by Frank, Seattle
(from Communist Voice #9, August 1, 1996)
. The following article is the third in a series on Papua New Guinea. The first was "In support of the Papua New Guinean people's struggles vs. environmental ruin", and the second was "Imperialism and Papua New Guinea". New Guinea is a large island in the Pacific Ocean, located just north of Australia. The western half is brutally occupied by Indonesia. Papua New Guinea, independent from Australia since Sept. 16, 1975, includes the eastern half of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the northern part of the Solomon Islands, including Bougainville, and many small offshore islands.
Organization of the article:
On Hyndman's ideological framework
---The "four worlds" concept:
---Marxism-Leninism and historical materialism
Sloughing over the question of imperialism
Ignoring the importance of democracy
Mystifying the Papua New Guinean state
An absurd theory regarding resource management
Distorting the Bougainville rebellion
Studying the Wopkaimin society with blinders on
A last comment on where Hyndman's reactionary ideological stand leads
Text of the article:
. In 1994 the Australian academic David Hyndman wrote Ancestral Rain Forests and the Mountain of Gold. The "mountain of gold" is the site of the very large Ok Tedi multinational mining operation which has been discussed several times in the previous two articles of this series. (1) And the book is likely to be widely read because (if for no other reason) there's a broad interest among the workers, environmental activists and other progressive people in the issues it raises. These include defense of the environment from further ruin by the present world social system and supporting the struggles of indigenous peoples (2) against the brutal capitalist destruction of what remains of their societies. But widely read or not, I think it's worthwhile to devote an article to criticizing Hyndman's book for two reasons in particular:
. (1) Because there are probably no other books, recent or otherwise, which provide such a detailed study of the effects the opening of the Ok Tedi mine has had on the both the local population and the environment the book may become somewhat of a "Bible" on these and related issues. Moreover, since Hyndman is a scientist--an anthropologist of the "political ecologists" school no less--who has spent a number of years conducting field studies in Papua New Guinea (PNG) his views may be accepted by many as being especially authoritative. But I think this authoritativeness needs to be challenged for, as we shall see below, Hyndman repeatedly throws science overboard in order to bend reality to conform to preconceived ideas. Rather than being scientific he's thoroughly subjective. Such an approach can only lead those wishing to defend either the environment or the people of indigenous cultures along wrong paths.
. (2) Hyndman's ideological framework--the source of these preconceptions--is essentially reactionary. He would have us withdraw from the stormy seas of class politics and hearken after the traditional societies of indigenous peoples. Unfortunately this framework is not his alone. In fact it's quite popular these days and forms the basis for many of the pacifying and opportunist political ideas which are undermining today's revolutionary movement. Moreover, the essentially reactionary nature of Hyndman's ideological stance may be missed by many for Hyndman writes in an anti-statist and "fourth world" language, a language which is commonly (and mistakenly) believed to be one of progress and even revolution--no questions asked. Furthermore, he often resorts to sneakish methods in order to defend and promote his essentially reactionary ideological framework.
. That I'm criticizing Ancestral Rain Forests and the Mountain of Gold for these reasons does not mean that I think the book has no value. Far from it. For example, when I began this series I had not read Hyndman's study. But after having done so I find that it confirms everything I wrote earlier by providing many rich details regarding the Ok Tedi mining pollution which I had previously been unaware of. (According to Hyndman's book, if I erred at all in my first article it was on the side of understating the extent of this pollution.) In my opinion the book has value as a source of information on other issues as well. These include details about the development of Ok Tedi mining consortium and its relationship with the PNG government, details on the struggles of the workers at the Ok Tedi mine, a study of what a particular traditional society near the mine was like in the 1960s and '70s and the effects the opening of the mine has had on this people (the object of his anthropological research), etc. But here (and especially in the latter) Hyndman's positive contributions begin to be seriously undermined by his attempts to fit factual information into his ideological framework. If something doesn't fit he either downplays it or just ignores it, even in cases where he himself has gone to some pains to uncover the facts. In other words he distorts the picture presented the reader. Finally, Ancestral Rain Forests and the Mountain of Gold takes up much more than the questions immediately surrounding "the Mountain". Hyndman also discusses the struggles of the Melanesians of West Papua against pollution by the (mainly) U.S. multinational corporation owned Freeport mine and their struggles against impoverishment and genocide by the racist, fascist and annexationist Indonesian government (a government supported by such "civilized" imperialists as those of the U.S. and Australia). He discusses the struggles of the Bougainvilleans against pollution and land expropriation by the Panguna mine, struggles which have fueled the Bougainville (North Solomons) secessionist movement. And he makes general comments on the struggles of indigenous peoples the world over. On a few of these issues he adds a new fact or two to those which are generally available from other sources. But he also omits many other important ones in order to fit everything into his ideological framework. If the reader is not aware of these he or she will be badly mislead.
On Hyndman's ideological framework
--The "four worlds" concept:
. My purpose here is not to attack the phrase "fourth world". Nor do I advocate raking someone over the coals if they characterize today's indigenous peoples as comprising a "fourth world" (which Hyndman does over and over). Furthermore, I believe that progressive and objectively revolutionary things have been done by well-intentioned activists maintaining "fourth-worldist" ideas. For example, detailed and scientific (insofar as the issues they address) analyses of the impoverishment and ruin of indigenous peoples by expanding capitalism backed up by its political states are sometimes put forward at conferences of "fourth world" peoples, in "fourth world" publications, etc., by indigenous activists of this type. And these analyses often form the basis upon which many of the present mass struggles of indigenous peoples are being fought--struggles which Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries unhesitatingly support. Nevertheless the "four worlds" concept is not based on a scientific appraisal of the world and is therefore not revolutionary. It points to the trees (rich and powerful "first world" countries, poor "third world" countries, "second world" countries which fit somewhere in the middle, and "fourth world nations" which are oppressed by the states of the first three "worlds") while ignoring the forest (the social system the states of the first three worlds represent). Furthermore, included in the forest it ignores is the fact that there's most often oppressed and oppressing social strata (and sometimes quite developed modern social classes, including the bourgeoisie and proletariat) within the indigenous "nations". These social forces may have common interests in fighting such things as crude genocide, but they also have fundamentally opposing interests which give rise to political contradictions on how to wage the fight on issues of common concern. Moreover, the fundamentally opposing interests give rise to opposing social movements and struggles within the society itself, some of which represent the interests of the oppressed majority and some of which represent the interests of the exploiting minority. These are the bases upon which the political contradictions over how to wage the fight on issues of common concern grow up. But the "four worlds" framework provides no real basis for siding with the oppressed against their "fourth world" oppressors. If one is trapped within it then logic says one has to support the most reactionary demands of exploiters (who quite justly--from this framework--demand support simply because they're "fourth world" people and therefore must be supported). These demands often go flatly against the interests of the majority of a particular indigenous people (their interest in protecting the environment for example) and against the interests of oppressed humanity everywhere. To do anything but support them means one has to go outside the "four worlds" framework. And for the struggles representing the interests of the masses of indigenous peoples to really advance (and alongside them, the support movement of working class and other oppressed people the world over) this concept must be gone outside of. More, this "popular" concept must be actively fought against for it's both based in and helps prop up the "acceptable" politics of today's world, politics dominated by capitalist-imperialism.
. The "four worlds" concept has been around for a little more than 20 years. During this time--a time of decline, defeats, and disorganization in the mass movements of the oppressed, a time of ideological confusion, retreats and surrenders in the consciously revolutionary movement--it's been able to maintain a radical aura about it, almost religious in nature, which has generally gone unchallenged. But a review of its origins may further assist the reader in understanding that it's not such a radical or path-breaking concept after all.
. The first thing which must be remembered about this concept is that it's to a certain extent an extension of the "three worlds" idea, and the Chinese revisionist "theory of three worlds" in particular. The "three worlds" idea was first popularized by the bourgeois political leaders of several newly independent Asian and African countries in the 1950s and '60s. Under it they attempted to build various alliances which would speculate on the struggles between the U.S.-led western imperialist bloc and the Soviet-led so-called "communist bloc" to further the exploitative aims of their own domestic ruling classes. They presented themselves as a "third world" existing outside the latter two blocs. Later, in the early to mid-1970s, the revisionist "Communist" Party of China developed the "theory of three worlds" as the banner under which to attack Marxist-Leninist theory, disrupt the revolutionary movement from within, and justify forming an alliance with U.S. imperialism. This theory was based on different schema: the U.S. and U.S.S.R. comprised the "first world", the weaker imperialist powers of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, etc., comprised "the second world", while the other countries of Asia plus the countries of Africa, Latin America, Oceania, etc., generally comprised "the third world". And today, more than twenty years later, even the biggest imperialists and exploiters talk of "the first world", "the third world", the relationships between them, etc.
