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This essay was first written in the Fall of 2010. Thanks to the prodding emails of readers, I have decided to revisit this section and publish it. [alex]

Why Marxism Has Failed, and Why Zombie-Marxism Cannot Die
Part 3.2 – Marx and Colonialism

by Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com

[Click here for Part 1 (Intro), Part 2 (What Marx Got Right), and Part 3.1 (Linear March of History)]

Image by Germ Ross, artnoise.net

“Do not terms such as ‘preindustrial’ and ‘precapitalist’ infest the marxian vernacular whenever analysis of noneuropean – that is, ‘undeveloped,’ ‘backward,’ or ‘primitive’ – societies is at hand? What possible purpose does the qualifier ‘pre’ – as opposed to say, ‘non’ – serve in this connection other than to argue that such societies are in the process of becoming capitalist? And is this not simply another way of stating that we are lagging behind those societies which have already become industrialized? Or, to take another example, to what end do marxists habitually refer to those societies which have ‘failed’ (refused) to enter a productive progression as being ‘ahistorical’ or ‘outside of history’? Is this to suggest that such cultures have no history,[i] or is it to say that they have the wrong kind of history, that only a certain (marxian) sort of history can be ‘real’?” – Ward Churchill, “False Promises: An Indigenist Examination of Marxist Theory and Practice” (Acts of Rebellion 233).

Marx’s linear march of history, as critiqued in the last section, leads him to deeply problematic conclusions about Europe’s relationship to the rest of the world. If capitalist Europe has attained the “highest” stage of social development, then everyone else is expected to follow in its footsteps to achieve liberation. Marx repeatedly characterized Europe as the most “advanced” or “civilized” continent (and within it England as the most advanced nation) as opposed to the “stagnation” of the “Asiatic” mode of production.

As we’ll see, he also held the dubious position that European colonialism was a necessary evil – simultaneously condemning its brutality while praising it as a progressive step in historical development. Such thinking implicitly marginalizes anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle as secondary to that of the industrial proletariat. At worst, some Marxists have even followed this logic to condemn anti-colonial struggle as reactionary because it seeks to “roll back the wheel of history.”

This essay is not about labeling Marx a racist; it is a critique of how Eurocentrism impedes the project of self-determination for peoples around the globe. For example, now that Europe’s colonies have given way to home-grown governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America, must these nations “Westernize” in order to “develop” their economies, or is there a road to freedom that doesn’t pass through capitalism? This remains a relevant question from Bolivia to China, and wherever self-identified Marxist regimes confront the twin problems of social inequality and ecological devastation.

European Superiority?

Kwame Turé (Stokely Carmichael)

The first time I ever questioned the correctness of Marx’s views was through reading Kwame Turé’s (Stokely Carmichael’s) autobiography, Ready for Revolution. Turé, an Afro-Trinidadian immigrant to New York, was a major figure in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a youth organization at the forefront of the U.S. civil rights movement. As Stokely Carmichael, he made headlines in 1966 when he first raised the call of “Black Power!” In his later years he left the United States for West Africa, living at the side of African liberationist leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Touré.

In Ready for Revolution, Turé reflects on a rocky relationship with Marxism which connects with my own. As a youth in the Bronx he got involved with young (white) Marxist organizers, and being very smart he quickly grasped the Marxist theories of historical materialism, dialectics, socialism and communism.

“For the first time I encountered a systematic radical analysis, a critical context and vocabulary that made sense of history. It explained the inequities and injustice I’d long been conscious of in the society around me and prescribed (even predicted) revolutionary solutions. That was wondrously exciting intellectually” (92).[ii]

Yet, he recalls that as a black man there was something that didn’t sit right about Marx’s focus on Europe as the model for progress. “The words Eurocentric and hegemonistic were not then in my vocabulary or consciousness. I never overtly or consciously thought about the curious fact that all these revolutionary thinkers were European or that all their theoretical models were fashioned out of European historical experience. I accepted them as ‘universal.’ At first” (94).

