CRITIQUE OF ORTHODOX POSTOCOLONIALISM AND THE REALITY OF UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT
For the last two years, from 1996 to 1998, we have been celebrating in the Philippines and here the one-hundred year anniversary of the Philippine revolution against Spain. December 10 of this year marks the centennial of the Treaty of Paris marking the end of the Spanish-American War, an event which ushered in the carnage of the Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1903–the “first Vietnam,” one historian believes–and beyond, as well as the colonial domination of Cuba and the annexation of Puerto Rico; the latter two events still haunting us not just with spectres but the lived experience of pain, denials, and ordeals of servitude. We can never postalize these Nachtraglich repercussions because to do so would just confirm the reality–Puerto Rico is recognized by the world as a U.S. colony, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba (like North Korea and other so-called “rogue” states) will not go away like a bad dream, even though Washington hopes they will fade away like the Sandinistas, Maurice Bishop’s “New Jewel Movement,” the FMLN of El Salvador, Amilcar Cabral, or dissolve into the posthistorical folds of the “New World Order.”
Unfortunately, the Pinochets of this world are still around–and their victims will not allow them their solipsistic retirement.
Postcolonial theory warns us not to engage in the “politics of blame” and praise. Indeed, can I as a subaltern intellectual speak and discriminate as to who is guilty and who is innocent? Complexity and various rhetorical and ethical refinements will be sacrificed. Given the hybridity, mixing, creolization, syncretism, in-betweeness and just the sheer all-encompassing ambivalence and hetereogenity of relations between the postcolonized and the excolonizers, I would in fact be guilty of some cardinal sins: totalization, imposition of metanarratives, universalization, etc. I would plead guilty to reiterating a commonplace generalization here: the Spanish American War established the geopolitical place of the United States as an imperial power whose apogee after World War II, in the pax Americana of the Cold War, persists though in attenuated form, enabling the rise of postcolonial states like the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, and others in Africa and Latin America.
Let me post a few reminders. After the end of Fukuyama’s history, in the wake of the Gulf War, the Chiapas revolt in Mexico, Japan’s recession, the Asian Tigers–in particular South Korea and Thailand–collapsed, and Indonesia soon unravelled. Just a few weeks ago, Brazil was saved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Spasmodic ups and downs in the stock markets, currency devaluations and capital flight from the peripheral “emerging market” economies. Loan defaults, production cutbacks, mass layoffs, and bankruptcies are rocking the whole planet. A new world depression seems brewing. Globalization is on the rampage! Last November, an international conference on “Alternatives to Globalization” was held in the Philippines with delegates from 31 countries. What is meant by globalization? In brief, it is the neoliberal ideology of the free market, the capitalist market of exchange values, as the only way to economic growth and social progress everywhere. It is the general offensive of monopoly capital (transnational corporations or TNCs) to maximize the extraction of profit and accelerate capital accumulation everywhere, particularly through the use of modern technology (such as robotics and information technology), and, more importantly, through the political dikta of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization–mediated through the triad multilateral institutions: the IMF, World Bank (WB), and World Trade Organization. Supposed to refurbish the old nostrum of “modernization,” globalization enables rapid economic restructuring, centralization of capital, takeover and control of production resources in undeveloped societies and weak nation-states by TNCs based in the industrialized metropoles (Europe, Japan, North America).
The conference ended with a resolution which reads in part:
Globalization has worsened the effects of the destructive paradigm of ‘growth and development.’ Instead of economic prosperity and social stability that it promised for all nations, globalization has brought about economic turmoil, political and social tension, and widespread devastation to the world’s people and resources….The gap between the rich and poor in all nations, industrial and non-industrial alike, and between the rich and poor countries is widening rather than narrowing….