. The latter should give us pause for thought, and perhaps ponder the political ramifications of the ideas which the "fourth world" concept to a certain extent extends. And from this angle a most obvious thing about the "three worlds" idea (including the Chinese revisionist "theory of three worlds") was that while purporting to give some kind of overview of world political and economic relationships it only dealt with relationships between countries. The worlds of labor and capital had been obliterated. The real worlds of class exploitation and oppression by capitalism--and resistance to these by the workers and other toilers--weren't part of the schematics. And regarding the Chinese "theory": the struggles of the proletariat and other oppressed classes and proletarian and people's revolutions weren't championed as being the path for progress--even in word, the monopoly-capitalist essence of "first world" domination was generally ignored, and capitalist exploitation and oppression in all countries which blew diplomatic kisses toward the Chinese government were covered up. One was just supposed to fall in line behind the pragmatic diplomatic maneuvering of the "third world" leaders Deng and Co. in China as they fought to increase the wealth and power of Chinese capitalism. In fact both the "three worlds" idea and the revisionist "Marxist-Leninist" "theory of three worlds" were expounded by the political representatives of growing (but weaker) national capitalist classes who were coming up in a world dominated by big capitalist-imperialist wolves (i.e., U.S. imperialism, the social-imperialists of the state-capitalist system in the former U.S.S.R., etc.) Their motive was to gain a bigger slice of the capitalist pie for their domestic capitalist classes and, if they had the strength, to become imperialists in their own right. So while they feared the class struggle of the workers and peasants at home they at the same time wanted to line them up behind them by speculating on their anti-imperialist sentiments. Hence they chastised the "first world", made demands on it, etc., but in such a way as to remove the class content of the struggle against imperialism and turn it simply into a national struggle. Further, they struggled to rig up various alliances among "third world" states (and between "the third world" and "the second world") to confront the "first world" (the superpowers). But these attempts rested on a shaky foundation. For example the economies and politicians of all these states were to greater or lesser degrees tied to, and in various ways, to greater or lesser degrees, etc., dominated by those of the rich and powerful countries. Hence the "first world" always had a voice within the "third world" groupings--and this was usually a very big voice. Moreover, the Chinese revisionists, who represented a growing capitalism with great potential--and one which was seemingly least dominated by outsiders--reckoned that the "third world" couldn't gain the reforms of the imperialist order it wanted by taking on the rest of the capitalist world at once (including the state capitalists of the Eastern bloc). In fact it developed its whole "three worlds" theoretical schema as the basis for justifying alliances with "third world" tyrants and butchers, "civilized" imperialists of the "second world", etc., against the two superpowers of the time (the United States and the Soviet Union). Furthermore, this provided the theoretical justification for ultimately striking an alliance with U.S. imperialism (represented by the likes of Nixon and Kissinger while they still bombed Vietnam ) against Soviet social-imperialism (deemed "the main danger").
. This then was the historical background upon which the "four worlds" theories began to be spread in the mass movements of indigenous peoples in the 1970s. These theories were based on the truth that the struggles of the indigenous peoples were not only excluded from the "three worlds" schema but that "third world" states also oppressed the indigenous peoples. And naturally there were revolutionary activists among the indigenous peoples who had all along worked to show that this was connected to the fact that these states were the instruments of the capitalist system of production, etc. But the "four worlds" concept worked against them on several counts. Most fundamental of these was that it was a substitute schema which maintained the same old non-class approach to economics and politics. It obliterated the worlds of labor and capital in general as well as obliterating the worlds of oppressor and oppressed which most often existed within the indigenous cultures. In fact if one stayed with the schema there was no basis for opposing "fourth world" tyrants and exploiters (or would-be tyrants and exploiters) as long as they hurled some words against "the main enemy". Nevertheless, if the mass movements forced the issue that capitalism was somehow at root of the problems confronting the people (as they often did) then rather than proposing an alliance with all others exploited and oppressed by capital to overthrow it in a socialist revolution, "four worldsism" could only point toward somehow bringing back the old indigenous cultures. Having banished the forward-looking world of proletarian socialism it could only propose looking inward and backward. (This is not to say that nothing of value can be learned in such a search, only that the path for the liberation of the indigenous peoples can't be based on this.) Meanwhile the liberals of the imperialist world smiled on this orientation and gave it support.
. So the "four worlds" concept corrected "three worldsism" in a certain way. But this correction did not represent a break with the essential ideological features of "three worldsism". Hence today it maintains certain ideological points of "three worlds" theory in a period marked by disillusionment with class struggle and revolution. Moreover, one of the factors fueling the popularity of the "four worlds" concept was that some of its main exponents began to preach in the mid-'70s that all the debates in the movement over "three worldsism", Marxism-Leninism vs. revisionism, Marxism-Leninism vs. bourgeois liberalism, and so on, were over "other worlds" theories, "white man's" theories, etc., and that they were therefore of no concern to "fourth world" people. (The author personally witnessed some of this preaching in the 1970s.) Such preaching didn't really oppose the "theory of three worlds" (for example one could still hold this theory was correct in any "world" but the "fourth world") and it was essentially a call for non-politicism and ideological retreat. Of course indigenous peoples continued to mount struggles throughout the world but, with ideological confusion giving way to wide-scale liquidationism and renegacy within the broader revolutionary movement, the indigenous activists and their supporters were left with a "four worlds" inheritance which tended to go unchallenged. Another factor fueling the popularity of the "four worlds" concept has been the support given it by various political opportunists, petty-bourgeois utopian sentimentalists, university-based bourgeois ideologues, etc., in the imperialist countries. It may in fact be much more popular in this milieu than among the masses of indigenous peoples.
. This brings us back to Mr. David Hyndman, lecturer at the University of Queensland. To
Hyndman "fourth world" is not a popular phrase (unscientific as it may be) he's picked up as a
convenient way of characterizing indigenous peoples. It's a concept he fights very hard to defend
in all its most negative aspects. We'll return to this several times further along in this article.
--Marxism-Leninism and historical materialism
. In writing of the Wopkaimin living around the Ok Tedi mine Hyndman says that their kinship mode of production "is not a stage of cultural or mode of production evolution", it's "non-capitalist rather than pre-capitalist". Furthermore he says the Wopkaimin "are not potential capitalists waiting for their mode of production to evolve from 'primitive communism' to capitalism so they can have a 'class struggle'". Thus he reveals a sneering hatred of Marxism and of the very idea of class struggle. Moreover, he attacks the concept that modes of production (and hence the societies based on them) evolve. True, elsewhere he writes that "expansion of capitalism with colonialism and neocolonialism subordinates, utilizes, and in some cases replaces other modes of production". But how, for example, does this replacement take place? Is the previous mode of production transformed? If it's transformed, then that implies that some evolutionary process must take place. But Hyndman is too wise for this. You won't catch him breathing a word about transformations of societies in his book. This is because if he admitted that modes of production evolve, then the whole house of cards he so carefully constructs would come tumbling down. So instead he denies such evolution and thereby ends up in the camp of the most extreme philosophical reactionaries.
