On Marxism and Eurocentrism

Well. I’m not going to apologize for being a Marxist.

But it seems that there are some people for whom I have become a caricature of myself, a caricature of a Marxist. No, I’ve never tried to sell papers to you, and though I may have suggested reading a piece or two by Marx, I certainly don’t think I’ve hit you over the head with anything. Oh, I return to Marxist perspectives and ideas in our conversations, sometimes explicitly referring to them as Marxist and other times not, but you can tell — right? — you can tell that that’s Marxist.

And for you, of course, that’s a problem. Because, I guess, Marx is white? Or Marx is European? Marx was Eurocentric? Okay.

And of course, I’ve lost my way. We — those of us who aren’t white — must, by all and every means reject everything that is Western. And, I suppose you imagine that I’ve never had to wrestle with this sense of being detached from my own reality, of being detached and disgusted and even insulted because when I go into a library and stare at a shelf of books on a topic the only thing I can find from the general direction from where I came is some Orientalist’s rendering of an 11th century scholar anyway. So we must reject all of the Western shit because it is Western. No, we must. We must have a visceral distaste for the West and Eurocentrism and look for “alternative epistemologies” and ways of looking at things. Just because.

Which is fine. I don’t envy you your alternative epistemologies. And perhaps you’ve read a couple of Marx’s works yourselves, though I doubt it, and more likely you’ve read a critique of Marx written by some scholar who is far out of his field of expertise. Maybe not even that.

When I say we have to look at the histories and material realities of peoples instead of looking at their cultures to explain their behaviours, you accuse me of being a Marxist. I accept this accusation.

When I say we have to do an analysis of our economic conditions so that we can recognize the complex and myriad ways in which a global economic system replicates exploitation and oppression, you accuse me of being a Marxist. I accept this accusation.

When I say we have to step back and look at broader pictures and even a universal humanity which is constituted by our collective experiences, and not restrict ourselves to particularistic notions of “community” and “culture” as being essential and determining our being, you accuse me of being a Marxist. I accept this accusation.

When I say we have to have a revolution and replace this exploitative system with some form of socialism, you accuse me of being a Marxist. I accept this accusation.

I accept your accusations.

You accuse me of ascribing to a Western epistemology because I ascribe to these Marxist notions. I accept this accusation. And I reject it.

When you accuse me of being Eurocentric, I reject. When you accuse me of being ignorant of “alternative epistemologies”, I reject. When you accuse me of having sold my soul to the West, of betraying my race or culture, I reject.

I reject because I have no race and I have no culture except that which was imposed upon me by someone else. I was not born with a race or a culture. I disagree with the categorization of humanity into arbitrary notions of race and culture that were likely based on European colonization or that developed in reaction to it. I reject these categorizations. To buy into them, to buy into some essential dichotomy between the East and West, between the Occident and Orient, that would be Eurocentric of me. That would be Orientalist. That would be me betraying my race and my culture. My culture is my life, it is how I negotiate my reality. This is richer and more profound than kurtas and Bollywood. As I write this I am listening to Abida Parveen and I am writing in English, and yes, this is all part of my culture. This is part of my culture because my culture is who I amI am not my culture. That is to say, it’s dialectical. “My culture” is more than the reasoning of Iqbal or Shariati or Mawdudi — they have alternative epistemologies — but all of these depend on accepting this essential dichotomy. Their epistemologies are wrong because they are basically inversions of Orientalism.

Yes. Alternative epistemologies can be wrong. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about an alternative epistemology simply because it is developed in reaction or rejection of an epistemology that originates in the West. Whatever “the West” means.

The reality is that the ideas of “the West” come from Africa and Asia. The reality is that Greece had more in common with parts of Africa and Asia than it did with what was then constituted as “the West”. The reality is that this “Oriental” nature of Greece was butchered into a purely Western reality by cultural chauvinists. In this scenario, Egypt was appropriated into the Mediterranean world — rather than Greece being plucked away from a wider and broader world. If, like those cultural chauvinists and essentialists, you think the basis of Western thought comes from Greek thought, then, at best, you have to accept that this thought comes from deep interaction with the thought of many Africans and many Asians.

And vice-versa. That is to say, this relationship was always dialectical. In flux.

