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Marx at the Margins
On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies, with a New Preface
By Kevin B. Anderson
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Colonial Encounters in the 1850s: The European Impact on India, Indonesia, and China
In 1848, Marx and Engels refer briefly to colonialism in The Communist Manifesto, pointing to the rise of the capitalist world market that "draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization."
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of the foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image. (MECW 6, 488)
Except for the qualifier "what it calls" before the word "civilization," the above discussion, a reference to the East before moving back to European developments, seems (1) to view Western colonial incursions into Asia, including England's notorious First Opium War against China of 1839–42, as on the whole progressive and beneficial; and (2) to assume that the rest of the world would sooner or later follow in the footsteps of the more industrially advanced Western European nations.
It is very important, however, to view this passage, disturbing as it is in its ethnocentrism and implicit unilinearism, in its proper context. It occurs amid the opening pages of the Manifesto, pages that paint a dazzling portrait of the achievements of capitalist modernization inside Europe, and that say nothing about the lot of the European workers or their revolt. The decidedly non-Marxist economist Joseph Schumpeter has rightly called these opening pages "a panegyric upon bourgeois achievement that has no equal in economic literature" (1949, 209). The bourgeoisie, write Marx and Engels, has uprooted stultifying traditional social structures. It "has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound people to their 'natural superiors,'" it "has torn away from the family its sentimental veil," and it has exposed the "slothful indolence" of the "Middle Ages" (MECW 6, 486–87). The bourgeoisie has not only uprooted the premodern order, however, it has also built a new society in its place: "It has been the first to show what the activity of human beings can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals" (MECW 6, 487). Further, it "has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together" (MECW 6, 489). As is well known, these opening paragraphs of the Manifesto are followed by a far less flattering portrait of capitalism, one in which its inner contradictions pull it apart, first by way of the economic crises which Marx and Engels viewed as endemic to this particular social system, and second from the revolt of labor against the alienating and exploitative conditions of modern production.
Therefore, Marx and Engels's praise for Western colonialism's conquests in Asia in the Manifesto can be seen as part of their overall sketch of the achievements of capitalism in Western Europe and North America, a sketch that is followed by a withering critique. However, while they revisit these capitalist achievements inside Western Europe and North America, showing their contradictions, they do not do so with regard to Western colonialism in Asia. This suggests that at this time, Marx held to an implicitly unilinear model of development, according to which non-Western societies would, as they were swept into the world capitalist system, soon develop similar contradictions to those of the already industrializing countries. This model was only implicit, because he gave little specific attention to non-Western societies in this period.
After Marx's move to London in 1849, this gap in his worldview would begin to disappear, and, from 1853 onwards, he would devote a considerable amount of his intellectual efforts to the study of such major non-Western societies as India, Indonesia, China, and Russia, while also taking up revolutionary nationalism in Ireland and Poland as well as the dialectics of race and class in the United States. In this chapter, I will examine his writings in the 1850s on India, Indonesia, and China. Here and elsewhere, I will point to changes and developments in Marx's thinking. In so doing, I will be challenging interpretations such as those of Shlomo Avineri, who writes in the introduction to his edition of Marx's writings on colonialism: "The general tone of Marx's views on the non-European world is set in The Communist Manifesto" (Marx 1968, 1).
THE 1853 WRITINGS ON INDIA: QUALIFIED SUPPORT FOR COLONIALISM
Marx's 1853 writings on India have been the source of tremendous controversy, with critics of Marx pointing to them as proof of his Eurocentrism. These writings formed part of his work as a correspondent for the New York Tribune, an effort to which Engels also made important contributions, usually published under Marx's name. The Tribune articles were often accompanied by substantial letters between Marx and Engels during their composition. With a circulation of two hundred thousand, the Tribune was unquestionably the most important U. S. newspaper during the nineteenth century. Editorially progressive, it took a strong antislavery stance with somewhat eclectic leanings toward both utopian socialism and northern manufacturing interests. In a discussion of the origins of socialism in the United States, Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs makes the following assessment of Tribune founder Horace Greeley: "The power of Greeley's influence in the early history of the Socialist movement in America, when hate and persecution were aroused by the mere mention of it, has never yet been fairly recognized. ... Horace Greeley was in the true sense a labor leader. He was the first president of Typographical Union No. 6 of New York City and took advanced ground on every question that affected the working class" (Debs 1908, 100; see also Reitz 2008). This did not exclude a certain unease about publishing Marx, however. At one point in 1853, Tribune editors informed their readers that "Mr. Marx has very decided opinions of his own, with some of which we are far from agreeing," while at the same time praising him as "one of the most instructive sources of information on the greatest questions of current European politics" (cited in Ledbetter 2007, xxi).
