“Marxism & The Postcolonial Challenge: Lessons from East Asian Debates”: A brief report

January 13, 2013

The following is a brief report of the seminar “Marxism & The Postcolonial Challenge: Lessons from East Asian Debates” by Viren Murthy, organized by Sanhati- Delhi.
- Editors

On January 7, as a program of Sanhati Delhi and Sanhati International, Viren Murthy gave a presentation at Delhi University on postcolonialism, Marxism and Asianism. He began by discussing how postcolonial theory has a type of love-hate relationship with Marxism. On the one hand, many postcolonial theorists were former Marxists or Maoists and so-called theorists of the subaltern. However, on the other hand, in the 1980s and 1990s, along with many intellectuals around the world, their work took a cultural turn towards the critique of Eurocentricism and part of this included Marxism. Postcolonial theorists positioned themselves as continuing the Marxist project, but avoiding the pitfalls of Eurocentrism, which takes European experience as universal. In 1994, two notable works by Marxists, Arif Dirlik and Aijaz Ahmad countered the postcolonial critique by arguing that, in their excitement about attacking universals, postcolonials rejected the theoretical framework necessary to make sense of a global capitalist world.

Murthy argued that one could take the debate between the postcolonials and Marxists further by looking at the postcolonial response to Marxism, especially in the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty and also by looking at the various waves of Asianism in the 20th century. Asianism predates postcolonialism, but there are themes that overlap. Both see Eurocentrism as their enemy. Murthy argued that neither postcolonialism nor Asianism is able to make sense of the reconstitution of Asianism during the shift from a state-centered mode of capitalism to a neo-liberal mode of capitalism. The question that remains for us is how to understand this shift and then to think the legacy of Asianism during the early post-war period, when it was often wedded to Maoist Third Worldism and the possibility of socialism. Despite postcolonialist scholars’ critique of linear time, postcolonialism and Asianism are largely wedded to spatial categories, which make it difficult to grasp their own discourses historically.

Towards the end of his talk, Murthy attempted to draw on Hegelian Marxists, such as Moishe Postone to articulate a framework in which one could understand both postcolonialism and different forms of Asianism in relation to transformations in global capitalism. He said that we are confronted with the question of how to think political possibilities today within the dynamic and crises of capitalism.

The event was well attended and a lively and fruitful question and answer series followed. Audience members found Viren’s reading enlightening in terms of the deeper perspective in space and time it offered for making sense of the claims of postcolonial theorists and Marxists in India today. Conversations continued into the evening and everyone felt the interaction to be an extremely rewarding one.