The systematic assaults on labor is dissipating the working class gains, causing widespread unemployment, job insecurity, loss of benefits, the destruction of trade unions. The massive displacement of workers leads to the rise and further commodification of migrant workers. The peasants’ limited gains in agrarian reform are likewise being reversed, resulting in more landlessness, rural unemployment and penury. Exploitation of women labor, especially unpaid labor, in farms and factories is intensified. The crisis causes more women and children to be displaced, commodified and economically and excually exploited as modern-day slaves. Patriarchy remains a key problem and physical violence on women and children, both inside and outside the home, is prevalent. The indigenous people’s struggle against exclusion, for their right to self-determination, recognition of equal rights as citizens and right to ancestral lands or historical domain is rendered more difficult.
Everywhere globalization is eroding the gains of social movements in all aspects (political, social and cultural). There is a general regression of democracy, as economic impositions by states entail increasing human rights violations, not only of economic, social and cultural rights, but of political and civil rights as well. In the third world, as the majority of the people are marginalized economically, they are also disempowered politically.
….State power is, more than ever, being used to sep up the implementation of the neoliberal prescriptions of globalization, in the form of national legislation, bilateral agreements with IMF and WB, multilateral pacts under the WTO regime, and regional and other arrangements…. Far from nearing its end, the crisis [of the entire capitalist system, manifest in more catastrophic cyclical crises] threatens to get even worse. As the liberalization and deregulation drive is being pushed to the maximum-via-the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and the WTO–the situation can only deteriorate…. (from Cyberdyaryo 98.11.12)
No doubt, from the postcolonial orthodoxy deriving its imprimatur from the “Holy Trinity” (to use Moore-Gilbert’s phrase) of Said, Spivak and Bhabha, this excerpt of the resolution will be dismissed as old hat” radicalism vitiated with tired Marxist cliches and reductionist excesses. But surely, the owl of Minerva hasn’t flown yet over postcolonial theory’s territory to bring this tiding of disaster and awaken the acolytes and epigones from premature dogmatic slumber. While global unemployment has gone beyond 40 percent and 90 percent of the world’s inhabitants suffer from poverty, do we still dare not whisper the tabooed words “finance capital”? For Fredric Jameson (1998), this new stage of capitalism characterized by speculation in the money market, monetary equivalence superimposed on land values, space, etc.–in brief, in the intensification of the forces of reification–have generated precisely those tell-tale affects of contingency, indeterminacy, ambivalence, borderline crossings, displacements, dislocations, trancultural negotiations, and diasporic exchanges whose fragments are being continually narrativized by postcolonial theory. Indeed, the repertoire of postcolonial tropes condense with uncanny prescience the full measure of globalized financial transactions–except that the practitioners of this rhetorical strategy or language-game pride themselves in disavowing any knowledge of the material/historical determinants of their performance. You might ignore globalized finance capital, but it will surely not ignore you.
I suspect that this has been said before in other ways–think of the expanding archive of postcolonial theory/postcolonial discourse, from Said’s classic Orientalism to Spivak and Bhabha’s voluminous essays, interviews, to the ripostes, Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory, Arif Dirlik’s The Postcolonial Aura, provocative essays by Ann McClintock and Ella Shohat, in particular–a veritable academic industry, indeed. In the last two years, aside from my work, three books have come out that inventory the postcolonial archive in a thorough if somewhat repetitious manner: Bart Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Theory (1997), Leela Gandhi, Postcolonial Theory, and Ania Loomba, Colonialism/Postcolonialism (1998). Institutionalization, together with the canonization of the “Holy Trinity” (Said, Spivak and Bhabha), have generated the expect repertoire of rituals, cliches, formulaes, platitudes, mixed with “received” commonsense and the doxology of the Establishment.