. But if modes of production didn't evolve, how is it to be explained that just a few thousand years ago neither the capitalist, nor the feudalist, nor the slave-based modes of production existed? How is it that the majority of humanity is no longer practicing kinship modes of production? Karl Marx discovered the key to answering these questions--historical materialism.This was a integral and harmonious scientific theory which showed how, in consequence of the growth of productive forces, out of one system of social life another and higher system develops--how capitalism, for instance, grows out of feudalism. In his famous The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State Frederick Engels elaborated on this as follows:
"According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production; by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other. The lower the development of labor and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of the society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by kinship groups. However, within this structure of society based on kinship groups the productivity of labor increasingly develops, and with it private property and exchange, differences of wealth, the possibility of using the labor power of others, and hence the basis of class antagonisms: new social elements, which in the course of generations strive to adapt the old social order to the new conditions, until at last their incompatibility brings about a complete upheaval. In the collision of the newly developed social classes, the old society founded on kinship groups is broken up. In its place appears a new society, with its control centered in the state, the subordinate units of which are no longer kinship associations, but local associations; a society in which the system of the family is completely dominated by the system of property, and in which there now freely develop those class antagonisms and class struggles that have hitherto formed the content of all written history." (3)
. Then according to the materialist conception of history, within the kinship mode of production such things as societal accumulation of productive experience and scientific knowledge led to new discoveries, inventions, etc., which resulted in the productivity of labor increasingly developing. The latter was the basis upon which classes and class antagonisms arose and these eventually destroyed the societies based on kinship groups. Thus we see that this conception involved both evolution and revolutions. And it wasn't something which was won in a day. It was based on decades of study and investigation by Marx, Engels and others. Moreover, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (from which the above quotation was taken) was based on Lewis Morgan's Ancient Society. The latter work was the product of 40 years work in which Morgan first studied the Iroquois and other Native American peoples, and later everything he could uncover regarding the remnants of primitive societies throughout the world. Engels held that "Morgan in his own way had discovered afresh in America the materialist conception of history discovered by Marx". In fact Morgan's discoveries had a comparative importance for anthropology as Darwin's theory had for biology--they revolutionized everything and are universally discussed in university anthropology departments even today, more than a hundred years later. Yet Hyndman rebels against historical materialism while pretending that Morgan never existed. He denies that modes of production evolve, sloughs over the fact that the kinship based societies he studies have already begun the division into classes, never deigns to consider where the capitalist mode of production came from, etc. He generally presents all societies as being static, without history, and grandly proclaims in his book: "Ethnicity over Class Formation: 'For Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet'". He thus throws out the past 150 years of development which gave anthropology a firm scientific foundation (at least in its main outlines) and returns to the old incomprehensible chaos which existed before. But he doesn't do this by openly confronting Morgan and Marx. Instead he just sneers at his own vulgar misrepresentation of their viewpoint (they would allegedly see the Wopkaimin as "potential capitalists waiting for their mode of production to evolve from 'primitive communism' to capitalism so they" could "have a 'class struggle'", etc.) So this man of "high science"--and he takes pains to establish that he's a political ecologist rather than just an ordinary anthropologist--stoops to some very low methods. Do I dare suggest that he chooses this path because he's incapable of making any scientific argumentation for his views?
. Hyndman criticizes J. Nash because, when writing about Bolivian tin miners, "she takes the position of a revolutionary advocate not objective observer". He doesn't say a word about the content of her book and apparently only drops her name to use as a convenient foil against which he can float another component of his ideological framework, the counterposition of revolutionary advocacy to objectivity. Of course Hyndman himself advocates ideas, this counterposition being one of them. And he obviously didn't arrive at this idea he advocates through observation of Papua New Guinean societies. No, it comes from a set of pre-existing ideas he filters his observations through, the ideological framework he uses to interpret information with, etc. These tell him that he can advocate (by taking the position of a counterrevolutionary advocate??) and remain an objective observer whereas a revolutionary cannot.
. But this is a lot of rubbish based on an entirely false counterposition. Moreover, it's the directly linked with Hyndman's fight to deny historical materialism. And if one doesn't base themselves on this, then advocating revolution is indeed a subjective absurdity. But to be a really revolutionary advocate (rather than a utopian sentimentalist, etc.) means that one must base themselves on objective truth and using materialist dialectics, divine the surest path toward the liberation of the oppressed. In fact one could say that the heart of Marxism-Leninism, as opposed to other political trends, is revolutionary advocacy based precisely on the results of "objective observation" of capitalist society, that is, the results of studying its economic laws and internal contradictions and how they're evolving, analyzing the logical resolution of these contradictions, studying the objective social movements, the class political tendencies and the power relations between them, etc. And a great deal of the activity of Marxist revolutionaries involves struggle to ensure there's no contradiction between "objective observation" (i.e., the product of scientific study and investigation) and what is politically advocated. (This includes theoretical work and the struggle against opportunism.)
. Under the banner of "objective observation" Hyndman has banished all this from us. So where
does that leave one? For one thing it leaves Hyndman bowing to the reactionary status quo. He
observes the human and environmental devastation caused by the capitalist system of production
but just accepts that capitalism must go on everywhere it presently exists. He observes today's
states viciously oppressing indigenous peoples but just accepts that these states must continue to
exist. For another thing it leaves Hyndman wandering in a "fourth world" wilderness painting
most subjective pictures. But this is getting ahead of the game. I must now delve deeper into a
series of issues raised by Ancient Rain Forests and the Mountain of Gold.
Sloughing over the question of imperialism
. One of Hyndman's principal theses is that "Third World colonialism has replaced First World colonialism as the principal global force that tries to subjugate indigenous peoples and their ancient nations." And true enough, many of the states in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania brutally subjugate indigenous peoples and all too often practice genocide against them. But if one wants to write of "the principal global force" responsible for this subjugation, one should look to the world capitalist system of today. The states of the poorer and dependent countries are instruments of this system and often act as mere junior partners and chief enforcers and subjugators for the capitalists of the big imperialist states of the so-called "first world". For example, when the Papua New Guinean government sent troops to violently suppress the Bougainville Rebellion it was acting in its own political and economic interests (including getting the Panguna mine in operation again so that it could once again collect its share of the mining income). But it was also acting in the interest of the dominant mining shareholder, Australian-owned Conzinc Riotinto. And if one looks at the island of New Guinea as a whole it's very plain that the "principal global force" opening mines and gas and oil wells has its home bases in Australia, the United States, Canada, Germany, etc. (imperialist countries all).
. Independent states like that of Papua New Guinea are dominated by imperialism in complex ways (my last article began discussion of this). They act (and subjugate) in the interests of the domestic capitalist class and other exploiters, and also in the interests of the imperialist overlords. Hyndman's formulation sloughs this over. And he writes from an imperialist country (Australia) which is a big dominating force in PNG. His formulation in fact hides the oppressive and exploitative hand of the Australian and other imperialist ruling classes.
. Let's now turn to one of Hyndman's observations and see if it misses anything.
. He writes that "(the) island of New Guinea is dismembered between the Third World states of PNG and Indonesia" and no one could argue the island isn't divided between these two countries. But how did this division come about? To understand this one must review some of the history of colonial land-grabbing there. And if this is done, one will see that British, German, Japanese, Dutch, and Hyndman's own Australian imperialisms all made grabs for the island (or at least parts of it). Some imperialist powers replaced others as the imperialist balance of power in the world changed (often with the blessing of such international bodies as the League of Nations, the U.N., etc.) but all were only interested in strategic and economic advantages for themselves.(And in the latter regard, as early as the 1930s it was known that the western part of the island contained potentially very rich petroleum and mineral reserves). They weren't motivated by concerns about the indigenous peoples, and the hollowness of the "democratic principles" of the imperialists of Britain, Australia and the United States--as well as the hollowness of the Japanese ruling class's "Asian brotherhood" rhetoric--were exposed as they one after another refused to let the peoples of New Guinea make their own way in the world and decide their own destiny.
. So this sordid history finally led to the island being divided between the Australian and Dutch colonialists in the post-World War II decades. But these were also decades in which the anti-colonial struggles were surging forward throughout Asia, Africa, Oceania, etc. Colonial powers which "dug in"--like France in Indochina and Algeria--were being defeated. In these conditions both the Australian and Dutch colonialists (under the prodding of other imperialist powers) instituted crash programs to groom independent governments which would let them maintain as many of their former colonialist prerogatives as would be possible. This would placate rising anti-colonial sentiments among the people at home and stave off the possibility of future anti-colonial rebellions on the island of New Guinea. (The latter seems to have been a more immediate prospect in the Dutch sector of the island than in the Australian.)
. But the newly independent Indonesian bourgeoisie also had chauvinist designs on New Guinea.U.S. imperialism ultimately sided with the Indonesian ruling class against the Dutch ruling class, and in 1963-64 Indonesian forces violently suppressed the Melanesian independence movement and grabbed the Dutch colony on behalf of the Indonesian establishment. Since then they've launched fascist campaign after campaign to stamp out the Papuan freedom movement, killing tens of thousands of people. Nevertheless this movement continues, and I hope to discuss it more extensively in a future article.
