Provincializing Marxism: Vivek Chibber and the Specter of Subaltern Studies
Noaman G. Ali
Vivek Chibber’s trenchant criticisms of the Subaltern Studies school of Indian historiography in Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (2013) have justifiably attracted considerable attention. Marxist critiques of postcolonial theory have a long pedigree, but at least since the 1990s they have been somewhat defensive in orientation. Buoyed by the emergence of mass movements in North Africa and in the West, Chibber seeks to present his contribution as a decisive blow.
Aside from the question of criticism, the engagement between Chibber and the Subaltern Studies project (SS) should also reignite debates within Marxism. At one point, Chibber describes SS’s Marxism as that of a “particular kind [that] would scarcely be recognized by many contemporary Marxists” (10). Chibber refers specifically to SS’s supposed “amalgam of liberal and Marxist elements” and the resulting “Whiggish interpretation” of modernity that glorifies the role of the bourgeoisie, but he is actually making deeper claims about Marxism as a whole, that are not only analytical but also normative. This, too, is worth interrogating.