Common among these three books is the positive appraisal of the ideology of difference. Recognition of Otherness, decolonizing the ethnocentric gaze, radical indeterminacy immanent in hybridity, diaspora, heterogeneity, exile, displacement, dislocation, borderline crossing, and so on, constitute the recurrent themes, motifs, topoi of postcolonial discourse. There are of course the classics: Said’s Orientalism, Fanon’s Black Face/White Masks, Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and (as the contrapuntal voice, Aijaz Ahmad’s In Theory), together with the key texts of Salman Rushdie, Wilson Harris, Jean Rhys, and a few Africans. Leela Gandhi eulogizes the “analytic versatility and theoretical resilience” of the postcolonial practitioners. Ania Loomba’s substantial survey provides ample archival background, with a show of painstaking evenhandedness toward adversaries of postcolonial orthodoxy. However, like Gandhi, she subscribes to the general condemnation of Marxism as guilty of economism, totalizing, humanism, teleology, ignoring gender, sexuality, racial and ethnic differences, and other minor crimes. Unlike Gandhi, however, Loomba is not sanguine about globalization. She concurs with Dipesh Chakrabarty’s aim of “provincializing Europe” (255), but her own endorsement of “empirical specificity” returns us back to the slogan of localism and particularism that she herself finds fault with.
A nuanced dialogue between Marxism and post-structuralism recommended by Loomba seems to be attempted by Bart Moore-Gilbert in his detailed inventory of the writings of Said, Spivak and Bhabha. However, his concluding judgment that there is a fit between postcolonial theory and postcolonial criticism (e.g., the affinities between Bhabha and Wilson Harris’ ideas) and that we need to apply Spivak’s nostrum of “strategic essentialism” (202), with qualifications, are anticlimactially disappointing. With some reservations, Moore-Gilbert also supports Laclau-Mouffe’s strategy of multiple positioning or “equivalential articulation” (199) and Ranajit Guha’s liberal pluralism: “…it seems to me that a choice between the predominant paradigms, or an attempted synthesis of them, is perhaps equally unnecessary if one applies an historical and differential perspective to the question of the heterogeneity of the ‘postcolonial’…. Because postcolonial histories, and their presents, are so varied, no one definition of the ‘postcolonial’ can claim to be correct, at the expense of all the others, and consequently a variety of interrelated models of identity, positionality and cultural/critical practice are both possible and necessary” (203). This is obviously a species of pragmatic agnosticism, at best an oldfashioned eclecticism that exudes the aura of the dilettantish gentlemen of letters whiling away time in the English countryside. Moore-Gilbert tries to be tactful, lucid, and impartial–at the cost of tolerating the differential politics of globalized transnational corporations to ride roughshod over millions in the so-called postcolonial or neocolonized South. In our three authors, as well as in postcolonial mimicry in general, a crippling category mistake is made by confusing culture with ideology, thus forfeiting any attempt to do what Ella Shohat calls for: to interrogate the concept of the ‘post-colonial” and contextualize it historically, geopolitically and culturally (1991, 111). Or else, there is only the ideology of the enemy to be exorcised or stigmatized as narrow, Eurocentric, and so on.
The paralysis and inconsequentiality of postcolonial theory and criticism on the face of globalized capitalism are patently clear not to warrant rehearsing anymore the objections of Aijaz Ahmad, Arif Dirlik, Alex Callinicos, Terry Eagleton, and others. This is not just because this genre is devoted to specialized studies on widow-burning or British colonization of the Indian subcontinent, Australia, Canada and South Africa. The explanation is more than theoretical or discursive. Robert Young, the editor of the new magazine, Interventions: The International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, put his finger on its symptomatology: “The rise of postcolonial studies coincided with the end of Marxism as the defining political, cultural and economic objective of much of the third world” (1998, 8-9). This diagnosis is more wishful thinking than a factual statement. To be sure, the “third world” as a homogenized entity never claimed to elevate Marxism as its all-encompassing objective; no one does this, anyway.
