Marxism, Coloniality, “Man”, & Euromodern Science

In some non-blog writings earlier this summer, specifically some work I put in on my dissertation, I expanded upon and made some significant changes to my earlier article entitled “Decolonization-Decoloniality-Marxism” to the extent that I feel they are now two different pieces, arching towards the same point. So I have decided to post the newer version here also. Further, while I did write this as part of the theory chapter of my dissertation, my eventual intention is to spin it off into a full work of its own with the title The Coloniality of Marxism.

While it may be unfashionable in many circles, I do not, nor have I ever, hidden the fact that for many years my primary theoretical grounding and outlook on the world could best be described as some kind of Marxism.  This was still very much so the case when I began the studies that led me to this point in my writings.  For much of that time, while often nominally loyal to some kind of Leninist/Maoist Marxism—in the sense of how I viewed the project of actual leftist organizing [1]—the primary internal debate that I engaged in with myself with regards to this outlook was between kinds of Western Marxism. Here, by Western Marxism, I take Martin Jay’s more expansive typology of its earlier generations (1984) to include not just those traditionally associated with the term—Georg Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, Karl Korch, Ernst Bloch, the Frankfurt School theorists of Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, and Max Horkheimer, as well as later Henri Lefebvre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Lucien Goldmann—but also Louis Althusser and the Italians Galvano Della Volpe and Lucio Colletti. If one were to attempt to distil this internal debate into pairs of binary oppositions, then arguements of humanist versus anti-/nonhumanist, and Hegelian versus anti-Hegelian. The avatars of these two poles, for me, were Gramsci and Althusser.

However, these are pairs of binary oppositions, distinct theoretical encampments with rigid boundaires, only within the borders of europe and european thinking. Thus, much like Edward Said, who deployed in writings both the humanist, neo-Hegelian Gramsci, and the anti-humanist, non-Hegelian, and poststructuralist former student of Althusser Michel Foucault (indeed the oppositions between Marxism writ large and postructuralist/postmodernist theorizations is, in my estimation, much the same debate only scaled up and out), I ultimately did, and still do, take a number of key elements from both of these poles. This is no doubt heretical to many traditionalists and the enforcers of this or that orthodoxy, but I find myself deeply apathetic to how this may be viewed, as it is not my intention to accrue social capital through rigid in-group membership in anyone particular tendency of thought.

Such as it is, I continue to draw in my own thinking from a kind of ‘soft Althusserianism’, which, as Peter D. Thomas refers to it, the hallmarks are “a suspicion of teleology, an attentiveness to the social and political processes of subject- and subjectivity-formation, a respect for the relative autonomy of diverse instances within the social totality” (2009: 11). Related to the rejection of historical teleology, an additional element that forms a keystone to my thought that I continue to draw from Althusser’s work is a long-running rejection of deterministic or fatalistic modes of analysis (often typified, in Marxist works and activism, as the assertion that “communism is inevitable”), which coalesce most clearly within the late-Althusser’s “aleatory materialism,” or “materialism of the encounter,” (2006). Additionally, I continue to maintain an Althusserian attentiveness to the workings of ideology in the production and reproduction of capitalism, and, more essentially, the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system (2014); a form of ideological critique which takes up Lacan’s distinction between reality and “the Real” (1968) and has been extended and deployed in various fashions by Chantalle Mouffe (2014) and Ernesto Laclau (2012), Fredric Jameson (1982; 1991; 2019), and and members of the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis (Žižek 2009; Zupančič 2003), and which also meshes with Raymond Williams’ distinctions regarding “residual,” “emergent,” and “dominant” ideological formations (2006).

From the the opposite side of this european binary I have long been attracted to, and taken up, Gramsci’s ‘absolute historicism,’ which entails the denial that any real or meaningful qualitative distinctions between different conceptions of the world—much less ideologies and philosophies—can genuinely be made, and consequently flowing from that a deep suspicion, and ultimately a quite uncompromising rejection, of “scientistic” and “deterministic” versions of Marxism (2009: 11). Other key elements of the kind of Gramscianism that Thomas describes, namely the study of subalternity and the form and functions of the microphysics of power, have also long been central components of my outlook on the world (2009: 11)[2].

However, while many of these theoretical insights and propositions remain close to my mind and heart, the principal place that they held for me began to change with my exposure to more recent critical and theoretical production from within the spheres of Native, Black, and Decolonial Studies.  Ultimately my exposure to these new frameworks slowly began to erode the relative Marxist orthodoxy that informed so much of my views and work.

This has been the path for the last few years.  Nowadays my uses of Marxism are more in the direction of what I have taken up jokingly calling postmodern neo-Marxism; an intentional appropriation of the wording of Canada’s currently most recognizable reactionary academic: Jordan Peterson.  This, for me, is a Marxism that not only naturally emerges from those Althusserian and Gramscian—Hegelian and non-Hegelian; humanist and anti-/nonhumanist—moments and engagements of mine in years past, but which is also critically informed by the work of the late Mark Fisher (2009) and Fredric Jameson (1991), in that it is concerned with the postmodern condition, what Fisher refers to as capitalist realism; does not recoil in horror, as so much of Marxism in my experience appears to, from the contributions of radical scholars outside the Marxist canon and who are most associated with what we might call postmodernism or poststructuralism, such as Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, or Jacques Derrida; and which now adds to its list of suspicions the state of current Marxist futurisms, both in terms of the necromantic practice of summoning the ghosts of socialisms long dead (Robinson & Schram, in process), and in the ongoing quest for universality.

The very last of these points, the question of universality, also opens up a door onto what has become my primary issue with so much of Marxism, of almost any variant—Althusserian, Gramscian, Jamesonian, Fisherian, Leninist, Maoist etc.—which is quite often and quite simply that it is profoundly eurocentric.  What Marxism tends to miss in this regard—whether Althusserian, Gramscian, Jamesonian, Fisherian, Leninist, Maoist—is that this is a problem that Marxism is not really equipped to grapple with because, at the heart of things, Marxism, or at least orthodox Marxism, deeply holds to the abstractly “progressive” powers and qualities of this thing that we call modernity precisely because it is a product of modernity, born at the necrotic heart of the colonial order of things.

