On Aditya Nigam’s “Genealogies of Globalisation”

Pratyush Chandra

In India, the West Bengal government’s explicit neoliberal shift has led to a rethinking endeavour within the Left – not only in assessing the nature of left politics, but also on the theoretical plane. On the one hand, there has been an effort to sharpen the analytical tools for grasping the Indian reality; on the other, there is a theory-internal rethinking, specifically, about Marxism, whether its theorisations have misguided the left. The latter comprises of the resurgence of all sorts of arguments that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc. A major band of academicians in this has been the descriptivist brigade (which generally goes by the name of postmodernism) who finds in all these happenings a proof of relative realities and histories which Marxism is alleged to have ignored in its ‘universalist’, ‘teleological’ conceptualisations. This has further led to a trend of Marxian apologists – who endeavour to prove how Marxism is not what it is alleged to be, thus ultimately accepting the principles espoused by the former brigade. It is generally forgotten that in this process, what is lost is the dialectical core of Marxism. Relativism stands out instead of the logic of “universal and particular”, Anti-essentialism instead of “essence and appearance” and “chance/possibility and necessity” etc, ultimately bringing discussions to the level of proto-philosophical, where you cannot philosophise, you cannot theorise, you cannot derive any logic, since everything is what it is, so simply describe, but descriptions too are nothing but hi(fi)-stories…

Aditya Nigam’s article, “Genealogies of Globalisation: Unpacking the ‘Universal’ History of Capital”, published recently in EPW (2007, VOL 42; NUMB 12, pages 1047-1053) is written in similar tenor. In the name of re-reading Marx in a non-universalist manner he throws away the whole Marxist critique of political economy, except ‘Primitive Accumulation’ which is reduced to description. While one can sympathise with his criticism of the sarkari left in India, his attempt, though ironically, to universalise/reduce the problems of the communist and working class movement throughout the world embedded within the relative moments of the ever-dynamic class struggle to “a certain narrative of Progress and History” is very superficial. In his attempt to “Unpacking the ‘Universal’ History of Capital”, he is confusing between the logic of capital and the history of capitalism. Like the sarkari left in India, he too reads Marx’s Capital as a history textbook (remember, even the majority of the third world Marxists take Capital as a story of British capitalism), rather than as Marx’s attempt to understand the Logic of Capital – the universalising tendencies of capitalism. Marx in this attempt is not unaware of its particularising historical aspects, its articulation with non-capitalisms, which he deals with in his political, historical writings (in and out of Capital). On the other hand, postmodern descriptivism, which Nigam also adheres to, fetishises the “particulars” in the particularising moments of capitalism (which constitute “Spaces of Global Capitalism” and where relative “genealogies” definitely come into play, creating a universe with “Uneven Geographical Development”).

The problem with the sarkari left in India is not essentially theoretical or that of any narrative, but it is rather in their siding with a class in the class struggle, which is obviously not the working class (theories are definitely invoked rightly or wrongly for justifying purposes).


One thought on “On Aditya Nigam’s “Genealogies of Globalisation”

  1. The question of identity and materiality needs to theorised very clearly.A.nigam’s article in (himal-april) poses the same question.and also certain real questions in india.especially,after 1977 ,we can see a multitude of movements in india.the movements of movements politics have raised new questions in indian body politics.All these movements are creating mulitiple political subjectivities and celebrating diffrerences.The difference based politics is often clashed with class politics.how can you analyse it?

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