Marx served as the Tribune's chief European correspondent for over a decade, from 1851 to 1862, the longest and most remunerative employment of his life. His writings for the Tribune constitute a far more serious and sustained affair than is generally realized. They fill most of the contents of volumes 12 through 17 of the MECW, each of which runs over five hundred pages. In this study, I will be concentrating on Marx's (and occasionally Engels's) Tribune writings on India, China, Russia, and other non-Western societies, as well as those on Ireland and Poland. It should be noted, however, that Marx's Tribune writings contain even more coverage of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and other Western European countries. They deal with parliaments and kings, with wars and revolutions, with economic crises, and with the labor movement. Many of them were reprinted in the Chartist People's Paper and in other British organs of the Left. To date, there has been no comprehensive analysis of Marx's Tribune writings, the whole of which were not even available in English (their original language) in an accessible form until they were published in the English-language MECW in the 1980s.
All too often, the Tribune articles have been dismissed as merely occasional pieces that distracted Marx from his writings on political economy. In part, this is because of remarks in Marx's own letters disparaging his journalism. For example, in a letter of September 15, 1853, to a close colleague in the United States, the German émigré Adolph Cluss, he states that he finds "perpetual scribbling for the newspapers tiresome," and expresses the wish "to withdraw into solitude for a few months and work at my Economy" (MECW 39, 367). These private reservations during Marx's initial years with the Tribune should not be ignored, and his Tribune writings should not be ranked in importance alongside key theoretical texts, such as the 1844 Manuscripts, the Grundrisse, or Capital. Nonetheless, Marx expended considerable scholarly and intellectual effort on his Tribune articles, in which he publicly expressed pride on several occasions. For example, nearly a decade after beginning to write for the Tribune, Marx published, as an appendix to his Herr Vogt (1860), a letter from the Tribune's managing editor, Charles Dana, who had met Marx in Germany during the 1848 revolution. Dana's letter, dated March 8, 1860, states: "Nearly nine years ago I engaged you to write for the New York Tribune, and the engagement has been continued ever since. You have written for us constantly, without a single week's interruption, that I can remember; and you are not only one of the most highly valued, but one of the best paid contributors attached to the journal" (MECW 17, 323). Marx would, however, judging from his correspondence, have quarreled with the implication that he was well paid!
Although this letter was also quoted after Marx's death by no less an authority than Eleanor Marx in the preface to a volume republishing some of the Tribune writings on Russia and Turkey (Marx  1969), Marx's Tribune writings continue to be minimized or even ignored. This may be because the Continental European scholars who have dominated Marxist studies have tended to play down the importance of texts that Marx composed in English rather than German. Whether or not that is the case, the disparagement of the Tribune articles has contributed to a lack of attention to Marx's writings on non-Western societies, which also include his excerpt notes on books on these societies, many of them also written primarily in English. Bias in favor of texts Marx composed in German may even have distorted how volume I of Capital has been read, with a curious privileging of the Engels-edited 1890 edition over the last version of that work that Marx personally prepared for publication, the 1872–75 French edition.
Although Marx began to publish in the Tribune in 1851, in that first year all of the articles published under his name were in fact written by Engels. Afterwards, Engels continued to write under Marx's name and for a while some of Marx's German drafts were translated by his friend into English, given his still relatively limited command of the language. For the first two years, their articles focused exclusively on the main countries of Western Europe such as France, Germany, Austria, and Britain, but by 1853 the Russo-Turkish conflict in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean threatened to place this issue, then called the "Eastern Question," at the forefront of European politics. Marx pointed to the growing importance of the Eastern Question, but admitted privately his lack of knowledge of the subject matter, writing to Engels on March 10, 1853: "But this question is primarily military and geographical, hence outside my département. So you must once more exécuter [do it]. What is to become of the Turkish Empire is something I have no clue about. I cannot therefore present a general perspective" (MECW 39, 288).
Marx quickly began to remedy this gap in his Tribune articles on India, all of them offering a general portrait of Indian society and of British rule rather than responses to immediate events. His 1853 articles on India were occasioned by the parliamentary debates over the renewal of the charter of the privately held British East India Company. The inventory of Marx's unpublished excerpt notebooks held by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam lists notes on dozens of titles on India, Java, Turkey, and Russia for the year 1853, among them writings by François Bernier on India and Thomas Stamford Raffles on Indonesia. In a long letter to Engels dated June 2, 1853, Marx gives some indications of his library studies on India. He quotes at length "old François Bernier" (MECW 39, 332) on the military and social organization of the Mughal Empire in India, and then concludes: "Bernier rightly sees all the manifestations of the East — he mentions Turkey, Persia, and Hindustan — as having a common basis, namely the absence of private landed property. This is the real key, even to the eastern heaven" (MECW 39, 333–34).
Besides Bernier and Raffles, Marx's 1853 India articles are clearly influenced by Hegel, especially his Philosophy of History. Among others, the French sociologist Michael Löwy contends that this Hegelian influence led Marx to a "teleological and Eurocentric" notion of progress in these writings, something from which he later moved away (Löwy 1996, 199; see also Curtis 2009). In the Philosophy of History, Hegel subjects Indian culture and society to a harsh critique. He terms the caste system "the most degrading spiritual serfdom" (1956, 144), emphasizing as well the often-involuntary ritual suicide of widows (sati). In addition, and here more problematically, Hegel dismisses India as a society that "has remained stationary and fixed" (142). Due to a supposedly timeless Brahmin domination, "all political revolutions, therefore, are matters of indifference to the common Hindoo, for his lot is unchanged" (154). Thus, as a society where no real change or development had occurred, India had no real history. Even where Indian religions like Buddhism spread widely, Hegel adds, "the diffusion of Indian culture is only a dumb deedless expansion; that is, it presents no political action" (142). Likewise, Indian intellectuals, while having made great discoveries in grammar and in "Geometry, Astronomy, and Algebra" (161), lack self-awareness and individual "self-consciousness," rendering them "incapable of writing History" (162). Moreover, Indian society was for Hegel essentially passive, having "achieved no foreign conquests" and having been continually "vanquished" (142). Endorsing Western colonialism as the product of historical necessity, Hegel concludes in teleological fashion that it was "the necessary fate of Asiatic Empires to be subjected to Europeans" (142). This passivity also undergirded internal despotism; in other countries, "tyranny rouses man to resentment. ... But in India it is normal: for here there is no sense of personal independence with which a state of despotism could be compared" (161). Hegel also attacks Hindu mysticism as a form of "pure self-renouncing Idealism" (159) that created a "Dream-World," where "evil passions have their full swing" (148). This mysticism had the additional effect of making despotism and caste oppression more endurable. As the American anthropologist and Marx editor Lawrence Krader points out, however, Hegel's perspective, for all its limitations, had some advantages over previous Western theorizing about India and Asia. This is because it was more concrete and historical: "The economic order, however, was not omitted, as it had been by Montesquieu; the geographic nonsense of Montesquieu falls away in Hegel" (Krader 1975, 45).
Excerpted from Marx at the Margins by Kevin B. Anderson. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
1 Colonial Encounters in the 1850s: The European Impact on India, Indonesia, and China
2 Russia and Poland: The Relationship of National Emancipation to Revolution
3 Race, Class, and Slavery: The Civil War as a Second American Revolution
4 Ireland: Nationalism, Class, and the Labor Movement
5 From the Grundrisse to Capital: Multilinear Themes
6 Late Writings on Non-Western and Precapitalist Societies
Appendix. The Vicissitudes of the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe from the 1920s to Today