Thursday, April 21, 2011

And We're Still Discussing Marx WHY? For those who don't already, practice this: Indigenist Feminism

image of Karl Marx is from here
Various significant philosophers--women all of them--have far more important analyses of men's political economies, social relations, and oppression of the masses than Karl Marx. Here are three of them: Vandana Shiva, Marimba Ani, and Catharine MacKinnon.

My question, as yet unanswered, is: does the author of a new book on Marx deal with what these, and so many other women, have to say about globalised forms of patriarchal, capitalist, and white supremacist class-based oppression?

I don't believe the philosophies of prominent white men can rescue us from the the ravages of those structurally, institutionally empowered savages. I think that anti-savage Indigenous activists, most especially women, can save the planet. Because those are the only philosophies that carry forth traditions of living with the Earth and seeing the Earth as a Living Being. Marx did not. Nor do any white marxists I ever known. They tend to be very pro-urban, pro-civilisation theorists, actually. And if you don't get what's genocidal and ecocidal about being pro-urban and pro-civilisation, get to reading more Indigenous activists work.

It is, in my opinion, women and men across the Americas--well, in South and Central America-- who have made the best use of Marx's theories. And I hope the people--Brown, Indigenous, and Black--in those regions continue to organise to keep CRAP-loaded U.S. economic, cultural, and military policies and practices out.

I offer some other reading suggestions below, in my comment--the lone one--following this book review by Chris Nineham, at Please click on the title just below to link back. And please see the post from bermudaradical @ The Speed of Dreams, following my comment.

Chris Nineham reviews Marx at the Margins, which reveals Marx and Engels as pioneers in the struggle against colonialism and racism.

Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies (University of Chicago Press 2010), xi, 319pp.

Marx at the Margins very successfully defends Marx and Engels against claims that their analysis of capitalism was economistic and Eurocentric. The charge that the founders of Marxism downplayed politics and reduced history to economic issues is common. It normally comes from the right wing, but has been taken up over the years by various figures on the left, including notably Edward Said. Said argued that Marx ignored the importance of colonialism, race and identity in the making of the modern world.

The connected accusation of Eurocentrism is partly based on a few instances of questionable language used by Marx and Engels. It is sustained however by the argument that Marx saw development through the prism of Western experience, that he predicted the rest of the world would pass through the same stages of development as Europe in what Anderson calls a ‘unilinear’ way. Anderson does not just deal convincingly with these charges, he establishes that the truth is the very opposite. He shows that Marx was a pioneer of anti-imperialism, and a champion of political causes that many on the left ignored. Both their writings and the political record show that Marx and Engels believed the struggle for democracy and national liberation were crucial components in the struggle for human emancipation.

The case for Marx’s Eurocentrism rests partly on a reading of the Communist Manifesto. The first part of the manifesto famously describes some of the achievements of capitalism; the way it overcomes isolation, brings technological advance and generates an historically unparalleled surplus. In a condescending phrase Marx argues capitalism draws ‘even the most barbarian nations in to civilisation’ (p.9). Occasional slips like this show Marx did not always find the language to distance himself from the prejudices that surrounded him, but they tell us nothing of much use about his politics.

The Manifesto has a two-sided take on capitalism. As Anderson notes Marx leaves all his criticisms of capitalism to the second half of the book. It would be absurd to see the Manifesto, calling as it does for the system’s overthrow, as an apology for any aspect of that system. If there is a weakness it is one of omission: Marx does not describe the specific degradations of colonialism.

The second source of criticism is Marx’s early 1850s writing on India. Edward Said has particularly taken Marx to task for his apparent softness on the civilising tendencies of British colonialism in Marx’s essay The British Rule in India. Others like Aijaz Ahmed, however, have criticised Said’s ‘postmodern kind of anti-colonialism’ (p.22), and argued that it ignored the need to challenge caste oppression, something that Marx and other progressive Indians supported. As Marx became more engaged with the question of development, his position quickly became more dialectical. In 1853, the same year he wrote The British Rule in India, Marx wrote in another essay the following:

The Indians will not reap the benefits of the new elements of society scattered amongst them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the now ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindoos themselves have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether (The Future Results of British Rule in India, cited p.23).

As Irfan Habib argues, these lines show Marx not just setting the emancipation of colonial peoples as an objective for British workers, remarkable enough for the time, but also suggests he thought Indian national liberation might come before the emancipation of the European working classes. ‘Such insight and vision’ argues Habib, ‘could come from Marx and Marx alone’ (p.23).

