Emancipation and the Fourth World

Emancipation and the Fourth World

Philosophy is a discipline that studies the distinct paradigms of life. It attempts to explore human life in terms of a study of general and fundamental problems such as these connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason and language. Right from the ancient times emancipation of human kind has been the concern of scholars. In the present world it has become more significant as the world driven by capitalist economic and political thought has become a place of great discrimination. Human beings are divided on many accounts. This segregation leading to marginalization of a huge proportion of humanity has become a cause of a lot of suffering. For them it is a big existential problem.
Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in their own ways talked of emancipation of humanity and put forward different means of attaining FREEDOM as they understood it. While Marx talked of capitalist system and the process of industrial production which led to alienation of humans, Dr. Ambedkar focused on caste as slavery and advocated means of emancipation of Dalits. Mahatma Gandhi, in his typical bourgeois style thought of emancipation through the psychological transformation of the enslaving exploiting class-the change of heart and reconciliation theory.
The scope of the present paper is limited to the question of emancipation of the indigenous people who seem to have been overlooked by many a political philosopher in this entire debate. Now, in the 21st century, when the attention of the entire capitalist corporate world, including the state institutions has focused on grabbing natural resources causing huge displacement of the indigenous peoples and appropriation of their natural and cultural resources, some voices have started surfacing. In this context, the growing inequalities and alienation observed in the world of the indigenous peoples across the globe can be understood better with the help of Marxian thought in comparison to the Gandhian or Ambedkar’s thought. Hence the focus of the paper is to see how the thoughts of Marx can be applied to understand the emancipation of the indigenous peoples who call themselves the Fourth World.
A crucial element of Marx’s edifice, relevant in this context, is his fight for human emancipation. From the critical analysis of Hegel’s political philosophy to The Capital he considers the issue of emancipation and discovers circumstances in which work and practice of human beings lead to alienation of human relations. What Karl Marx wrote in 1843 reflects, in a way, the driving force of his whole philosophical and political activity:
Every emancipation is a restoration of the human world and a human relationship to man himself. Human emancipation will only be complete when the real individual man has absorbed into himself the abstract citizen, when as an individual man, in his everyday life, in his work, in his relationships he has become a species being; and when he has recognized and organized his own powers as social powers so that he no longer separated his social power from himself as political power. (Marx/Engels 1956, 1 p. 370 Marx/Engels/1978 p. 46)
Marx carries on the struggle for emancipation as it was led by bourgeois advocates and their emancipative philosophy which from humanism, via the enlightenment right up to idealism, developed step by step into a philosophy of human freedom and historical responsibility. It did no by beginning to lead the discussion of emancipation back to “the world of human beings to the conditions of people themselves” in order to make individuals aware of their social practice and thus, to make it available to them. But at the same time Marx critically confronts its results at which the bourgeois emancipatory movement stopped after achieving political power and which bourgeois philosophy legitimised in its most mature form, in Hegel’s philosophy of the state of history as the principal end of social development. Hegel’s philosophy reveals the limitations of the bourgeois emancipation movement which sees its fulfillment in political liberation alone.
The emancipative bourgeois philosophy and politics began with the promise of the liberation and self fulfillment of all individuals in a democratic society the responsibility for which was borne by everybody; and gradually this movement did succeed in realizing political freedoms of the individual and democratic constitutions. However, from Hegel until today, bourgeois philosophy has not reflected upon the connection of political emancipation and economic development. Therefore capitalistic or industrial production methods as a contradiction in the way of the emancipation of all people seem to such a philosophy on the one hand to be an insuperable fact which has to be simply accepted and on the other hand the said philosophy considers achieved political freedoms in modern civil states to be already the fulfillment of all possible liberation.
This philosophy adopted in the democratic states also failed to further emancipation for its citizens. The indigenous peoples of the world with a population somewhere between 300-350 million have been subjected to extreme violence and hatred. What seems even more appalling for contemporary minds is that the subjugation of the native peoples of this Fourth World was legally sanctioned. Laws of “discovery”, “conquest” and “Terra Nullius” made up the “doctrines of dispossession”. Specifically, in the Fifteenth Century, two Papal Bulls set the stage for European domination of the New World and Africa. Romanus Pontifex issued by Pope Nicholas V to king Alfonse V of Portugal in 1452, declared war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories. Inter Caetera, issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1993 to the king and queen of Spain following the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the island he called Hispaniola, officially established Christian dominion over the New World.
These Papal Bulls have never been revoked, although indigenous representatives have asked the Vatican to consider doing so. These “doctrines of discovery” provided the basis for both of the “law of nations” and subsequent international law. These laws allowed that states to claim “unoccupied lands” (Terra Nullius) or lands belonging to “Pagans” or “Heathens”. Indigenous leaders today contend that it is essentially discriminatory that native little does not confer the same privileges as ordinary title. According to Mick Dodson, an Australian aboriginal lawyer, the concept of extinguishment treats indigenous rights and interests in land as inferior to all other titles. According to indigenous law and custom, indigenous interests can only hold native little, and according to the law put into place since then by the European immigrants, native title can be extinguished.
