Beyond and After (Marx)
From Radical Philosophy:
Marx After Marx takes up the question of the expansion of capitalism outside of Europe, in polemical opposition to a simplified image of ‘Western Marxism’, by constructing a non-European Marxist tradition for which ‘formal subsumption’ is the key to comprehending the unevenness and necessary incompletion of capitalist development. Indeed, the book might have been, more accurately (if less popularly), entitled Formal Subsumption: The General Process of Capitalist Development. For that is very much, single-mindedly, what it is about. It proceeds from a reading of carefully selected (one might say ‘selective’) passages from Marx’s later writings, to serial expositions of works by non-European Marxists that recapitulate the proposed interpretation of Marx, enriching its historical content through its application to their own national contexts. The discussion of time promised by the ‘history and time in the expansion of capitalism’ of the subtitle is only really taken up in the first chapter (about one-fifth of the book). It does not involve theoretical argumentation so much as a repeated, contrapuntal statement of a position (multiple temporalities articulated by competing synchronizing and resistant non-synchronizing practices) derived from Max Tomba’s excellent but nonetheless problematic Marx’s Temporalities (2013).
We have had Marx Beyond Marx (Negri, 1979), Marxism Beyond Marxism (Saree Makdisi et al., eds, 1996 – including Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘Marx After Marxism’ among its contributions) and Marxism: With and Beyond Marx (Amiya Kumar Bagchi and Amita Chatterjee, 2014). Now we have Marx After Marx. It can seem crowded on the head of a pin. Yet the nuance (the difference between the ‘beyond’ and the more prosaic ‘after’) is significant, nonetheless. For as the formal structure of repetition in the phrase ‘Marx after Marx’ indicates – suggesting at once a new reading of Marx provoked by the historical circumstances since his death, and a following in the image of Marx, a mimesis of Marx, determined by those circumstances – an orthodoxy is being constructed here. Harootunian spent near on half a century as the dissenting insider in US East Asian Studies, largely because of his Marxism (subjecting ‘culture’ to the problematic of capitalist development). The inversion of this polarity – transferring his fire from the non-European context back towards Western Marxism – places the detail of his understanding of Marx under closer scrutiny.
The narrative arc of the book’s argument (more clearly stated in the Afterword than the Introduction) is as follows. ‘Western Marxism owed more to Max Weber’s cultural analysis than it was willing to admit, inasmuch [as] it was promoting a unique cultural configuration as a model of imitation.’ It thus became the basis for a Eurocentric Marxist version of modernization theory or developmentalism. This fitted neatly into the stageism of modes of production propounded by orthodox historical materialism. After 1989, this falsely universalized culturalism and neglect of the study of production processes was continued in another, more explicit form by the ‘new provincialism’ of postcolonial studies, which focuses on ‘the singularity of culture regions’. Thus,
postcoloniality paradoxically resembled a distant inheritor of the legacy of Western Marxism, insofar as it turned Marxism-derived strategies inward (and away from Marxism) toward contemplating the uniquely irreducible character of specific cultural endowments.
In contrast, Harootunian wants to reinstate a concern for labour and production processes within diverse non-European regions, focusing not on what he takes to be the supposition of the inevitable fate of the ‘real’ subsumption of labour to capital (the supposedly ‘unique cultural configuration’ of European capitalism), but rather upon mixed economic forms, both within the envelope of formal subsumption and in combination with it (non-capitalist and ‘really’ subsumed forms alike).