Saturday, November 16, 2013

Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital

Again with spectres and the postcolony

Probably need to read this, I wonder how he manages to take down postcolonial theory and reassert the importance of the enlightenment without being a Western apologist.

'Postcolonial theory has become enormously influential as a framework for understanding the Global South. It is also a school of thought popular because of its rejection of the supposedly universalizing categories of the Enlightenment. In this devastating critique, mounted on behalf of the radical Enlightenment tradition, Vivek Chibber offers the most comprehensive response yet to postcolonial theory. Focusing on the hugely popular Subaltern Studies project, Chibber shows that its foundational arguments are based on a series of analytical and historical misapprehensions. He demonstrates that it is possible to affirm a universalizing theory without succumbing to Eurocentrism or reductionism.'


Good interview here

So basically his argument is that post colonial studies over estimates the homogenaity and monumentality of capitalism in the West and ascribes to it a totalizing role that doesnt accord with reality, thus, in their arguments that since capital failed to become totalizing in the East and non-Western world, the entire project of the Englightenment which capitalism is seen to represent is bankrupt. Chibber argues that the penetration of capitalism within the West, like in the East and else where was piecemeal and met by various worker and minority revolts and resistances and therefore, Marxism as an Enlightenment instrument for critiquing it is as valid a tool for looking at peasants revolts in India and in England. I don't buy it totally.

So, I guess the reason the left is ineffectual is because of things like below. I particularly like the threat at the end, very macho

Dear Professor Chibber,

I have established that you were the person who interrupted me during the discussion period during the workshop on Neil Davidson's new book on the bourgeois revolution this morning at the Historical Materialism conference at NYU. I didn't quite hear what you were saying, but it sounded something like "What is your question…get to the point."

Of the three workshops I attended today, not a single chairperson said something along those uncharitable lines. By and large, people made much longer comments than me and far more in the name of some sect–the sort of thing that wastes time.

It was all the more unexpected to hear this from you since you were not a chairperson, number one, and number two you were going to be speaking at a closing plenary session on Sunday night to an audience of hundreds. Frankly, I thought it was very petty for you to interrupt me in that manner considering the power you exercise both at NYU in your capacity as associate professor and as someone who has written dozens of articles in places like the HM journal or NLR on the questions under debate. You couldn't wait for me to complete my 3 minute intervention while you have had the opportunity to defend your ideas on the Brenner thesis to a broad swath of the left community owing to your hard earned intellectual capital as a recipient of many highly coveted and prestigious awards.

I honestly don't know why you walked out immediately after making your remarks because I would have liked to take them up with you face to face. Don't worry, I have no interest in taking them up with you any further since I have said all I have to say at this point on the Marxism mailing list. My only advice is not to pull this bullshit on me ever again or you will truly regret it.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

Royce Ng
Lantau Island
Hong Kong


  1. Well one thing RAQS media collective said is that they all grew up as part of radical student movements in India that printed texts like Rosa Luxembourg and Marx and that they were part of worker struggles in India. Even coming out of this tradition though I wouldn't say their work is Western.

  2. I find this point pretty convincing actually:

    This is the road that, if he had taken it — and if he had taken it more seriously — could have led him to a more accurate understanding of what happened in the West and not just in the East. The fact is that in the West, when a consensual, democratic, encompassing order did finally slowly emerge in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not a gift bestowed by capitalists. It was in fact a product of very long, concerted struggles on the part of workers, farmers, and peasants. In other words, it was brought forth by struggles from below.

    Guha and the Subalternists miss this entirely, because they insist that the rise of the liberal order was an achievement of capitalists. Because they misdescribe it in the West, they misdiagnose its failure in the East. In the East, they wrongly ascribe its failure to the shortcomings of the bourgeoisie.