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  • Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies
  • Viren Murthy
Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies. By Kevin B. Anderson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 336 pp. $66.00 (cloth); $22.50 (paper and e-book).

Marx's writings and Marxism have had a tumultuous fate in Western academia. Scholars revered Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s, when social history was booming, but since the 1980s, they reproach Marxism from a number of different perspectives. We could explain the shift in attitudes toward Marxism in reference to an array of social causes, including the shift from a fordist to a neoliberal mode of capitalism, which instigated a crisis in and the eventual fall of the Soviet bloc, the emergence of market capitalism in China, a dynamic increase in the growth rates of various non-European nation-states, and a global defeat of leftist politics. In the wake of this defeat, numerous theories attempted to replace Marxism as theories for the left, including poststructuralism, cultural studies, subaltern studies, and postcolonialism. Poststructuralists rebuked Marxist epistemology, contending that Marxists were wedded to positivistic notions of science, and postcolonial theorists claimed that Marxism used the scientific model to promote a Eurocentric mode of development. Influenced by Maoism, postcolonial theorists contended that Marxists failed to grasp the particularities of Third World and colonial development. These were scholars who originated from or studied countries on the margins of the global capitalist system, and they argued that Marx presupposed a unilinear model of growth, which implied that Third World nations had to follow the model of their European counterparts. Among other things, such critics allude to Marx's inability to analyze adequately Third World nationalism and anticolonialism, because both of these phenomena involve taking seriously non-Western conditions.

Recently Marxist scholars have responded to charges of Eurocentricism,1 but Kevin B. Anderson's Marx at the Margins makes a unique contribution by bringing to readers' attention a vast array of recently published works by Marx in which he discusses non-Western societies and addresses questions of ethnicity and colonialism. At issue here is particularly to what extent Marx advocated a "unilinear" model of history. In other words, the question is: did Marx believe that all regions of the world had to pass through the same stages of development, [End Page 209] theorized in terms of modes of production, such as slave, feudal, capitalist, and socialist? Another characteristic of the unilinear model is that Marx valued the capitalist mode of production more highly than previous modes and believed that the various societies of the world had to pass through the capitalist mode of production before creating socialism.

Anderson's book is divided into an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion. The first chapter offers a new look at Marx's writings on the European impact on India, Indonesia, and China. Chapter 2 deals with national emancipation and revolution in Russia and Poland. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss race, class, and slavery in the Civil War in the United States and nationalism, class, and the labor movement in Ireland, respectively. Chapter 5 examines how Marx's writings in the Grundrisse and Capital provide a theoretical foundation for the historical writings discussed in the other chapters, and chapter 6 provides us with a study of Marx's last writings on non-Western and precapitalist societies.

Taken as a whole, the various chapters of the book mobilize a vast array of sources, some of which were only recently made available, to argue that Marx neither held that all nations had to pass through the same stages nor believed that countries had to pass through capitalism in order to realize socialism. The two points are of course related but not mutually entailing. In other words, from a Marxist perspective, the first claim, namely, that all countries must pass through the same stages, implies the second, namely, that all nations must experience capitalism before realizing socialism. However, the second does not imply the first, because it is possible that a country becomes capitalist through a logic imposed from the outside, such as through imperialism. From this perspective, without this external force it...


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