Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western SocietiesDate: September 25, 2010
Time: 2:00 PM
Location: Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave. Oakland, CA 94609
Marx’s critique of capital was far broader than is usually supposed. To be sure, he concentrated on the labor-capital relation within Western Europe and North America. But at the same time, he expended considerable time and energy on the analysis of non-Western societies, as well as race, ethnicity, and nationalism. While some of these writings show a problematically unilinear perspective and, on occasion, traces of ethnocentrism, the overall trajectory of Marx’s writings was toward a critique of national, ethnic, and colonial oppression and toward an appreciation of resistance movements in these spheres. In 1848, in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels espoused an implicitly and problematically unilinear concept of social progress. Precapitalist societies, especially China, which they characterized in ethnocentric terms as a “most barbarian” society, were destined to be forcibly penetrated and modernized by this new and dynamic social system. In his 1853 articles for the New York Tribune, Marx extended these perspectives to India, while viewing the communal social relations and communal property of the Indian village as a solid foundation for “Oriental despotism.” Postcolonial and postmodern thinkers, most notably Edward Said, have criticized the Communist Manifesto and the 1853 India writings as a form of Orientalist knowledge fundamentally similar to the colonialist mindset.