In this regard I do not believe that there has been a meaningful shift away from eurocentrism, though certainly efforts have been made. Indeed, in my experience outside of academia, in on the ground activist work, in interactions with leftists of a myriad of different Marxist tendencies (Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, various “left-communisms” etc.), the apparent default response amongst many to any attempted critique of eurocentrism within Marxism is to assume that those of us making the critique are saying that Marxism is a “white thing.” On the surface, this is quite obviously not the case, based purely on the historical record of 20th-Century revolutionary Marxist movements, nor do I think it is what anyone putting out a real analysis of the issue means to imply either.  Regardless, watching an endless parade of Twitter arguments, the fact that that is not what I or other are saying does little to stop Marxists, in particular Marxist-Leninists from parading out images of their favourite “Revolutionaries of Colour”: Hồ Chí Minh, Thomas Sankara, José María Sison, Huey P. Newton, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung etc. This, because no one who is really thinking through these issues is calling Marxism a white thing, does not actually do anything to diffuse the critique of eurocentrism.  In reality, what these two things are—the claim that people are saying Marxism is “white”, and the parade of images of ROC as a supposed counter-point—is actually, simply put, an ideologically placed thought terminator designed to short-circuit critique.

This of course is far from the only thought terminator used by many Marxist activists and theorists to diffuse attempts at critique.  A popular one, and one which I have had levelled at myself more than once over the years, is the proposition that critique of Marxism represents the work of some nefarious apparatus of the colonial-capitalist state, such as COINTELPRO[2], the CIA, FBI, or, for those of us up here in Canada, the RCMP or CSIS. For example, as I write this a quite popular claim, bordering on conspiracy theory, amongst certain segments of the cyberspace left is that the american CIA, via its Paris-based front organization the Congress for Cultural Freedom, had a hand in translating into the Anglophone world the writings of certain postmodern/poststructuralist theorists, such as Derrida and Foucault, in the hopes that this would coax the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements, or the very least individual proponents and thinkers, rightwards and away from the presumed “genuine” radical critique which Marxism is said to embody (Rockhill 2017).  While I cannot speak to the roll that the CIA may actually have had in this, the assumption seems to be that other scholars, theorists, and, also, activists would not have reached a point of critiquing Marxist assumptions without the cynical guiding hand of the CIA.  This functions as a thought terminator by allowing those Marxists who choose to deploy it to simply point at a source of critique and yell “agent” at a representative of postmodernist critique without having to seriously take the time to investigate their thought.

That said, working within the Marxist tradition, there have been a number of important attempts to think against and beyond eurocentrism.  I believe that amongst these various efforts, Robert Biel in his text Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement (2015) is absolutely correct when he says, speaking of Marxism, or what he thinks should be its “more neutral name” historical materialism, that:

The reality is that it is embodied in a particular movement which originated and developed in a definite set of geographical and historical conditions.  These inevitably influenced, and imposed limitations upon, the concrete form in which the theory was first put forward (2015: 4).

Here Biel’s assessment of the geo-historical location and timing of Marxism’s birth, and the marks that it has left on its body of theory, cleaves quite closely to what the late Cedric J. Robinson much more expansively noted in his classic text Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition.  Speaking of what he identifies as Marxism’s “ominous limitations, Robinson says:

However, it is still fair to say that at base, that is at its epistemological substratum, Marxism is a Western construction—a conceptualization of human affairs and historical development which is emergent from the historical experiences of European peoples mediated, in turn, through their civilization, their social orders, and their cultures.  Certainly its philosophical origins are indisputably Western.  But the same must be said of its analytical presumptions, its historical perspectives, its points of view.  This most natural consequence though has assumed a rather ominous significance since European Marxists have presumed more frequently than not that their project is identical with world-historical development.  Confounded it would seem by the cultural zeal which accompanies ascendant civilizations, they have mistaken for universal verities the structures and social dynamics retrieved from their own distant and more immediate pasts.  Even more significantly, the deepest structures of ‘historical materialism’ … have tended to relieve European Marxists from the obligation of investigating the profound effects of culture and historical experience on their science.  The ordering ideas which have persisted in Western civilization … have little or no theoretical justification in Marxism for their existence (1983: 2)

However, even with regards to the best-case examples of contemporary Marxist attempts to confront their school of thought’s congenital eurocentrism, such as in Biel’s important work, I have issues with the accounting of the problem.  For example, Biel ultimately largely boils the endemic issue of eurocentrism in Marxism down to a question of its political economy (2015: 171) and its current geo-political centre.  In terms of the former proposition, while in a sense I do agree that the political economy of most Marxists is somewhere between one hundred and one hundred fifty years out of date, the question of eurocentrism is not simply one that can be solved by the correct reading and application of dependency theory or world-systems analysis.  While certainly taking up that theoretical line—updated as it should be for the early 21st century, is important, and especially when paired with a serious concern for the question of imperialist parasitism—the manner in which it is focused upon by Biel actually, in my opinion, obscures the other, often deeper ways that Marxism has been marked by a profound eurocentrism since its original formulations.

Furthermore, due to his own allegiance to so-called “anti-revisionist” Marxism, Biel towards the end of the book to propose that Maoism today represents the primary anti-eurocentric current within broader Marxism. This would seem to be little more than Maoist ideological posturing due to the social fact, demonstrated to me by a decade and a half of activist experience, that outside of the much derided Third Worldist tendencies of Maoism, no major Maoist actor or organization of actors takes up what Biel otherwise argues throughout the book should be the solution to eurocentrism, which is to fix their political economy. This has has had an affect of causing an otherwise unjustifiable inflation of the political egos of some maoists within the northern bloc, and there are some outstanding example of this effect out there. For instance, the Maoist author of the u.s.-based blog Necessity and Freedom, writing under the nom de plume RedZeal, claims in their review of Biel’s book, that:

Maoism, although a development of Marxism-Leninism, serves as a negation to the Eurocentric project in totality, whether it be “Left Eurocentrism” or the Eurocentrism of the bourgeoisie. Primarily, because Maoism as Maoism, that is as a summation of the Chinese experience and the anti-revisionist struggle of the ’70s into a qualitatively new development, was forged outside of the centers of global capitalism. … What makes Maoism anti-Eurocentric is its assault on the misapplication of historical materialism by the revisionist parties to justify or cozy up to imperialism, its concrete analysis of capitalism as a world system that produces stunted and uneven development, its support for national liberation struggles, and its rejection of conceptions of a universal and linear path of societal development (2016).

While RedZeal does warn that we “shouldn’t fall into the trap of tokenization that assumes because Maoism was developed on the peripheries that it is a priori anti-Eurocentric,” because “Leninism was developed on the periphery too, yet it was unable to shed completely all of its Eurocentric garb” (2016) this seems to actually be what is happening, here and elsewhere, to the extent that at times it seems to cross a line into a kind of Orientalizing territory. For the author, the question of the essence of Maoism’s status as the “fullest development of the anti-Eurocentric trend within Marxism” (2016) rests precisely on the supposed universality of it. As the author argues:

Maoism is the only universalized development of Marxism, and therefore the only development capable of understanding and opposing Eurocentrism. Maoism, as a re-contextualizing and universalizing of Marxism-Leninism, repeated the process that came before it, but on a qualitatively higher level (2016).

To reiterate: the proffered universality of Marxism, as something birthed at the heart of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system, regardless of whether one shifts the centre of its development after its initial creation from europe to a supposedly backwater and feudal Russian Empire, and then from there to China and Peru, deeply holds to, and defends, the abstractly “progressive” powers and qualities of modernity.  While I do not believe that the decolonization of thought is an impossible task, Marxism, at least Traditional Marxism, retains much that western and colonial, and this why I believe the Maoist claim to have conquered, or at he very least be in the process of conqueing, eurocentrism amounts to little more than a ideo-theoretical shell game.

Indeed, despite the recent efforts of the canadian Maoist philosopher Joshua Moufwad-Paul, working through the late Samir Amin, to portray Marxism as a “modernity critical of modernity,” and leaning heavily on the concluding pages of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth in order to declare “the need to establish a new Enlightenment that will be free from the predations of Europe” I find little hope for this within the onto-epistemological framing of the Marxist project (2018). Indeed, elsewhere Moufwad-Paul falls back on old Marxist tropes I have no taste for in order to circumvent Black theorist Alexander G. Weheliye’s criticism of all theoretical traditions of european origin as “white European thinkers [who] are granted a carte blanche” (2014: 6).  Namely, Moufwad-Paul consciously falls back on that old Marxist claim that “it is only the Marxist tendency that can account for and surmount this carte blanche, thus necessarily generating theoretical offspring critical of its erroneous aspects, because of what it is: a science” [emphasis original] (2019).

As I have said already, I am, contra Althusser, critical of the claims to Marxism’s long-running project of positioning itself as a science, as well as generally scientistic outlooks broadly. This is a lingering remnant of my Gramscianism, but also emerges from many of the other kinds of Marxism I have long been largely self-taught in and influenced by: Lukács, the Frankfurt School, modern Marxist critical theorists like Moishe Postone, Fredric Jameson, and others like Enrique Dussel. Of course these influences are not evenly developed or distributed in this regard. Some clearly maintain a hold on the notion that Marxism is a science: Jameson for example argues in his work Late Marxism quite succinctly that “to be a Marxist” in some form or fashion implies a belief that Marxism is somehow a science (2007: 6). Conversely, Postone’s epistemological stance of immanent critique, stands in stark contrast to the view of Marxism as a transhistorical, universally valid science (2005).

Having this particular Marxist theoretical background, as uneven as it may be, providing me with a necessary grounding from which to be much more open to the insights and critical perspectives emergent from contemporary Native, Black, and decolonial fields of thought. These perspectives, which have become centrally important to my perspective, has deepened my critique of Traditional Marxism, as it has allowed me to more deeply see and consider how it engages in the colonial discourse that there is a single, valid, way of knowing the world, which is, Marxist protestations to their own congenital eurocentrism notwithstanding, the scientific-technical rationality of the euro-west.

This allows us, I would contend, to actually bracket off Engels, Lenin, Jameson, Althusser, and other’s arguments in favour of Marxism’s actual, or not, scientificity as not really the most important question here. This is because the question of Marxism’s scientific status, is ultimately a question that can only represent, and seek its own validation, within what Aníbal Quijano identified as the colonial matrix of power (2008; 2010). Of particular relevance here is the colonial epistemological difference, as described by Walter Mignolo (2008), because the drive to subsume everything under the sign of (euro-western) science, to claim them as, or attempt to make them, “scientific,” is a result of the colonial epistemological difference, and betrays an allegiance to the values of modernity/coloniality. This most certainly includes the broad sweep of Traditional Marxism and its claim to represent as a universally applicable, transhistorical, positive science.

Thus, I want to briefly focus on the claim to Marxism’s scientificity, as made explicit in Moufwad-Paul’s body of work, because it brings into quite clear focus the problems of Marxism’s onto-epistemological eurocentrism.  We can find of the key moments in his writing on the subject in this paragraph, in which he quite boldly writes:

Moreover, claims that there are other knowledges that have been excluded by the dominant scientific narrative does not prove that science-qua-science is incorrect––as the artefacts the latter produces immediately demonstrates.  At best such claims only demonstrate that the colonial-capitalist monopoly on scientific investigation has excluded just as much as it has appropriated and that it could stand to learn more from the research of others: we know this is correct since environmental scientists have discovered that there are indeed suppressed knowledges of numerous Indigenous populations that prove the possibility of living sustainable lives. At worst, however, claims about excluded knowledge traditions can lead to unqualified endorsements of culturalist mystification.  Just because a truth claim is made by a colonized or formerly colonized population does not make it correct, no more than the various anti-scientific truth claims made by colonizing populations (i.e. Six Day Creationism, anti-vaccination, “chem-trails”, ethno-nationalism, conservative conceptions of gender and sex, etc.), and thus it is not always wrong that science excludes some knowledges. Indeed, science necessarily has to exclude those truth claims that are proven wrong regardless of their origin.  This does not mean that scientific investigation, because of the influence of the ideological instance, might not wrongly exclude truths due to a scientist’s devotion to various social dogma, only that other times the exclusion is correct.  Only Christian fundamentalists would argue that we are not better off for the exclusion of Six Day Creationism from the discipline of biology (2019).

