The 12th Marx Autumn School will focus on the subjects of colonialism and slavery. Marx dealt with both subjects primarily in the context of his work as a journalist, otherwise only leaving behind fragmentary observations. He had planned to systematically analyse the role of colonialism in the capitalist mode of production, but ultimately failed to realize this project.
Published in the New York Daily Tribune, Marx’s article about conditions in the Asian colonies received a great deal of criticism. In the context of the decolonization processes that followed the Second World War, Marx was accused of “Eurocentrism”: of ultimately considering the capitalist mode of production to be the only progressive one and almost exclusively focusing on Europe.
The debate around Marx’s attitudes to slavery has not been as controversial, but is equally as interesting. Marx firmly rejected slavery and called for its abolition, but he did not view “free wage labour” as an ideal alternative, instead criticizing “wage slavery”, for even if the labour power is formally free under capitalism, this freedom still implies a compulsion to work. Instead of interpersonal relations of domination, there is “the silent compulsion of economic relations”.
Vivek Chibber discussed possible answers to the postcolonial critique of Marx.
Moderation: Bafta Sarbo, Social Scientist with focus on Marxism and antiracism, Berlin
Vivek Chibber: Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital