SOCIAL SCIENTIST
V.25:No.11-12 Nov-Dec. 1997 #294-295

See Editorial Note

"The European Factor in the Caste System: The Sri Lankan Model," M.M.M. Mahroof, p. 3-18.

"Caste, Untouchability and Social justice: Early North Indian Perspective," Vivekanand Jha, p. 19-30.

"The Political Economy of Agrarian Capitalism," Manjit Singh, p. 31-47.

"Changing Pattern of External Resource Flows," Subhash Sharma, p. 48-63.

"E.P. Thompson: Scholar, Polemicist and Pacifist," Bhupendra Yadav, p. 64-70.

TRIBUTE, p. 71-74.
"The Fourth Indian Nobel--Amartya Sen and his 'Ethical Economics,'" Utsa Patnaik.

BOOK REVIEW, p. 75-77.
Bishwamoy Pati's review, titled Impact of Capitalism on the Forests of Central India, of Mahesh Rangarajan, Fencing the Forest: Conservation and Ecological Change in India's Central Provinces 1860-1914, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1996, pp. 245, Rs. 395.

Back to the top.

Editorial Note

It is often believed that exposure to the outside world, even if it brings in its train the exploitation of the domestic economy by foreign capital, is nonetheless a powerful means of dissolving the existing pre-capitalist forms of social relationships. It is on this basis that "globalisation" is seen by some as a possible counterweight to the persistence and exacerbation of communalism and by others as a force undermining the caste-system through its promotion of a more or less uniform brand of capitalism, albeit dominated by metropolitan capital.

"Globalisation" however is not an entirely new sui generis phenomenon, but a long process marked by different phases, of which the term as commonly used refers only to the latest one. It follows then that if this belief in its "dissolving" effect were justified, then one would have seen this effect in operation even during the colonial period which also was a particular phase of "globalisation". The article by M.M.M. Mahroof on the Sri Lankan caste-system lends support to the contrary view: of the three different colonial powers that dominated Sri Lanka, the Portuguese and the Dutch openly used the caste-system for their own purposes, while the British, after some initial liberal noises, also adjusted themselves to it. What is more, the improvements in-transport that they introduced which brought people closer, denied the anonymity that had been used earlier as a means of moving up the caste-ladder, and, in that sense, indirectly strengthened the caste-system.

Of course, the very fact of Sri Lanka having a caste-system, admittedly without any notion of pollution associated with it, may appear intriguing. The question of the attitude of Buddhism to caste-system, which it raises is discussed, among other things, in the Indian context by Vivekananda Jha's paper. While tracing the origins of caste and untouchability the paper draws attention to the essentially timid and compromising attitude of Buddhism and Jainism to caste. This only underscores the need to look at caste in material social terms rather than in exclusively religious terms as is usually done.

Manjit Singh's paper on agrarian capitalism raises afresh several theoretical issues over which a debate had raged in the seventies. He makes the important point that the level of ground- rent in farms under petty-tenancy gets raised because of the competition exercised by the capitalist farms who are also desirous of leasing in land and have the ability to pay high rents because of the higher surplus they extract through the use of superior methods of production. This point, first noted by Wolf Ladejinsky in the early seventies, argues against any position which takes the ground rent associated with petty tenancy as an exogenously-given entity by the capitalist farms; it does however invalidate the [++SS Page 2] view that the existence of petty tenants who can pay higher rents by cutting into subsistence constitutes a brake on the spread of capitalist production.

Policies of "structural adjustment" are usually sought to be justified on the grounds that they would usher in large amounts of productive, as distinct from speculative, capital flows to the third world. The paper by Subhash Sharma giving figures on net Direct Foreign Investment into developing countries shows that the vast bulk of it went into just ten countries, in east and southeast Asia and in Latin America. Since the case of China is somewhat special (involving overseas Chinese who contribute over two-thirds of the DFI), and south-east Asia can no longer be held up as a "model", the empirical picture drawn in the paper is instructive.

Finally, as we go to press, news has come of Amartya Sen getting the Nobel prize for economics for this year. We publish a short piece by Utsa Patnaik, herself a student of Sen, relating, from a Marxist perspective, to Sen's work on agriculture, poverty and famines.

Back to the top.


Social Scientist page | H-Net Asia - Journals (Tables of Contents) | South Asia Journals and Newspapers