What is meant by the “end of Marxism” is really the reconfiguration of the international class struggle between the imperial metropoles and the revolting masses of the periphery. It signifies the end of the bourgeois national project initiated by the Bandung Conference led by Nehru, Nasser, and Sukarno (Ahmad 1995). This project of postcolonial states modernizing on the basis of anticommunism and pragmatic philosophy, reliance on Soviet military support and cynical playing of the “American card,” collapsed with the bankruptcy of most neocolonial regimes that succumbed to World Bank/IMF “structural adjustment” conditionalities. The killing of Salvador Allende in 1974 signalled the close of an epoch in which “national liberation” struggles, inspired with ideals learned from the Marxist tradition, led the anticolonial processes that led to the victories of Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Amilcar Cabral, and the Sandinistas. With the neoconservative reaction encapsulated by the programs of Thatcher and Reagan, we witness the emergence of poststructuralism and various postmodernist trends, postcolonial theory being parasitic on the larger cultural terrain of comparative, interdisciplinary, and area studies in the academy.
In brief, without too much sociological analysis of the position of diasporic intellectuals in the universities of North America and Europe, one can say that postcolonial discourse and theory accompanies the restoration of the periphery of postcolonial societies to a comprador role–for those that have evolved to a more competitive stage of capitalist development. The new “third world” to which postcolonialism resonates designates those countries that have gained sufficient industrial modernization; this includes the big countries of Latin America, East Asia (China, South Korea, Taiwan), Eastern Europe, and the former USSR. A new fourth world has appeared comprised of most countries in Africa and the Arab world, including many that have not embarked on any sustained program of industrialization: sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies, Central America, Bangladesh, and Indonesia (Amin 1994). Most of these remain neocolonized by transnational corporations or the IMF/World Bank consortia of finance capital.
We are indeed inhabiting a “new world order” in which, to quote Ellen Meiksins Wood (1998), capitalism has universalized itself, subjugating everyone to the logic of capital accumulation. Today all social relations and practices, as well as the process of social transformation, labor under the imperatives of accumulation, competition, commodification and profit-maximization. Postcolonial paradigms of hybridity and ambivalence are unable to offer frames of intelligibility that can analyze and critique the internal contradictions embedded in the neoliberal reality and ideology of the “free market.” Driven by a pragmatic empiricism, postcolonialism cannot offer a frame of intelligibility for a “cognitive mapping” of all those historical trends that marked the breakdown of developmentalism, modernization theory, and other theoretical solutions to the crisis of monopoly capital since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 up to the scrapping of Breton Woods agreement and a unitary monetary system. Postcolonialism coincides too suspiciously with the anarchic “free market” and the vicissitudes of finance capital on a global scale. Bound by its problematic, the postcolonial critic cannot even entertain the crucial question that Amin poses: “how can we develop the productive forces without letting commodity relations gain ground?” (1977, 101).
There have been many explanations for this inadequacy and limitation. Amin (1998) locates it in postcoloniality’s rejection of modernity, the Enlightenment narrative of emancipation and convivial democracy. The excesses of instrumental reason are ascribed to the teleology of progress instead of the logic of capitalism and its presuppositions (private property, entrepreneurship, wage labor, technological improvement, laws of the market). The conflation of the ideals of enlightenment with the telos of utilitarian capitalism and its encapsulation in the historiographic fortunes of modernity has led to a skeptical, nominalist conception of subjectivity and agency. Disavowing modernity and the principle of collective human agency–humans make their own history under determinate historical conditions, postcolonialism submits to the neoliberal bourgeois cosmos of fragmentation, individualist warfare, free-playing decentered monads, and a regime of indeterminacy and contingency. This ironic turn damages postcolonialism’s claim to liberate humans from determinisms and essentialisms of all kinds.