Marx’s subsequent writing on India shows a growing indignation at the horrors of colonialism but also a sense of the interdependence of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggles elsewhere. In 1858, after the great Sepoy Rebellion that shook the colonial administration, Marx wrote in a remarkable letter to letter to Engels in the same year, that ‘India is now our best ally’ (p.41). Anderson documents in great detail the fact that Marx and Engels energetically supported the struggles of oppressed people all around the world. Such support was not just an add-on to an essentially class or economics-based worldview. The liberation of the Polish people and other oppressed nationalities in Russia, for example, was a central part of Marx’s strategic thinking. He saw their defeat in 1864 as a historic blow: ‘The suppression of the Polish insurrection and the annexation of the Caucasus, I regard as the two most important events to have taken place in Europe since 1815’ (p.66).

Similarly, Marx was a fervent supporter of the struggle against slavery in the US and elsewhere, and was particularly excited by resistance amongst slaves themselves. In another letter to Engels he wrote:  ‘In my view, the most momentous thing happening in the world today is, on the one hand, the movement among the slaves in America, started by the death of Brown, and the movement among the slaves in Russia’ (p.85). It was actually under the impact of the American Civil War, the movement in Europe in support of abolition, and the Polish insurrection that the First International was created. In the International’s inaugural address Marx makes the point that it was protests against intervention by the working classes of England that stopped ‘the West of Europe from plunging headlong in to an infamous crusade for the perpetuation of slavery on the other side of the Atlantic’ (p.108).

The charge that Marx imposed Western development models turns out to be a travesty as well. Examining in detail some of Marx’s neglected journalism and notebooks, Anderson shows that Marx spent a huge amount of time and energy studying the specifics of social relations and the particular prospects for development in India and Russia and North Africa. Marx actually suggested the possibility of unique developmental paths from communal agricultural forms to socialism in Russia (in tandem with the struggles of the European working class). He polemicised against other writers who believed feudal relations dominated in Asia. Marx argued for the existence of a different formation, an ‘Asiatic mode’ with no analogue in Western history.
There has been a lot of criticism of this notion, but Anderson explains that Marx’s view of the Asiatic mode and communal relations in India were complex and changing. While in his early essays for example he judged communal forms in the Indian village as the basis for ‘Oriental Despotism’, by the time he wrote the Grundrisse in 1857 he viewed them more sympathetically as a counterpoint to the disempowered and atomized state of the modern working class. Later, he suggested the destruction of communal relations could become a flashpoint of resistance to encroaching capitalism.

Marx’s support for national self-determination and his hopes for path-breaking leaps in the underdeveloped world were not accidental. They flowed from his hostility to capitalism as a whole. His tireless campaigning against the British occupation of Ireland, for example, was linked to the struggle for class unity in Britain. He argued the task of the General Council of the International in London was to ‘awaken the consciousness of the English working-class to the notion that, for them, the national emancipation of Ireland is not a question of abstract justice of humanitarian sentiment, but the first condition of their own social emancipation’ (p.150). It was precisely because he was a revolutionary dedicated to the root and branch overthrow of the system that he welcomed and supported any movement that challenged the power of its main protagonists.

Exactly the opposite of the caricature then, is true. Far from leading him to productivism or a mechanical theory of predetermined stages, Marx’s analysis led him to a deep understanding of the contradictions and destabilising unevenness of capitalist development, and to welcome every rebellion more consistently and enthusiastically than any other western contemporary. Marx and Engels fought battles in the movement at the time for this kind of political, global approach, against those like Proudhon who wanted to reduce the movement to the spontaneous class struggle.

In his inaugural address to the International, Marx argued that the struggle against slavery, the Polish insurrection and the Russian occupation of the Caucasus have ‘taught the working classes the duty to master themselves the mysteries of international politics… the fight for such a foreign policy forms part of the general struggle for the emancipation of the working classes’ (p.67).

Andersons’ book is important not just as a refutation of views hostile to Marx on the right and left. His understanding of Marxism helps us counter economism on the Marxist left itself, and to chart our way forward in a complex global situation. To this day there is a tendency to downplay the importance of struggles against imperialism and struggles for democracy, and to focus on a narrowly defined class struggle. Our world is shaped by democratic revolution and imperialist war. Just as in Marx’s day, for instance, racism and division at home are linked to overseas occupation. Our movement needs a ‘foreign policy’ as part of our own struggle for emancipation.


#1 RE: Marx at the Margins: A pioneer of anti-colonialismJulianReal 2011-04-21 03:10
I hope Kevin B. Anderson has contended with the critiques (of the pro-genocidal aspects of marxism-in-practice) from Ward Churchill and of the perspectives of both Marx and Engels put forth by Catharine A. MacKinnon.

