Is class struggle ‘Eurocentric?’ Marxism vs. postcolonialism

Date: Monday 27th July
Time: 17:30 - 21:00 (London time)

Marxists are often accused of ‘Eurocentrism’ and ‘class reductionism’ (particularly in academic circles) when we argue for the struggle of workers of all races and nations against capitalism. It is said our emphasis on international working-class solidarity ignores the experience of people from the former colonial world, who must ‘decolonise’ their minds of Western-imposed ideas (Marxism included), and fight their own battles for liberation. But what is the best way forward for oppressed peoples throughout the world? This talk will explore these debates from a Marxist perspective. Our speaker, Hamid Alizadeh, is a leading activist of the International Marxist Tendency.

Audio


[Download]

Video

Recommended viewing/reading:

Transcription

Hamid: Comrades, I was at the postmodernism session yesterday and if you weren’t there you should definitely watch it later. It will be published on Marxist.com. Because postcolonial theory is really one of the strains of postmodernism, which builds on the same basic ideas. But the difference I would say from the purely philosophical postmodernist writings is that postcolonialism is sometimes a little bit more concrete. But what that really serves to show is how extremely reactionary ideas you can reach by applying postmodernism.

Now the main text which has said to be the originator of this of postcolonialism is a book by Edward Said called “Orientalism” from 1978. And to be fair to Edward Said, his starting point is to criticize the deep seeded racism which runs through Western capitalism, and in literature in particular. [inaudible] Official culture of the Orient. By which he means the oppressed nations although, he mainly talks about the Islamic world. And of course, he has the [inaudible] racism as we know it is rife in the west. And Edward Said is criticizing the west, western academics and literary works for how they use a crude generalization about Orientals and Muslims in particular, and how they use a completely unempirical method. And he criticizes their arrogant colonial and imperialist attitude of civilizing so to say the backward nations. And these are the same racist ideas that we hear today in television and also some places in academia. Like the idea of the clash of civilizations which was developed by Samuel P. Huntington in 1992 which claimed that after the collapse of the Soviet Union there was the beginning of a new era of clash of civilizations and cultures. In other words, the clash of the Christian world with other religions and in particular with Islam. In this vein, Muslims are portrayed as primitive people who desire more than anything a feudal type of society, who want to be ruled by heavy handed strong-men and religious deceits. Edward Said points out the extreme prejudices and generalizations that these people put forward. But he failed to draw any of the conclusions because then Said goes on to draw the broadest generalizing brush possible. For example, he says about the West: “For any European during the 19th century {in what he could say about the orient} was consequently a racist and imperialist and almost totally ethnocentric.” He basically portrays the whole of the West, including the working class, as one united reactionary cultural block. And in fact, he says the history of this block all the way to the time of Homer, 3000 years ago. But he never served any real evidence to back up these claims except for his interpretation of a series of literary works. In fact, he basically admits in his introduction that the field he’s examining is too vast for a systematic analysis and instead he says that method is to rely on set of historical generalizations that he makes in the introduction. So, instead of having a scientific approach of studying a wide variety of material and drawing general conclusions upon studying these, he makes a series of baseless, general assumptions and then spends the entire book trying to find literary text to prove these. And that is in general the approach of the postcolonialist. In fact, all postmodernists.

So, take their starting point in their own immediate situations and to extrapolate this over the rest of the world. Edward Said was a literary critic, so he makes the literary world the defining element in world history. Now, Said spends his whole book basically listing how Western authors have an unscientific method and that they reduce the Arabs to nothing but Muslims but he does the exact same thing himself. In the whole book, I think is more than 300 pages, there’s no concrete examples or descriptions about Middle Eastern people. Nothing about class and nothing about real culture. The Oriental person is reduced to nothing but a Muslim. In fact, in my notes as I was reading it, I just wrote “He’s obsessed with Islam.” And it’s funny because that’s a general theme of postcolonialism, to boil down the struggle against racism and imperialism to nothing but the defence of religion. Or rather the defence of non-western religions against western cultural onslaught. In other words, clash of civilizations which if you remember, is the main theory of western imperialism today.

This is a theme we’ll meet again and again, that the postcolonialists end up with all of the conclusions of the imperialists. Although often, it’s actually even cruder than how bourgeois present them. For the postcolonialist culture first of all, is the driving force of history. It is the racist culture in western academia and literature, that’s what Said said, which causes Western imperialism. For instance, Edward Said blames the first Golf war in 1991 on people like Bernard Louis and Gouard Ajami who were influential bourgeois historians and also advises of George Bush Sr at that particular time. Because as Said writes: “They convinced [him of] the phenomenon such as the Arab mind and centuries old Islamic decline that only American power could reverse.” In other words what he’s basically saying is that if he was the advisor to George Bush, if he was a top academic the war would never have happened. But today postcolonialism is the top theory being taught in universities in the West. You can hardly avoid reading “Orientalism” even if you wanted to.

But things have not gotten any better in terms of racism and imperialism. Imperialism is not the result of the individual will of evil men or advisors. Marx already explained in the Communist Manifesto how capital once having saturated the whole market is forced to go beyond its orders due to its own inherit contradictions and spread all over the world. And that is the fundamental basis of imperialism and colonialism under capitalism. And racism is the political side of this process. On the one hand, the bourgeois justify their imperialism with racism but by whipping up nationalist hysteria they also divide the working class along national lines. And rally a layer of the workers behind the ruling class. Marx once famously wrote about British colonialism in Ireland. He says: “For a long I believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by the working class taking power.” But then he goes on to say: “I’ve changed my mind. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has gotten rid of Ireland [which was a colony].” Racism is a very hard thing to endure if you’re on the receiving end of it but more than anything it is a weapon against the workers of the oppressing nation. It is the attempt of the bourgeois to try to convince the workers of the idea that they have more in common with the ruling class than with the rest of the workers around the world.