. Today the Indonesian state indeed acts as colonial overlord of half the island of New Guinea. Yet what Hyndman's observation on the "dismemberment" of the island misses is the connection of imperialism to this both historically and at this hour. Many a "First World" capitalist (particularly U.S. capitalists) is raking in the loot under the umbrella of Indonesian colonialism. And led by the United States, the vast majority of capitalist powers support the occupation of West Papua by the Indonesian militarists. Thus while in the strictest sense of the term Indonesian colonialism has replaced Dutch colonialism in West Papua, it would be wrong to miss the connection the perfumed gentlemen heading up the American, German, Australian and other multinational corporations have to this colonialism. It would be wrong to miss the connections of this to the support which the United States and other imperialist powers have given the Indonesian fascists for decades.
Ignoring the importance of democracy
. We've already seen that Hyndman decries the fact that the island of New Guinea has been "dismembered" between Indonesia and PNG. He treats the latter as being equally bad "Third World states" and thereby sloughs over that the Papua New Guinean state is relatively democratic whereas the Indonesian state is fascist and expansionist. True enough, as I discussed in my last article, the PNG ruling class has been increasingly adopting reactionary measures over the past decade and some of its leading figures openly express admiration for the Indonesian militarists' "civic action". Nevertheless, it makes a great deal of difference for the Papua New Guinean village people whether they're able to wage their struggles in the present conditions of relative freedom and legality or whether they have to wage them in conditions of illegality, government-organized assassinations, bombing and strafing of villages and regions, fascist resettlement schemes, etc., etc., as the villagers of West Papua must do. Yet in his treatment of "Third World" states Hyndman everywhere ignores the crucial issue of the fight for democratic rights within the respective countries, an issue of vital concern to the indigenous peoples' movements.
. Now the latter fight raises a number of issues which Hyndman would rather not discuss (and
which I'll return to below) because they violate his subjective "fourth-worldist" schema and
introduce dreaded materialistic conceptions. For example, in Papua New Guinea there are many
peoples still more or less practicing their traditional ways of life more or less based on kinship
groups. For them to wage a more effective struggle for democratic rights requires that these
"ancient nations" forge some kind of fighting political unity. And Hyndman's book begrudgingly
admits that they've begun to do just that. Yet by doing this they've initiated a process--alliance,
confederation, etc.--which points toward the founding of a new "nation" . . . from below, so to
speak. (An evolution! . . . Oh horrors!) Furthermore, for the democratic struggle of this new
evolving alliance to be even more effective, poses the issue of forging political unity with the
most consistently democratic class being dominated by the present state--the proletariat.(Worlds!
Worlds! We must only think in terms of worlds!) Furthermore, within the traditional social
formations a political struggle must be waged against the undemocratic social forces, their
political representatives and ideas, etc., which most often exist. (But . . . but . . . this is just too
much! Now I've heard everything! Now you want to attack Fourth World People!)
Mystifying the Papua New Guinean state
. Hyndman writes as follows: "The island of New Guinea is dismembered between the Third World states of PNG and Indonesia. Economic development is used to invade Melanesian indigenous nations. What is called nation-building actually becomes state expansion by nation-destroying." But this raises some interesting questions (all of which undermine his repeated attempts to erect an impermeable wall between traditional societies practicing pre-capitalist modes of production and capitalist society and its political institutions). First among these is that the PNG state is, after all, an instrument of class rule--the rule of Melanesian capitalists over the masses of Melanesian toilers. 99.9% of the government functionaries, civil servants, military personnel, police, etc., of this state are native Melanesians. They come from all regions of the country (although some regions are under-represented), from many of its ethnic groups, and just a couple of decades ago all these people were considered indigents by the Australian colonialists. Moreover, elections have been regularly held even though democracy is restricted in the ways typical of all bourgeois democracies (and restricted still more by the high rate of illiteracy). The Papua New Guinean state isn't an implant made on the island by colonialists from across the seas but instead has its origins in (and rests on the back of) a Melanesian nation--a new and weakly formed nation to be sure, but a nation nonetheless.
. How then can Hyndman write of the Papua New Guinean state as being a colonial state which dismembers the island of New Guinea (along with Indonesia)?
. Well, not all the people living on the territory dominated by this state are completely under its thumb. There are a good number of peoples practicing pre-capitalist modes of production in societies founded on kinship groups who live fairly free of its influence and domination. They often only really come into contact with it when multinational corporations, supported by the state, want to seize land in order to open a mine for example. Hence Hyndman says the PNG state practices internal colonialism toward these peoples. (I won't quibble over the words he chooses to describe what takes place.)
. Of course there are certain other sides to this picture. For example these peoples often want, even demand, more connection with the state, i.e., they want government medical teams sent to their areas, etc. Hence they want an expansion of the state, but in directions which are beneficial to them. But this again raises the question of what this state is, what its origins are, etc.According to Hyndman's book it's just there, another bad "third world" state which colonizes Melanesians side by side with the fascists of Indonesia. He won't confront the fact that this state represents the interests of certain particular social classes, or social strata, which have come into being (and continue to come into being) in an increasing number of the "ancient nations" residing in the territory of PNG. These classes (or strata) represent the new capitalist mode of production--which by its very nature is driven to accumulate, expand the market, etc.--and they generally want to build up the new Melanesian nation. Hence there really is nation-building occurring (it's not just a cynical slogan), there is state expansion, and there is "nation-destroying" (i.e., a breaking up of the societies founded on kinship groups). Part of the latter is due to economic evolutionary processes and part is the result of political actions. We should certainly oppose the coercive and swindling political actions of the PNG state to deprive the traditional societies of their means of livelihood (their land) and thereby begin the ultimate destruction of their cultures. But this does not mean we should make defense of these cultures an end in itself, or raise it above everything else.
. As a matter of fact in Papua New Guinea the masses of new proletarians, semi-proletarians, small farmers producing for the market, ordinary commune members, unemployed people, etc. from the old societies which are being broken up have common interests in further breaking down the barriers which existed between the old social groups. For example, the new mines and plantations throw workers together from all over the country. To defend themselves from being forced into the most slave-like conditions they must organize resistance, strikes, unions, etc. But isolated local struggles can't go very far when the class you're confronting is organized nationally and internationally. Hence nation-wide organization and struggle is called for. More, there are issues like unemployment compensation, health care, education, worker-safety laws, environmental legislation, etc., etc., which, if they're going to be won, kept, or improved upon, demand that the workers begin to come out as an organized political force in their own right. Relatively small as it is, the Papua New Guinean working class has already embarked on this road. But to do this the workers have had to overcome the old suspicions and rivalries between the kinship-based societies they originated from. They've had to put class loyalties above clan loyalties when clan leaders or "big men" either became capitalists in their own right or sided with the capitalists. They've either had to learn to speak the lingua franca of the country or otherwise find ways to communicate with each other. In short, it's been in the workers' interests to overcome or rebel against many of the defining features of the old societies, to further break down the "ancient nations" in order to begin the process of forming themselves into a class--a class which will eventually be able to lead the struggles of the vast majority of the people for a better life.
. None of the above means that the working class hasn't also had an interest in carrying forward
and defending democratic, egalitarian, or other traditions from the old societies. The very
opposite. Nor does it mean that the workers haven't also had an interest in assisting the traditional
societies remaining on the land in their struggles against the state, against the multinational
corporations, etc. (These societies often even include workers' immediate family members.)
Through swindling and violence, capitalism and the PNG state are breaking up these societies
and leaving the people as paupers wandering the land. But even minimal acts on the part of the
workers, like sending money home, pressuring the government to supply various social services
in an area, etc., inevitably accelerate internal forces which work to break down the "ancient
nation", degrade its "purity", etc., from within. This kind of "nation-destroying" is not something
to be feared, much as many ivory tower professors in the imperialist world tell us we should fear
it. It's preparing the social forces for a revolution to overthrow capitalism and all exploitation and
oppression of humans by humans.
An absurd theory regarding resource management
. One of the most key theses of Hyndman's entire book is contained in the following sentence:"Nations manage resources and states consume them." (By "nations" he really only means indigenous nations, nations practicing pre-capitalist/pre-feudal modes of production--even though he generally fudges the truth on the "purity" of these modes of production among indigenous peoples in today's world.) But this ludicrously false. Primitive nations can also fail to manage resources (and consume them on a grand scale), while states very much do manage them.