Thus the indigenous people, even when they are citizens of democratic states, live in a perpetual fear of dispossession, allocation and denial of their very right to life and livelihood. What would emancipation mean to them? Kobad Ghandhy, in his article on “Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation” defines Freedom in today’s context:
“For the masses submerged in hunger, disease, illiteracy not knowing where their next meal cones from liberation/ freedom can only mean freedom from deprivation and ignorance. At this level of existence, mans life is primitive and all his human faculties are geared merely to survival.” (Main Stream, Vol. L, No. 42, Oct. 6, 2012)
The indigenous peoples who have been defined as the first settlers on a territory have been the worst victims of colonization and suffered displacement, dispossession, exploitation and even genocide at the hands of their colonial masters. For them it is not just hunger, but the very question of their existence, which has been a critical concern. This existential anxiety is perhaps the biggest hurdle in their emancipation. “Modern estimates place the 15th century or pre – Columbus population of North America at 10-12 Million. By the 1890’s, it had been reduced to approximately 300,000 (Three Lakhs only). In parts of Latin America results were similar, in others there are still majority indigenous populations. But even in those areas, indigenous people are often at disadvantage.
The indigenous people who were butchered in this colonial imperial quest were not only harmless but very cordial, affectionate and friendly. They had no weapons and would offer whatever they had to even the strangers who came their way. It is ironical that fiction and films produced by non-aboriginals painted them as violent, aggressive and inimical. No words could better express their innocence than what Columbus himself used to describe them:
The people of this island and of all other islands which I have found and seen, or have not seen, all go naked, men and women, as their mothers bore them except that some women cover one place only with the leaf of a plant or with a net of cotton which they make for that purpose. They have no iron or steel or weapons, nor are they capable of using them, although they are well-built people of handsome stature, because they are wondrous timid … [T] hey are so artless and free with all they possess, that no one would believe it without having seen it.Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no, rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts, and whether the thing be of value or of small price, at once they are content with whatever little thing of whatever kind may be given to them. (David Stannard 63)
These very people whom the European colonial powers described as “Heathens” or “Pagans” were treated most maliciously and cruelly by Christopher Columbus and his troops. Just as the Papal authority had given the Spaniards right to rule half of the non-Christian world, in the name of the Church and Christianity, unprecedented brutality was meted out to the indigenous people.
The Spaniards were required to read out a statement to the Indians they encountered. It runs as, “I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the church and of Their Highness. We shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as Their Highness may command. And we shall take your goods, and shall do you all mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord and resist and contradict him.” (David Stannard 66)
David Stannard writes that when Christopher Columbus fell ill in America for some time, his troops became free and wild killing some fifty thousand natives at a time. After recovering from his illness in March 1495 Columbus organized more troops, cavalry and dog squads, and continued his frenzy of killing innocent unarmed native people. Kobad Gandhy rightly observes:
Christianity presents the most excellent values of love, compassion, honesty, simplicity etc., but we find in its practice ( in later years) exactly the opposite. It goes so far as to say that “the meek shall inherit the earth” , but in the name of the Bible , the entire African continent was raped and the indigenous people of the Americas were massacred on a scale never seen. Today the civilized world perpetrates the worst atrocities.( Kobad Gandhy, Mainstream, Vol. L No.39,Sep. 15 ,2012)
This is the history of colonization and this is the role played by religion. Thus, the consideration of religion as a source of emancipation is ruled out. Whether Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, – any faith that believes in expansion and resorts to direct or indirect means of pulling people in its fold, loses its claim to be a means of emancipation of the masses. In the name of the ‘White man’s burden’ of civilizing the aboriginals the European settlers enforced assimilation practices in which children of native people were picked up and transported to the families of the settlers where they grew up without knowing who were their parents and what was their culture. This was done in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Amnesty International mentioned in a report the statistics of Canadian Government (1996) which revealed that the indigenous women between the age of 25 years to 44 years were five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as a result of violence. The same report says further that “these women … may be targeted for violence or denied protection from violence simply because they are indigenous women”. The 1991 Manitoba Justice Inquiry concluded that racism and sexism intersect in dangerous stereotypes of Indigenous Women as Sexually “Available” to men. The inquiries said of the murder of Helen Betty Osborne:
Her attackers seemed to be operating on the assumption that aboriginal women were promiscuous and open to enticement through alcohol or violence. It is evident that young aboriginal women were objects with no human value beyond sexual gratification. (Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, 1991)
The attitude of the urban elite and the ruling classes towards the tribal women in India is not much different. They too think that tribal girls are meant to be ‘used’ since they are “open’ and ‘available’. A system that considers the indigenous peoples as objects and believes in ‘Using’ them as and when the need arises cannot ever be thought of as one which could provide them freedom or emancipation. The treatment meted out to tribals who oppose appropriation of their land and forests is no less than the one meted out by Columbus and his troops to the American Indians. The aboriginal’s relationship to their land is very important for their identity. Australian Indigenous leader Patrick Dodson writes:
“Land gives you the essence of who you are. It relates you to the country, to the other people who were born and bred there. It is like a great mosaic or jigsaw puzzle, various parts contributing to an intelligible whole dreaming traits and sacred rites are part of the law and part of day today living. The spirit you have is related to that and relates back to the land.” (Patrick Dodson 5)
The biggest loss to the indigenous populations has been the loss of their land through displacement caused by various reasons. The debated bill about land acquisition introduced in the Indian Parliament on Sept 2011 namely “The Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill” is one such instrument which will make it easier for the state to acquire the land of the tribal and rural population and transfer it to the builders, Corporates and multinational companies. It proposes that only two thirds of the owners will have to agree before land can be acquired for private sector projects as well as joint public-private partnership. The original Bill had called for 80% consent from both landowners as well as those who stood to lose their livelihoods. The Bill provides for acquisition of land which are single – crop cultivation lands. Obviously these lands will be those which are net irrigated. Such land is owned by the tribals or those poor non-tribal peasants who are unable to arrange irrigation sources for their patches of lands.