Two things take place here in rapid succession. Firstly, Moufwad-Paul concedes that Indigenous peoples may actually have some sort of useful knowledge about the world in the form of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, or TEK—a currently buzzworthy area of discussion within philosophy, the social sciences and environmental studies—and that such knowledges may have been unduly suppressed by systems of colonial domination, however, implicit in his wording would seem to be the thought that the value of these knowledges only becomes activited, or is rendered visible, once they become “discovered,” and thus validated, by euro-western environmental scientists. Secondly, in a stunningly oblivious move demonstrating the deep eurochauvinist and racial-colonialist contours of his own Marxist “science”, Moufwad-Paul simultaneously colours non-european traditional knowledges and epistemologies with the same brush of “culturalist mystification” as conservative christian supremacists seeking to overturn the current liberal-bourgeois secular order to replace it with their own.  In labelling traditional Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies, and methodologies “culturalist mystification” Moufwad-Paul not just side-steps, but actively pushes to the side the fact that “science,” as a “structured and systematic production of knowledge,” is, by most accounts, something that “all societies and all groups, everywhere and anytime, are engaged in” although “not all of them are institutionalized to the same degree” (Reiter 2018:3).

This is should be, I think it is safe to argue, deeply problematic.  This is because, as Bernd Reiter notes, colonialism “erased many local scientific traditions by declassifying them as primitive and folklore and substituting what was perceived as Southern superstition with Northern science” (2018:3).  However, this is, as I have already noted, something which Moufwad-Paul appears to not even notice, much less concern himself with.  Indeed, in labelling traditional Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies, and methodologies “culturalist mystification” he commits the very same colonial error that Reitmer speaks of, saying:

To some authors, the very power of colonialism rested on its ability to name and categorize the world according to its heuristic schemata and interest, thus inventing, and enforcing, such binaries as modern/traditional, progressive/backward, and civilized/primitive (2018:3).

“Culturalist mystification” is a labelling of traditional Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies, and methodologies that can only arise from the imperial gaze of modernity/coloniality, and thus invests in, constructs, and reifies a colonial epistemological hierarchy and binary, and by extension implies other imperial hierarchies and binaries, and core-periphery like relationship (Escobar 2011; Lugones 2007).  Given his philosophical commitment to epistemologically and methodologically situating Marxism as a science, and demonstrated euro-colonial myopia, I suspect that even if these problems were presented to him, he would not be able to recognize that the knowledge production of euro-western science, much less that of Marxism’s supposedly scientific outlook and methodology, is made possible by the coloniality of power/knowledge (Dussel 2002; Quijano 2008).

Moufwad-Paul’s line of thinking here is one which, as should be obvious, is deeply antagonistic with regards to any sense of epistemic plurality, or of co-extensive pluriversal knowledges (Reiter 2018; Harding 2018; Escobar 2018).  Moufwad-Paul’s Maoist Marxism appears quite strongly here to be a case-study in why Santiago Castro-Goméz answers with a provisional “no” regarding the possibility of epistemic plurality under the current colonial épistémè, saying:

at least for the last 500 years, it has not been possible to recognize the epistemological plurality of the world.  On the contrary, a single way of knowing the world, the scientific-technical rationality of the Occident, has been postulated as the only valid episteme, that is to say the only episteme capable of generating real knowledge about nature, the economy, society, morality and people’s happiness.  All other ways of knowing the world have been relegated to the sphere of doxa, as if they were a part of modern science’s past, and are even considered an ‘epistemological obstacle’ to attaining the certainty of knowledge (2010: 282).

And is this not indeed a quite precise summation of Moufwad-Paul’s assessment of Marxist scientificity, and indeed for the necessity of Marxist scientificity?  He makes this quite clear in his reply to Weheliye, that it is Marxism, and only Marxism, that is capable of provided a meaningful explanation of the world, and thus a meaningful impact on the world, because it is a science.  Does not Moufwad-Paul make it clear that he views, from within the Marxist domain, Indigenous and non-european to be an epistemic obstacle to the flourishing of Marxist science?  What else could it be to label the subalternized, colonized, and genocided world-views of Indigenous peoples as “culturalist mystification” and paint them with the same brush as settler-colonial christian clerical fascists?  It does not seem, to myself at least, to stretch credulity by much to imagine that Moufwad-Paul—while not doubting what I believe to be he and other Marxist’s political commitment to what they believe to be a freer, more equal, and more just world—maintains a fixed and rigid euromodern and euro-western methodological-epistemological-axiological commitment that is rooted in a profound colonial-imperial arrogance.  And this is a kind of arrogance that can only be imagined from one who sits at the very heart of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system. It is an arrogance that allows one to believe that they stand at a kind of a kind of zero-point around which the earth rotates (Castro-Gómez 2010; Grosfoguel 2013).  The truth of the matter is that European ontologies, epistemologies, academic and social research programmes, cosmologies and the like are only able to place themselves at the zero-point of contemporary human knowledge production and accumulation because they have conquered the world, and suffocated all others (Chakrabarty 2007), or, to think in Dusselian terms, covered all others (Dussel 1995).

Against this decolonial and postcolonial critique however, in their recent writings both Biel and Moufwad-Paul hinge much of their thought on this matter, on the assertion that as a theory, analytic, and methodology historical materialism, the Marxist science of history, is not only the best tool for the job, but indeed is the only one, and, not only that, it has already succeeded in that regard[3].  This is, to put it mildly, debatable.