. By quoting many, many other anthropologists throughout his book Hyndman gives the impression that he's a man well versed in the anthropological studies of the past several decades. Moreover, he's a "political ecologist", someone who's supposed to be especially interested in the relation of human societies to nature. It's therefore rather curious that he makes no mention of studies which have shown examples of indigenous peoples (and much "purer" ones than Hyndman is dealing with today) outright failing to manage resources. So let's take two well-known examples, the pre-colonial Easter Islanders and the "Cliff Dwellers" of the North American Southwest. In the first case it's generally thought the people deforested the island to such an extent that they no longer had wood with which they could construct outrigger canoes. Thus they could neither fish in their traditional ways nor escape the island over the seas from which they had arrived. Their old culture was devastated. (It is possible that a plant disease, rather than the people just cutting down all the trees, sped the denuding of the island. But what would that mean? Since the very concept resource management means conscious intervention in natural processes, it can only mean the Easter Islanders proved incapable of this. They undoubtedly hadn't acquired the necessary scientific knowledge. At any rate, this "nation" did not manage this resource successfully.) In the second case, by watering the fragile desert soil for many generations the people so leached it that they could no longer grow the crops they depended on. In this case the people could leave, but it was for unfriendly territory--the territory dominated by people they had originally built their culture in the cliffs to defend themselves from.
. So we see that although these peoples may have managed resources (and it's generally believed that the Cliff Dwellers in particular were quite good at this), their management ultimately failed them. Of course one might object that these were exceptional situations. The society was either surrounded by vast oceans or human enemies, and it was ultimately the pressure of a population which had grown too large which radically changed the environment. And Hyndman gives this view in his book when he says that the "secret of success" of the Wopkaimin has been that they have a small population which can range over a large uncontested territory. They've been able to move their gardens when the soil became depleted, etc. But continued "success" (if it's real) means population growth. What (theoretically) will happen with this people when it can no longer move its gardens fast enough, when it over-forages the forests, etc., due to population growth? Will it on its own be able to advance its agricultural science fast enough to overcome the growing crisis, or will it move into the territories of other peoples and become involved in wars over dwindling resources?
. Like everything else, Hyndman treats resource management ahistorically.
. When the earth was generally peopled by primitive communist societies, the human population was much smaller than it is today. In those long-ago days it's not likely that people gave too much thought about managing resources. They just didn't have to. But at some point increasing population pressures on the land, climatic changes, etc., forced people to begin to use the scientific knowledge they'd acquired through their interaction with nature (i.e., through production) to begin to manage resources. And through such management they undoubtedly developed their scientific understanding of nature still further. But division of labor, class divisions, class antagonisms, and class domination and subordination were evolving concurrently with the development of production. More and more the question of resource management was becoming a question of management for whom and toward what end?
. But states too have their history. They first came into being when the class contradictions within societies became irreconcilable. They were the instruments of the rule of one class over another--today the monopoly capitalist class and its allies (smaller capitalists, etc.) over the proletariat and other oppressed classes. Hence the decisive issue in their attitude toward the management of resources was what class dominated them.
. Hyndman generally ignores the latter question. There are just states. They have neither a history nor a future. They're bad (especially "third world" states), they allegedly only consume resources but don't manage them, etc. Yet everyone knows that almost every state today does in some way manage natural resources. Oftentimes large government departments employing hundreds of thousands of scientists, technicians, and laborers are devoted to this, oftentimes the national army is assigned to work on management projects as one of its permanent duties, etc. Hyndman, like the majority of humanity, sees that this management is failing to stop a looming ecological catastrophe for all life on planet Earth but if one accepts the framework of ideas that he lays out, then one must join him in pining after the glorified resource management by ancient nations which he presents. Smashing up the present states and overthrowing the system of production upon which they rest, organizing new states (transitory states which will eventually disappear with the eventual disappearance of classes) to accomplish this, socialist states which fight for the interests of the proletariat and other classes which are today oppressed--this perspective is banished when he sneers at Marxism, historical materialism, evolution, etc.
. Further, Hyndman's framework would banish all political thought (besides yearning after an idealized primitive society). For example, modern science is based on the capitalist system of production, but also includes within it the scientific heritage of all previous systems of production, including production by societies founded on kinship groups. This science is distorted by money, by where governments and corporations pour funds for research as well as by the strivings of individual scientists for money and fame, etc. It's also distorted by racist, chauvinist and generally arrogant attitudes toward the scientific accomplishments of others (including indigenous peoples). These are often just ignored. But nevertheless, even this science is telling the world that something different has to be done regarding resource management, that the entire ecosystem must be taken into account when making management decisions, that biodiversity had better be maintained, etc. Furthermore, it not only knows the immediate causes of many of today's environmental crises but also knows what should be done to overcome them.(And this is the basis upon which many of the big political fights of the environmental movement are taking place.) Everyone knows what should be done but nothing is done! "Society", e.g., the dominant monopoly capitalist class, its governments, etc., is unwilling to pour funds and human resources into resource management which would benefit society as a whole, or into scientific research directed toward really resolving environmental crises. Resources are managed, but only for the aim of maintaining profits. (For example, the American timber industry began to manage forests, i.e., by setting up environmentally destructive monocrop tree farms, once it had devastated the naturally-occurring forests of the continent. Meanwhile the U.S. government manages millions acres of timberlands on the same basic model as a welfare handout to the timber capitalists.) Environmental problems are responded to, but only when there's a crisis of profits. (For example, the silting of streams caused by the timber capitalists methods of logging destroys the naturally occurring salmon runs and thereby hurts the profits of the fishing capitalists. The state responds by limiting what the logging companies can do and funds fish hatcheries--which distort the gene-pool of salmon in such a way as to further wipe out native stocks, etc.)
. The basic issue is that the dominant capitalist system of production, which is fundamentally anarchic and driven to accumulate, driven to maximize profits, etc., can't and won't seriously manage resources in such a way as to benefit society as a whole. Generally speaking, if some concern (or even the capitalists of an entire country) really attempted to do this, it would lose in its competition for a share of the market because of higher costs and rapidly go bankrupt. Of course there are a few small "green" concerns able to carve out special niches in the market place. But these only serve consumers who are capable of paying the higher prices (and willing to do it). And with the rich growing richer and the poor growing poor even in rich countries like the United States and Germany--as a result of the fundamental economic laws of capitalist production--these niches can only remain just that. Meanwhile the state, representing the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, only mildly slaps down environmental wreckers--incestuous members of its own exclusive club--and insists on some kind of management of resources when there's a crisis which is beginning to affect the class as a whole, or when a mass movement of the people forces it to do this.
. And the above poses political tasks for the exploited and oppressed people of today. Developing
the environmental movement is one. (Hyndman ignores it.) Developing the movement to
overthrow capitalism and thereby be in a position to use the existing scientific knowledge to
manage resources is another. (Hyndman is flatly against such "unobjective" advocacy.) Of course
a socialist society would be able to deploy resources to scientific endeavors in a way quite unlike
what is done today, and it would seem that today's stock of scientific knowledge would continue
to increase. Moreover, in order to unify itself and lead the other oppressed classes in revolution
and the building of a new society, the proletariat must wage a fierce struggle against racism,
national chauvinism, imperialist arrogance toward indigenous cultures, etc. Hence the science of
a socialist society wouldn't be distorted by--be held back by--these divisive ideologies the way it
Distorting the Bougainville rebellion
. When Hyndman deals with the class and political realities of Papua New Guinea, the "fourth worldist", anti-statist and anti-Marxist ideological framework he's erected continually comes crashing down. But that doesn't prevent him from rushing to its rescue in ways unbecoming someone who's supposedly objective. Let's see how this is so when he attempts to deal with the Bougainville rebellion.
. First of all, Hyndman admits that the capitalist mode of production spread relatively widely on Bougainville after World War II--relatively more so than it did on "mainland" Papua New Guinea. (Hyndman's phrase was turned around, there was a meeting of class formation and ethnicity.) Cash-cropping became widespread, big-men manipulated and transformed (a word Hyndman won't use) the old marriage and inheritance system to serve exploitative capitalist aims, etc. He says that "Bisnis became entirely an impersonal economic exchange of commodities for cash" and that sexual relations between men and women were monetized as well. Then, when the Panguna mine was developed beginning in the late 1960s, businesses were organized to serve the construction workers and to get small contracts associated with the mining itself.