Now the postcolonialists basically repeat the same thing just to the masses in their own country. And therefor they rule out any united international struggle against imperialism whatsoever. In reality these are the prejudices of the petty bourgeois nationalists of the oppressed nations. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the outlook of the working class, which is instinctively internationalist. Look at the Arab revolution. On the one side you had the whole world working class cheering on the Arab workers and youth. Even in Israel where we were told that nothing like this could ever happen, in some of the mass protests there were signs of solidarity with the Arab masses. People were carrying signs that said “Walk like an Egyptian, fight like an Egyptian”. And on the other side you had all the respectable democratic bourgeois rulers in the West who always decry the inherentlty undemocratic primitive nature of the Arabs and along with them the Israeli ruling class all lining up behind the Arab dictators. The Saudi king was insisting that Barack Obama intervene militarily to save [cuts out] in Egypt. What Obama couldn’t in large mainly because of the enormous political impact it would have in the US where people were showing solidarity with the Egyptian revolution.

And the ideas such as clash of civilizations are aimed at fighting this working-class solidarity. That’s the role of racism. But instead of exposing this, the postcolonialists emphasize these exact same theories and try to prove them philosophically. They repeat the bourgeois idea that the European culture is exceptional and that it is prone to imperialism. The only difference is that they don’t present it as a good thing. But if that’s true, where does this imperialist culture come from? All we’re left to assume is that it’s some sort of genetic or geographic defect in Europe which again we can only assume being the work of some sort of divine being, which makes Europeans different from others. The idea is that the culture basically is the driving force of history which is a completely idealist thought. By idealism I mean the philosophical notion that our ideas are the primary element and that material reality is some sort of reflection of our ideas. In the end, all sorts of idealism end up in some kind of religious thing.

But we as Marxists believe that there is only one material world and that our ideas reflect this material world and reflect our material conditions. Of course, we are no crude economic determinists or argue that everything is an immediate reflection of simple economic factors or that everything has been decided in advance. Yes, culture, art, ideas and tradition play a huge role in society. Marx said that traditions weigh like a mountain on the backs on the working class. In the final analysis these cultures and traditions are determined by material reality. By the class struggle and the development of the productive forces in our society. Take for instance the English revolution, and I recommend everyone watch the series that we’re publishing on Marxist.com at the moment. There we see a whole series of religious sects in this revolutionary struggle who all fought in words for God the almighty, all of them were Christian. Even the Royalists [fought for the same]. But in reality, each sect and each religious branch was representing a specific class interest. In fact, all philosophies and philosophical trends throughout history represent the outlook of a particular class or layer in society.

Now Edward Said has a particularly revealing on his idealism. He says that the European and American interest in the Orient i.e. in the oppressed and colonized nations, were created by culture and I quote “that acted dynamically along with brute political, economic and military rational to make the Orient the varied and complicated that it obviously was in the field I called Orientalism.” So, it was this racist Western culture in other words which not only define the interest of the West but also created the Orient which exists primarily in the academic field of Orientalism itself. This is obviously nonsense. But what are the practical consequences of this? It is that to fight imperialism you much change the professors in the Middle East faculties in the universities in the West and replace them with someone non-western which is something that fit very nicely with Said’s career and missions.

And this is something we see taken up by the activists who try to apply postcolonial thought as a movement in western universities called “de-colonize the curriculum”. These people object to the imperialist propaganda in the universities. And yes, there is plenty of imperialist white-washing of history there but their solution is to demand that the present text in the curriculum are replaced by texts by non-white authors. Many people in this movement start out as genuinely radical youth who want to fight racism but what they essentially end up saying is that it’s not the content of the ideas that we’re taught which defines whether they’re good or bad, or true or false, but the skin colour or ethnicity of the people stating these ideas. This is a wholly racist notion and what it reflects (not in these people but in the academics who make up these ideas) is not the desire to fight racism or capitalism because it doesn’t. In fact, postcolonialism opposes any attempt at touching private property or class rule. What it reflects is the desire of the petit bourgeois of the oppressed layers to be allowed in the top echelons of academia.

As I said before, all philosophical trends in the last instance reflect the position and outlook of a particular class in society and that’s clear throughout the writings of the postcolonialists. That they represent the enraged petit bourgeois of the oppressed nations. Now this idea that I explained before that culture and Academia somehow creates and determines the ex-colonial world is quite wide-spread in postcolonial thought. But in reality, it boils down to a sort of subjectivist idealism which is the philosophical trend which claims that all knowledge is subjective and that there is no objective truth. But the postcolonialists don’t want to admit this and following the Foucault school of postmodernism of the 80’s they try to cover up the subjectivism by collectivising it. So instead of saying that individuals are unable to know nature and society they say that our Eurocentric culture is incapable of knowing other cultures and vice versa. But then we have to ask where does the line go, where do you stop understanding the other side? Is it the Bosporus? The Ural Mountains? Or the borders of the European Union? What about the different cultures inside the west? Can the French understand Britain? Or different cultures of different cities or neighbourhoods? And you can go on but you inevitably end up with a subjectivist philosophy which is the foundation of all postmodernist thinking. But the thing is that the logic of subjectivism inevitably leads to what is called Solipsism. Which is the idea that since all knowledge is subjective we cannot prove the existence of anyone beside ourselves. And hence we are essentially trapped within the lonely universe built by our own mind. Of course, the question then comes if that is so, why bother proving this to everyone else? How can postcolonial analyse the west or write books for a western audience who clearly doesn’t understand it because they don’t understand the West. How can they do this if there is an unbridgeable gap between the Eurocentric world and the rest of the world? In fact, we can turn it around because of course most of these people have spent their whole lives in top academic institutions in the west. Coming from very rich families by the way. So, they would be Eurocentric themselves, wouldn’t they? And then they could not possibly comment on the so-called Orient.

Another idea that the postcolonialists are obsessed about is the idea of Difference. And here is where we really begin to see the really reactionary nature of these ideas. I’m going to talk about one of these guys: Dipesh Chakrabarty, one of the biggest names in postcolonial theory in the past 10 years. And you’ll have to forgive me for the very obscure language but I couldn’t possibly say what I’m about to say without giving you a taste for what he’s actually writing himself because you wouldn’t believe me.

