The Postcolonial and the Politics of the Outside: Return(s) of the National Question in Marxist Theory

Now and Coming Time III
Aubrey Williams, Now and Com­ing Time III, 1985

This impos­si­ble “no” to a struc­ture that one cri­tiques yet inhab­its inti­mate­ly is the decon­struc­tive posi­tion, of which post­colo­nial­i­ty is a his­tor­i­cal case.1

- G.C. Spi­vak

A pol­i­tics of the mul­ti­tude can only be imag­ined by begin­ning from the need to trans­late – in the con­struc­tion of a new com­mons – the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of lan­guages spo­ken by the strug­gles that are rebelling every day against the frag­ile bor­ders that sep­a­rate cap­i­tal from its para­dox­i­cal “out­side.”2

- S. Mez­zadra

Today, the field of inquiry called “post­colo­nial stud­ies” appears to be in a cri­sis of self-legit­i­ma­tion. This cri­sis con­cerns not the “suc­cess” of post­colo­nial stud­ies as a dis­ci­pli­nary for­ma­tion in the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge, but rather the foun­da­tion­al assump­tions and polit­i­cal direc­tions implied by the emer­gence of this dis­ci­pli­nary for­ma­tion. In oth­er words, the cri­sis of post­colo­nial stud­ies is a pro­found­ly polit­i­cal cri­sis, a cri­sis of the polit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties con­tained with­in its orig­i­nal project. But the very exis­tence of this cri­sis is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a tes­ti­mo­ny to the dynamism and com­plex­i­ty of the issues it rais­es: the very fact of the cri­sis itself can be a new point of depar­ture towards a turn or trans­for­ma­tion of post­colo­nial stud­ies, a new read­ing and new writ­ing of this field that returns our focus to the most imme­di­ate and pro­found polit­i­cal ques­tions of our time.

In a sense, the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of post­colo­nial stud­ies has always been dri­ven by the cru­cial project of trans­form­ing the cat­e­go­ry of the uni­ver­sal (fre­quent­ly a mere metonym for “the West”) into a rel­a­tive con­cept rather than a mod­el, both in an affir­ma­tive sense and in a neg­a­tive sense. In the affir­ma­tive, such a project attempt­ed to take the geopo­lit­i­cal fact of uneven devel­op­ment, under con­di­tions of glob­al impe­ri­al­ism, back into the aes­thet­ic order of the­o­ry itself, to sub­ject the­o­ry to alter­nate forms of gen­er­a­tion, dif­fer­ent points of emer­gence, and new lines of fil­i­a­tion. In the neg­a­tive sense, the project of post­colo­nial­ism des­per­ate­ly sought and con­tin­ues to seek a kind of sim­plis­tic aes­thet­ic of the out­side, increas­ing­ly divorced from the real­i­ty of our cur­rent glob­al polit­i­cal and social sit­u­a­tion, fill­ing the emp­ty sig­ni­fi­er of the “non-West” (a cat­e­go­ry that more or less remains ful­ly teth­ered to the ear­li­er arro­gant notion of “the West” itself) with a reha­bil­i­tat­ed Ori­en­tal­ist con­tent and fetishis­tic con­cep­tions of dif­fer­ence.

Fredric Jame­son has argued that since the 1970s we have been expe­ri­enc­ing “a process in which the last sur­viv­ing inter­nal and exter­nal zones of pre­cap­i­tal­ism – the last ves­tiges of non­com­mod­i­fied or tra­di­tion­al space with­in and out­side the advanced world – are now ulti­mate­ly pen­e­trat­ed and col­o­nized in their turn. Late cap­i­tal­ism can there­fore be described as the moment in which the last ves­tiges of Nature which sur­vived on into clas­si­cal cap­i­tal­ism are at length elim­i­nat­ed: name­ly the third world and the uncon­scious.”3 Leav­ing aside here the com­plex over­lap­ping of the con­cepts “third world” and “uncon­scious” – we might say polem­i­cal­ly that the post­colo­nial­ist dri­ve to “redis­cov­er” the Third World as an empir­i­cal enti­ty to be sub­stan­tial­ized as a basis of the­o­ret­i­cal posi­tions mir­rors close­ly the right-wing post-Freudi­an fan­tasies (Jun­gian and so forth) of redis­cov­er­ing a pos­i­tive, empir­i­cal con­tent to the uncon­scious through his­tor­i­cal regres­sions and reen­chant­ments of the dis­en­chant­ed social sphere of cap­i­tal­ist moder­ni­ty – we ought to ask two inter­re­lat­ed ques­tions: 1) why has con­tem­po­rary post­colo­nial stud­ies so often eas­i­ly acqui­esced to a rather ges­tur­al space of fan­tas­ti­cal invest­ment in the puta­tive sub­stan­tial­i­ty of the colo­nial dif­fer­ence, a dif­fer­ence that post­colo­nial stud­ies itself emerged to cri­tique? 2) Why, in turn, has con­tem­po­rary Marx­ist the­o­ry so eas­i­ly turned away from the anti-colo­nial strug­gle and cri­tique of the cen­tral­i­ty of colo­nial­ism to the for­ma­tion of cap­i­tal­ist moder­ni­ty that char­ac­ter­ized so cru­cial­ly the devel­op­ment of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Marx­ist thought? In between these two ques­tions, then, is where we will sit­u­ate the present dis­cus­sion.

In the recent debates around the pub­li­ca­tion of Vivek Chibber’s Post­colo­nial The­o­ry and the Spec­tre of Cap­i­tal, the increas­ing­ly inco­her­ent schemas through which this par­al­lax between the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lems has been worked out (or per­haps “worked through” in the vocab­u­lary of trau­ma stud­ies) have become all the more obvi­ous. For all of the ana­lyt­i­cal strength of Chibber’s dis­sec­tion of the reac­tionary nativisms and cul­tur­al­ist chi­canery that con­tem­po­rary post­colo­nial stud­ies large­ly inhab­it, he pos­es against this space a vocab­u­lary of ratio­nal­ism, enlight­en­ment, and a free con­trac­tu­al social sphere. Chibber’s Ben­thamite vision of cap­i­tal­ist society’s dri­ve for homo­gene­ity, how­ev­er, does noth­ing mean­ing­ful to coun­ter­act the reac­tionary drift of post­colo­nial thought in recent years, since it pos­es mere­ly as a car­i­ca­tured cri­tique of a car­i­ca­tured ten­den­cy. Chibber’s hyper-ratio­nal­ism, in this sense, mere­ly nour­ish­es its cul­tur­al­ist, nativist obverse, form­ing a per­fect cir­cle that mutu­al­ly rein­forces each sup­pos­ed­ly “opposed” aspect of its func­tion.

