform our understanding of the development of African-American social movements and socio-political thought.
Theoretical Considerations: Why Agrarianism?
Agrarianism, according to Thomas P. Govan, is a term “of wide usage,” yet it is often difficult to determine “what the word is intended to convey.” For this reason, it is important for us to define clearly what we mean by agrarianism. The term agrarian, etymologically speaking, derives from the Latin term agran and the Old English term ager, both referring to things “rural” or things connected to the “field.” Most often, within the context of the social sciences, agrarianism is associated with two phenomena. The first are things related to the culture and lifestyle of farming communities specifically and rural life in a general sense. The second is agrarian reform as a sociopolitical process.
Agrarianism as a Culture and Lifestyle
Wendell Berry, poet, author, and farmer in the American tradition of agrarian philosophers, associates agrarianism with the following principles.
- Agrarianism rises up from the fields’ woods and streams- from the complex soils, slopes, weathers, connections, influences and exchanges that we mean when we speak, for example, of the local community.
- The agrarian mind is therefore local in its grounding and orientation. It must know on intimate terms the local plants and animals, and soils; it must know local possibilities and impossibilities opportunities and hazards It depends and insists on very particular local histones and biographies.
- An agrarian economy is always a subsistence economy before it is a market economy. It is the subsistence part of the agrarian economy that assures its stability and survival. A subsistence economy, necessarily, is highly diversified.
- Agrarianism assumes that the stability, coherence, and longevity of human occupation require that the land should be divided among many owners and users.
- In agrarianism you find the reoccurring theme that nature is the final judge, lawgiver, and pattern maker of and for the human use of the earth.
For Govan, agrarianism, particularly during the era of industrialization, is most often a criticism of “progress, go getting, bigness, and mechanization.” Oddly enough, given the history of African-American people’s relationship to the southern United States, agrarianism has often been associated with a “gentler, less competitive way of life” for white Southerners like Donald Davidson, who in 1930, argued that “the theory of agrarianism is that the culture of the soil is the best and most sensitive vocation, and that therefore it should have the economic preference and enlist the maximum number of workers.” If one looks closely at Berry’s description of agrarianism, however, it can be clearly demonstrated that at its core, it represents a worldview that is multinational in its orientation By worldview, we mean a coherent, integrated, comprehensive philosophy of life that informs how a given society is organized and how it perceives human development in the broadest sense. For this reason, we believe it is possible to unearth an authentic agrarian tradition out of the historical experiences of African-American communities What then accounts for its absence within the context of APT?
Agrarian reform has reemerged as a central question for public policy makers, social scientists, and social movement activists in the 21st century Debates exist, however, over its form and function as a sociopolitical process Laporte, Petras, and Rinehart (LPR) argue that agrarian reform can be classified into three groups, mild agrarian reform, stronger agrarian reform, and strongest agrarian reform. Distinctions between the three forms are largely determined by the degree to which the state is directly involved m regulating relationships between the tenant and the landlord. The mild form for instance, involves limited government intervention in supporting farmers and tenants on multiple levels, including leasing arrangements, credit, price supports, capital access, knowledge production, and infrastructure development. Stronger agrarian reform falls short of land expropriation but uses laws that regulate rents and limitations on the extent of land holdings. Strongest agrarian reform encourages “redistribution of land to the tillers, public ownership, collectivization and expropriation.” Consistent with LPR, Rossett, Patel, and Courville (RPC) argue in their book Promised Land that two competing visions exist concerning the nature of agrarian reform: (1) agrarian reform from below and (2) market based agrarian reform. Market-based agrarian reform is synonymous with the mild form previously described. In a contemporary sense, this model has shaped rural development strategies around the globe, principally, through the efforts of development organizations and agencies such as the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development. The values of competition efficiency, the industrialization of agriculture through green revolution technologies, land privatization, and export agriculture are seen as the primary mechanisms through which farming communities will develop. Conversely, agrarian reform from below emerges out of a different set of assumptions about rural development; this includes respect for local farmers’ knowledge, the primacy of organic sustainable agricultural methods, public ownership of land, state support for land redistribution, the centrality of farmer participation in the creation of public policy, and national food security through the development of a localized food system that makes export agriculture secondary to food and fiber production for national consumption. This model of agrarian reform has emerged at the center of contemporary movements for social justice across the globe. In addition, it has informed national land and agricultural policy in progressive countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. In the words of Peter Rosset, “we are seeing the emergence of a new source of hope; of new dreams those of the largely nonviolent poor people’s movements sidestepping government in action and taking matters firmly into their own hands.” Rehman Sobhan, in his work Agrarian Reform and Social Transformation: Preconditions for Development, distinguishes between two models of agrarian reform, (1) radical and (2) non-egalitarian. For Sobhan, the difference between the radical and non-egalitarian models is largely determined by the “social origins” of the reform process i.e., whether or not the movement for agrarian reform is informed and led by a broad base of farming communities from below or by political/economic elites from above and the capacity of the reforms to “bring within the compass all or a very large share of farmland and to redistribute this to all or a large proportion of agricultural households.” Given the similarities between the typologies explored above, we believe it is possible to summarize the types of agrarian reforms using Sobhan’s categories (SC) as the basis for our synthesis.
Table 1.1 Sobhan’s Typology of Agrarian Reform
Within the context of this project, agrarianism as a culture lifestyle and agrarianism as a transformative socio-political process will be considered two sides of the same coin, i.e., agrarianism as a philosophy of human development.
The entire thesis can be found here.
Dr. Kwasi Densu, PhD is an Assistant Faculty Director at Florida A&M University Sustainability Institute. Also an assistant professor of political science in the College of Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities, his research interests rest in environmental politics, agrarian social movements and Africana political theory. As an Assistant Faculty Director of the Sustainability Institute, Dr. Densu leads the sustainability curriculum integration effort and helps to steer multi-stakeholder engagement through the Indaba Focus Teams.