Marx, Colonialism, and India

Monday, 28 January 2019, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, IWM library
The ways in which the colony features in Marx’s thoughts as an object of knowledge also make the  colony a part of the global history of capital, and goes beyond the usual binary of colonialism/nationalism or colony/nation. It also forces us to think of associated questions of primitive accumulation, borders, universalism, concrete, etc. Colonies were founded not merely by nations; they emerged in the time of empires in whose history the given history of the nation form was scripted. Marx repeatedly raised the problematic of capitalist expansion in the time of colonialism and also raised the issue of colonial governance. In this way his writings on colonialism, particularly colonialism in India, suggested the need to study the history of modern governance that combines coercion and management of conditions of accumulation.

But Marx’s writings on colonialism also anticipate a theory of the colonised as a political subject. His writings not only go beyond the colonial state, but also reflect on the representation of the political subject in the modern colonial age. From a politics of class struggle he had to shift to a definition of political struggle, in which not class but colony (i.e. anti-colony) gestures towards the new subject. This was the point at which he started thinking about religion in the colony, the problem of passivity, faith in the “celestial” state or the mai-bap Sarkar (mother-father government), and about which class would lead the “national” revolt. He came to the hard realisation that though neither a class nor the nation was ready yet, the war for independence must begin sooner than later. There was no place of immanence in the search for an answer. The closure would be opened up only by the way the nation would develop. This was the exasperating dilemma that gnawed at him. It was the dilemma of class and the nation that still afflicts the postcolonial world.

Ranabir Samaddar is the Director of the Calcutta Research Group, and belongs to the school of critical thinking. Currently he is a guest at the IWM.

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