The Implosion of Postcolonialism

There is a fre­quent sug­ges­tion that a cer­tain moment of post­colo­nial stud­ies – that is, the full insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of post­colo­nial his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, post­colo­nial lit­er­ary analy­sis, and so forth – is today lit­tle more than a “safe,” “com­fort­ing,” and “decent” field of analy­sis, devot­ed to the intel­lec­tu­al encour­age­ment of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of “dif­fer­ence” for its own sake. And yet it is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly our shared moment of the hege­mo­ny of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, which appears to be a smooth and sys­tem­at­ic inte­gra­tion of these dif­fer­ences, that presents itself as the great­est chal­lenge to our thought. Per­haps we have not even begun to think the true issues posed by the post­colo­nial con­di­tion that we remain with­in. In the fol­low­ing pages, I want to argue that in order for us to be able to pro­duce both mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tions of our cur­rent con­junc­ture, whose name is sim­ply glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, but also to be able to con­ceive of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of polit­i­cal respons­es to it, we must per­form a “dou­ble ses­sion” of inter­ven­tion into post­colo­nial stud­ies. In oth­er words, in vio­lent­ly cri­tiquing the “safe” and “com­fort­ing” post­colo­nial­ism as nar­ra­tive of the puta­tive­ly holis­tic other’s beau­ti­ful soul, we must also vio­lent­ly redis­cov­er the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem for pol­i­tics and thought that remains or resists – the restance – in this term “post­colo­nial.”5

The the­o­ret­i­cal and polit­i­cal sequence inau­gu­rat­ed by the work of Marx remains a cen­tral source for the the­o­riza­tions of post­colo­nial stud­ies today. An essen­tial ele­ment of Marx’s project, what he called the analy­sis of the “his­tor­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions for the becom­ing”6 of cap­i­tal con­sists in the demon­stra­tion of the fact that this “becom­ing” is always inter­twined and insep­a­ra­ble from the enclo­sure of ter­ri­to­ry, the for­ma­tion of bound­ed units inscribed in a hier­ar­chi­cal set of rela­tions. As is well known, in the final sec­tion of the first vol­ume of Cap­i­tal, Marx care­ful­ly out­lines the degree to which, there­fore, the emer­gence of cap­i­tal, which is nev­er a sub­stan­tial object but itself a social rela­tion, went hand-in-hand with the emer­gence of colonies, the slave trade, and the enclo­sure of new­ly “dis­cov­ered” ter­ri­to­ries, exam­in­ing in par­tic­u­lar the polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic con­se­quences of poli­cies such as E.G. Wakefield’s the­o­ry of “sys­tem­at­ic col­o­niza­tion.” Through Marx’s read­ing strat­e­gy, there­fore, we can see that the prim­i­tive or orig­i­nal accu­mu­la­tion which forms the basic pre­sup­po­si­tion on which capital’s own self-move­ment can unfold is also an expres­sion of the for­ma­tion of the mod­ern inter­na­tion­al sys­tem of nation-states in ges­ta­tion. As we know today, it is fur­ther­more in the form of the colony that we find the lab­o­ra­to­ry in which the tech­niques of vio­lence, dom­i­na­tion, and sub­ju­ga­tion char­ac­ter­is­tic of the man­age­ment of the mod­ern nation-state were devel­oped and per­fect­ed. Numer­ous and diver­gent stud­ies have shown that the cen­tral­i­ty of the police-func­tion, the role of sys­tem­at­ic hygiene, and tech­niques of gov­ern­ment to man­age, clas­si­fy, and ana­lyze the pop­u­la­tion – all char­ac­ter­is­tic of most con­tem­po­rary nation-states today – were pre­vi­ous­ly key ele­ments of colo­nial rule.

In oth­er words, the object of post­colo­nial stud­ies, which ana­lyzes the con­tem­po­rary and mod­ern rela­tions of pow­er in terms of the irre­versible his­tor­i­cal fact of impe­ri­al­ism, is a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work which shares with Marx­ist the­o­ry the analy­sis of the “his­tor­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions” for the becom­ing of the net­work of orga­nized social forces which sup­ports the con­tem­po­rary order. Just as labor’s expro­pri­a­tion, the vio­lence of its cap­ture, is erased by plug­ging up the onto­log­i­cal gap in capital’s smooth cir­cuit-process through the sem­blance of labor-pow­er, so too the nation-state’s post­colo­nial con­di­tion always attempts to erase the traces and con­ti­nu­ities of colo­nial vio­lence by means of its own refined vio­lence (a vio­lence which was itself per­fect­ed in the colony).

What I want to point out here is that the lega­cy of colo­nial­ism, and the irrepara­ble his­to­ry of the colo­nial past, is a sed­i­ment­ed and irre­deemable ele­ment of the form of the nation-state itself – we might even say that “col­o­niza­tion” can also be under­stood as the process of enclo­sure of the nation-state itself, the vio­lent con­cate­na­tion of ele­ments into a puta­tive nation­al uni­ty. That is, there can be no such thing as a nation-state which is not bound up to some degree with the colo­nial index of moder­ni­ty – hence why Fou­cault con­tin­u­ous­ly point­ed out in his work of the late 1970s and ear­ly 80s that no state can avoid becom­ing involved in racism at some point. By this for­mu­la­tion, I do not mean that there­fore pow­er rela­tions are irrel­e­vant. On the con­trary, the rela­tions of pow­er among and between nation-states remain a crit­i­cal prob­lem for pol­i­tics and thought. But if today there is also some­thing like post­colo­nial­i­ty as a gen­er­al effect which con­di­tions glob­al life, it seems to me that this tells us some­thing impor­tant about the his­tor­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal rela­tion between colo­nial­ism and cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment tak­en as a whole. Indeed, it is this prob­lem that requires us to for­mu­late new ways of pos­ing the “nation­al ques­tion” to account for this sit­u­a­tion today.

