Ten Theses on Marxism and Decolonization

Clara Figueiredo, untitled 2_essaio Filmes Vencidos_Analog photography_digitalized_Moscow_2016


It's time for the left to recover and return to its tradition

In 1959, one of Cuba's revolutionary leaders, Haydée Santamaria, who turns XNUMX this year, arrived at a cultural center in the heart of Havana, Cuba. This building, the revolutionaries decided, would be committed to the promotion of Latin American art and culture and would end up becoming a beacon for the progressive transformation of the cultural world of the hemisphere. Renamed House of the Americas, the home of the Americas, would become the heart of cultural developments from Chile to Mexico. Art saturates the walls of the house and in an adjacent building is the huge archive of correspondence and drafts by the most important writers of the last century. The current director, Abel Prieto, is a novelist, cultural critic and former Minister of Culture. His mandate is to stimulate discussion and debate in the country.

In recent years, Cuban intelligence has been involved in the debate on decolonization and culture. The Cuban revolutionary process since 1959 has established – at great cost – the political sovereignty of the island and fought against centuries of poverty to consolidate its economic sovereignty. Since 1959, under the leadership of the revolutionary forces, Cuba has tried to generate a cultural process that would allow the eleven million inhabitants of the island to break with the cultural suffocation that is the legacy of Spanish and North American imperialism. Cuba, six decades after 1959, is it capable of saying that it is sovereign in cultural terms? The balance suggests the answer is complex, as the onslaught of American cultural and intellectual output continues to hit the island like its annual summer hurricanes.

To this end, the House has been holding a series of meetings on the topic of decolonization. I was invited to participate in this process by giving a lecture at the Casa at the end of June on the subject of Marxism and decolonization. The lecture was presented in ten theses, which can be found below:



Within the decade of weakness after the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s, when globalization and US imperialism thundered with the certainty that history was over, our own leftist traditions experienced doubts and failed to advance our clarity across the board. the world. The punishment inflicted on the left by the surrender of the last Soviet leadership was harsh and led not only to the closure of many leftist parties, but weakened the confidence that millions of people had in Marxist thought.



During this period, Cuban President Fidel Castro called on his Cuban counterparts and others to engage in a “battle of ideas,” a phrase borrowed from the german ideology of Marx and Engels. What Castro meant by this phrase is that people on the left should not cower before the rising tide of neoliberal ideology, but should confidently commit themselves to the fact that neoliberalism is incapable of solving humanity's basic dilemmas. For example, neoliberalism has no answer to the irrefutable fact of hunger; 7,9 billion people live on a planet with enough food for 15 billion and yet some 3 billion people struggle to eat, an irrefutable fact that can only be addressed by socialism and not the charity industry. As Castro put the “battle of ideas” on the table, the left faced two trends that continue to pose problems for revolutionary clarity.

Post-Marxism. The idea that Marxism was too focused on “grand narratives” (such as the importance of transcending capitalism to socialism) and that the NGO variety's piecemeal politics was more viable. This argument for going beyond Marx was really, as Aijaz Ahmad has pointed out, an argument for going back to the pre-Marx period, by neglecting the facts of historical materialism and the zigzag possibility of constructing socialism as the historical negation of brutality and decadence. capitalists. Post-Marxism was a return to idealism and perfectionism.

Postcolonialism. Sectors on the left began to argue that the impact of colonialism was so great that no transformation was possible and that the only answer to colonialism was a return to the past. They treated the past, as the Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui argued, as destiny and not as a resource. Afro-pessimism suggested a desolate landscape with no possibility of change; decolonial thought was trapped by European thought, returning again and again to European philosophy. The need for change has been suspended.



Our tradition of national liberation Marxism seemed crushed, unable to answer the doubts sown by post-Marxism and postcolonial theory. And our traditions no longer had the kind of institutional support that they did in an earlier period when revolutionary movements and governments were helping each other and when even UN institutions worked to promote some of our ideas. It is revealing that the motto of the World Social Forum has been another world is possible, not that socialism is needed, but simply another world, perhaps even fascism.



It is time to recover and return to our tradition, which has its origins in Marxism-Leninism, but is a Marxist-Leninist tradition that has been expanded and deepened by José Carlos Mariátegui, by Ho Chi Minh, by Fidel Castro, by EMS Namboodiripad, and by hundreds of millions of other members of the working and peasant class who have developed this tradition in our struggles.



There are two aspects to this tradition: By the words “National Liberation” we have the key concept of “sovereignty”. From the tradition of Marxism, we have the key concept of “dignity”. The fight for dignity involves a fight against the degradation of the salary system and against the old social hierarchies that we have inherited (even in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation).

Our tradition, therefore, is a tradition that fights for sovereignty against imperialist domination and that fights for human dignity against the misery of our social hierarchies and the capitalist theft of social wealth.



Frantz Fanon said that Marxism was “slightly strained” when it came out of the European context. How do we stress it? There are five elements that are visible in the writings of Lenin and the Communist International and later expanded upon by a variety of political forces:

Liberalism cannot solve humanity's dilemmas, the irrefutable facts of life (hunger, poor health). To transcend these dilemmas is to establish human rights.

Colonialism did not allow the development of productive forces in the colonized world. The modern form of industrial production creates social wealth that can be socialized.

The socialist project in the colonies had to fight both against colonialism (hence, for sovereignty) and against capitalism and its social hierarchies (hence, for dignity).

In colonies, peasants and agricultural workers were to form part of the key classes.