A discussion of the first critique is here:

I don't find anything radically pro-Indigenist in Marx. His worldview and value of "civil" democratic society isn't even consistent with Indigenism. "Civility" as practiced by white men across the dominant political spectrum has been killing Indigeous people for centuries and ends up with a vision of society that is anti-Indigenist, refusing to return humanity to a spiritual state of belonging with the Earth, not on it.

See also, Yurugu, by Marimba Ani:

And few defenders of Marx will take up MacKinnon's analysis of Marx and Engels.

See here for more:

And for much more on Indigenism, Feminism, and Activism, please see this from Speed of Dreams. With thanks to Rowland Túpac Keshena and Jessica Yee. Please click on the title to link back. For some REALLY annoying reason, Blogger won't let me put this blog in my blogroll. Here's the URL:

A Short Course in Indigenous Feminism

Posted: January 24, 2011 by Rowland Túpac Keshena
Indigenous feminists, like Jessica Yee pictured here, are on the rise and they aren't takin' shit from nobody
For those who don’t know much about me, I am a currently studying for a Masters Degree in Public Issues Anthropology, specializing in an analysis of revolutionary Native nationalist and anti-colonialist movements in North Amerika. I also have really strong interrelated interests in Native revolutionary critical pedagogy, the “reindigenization” of the Chicano-Mexicano community and movement and, the subject of this post, indigenous feminism. Anyway, one of the perks of my program is that I can create my own courses, and I’ve taken such a route this semester by creating my own directed studies course in indigenous feminist theory.
The growth of indigenous feminism is, for me, a huge interest, both personal and academic, not just because of the obvious importance struggling against both white supremacist (neo)colonial capitalism and hetero-patriarchy if we want to achieve meaningful freedom, justice and equality, but also because for a long time the status quo within our movement was that you could not be both a feminist and a native warrior. On the one hand we are not Native enough if we call ourselves and our movement feminist, but on the other we are not feminist enough for the whitestream feminists since we are pointing out that the whitestream movement does not take us, and our unique experiences and struggles into account. I am an indigenous man and I find this to be one of the greatest failings of our movement, and for that reason I wholeheartedly endorse, support and promote the rise of an indigenous feminism.
Anyway, with that in mind and in the spirit of sharing ideas, and radical education I’ve decided to post my reading list, derived from a list created by Jessica Yee for [B*TCH] Magazine, for others to take a look a lot, critique and/or otherwise contribute their thoughts. It’s made up of a mix of books and articles, both academic and non-academic, which are available on line.
Making Space for Indigenous Feminism, edited by Joyce Green
I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism, by Lee Maracle
From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii, by Haunani-Kay Trask
Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, by Andrea Smith
Talkin’ Up to the White Woman: Indigenous Women and Feminism, by Eileen Morton-Robinson
The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, by Paula Gunn Allen
Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism, by Devon Abbott Mihesuah
Online Articles:
Indigenous Feminism Without Apology, by Andrea Smith
Anti-Colonial Responses to Gender Violence, by Andrea Smith
Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Indian Peoples, by Andrea Smith
Better Dead Than Pregnant: The Colonization of Native Women’s Health, by Andrea Smith
Women and the Indian Act, by Deborah Simmons
Nuu-Chah-Nulth Struggles Against Sexual Violence, an Interview with Na’cha’uaht & Chiinuuks
Sexism, Racism or Both? A Closer Look at the Indian Act and the McIvor Case, by Martin Cannon
Jennifer Nez Denetdale on Indigenous Feminisms
An Indigenous Perspective on Feminism, Militarism, and the Environment, by Winona LaDuke
Zapatismo and the Emergence of Indigenous Feminism, by Aida Hernandez Castillo
Video Lectures
The Lives of Indigenous Women in a ‘Post-Racial’ and ‘Post-Feminist’ World, by Andrea Smith
Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide, by Andrea Smith
Academic Journal Publications:

Wicazo Sa Review “Native Feminisms: Legacies, Interventions, and Indigenous Sovereignties,” guest edited by Mishuana R. Goeman and Jennifer Nez Denetdale
Whiteness Matters: Implications of Talking Up to the White Woman, by Eileen Morton-Robinson
Race, Tribal Nation, and Gender: A Native Feminist Approach to Belonging, by Renya Ramirez
Introduction: Special Issue on Native American Women, Feminism, and Indigenism, by Anne Waters
Patriarchal Colonialism and Indigenism: Implications for Native Feminist Spirituality and Native Womanism, by M. A. Jaimes Guerrero
Dismantling the Master’s Tools with the Master’s House: Native Feminist Liberation Theologies, by Andrea Smith
Other Important Resources
Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, by J. Sakai
Patriarchy and Accumulation On A World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, by Maria Mies
Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation, by Silvia Federici
Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, by Chandra Talpade Mohanty

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