I think the fundamental error may be traced to two sources whose historical matrix I have alluded to earlier. We have, first, the inability to conceptualize mediation or connections in a dialectical manner, substituting instead a seriality of differences whose equivalence or solidarity remains unpredictable; and second, entailed by the first premise, the incapacity to conceive of the conjunctural moment of society as inscribed in the uneven or unequal development of the world-system. Uneven development involves the inescapable polarization of the world into peripheral and central economies, tied with the intrinsic contradiction between labor and capital and the international division of labor whose boundaries were laid by the history of European colonialism and later by finance or monopoly capital. Why theorize mediation and uneven development in a precise historicized fashion? Because our intent is to “master” and so escape the “nightmare of history and to win a measure of control over the supposedly blind and natural ‘laws’ of socioeconomic fatality.” As Fredric Jameson suggests, historical reconstruction, “the positing of global characterizations and hypotheses, the abstraction from the ‘blooming, buzzing’ confusion of immediacy, was always a radical intervention in the here-and-now and the promise of resistance to its blind fatalities” (1998, 35).
From a historical-materialist perspective, the dynamic process of social reality cannnot be grasped without comprehending the connections and the concrete internal relations that constitute the totality of its objective determinations. Several levels of abstraction have to be clarified among which is the relation between knowing subject and the surrounding world (both nature and the built environment) knowledge of which is desired. Truth in this tradition comes from human practice, the intermediary between consciousness and its object; and it is human labor (knowing and making as a theorized synthesis) that unites theory and practice. As Lenin puts it, everything is mediated and connected by transitions that unite opposites, “transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property, into every other” so that “the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal” (1915; 191963, 132). The reciprocal interaction of various levels of formal abstractions has been elaborated by Bertell Ollman (1993) under the categories of “metamorphosis” and contradictions. These levels of abstract mediation, however, needs to be transcoded into their concrete manifestation without necessarily succumbing to the one-sided immediacy of empiricism or pragmatism. Othewrise, what Fabian (1983) calls the allochronic orientation of Eurocentric thought with its taxonomic, noncoeval representation of Others would continue to prevail.
What is required next is to confront the second-order mediations which are historically specific and transcendable, namely, the market, money, private property, the transformation and subordination of use-value to exchange value–the sources of alienation and perversion of what Mezsaros calls “productive self-mediation” of individuals in social life. Alienation on the level of national struggle can only be resolved in the colonized people’s conquest of full sovereignty, “the socialization of the principal means of production” (Denis 1982, 13) and reproduction in a socialist transformation. Indeed, it is this historical phenomenon of alienation that post-structuralist thought hypostatizes into the nihilism of modernity, converting mediation (transition) into serial negation and occluding its prefigurative, transformative phase or aspect.
Without a concept of totality, however, the notion of mediation remains vacuous and useless. All determination is mediation, Roy Bhaskar reminds us in his magisterial study Dialectic (1993). Totality in its historical concreteness becomes accessible to us in the concept of uneven development, and its corollary ideas of overdetermination (or, in Samir Amin’s thought, “underdetermination”), combined development in the coexistence of various modes of production in a specific social formation, or in another framework, Wallerstein’s world-system mapping of periphery and core societies. We have come to accept as a commonplace the differential rhythm of development of societies, the uneven pace due to presence or absence of cumulative growth in the use of production techniques, labor organization, and so on. It is indeed difficult to explain how the old imperial polities of Britain and France were superseded by Germany and the United States, and how West Germany and Japan have occupied dominance today.
Uneven development results from the peculiar combination of many factors which have marked societies as peripheral or central (Novack 1966; Harvey 1996). In many societies shaped by colonial conquest and imperial domination, uneven and combined development is discerniblle in the co-presence of a modern sector (usually foreign dominated or managed by the state) and a traditional sector characterized by precapitalist modes of production and ruled by a merchant capitalist and feudal/tributary ruling classes. In these peripheral formations, we find a lack of cumulative growth, backward agriculture limited by the lack of an internal market, with the accumulated money capital diverted from whatever industrial enterprises there are into speculative activities in real estate, usury, and hoarding (Mandel 1983). This unsynchronized and asymmetrical formation, with variations throughout the postcolonial geography of postWorld War II ex-colonized countries, serves as the ideal habitat for “magic realism,”real maravilloso, as well as all those cultural expressions described as hybrid, creolized, syncretic, ambivalent, multiplicitous, and so on, which postcolonial theory and criticism have labored so hard to fetishize and reify as permanent, ever-recurring, and ineluctable qualities (San Juan 1998).
