IT HAS RECENTLY BEEN SAID in praise of the postcolonial project of Subaltern Studies that it demonstrates, “perhaps for the first time since colonisation,” that “Indians are showing sustained signs of reappropriating the capacity to represent themselves [within the discipline of history].”1 As a historian who is a member of the Subaltern Studies collective, I find the congratulation contained in this remark gratifying but premature. The purpose of this essay is to problematize the idea of “Indians” “representing themselves in history.”Subaltern Studies is shite historiography. Still, if Indians are utterly shite, it might still be part of a duty of 'epistemic affirmative action' to say something nice about it. But who actually did so? Some bloke named Ronald Inden. He's not a historian. He specialises in Bengali. He is talking up a worthless Bengali product in return for not being exposed as an ignoramus regarding those worthless Bengalis' mother tongue. Why is Dipesh 'gratified' by the words of a specialist in Bengali whom he doesn't think actually knows anything special about Bengal? Is it because that specialist is White?
If Inden actually knew anything about Bengal he'd be aware that the earlier generation of Bengali historians and sociologists actually wrote a lot in Bengali and very successfully 'represented Bengalis to themselves' in a manner which actually made Bengalis more useful and inspiring to non Bengalis. By contrast, Subaltern Studies and Post Colonial theory have made a laughing stock of those University Departments which harbour them.
This is not to say that it is only the Bengalis who shit the bed in History Departments
There are at least two everyday symptoms of the subalternity of non-Western, third-world histories. Third-world historians feel a need to refer to works in European history; historians of Europe do not feel any need to reciprocate.So what? Name droppers don't expect those whose acquaintance they claim to reciprocate.
Whether it is an Edward Thompson, a Le Roy Ladurie, a George Duby, a Carlo Ginzberg, a Lawrence Stone, a Robert Darnton, or a Natalie Davis—to take but a few names at random from our contemporary world—the “greats” and the models of the historian’s enterprise are always at least culturally “European.”WTF? A historian of Europe has to be at least culturally European. Consider my account of the origin of the Crusades which focuses exclusively upon the Pope's inability to correctly perform the Sandhyavandanam ritual. It is worthless for the same reason that Guha's work is worthless. It has no genuine interest in its subject. It's purpose is only to advertise the author's cultural credentials.
“They” produce their work in relative ignorance of non-Western histories, and this does not seem to affect the quality of their work. This is a gesture, however, that “we” cannot return. We cannot even afford an equality or symmetry of ignorance at this level without taking the risk of appearing “old-fashioned” or “outdated.”Appearing outdated to whom? Roberto Callasso draws upon an outdated Indology, but, unlike Inden, a book of his is a bestseller in its Hindi translation.
Dipesh like Guha Spivak Bhabha etc writes for a gesture political reason which can have no broad currency because it is only academic politics we are speaking of.
Marx said in that very Hegelian first chapter of Capital, volume 1, that the secret of “capital,” the category, “cannot be deciphered until the notion of human equality has acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice.”If people aren't equal, the superior can command labour power from the inferior in an unmediated manner. Obviously, slave societies can be 'Capitalist' but, Marx thought, the Economists of that Capitalist Society would not make a categorical distinction between Capital and Labour. He was wrong. Economists could make that distinction by defining Capital as physical not financial. This means that Neo-Classical Economics has a problem with measuring Capital similar to the Marxist problem with measuring the abstract yardstick of the Labour theory of Value. But the problem is merely technical. It does not represent a scandal.
Let us try Dipesh's experiment. The passage now readsTo continue with Marx’s words:
'even the most abstract categories, despite their validity—precisely because of their abstractness—for all epochs, are nevertheless, . . . themselves . . . a product of historical relations. Bourgeois society is the most developed and the most complex historic organisation of production. The categories which express its relations, the comprehension of its structure, thereby also allow insights into the structure and the relations of production of all the vanished social formations out of whose ruins and elements it built itself up, whose partly still unconquered remnants are carried along within it, whose mere nuances have developed explicit significance within it, etc. . . . The intimations of higher development among the subordinate animal species . . . can be understood only after the higher development is already known. The bourgeois economy thus supplies the key to the ancient....
For capital or bourgeois, I submit, read “Europe” or “European.”
'even the most abstract categories, despite their validity—precisely because of their abstractness—for all epochs, are nevertheless, . . . themselves . . . a product of historical relations. European society is the most developed and the most complex historic organisation of production. The categories which express its relations, the comprehension of its structure, thereby also allow insights into the structure and the relations of production of all the vanished social formations out of whose ruins and elements it built itself up, whose partly still unconquered remnants are carried along within it, whose mere nuances have developed explicit significance within it, etc. . . . The intimations of higher development among the subordinate animal species . . . can be understood only after the higher development is already known. The European economy thus supplies the key to the ancient....What does it now signify? Just that we're more advanced now than we were and we can understand the past better for this reason. There aint no 'subaltern' or PoCo theme here. In any case, Marx said America was more developed than Europe thanks to slavery. He wrote- Without slavery, North America, the most progressive nation, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Only wipe North America off the map and you will get anarchy, the complete decay of trade and modern civilisation. But to do away with slavery would be to wipe America off the map
The above passage of Dipesh's, did not feature the word Capital. But the sentence preceding it did. Let us substitute 'Europe' for 'Capital' as Dipesh requests and see what we get.
the secret of “Europe,” the category, “cannot be deciphered until the notion of human equality has acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice.”Cool! It's the kind of thing Saint Merkel might say- 'Europe won't become itself- understand the secret of its own identity- till the notion of human equality has so thoroughly entrenched itself that we see no difference between a refugee in a Hijab and a fat bloke in lederhosen. Once again, there's no excuse for PoCo shite here.