. Now any ordinary soul would conclude from all this that capitalism was uprooting the traditional system of production on the island, transforming the age-old societies, etc. The extent of this transformation, the ways it was being accomplished, etc., might be subjects upon which there were differing opinions, yet the basic facts would seem undeniable. But Hyndman crudely attempts to muddy the waters and thereby deny what he's just admitted in two ways:
. (1) He points to the kago movement, a movement which arose against the spread of capitalism (and especially the most degrading and exploitative features of its "culture") as early as the 1950s. Yet the existence of such a movement would only seem to prove that the capitalist system was indeed spreading and shaking up the old societies. And it's certainly not surprising that the kinship-based societies practicing traditional economies would resist being turned into wage-slaves. The whole history of the development of world capitalism has from the beginning involved a violent uprooting of the masses of people practicing pre-capitalist modes of production from the land, the literal beating them into becoming wage laborers, etc.--and the masses of people on all continents have resisted this, sometimes for decades, and sometimes for centuries. That this is occurring now in one of the last bastions of pre-capitalist societies is only a continuation of what began elsewhere many centuries ago.
. (2) He asserts that the Bougainvilleans (like the Wopkaimin people around the Ok Tedi mine) weren't "proletarianized". Instead they concentrated on setting up businesses. But how could there be businesses, cash-crop plantations, etc., without exploitative social relations and wage-labor (proletarianization)? Hyndman just leaps over this question. He refuses to confront the process occurring before his eyes--the development of a bourgeoisie and a proletariat on Bougainville (small as both may presently be). Moreover, while on the one hand he denies proletarianization on the other hand he comments on the fact that one of the protests on Bougainville was over the fact that jobs were going to "primitives" from the Highlands of PNG! Yet a demand for jobs is only another indicator that the division of the old societies (at least some of them) into the social classes typical of the capitalist system of production (bourgeoisie and proletariat) has already begun sometime earlier.
. Hyndman tries to muddy the waters on this question because he wants to have an idealized movement of idealized indigenous nations confronting "Third World" states. (Remember that according to him nations are allegedly good because they manage resources whereas states are bad because they destroy resources, and so on.) Moreover, in trying to fit the Bougainville rebellion into this ideal he continues to flagrantly ignores a number of other embarrassing contradictions of his own making as well.
. For example, he begins by pointing out that "nineteen distinct languages are spoken in the Panguna socio-ecological region" and discussing what the society most affected by the opening of the mine was like before the mine opened. (Much of this is quite interesting and seems objective.) He then goes on to discuss the movements which developed against the effects of spreading capitalism, against mining pollution, against exploitation of the people by the mine-owners, for compensation, etc., and comments on how these developed into an island-wide movement which eventually led to sabotage of the mine and armed struggle against the PNG government. He says that the "Bougainvilleans were united as a people" and that the "BRA (Bougainville Revolutionary Army--Fk) took control of every district in Bougainville, set up its headquarters at the Panguna mine site and established an interim government", and he supports the BRA. Hence nineteen "fourth world nations" united to in fact erect a state on the island, weakly formed as it might be. (This state was not entirely new in that it relied a good deal on the old provincial administrative structures and personnel.) But Hyndman won't admit the existence of such a state because it won't fit into the subjective framework he's erected. So he quotes Nietschman as saying "it is a nation vs state" (Bougainville = nation, PNG = state--Fk) and adds "armed conflict over autonomous control of land and resources not an insurgency to overthrow the PNG National government".
. But this movement for autonomy (or secession) has a history which is a little less pure and simple than this. At times it was dominated by political personalities who themselves were members of the PNG government (or even the Australian colonial administration). They used the threat of secession to barter for a bigger share of power and funds within the PNG framework for themselves, the provincial government, and fledgling Bougainville capitalism. Prior to Papua New Guinea's independence they had organized two referendums on Bougainvillean independence, and when these failed they generally favored staying in PNG. Meanwhile a more radical tendency led by former students at the Catholic seminary continued to hold up the banner of independence. They generally favored a political union with the newly-independent Solomons Islands but sought to achieve this by peaceful means. But in neither case was there any idea of having a nation without a state. (And it might be important to note here that historically Bougainville had had a disproportionate number of people in the military and police of the PNG state, a disproportionate number of people who became foremen and bosses in capitalist concerns, and members in the PNG cabinet from the very beginning. Moreover, it had built up a relatively powerful provincial government. The state "tradition" was perhaps the most powerful of any region in Papua New Guinea.) Furthermore, when the PNG state resorted to reactionary violence against this movement the people fought back. By all accounts the overwhelming majority now favored independence and they "voted" by giving support to the quickly-organized Bougainville Liberation Army. We've already discussed the fact that this army represented a new state in the making but now let's turn to the question of what class interests it was fighting for.
. The Bougainville rebellion is most often characterized as being a rebellion of "native
landowners" against the PNG government-supported infringements and pollution of the Panguna
mine. But these landowners divide into two. On one hand there are the kinship-based societies
striving to continue to survive on the basis of subsistence agriculture, hunting and gathering,
etc.(Hyndman almost exclusively discusses these.) On the other hand there are capitalist
landowners employing wage-labor on plantations. The expansion of mining and pollution has
infringed on their cash-cropping activities and thrown them into conflict with the mineowners as
well. (Hyndman barely mentions these gentlemen.) And in their public pronouncements the BLA
leaders often emphasize their sympathy for these capitalists and others. They often tie freedom to
the fact that the domestic business sector is oppressed by the PNG government. Moreover, some
forces in the movement have stressed Christian appeals and others have worked to inflame
feelings of ethnic superiority over Highlanders from the main island. Thus the question of what
political orientation should be followed in the movement, what demands should be pressed, etc.,
is posed. Hyndman "bravely" lauds the armed struggle but not so bravely runs away from the
crucial questions of how to build this movement in such a way as to ensure that it will ultimately
benefit the masses of people. What resources on Bougainville are going to be controlled, and by
Studying the Wopkaimin society with blinders on
. The Wopkaimin are a distinct people who have historically lived in the area which is now being occupied and polluted by the Ok Tedi mine. They've apparently always been a small people (less than a thousand in number) who historically lived by farming, fishing, hunting and gathering. Hyndman says taro farming was the mainstay of their food production and that the key to their success had been a small population ranging over a large area. This was a society founded on kinship groups and an example of a "great-man" society as contrasted to the "big-man" societies common in much of the rest of the Highlands (and the rest of Papua New Guinea). In other words class division and the subordination of women to the male sex had not gone as far as it had in those societies. (And here it might be noted that on some of the islands which are now part of PNG a kind of royal family system of exploitation of labor seems to have already come into being quite some time before the arrival of the colonialists from the West. Primitive communism was something of the distant past in these societies.)
. Now Hyndman's study of the Wopkaimin is in many regards detailed and fascinating. Yet in what one might think would be the most objective or scientific section of his entire book (i.e., the section which is based on his own field studies and observations) we find that he's once again wildly subjective. He raises the slogan (as the title of a chapter) "Ethnicity over Class Formation:'For Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet'" yet his own study shows classes forming and reforming among the Wopkaimin. Furthermore, his ideological framework leads him to support a reactionary socio-political movement among the Wopkaimin even though the information he himself provides shows there is no justification for doing this. I'll next take up these issues.
. (1) Mining development went through three stages, each of which profoundly affected Wopkaimin society and began the process of its forming into modern social classes.
. (a.) First was the period of the Kennecott prospecting base camp (1968-75). At its height this camp employed 45 Europeans and 500 Papua New Guineans (mostly from the Southern Highlands) who conducted a lot of test drilling. A few Wopkaimin men were also hired by Kennecott. This stage ended when the Samore government [of PNG] withdrew Kennecott's prospecting authority after the company refused to budge in negotiations over how to divide mining profits with the PNG government.
. Hyndman says that, during this first stage, use of Western clothing, tobacco, steel axes and knives and Melanesian Pidgin English rapidly spread among the Wopkaimin. They were also struck by epidemics of fatal diseases (influenza and whooping cough) which were brought to the area from the outside and which may have killed as many as 10% of the people. Hyndman sums these years up by saying that by 1975 "Except for a few laborers at Tabubil, all the Wopkaimin were home practicing kinship relations of production in their ancestral rain forests".