Now Chakrabarty criticizes Marxism for not considering what he calls the “‘difference’ [and] ‘responsibility’ to the plurality of the world”. What does he mean by Difference? He means that the laws of nature and society do not apply everywhere and to everyone. I’m going to read a quote now, forgive me for reading it: “For most Hindus, gods, spirits and the so-called supernatural have a certain ‘reality’. They are as real as ‘ideology’ is-that is to say, after Zizek, they are embedded in practices.” And then he ends with the crown jewel, the cherry on the cake: “The secular calendar is only one of the many time-worlds we travel.” So, what he’s basically saying is that for Hindu’s there is a different time-world inhabited by gods and spirits. And then, I’m sorry it gets really bad, “One historicizes only insofar as one belongs to a mode of being in the world that is aligned with the principle of ‘disenchantment of the universe,’ which underlies knowledge in the social sciences (and I distinguish knowledge from practice) But ‘disenchantment’ is not the only principle by which we world the earth. [I’m reading this correctly if you’re wondering, *laughs*]. The supernatural can inhabit the world in these other modes of worlding, and not always as a problem or result of conscious belief or ideas.”

By “historicizing” he means to recognise development, and progress, in nature and in history. So, what this means is that development and a scientific approach only applies for those of us who live in a “disenchanted world”. Poor us. The magic has been taken out of our world, and now we are forced to live with development and laws of nature.

But there are other worlds, which are still magical. And surely Dipesh Chakrabarty is a traveller between the worlds writing his travel guide. This is one of the most prominent academics in the world! Spewing this reactionary poison into the ears of thousands of radical youth! He’s promoted all over the world in universities and academia and so on. This might sound like a harmless quote but not only does he not recognise that lawfulness applies to everyone he thinks that the whole idea of lawfulness is oppressive as a concept. Everything is possible, these people say in these “magical worlds”. Nothing is necessary. But if that was the case, how would you ever be able to plan anything? Or act out any of your wishes and desires? If gravity wasn’t a force of nature, how would we be able to orientate ourselves? One day we walk off a cliff and continue into the air above the abyss. The next day I might fall down and die. Or maybe I’ll fall up – into space. Of course, it’s all nonsense. The fact is that Necessity and Freedom go together. There can be no freedom without lawfulness in nature. The better we understand the laws of nature the better can we use them to achieve our aims and aspirations. When we talk about progress in history, we mean the development of the productive forces, the development of the means of production and science. Which increase the domination of humanity over nature and open the path for the liberation of humanity.

And that is precisely what Chakrabarty is against. The notion of progress, that he’s arguing against which he thinks is an elitist concept altogether. And here he is openly attacking Marxism and the class struggle. He claims that in India, the struggle is not along class lines, but along religious and tribal lines. To back this up he talks about how workers and peasants in India use religious symbols and rites in their struggles which is natural because most of them are religious people. But this does not mean that their actions don’t have a class nature. One of Chakrabarty’s colleagues, called Ranajit Guha traces the history of peasant struggles in British Colonial India. And one of the examples in this book is an episode with a series of poor Muslim Peasants in Bengal who have been brutally oppressed by the landlord Hindu Brahman, an upper-caste landlord. And the peasants in the night take his cow and they cut it into pieces and desecrate a local Hindu temple with his cow as a sign of defiance.

Now there are two trends in this particular struggle: one is the class struggle between the poor peasants and the rich landlord. And one is the particular form that this struggle takes which is on religious lines. These religious lines are the weakness of the movement because in that way they cannot connect to other poor peasants who are Hindu.

But what Guha, and Chakrabarty both defend, is not the class nature of these uprisings but their religious nature. Which they raise to the level of principle. And in fact, go as far as saying, that this is somehow the Indian form of Modernity! That is, they raise this type of struggle to a political principle. But what would that mean in practical terms? If you put the desecration of cows in Hindu temples on the programme of a political party? Will it achieve liberation for the poor Indian peasants? No, that is a recipe for sectarianism! But they go even further, they claim that the notion of class struggle, socialism and even a national liberation itself are elitist and oppressive because they impose on the religious and tribal nature of Indian society. And of course, all of these ideas align perfectly with the religious zealots in India.

Now I have another quote from Chakrabarty, this one is maybe a bit more understandable:

“For however cynical one may be in one’s analysis of the ‘reasons’ why the Hindu political parties may want to use the ‘Hindu’ card, one still has to ask questions about the many different meanings that divine figures (such as the god-king Rama) assumes in our negotiations of modernity”

Let me translate the rise of the Hinduvta movement (Which is a reactionary Hindu fundamentalist movement.) They say that the movement was not the result of the betrayal of the Indian revolution by Congress or by the Stalinists but it was a real religious movement based on the nature of inherit nature Indians. In other words, that the Indian masses are rejecting class struggle and nationalism and are going towards the true natural order of things. This is not only exactly what the religious fundamentalists say it is exactly – although it is put more crudely – what the Imperialist chauvinists say!

And he goes on: “the bringing together of these different time-worlds in the construction of a modern public life in India has always had something to do with all the major crises modem India” What does he mean by that? That, it is the clash of Modernity (advanced capitalism or developed bourgeois civilization) and “Traditional” time or traditional “Worlds” that is the cause behind the Hindutva movement! Or behind all the major movements and crisis in India. And what is the conclusion of this? What is necessary, is to go back to a time before capitalism ruined the time-worlds of Indian’s with its Elitist notions of democracy, science and the desire for higher living standards. Of course, that’s not really what capitalism brought to India but that’s what has saying. I will come back to that.

That is what postcolonialism boils down to hostility to science, hostility to class struggle and a fetishizing of backwardness and religion. What it reflects is the total decay of bourgeois nationalism in the oppressed countries. It is a spit in the face of hundreds of millions of workers, peasants and poor who have launched wave after wave of revolutionary struggles in the colonial world. Not for a return to some pre-capitalist era, which by the way was not all hunky dory, but for national liberation, for democracy and for a way out of the barbarism of real Imperialist oppression. In none of these books do they talk about the real, violent oppression that imperialists brought to these countries. They talk about the enlightenment, the scientific ideas, notions of progress, class struggle; this is what they point out to be the reactionary part of all of this.

Capitalism in Europe came to the world fighting against backwardness, mysticism and obscurantism originally. It played an incredibly progressive role. It swept away the complex web of classes and layers which held society back. It destroyed previous land relations, freed the peasants and abolished the landlord class. It united whole nations and it destroyed feudal society with a myriad of small statelets. These were huge steps forward for humanity. But in its phase of Imperialism, capitalism turns into its opposite. It is a lie to say, as the postcolonialists do that Capitalism was trying to modernise the oppressed nations. [cuts out] It was the masses in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America which time and time again attempted to push society forward out of barbarism and backwardness. And having no living layers to lean on.

