Marxism and "Subaltern Studies"

Usmani, Adaner
Date Written:  2013-07-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2013
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX16226

A review of Vivek Chibber's book Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital.


As an undergraduate, Marxism won my mind because it had given clarity to exactly this intuition: that societies everywhere were rent by class divisions, that these schisms structured the production and appropriation of the social product, that they bred similar antagonisms and patterns of struggle, and that this shared architecture was the basis for a common politics — for me, the analytical accompaniment to the moral universalism that animates any radical.

Today, societies everywhere exhibit similarly revolting forms of dominance and exploitation; our task, it seemed obvious, is to make sure that tomorrow they all look different, for the same reasons. But we Marxist few in that classroom had been incapable of convincing the majority who had found Chakrabarty’s arguments compelling.

It is only in light of that challenge that the significance of Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital can be understood. Ours is a time of welcome political ferment, but among radicals Marxism is far from being considered commonsense. Surely one of our important tasks, today, is to clear away the detritus that years of academic exile have heaped on the flag of radicalism, and to win today’s activists back to our camp. Here Chibber comes to the rescue — and I don’t mean this hyperbolically. In my several years of reading Marx and Marxists, I cannot think of a book that is as clear in its explication of the analytical foundations of our project.

The stakes are not academic. A movement staffed by people who think that different cultures construct human beings of irreconcilably different constitutions, that power resides in what you and I say just as much as it resides in the State and in Capital, that class is just one of several ways in which society can be sliced, that “rights” and “interests” are swear words and the Enlightenment one long war crime, will be a movement incapable of mounting even the slightest challenge to today’s ruling-classes.

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