[Marxism] To Vivek Chibber

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 29 07:34:48 MDT 2013

On 4/29/13 9:15 AM, Andrew Pollack wrote:
> re Housewives: :)
> The sad thing is that I think you would have enjoyed Vivek's talk at the
> closing plenary. Until I read some of the subalternists whom he critiques I
> can't say for sure, but he seems to be defending a much more materialist
> understanding of imperialism, culture, etc.

You should understand that his book rests on the premise of the 
"so-called bourgeois revolutions." (From an interview with Chibber on 
the Jacobin website.) Is that something that an ortho-Trotskyist like 
you finds convincing? That "bourgeois revolutions" are a fiction?

Furthermore, the "political Marxism" that Chibber spreads among the 
young academic left like John the Apostle *does* rest on Eurocentric 
foundations. Attacking Gayatri Spivak et al is like shooting fish in a 
barrel. I have yet to see any of Brenner's acolytes mount an effective 
response to Jim Blaut's take-down of Robert Brenner in "Eight 
Eurocentric Historians". Within a few months of his death, Ellen 
Meiksins Wood wrote a critique of his views without ever bothering when 
he was alive. I can't blame her. He really had these people nailed.

This article was published in ANTIPODE: A RADICAL JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY, 


J.M. BLAUT University of Illinois at Chicago


Robert Brenner is a Marxist, a follower of one tradition in Marxism that 
is as diffusionist, as Eurocentric, as most conservative positions. I 
cannot here offer an explanation for this curious phenomenon: a 
tradition within one of the most egalitarian of all socio-political 
doctrines yet a tradition which, nonetheless, believes in the historical 
superiority (or priority) of one community of humans, Europeans, over 
another, non-Europeans. Eurocentric Marxists are not racist, nor even 
prejudiced, although most of them believe that Europeans have always 
been the leaders in the forward march of history; that Europe is the 
fountainhead of civilization, the main source of innovative social 
change. For these scholars, the origins of capitalism are European. 
Capitalism's further development consisted of an internally generated 
process of improvement within its classic homeland, the European world. 
The impact of capitalism on the rest of the world has been, on balance, 
progressive. Colonialism and (today) neocolonialism are not significant 
for capitalism, are rather a marginal process, a temporary aberration or 
diversion or side-show, not a vital need of the system as a whole, which 
evolves in response to internal laws of motion.

This point of view is basic diffusionism: autonomous development at the 
center, diffusion of development to the periphery. It is also tunnel 
history: a form of tunnel-vision which tries to explain the rise of 
capitalism, and the rise of Europe, by looking only at prior European 
facts, looking, as it were, down the European tunnel of time, ignoring 
the history of the world outside of Europe both as cause of change 
within Europe and as the site of historically efficacious change in its 
own right (Blaut, 1989). The Euro-Marxists -- as I will call the 
socialists of this tradition -- accept this view, and so they are 
diffusionists. To this extent, they agree with their mainstream 
colleagues about the rise of Europe, of capitalism, of modernization, of 
industrialization, of democracy: basically all of it is European.

Euro-Marxism went into eclipse during the period when liberation 
movements were decolonizing most of the world. In this period, the idea 
that the colonial or Third World has been, and is, unimportant in social 
development was not popular among Marxists. After the end of the Vietnam 
War, however, this point of view became again popular, and indeed became 
the Marxism most widely professed in European and American universities. 
Today we witness the curious phenomenon that Euro-Marxists are quoted 
with approval by anti-Marxist scholars, who can use them to show that 
"real" Marxist scholarship supports some of the same doctrines, 
theoretical and practical, that conservatives do.

Robert Brenner is one of the most widely known of Euro-Marxist 
historians. His influence stems from the fact that he supplied a crucial 
piece of doctrine at a crucial time. Just after the end of the Vietnam 
War, radical thought was strongly oriented toward the Third World and 
its struggles, strongly influenced by Third-World theorists like Cabral, 
Fanon, Guevara, James, Mao, and Nkrumah, and thus very much attracted to 
theories of social development which tend to displace Europe from its 
pivotal position as the center of social causation and social progress, 
past and present. Euro-Marxism of course disputed this, and 
Euro-Marxists, while strong in their support of present-day liberation 
struggles, nonetheless insisted as they always had done that the 
struggles and changes taking place in the center of the system, the 
European world, are the true determinants of world historical changes; 
socialism will rise in the heartlands of advanced European capitalism, 
or perhaps everywhere all at once; but socialism will certainly not 
arrive first in the backward, laggard, late-maturing Third World.1

What was badly needed at this juncture was a strong Euro-Marxist theory 
of the original rise of capitalism, a theory demonstrating that 
capitalism and modernization originated in Europe, and evolved 
thereafter mainly in Europe and with little influence from the 
non-European world and colonialism. The crucial questions were matters 
of medieval and early-modern history, of proving that Europe was the 
source of innovation back in those times, and so the modern European 
world (joined lately by Japan) is still, by implication, the main source 
of innovation. Robert Brenner supplied such a theory in two long essays 
in 1976 and 1977, followed by another in 1982.2 These essays are among 
the most influential writings in contemporary Marxist historiography, 
influential among conservatives and Marxists alike.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/Blaut/brenner.htm

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