After witnessing the “Harlem stepladder orators” speak about Pan-Africanism, and organizing with other black radicals at Howard University for civil rights, Stokely realized that Marx hadn’t been speaking to him as a black man. Marx was speaking to Europe. “I could sense that something was missing from this seamless, ‘universal’ system. Somehow it did not seem to take into serious account the rhythms and historical presence of my people” (104).

In the vast majority of his writings, Marx did not take life outside of Europe into account. The few times he did write about non-European societies are seldom studied today, but as we’ll see, are deeply problematic. Read the rest of this entry »

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cropped

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

 

Happy Mothers Day!  Many people have asked me if I’m still writing. The answer is yes!  Right now, I’m working on a big article on the history of activism at my alma mater, Lehigh University. First, though, I’d like to post this email exchange I had with a reader – Gabriela Castillo from Australia.

GC – Was it at your intention to create endofcapitalism.com to educate your viewers to improve the current state of our economy under capitalism? 

AK – I created the website The End of Capitalism in 2006, after I had written my Master’s Thesis on the subject at Lehigh University. My intention was, and remains to be, to explore the question of whether the global capitalist system is endangered by the combined social and ecological crises which capitalism itself has produced.  My hypothesis is that it is.

GC – In what ways do you think capitalism is to blame for global warming?

AK – Global warming is a direct result of the massive, industrial, systematic combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. This systematic combustion of fuels provides the energy for the capitalist economy to function as it does. Coal combustion provides electricity, gas combustion provides heating, and oil combustion provides the transportation necessary to move the enormous quantity of goods and products which are pumped out of low-wage industrial centers in the Global South to consumers in the North.

Without fossil fuels, capitalism in its current form could not exist, which is why with Peak Energy looming, capitalism faces a very uncertain future. The only question, in my mind, is whether the capitalist economy will collapse fast enough or soon enough to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of global warming, which according to some scientists, could mean the end of the Earth as a livable planet.  My hope is that this will be avoided, but only through a global democratic movement which re-orients society along the lines of social and ecological justice.

Read the rest of this entry »


The following essay was written for and performed at a spoken word event on Nov. 15 in Philadelphia. Enjoy! [alex]

A specter is haunting Europe; the specter of zombie-ism.” – Zombie Karl Marx

Art by guitarbri. Still from the film “They Live.”

Why has the archetype of the zombie been so ever-present in pop culture over the last five years or so? Is it just a passing fad, like Justin Bieber’s latest hairstyle or the eye-rolling annoyance of YOLO? Is it simply because it’s so much fun to dress up in tattered rags, skin covered with fake blood and oozing sores? Or could this zombie fixation reflect something buried in our subconscious about the society we live in today? Something about our ideas about ourselves, minds turned off and eyes glued to flickering screens, fatalistically attempting to forge human relationships through virtual social networks, working meaningless jobs to pay inescapable debts, groaning towards a future that promises no better than what already exists, and at worse may offer apocalyptic disaster, a remix of Fukushima and Hurricane Sandy set on repeat?

But beyond detachment and doom, could our obsession with the undead reflect the reality of the state of institutional decay, political futility, and economic stagnation the world as a whole is struggling to wade through, like some pungent swamp that won’t release its brambles from our ankles?

I submit that the answer is all that and more. I believe we are, in fact, living through a historic period tied to the image of the zombie because the system which dictates and dominates our globe, from the world-markets to the workplace to the propaganda machines, and I do not hesitate to name it – capitalism, has in fact zombified right before our eyes, transforming into a monster that threatens to tear all of our lives apart, unless we can find some way to annihilate the sucker, or at the very least evade it until its virus extinguishes itself in an orgy of self-destruction.

And yes, this is a hopeful theory, more hopeful than almost anything else a left-wing radical like myself is likely to propose to you in this day and age. In this age of grimness and despair, scheduled to climax in about a month, any hope for a better future may sound like the naïve ramblings of a starry-eyed child who’s watched too many Disney movies. Nevertheless, hear me out, I have a point.

Definitions

Zombies

In 2009, the radical UK magazine Turbulence published an excellent editorial called “Life in Limbo?”, which courageously declared that neoliberalism, the dominant ideological and political project of the capitalist elites over the last forty years, had failed and been replaced by what they called “Zombie-Liberalism”: Read the rest of this entry »

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