. Now when he examines such things as the way the Wopkaimin produce and divide food, or the changes in their health during the period under consideration, or other questions, Hyndman is a meticulous and exciting researcher who seems to leave few stones unturned. But this summation, along with his general treatment of the first period, have some big boulders sitting right in the middle of them which he won't go near. One example of this is that here, as well as in his treatment of a later period, he notes that "a few"--or "a handful", etc.--Wopkaimin continued to be wage-workers. But he tends to just relegate them to town or to the mine and leave them there. How the fact that some members of the society now were wage-workers with money to spend affected the rest of the society is lightly dealt with. Yet this obviously had some profound affects. Moreover, just five years later the entire society abandoned its traditional way of life in order to move near the mine to get jobs (or set up small businesses). Another example is that he lightly dismisses the fact that the Wopkaimin now had steel axes and knives. But this could only increase the productivity of the labor of the society. And such increases in productivity of labor affect the relations between the people engaged in production, affect the relations of domination and subordination which exist, etc. Moreover, Hyndman discusses at some length how in Wopkaimin society the women were subordinated to men (a subject we'll return to shortly). Yet he refuses to consider the effects the introduction of new tools would have on the division of labor, or on the stature of women, or on what was "tradition" in the "ancestral rain forest". A third example is that Hyndman doesn't touch the issue that the Wopkaimin could now much more easily communicate with the rest of the world, be influenced by its ideas, etc. But this was one of the factors which led to the Wopkaimin rapidly joining with the rest of the Ok Mountain peoples in earth-shaking socio-political movements during the next few years.
. (b.) The second period was the early '80s. During this time the multinational Bechtel corporation built the infrastructure for the mine which the Broken Hill Proprietary-AMOCO-KE-PNG Government consortium opened in 1981-82. The Wopkaimin moved to roadside villages near the mine and for the first time overt nuclear families appeared as men and women took up residence together. (Previously men and women had lived in separate houses.) But while 60% of the men became wage workers (generally unskilled and often working 60 hours a week), the women no longer produced food as farmers because gardening had been abandoned. Hyndman writes that this "led to a reduction of women's social status and a stronger identification and dependence of wives on husbands". Moreover: "Wopkaimin men began economically manipulating the marriage system as a form of bisnis." "Marriage manipulation as a form of bisnis devalued women in the eyes of their men and themselves. . . .Adultery and prostitution became easier as women's sexuality was alienated from themselves and controlled by men." Meanwhile some Wopkaimin men also engaged in other trades besides the buying and selling of women and set up their businesses in the villages (a fact which Hyndman generally downplays).
. Thus we see that in the early '80s the majority of Wopkaimin men were workers while a few had become small businessmen (or petty capitalists). Moreover, the oppressed women were either dependent on proletarian or petty capitalist husbands. Hence ethnicity and class formation had definitely "met". But this period was relatively short-lived.
. (c.) The third period is the later '80s and '90s. During this time mining construction ends and employment of Wopkaimin men in or around the mine plummets (from 60% in 1982 to 5% in 1987). The mass of Wopkaimin return to farming, fishing, hunting and gathering using the old division of labor (men clear the garden patches which the women then farm, men exclusively hunt, etc.) and dividing the social products in the traditional ways (men are allowed to eat both the farm produce and meat from hunting while the women are banned from eating this meat, etc.). Hyndman tries to give the impression that the Wopkaimin just went back to the hills as if nothing had happened in the previous years while repeatedly discussing evidence which flatly contradicts this.
. The first point in this regard is that some men continued to be proletarians (5% or so) while others continued to be small businessmen (he gives no figure). Moreover, even though the mine fired people, the town (Tabubil) had grown to 10,000 and some people either got jobs or set up businesses there.
. The second point is that the people fought for both jobs and business opportunities once the layoffs had begun. They only returned to their old way of life (at least most of them, and with some very important changes) when this failed.
. The third point is that the Wopkaimin continued to participate in the cash economy. Not only were there a few men still working but the people also received a little compensation money. Hyndman comments on this as follows: "The masculine sphere of production was no longer based on wage earning, but rather on control over beer and compensation money."
. The fourth point is that rather than growing taro the society now grew sweet potatoes as the main crop. But sweet potatoes used up the soil faster and this, coupled with the mining pollution and the taking up of land by settlements, roads, etc., would inevitably mean the impoverishment of the people if they continued to have to exist exclusively in their old ways, using their old methods, etc.
. The fifth point is that the consciousness of people had changed, an issue which I'll touch on next.
. In the 1980s the Wopkaimin workers had actively joined with other workers at the mine site in several protests, work stoppages and a strike. The issues ranged from discrimination, to safety, to wages and housing costs, and the strike (in 1988) was only suppressed after the government flew in the police and army. It seems fair to conclude from this that a section of Wopkaimin were gaining the rudiments of proletarian class consciousness, were beginning to see their fates as being tied to those of the rest of the Papua New Guinean working class. Meanwhile Wopkaimin people participated in a series of protests and demonstrations (including road blockades which shut down the mine) which were organized in the area at large. A study of the demands raised at these actions seems to indicate that they reflected the aspirations of the two classes the Wopkaimin were dividing into, i.e., on the one hand there were demands for jobs while on the other hand there were demands for business contracts with the mine. Furthermore, as it became clear that only a few Wopkaimin were going to be given long-term employment, the demands for jobs receded while the demands for business spin-offs and business loans (including for businesses employing wage-labor) became more elaborate. (This seems to have continued in the '90s, a time in which Hyndman infers that the issue of modern classes forming among the Wopkaimin is dead and buried history.) The protests in the area pressed other demands than those mentioned so far as well. Most notable among these were demands for higher compensation payments and demands that the pollution be stopped. But in raising these demands the Wopkaimin found that they were marching shoulder to shoulder with people of other ethnic groups in the area, and with people from the provincial capital and the rest of the country. They were joining in one of the powerful political currents in the country.
. So it seems to me that ethnicity and class formation (to again follow Hyndman's formulation of the issue) did meet in Wopkaimin society in the '70s and '80s. That it didn't go farther has little to do with any ethnic peculiarities of the Wopkaimin and everything to do with the way capitalism is expanding in Papua New Guinea (i.e., thousands of laborers are employed doing the preparatory work for opening a mine which will then employ only a few hundred workers.) Moreover, in general, capitalism is displacing people from the land in PNG much faster than it provides jobs. (My last article discussed some of the main ways this was being done.) In general, it's creating a "surplus population" which can't return to the land and live in the old ways for a number of reasons (both legal ones and because the land won't provide enough bounty). Hence when big projects are started, people come from all over the country (and especially the Highlands) to compete with the people of the local area for jobs. Moreover, rather than train Papua New Guineans for skilled jobs, the multinational corporations favor bringing already-trained workers from Asia to fill these positions. In these conditions what was particular about the Wopkaimin was that there was land available for them to return to once the construction boom in the area was over. Thus the destruction of the Wopkaimin's old mode of production was only partial and the division of the society into the modern social classes has only started.
. (2) Among the Mountain Ok peoples (of which the Wopkaimin are just one) the exclusively male Afek cult ruled society. All men past a certain age were initiated into it, and according to the ancient beliefs male performance of rituals, maintenance of sacred relics and sacrifice of animals insured prosperity for all. Furthermore, the elaborate prohibitions of the cult specified how food was produced and consumed by gender. (Women couldn't eat meat, for example, and this hurt their health.) In fact it was through the Afek cult that the division of labor was enforced and women subordinated. But this cult and its age-old customs had little to say on what to do in the rapidly changing world of the 1970s, a world where a money economy was developing on all sides, a world where prospectors scoured the mountains and set up towns, etc.And it was in these conditions that the rebaibalist (revivalist) movement exploded beginning in 1977.
. This movement started among the northern Ok Tedi peoples (where Catholicism was weak and Baptist missionaries had been working for a couple decades). It began as a Christian religious hysteria (ecstatic seizures, prophecy, mass fainting, speaking in tongues, etc.) but soon developed into a social movement to radically overturn the old customs. (Hyndman characterizes it as a movement to "destroy the past".) It became a revolt against the Afek cult, and women were particularly zealous in the attack. Cult houses were burned to the ground and sacred relics were destroyed. Food prohibitions and male control of meat through the Afek cult complex were ended. Men's houses were abandoned in favor of nuclear families working, residing and consuming together. Hyndman says the gender roles were altered with women acquiring more equal status.
. The Afek cult was thrown into complete crisis by these events as well as by the fact the peoples like the Wopkaimin had in the early '80s abandoned the old ways of living, taken construction jobs, etc. Nevertheless, within a few years it was able to launch a countermovement among the southern Ok Mountain peoples (where Catholicism was stronger). This was the "movement for cultural reanimation", or "reanimationist" movement, and according to Hyndman its aim was to "progress with the past" rather than to "destroy the past". It gained momentum with the rising unemployment of the mid-'80s. The Wopkaimin and others couldn't live on promises, and the Afek cult leaders began to actively organize people to move back to the old hamlets (called decentralization) and resume agriculture, fishing, and hunting and gathering in order to eat. Eventually most of the Wopkaimin did do this. It seems they had no other choice. But self-sufficiency didn't require that they also once again submit to the authority of the Afek cult, that women should accept second-class citizenship, etc. Nevertheless, the Afek cult did win out and those things have occurred (temporarily at least).