The con­tem­po­rary glob­al order of the world, whose unit is the nation-state, is of course strat­i­fied and uneven. But cap­i­tal itself can always account for this – in fact, cap­i­tal names that social rela­tion which relies pre­cise­ly on fold­ing its resis­tant exte­ri­or back into its own inter­nal work­ings. That is, cap­i­tal does not sim­ply feed off its out­side or dif­fer­ence – it encom­pass­es the out­side by mak­ing it appear and func­tion as if it were posit­ed by its own inte­ri­or. Cap­i­tal in essence may take var­i­ous dis­tort­ed “nation­al” forms, but even when these forms are appar­ent devi­a­tions, it is accom­plish­ing its own project. This is pre­cise­ly why it is not enough to point out the rather obvi­ous “uneven devel­op­ment” of the world, or observe that this “uneven devel­op­ment” exhibits a cer­tain “even­ness” from capital’s own per­spec­tive. The point is rather that “uneven devel­op­ment” is a prob­lem of a world com­posed of states while the log­ic of cap­i­tal, as a log­ic, is com­plete­ly removed from the ques­tion of devel­op­ment itself. And yet, the excess with­in the log­ic of cap­i­tal con­tained in the prob­lem of this Anfang or begin­ning in effect demands the pro­duc­tion of uneven devel­op­ment in order to unfold its dynamism as a begin­ning, an incep­tion, a log­i­cal start­ing point. In order for cap­i­tal to expand, to con­stant­ly repro­duce itself on an ever-expand­ing scale, the cycli­cal­i­ty of the labor process must be assumed to oper­ate smooth­ly on the lev­el of log­ic. That is, the log­ic of cap­i­tal rep­re­sents the his­tor­i­cal labor process to itself as if it con­tains no gaps, rup­tures, or bound­aries to its cir­cuit process. Because the busi­ness cycle must expand on the pre­sump­tion of its own pos­si­bil­i­ty, the his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal always relies on capital’s inner log­ic, while the log­ic itself must also rely on the field of his­to­ry to under­stand the exces­sive or irra­tional ele­ment of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion in the form of the so-called “prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion.” It is pre­cise­ly in this sense that we must under­stand con­crete­ly the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion or “inter­course” between the his­tor­i­cal and the log­i­cal in the social rela­tion called “cap­i­tal,” in order to under­stand the lim­its and pos­si­bil­i­ties of post­colo­nial stud­ies.

The his­tor­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tion for the becom­ing of cap­i­tal­ism is the exis­tence of cer­tain orga­nized social forces that are capa­ble of com­mod­i­fy­ing labor-pow­er, forces that are capa­ble of order­ing, divid­ing, and rede­ploy­ing sequences that have been made com­men­su­rable with each oth­er and with cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. In order for cap­i­tal to exist, there must have been a set of pre­sup­po­si­tions that allowed and fos­tered its becom­ing. Many of these forms are guar­an­teed and secured by the state, by the way in which the state gives itself an image of the “nation,” which folds back onto itself and legit­i­mates it. Every “dis­tort­ed” or “par­tic­u­lar” expres­sion of a puta­tive­ly “nation­al” cap­i­tal is an expres­sion of the way in which cap­i­tal has demand­ed its own deploy­ment, and this deploy­ment has always been inti­mate­ly relat­ed to and reliant on the form of the colo­nial dif­fer­ence, the way spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ence is orga­nized and inscribed in the state-divi­sion of the world.

It is exact­ly on this point that post­colo­nial stud­ies can be a crit­i­cal force, not only for the crit­i­cal re-exam­i­na­tion of the Marx­ist the­o­ret­i­cal lega­cy, but also for the renew­al of Marx­ist the­o­ry. That is, post­colo­nial stud­ies can take up the “nation­al ques­tion” in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent man­ner from the way Marx­ist the­o­ry has tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood it, by empha­siz­ing a return to the “rela­tions of pro­duc­tion,” not mere­ly under­stood in a strict­ly “eco­nom­ic” way, but in terms of the rela­tions and forces at work in the his­tori­co-epis­te­mo­log­i­cal “pro­duc­tion” of “back­ward­ness” and “nation­al par­tic­u­lar­i­ty” itself. The analy­sis of glob­al cap­i­tal today shows us how in a cer­tain set of cir­cum­stances, we encounter the “eco­nom­i­cal­ly giv­en social peri­od” [ökonomisch gegeb­nen Gesellschaftspe­ri­ode]7 as if it were a type of speci­fici­ty whose char­ac­ter is eter­nal. In oth­er words, cap­i­tal is a social rela­tion which always “gives itself” as if it were end­less, as if it were ground­ed in the puta­tive­ly “nat­ur­al” ele­ments it needs to legit­i­mate itself. But in fact, the for­ma­tion of these sup­pos­ed­ly nat­ur­al and ancient ele­ments is part and par­cel of how cap­i­tal emerges onto the world stage through the for­ma­tion of a chain of spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ences out of a field of pure het­ero­geneities. What this leads us to, then, is a recon­sid­er­a­tion of how the so-called “nation­al ques­tion” is posed, and what, if any­thing, it can tell us about the poten­tial of post­colo­nial stud­ies.

The National Question, or the Schema of “the West and the Rest”

The so-called “nation­al ques­tion” is often treat­ed with­in the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of Marx­ism as a self-evi­dent field of prob­lems, that is, it is often accept­ed that the nation­al ques­tion is first and fore­most a ques­tion of strat­e­gy and tac­tics with a clear aim and obvi­ous place with­in the process of rev­o­lu­tion­ary pol­i­tics. But it is also, and per­haps more impor­tant­ly, the the­o­ret­i­cal site in which we find the basic con­cern of post­colo­nial stud­ies – the analy­sis of our con­tem­po­rary world through the lens of the irre­versible, irrev­o­ca­ble, irre­deemable fact of the his­toric­i­ty of colo­nial­ism and impe­ri­al­ism. At the same time, the nation­al ques­tion can be seen to be the most essen­tial site of Marx­ist the­o­ry, because it is the cen­tral nucle­us around which is gath­ered an amal­ga­ma­tion of con­tra­dic­tions relat­ed to a very spe­cif­ic the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem: what is the rela­tion between cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety and the log­ic of cap­i­tal? That is, what is the rela­tion between a social for­ma­tion in which the cap­i­tal­ist process of accu­mu­la­tion is the already-estab­lished dri­ving force of his­tor­i­cal life, and the inter­nal log­ic accord­ing to which this form of cap­i­tal exists as an “abstrac­tion in actu,” the inter­nal and puri­fied cir­cuit-process (Kreis­lauf­sprozeß)8 iden­ti­fied by Marx? In order to exam­ine this prob­lem in light of the rethink­ing of post­colo­nial stud­ies, I want to briefly take up two recent symp­to­matic texts that per­form a prob­lem that the exist­ing post­colo­nial­ism can­not resolve. This prob­lem is that of “Euro­cen­trism.”

Kevin B. Anderson’s Marx at the Mar­gins, wide­ly praised for giv­ing us a new pic­ture of Marx’s under­stand­ing of the world, fol­lows a typ­i­cal path in its argu­ment: by care­ful­ly exca­vat­ing the new texts and crit­i­cal edi­tions being grad­u­al­ly pub­lished in the MEGA project, we can see that not only did Marx have a famil­iar­i­ty with the nation­al sit­u­a­tion out­side of Europe and North Amer­i­ca, but he also gave cre­dence to the idea that the Euro­pean mod­el of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment was not the sole path towards social rev­o­lu­tion.9 Inso­far as it is posed in this man­ner, Anderson’s argu­ment is straight­for­ward: the great fig­ures of mod­ern “West­ern” thought were more famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion of the non-Euro­pean world than is often acknowl­edged.10 But Ander­son uti­lizes this mate­r­i­al to make a broad­er point: he attempts to defend Marx against the charge of Euro­cen­trism, the accu­sa­tion that Marx’s grasp of the nation­al ques­tion sim­ply pre­sumed the pri­ma­cy of the west­ern Euro­pean sit­u­a­tion, and specif­i­cal­ly the ana­lyt­ic cen­tral­i­ty of the his­to­ry of the devel­op­ment of Eng­lish cap­i­tal­ism. In this sense, he seeks to dis­cov­er a cor­rec­tive in the his­tor­i­cal record to this charge, a means of empha­siz­ing that Marx’s the­o­ret­i­cal inno­va­tions, the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, were always-already inter­ven­tions into a glob­al sphere, inter­ven­tions whose gen­er­al­i­ty exceed­ed the sup­pos­ed­ly arche­typ­al sit­u­a­tions of their gen­e­sis. By exten­sive­ly demon­strat­ing that Marx was inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the col­o­nized world and the geopol­i­tics of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment out­side of “the West,” Ander­son unques­tion­ably forces us to read Marx’s his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal analy­ses as a more inti­mate con­sti­tu­tive moment of his the­o­ret­i­cal work as a whole. Marx at the Mar­gins is an impor­tant, cru­cial recon­struc­tion of the scope and breadth of Marx’s his­tor­i­cal analy­sis, one that should be right­ly cel­e­brat­ed for its archival recov­ery and con­cep­tu­al rig­or. While I would not want to crit­i­cize Anderson’s project as such, both because it is a tremen­dous­ly valu­able dis­cus­sion of Marx as well as a unique his­tori­co-the­o­ret­i­cal text in its own right, it is per­haps a symp­to­matic text that shows us a broad­er, more gen­er­al prob­lem in its method of sup­pos­ed­ly resolv­ing the ques­tion of Euro­cen­trism, a prob­lem that is symp­to­matic of the dou­ble bind of post­colo­nial­ism.

Through­out Anderson’s text, the means of demon­strat­ing theory’s resis­tance to Euro­cen­trism appears to be pri­mar­i­ly a ques­tion of a clear and rigid demar­ca­tion between the fields of “the­o­ry” and “data.” Here, the most effec­tive means of defend­ing Marx against the accu­sa­tion of Euro­cen­trism con­sists in exam­in­ing Marx’s texts and search­ing for exeget­i­cal evi­dence that Marx was in fact famil­iar with the “non-West­ern” world. But crit­i­cal­ly, we can notice imme­di­ate­ly that such a mode of analy­sis remains cap­tive to one of the foun­da­tion­al prob­lems posed by the cri­tique of Euro­cen­tric­i­ty to begin with: in the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge, a divi­sion of labor between the­o­ry or “the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts” and data or “empir­i­cal con­cepts” is mapped onto a car­to­graph­ic imag­i­nary of “the West” and “the Rest,” and this con­cep­tu­al divi­sion is retroac­tive­ly tak­en as a “proof” or legit­i­ma­tion of the car­to­graph­ic divi­sion. As a con­se­quence, Anderson’s text can be read as hav­ing pre­cise­ly the inverse and self-direct­ed effect: it in fact con­sists in a per­fect demon­stra­tion of some­thing like a Euro­cen­tric over­com­ing of Euro­cen­trism. This oper­a­tion is thus an “endoge­nous” res­o­lu­tion to Euro­cen­trism, a kind of revi­sion­ist his­to­ry of the­o­ry itself, in which it is claimed that rather than being unaware of the rest of the world, Marx in fact already antic­i­pat­ed this cri­tique. Need­less to say, this log­ic remains based on a naïve “pro­to­col of read­ing” in which the inclu­sion of more and more var­ied mate­ri­als is expect­ed to ret­ro­spec­tive­ly exer­cise an effect of trans­for­ma­tion on the the­o­ret­i­cal sit­u­a­tion into which such mate­ri­als are incor­po­rat­ed. But while the Euro­cen­trism of the study of his­to­ry can to some extent be dis­placed by the empir­i­cal analy­sis of hereto­fore under­stud­ied areas and lan­guages, it can­not be over­come sim­ply by means of such inclu­sions. The log­ic of Euro­cen­trism is not mere­ly a hier­ar­chy or rank­ing of already-estab­lished and self-con­tained uni­ties but rather a cog­ni­tive schema of the world itself as a total expres­sion of social rela­tions. In this sense, diver­gent areas, lan­guages, cul­tures, expe­ri­ences and so forth can be incor­po­rat­ed into it with­out dis­turb­ing the func­tion of this schema. Thus, it is crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant to under­stand the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal con­se­quences of this schema’s oper­a­tion.

More than the inclu­sion of larg­er and larg­er amounts of local­ized data, our attempts to rethink and repoliti­cize the poten­tial of post­colo­nial stud­ies must rather tar­get and crit­i­cal­ly dis­sect this “divi­sion of labor” itself which on both “sides” remains wed­ded to this divi­sion, which in turn denies the pos­si­bil­i­ty of “the­o­ry” out­side the West. This type of analy­sis thus ignores the more pro­found field of pos­si­bil­i­ty for “the nation­al ques­tion,” which would be a cre­ative forc­ing (a forçage in Alain Badiou’s terms) of a recal­i­bra­tion of Marx’s the­o­ret­i­cal work in terms of the for­ma­tion and main­te­nance of the sys­tem­at­ic order of nation-states that sus­tains the schemat­ic of “the West and the Rest” in the­o­ry as the divi­sion of labor between “the­o­ry” and “data.” That is, Marx’s work already con­tains a the­o­ret­i­cal expli­ca­tion of the nation­al ques­tion that does not require the empir­i­cal “dis­cov­ery” of some minis­cule note that would “let him off the hook,” so to speak. More­over, the cri­tique of Euro­cen­trism as it has oper­at­ed with­in the orbit of Marx­ist the­o­ry does not fun­da­men­tal­ly hinge on the rel­a­tive “guilt” or “inno­cence” of Marx and Engels and their lack of inclu­sion of con­crete mate­ri­als from diverse loca­tions. Rather the cri­tique of Euro­cen­trism must be a cri­tique of a the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice in which “the Rest” fur­nish­es raw ele­ments to be com­put­ed and the­o­rized in the lab­o­ra­to­ry of “the West,” there­by deny­ing the glob­al­i­ty of the­o­ry from the out­set. In such a well-oiled schemat­ic, the sim­ple inclu­sion of greater and greater mass­es of over­looked infor­ma­tion can nev­er trou­ble or desta­bi­lize Euro­cen­trism.

If the gen­er­al prob­lem expressed method­olog­i­cal­ly in texts like Marx at the Mar­gins thus rep­re­sents an “endoge­nous” or cen­tripetal motion in the­o­ry, a bur­row­ing in of Euro­cen­trism towards itself, Dipesh Chakrabarty’s influ­en­tial Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe rep­re­sents the oppo­site ten­den­cy, an “exoge­nous” or cen­trifu­gal move­ment in thought, a sur­mount­ing of the exte­ri­or, that attempts to show the dis­per­sal of Euro­cen­trism towards its out­er bound­aries. In a sense, Vivek Chibber’s recent work, in pos­ing against Chakrabar­ty a sim­ple and unprob­lema­tized “uni­ver­sal­ism” of cap­i­tal – equat­ed with polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty, social con­for­mi­ty at a plan­e­tary scale, and a belief in the sphere of “cul­ture” as a super­fi­cial accom­pa­ni­ment – forms with Chakrabar­ty a per­fect sys­temic bina­ry of mis­un­der­stand­ing as to how the cap­i­tal-rela­tion itself deals with its “out­side.”

Chakrabar­ty has attempt­ed to the­o­rize this prob­lem through a divi­sion of the his­tor­i­cal process into two cat­e­gories, what he calls His­to­ry 1 and His­to­ry 2. He the­o­rizes “His­to­ry 1” as the inter­nal log­ic of cap­i­tal itself, what he calls “a past posit­ed by cap­i­tal itself as its pre­con­di­tion.”11 In oth­er words, Chakrabar­ty under­stands this His­to­ry 1 as the essen­tial motor-force or dynam­ics of how cap­i­tal founds and main­tains its own nar­ra­tive, the his­to­ry that it tells to itself. For Chakrabar­ty, this is capital’s own “uni­ver­sal and nec­es­sary his­to­ry,” the inter­nal cir­cuit which is nev­er inter­rupt­ed or con­cerned with the “local” but only with its own cease­less, smooth cir­cuit-process. On the oth­er hand, he argues that there is also in Marx some­thing which Chakrabar­ty calls “His­to­ry 2,” those nar­ra­tives and forms of his­to­ry that “do not belong to capital’s life process,” things which, although they may con­tribute to the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal, do not nec­es­sar­i­ly “lend them­selves” to cap­i­tal. These “His­to­ry 2s” are the cen­tral ques­tion for Chakrabar­ty, because for him they “inhere in cap­i­tal and yet inter­rupt and punc­tu­ate the run of capital’s own log­ic.”12 There­fore His­to­ry 1 must con­stant­ly attempt to destroy or sub­ju­gate these His­to­ry 2s, which con­tain alien ele­ments that can­not be digest­ed or inte­grat­ed into capital’s own smooth cir­cuit-process. But the cen­tral prob­lem with this nar­ra­tive (of His­to­ry 1 and His­to­ry 2) and its polit­i­cal con­se­quences is the inabil­i­ty to account for the schemat­ic dis­tri­b­u­tion of posi­tions to each of these polar­i­ties, the parcel­ing out of func­tions with­in this sys­tem which appar­ent­ly has two dis­tinct “sides.” That is, Chakrabar­ty seems to believe that His­to­ry 1 (the log­ic of cap­i­tal) exists at a strong dis­tance from His­to­ry 2 (the mul­ti­ple life-prac­tices that do not inhere in cap­i­tal), and that there­fore resis­tance takes place with­in His­to­ry 2, resis­tances that mobi­lize His­to­ry 2’s inter­nal ten­den­cy to “inter­rupt” or “punc­tu­ate” the log­ic of cap­i­tal as a closed cir­cuit. Chakrabar­ty insin­u­ates that His­to­ry 2, there­fore, is essen­tial­ly “dif­fer­ence,” while His­to­ry 1 is “homo­gene­ity,” or “same­ness.” Or to rephrase the polit­i­cal con­se­quences of this (at risk of sim­pli­fi­ca­tion), he implies that His­to­ry 1 is the uni­ver­sal spread of glob­al cap­i­tal, a log­ic with its ori­gins in a West­ern nar­ra­tive of moder­ni­ty, while His­to­ry 2 names the sub­al­tern, par­tic­u­lar sites of incom­plete cap­i­tal­iza­tion, those sites whose “life-process­es” are not nec­es­sar­i­ly count­able by West­ern mod­ern­iza­tion, a dis­sem­i­na­tion of an order of func­tion­ing in terms of the over­all schema of “the West and the Rest.” Nev­er­the­less, in my view the deci­sive point is that Chakrabarty’s schema, because it in effect takes this appar­ent “split” between the gen­er­al move­ment (capital’s self-deploy­ment) and the par­tic­u­lar gra­di­ent of its local­iza­tion (the puta­tive “cul­tur­al” sub­stra­tum) at face val­ue, he can­not get us out of the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal rein­force­ment of the bina­ry struc­ture of “the West and the Rest,” but rather remains secure­ly with­in this schemat­ic. Chakrabarty’s schema tends to imply that “His­to­ry 2” or “cul­tur­al speci­fici­ty” is the site of poten­tial, the place from which capital’s smooth log­ic is punc­tu­at­ed and inter­rupt­ed. But cap­i­tal is not an object which exists in its full plen­i­tude some­where; it names a social rela­tion that emerges from with­in the field of prac­tices as a whole and recodes their order­ing mech­a­nisms, plac­ing terms into rela­tions that did not pre­vi­ous­ly obtain by means of a “semi­otic over­cod­ing.” As a con­se­quence, cap­i­tal ensures that, by cod­ing vast fields of prac­tices with its own inter­nal direc­tion­al­i­ty, prac­tices which are appar­ent­ly “out­side” of its log­i­cal oper­a­tion are nei­ther trou­bling nor dis­rup­tive of its func­tion. Chakrabarty’s argu­ment can­not account for the foun­da­tion­al prob­lem of capital’s log­ic, a cycle reliant on an irra­tional or exces­sive moment that is pass­ing through all social life – the impos­si­bil­i­ty or absur­di­ty of the fact that rela­tions among human beings can nev­er sim­ply be pure­ly com­mod­i­fied, but are nev­er­the­less smooth­ly cir­cu­lat­ed as rela­tions among things – a moment where­in an abyssal gap opens under capital’s move­ment when it con­fronts the insta­bil­i­ty of the sup­ply of labor-pow­er that can be com­mod­i­fied, the foun­da­tion­al input for capital’s puta­tive­ly smooth cir­cuit-process. The com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of labor-pow­er con­sti­tutes pre­cise­ly this excess, an excess that is nev­er­the­less “allowed” to pass through or that is “con­duct­ed through” the sit­u­a­tion by the for­ma­tion of the so-called “rel­a­tive sur­plus pop­u­la­tion.” Cap­i­tal is inca­pable of “pro­duc­ing” labor-pow­er as a com­mod­i­ty, but it can to some extent act as if this labor-pow­er is “ready at hand” or “indi­rect­ly” pro­duce it by means of the indus­tri­al reserve army on the lev­el of his­to­ry. It is at this log­i­cal moment that cap­i­tal has to recode on a macro-lev­el its basic “salto mor­tale” or “fatal leap” of exchange (because every act of sell­ing is a leap with­out guar­an­tee) and act as if it can func­tion as a pseu­do-com­plete­ness in order to expand itself in the form of the busi­ness cycle.13

In oth­er words: how does capital’s log­ic relate to its out­side, both log­i­cal­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly? This is the cru­cial point that grounds the entire­ty of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion and its spread, a point to which Chakrabar­ty pays inad­e­quate atten­tion. In Chakrabarty’s dis­cus­sion, all pow­er of inter­rup­tion exists on the side of His­to­ry 2, on the side of “speci­fici­ty,” “par­tic­u­lar­i­ty,” or “the Rest,” while His­to­ry 1 only exists in order to be inter­rupt­ed. But this can­not account for the way in which cap­i­tal itself deploys the pro­duc­tion of “speci­fici­ties” them­selves – that is, for cap­i­tal, this “His­to­ry 2” is not the resis­tant exte­ri­or which pre­vents His­to­ry 1 from effect­ing its com­plete self-deploy­ment, but some­thing which always exists in a corol­lary, com­ple­men­tary, or com­plic­it rela­tion to it.

The log­ic that inheres with­in cap­i­tal as a social rela­tion shows us pre­cise­ly why there are many prob­lems with locat­ing the resis­tance to cap­i­tal in some­thing like Chakrabarty’s notion of “His­to­ry 2,” the local non-cap­i­tal­ist prac­tices or field of giv­en, empir­i­cal con­cepts which sup­pos­ed­ly punc­tu­ate and inter­rupt capital’s full deploy­ment. If we do so, the motor-force of his­to­ry comes to be locat­ed in the stra­tum of “cul­ture,” in the sub­stan­tial­i­ty of spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ence. Yet as Marx inces­sant­ly point­ed out, not only in Cap­i­tal, but in innu­mer­able dis­cus­sions, the “orig­i­nal sin” of the so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion is “at work every­where” (die Erb­sünde wirkt über­all), a con­stant under­cur­rent of capital’s motion. It is this ele­ment that sus­pends the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the “given­ness” of a nation­al com­mu­ni­ty, of local­i­ty or speci­fici­ty as a force of resis­tance, pre­cise­ly because the con­ti­nu­ity of prac­tices or “cul­tur­al” modal­i­ties that sup­pos­ed­ly remain in place across eras have become inhab­it­ed with a “new social soul,” and there­after can­not avoid com­mod­i­ty-eco­nom­ic deter­mi­na­tions. Instead, even if the prac­tices are sim­i­lar, the “orig­i­nal sin” of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion has ensured that these prac­tices now con­note some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, that they are now com­men­su­rable with cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment. In oth­er words, cap­i­tal is always cre­at­ing the local, form­ing speci­fici­ties, and orga­niz­ing a sys­tem­at­ic accu­mu­la­tion of dif­fer­ences. There­after, cap­i­tal attempts to show that it is itself “indige­nous,” that its func­tion­ing stems from its local­i­ty. But this is capital’s basic trick: to take those con­di­tions that it itself posits and retroac­tive­ly claim them as the nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tions for its own full deploy­ment. The enclo­sure of ele­ments into regions of spe­cif­ic dif­fer­ence estab­lish­es a regime accord­ing to which dif­fer­ence is itself always mobi­lized for capital’s smooth func­tion­ing.

It is not sim­ply that “the West” is the con­cretiza­tion of capital’s dri­ve in a ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized sense. Rather, capital’s axiomat­ics rely pre­cise­ly on the entire “genet­ic matrix” of “the West and the Rest” as a schemat­ic: “the inward pro­duc­tion of alter­i­ty and the out­ward pro­duc­tion of alter­i­ty formed part of the same dis­posi­tif of pow­er. The colo­nial­i­ty of pow­er and the colo­nial­i­ty of knowl­edge found them­selves locat­ed in the same genet­ic matrix.”15 In oth­er words, the pre­con­di­tion of the move­ment of gen­er­al­i­ty (the log­ic of cap­i­tal) is con­tained in its deploy­ment of enclo­sure; in order to recode the sur­face of the earth, it must retab­u­late the exist­ing ele­ments from a pure het­ero­ge­neous flux into speci­fici­ties. There­fore, we must always ana­lyze the mutu­al com­plic­i­ty between the gen­er­al and the spe­cif­ic, between “the West and the Rest,” which is illu­mi­nat­ed for an instant in the con­tin­u­al­ly renewed process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion as the impos­si­ble ori­gin of order itself. Capital’s gap is that it arro­gates itself as a log­ic, but this log­ic can only func­tion inso­far as its con­fig­u­ra­tional ele­ments are acci­den­tal­ly encoun­tered in his­to­ry, that is, it only becomes what it is through a “ran­dom” meet­ing or pure acci­dent – the “immac­u­late con­cep­tion” of labor-pow­er, the Ur-Objekt that allows the cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­ty to emerge as a per­spec­ti­val force.

It is pre­cise­ly the gen­er­al­i­ty of this stra­tum of puta­tive speci­fici­ty which is so cru­cial for us to ana­lyze today, because focus­ing on the for­ma­tion process of this stra­tum itself can allow us to gen­er­ate new pos­si­bil­i­ties for think­ing the pol­i­tics of the­o­ry, and in par­tic­u­lar those of post­colo­nial stud­ies, past the dead-end of con­tem­po­rary uni­ver­salisms, which con­stant­ly and des­per­ate­ly try to recu­per­ate the fan­ta­sy of “the West,” as well as those con­tem­po­rary par­tic­u­larisms, which always end up rein­stalling a bear­er of the his­tor­i­cal process in the illu­so­ry con­crete­ness of native “speci­fici­ty” as a mark­er of legit­i­ma­tion. This uni­ver­sal­ism tends to always take the enun­cia­tive posi­tion­al­i­ty of the “West” as a con­cep­tu­al uni­ty, and there­fore pos­es the response always in the form of choos­ing “polit­i­cal strug­gle” over “embrac­ing dif­fer­ence.” (Although I oth­er­wise val­ue many of his inter­ven­tions, Žižek’s fre­quent ten­den­cy to fall into this false choice is symp­to­matic.) Thus, we must pose some­thing else in con­tradis­tinc­tion to the res­o­lu­tions of Euro­cen­trism posed by both Anderson’s “defense” of “West­ern Marx­ism” and Chakrabarty’s appeal to “post­colo­nial­ism” as a sub­stan­tial out­side to “the West,” or indeed to Chibber’s naive belief in capital’s own qua­si-log­ic as a “ratio­nal” explana­to­ry mech­a­nism, rem­i­nis­cent of exact­ly the polit­i­cal con­fu­sion Marx derid­ed in bour­geois polit­i­cal econ­o­my (after all, he argued, the bour­geois polit­i­cal econ­o­mists, when con­front­ed with a “sud­den inver­sion” [plöt­zliche Umschla­gen] – per­haps of “cul­ture” – some­thing that appears as the glim­mer of the irra­tional out­side with­in the puta­tive­ly ratio­nal inside, these  “agents of cir­cu­la­tion” [die Zirku­la­tion­sagen­ten], or per­haps in our time the fan­ta­sists of “eco­nom­ic ratio­nal­i­ty” such as Chib­ber, become over­awed by “the impen­e­tra­ble mys­tery sur­round­ing their own rela­tions”).16

We should instead empha­size that capital’s inter­nal log­ic shows us an image of nei­ther “the West” as a mod­el, nor “the Rest” as a pure out­side, but of “the West and the Rest” as an axiomat­ic field that pro­duces and pre-posits its own gaps, rup­tures, and open­ings. In this sense, the nation­al ques­tion – whose ide­o­log­i­cal lim­it-point is the for­ma­tion and main­te­nance of the field called “the West” or “Euro­cen­trism” – is the nodal point around which not only anoth­er the­o­ry of pol­i­tics, but also anoth­er pol­i­tics of the­o­ry can emerge. Pre­cise­ly because it is the func­tion of the nation as an image to bridge the gap between sub­jec­tive ide­ol­o­gy and state sub­jec­tion, its oper­a­tion as a “pas­sion­al and liv­ing form” shows us the site of the “first real­iza­tion” of the volatile amal­ga­ma­tion of capital’s “qual­i­ta­tive homo­gene­ity” and “quan­ti­ta­tive com­pe­ti­tion,” there­by work­ing as the pri­ma­ry lever to trans­form the state into a “mod­el of real­iza­tion” of the cap­i­tal­ist axiomat­ic.17

The schema of “the West and the Rest” shows us per­fect­ly that just as cap­i­tal relies on its para­dox­i­cal out­side in the form of a wager, so too the West can only act as if its his­tor­i­cal acci­dents were the pre­sup­po­si­tions upon which it extend­ed itself. In turn, “the Rest” can only inter­rupt the smooth cycli­cal vio­lence of “the West” by play­ing the role of sup­ple­ment, by act­ing as if its dis­pens­abil­i­ty were a sign of its micro­scop­ic whole­ness. In order to push this entire schema towards its tip­ping point of volatil­i­ty and even­tu­al implo­sion, we ought to exploit the cog­ni­tive map­ping so char­ac­ter­is­tic of Euro­cen­trism and turn it against itself – it is this point on which a new pos­si­bil­i­ty for post­colo­nial stud­ies has recent­ly been artic­u­lat­ed.

The Postcolonial Condition

I would like to argue that a rethink­ing of the poten­tial of post­colo­nial stud­ies, beyond the lim­i­ta­tions of post­colo­nial­ism’s “cul­tur­al­ist” ori­en­ta­tion, depends on its abil­i­ty to grasp the new modes of oper­a­tion of glob­al cap­i­tal­ism. It is pre­cise­ly this dou­ble project that ani­mates San­dro Mezzadra’s La con­dizione post­colo­niale: Sto­ria e polit­i­ca nel pre­sente glob­ale, a work that forms a cru­cial and impor­tant syn­the­sis of not only the the­o­reti­co-his­tor­i­cal role of post­colo­nial stud­ies, but also a set of poten­tial tasks for con­tem­po­rary the­o­ry itself, for the present and future polit­i­cal­i­ty of the­o­ret­i­cal prac­tice, and espe­cial­ly for the future of post­colo­nial stud­ies.

From the out­set he empha­sizes that, although it may seem strange in a text explic­it­ly devot­ed to “the post­colo­nial con­di­tion,” what is basi­cal­ly “in ques­tion, in the fol­low­ing pages, is con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism.” That is, what Mez­zadra attempts to do in this impor­tant work is to com­pli­cate and enrich the crit­i­cal analy­sis of con­tem­po­rary glob­al cap­i­tal­ism, and par­tic­u­lar­ly, to focus on the exchange between cap­i­tal and “the lin­ger­ing antag­o­nis­tic deter­mi­na­tion” of the social rela­tions on which it is found­ed. This sit­u­ates then, one of the most impor­tant aspects of Mezzadra’s work: a rethink­ing of post­colo­nial stud­ies in a dense par­al­lax with a reex­am­i­na­tion of the cen­tral con­cerns of the Marx­i­an the­o­ret­i­cal project, pay­ing care­ful atten­tion to the most recent shifts in con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment.

He locates the back­ground of this ques­tion in a series of recent moments: the emer­gence of the wide rang­ing dis­cus­sion of “glob­al­iza­tion” and the con­sti­tu­tion of the world itself as a sin­gu­lar unit of analy­sis, the polit­i­cal ener­gies unleashed on this world stage through the moments of the Seat­tle and Genoa protests, the chal­lenges posed to the writ­ing of his­to­ry by new modes of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, and the com­plex­i­ty of the phe­nom­e­non of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion for the ques­tions of the nation-state and the strug­gles of migrants. A cru­cial point that Mez­zadra makes at the out­set of this text is that it was the pub­li­ca­tion of Michael Hardt and Anto­nio Negri’s Empire in 2000 that drew a con­nec­tion between these diverse phe­nom­e­na and var­i­ous the­o­ret­i­cal strate­gies. But one of the results of the pub­li­ca­tion of Empire was also the broad­en­ing and “glob­al­iza­tion” of the the­o­ret­i­cal mode of inquiry char­ac­ter­is­tic of Ital­ian operais­mo. There­fore, we should note from the begin­ning of this book that its engage­ment with post­colo­nial stud­ies can also have an inter­est­ing effect on debates out­side Italy, by insert­ing a fresh and diver­gent read­ing (a cer­tain “Ital­ian effect”) of its the­mat­ics. Yet as Mez­zadra points out, in invok­ing Edward Said’s dis­cus­sion of the “trav­el­ing” of the­o­ry, this “Ital­ian effect,” or the operais­mo inflec­tion of post­colo­nial the­o­ry, has anoth­er reflex­ive oper­a­tion. That is, it not only con­sti­tutes a diver­gent inter­ven­tion into post­colo­nial stud­ies in gen­er­al, but also in the result­ing “hybridiza­tion” of the Ital­ian the­o­ret­i­cal tra­di­tion, func­tions as an “anti­dote” against all depoliti­ciza­tions and neu­tral­iza­tions of the polit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal rad­i­cal­i­ty of operais­mo.