To be even more specific, the position which Moufwad-Paul outlines here is profoundly epistemicidal, to borrow a concept from Ramón Grosfoguel (2013) and Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2018; 2014).  Turning back to Castro-Gómez’s comments on the scientific-technical rationality of the Occident, Moufwad-Paul’s thinking is also deeply tinged by what Fernando Coronil would call, drawing on already-existing discourse, Occidentalism (1996), and which, reflecting on Edward Said’s conception of Orientalism, with its focus on the euro-west’s deficiencies in representing the Othered “Orient” (1979), he describes as “the conceptions of the West animating those representations” (56).

While it may seem unfair here to taget a single canadian philosopher representing a specific strain of Marxism, in this case, Maoism, as my mise au point, I focus briefly here on Moufwad-Paul precisely because he so well articulates in the contemporary philosophical and theoretical arenas the argument for Marxism’s claim to scientificity, and, by way of negative extension, also lays clear the problems of that position[4], including being largely unable to engage, on good-faith terms, the subalternized, colonized, and genocided world-views of Indigenous peoples. It is also a worldview that summons the spectre of Foucault’s description that power and knowledge are actually power/knowledge, in that power and knowledge cannot, and should not, be seen as independent entities but are inextricably related; knowledge is always an exercise of power and power always a function of knowledge (1980).

Additionally, some of the pitfalls that lead Moufwad-Paul to the euro-colonial, and frankly racist, equivocation of christian fascist theology and the subalternized, genocided, and still colonized and suppressed cosmologies, ontologies, and epistemologies of Indigenous peoples have entrapped many a Marxist thinker attempting to cut themselves out of the net of endemic eurocentrism. This is not a particularly new argument for Marxists to make.  In the closing decades of the Cold War, the Cuban philosopher Roberto Fernández Retamar attempted to make a link between a kind of proto-post-Occidentalist thought and Marxism.  For Retamar capitalism was essentially the same as Occidental thought, and therefore Marxism, as a critique of capitalism, could not be anything other than post-Occidental (1986).  However, while the colonial genesis of capitalism has caused a global ontogenic overlapping of capitalism and colonialism, hence my, and others, use of the compound term “the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system”, I do not believe that this makes the two categories reducible to each other.  If they were, then class struggle and anti-colonial/decolonial struggle would seem to be reducible to one another, but, as such contemporary Native thinkers such as George E. Tinker (2008) and Glen Coulthard (2014) I believe convincingly demonstrate, this would be an oversimplification of colonial relations as they exist, and one which ultimately leaves Natives by the wayside in the global quest for proletarian revolution and socialism.

Thinking back again to Moufwad-Paul, while I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of a “modernity critical of modernity,” or Fanon’s call to build a new enlightenment, for myself, probably contrary to Moufwad-Paul, this is because I follow Lewis Gordon’s corrective of Enrique Dussel in that what we generally call modernity in a broad sense should more correctly be understood as euromodernity, because modernity is not something strictly owned by Europeans (2013). This is the crux of my issue with not only Moufwad-Paul, but with Marxism in general: it is not that it is, or even can ever claim to be, just or simply a “modernity critical of modernity,” but that we must also be precisely clear about that which we speak, and in this case we can only regard Marxism as a product of euromodernity that attempts an internal critique of euromodernity.  In this vein, as far as we can genuinely consider Marxism to be an actual critique of modernity, then it must be said to be, much like its oft ideological foe postmodernism, a eurocentric critique of euromodernity (Grosfoguel 2008).

This is a trap that Marxism—despite all of the insight that it may contain about the exploitation of wage labour by capital, the value-form, imperialism, class struggle, the State etc.—fundamentally cannot escape because of the eurocentric corruption in its roots, which ultimately causes it mistake a european vision for a “scientific” one, and one with an unqualified universal applicability which should supplant all other epistemological systems. And so yet again we return to the notion of the eurocentrism of particular universalities.  Abstract universals as they are, with the global designs that they proffer, especially when rooted in something birthed at the heart of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system, are inherently epistemically western and colonial (Mignolo 2012).  This is a trap set by the fact that that this thing we call modernity is indelibly, ineluctably, and inescapably linked with the colonial order of things.  It was out of needing to understand this trap, out of the context of the Latin American engagement with dependency theory and world-systems analysis, that Quijano coined the concept of the coloniality of power, illustrated its constitutive relationship to euromodernity, and linked it to the compound concept of modernity/coloniality in order to describe this twinned formation (2010; 2008).

Coloniality is different from colonialism.  Colonialism, in a broad sense, setting aside the specifics of settler colonialism, denotes the political and economic relationship wherein the sovereignty of a nation or a people rests on the power of another nation.  Coloniality, rather, refers to long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, and thus, coloniality survives colonialism, being maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self etc.  Coloniality, understood in this way, is constitutive of modernity, which, broadly construed, are those pillars and interrelated spheres that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production/epistemology and ontological questions and concepts such as the nature of the human and the naturalization of life and the permanent regeneration of the living (e.g. the invention of the concept of “nature” etc.) well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations (Maldonado-Torres 2010; Mignolo & Walsh 2018).

Related to this is the concept of the decolonial and decoloniality.  In my interactions on social media platforms with Marxists and other leftists over the past months and years, what I suspect to be an attentiveness to the verbiage, but not the content, of current Native critique by many Marxists has given rise to a seeming neologism, decolonialism, and a conflation within that between two related by different concepts: decolonization and decoloniality. In essence, decolonization is and always has been tied to the question of land and power.  As Glen Coulthard notes in his Red Skin White Masks (2014) both Native oppression and resistance to that oppression is informed by, and through, the question of land.  Decoloniality on the other hand, while inherently tied to the materiality of decolonization is about those patterns of power and epistemological/ontological elements that originated from colonialism and modernity, but which can and very much so have persisted beyond colonialism.  In short decoloniality is the end of coloniality, which implies the end of modernity as well, or, to be more correct, euromodernity.