In my view, this historical conjuncture of uneven and combined development can only be grasped by a dialectical assessment of imperialism such as those propounded by Gramsci, C.L.R. James, Amilcar Cabral, and others in the Leninist tradition. It was Lenin who remedied the classical limitation of the Second International and the social democratic parties by integrating in his idea of world revolution the revolt of the industrial working class in Europe with the revolts of small colonized nations, as well as peasant revolts against landowners. Lenin’s post-1914 writings–the Hegel Notebooks, the article “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination,” etc.– theorized how the “particular” of national liberation movements can, under certain conditions, becomes the road to the universal of socialism. In this discourse, mediation assumes the form of contradiction between oppressed peoples in the colonies and oppressor nations. As Kevin Anderson argues, “Lenin’s theory of imperialism has become dialectical in the sense of pointing not only to the economic side of imperialism but also to a new revolutionary subject arising from within global imperialism: national liberation movements” (1995, 142). Unless we can improve on Lenin’s theory of national liberation with its processual, materialist method, we will only be indulging in postcolonial verbal magic and vertiginous tropology that mimicks Bhabha, Appadurai, and their epigones.
As for the concrete translation of the Leninist tradition into situated historical praxis, I can only allude to two examples here. First, Cabral’s theory of national revolution as the recovery of specific African forms of subjectivity, a “regaining of the historical personality of the people, its return to history through the destruction of imperialist domination.” This recovery is staged as a popular cultural renaissance with the party as the chief pedagogical agency wielding the “weapon of theory,” the organized political expression of a mass, national-popular culture in the making. Developing certain themes in Fanon, Cabral’s Marxism is unique in concentrating on the potential nation as “a form of revolutionary collective subjectivity” mediating actual classes, sectors and groups into a “nation-for-itself” that can reclaim the “inalienable right of every people to have their own history” based on its right to control “the process of development of national productive forces” (Cabral quoted in Luke 1990, 193-94). My second example is the revolutionary nationalism of Jose Carlos Mariategui. In an 1925 essay on “Nationalism and Vanguardism,” Mariategui asserts the nature of Peruanidad as inhering more in the “precursors of the future than in the survivals of its past.” Such a future has to include indigenismo, an active and concrete solidarity with four million Indians. Thus Mariategui values Cesar Vallejo’s art for, among other qualities, its “indigenous foundation,” its “autochthonous basis” (1996, 74). Mariategui’s Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, like Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism and Che Guevarra’s speeches, offer materials for a mode of transvaluing “postcolonial discourse” beyond what Mariategui calls “a vulgar positivism of the belly” and the “negative, destructive, and nihilist sentiments” of latter-day Nietzscheans and self-serving anarchists.
I might interpolate here the view of two Australian scholars, Jon Stratton and Ien Ang, who believe that the limits of the postcolonial/diasporic trajectory can be made up by the voices of the indigenous and the subaltern, and also promote the “relativization of all discursive self/other positionings within the Anglophone cultural studies community” (1996, 386). This intervention in the site of textual-discursive representation is salutary, but the problem of articulating a counter-hegemonic strategy focusing on the “weak links” remains on the agenda.
Finally, I want to situate postcolonialism as a symptomatic recuperation of finance capital, at best the imaginary resolution of contradictions between exploited South and exploiting North, within the altered geopolitical alignments of the world-system.