Thus a democracy governed by bourgeois political and economic interests will not be able to provide for the freedom and emancipation of the indigenous population. In this system the indigenous peoples of the world who belong to the exploited class, get alienated from their work and also from themselves as the forces at work constantly deprive them from the fruit of their labour. The political freedom which allows them to exercise their franchise in no way ensures their economic, cultural and human liberty.
Karl Marx states the limitations of the bourgeois emancipation movement itself which was always directed only at progress in the awareness of political constitutional freedom in its intellectual and political struggles, it doesn’t realize that it itself must be grateful to an economic development, to the process of the economic independence of citizens through capitalistic production methods. Thus, it also can’t see that this process which creates civil wealth and freedoms at the same time creates also a new class of socially repressed and exploited people tied to their work whose basic deprivation at the hands of capitalistic production methods cannot be abolished by political or civil freedoms.
The indigenous peoples of the world have started uniting calling themselves “The Fourth World”. Their organisations have been vocal enough and the United Nations organisations has announced 9th August as the International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples. Twice the UNO has announced decades 1995-2004 and 2005-2015 as the decades of Indigenous Peoples. But the Global Market Capitalism which has become very powerful after the unleashing of Neo-liberal economic policies has continued the spree of colonial debasement of all their freedoms.
There is a need to build an understanding between the revolutionary Marxist forces and the indigenous peoples. Who else would be more suitable to be embraced as the proletariat than the indigenous masses which number around 300-350 million and which other philosophy of emancipation would suit them than Marxian philosophy which provides a scientific understanding of the dialectics of society and suggests the path of freedom and emancipation of the toiling masses subjected to in human expectation:
“The fact that human emancipation can only come about via a revolutionisation of alienated social conditions through those affected by it, through the real bearers of social production, is laid down in the foundation of the dialectic of social history. Marx deduces the fact that only the proletariat can be the revolutionary class in capitalist society negatively from the critique of political economy. The proletariat, the class of wage earners, is the real bearer of capitalistic production, the capital only lives on the basis of the exploitation of their living work, the more the capital spreads out and seizes all social life, the more people become wage-earners dependent on the capital: the inherent contradictions of capitalistic development, which are reflected in recurring and growing crises, hit wage-earners existentially: therefore, it is they-since they experience the explosive contradictions of capitalist production methods directly who first must be interested in abolishing the existing conditions, at the same time it is they who not only form the majority of people but also who really have all capitalistic production in their hands; if unified, they have the power to stop the whole capitalistic production process at any time; of course some leadership of the majority of the proletariat by group of communists, by theoretically educated proletarians and intellectuals with affinity to their cause.” (Schmiedk Kowarzik)
The above quotation from a German Scholar namely Schmiedk- Kowarzik from University of Kassel, Germany beautifully sums up the issue relating the emancipation of the Fourth World to the Marxian Thought.
Works Cited:
Dodson Patrick, The Age (Melbourne), 3 Nov., 1987; reprinted in Stephe Torre (ed) Macquarie Dictionary of Australian Quotations, 1990.
Ghandy Kobad, “Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation”: Mainstream Vol. L. No. 42, October 6, 2012. And No. 39, Sep.15, 2012
Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba: The Deaths of Helen Betty observer and John Joseph Harper, Commissioners A.C. Hamilton and C.M. Sinclair, 1991.
Schmiedk-Konarzk, “Karl Marx as a Philosopher of Human Emancipation” http://www.uni-kassel.defvSchmiedk
Stannard David, American Holocaust. London: OUP, 1992.

Professor of English, School of Language, Linguistics, Culture and Heritage
Central University of Haryana


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: