Archive for the ‘Marxism’ Category

[The following is a revised version of some comments made during a discussion with Sudipta Kaviraj at the Centre for the Study of Developing Socoeties, Delhi on 21 October 2010. Kaviraj made a presentation based on a recent essay of his ‘Marxism in Translation: Critical Reflections on Indian Political Thought’ (published in Political Judgement: Essays in Honour of John Dunn, Eds Raymond Geuss and Richard Bourke) to which some of us responded. AN]

It is interesting to revisit, with Sudipta Kaviraj, the field of ‘Indian Marxism’. It is an abandoned field, a piece of haunted land where no living beings go – at least not in their senses. What is more, it is a field that ‘Indian Marxists’ themselves are afraid of revisiting. It is their past – the land of the dead, of unfulfilled ancestral spirits, where the ghosts of yesteryears hang like betaal from every tree. The terror of this forbidden territory has redoubled, after the collapse of socialism. It is as if some deep secrets of the past lie buried there which they would rather not bring back to life, for fear of what might be revealed to them of their own selves. It is strange but true that Marxists who swear by history are perhaps as afraid of it as anybody else.

And yet, we must visit that forbidden land, ‘summon up the ghosts of that nether-world’ in the hope that there may yet emerge another tale, maybe many other tales, that may throw some light on an idea that once seduced generations of modern Indians. For, it is all too easy to dismiss marxism as such, and Indian marxism in particular, as a bad dream, as some illegitimate idea that once took hold of us and kept us in that trance-like situation for almost a century (one could say, from the 1920s, at least). It is almost as if there was nothing to Indian Marxism except that it pathetically tried to copy one strand of European thought and history and implant it on Indian soil. It is all too easy, as has been often done in the past, to dismiss this episode as one where entire generations supposedly sleepwalked in the mistaken belief that they were awake – living a misrecognition, as it were.   How exactly did that happen? Presumably, if this rendition of our history is to be believed, the marxists of yore were doped (or duped) by the material successes of the West into believing that they could also all become Western/ modern overnight. The problem with this all too familiar, populist representation is that it forgets that it was not only the English speaking, west-oriented middles classes who were drawn towards marxism, but also large sections of the non-English speaking people of the regional language universe. It forgets too, the tremendous attraction that this vision held for the poorer and more underprivileged sections of Indian society. Thus we owe it to ourselves and to future generations, to take a fresh look at that entire episode. It is necessary for us to revisit the haunted land.

And so, Sudipta Kaviraj must be complimented for having made this foray, if somewhat too briefly, into that world.


Published in International Socialist Journal, UK

India today

Issue: 118
Posted: 31 March 08

Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam, Power and Contestation: India Since 1989 (Zed, 2007), £12.99

This book, written by two academics who are also campaigners, offers the best survey of recent Indian history that I have seen.


By Aditya Nigam


This paper is as much about the postcolonial world as it is about marxism. More importantly, it is about the relationship about the two. I use the term ‘postcolonial’ here to refer to something more than a mere temporal marker – as more than something that comes after the end of colonialism. Rather, it refers to the entire region of the Three Continents (Abdel-Malik 1981) since the beginning of its encounter with colonialism, and through it, their encounter with modernity; it therefore points towards a whole range of conditions that mark it out as distinct from the first world – political, economic, psychological and cultural. If colonialism was the dominant agent of modernity in these societies, it was certainly no the only one. A certain marxism, particularly after the Russian revolution of 1917, became a potent force through which the emancipatory ideals of the secular-modern imagination entered this world. And yet there remains a continuous tension between the high discourse of modernity entailed in it and the existential situation of this world, which becomes complicated by the day.


Time And The Revolutionary Imagination

Posted: 21/09/2007 by Aditya Nigam in Empire, Marxism, New Left, Time

by Aditya Nigam

“If the socialist revolution in the ‘twenty Latin Americas’ cannot be unified, then neither can its timing. The national fragmentation of the Latin American revolution is matched by the way its political calendar is fragmented into quite unconnected rhythms and upheavals. In each country the process has its own time clock: whether armed or not, the class struggle will always be at a different moment in Caracas and Buenos Aires, and again different in Guatemala city. Vanguards can see far and wide: it is this that makes them the vanguard…Vanguards decide on their present action in view of the ‘far-off socialist ideals’ with which, by theoretical anticipation, they become contemporary. But it is pointless for them to set their watch to Caracas time in Buenos Aires (or Hanoi time in San Francisco for that matter). The people who make history are living by the time not of a continental, or world, revolution, but of the material living conditions of the area, the town or the country, which their horizon is bounded by. ” Regis Debray