The Imperialists can only rest on all that is old and rotten such as Sectarianism and tribalism. And they were the ones pushing for sectarianism and to push the struggles into a religious direction. They are the enemies of the working class and poor but your often hear postcolonial thinkers defend these people. The sectarians were allied with the imperialists sabotage any attempt at modernising society in all the history of the oppressed and colonized nations and sabotaged any attempt at achieving even bourgeois democracy.

It was the British which time and time again leaned on sectarianism to divide and rule India. The end result was the criminal partition of India which lead to millions of deaths. It was British and US imperialism which has poured billions of dollars and pounds into maintaining Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East for decades to this day. Saudi Arabia, the Islamic state and Al-Qaeda would not exist for a single day without the aid of the imperialists.

Tribalism in Africa likewise, has been used by all the imperialist forces to defend their privileges and continue the plunder of the continent. The postcolonialists are extremely dishonest and ignore all of this and if they mention it it’s nothing but a footnote. And instead attack what was progressive in early capitalism which capitalism is unable to offer any more. In all of this postcolonialists end up being fully aligned with the ideas promoted by the imperialists. In reality, they do not fight Imperialism or capitalism at all. Their real struggle is against Marxism and the working class. That is why they are now being promoted around the world in the education system where they are one of the dominant if not the dominant trend. And here they play the role of capturing young radical people who are now looking for a way out of the dead end of capitalism.

Now sometimes I hear some people say that we should not dismiss all of these theories but I strongly disagree. As Marxists we need to wage a determined struggle against these ideas. Postcolonialist ideas are reactionary from top to bottom and whatever little you can learn from them you can learn the same thing a thousand times better and clearer from the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. They represent a disguised counter-revolution in the universities and in the schools and our task is to expose their ideas one by one and to win over the youth to the only ideas which can really defeat Imperialism and racism. Which are the ideas of Marxism.

Look at India, South Africa and throughout the Middle East. Formal liberation from imperialism has been achieved but what has changed for the masses after the skin colour of their rulers changed? Their living standards continue to decline, corruption and nepotism are rife and the Imperialists still dominate them via the banks and via the world market. Of course, with the help of the local capitalists who have a domestic skin colour. On a capitalist basis there is no way out for the masses. The struggle against capitalism and imperialism are the same. And a victory against imperialism in the oppressed countries is a victory for the working classes in the advanced capitalist countries because the enemy is the same. And the other way around! A revolution in any of the advanced capitalist countries would weaken the imperialists in the oppressed nations. Capitalism is international and has built an international working class. The workers have no nations. Workers in all over the world have far more in common with each other than any of their rulers.

That is what we stand for. Against racism and nationalism, we raise the banner of internationalism. Against fundamentalism and sectarianism, we raise the banner of class struggle. And against Capitalist imperialism we stand for Socialism which is the only way to liberate all of humanity. From all the barbarism and decay of class society.

Interventions

Daniel: I’ve often thought that the arguments put forward regarding racism from people influenced by postcolonialism and postmodernism have implied within them that, for example, black people are essentially all the same. A simple example of this would be that a lot of people from this petit bourgeois politics would be very offended if a white person were to disagree with a black person on racism. The mere fact that they are white and the other is black sort of makes the whole argument invalid and the white person should just listen to the black person – basically that’s the position. But obviously, not all black people agree with on all questions but specifically on the question of racism. Actually, in my old workplace I worked with a black guy who said that the reason that black men have problems in the UK is because they are lazy. And he was saying this to me so I disagreed with him. Obviously, there are plenty of other black people who would also disagree with him and would therefor to some degree agree with me.

So, I think philosophically speaking… Hamid has already very well explained the subjective idealist basis, that one person cannot know another person’s position or experience. So, I won’t explain any of that at all or add to it but just on the conclusions of it, the similarities between it and far-right positions has frequently been noted actually. Because the conclusion, probably not intended by most people who put this forward, is that different cultures and ethnicities should stay in their separate boxes and not really speak to each other or influence one another.

Now because we have discussed this subject of idealism in postmodernism and in postcolonial theory, if I were to read the following quotation to you, you could think that it was from a similar thinker, someone who is basically a postmodernist or postcolonialist. The quotation goes as follows: “The thing (i.e. the material object) cannot be dealt with apart from the subject. A thing in itself detached from reason is even more of a non-thing than nothing. For understanding and reason alone create unity and diversity. They alone engender the thing, reason alone has the shaping power.”

Another statement from the same person: “The value of science is not its truth, this after all is only symbolic. But its value is in its usefulness as a practical method and its importance in shaping imagination and character.” The author of these quotes is actually Huston Stewart Chamberlain who is known as Hitler’s John the Baptist. He was a British man but gave up his British citizenship and became a German because he considered Germany to be a more romantic and enchanted place not so destroyed by money and the horrors of modern capitalism. And he actually praised the Indian tradition as being one based on myth and thought that Europe had lost its way with science. He thought that science was a Jewish thing. This idea found its way to the Nazis in terms of their denial of history and objective truth. According to Roucheling* who had several conversations with Himmler and Hitler, Himmler said to him: “It does not matter one bit whether this or that is the real truth about the early history of the Germanic tribes. There is no reason why the party shouldn’t stipulate a type of hypothesis even if it contradicts scientific opinion. The important thing is to have such thoughts on this as will confirm our people in the national pride that it needs.”

The Nazi theorists (if you can call them that) specifically denied the existence of history. Because history implies objectivity and development which of course, they were against. They were against progress entirely. There could be no history to erase because it erases its own character is defined by its original formation and it stays that way forever. So, the leading Nazi Alfred Rosenberg wrote the following: “In essence, the first major mythical pinnacle of achievement is not further consummated. It simply assumes different forms. The value is perennial, Odin as an eternal reflection of the primal powers of Nordic man is as much alive today as 5000 years ago.” And also, I’m running out of time but I have more quotes from Hitler but he basically says the same thing. He says history and truth don’t really matter, it’s willpower of our great nation that counts and we can just make stuff up.