Likewise, a decolonial critique of modernity/coloniality is a critique from the position of subalternized and silenced knowledges, rather than Marxism or postmodernism’s eurocentric critique of euromodernity (Mignolo 2012).  These are the very same knowledges which Moufwad-Paul’s eurocentric ideological stance regarding the scientificity of the Marxist worldview relegate, at best, to possible mere addendums to western science’s body of knowledge, and at worst superstitious artefacts of a by-gone era that must now be rejected on the grounds of being “culturalist mystification” of the same kind and content as colonial and deeply anti-Indigenous conservative Christianity, to be replaced by the more correctly “scientific” Marxist epistemology and methodology of historical materialism.

Thinking through the decolonization/decoloniality distinction in this way it becomes possible to see that the first instance, that is land and power, can be taken up without actually uprooting the second, those patterns of power that form modernity/coloniality.  In fact, I would argue that a basic cursory look of the history of Marxist revolutions around the world in the 20th century, from China to Cuba to Viet Nam, demonstrates that this has actually been the general pattern with previous decolonization movements.  While it is perhaps possible to recapitulate this within a more traditionally Marxist theorization of the base-superstructure relationship, because of the deeply rooted epistemological, ontological and cosmological commitments within Marxism to a european geopolitics and body-politics of knowledge, there are elements of modernity/coloniality that escape the sight of Marxism often when considering the ideological dimensions of capitalism that will be struggled against both before and after the formal end of the capitalist world-economy, once the march towards communism is begun.

Indeed, in many ways because of these deeply held, and often unquestioned conceptions within at least mainstream and orthodox conceptions of Marxism, such as the conception of human-as-Man, of nature and of the human-nature relationship, it is possible for Marxism to actually deepen the commitment to modernity/coloniality within a given situation, even as it may work to struggle against others because of the perceived universality of Marxism. In fact, because of at least Traditional Marxism’s open and enthusiastic commitment to many of the core tenants of euromodernity, and hence its lurching fear of “postmodernism” (itself a Eurocentric critique of euromodernity), a more cynical reading would see this kind of deeper westernization to be an almost inevitable.

Marxism is thus, within this kind of understanding, a thoroughly modernist analytic and political project, and is thus tied up with many of the epistemological and ontological dimensions of coloniality.  Marxism, like postmodernism and post-structuralism are, as Grosfoguel notes, “epistemological projects that are caught within the western canon, reproducing within its domains of thought and practice a particular form of coloniality of power/knowledge” (2008).  This includes in many ways a recapitulation of liberal-bourgeois notions of the human and humanism, a problematic with which I grapple significantly in this dissertation [you can catch a few glimpses of this aspect of my work in some previous posts I have made, which also were clips of my dissertation writings].  For Marx, and for the Marxist tradition that followed, this liberal-bourgeois humanist tendency is perhaps most clearly subsumed up within what Tiffany Lethabo King identifies as a Lockean formulation that links labour with land, and labour with property, and eventually labour with the ability to claim status as a proper human subject (2019: 23).  This analytic has been the site of deep challenge and critique from within both Black and Native Studies.

The encounter between Marxist theory and Black and Native Studies is one that destabilizes the former by way of a structural violence that both prefaces the labourcentric analytics of Marxism, as well as exceeds its margins of theorizability and incorporation.  From within Black Studies, Saidiya Hartman, for example, theorizes the fungibility of Blackness and of the enslaved Black person as a challenge to the labourcentric theoretical analytic of Marxism, which has historically, and currently, tended to reduce this ongoing structural mechanic and lived experience to mere alienated labour, if an extreme case of such.  Pushing beyond these limitations, she proposes racialization, accumulation, and domination as the analytics best suited for understanding the development and position of Black subjectivity, rather than pure labour (2003).   Similarly, emerging from Native Studies, Glen Coulthard, in his attempt to think through and with the Marxist analytic, necessarily pushes beyond the Lockean labourcentrism of Marxism in order to find grounding on which to orient both discussions of Native oppression and colonization, and question of Indigenous liberation.  He notes in Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, “the history and experience of dispossession, not proletarianization, has been the dominant background structure shaping the character of the historical relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state” (2014: 13).  Indeed the relationship between Indigenous people and the processes of proletarianization, or rather the lack thereof (in so far as the cognition of the settler state and society views it), is paradigmatic of the Indian as the Savage, and as part of the Wild, a ontological status that I explore later in this dissertation [again, snippets of this can be read in recent previous posts].

What is ultimately at stake here concerning Marxism as a particular kind of liberal-bourgeois, euromodern, and labourcentric humanism, is that the violences of conquest, genocide, and enslavement escape the ability of its grammars and registers to make a full accounting of them.  If Marxism is to be made applicable to the violent sufferings experienced by genocided and enslaved peoples, it must be stretched so much that it will perhaps become unrecognizable to those theorists who take up and proclaim the myriad Marxist schools of thought.  This, of course, reflects Fanon’s old, if perhaps quite understated, prescription that “a Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched when it comes to addressing the colonial issue” (2004: 5).

To a considerable extent this problem of Marx, and Marxism’s, liberal-bourgeois humanist tendencies in theory-analytics and methodological-pedagogical-praxiological commitments extends even to those sub-formations that have attempted to openly expunge this kind of allegiance from the Marxist canon.  One can here think of the Spinozist Marxism of Louis Althusser, and the many students and theorists that he cultivated or influenced, including Alain Badiou, Antonio Negri, and Étienne Balibar.  Indeed, here we can even group those outside of Marxism, or at least its mainstreamed manifestations (including Althusserian), but who were aligned in some manner with Althusser’s anti-humanist impulses.  The chief theorists that come to mind in this regard are Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze[5], as well as the latter’s occasional partner in writing and theory, Félix Guattari.

Curiously, or perhaps not (if you are as cynical of the world of Man as I am) it is something to note that the natal and myopic eurocentrism of the broad Marxist tradition prevented those Marxist, as well as poststructuralist, postmodernist and post-Marxist, theorists looking to sketch a way out of the humanist impasse from seeing that such onto-epistemic worldviews already existed in the world, but who’s genealogies of such were, and are, submerged under centuries of colonial domination, genocide, and enslavement. As Tiffany King says:

Genealogies have a way of remembering the “anti-humanist” traditions of Native/Indigenous people’s that the West’s form of violent Enlightenment humanism wiped out through genocide.  The only reason that we experience European postmodern/poststructuralist anti-humanist impulses like those found within Deleuzian thought as novel and as an epistemic revolution is because Indigenous and Native people’s cosmologies and epistemologies that did not recognize boundaries between nature/culture or the human and the western sensuous world were wiped out and had to be remade by the West (2016).

