The Manifesto and Eurocentrism

Sat, 7 Mar 98 20:08:43
Manjur Karim (mkarim@moses.culver.edu)

Unlike Clayton Bagwell, I found Eugene E. Ruyle's article to
be a major contribution to the way we need to analyze the Manifesto.
Identifying the Eurocentrism of the Manifesto is not the same as a
rejection of Marxism as a theory and as a guide to praxis, but an
attempt to reconstitute the validity of Marxism in today's
postcolonial context.

The Eurocentric character of the Manifesto is evident in its assesment
of the progressively destructive character of capitalism and a rather
unfortunate view of the "traditional' societies, which the piece by
James Petras posted by Louis Proyect has demonstrated. But more
importantly, on a deeper level, (recognizing, after poststructuralism,
the distinction between the deep and the surface is not a
straightforward thing any more) also in its overall view of history as
an Eurocentric affair. This is not obviously a superficial "good guy
bad guy" question, but a question of general epistemology, a larger
weltanschauung embedded in a European sense of unilinear progress and
Enlightenment. This is why I also found Andre Gunder Frank's paper so
relevant as a challenge to the philosophy and paradigm of history
contained in the Manifesto. Reading Frank and Ruyle side by side with
the Manifesto was an immensely pleasurable experience. By the way,
whether we agree with Frank or not, and I don't in its entirety,
labeling Frank's view as pomo, as a previous post did, is rather
unfortunate. Actually, let me confess, as far as the overarching
methodological overtone of Frank's work is concerned, and I am not
necessarily talking about the present article, I wish he was a little
engaged with a postmodern storyline, was less inclined to accept an
unproblematic distinction between science and ideoogy so easily. But
that's a different story itself.

Comeing back to the more immediate issue, as Kevin Anderson, however,
has shown in his post, Marx's perspective of the non-western part of
the world was not a a static one. It indeed evolved dialectically and
creatively. One instance of that change, immediately relevant to the
the present focus of the present seminar, is the 1882 prefeace to the
Russian edition of the Manifesto that Marx and Engels wrote. As far
as I know, that was the last preface to an edition of the Manifesto
that Marx wrote before his death. Let me quote "The Communist
Manifesto had as its objet the proclamation of the inevitability
impending dissoulution of modern bourgeois property. But in Russia we
find, face to face with the rapidly developing capitalist swindle and
bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land
owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian
obshchina (vilage community), though greatly undermined, yet a form of
the primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher
form of communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first
pass through the same process of dissolution as constitutes the
historical evolution of the West? The only answer to that possible
today is this: if the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a
proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each
other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the
starting-point for a communist development."

Going beyond the Manifesto for a minute, I think it is important to
recognize the contradictory relation that Marx had with the
Eurocentric enlightenment project. Marx was definitely a child of
Enlightenment, but Marxism, on the other hand, is the most
original attempt that came out of the West to go beyond
the Enlightenment agenda. Marxism, embedded in Western epistemology
and history, manages to deconstruct the totality of modernity more
radically than any postmodern thinker that I can think of. It is the
simultaneous entrenchment and rupture that Marx represented in his
relationship with modernity that make third world trouble makers
like us to go back to Marx over and over.

I find Bagwell's statement "the story of capitalism as told in the
Manifesto would have the same essential character regradless from
which continent it might spring, for it is the story of the conflict
beween labor and capital, the dialectic of capital" quite
undialectical. Marx never saw capitalism as a transhistorical,
transspatial phenomenon. Marx's understanding of capitalism is
nothing if not historicized. About the "story" of capitalism, Marx
and Engels, in the preface to the German edition of 1872 of the
Manifesto stated " The practical application of the principles will
depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times,
on the historical conditions for the time being existing..." However,
"the general principles laid down in this Manifesto are" not "on the
whole as correct today as ever" either, as M/E argued in the same
preface. Any careful look at the structural reality of late
capitalism will show that. Of course, that does not mean that the
Manifesto is irrelevant. It only shows, like any other philosophy,
Marxism is defined by its own timespace, and
historicizing/terrritorializing of Marxism is probably the most
Marxist act that we can undertake.

I don't find Bagwell's uncritical acceptance of the Manifesto's
rhetorical emphasis on class struggle being the driving force of
history very convincing either. If we want to understand "The history
of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle" as
a historically verifiable "objective" statement, we will have to be
frustrated. History is a lot more complex, lot more messier affair
than that. Engels himself recognized that in a footnote of the 1888
English edition of the Manifesto "That is all written history. In
1847, the pre-histrory (itself an unfortunate Eurocenric expression-
Manjur), the social organization existing previous to recorded
history, was all but unknown. Since then Haxthausen discovered common
ownership of land in Russia, Maurer proved it to be the social
foundation form which all Tutonic races started in history, and by and
by village communites were found to be, or to have been the primitive
form of society everywhere from India to Ireland...."

Even in Western societies, the nature of class conflict was not like
the way Marx described it in the opening sentences of the Manifesto.
As the Polish Marxist Leszek Nowak pointed out, whether it is in the
transition from slavery to feudalism or a transition from feudalism to
capitalism, the slave and serf revolts were only secondary to
intraclass conflicts beween the old and new rulling classes.

Class politics needs to be priveleged, but not as a manifestation of
an intrinsic essence of some metahistory, but as a historicized,
dialectically ( discursively/ concretely), pragmatically constituted
project. As Marx deconstructed the classical political economic
notions of value, capital, or labor and reconstructed them in
different combinations, we need to recognize the processes through
which class is continuously structured and destructured in relation to
other frames of beings and identitities, such as race, gender,
experince of coloniality, and so on.

Finally, I am curious about Bagwell's emphasis on the dialectical
materialist reading of history. What is a dialectical materialist
reading any ways? As we all know, diamat is a concept neither
introduced by Marx, nor by Engels, but by Plekhanov. Thanks to
the Stalinist distortion of Marxism, the phrase "dialectical
materialism" carries an enormous historical and theoretical baggage.

Manjur Karim