The argument I’m trying to make is obviously not that Edward Said is a fascist. Or that those you encounter on university campuses who use these ideas are fascists or becoming fascists. I don’t think that’s the case. But objectively the ideas that they put forward are reactionary. And has Hamid said it’s basically a repetition of reactionary imperialist ideas that they simply say the bad things you say about us are actually good, that colonial people are good. But they agree with the caricature of these people basically. And with the division of these people in timeless boxes. And what’s particularly fascinating is to find is that even deeper in the down questions of philosophy such as the nature of time and objective knowledge they basically agree. Even in the figure of Hidegas* who is a celebrated philosopher of postmodernists to a certain extent and as well a very well-known Nazi. You wouldn’t be surprised that he also denied the possibility of objective knowledge and he detested society and believed that it was a horrible burden on the individual. But he also denied the existence of time, he said that time does not exist, it’s just a figment of the imagination.

I’ll leave it there.

Zain: Thank you Jack and Hamid for the lead off. I think many points have been cleared of postcolonialism with how reactionary it is as a philosophy (if it is a philosophy), about Marxism and the working class in general. The particular criticism of Marx position about the role British imperialism played in the Indian subcontinent. They accuse Marx of being racist or his analysis or his position on British India is wrong. Capitalism didn’t bring progress to the Indian subcontinent but instead it has brought death, misery and agony for millions of Indian masses. But unlike bourgeois historians and postcolonial thinkers, we as Marxists see any historical phenomena in its totality with all its contradictions, that all British imperialism first formed as the British-East India Company then later on as a direct British colonial imperialism had a dual character. If you know that all the policies of the company in British India for their imperialist interests. And for that they looted and ravaged the Indian subcontinent. But side by side they also put an end to the old archaic mode of production that is Asiatic despotism and introduced [cuts out] in the Indian subcontinent. In the words of Marx:

“England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.”

Here we can see Marx clearly putting the things as they were. He is clearly highlighting the imperialist character of the East India company but side by side is also explaining that this is a step forward for millions of people residing in that area. But postcolonialists don’t want to understand, there’s a crystal-clear position and starting from this you can see all the crimes of Stalinism and the criminal roles the Stalinists played in British India with Marxism. And we’ve clearly seen that capitalism has not been able to solve the burning issues facing millions of people. It only complicated and exaggerated these burning questions we can still see in the Indian subcontinent, found in ancient tribes and archaic despotism to some extent but what these guys [postcolonialists?]* fail to understand is that it is the capitalist and bourgeois relation which now underlines in every question and every aspect of life whether it be the question of imperialism or the national question, caste question and so on. But they don’t provide any solution. All they provide is that the masses must decolonize their minds from all these festering ideas. And in the end the sole postmodernist goal is to confuse the backwardness and start eulogizing the old mode of production that capitalism put an end to.

Moreover, instead of asking for the unity of actions against all these problems and burning issues what they offer is that every layer, every oppressed community should lead their own fight. For example, in the recent movement against the anti-citizenship bill in India that was clearly arising out of the reactionary agenda of Modi to divide the working masses of India along the religious and sectarian lines as this bill is only against Muslims in general so only they should fight against this bill. But postcolonialists were clearly unaware of the objective realities when the Indian trade unions called for a general strike in January. They included in their program to revoke the sectarian citizenship amendment bill and that was the largest general strike in human history and cut across all those ethnic and religious lines to bring out 15 million people strike against the Modi regime. So, we can see that the postcolonialists and postmodernists actually strengthening the hands of the reactionary Modi regime, their agenda and Modi’s agenda are the same that we should not let working masses unite against the common enemy that is the Indian bourgeoisie and their Western masters and imperialist institutions.

But the working masses of the Indian subcontinent, not just India, but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh and beyond are ready to fight against the reactions of capitalism and in the coming period we will see a movement far greater than any of us in which Indian masses will join their hands to kick out capitalism and imperialism and take their revenge of the crimes of the party and will lift up the basis of socialist liberation of India as a spark of socialist revolution. Long live the unity of the proletariat. Workers of the world unite. Thank you.

Fiona: I’m going to talk about Decolonising the curriculum which is a popular campaign in universities across the US & UK.

There are many issues but in the interest of time I will only deal with one. That is the accusation of eurocentrism. Proponents of the campaign say the curriculum is dominated by white male authors, typically from Europe (hence Eurocentric). It is true that they are dominated in this way. They say the perspective/ideas of the Global South are ignored. 

They campaign against what they call ‘whiteness’. But they have no clear definition of this. In general, it is seen as a ‘manifestation of power’ that pervades all aspects of society. Their proof of this is in the language & books of the ruling class. Hamid has already explained and showed how Said does this with literature in particular.

In reality – in their campaign against whiteness – what they end up doing is just describing racism. However, they have no scientific understanding of where it comes from. So, they just assert its existence. All this does is confuse people. Once you detach oppression from its material basis, you remove our ability to fight it.

In some cases, they understand racism as a product of history and even capitalism. But they do not understand the laws that drive history. That the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. And this is an important difference.

In doing this, they transform racism – a real material phenomenon into a battle of ideas. Ideas are important. But what is more important – is the source of those ideas. Ideas do not hang unsupported in the air. 

White supremacy and ‘whiteness’ (by which they mean racism) are a part of class society. As Marxists, we must be concrete in our language and our tactics. Otherwise the struggle appears to be against white people in general, rather than the exploitation and oppression of the ruling class specifically.

White supremacy and racism come from capitalism and the legacy of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. It is those systems that must be fought. In fact, it is the same system – class society. This is not interchangeable with whiteness. By calling it whiteness they’re confusing the issue.

It is a good sign that young people are rejecting what they are taught in universities. I mean that in terms of the people who support the campaign to decolonize their curriculum. But we must demand more. Above all, we cannot base the search for good ideas on the colour of the skin of the author. This is one of the demands of the campaign. That there are more black and brown authors on the curriculum. 

This campaign highlights the nature of education under capitalism. Which is a tool to disseminate the ideology of the ruling class into society. 

A whole array of young radicalised people are taken in by the radical sounding rhetoric of these ideas, but all these ideas do is channel down the path of identity politics which is harmless for the capitalist system. 