. Hyndman supports the victory of the reanimationists (the Afek cult) over the rebaibalistswithout ever directly saying he favors one movement over the other. Instead he depends on long and elaborate opinions on how Afek traditions gave the Wopkaimin a sense of place or self-identity in a rapidly changing world in order to sway his readers. (Meanwhile he devotes very little space to explaining the attraction of rebaibalism.) Moreover, he implies that the reanimationist movement should be supported because it provides a basis (cultural identity through the Afek cult) for making demands on the mining consortium and government. But this leaves an important question unanswered. For example, both the reanimationists and the rebaibalists raised political demands for the establishment of a pan-min province in the region around the Ok Tedi mine (min is a suffix meaning people which is used throughout the area). In both cases the movement was aimed at getting more control over the mining and better compensation. Hyndman explains in some detail how the reanimationists played on Afek cult traditions to develop a movement behind this demand but he is silent on how the rebaibalistswere able to build their movement (and he stresses the two movements were mutually exclusive).Nevertheless some glue did hold the latter movement together, its members had a self-identity, some sense of place, some cultural awareness, etc., too. Hyndman is frightened by this glue, whatever it is, frightened by this new self-identity and sense of place and so on. It doesn't fit into his ideas of how the world must work. So instead he justifies mysticism, male cultism and subordination of women from his ivory tower, for the noblest of reasons of course!
. I should add that another of the reasons Hyndman gives to sway us toward supporting the
reanimated Afek tradition is that it re-established "patterns of hamlet sharing". The problem is
that this sharing was directed by the male cult and worked to benefit men over women.
According to the Afek ideology, "sharing" meant "we men share this meat and no woman shall
have any". Thus the sharing wasn't among all the members of the hamlet at all. Some had
sharing-rights which were consciously denied others. And this but sets the ideological stage for
further restrictions upon who is allowed to share in society's wealth. For there to be a real
communist sharing of the products of society's labor, such things as this "pattern of hamlet
sharing" must actively be fought against.
A last comment on where Hyndman's reactionary ideological stand leads
. We've seen that Hyndman thinks "revolutionary advocacy" is a terrible thing. Such advocacy supposedly can't be objective. This doesn't mean that our man of letters doesn't find ways to advocate ideas however. He just quotes others giving the views he wishes to advocate, biases his presentation of information in such a way that the reader can only come to conclusions he wishes them to come to, etc. He sneakishly advocates, advocates by implication, etc. And when all is said and done, the only thing Hyndman really advocates in his entire book (using the methods just discussed of course) is that his readers should support the struggles of indigenous peoples. He's hardly taking a new or courageous stand with this meek and indirect advocacy--and all he really advocates is that we tail after whatever may be happening at the moment--and it's a big step backwards when compared to the stand of those many advocates who not only starkly lay bare the oppression and genocide wrought on indigenous peoples but who also struggle to lay bare their capitalist roots and courageously ponder the implications of this. Moreover, it's a conscious step backwards for Hyndman is aware that these advocates exist. (And among them are the Marxists whom Hyndman so demagogically abuses.) Nevertheless Hyndman's advocacy is something, and no democratic-minded person--let alone revolutionary--could oppose it. The problem is that at every turn Hyndman's reactionary ideological framework rises up against the kind of politics which are needed to really support the indigenous peoples' struggles. Let's review some ways this is so.
. The first point is that Hyndman generally pretends that there's no issue of what struggles? to support among indigenous peoples. "Nations" are just supposed to be good because they manage resources and the like. So let's take some recent news from Alaska to illustrate where this leads in practice. Among Native Alaskans there's a large movement to defend the environment, including a movement to not allow an expansion of oil drilling in the Arctic. But in late 1995 three Native Alaska corporations (representing both Innuits and Indians) filed a law suit demanding that the Clinton administration open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. If this were done, they said, the Alaska Natives would benefit from oil royalties, etc. And they even claimed to have the support of most Native Alaskans. Meanwhile the Republican congress had been pushing for the same measure. So does Hyndman advocate we support this lawsuit? Or does he advocate support for the Gwich'in Athabaskans opposing it? What is the progressive stand? His whole general approach inevitably leads one to such impasses. They can be resolved by opportunistically "going with the flow", i.e., supporting whomever seems to have the majority at the moment (which often boils down to supporting those with the most money to pour into a propaganda machine), or they can be resolved on the basis of some other principles.
. The second point is that in practice Hyndman advocates tailing after reactionary trends among traditional peoples. We've seen that in his book he supported the reanimationists and opposed the rebaibalists among the Wopkaimin. So in practice he did deal with the question of "what struggles?" but he did this surreptitiously. And the principles he used, when all is said and done, led him to support a return to the "traditional" oppression of women among the Wopkaimin even though the women (with the support of many men) were rebelling against it. This was justified on the grounds of achieving the "higher" objectives of "retain(ing) a sense of place and cultural identity", returning to a kinship mode of production which would "manage resources", etc. Freedom from oppression had to take a back seat to these things. Meanwhile he ignored that the rebaibalist movement also gave its members a sense of place, a cultural identity, etc. (although new and different ones), while also raising demands for a pan-min province which would attempt to manage resources.
. The third point is Hyndman consciously sloughs over the question of growing class divisions within indigenous societies and even polemicizes against the very idea that this can occur. But such opposing movements as the pro- and anti-drilling political forces among Native Alaskans, for example, are most fundamentally rooted in evolving social classes which stand opposed to each other. Thus Hyndman's framework works to undermine efforts by activists in the support movement to rally to the defense of the oppressed people in indigenous societies and oppose indigenous oppressors (who exploit the masses for "traditional" personal, family and clan gain--often within the framework of a co-operative or Native corporation--and ultimately for a class gain at the expense of society). Moreover, the exploiting social strata are those most want to sell out the fundamental interests of the masses, including protecting natural resources, in order to further enrich themselves. And activists in the Native American movement in the U.S., for example, have had a wealth of experience in dealing with this social stratum for many, many years. Hyndman's silence on this issue is really more than another big step backward. It's a conscious denial that there's even a question of opposing sell-outs in the indigenous peoples' movements. Yet how can one support a movement without opposing those who act to sell it out?
. The fourth point is that Hyndman's attempts to prettify the traditional societies play into the hands of (and fuel) utopian and other negative currents in the support movement.
. The world revolutionary movement is going through tough times marked by great ideological confusion and disorganization, and this includes the movement to support indigenous people's struggles. In these conditions many activists have become demoralized and given up their former attempts to deal with the world in a militantly scientific and materialist manner. Many have given up political activism altogether, while others indulge in utopian daydreams of humanity returning to an idealized primitive communism where the people live as one with nature, natural resources aren't plundered and destroyed, etc. And we could all allegedly return to this Eden if everyone would just grasp the wisdom of the indigenous peoples of today, learn from the shamans, generally adopt mysticism and their way of life. Furthermore, because of the weakness of the revolutionary movement, the dearth of militantly scientific analysis of the causes of environmental crises, racial oppression, continuing wars in much of the world, continuing genocide against indigenous peoples, etc., many young people who are not tired or demoralized, and who seek something better in the world than the bleak status quo, are drawn into this kind of utopianism as well. By casting aspersions on all states--which must include revolutionary socialist states (which can only be temporary states if they're truly socialist) welded together to fight for the interests of the masses of people (including their interests in protecting and nurturing the environment) after the present capitalist states have been smashed by revolutionary struggles--and by glorifying the indigenous cultures Hyndman fuels these diversionary politics.
1. 2. 3.
1.See Communist Voice, vol. 1, #2, June 1, 1995 and vol. 2, #2, March 15, 1996. (Return to text.)
2.Hyndman generally refers to the remnants of the pre-colonial or aboriginal peoples of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, parts of Asia, etc., as "Fourth World People" or "ancient nations". In this article I usually refer to them as "indigenous peoples" or as "peoples".But in one sense my terminology is no better than Hyndman's. This is that any attempt to lump these peoples together tends to slough over the fact that their economic and political realities widely vary. (Text)
3.From the preface to the first edition of Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats in 1884. (Text)
Last changed on October 19, 2001.