Earth Politics Book Review: Waskar Ari responds to Marc Becker

Dear Council on Hemispheric Affairs,

Thanks so much for sending out Marc Becker’s book review regarding Earth Politics:  Religion, Decolonization, and Bolivia’s Indigenous intellectuals.  Here is my feedback:

1)     Paragraph one, two and three:  I like the historical background that Marc Becker brings, but my book does not advocate the continuation of “poverty at the Bantu-style-state” as Becker seems to imply. My main goal is to show the AMP’s ideas and context in the most accurate possible way, and I am not concerned about being sympathetic or antagonistic toward them when I do that job.

2)     Paragraph four: Becker says” these activists advocated a return to the colonial policy of maintaining two separate and parallel republics of indigenous peoples and those of European descent.”  This is overly simplistic and erroneous.  These activists did not support the Law of the Indies, if that is what he means; they advocated for something totally different, called Indian Law as I explain at length in my book

3)     In  paragraph five, Becker says “Ari is sympathetic to the goals of ethnic Nationalism”.   This is also a distortion.  The book is not about “ethnic nationalism”; the book is about decolonization.

4)     Paragraph five: Becker says a “better policy would be to pursue the goal that the neo-Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, followed of attempting to create a world in which space exists for all of us.”  I do not discriminate against indigenous movements that “fit better”;  I think it is important to learn about a variety of goals and contexts.  But he seems to me to be confusing two different historical periods, the mid twentieth-century (in my work) and the 1990s or present (with the neo-Zapatistas).

5)     Paragraph six, Becker says “ this book, perhaps inadvertently, makes it clear just how superficial such external ethnic markers can be.” Does he mean that culture is something meaningless?  Does he mean that historic materialism is the best?  That is an classic Marxist idea, but not useful here.

6)     In the same paragraph, Becker says “”…historically ethnicity has not proven to be a strong basis on which to build a powerful and sustainable movement for political change”.  Does he mean that change can only be achieved through class struggle?   The project of decolonization is highly political, and goes beyond class struggle.  It is not a repetition of Marxist ideology; these activists had their own political vocabulary

7)     Paragraph eight: Becker says “one adopts an anti-modernist discourse and seeks to return to a distant and fictitious past in which everything was imagined as being better”.  I wonder if Becker read all of my book.   This approach is astonishingly simplistic.  The AMP intellectuals about whom I write wanted to create their own version of modernity.

8)     In the ninth paragraph: Becker says “ Both Waskar Ari and the protagonists in this book reject the political left as antipathetic to the goals of indigenous activists.”  I am not an essentialist, so I disagree with such a blanket statement.   Becker seems upset that I do not follow his distinct brand of Marxist doctrine. I would not say that I personally reject the entire current “political left!”

Best wishes,

Waskar Ari
Assistant Professor of History and Ethnic Studies / Latin American Studies
Department of History
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

April 9, 2014