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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

Thoughts on Bandung Day 2021: The Covid Moment and the Civilisational Crisis | Manoranjan Mohanty

Saturday 1 May 2021, by Manoranjan Mohanty

[ April 24, 2021]

The greatest lesson from the Covid challenge of the past year and more is that the lifestyle that has been promoted worldwide during the colonial epoch and continued in the post-colonial years and accentuated during the neo-liberal era since the 1990s has made the entire humankind vulnerable to much suffering, poorer sections more so, not only in normal times, but also in times of health crises. The Bandung community had not only challenged political domination by colonialism, but also its economic, cultural and technological domination and had proposed alternative paths for humanity.

This lifestyle has three specific characteristics: Firstly, humans are seen basically as consumers constantly increasing their personal needs, rather than producers who use their labour in harmony with nature for the benefit of all. Secondly, using energy generated from all kinds of sources -fossil fuel to nuclear- humans have been pushed to inculcate a notion of comfortable life that has been associated with the history of automation and urbanisation. Thirdly, society’s progress has been defined by transformation of agricultural economy to industrial economy, within that from manufacture to services, from there moving on to knowledge society with higher and higher silicon technology and artificial intelligence. Accordingly labour was graded, manual labour degraded, regarded as less valuable than mental and high-tech labour. Agriculture and many traditional and indigenous occupations were regarded as signs of backwardness.

Bandung community recalled the debates on colonial policies during the anti-colonial struggles and pointed out the questionable consequences of colonial political economy and capitalism’s many contradictions. During the past six decades, social movements all over the world pointed out the devastating environmental effects of the model of development evolved during the past century and more, polluting air, water, soil, leading to shrinking of natural resources and above all their cumulative effect seen in climate change. This lifestyle has led to inequalities across classes, gender, races, castes, ethnicities, religions, minority communities and regions which continue to grow as equality as a value, so central to anti-colonial struggles, has now been relegated to the background. Achieving high growth and acquiring greater military, industrial and technological power has been put as the key goal of nations since the colonial times. These preoccupations are so strong that rulers in all countries centralise political power through a variety of modern ways, suppressing opposition, using modern media, including social media, to carry on their dominant policies, often in the name of democracy.

Environmental decay, rising inequalities and authoritarian politics are the direct results of the lifestyle and development model that colonialism put before the world for over two centuries. That has made humankind susceptible to multiple health crises like the Covid-19 as it has moved humans farther and farther from nature and its ways.

The Bandung community has to work together with people’s movements all over the world, especially the women’s movement, human rights movements and the environmental movements which are engaged in defending rights of self-determination of local communities, their knowledge systems and nature-friendly lifestyle many of which became concretely evident during the Covid in rural and tribal areas in many parts of the world. We must work together with pro-people scientists who orient their state of the art scientific research to pursue these goals. We have great hopes in the potential role of the United Nations which turned 75 in 2020. Even though it has played very important role in many socio-economic spheres and the MDG and SDG were most welcome initiatives, it has been used by the major powers to push the dominant growth-centric industrial development model and political, economic and technological hegemonies consistently. Even COP-26 which has raised much expectations for saving planet Earth may only prove to be a palliative against this tidal wave of destructive economic path.

The Covid moment has brought to the fore the dimensions of the civilizational crisis that humanity faces today. Rather than recognise this, the rulers of all countries are seeking, even claiming ‘triumph in the war against Covid-19’ and are anxious to restore their favourite economic paths through the usual monopolies and the market. Bandung community must, on the other hand, insist on a perspective of humility of the human race in the face of nature, use the available scientific and traditional knowledge by the widest global consultation with respect for all sources from all over the world and build democratic solidarities empowering local communities to creatively transform the existing conditions towards greater equality, freedom and mutual happiness for one and all.

Manoranjan Mohanty

Bandung Day 2021

New Delhi

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