Today the proclamation of these sorts of epistemic non-revelations confused for revolutions of thought are still being produced within the confines of the westernized, colonized academy.  As such, because our genealogies of thought have never been quite as dead as western anthropologists and philosophers may have believed, Black and Native Studies have often met the arrival of these still-newer iterations within western thought with scepticism.  Consider for example the now quite vogueish frame-work of object-oriented ontologies, whose arrival on the academic and theoretical scene both Jodi Byrd and Kim Tallbear critique as Johnny-come-lately-ish and Columbusing in their approach to issues of the human, because they are anything but new to Indigenous worldviews (2018: 602; 2015: 234).

Thinking again of both Cedric Robinson and Louis Althusser’s critiques of certain tendencies within Marxism, there is one ultimate point worth noting, and that is my already stated suspicion of teleology, a key feature which marked the thought of both, and which has also deeply influenced by own thinking vis-à-vis Marxism.  In his late work, following his psychiatric hospitalization after the murder of his wife Hélène Rytmann, Althusser wrote of a materialism of the encounter, “of the aleatory and the contingency,” and that:

this materialism is opposed, as a wholly different mode of thought, to the various materialisms on record, including that widely ascribed to Marx, Engels and Lenin, which, like every other materialism in the rationalist tradition, is a materialism of necessity and teleology, that is to say, a transformed, disguised form of idealism (2006: 167-168).

Pessimist horror writer and theorist Steven Craig Hickman writes that Althusser’s late-philosophical anti-teleological musings invite us to dive deep into a ”multimodal materialist analysis of relationships of power,” in which the emergence of phenomenon such as colonialism/coloniality, modernity, and capitalism arise contingently, rather than as fated, destined outcomes of earlier social phases of human history, traced along universal and unilinear evolutionary mappings, and that, within such an aleatory materialism, “it is important to recognize their diverse temporalities by examining their more enduring structures and operations as well as their vulnerability to ruptures and transformation – all the while acknowledging that they have no predestined, necessary, or predictable trajectory” (2012). Such a multimodal analysis of the heterogenous and overdetermined nature of social development (thinking here also of the younger Althusser’s work (2005)), in which change, movement, revolution, and emergence are not reducible to a single set of dialectical contradictions (such as that in orthodox Marxist class analysis of the relations and forces of production), has always been, and will likely remain, an essential line that cuts across my thought and work.

While Althusser tackled the problem of Marxist teleology from the perspective of western philosophy, Robinson instead rooted himself in an anthropological investigation of Marxism and Marxist thought.  Robinson links the Marxist inversion of the Hegelian dialectic of the world Geist into the dialectic of history (historical materialism) with a shift away from seeing time as non-linear and cyclical, to linear, and notes that there are christian religious and prophetic dimensions to this shift which are secularized and subsequently re-articulated within Marxism.  In his An Anthropology of Marxism he notes:

This peculiarity is barely disguised in the Western eschatological ordering of history. Modern Western civilization derives from its cultural predecessor, Judeo-Christianity, a notion of secular history which is not merely linear but encompasses moral drama as well. The narratives of providential history are sufficiently familiar to most of us as to not require repeating … [e]ven secular historical conceptions like historical materialism reflect the ‘good news’ presumption of the Judeo-Christian gospel: the end of human history fulfills a promise of deliverance, the messianic myth. When Marx and Engels maintained in The Communist Manifesto that human history has been the record of class struggle and then proffer the socialist society as one without classes, it is implied that history will then come to an end. Socialist society—a social order which displays no classes, no class struggle and therefore no history—reflects a kind of apocalyptic messianism (2001: 6-7).

In the linear historical dialectic of orthodox Marxism the coming socialist/communist society takes the place of the new heaven and new earth promised in the christian book of revelation, and the mythologically borderless proletariat the place of the return of Christ. Indeed, given how this is linked to the shift in western thought (long before the rise of euromodernity) from cyclical temporality to linear readings of time and history, it should lead us to question what Biel has to say about historical materialism, when he claims:

In that sense [historical materialism as the application of dialectics to the development of history], although the approach was discovered by Marx, we could say it had an existence independent of its origins in time and place and could well have been worked out under a different set of circumstances (2015: 4)

While perhaps in a sense correct, especially as Marx, and Hegel before him, was far from the first person in human history to develop and deploy a dialectical perception of the world—though, thinking through King, one has to again consider how this is in fact an epistemological non-revelation when confronted with the genocidal and epistemocidal annihilation of many such dialectical worldviews with the coming of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system—one has to seriously wonder whether historical materialism as it is broadly understood by most Marxists would have actually arisen in such circumstances which may have evinced a profoundly different perception of time, such as those embedded within the epistemological and cosmological conceptions of many of our diverse Native nations in the northern bloc. There is also a sense here, within mainstream Marxism, of a universal or general time at work within the historical dialectic, even within the linear sense, which is something that has been deeply troubled recently by theorists as diverse as Mark Rifkin (2017), José Rabasa (2010) and Kyle Powyss Whyte (2019).

However, all of this has not meant that I have rejected Marxism in a full sense, or if not Marxism per se, then perhaps certain critiques and analytics emergent from within the Marxist paradigm.  Rather it means that I do not hold that the paragons of the euro-western philosophical and social scientific cannons—from the founding father of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Freud, through Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Latour, Deleuze, Lacan, Althusser, up to and including Fisher and Jameson—hold within their various theoretical corpuses all the tools that are necessary for challenging the order of things of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system (Harding 2008; Connell 2007).  However, and perhaps this is my own artefact of thought, I still maintain that they include many useful tools.  Indeed, my writing in this dissertation makes regular references to the Gramscian concepts of civil society and hegemony, the Althusserian line of thought regarding ideology, and, especially towards its latter chapters, is deeply informed by the thought of Mark Fisher, and to a lesser extent by Fredric Jameson.  My bibliography is replete with references to these thinkers and their works.

