Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique

By Benita Parry | Go to book overview

6

Internationalism revisited or in praise of internationalism

Although proceeding from very particular theoretical premises, the Hardt/Negri thesis on the epochal shift from imperialism to the decentred and deterritorialized terrain of 'empire' impinges on contemporary debates about globalization. Whether this is conceived as a break with capitalism's pre-existing forms or an intensification of its inherent contradictions and conflicts will determine the deductions made by theorists about prevailing modes and relations of production, the location and dissemination of power, the actual or potential oppositional energies of classes, and the sites, shapes and goals of revolutionary projects. On these issues the positions of Empire1 reiterate and countermand those advanced by both Marxist and postmodernist theorists, rendering the book's variable perspectives consistent and discrepant with its declared ambitions as a manifesto of political insurrection.

A decade ago Michael Sprinker observed that with the demise of the Soviet Union, the disintegration of the socialist bloc and the end of the heroic era of liberation struggles, there had been a retreat of traditional left intellectualism and the development of other intellectual formations situated on the left but disengaged from Marxism. 2 Were Sprinker alive and writing now he would have had the pleasure of noting the many signs of Marxism's return to intellectual life, and amongst the numerous glosses on Empire are those which consider whether a study that situates itself as preserving/ transcending Marxism can be received as part of this trend. Stephen Shapiro, for example, while welcoming Empire for 'inaugurating a long-overdue confrontation between contemporary strands of neo-Anarchist thought … and a reconstituted Marxism', has observed that by 'refusing the geography of uneven development, Hardt and Negri's work cannot align itself, in any meaningful sense, with Marx's diagnosis on capitalism's need to appropriate new zones of labour-power, the primitive accumulation that results in core/periphery differences'. 3 In a less forgiving critique, Tim Brennan, who traces the book's conceptual provenance to the autonomia movements of the Italian far left, council communism, the theoreticism of continental philosophy and 1960s' counter-culturalism, maintains that this cognitive apparatus is translated into 'a gathering together of positions that are substantively incompatible', the 'pattern of reverential borrowings from Marxism' involving 'simultaneously, its rejection and diminishment'. 4

But if Empire is not recognizably Marxist in its methodology, eschewing as it does the necessity of confronting state power, neither is it post-Marxist since it has not relinquished economic and political explanations for cultural ones, or subordinated class, however radically this is redefined, to ethnicity, gender and sexuality, nor discarded class struggle, even if this is abstracted from its accustomed usage. Moreover the authors

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Postcolonial Studies: A Materialist Critique
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