The Marxist tradition of unlimited national liberation won in the poorest parts of the world: Russia, Vietnam, China, Cuba. Revolutionary governments were entrusted with the dual task of building the productive forces and socializing the means of production.



Take the case of Zambia. About 60% of children in the copper belt cannot read. This is the region that produces much of the world's copper, which is essential for the electronics industry. Children's parents bring copper to the world market, but their children cannot read. But reading to them is a necessary fact. They want to read. Neither post-Marxism nor post-colonialism addresses the fact of illiteracy and the stubbornness of children and their parents. However, Marxism's theory of national liberation, rooted in sovereignty and dignity, addresses these issues: it demands Zambia's control over copper and higher royalty payments (sovereignty), and it demands that Zambia's working class be able to gain a greater share of surplus value (dignity).



It is important to note that, under the conditions of capitalism, the structures of racism and patriarchy remain rational. Because it's like this? In The capital, Marx detailed two ways of extracting surplus value and hinted at a third way. The first two forms (absolute surplus value and relative surplus value) were described and analyzed in detail, pointing out how the theft of time during the working day extracts absolute surplus value from the salaried worker and how productivity gains shorten the time needed for workers produce their wages and increase the amount of surplus value produced by them (relative surplus value).

A third form of extraction is suggested when Marx writes that, in some situations, workers are paid less than would be justified by any civilized understanding of wages at this historical juncture. In The capital, Marx noted that capitalists try to push "the worker's wages below the value of his labor power", but excluded this form from his analysis on the basis of the importance to his analysis that labor power must be bought and sold at value. total. This consideration, which we call super-exploitation, is not “immaterial” for our analysis, as it is central to the discussion of imperialism.

But how to justify the abolition of wages and the refusal to allow royalty payments for the extraction of raw materials to be increased? By a colonial argument that in certain parts of the world, people have lower life expectancies and therefore their social development can be neglected. This colonial argument applies equally to stealing women's wages for care work that is unpaid or very poorly paid on the grounds that it is “women's work”.

A socialist project is not bound by the structures of racism and patriarchy, as it does not require these structures to increase the capitalist's share of surplus value. However, the existence of these structures over the centuries, and deepened by the capitalist system, has created habits that are difficult to reverse simply through legislation. This is why a political struggle must be waged against the structures of racism and patriarchy, and importance must be given to both the cultural struggle and the class struggle.



Neoliberal globalization has defeated the meaning of collective life, deepened the hopelessness of atomization through two connected processes: first, through the weakening of the trade union movement and the socialist possibilities that came within public action and the labor struggle rooted in trade unionism, and second, by substituting the idea of ​​the citizen for the idea of ​​the consumer, the idea that the human being is primarily a consumer of goods and services, and that human subjectivity can best be appreciated through the desire for things.

The breakdown of social collectivity and the rise of consumerism harden despair, which turns into various types of retreat, two examples are: (a) a retreat in family networks that cannot withstand the pressures imposed on them by the withdrawal of social services, the increased family care work, long commuting and working hours; (b) A movement towards forms of social toxicity that provide opportunities for collective life – religious, xenophobic – but which organize not for human advancement but for the reduction of social possibility. How can we rescue collective life? We must build forms of public action rooted in improving the social conditions and cultural joy that are essential as an antidote to this desolation.

In the calendar on the left, we put Red Book Day on February 21st, a day to go out into the public and read various red books; this year, half a million people read Red Books in Kerala alone. Imagine days of public action, rooted in leftist traditions, every month, every week, attracting more and more millions of people to do things together to rescue collective life? Part of the rescue of collective life was vividly displayed during the pandemic, when unions and youth organizations, women's organizations and student unions took over public domains in Kerala to build handwashing sinks, sew masks, set up public kitchens, deliver food, conduct house-to-house surveys so that each person could be singled out for anything they needed.



Comrade Fidel spoke of the “battle of ideas”. Along with this, we need to think about a “battle of emotions”. A degraded society under capitalism produces a social life permeated with atomization and alienation, desolation and fear, anger and hatred. The flavor of emotions passes through these feelings, their control over society is almost absolute. Meaning seems emptied, perhaps as a result of a society of spectacles that has already come to an end. Against desolation, fear and hatred, we must suggest the taste of joy, possibility and the future.

We need to recover our tradition of national liberation Marxism, but also to elaborate the theory of our tradition out of the work of our movements. We need more attention to Ho Chi Minh theory and Fidel theory, and EMS theory. not only they did, but also produced innovative theories. This needs to be developed. We need to test these theories in our own contemporary reality, building our Marxism not just on the classics, which are useful, but on the facts of our present. Lenin's "concrete analysis of concrete conditions" requires special attention to concrete, real, historical facts. We need a more objective assessment of our times, a closer interpretation of real imperialism which is imposing its military and political power to avoid the need for a socialist world.

The only real decolonization is anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism. You cannot decolonize your mind unless you also decolonize the conditions of social production that reinforce the colonial mindset. Post-Marxism ignores the fact of social production, the need to build social wealth that must be socialized. Afro-pessimism suggests that such a task cannot be accomplished because of enduring racism. Decolonial thinking goes beyond Afro-pessimism, but it cannot go beyond post-Marxism, failing to perceive the need to decolonize the conditions of social production.

*Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian and journalist. Director General of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research. Author, among other books, of Bullets from Washington: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations (popular expression).

Translation: Arthur Scavone.

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