So where is your delineation of the West, away from the East? This reaction to colonization I know, I understand. I know what it is. But reacting to colonialism by buying into its fundamental precepts isn’t rejection, it’s acceptance and replication. You’re not getting anywhere.

Ah, you’ll tell me that the idea of a universal humanity is a concept of Enlightenment and Western rationality. Yes. It is. But it isn’t. You should know better. Look it up.

I have no intention of imposing a homogenous analysis of reality and a linear and teleological view of the development of histories onto all people and human beings. This is not Marxism. This is not the Marxism — and it is not the Marx — I know. Marx grew and developed his ideas as a human being. He wasn’t always right. To be a Marxist isn’t to suck everything Marx said up as gospel truth. That would be, precisely, the opposite of what it means to be a Marxist. There is good Marxist scholarship, and bad Marxist scholarship. I’m not an idiot, I figured this out a long, long time ago. You don’t have to remind me.

To be a Marxist means to accept that history happens. To accept that it is the reality of our lived experiences and interactions that determines the way we end up thinking about our lives. That culture develops from our material reality and exists in dialectical relation to material reality — one influences the other in very complex and difficult ways. To be a Marxist is to be critical of everything. To be a Marxist is to avoid explaining human behaviour as the result of the codified texts of ancient religions and of some essentialized notions of “culture” and “identity”. To be a Marxist is to recognize that culture and identity are always in flux and are always dependent on who we are and how we live. To be a Marxist is thus to challenge the fundamentals of Eurocentrism and European superiority at their very roots.

I am a Marxist because I am a historical materialist. I am a Marxist because I am a dialectical materialist. I am a Marxist because I am anti-capitalist and because I agree with Marx’s incisive critique and explanation of capitalism. The opposite is not true: I am not a dialectical materialist, historical materialist, and anti-capitalist because I am a Marxist.

In terms of my politics: I am not a communist, I am not a Marxist-Leninist, I am not an anarchist. I am none of these things. I am, however, a socialist — but I have no particular programme or idea of how to implement socialism. I am learning about it. Until I learn more about concepts like the dictatorship of the proletariat and anarchy, I am not going to box myself into any particular label. Having said that, I am a communist, I am an anarchist. I am all of these things. I will celebrate their victories and I will critique their shortcomings as they are my sisters and brothers in the struggle. And if you don’t understand what I mean, then that’s because you aren’t thinking dialectically and I am being obfuscatory on purpose to mess with you.

And thinking dialectically isn’t a Western thing. It’s a human thing.

Yes, I’m a Marxist. And if you don’t understand, then ask — don’t judge without at least making a sincere effort to understand.

Note: I modified the two times I swore in this piece.

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7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jermaine said,

    November 7, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

    new guy at work – So, where are you born?
    me – Canada
    new guy – no, what is your nationality?
    me – human.
    new guy – oh….what about your parents?
    me – they’re born on earth.
    new guy – ok…………………………….

  2. 2

    Helen said,

    November 8, 2007 @ 2:48 am

    This is all good for you but when you expose young people to this shit you should be careful as to how you manipulate the doctrine to suit your selfish warped sick mind.

  3. 3

    noaman said,

    November 9, 2007 @ 11:51 am

    What? What does that even mean?

  4. 4

    basit said,

    November 14, 2007 @ 1:00 am

    “This is richer and more profound than kurtas and Bollywood.”
    – what? how can you say that?

    …more to the point, liked this. also, i’m taking a class i think you’d enjoy as well – we’re drawing all conceptions of “The West” or “judeo-christian heritage” (as ‘ideational’ realities) back to hegel. it’s fun.

  5. 5

    noaman said,

    November 14, 2007 @ 2:17 am

    Ah. I took a class last semester where we traced all conceptions of “Africa” back to … Hegel (in the appendix to the Philosophy of History). Well, Hegel wasn’t the first to come up with that, but he really codified it into one place and integrated it into his philosophy; ergo, Africans have no subjectivity but exist, rather, as responding to a series of contingent events. Hoorah.

  6. 6

    fathima said,

    November 22, 2007 @ 1:28 am

    two people who irritate me – Hegel and Heidegger.

    and basit, you never told me about this course! i thought you were doing … better things. my condolences.

  7. 7

    sheila said,

    December 17, 2007 @ 2:25 am

    I am still working out what I think, politically, what I think is best, what I think would work…
    But I think Helen might need a paper bag, I can say that for sure..

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