It is absolutely true that higher education generally, and elitist institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, exclude authors and texts from the ‘global south’. However, we would add that the issue is not just the race of the authors on reading lists, but also their class perspective. For example, we must raise the question: how is the curriculum set? And in whose interests? 

Education has always been organised in the interests of the ruling class. The truth about capitalism — and its roots in slavery and colonialism — will therefore rarely be taught. The history we are taught is overwhelmingly that which is considered acceptable from the point of view of the establishment. 

But as we heard from Hamid’s lead off, there are plenty of black and brown petty bourgeois authors who would not tell the truth. Who would speak from the perspective of their own ruling class. We know this – because they do so in their own countries! 

True decolonisation would involve removing the class barriers that prevent the overwhelming majority of the world from accessing higher education. This can only be achieved as part of the socialist transformation of society internationally – through the expropriation of the capitalist class. 

A democratic curriculum is dependent on the needs of society as a whole. That is how it should be organised. That is how we can determine the ‘best ideas’.

The fight against racism in academia isn’t an isolated one and is part of the wider fight against racism, which is fundamentally done through the class struggle. We cannot settle for changing reading lists. But beyond this there is a quote from Stephen J Gould: “Less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” This is what we must remember. This means we need real education, housing, food, healthcare. We must fight for this now, as part of the fight for socialism. Thank you.

Ubaldo: In various Latin-American universities there’s talk about how it’s no longer correct to speak about colonialism since the French and British colonies stopped existing long ago. And at the same time, they deny the existence of neo-colonialism measures in which the imperialist countries are able to maintain control of the underdeveloped countries. These same academics accuse Marx of having a Eurocentric vision. And they tell us we have to accept the postcolonialist theories which put forward that the problem is basically one inherited from the colonial era. And to be honest, they’re not very original. What they do is take up and refigure some theories of Latin-American thinkers. For example, they take the writings of Mariátegui, a Latin-American Marxist who applied the Marxist method to analyse the conditions he lived in, particularly in his collection of seven essays interpreting the reality in Peru. He uses the concept of structural heterogeneity. And they throw out all the theory and the content that Mariátegui wrote about and they just hold onto this one concept. And they try to make use of this concept to say there’s [inaudible] of Eurocentric Marxism. In one of his writings Mariátegui analyses the composition of dependant capitalism. Different modes of production co-exist. And various Latin-American aspects such as community labour or the small-scale feudal production that still exists. And it also incorporates a Latin-American language talking about Indians, Mestizos, Creoles.

What Mariátegui does is to try to apply Marxism to explain reality, however. But what the postmodernist theory tries to do is to confront all the writings of him and focusing exclusively on this one theory. There’re also his writings on the theory of dependence, which talks about under-developed countries. And it tries to claim that all writing on under-developed countries is also postcolonialist. The theory of dependence holds that both the developed capitalist country and the under-developed country maintain an intimate relationship and that the development of one equals the under-development of the other. This postmodernist theory also puts forward the idea of structural heterogeneity. This theory of dependence has a number of errors, for example not recognizing the role of the national bourgeoisie. However, the postcolonialists do not do it justice in any way.

More recently, we see the emergence of what’s called the philosophy of liberation. This openly incorporates postmodernism and liberation theology to try to remake the anti-European discourse. The main representative of this is Enrique Guze. He makes a strong criticism of eurocentrism and he sets himself the objective of dismantling the discussion on modernity as a European phenomenon. He says that it’s a myth that Europe represents the high point on knowledge studies. He counterposes to this the idea that modernity is global phenomenon. And the only way to understand European development is to understand the other ages. He gives as an example the submission of Latin-American under Spanish rule. And he says that postcolonial theory reinforces the potential for rebellion. Since they exult the antagonism of the oppressed peoples. And the philosophy of liberations puts forward the idea of emancipation of the other. Any theory that doesn’t recognize the marginalized or oppressed has nothing to offer. He also takes some texts by Guha, in particular the book Elemental Aspects of the Peasant Insurrection, where the author criticizes the clear aspects of the movement and he says that this denotes prejudices of from foreign authors.

In this way, liberation philosophy throws aside any coherent philosophy if it comes from Europe. It invites European influence to be replaced by sentimentalism. It says that the objective of liberation philosophy is to identify the source of the distortion in its history. And as an alternative it invites one to rewrite history as if it offers some sort of alternative to liberation. That is to say, to build a new history which lifts up the oppressed. The liberation philosophy doesn’t consider the position of imperialist powers in the region. Rather it invites us to create a new culture and a new literature. As if a culture can be transformed on demand simply by changing our methods of education. It puts forward that instead of mass struggle what we need is individual change, personal change. That’s why we have to combat those tendencies not only in theory but also in practice. Thank you.

Zowi: My contribution will be about the postcolonial idea that there is no unity between workers of the oppressor and the oppressed nations. This is relevant because in this period in a lot of European countries, including the Netherlands, we see a big anti-racist movement coming up. This ant-racist movement of course has recently been inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests but they also take on local issues. But to completely stand in solidarity with mostly young people who have joined is that we have to be critical of some ideas of the leadership who has been influenced or is dominated by postcolonial ideas. We have to understand that this does not come out of nothing but is a result of a big vacuum which has been caused by the degeneration of the leadership of the labour movement in the last decade. And we could basically say a kind of loss of memory about joint struggles in the past. Postcolonial thinkers say that there cannot be a joint struggle between workers of the oppressors and of the oppressed. And if it takes place then it is some sort of cynical communist plot. Because it basically would entail white domination of the anti-colonial movement.

And then they say that anti-racist activists need to decolonize their minds. The idea behind it is that white people are one reactionary block and are inherently reactionary and want to colonize. They’re basically saying that white European workers and capitalists have the same interests. Maybe the workers want higher wages and the capitalists want a bit lower but their basic interests are the same. While postcolonial ideas might sound very radical, this completely false idea is basically propaganda of the ruling class and the right-wing reformists but turned inside out. These were the ideas that were used by colonial powers like the English, the French and the Dutch to gain support for colonialism and imperialism and to tie the workers to their bosses.