That said, I would refer now to my relationship with Marxism as complicated, or in a state of revision, which seeks to combine, perhaps unevenly and certainly with jerks and stops, on the one hand what I see as a kind of postmodern neo-Marxism (an appraisal by labelling that I am sure would drive most Marxists I know into a fit) and on the other with a decolonial, Native, and Black Studies informed critical theory perspective which is mindful of the relationship between modernity (and ultimately postmodernity, and the posthuman, if such a thing is actually meaningfully different from modernity in a qualitative fashion) and coloniality, and is suspicious of the scientistic quest for universal laws of human development and pathways into the future. I sometimes jokingly refer to this project as one of decolonial indigenous postmodern neo-Marxism.  A mouthful for sure, but no worse than the endless strings of hyphens seen throughout the history of the Marxist project.  What is important here in all of this is that, to follow King’s prescription, any loyalty on my part to Marxist theories, methods, and analytics is properly prioritized—which is to say made subordinate to, and consequently in a state of constant scrutiny from—commitments with and within Native, Black and Decolonial Studies (2019: 68).  Thus, while Marxism is not dismissed from my political and theoretical commitments, what role it does play is refracted and modified by the decolonial and the abolitionist.  This is where myself, suffering to make a decolonial corrective to Marxism, make my point of departure.


[1] I have since left behind any remaining vestiages of allegience though to this kind of Marxist thinking, following my final disappointing engagements with Leninist modes of organizing. Looking for answers to the failures and dead prospects of what I came to see as a thoroughly haunted (to think of it in a Derridaean sense) mode of analysis and organizing, I turned first to the thinking of the late British Marxist and cultural theorists Mark Fisher (2009), on questions of capitalist realism. While I found much to be gained from his various theorizations, I ultimately could not embrace the left-accelerationist tendency that he and his co-thinkers represented, seeing far too many problems inherent in it as not only as theory, but as the postcapitalist futures that it attaches itself to (for the former see Noys [2014], and for the latter Bastani [2019]). Following that, and being encouraged by much younger radicals and youth involved in organizing who I speak with regularly on a discord server organized by a longtime friend, I found and read with an open mind the current theoretical output of a number of formations heterogenuously grouped under the labelling of “communizing” or “communization,” including the Chuǎng, Endnotes, Prole Wave, and Théorie Comuniste collectives/journals. Communization is an approach to Marxian communism generally opposed to the pragmatism, statism, vanguardism, and stagnation of Leninism, and which rejects the view of revolution as an event where workers take power followed by a period of “socialist” transition, instead conceiving the revolution itself as a communizing movement characterized by immediate communist measures (the free distribution of goods, etc.), and which abolishes all capitalist categories of the value-form, exchange, money, commodities, the existence of separate enterprises, the state, the abstraction of life into the two alienated spheres of work-time and leisure-time, wage labour, the working-class itself, and the material basis for counter-revolution. While the communization milieu itself is quite european in orientation—emerging from a French synthesis of earlier French, Italian, and Dutch-German thought, and chiefly theorized now by Franco- and Anglo-language journals—I find in it now an approach that is much more ammeniable to my outlook on the world.

[2] I have often found myself cleaving closer to this kind of Gramscianism than to Althusserianism though, primarily because of my long-held suspicion of scientistic approaches to Marxism.  This is a key element of much of Marxism, which insists that the historical materialist methodology is a/the “science of history” and thus lays forward the claim that what it is doing analytically and theoretically is akin to science.  While I understand the Marxist drive/desire to be “scientific,” it has never been a concern that I have shared, primarily because I consider it to be an epistemological standpoint that is deeply wedded to the european Enlightenment, which as I discuss briefly above, is ultimately a colonial epistemology.

[3] COINTELPRO, short for Counter-Intelligence Program was a U.S. state project that targeted for political repression left-wing organizations and other movements deemed subversive which originated within the colonial and racial “minority” populations resident within the United States.  Targets including the Communist Party, elements of the american New Left and New Communist Movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, and Young Lords (Churchill & Wall 2001).

[4] Moufwad-Paul at times is all over the place.  For example, in these writings, and on his personal blog works in which he argues against anything appended with the prefix “post” (postmodernism, postcolonialism, poststructuralism, post-Marxism etc.) he argues at length that a major problem with these schools of thought, in so far as the question of eurocentrism is concerned, is that they are often rooted, ultimately, in theorists more eurocentric than Marx. While it is no doubt the case that philosophers and theorists such as Nietzsche were deep eurochauvinists, an argument amounting to “well, those thinkers are eurocentricer” is not one that I find particularly convincing.  Additionally, this line of thinking from Moufwad-Paul is significant in its uncharitability towards Native, Black, Third World, migrant and other subaltern theorists, whom he seems to treat as oblivious to the eurocentrism of theorists and theories other than Marx.  This would seem to me to be a kind of white-saviourism in Marxist clothing, which is a particular flavour of eurocolonial racism.  I can assure Moufwad-Paul, as well as my readers, that we, and I include myself humbly here, do not need a white canadian Maoist philosopher to instruct us in what is and is not eurocentric.

[6] I must credit this insight here to a fellow Indigenous leftist, Lakota tweeter Hinskéhanska, with whom I have regular discussions on social media.  I had already been critical of the earlier 2018 piece my Moufwad-Paul and the claim of Marxism as a “modernity critical of modernity,” but had not read the follow up article from this year.

[7] Both Delueze (1988) and Althusser (2016), besides being contemporaries, and though not always in theoretical agreement, were notable for their shared commitment to the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, against the general historical trend of Hegelianism within Marxist thought, and much of the rest of continental philosophy. For Althusser, Spinoza is a major source of his reading of Marxism in an anti-humanist direction.  Influenced deeply by both Althusser and Deleuze, Negri is today notable as a public, non-humanist, Spinozist Marxist (2013; 2020) as is Althusser’s former student Balibar (2008).

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