The “third world” was a viable conceptualization of the nationalist bourgeois struggles that led to the independence of India, Ghana, the Philippines, Egypt, Indonesia and other nation-states after World War II. The classic postcolonial states created the Bandung coalition of non-aligned states which gave a semblance of unity to the “third world.” However, United States hegemony during the Cold War continued until the challenge in Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere. The last expression of “third world” solidarity, the demand for a “New International Economic Order” staged in the United Nations, came in the wake of the oil crisis of 1973; but the OPEC nations, with their political liabilities, could no lead the “third world” of poor, dependent nations against U.S. hegemony. Notwithstanding the debacle in Vietnam and the series of armed interventions in the Caribbean and elsewhere, U.S. world supremacy was maintained throughout the late seventies and eighties by economic force. According to Enrico Augelli and Craig Murphy, this mode of winning consent from the “third world” used monetarist policies that caused lower export earnings and high interest rates, reducing these polities to dependencies of the IMF/WB and foreign financial consortia. The defeat of the “third world” bloc in 1982 allowed the U.S.-led Western bloc to exploit “international civil society” into a campaign against global Keynesianism. From 1984 to the nineties, however, global Reagonomics, the instability of the financial markets, the fall of the dollar, worsening U.S. deficit, etc. posed serious problems to the U.S. maintenance of hegemony over the Western bloc. Despite the success, and somewhat precipitous collapse, of the Asian Newly-Industrializing Countries, the “third world” as an independent actor, with its own singular interests and aspirations, has disappeared from the wold scene.
What compensates for this disappearance is postcolonial theory and criticism whose provenance owes much to finance capital than is acknowledged or understood, a disappearance masked by the carnivalesque regime of simulacra and simulations that, despite its current hegemony, fails to repress, I daresay, the labor of the “old mole” burrowing underground.
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POSTCOLONIAL CRITICISM IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZED TERRORISM (A Prospectus)
–E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Is the postcolonial agenda of abrogation and appropriation of colonial discourse still valid and viable after 9/11?
The emergence of a U.S. “Homeland” consensus or climate of thought (codified, for example, in the USA Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act) seems to have rendered suspect the deconstructive project of postcolonial theory to repeat as a reflexive mantra the news about the death of the “nation-state,” the self-identical subject, and all totalizing forms of rationality (including varieties of marxist critiques of the “free market” and neoliberal ideology). Born of the Cold War reaction to the utopian critique of capital, postcolonial thought has so far invested its chief energies in the analysis of difference as manifest in the “fractured and ambivalent discourse of colonial power.” Premised on nominalist-relativist axioms, deconstruction and its variants congratulate themselves on being more radical than classical marxism. Negri and Hardt’s Empire, in fact, seeks to pass itself off as the authentic “communist” manifesto!
Postcolonialists may be the prescient heralds of neoliberal finance-capital globalization now in irreversible crisis. Postcolonialist thinking (e.g., Bhabha, Spivak, Ashcroft and other epigones) reject the universalist claims of national-liberation struggles as forms of Eurocentric mimicry. It celebrates the ideals of hybridity, in-between or borderland experience, and other fantasmatic performances of agency parasitic on the neoliberal market and the circulation of heterogeneous commodities. Consequently, it found itself endorsing the war against Islamic fundamentalism (the “internal enemies” of the pluralist order). It unwittingly became complicit with the decentering program of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. What needs attention today is the exposure of this complicity, together with a practical critique of U.S. hegemonic imperial discourse legitimized by the current “war on terrorism” (a euphemism of extremist finance-capital predatory globalization). In my Beyond Postcolonial Theory, Working Through the Contradictions, and In the Wake of Terror, I elaborate on how postcolonial criticism can renew its oppositional and emancipatory vision by addressing aspects of the “terrorism” problematique, among others: 1) the ethos and pragmatic schemes of the new American Century ideologues; 2) the globalizing strategy of finance capital as mediated through the WTO, IMF and World Bank; and 3) the intellectual apologetic and rationalization of the “clash of civilization” scholasticism that functions as the postmodern reincarnation of “Manifest Destiny” and the “civilizing mission” of the old-style colonialists and imperialists. I apply some insights of Marx, Lenin, Lukacs, Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, CLR James and on problems of the Other (alterity), subaltern identity, the question of difference, materialist locality, performative bodies, and other phenomena of the present conjuncture.–###