But with this, postcolonialists distort the real history of struggle of the workers movement. It is true that right-wing social democrats came to accept colonialism around the 1900’s. But the left-wing, people like Lenin, fought against these ideas within the second international. Whatever higher living standards some workers would gain from colonialism, this would be offset by the strengthening of the ruling class. The fall of the colonial empires like Britain, France and the Netherlands would hasten the defeat of these imperialist ruling classes and hasten the revolution in Europe. A successful socialist revolution in Europe would in any case improve the situations of the European working masses much more than any gains from colonialism could give them for sure.

It is not just in theory but in practice that these ideas were built upon by revolutionaries. For example, the Dutch socialist Sneevliet, he set up the Indonesian social-democratic association and while the first members were Dutch he insisted on focusing on the recruitment of native Indonesians. And after the Russian revolution and the setting up of the Comintern this led to a tie and collaboration between Indonesian communism and Dutch communism. Indonesian communist cadres would speak at workers meetings in the Netherlands and that it would link the struggle for independence and the struggle for better living conditions in Indonesia and would link it to the workers struggle in the Netherlands. They did this with the explanation that the Indonesian masses and Dutch workers shared a common enemy: the Dutch capitalist class. The first Indonesian MP in the Netherlands went into parliament and made speeches to defend the struggles in Indonesia with the slogan “Indonesia separate from Holland now!” the communist party would influence a significant part of the Dutch workers and move them away from the ruling ideology.

I don’t have much time left but I want to mention that there was joint struggle in 1933 of the Dutch and Indonesian navy soldiers against wage cuts. Unfortunately, the role of Stalinism meant the deterioration of these ties. In 1938 the party dropped the slogan of Indonesian independence. A similar development was there in Britain and France, it was basically Stalin who wanted to appease the bourgeois democratic countries in order to gain a block against the fascist countries and Japan. Despite Stalinist distortions, we still lay to see very impressive examples including a one day basically general strike in different Dutch cities in September 1946 against sending troops to Indonesia for the reconquest after the Second World War.

Comrades, there are many different examples like this in all forms of colonial powers and the 20th century is full of examples of joint anti-racist struggles. It is our duty to act as the memory of the working class and youth and to point out these examples. Let’s break down all these distortions of these postcolonial ideologies, let’s emphasize the proud history of united struggle and let’s offer the youth real Marxist alternatives to fight oppression and exploitation to the end.

Josh: I’d like to spend a little time trying to put postcolonialism in its historical context. And I think we can understand a lot about the nature of postcolonialism by looking at the colonial revolution.

The period after the Second World War was a period of upswing and reforms in the imperialist countries at least, but in the colonially oppressed world it was a period of the revolutionary overthrow of colonial rule and the attempt to escape from the dead end of capitalism from Cuba to Algeria to India to Vietnam, etc. This was one of the most inspiring periods in human history, which we call the colonial revolution.

One remarkable feature of this period is that many regimes which explicitly set out to establish independent, capitalist democracies in their countries ended up expropriating the capitalists because they were tied by a thousand threads to imperialism. At the same time, those regimes were heavily influenced by dominant Stalinist ideas at the time, and so clung to the idea of socialism in one country. 

So, you see various different types of national socialism popping up. You have Islamic socialism, Buddhist socialism, all of which claimed that their culture had unique exceptions to the European class struggle and therefore required a unique path to socialism, but crucially within the bounds of a single nation state or cultural area. This was a concession to petit bourgeois nationalism.

But interestingly, this same idea can be seen even in those regimes which did not overthrow capitalism. To take one example, Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence in 1957. He developed a theory which was heavily influenced by so-called Marxist-Leninism, but in combination with Black-nationalism like the ideas of Marcus Garvey*. He argued that prior to colonisation, Africa was everywhere a classless, communistic society, and therefore class struggle and revolution were not necessary for the building of socialism in Africa, but rather reforms could achieve this once colonialism had been overthrown politically. So, it’s socialism without the expropriation of the capitalists and without a workers state.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that the idea that up until the arrival of the Europeans Africa was in a permanent state of primitive communism is not only historically false, but it’s the same prejudice of the imperialists given a positive spin. More importantly, we can see here that African uniqueness is being used here as an ideological cover for a reformist policy. This is not unique to Nkrumah. Don’t forget that it was Gaddafi and not Blair who first promoted the idea of a third way between capitalism and socialism.

But the halfway position between capitalism and socialism, and the national particularism of all these regimes proved to be an enormous weakness against the onslaught of imperialism exacerbated by the delay of the proletariat revolution in the West and the failure of the workers party in the west. Many of these regimes effectively assisted with the recolonization of their countries, through privatization for example. Like Gaddafi in Libya, or they were overthrown by imperialism. The history of the so-called neoliberal period is exactly this, an onslaught of the World Bank, IMF and WTO against the reforms put up by trade barriers of the colonial world. Now this isn’t the real history of

This is the pre-history of postcolonialism if you like, the honest struggle to overthrow imperialism diverted along the lines of petty bourgeois nationalism, in which Stalinist ideas play a very important role. Now this isn’t the real history of postcolonial theory, which comes later.

The rise of postcolonial theory comes out of the retreat of the colonial revolution and the overturning of many of the democratic and social gains of those revolutions. It is an ideology of pessimism and backsliding. Zain has already spoken very well about India. It’s worth pointing out that the Indian constitution refers to India as a sovereign socialist democratic republic. In reality it’s none of those things except a republic. Jawaharlal Nehru was himself influenced by the USSR, and you had mass Communist Parties influenced by both traditional Stalinism and Maoism.

And yet in this socialist republic, capitalism was never overthrown. Zain has talked about the conditions in India at this time. Suffice to say that not a single one of the problems of independence and even the democratic revolution has been solved. So interestingly you start to see Stalinist academics in India abandoning the crude caricature of Marxism that they previously held and flipping into reactionary idealism. Many postcolonial theorists have come from this background. The say we tried working class struggle, we tried economic development but culture, past, and religion went out. Therefore, in India, society is determined by religion not class or development of working forces.

But the point is, the working class was prevented from coming to power by its leaders, and by the failure of Stalinist ideas and the leadership to the mass communist parties which existed in India. The consequence of that was precisely the failure of economic development under Indian capitalism that has laid the basis for the preservation of caste and sectarian divisions.