Dipesh teaches at a University. Some University Departments are advancing. Others are stagnating. Is there any way to predict which will advance and which will stagnate? One possible criteria is whether that Department could have a 'Subaltern' or 'Po Co' theorist on staff. If it can, it will turn to shit.
I pursue Marx’s philosophical concept “capital” in order to examine closely two of his ideas that are inseparable from his critique of capital: that of “abstract labor” and the relation between capital and history.What is Marx's 'philosophical concept' of Capital? We know his formula for it, but a formula is not a concept.
Marx’s philosophical category “capital” is global in its historical aspiration and universal in its constitution.This is nonsense. Marx's formula does not fit the non monetary economy. Thus even if there were a coherent 'philosophical category' here it couldn't be 'universal in its constitution' (unless we live in an Arrow-Debreu universe with time travel).
ISIS is 'global in its historical aspirations'. As is the internet meme of 'planking'. So what?
Its categorial structure, at least in Marx’s own argumentation, is predicated on the Enlightenment ideas of juridical equality and the abstract political rights of citizenship.The idea of 'juridicial equality' is linked to choice of arbitrator or judicial forum in non-coercive exchange. For incomplete contracts, it is important that both sides have a Muth Rational expectation of equitable treatment. The enforcement agency may be quite different, but the forum must be perceived as unbiased and protocol bound. Dipshit may think no such fora existed before the European enlightenment. Even Marx wasn't that stupid.
Labor that is juridically and politically free—and yet socially unfree—is a concept embedded in Marx’s category of “abstract labor.”No. Marx's 'abstract labour' arises simply from the notion of an artificial 'socially necessary labour' yardstick, or 'numeraire' such as Economists are obliged to use. It could be linked (though it wasn't by Marx) to the sort of wage we think is necessary for a decent life. We could say 'socially necessary' should be determined by society itself and thus coincide with 'socially acceptable' or even 'socially optimal'.
The idea of “abstract labor” thus combines the Enlightenment themes of juridical freedom (rights, citizenship) and the concept of the universal and abstract human who bears this freedom.Sheer nonsense! One might as well say that Slutsky's indifference curve combines Capitalist hedonism with Soviet curviness. I suppose one could construct a Slutskian Marxism but since the poor fellow kept his head down under Stalin, let's not. The odd thing he showed that Capitalism's crises are Stochastic not Social in origin while working under Kondratiev.
More importantly, it is also a concept central to Marx’s explanation of why capital, in fulfilling itself in history, necessarily creates the ground for its own dissolution.This is not true. Having or not having a labour theory of value does not cause Capitalism to fall. It can only help us understand why it will have worsening crises and why that's actually a good thing because something better will emerge from its demise.
Examining the idea of “abstract labor” then enables us to see what is politically and intellectually at stake—both for Marx and for the students of his legacy—in the humanist heritage of the European Enlightenment.Rubbish. A good statistician like Slutsky could usefully examine the idea of 'abstract labour'. He could show that people who want a better society now needn't be discouraged by the appearance of scarcity or some ineluctable miserabilist law. On the contrary, there is a Mechanism Design that can be done today which is both more just, more humane and also makes everything better for everybody in the long run. The Japanese 'peasant/Sage' Shontoku Ninomiya showed how this could be done in 'feudal' Japan.
The idea of “abstract labor” also leads us to the question of how the logic of capital relates to the issue of historical difference.Historical difference is overcome by diffusion and extinction, The logic of Capital- buy low, sell high- is what the Marginal Revolution gave a mathematical expression on an analogy with Statistical Thermodynamics. Marx was a jurist and so he couldn't grasp these developments. There is no reason why Marxists should not compensate for his incapacity in this respect.
As is well known, the idea of “history” was central to Marx’s philosophical understanding of “capital.” “Abstract labor” gave Marx a way of explaining how the capitalist mode of production managed to extract from peoples and histories that were all different a homogenous and common unit for measuring human activity.Abstract Labour is like 'putty putty' Capital and depends, for coherence, on an artificially constructed yardstick with a specific Econometric description. The French metre or the English yard were used in French and British Colonies to measure things. But the existence of the metre or the yard did not explain why, historically, some regions of the world are at a higher or lower altitude than others.
“Abstract labor” may thus be read as part of an account of how the logic of capital sublates into itself the differences of history.Sublates? How can a yardstick, that too an abstract one, sublate anything? If Mommy uses a tape measure to find out how much baby has grown, does she keep the tape measure, because it has 'sublated baby into itself', while consigning the infant to the drawer for odds and ends?
Perhaps that what Dipshit's Mom actually did. It would explain so much.
In the second part of this chapter, however, I try to develop a distinction that Marx made between two kinds of histories: histories “posited by capital” and histories that do not belong to capital’s “life process.” I call them History 1 and History 2, and I explore the distinction between them to show how Marx’s thoughts may be made to resist the idea that the logic of capital sublates differences into itself. I conclude this chapter by trying to open Marxian categories up to some Heideggerian ruminations on the politics of human diversityClearly, Dipesh fails History I because he doesn't understand what a numeraire, in Economics, is.
What about History II? Let us see.