They actually turn the most reactionary aspects of Indian society into a permanent and necessary feature of Indian society, which is exactly what the British did!

But in truth, the time of postcolonialism has passed. Now all over the world the masses are moving onto the road of revolution. The old Stalinist organizations are completely discredited for the most part and the current postcolonial prejudices that exist in universities will be swept away by the coming tide. Thank you.

Sum up

Hamid: Thank you very much to everyone who spoke. I thought it was an excellent discussion. I don’t have anything to add to the excellent interventions that the comrades made. The reality is that these people are very unserious people. You would’ve thought that when you pick out the best, most prominent academics in the world you would have someone with a bit of brain. But really, every page you read you can dismantle their arguments so easily just by scratching the surface. And in fact, they think they’re very nuanced and advanced, complex in their way of thinking. Profound! But really, when you dissect their writing and spell it out they end up saying the most childish crude things possible on earth. 

As Josh said, and I think I also made a similar point in the postmodernism discussion, they react to the rigid ideas of the Stalinists. They had this thing for the colonial world that said all countries must follow the exact same stages that Europe followed. Slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism. And of course, it was no longer possible for domestic capitalism to develop in these countries after the entrance of Imperialism. Capitalism became a huge block for the development of these countries. It did create a small powerful working class but the vast majority of the country was in a state of backwardness, all of these countries. And the only way forward would’ve been for socialist revolution. Which the masses did attempt to do in India, Iran, Iraq, many places, Sudan. But the Stalinists attack us and try to hold it back saying “No, no, we have to wait until we have a fully developed, industrial, democratic bourgeois society before we can continue on to socialism.” Which was only an excuse to put their support behind the nationalists. In fact, they built the nationalist movements in India, Turkey, Iran, may places, Argentina. 

But these guys reacted to this rigid view of history and said “Oh no, there isn’t any stages at all, it’s all just one big stage, one fixed, immovable block” basically. They react against this idea of time and development. Let’s say, they don’t accept time as a Euro-centric phenomenon concept. There are things that exist beyond time in other words. But what is that beside super historical ideas? Which is exactly what religion puts forward, which is a very rigid view of anything! They say there are no laws, everything is flexible, people can do whatever they want to, there’s no order, there’s nothing in society. But then they reduce all of European history to one fixed, unchangeable block going back to Homeric times according to Edward Said. Maybe some are a bit more nuanced but that is basically what they do. And it’s an extremely charlatan method that they use, they just write whatever comes to their minds basically. And then they go on to cover all of this with extremely vague and obscure language. For instance, they’ll say there is no object to reality. And then they spend half a page giving caveats and ifs and buts to cover it up, basically, and even saying the exact opposite! Because they need to hide what they really think, which is this extreme idealist subjectivism. 

Now it’s also important to say that this philosophy is the world outlook of the petty bourgeois. This is a class whose position in society is constantly threatened by the working class on the one hand and that they’re in danger of falling into but it’s also dominated by the big bourgeois who use their influence and power over the state and the economy to crush the middle class. And at the same time, it’s a completely atomized class who are in constant competition with each other. Imagine all these academics fighting over the few tenure positions there are. And therefore, their starting point is themselves. They look down on the workers who don’t understand anything, the workers are primitive, and they’re angry at the imperialists and big bourgeois who don’t understand them or appreciate their efforts and their talents (what they think are their talents obviously). And so, their personal experience becomes their sole measure of the world. Why can’t anyone understand my pain, my experience – this is what they’re all talking about, how you experience things. And in that way their whole world outlook comes to revolve around their own position in society. 

And it’s interesting because they’re so obsessed with differences and being original but they’re extremely predictable. And you go through the waves of postmodernists or subjectivist ideas that have come since Nietzsche and you’ll find the same ideas. If you look at them individually you’ll find a lot of similarities and they’re in fact, incredibly predictable people. Edward Said was a literary academic critic in the US and his idea was to call for more Orientals in Western academia, in particular in literature. And although he said that the whole of the West was covered by this Euro-centric grip but the academic world was different, it was free. Of course, that’s complete nonsense, if anything it’s not free – it’s academia, which is in complete control of the ruling class. The other guy, Dipesh Chakrabarty, was a Bengali in Australian academia and if you read his writing you’ll see he was not a very good one (academic). And his idea was that you cannot judge the logic of Indians like we judge others.

Judith Butler wrote a book, another postmodernist, about queer theory where she admits that it was kind of a self-help project in order for her to come to grips with her being a lesbian – which I’m sure is not an easy thing to grow up with. And she finds out whatever it is she has to do and then she says “well, now the rest of the world has to do this too if you want to be progressive.” Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist and he analyses people in Algeria but then he takes that psychology, which is based on looking at the individual in their specific position in their environment, and he extrapolates this psychoanalysis onto all of society. It’s extremely amateurish and very striking – and they do this shamelessly. 

So, when they say that people are Euro-centric and people cannot know reality because they judge it on the basis of their own prejudices, they’re talking about themselves. Because their class position does not allow them to do anything else. And of course, they think they stand beside class society but in everything they do they prove exactly which class they belong to and the iron forces which determine, even on an individual level, which determine class laws which determine behaviour even on an individual level. I think it’s very important that we go on the offensive with these ideas because a lot of young people are being introduced to this as their first step into politics. They repeat these ideas without fully understanding the consequences, But this doesn’t mean that they’re fully convinced, it only means that these ideas haven’t been challenged. And the only way to challenge them is to go on the offensive. Mild in manner, bold in content, as Marx said. If we do this we will win them and a lot of people who are definitely not convinced by these ideas. And even more important in the colonial countries there is a revolutionary fervour even deeper than the one we see in the West. Hundreds of thousands, millions of young people are ready to rebel, ready to go on the streets if they were given a lead. If we want to win those people over we cannot afford to give an inch of compromise to these ideas. 

For this school we have almost 300 registered from India and almost 800 from Pakistan. If we didn’t fight these ideas and if we gave any concession to them like the reformists, the Stalinists and the sects do, we could never win these people over. They would be repelled from internationalists’ revolutionary Marxism. But if we fight these ideas hard and put forward a Marxist internationalist position we will win them over and I’m sure that we will. Thank you very much everyone.