Impor­tant­ly, Mez­zadra draws our atten­tion to the dis­tinc­tion between the post­colo­nial con­di­tion and “post­colo­nial­ism,” argu­ing for a more free use of the cat­e­gories and dis­cov­er­ies of post­colo­nial cri­tique for the for­ma­tion and devel­op­ment of a “new par­a­digm of crit­i­cal thought.” Post­colo­nial­ism – in essence, the received aca­d­e­m­ic “cat­e­go­ry” or “safe” dis­course of the sup­pos­ed­ly “post­colo­nial” world in a sub­stan­tial sense as an “out­side” – and a gen­er­al grasp of the post­colo­nial as a con­di­tion of the con­tem­po­rary world, must be rig­or­ous­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed. Žižek and oth­ers have con­tin­u­al­ly point­ed out that post­colo­nial stud­ies has been prone to a dan­ger­ous sub­stan­tial­iza­tion and roman­ti­ciza­tion of the pol­i­tics of iden­ti­ty, the pol­i­tics of the sim­ple recog­ni­tion of dif­fer­ence. While agree­ing with this cri­tique, what Mez­zadra points out is pre­cise­ly that it is this aspect of “con­di­tion” that enables a dif­fer­ent iter­a­tion of the term “post­colo­nial”:

But things change, as we shall argue, if one takes the post­colo­nial con­di­tion seri­ous­ly, dis­tin­guish­ing it (at least to begin with) from post­colo­nial­ism, and view­ing it as a Fou­cauldian archive in which images, con­cepts, and words are deposit­ed, enabling one crit­i­cal­ly to recon­struct the con­tour of our present. It is pos­si­ble then to accept, at least in part, the sub­stance of the crit­i­cisms that we have men­tioned but nev­er­the­less to insist on the time­li­ness of giv­ing the term “post­colo­nial” a key role in the vocab­u­lary of crit­i­cal thought.19

In oth­er words, despite the impor­tance of such rejoin­ders against a cer­tain prac­tice of post­colo­nial stud­ies that tends towards a fetishiza­tion of a puta­tive­ly sub­stan­tial civ­i­liza­tion­al dif­fer­ence, the prob­lems posed on the lev­el of the­o­ry by the post­colo­nial con­di­tion remain deci­sive for a think­ing of the ques­tion of “the imme­di­ate polit­i­cal char­ac­ter that dif­fer­ences assume in the con­tem­po­rary glob­al are­na.” In this sense, post­colo­nial stud­ies has its most crit­i­cal func­tion in its capac­i­ty not to mere­ly rec­og­nize or endorse some sub­stan­tial fan­ta­sy of “dif­fer­ence,” but rather to crit­i­cal­ly and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly deci­pher the spe­cif­ic strate­gies oper­at­ing under­neath every phe­nom­e­nal man­i­fes­ta­tion or dis­course of dif­fer­ence. That is, the deci­sive ques­tion in the post­colo­nial con­di­tion is not “dif­fer­ence” itself, or any sub­stan­tial­iza­tion of “cul­ture,” but rather how this puta­tive dif­fer­ence is employed, arranged, and deployed accord­ing to a schemat­ic of the mod­ern world. Post­colo­nial­ism tends to become noth­ing more than a his­tor­i­cal fetishiza­tion of dif­fer­ence entire­ly com­pat­i­ble with con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, but the post­colo­nial as a “con­di­tion” of the mod­ern world, a “con­di­tion” of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism, express­es some­thing cru­cial about how this his­tor­i­cal fetishiza­tion forms an absolute­ly nec­es­sary part of capital’s deploy­ment on a world scale. In effect, the fact that the forms of dif­fer­ence that char­ac­ter­ize the schemat­ic order­ing of the con­tem­po­rary world are not only com­pat­i­ble, but also ben­e­fi­cial to cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment is not what dis­ables post­colo­nial stud­ies. Rather, this fact itself can be made into the most cru­cial enabling site of pos­si­bil­i­ty for a post­colo­nial stud­ies to come, a new politi­ciza­tion of its project. Con­trary to the crit­i­cisms of Žižek, for instance, who fre­quent­ly argues that post­colo­nial stud­ies sim­ply fetishizes the colo­nial dif­fer­ence in the man­ner that cap­i­tal itself does, it is pre­cise­ly the task of post­colo­nial the­o­ry to elu­ci­date capitalism’s capac­i­ty to extend itself, to demon­strate its “occult qual­i­ty” of self-expan­sion, by inhab­it­ing and ter­ri­to­ri­al­iz­ing itself in the form of “nation­al” dif­fer­ence, “colo­nial” dif­fer­ence, “civ­i­liza­tion­al” dif­fer­ence. Rather than cri­tiquing this intel­lec­tu­al field for some­how being “cap­tured” by cap­i­tal, it is pre­cise­ly the fact that forms of iden­ti­ty are always-already cap­tured that makes them sites where­in the glob­al order is con­tin­u­al­ly com­posed and recom­posed in minia­ture. Mezzadra’s answer to a cer­tain cri­tique of post­colo­nial stud­ies is cru­cial, because he already antic­i­pates this crit­i­cism at a high­er lev­el of syn­the­sis and attempts to go beyond it. Mez­zadra effec­tive­ly sum­ma­rizes his response to such crit­i­cisms in the fol­low­ing state­ment:

The prob­lem that Žižek appears to ignore – indeed, Peter Hallward’s cri­tique of post­colo­nial­ism, which builds upon Žižek’s argu­ment, risks to end up propos­ing, once again, the nation-state as the only hori­zon with­in which it is pos­si­ble to re-inscribe prac­tices of eman­ci­pa­tion – is that, gen­er­al­ly, in anti-colo­nial strug­gles and, specif­i­cal­ly, in post­colo­nial cri­tique, the stakes can no longer be local, and are – it doesn’t mat­ter whether out of neces­si­ty or choice – unavoid­ably and imme­di­ate­ly glob­al, that is to say, nec­es­sar­i­ly and con­tra­dic­to­ri­ly uni­ver­sal.21

This imme­di­ate and direct uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the strug­gle against cap­i­tal, tak­en in its broad­est sense as the ulti­mate self-lim­i­ta­tion of our world, there­fore is always linked to an extent with what Éti­enne Bal­ibar has often referred to as “the anthro­po­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence.”22 Here, one crit­i­cal ques­tion in terms of the for­ma­tion of post­colo­nial stud­ies as a dis­ci­pline would be locat­ed in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent geneal­o­gy of con­cepts, one pass­ing through read­ings of Hobbes, Locke, Mill, and oth­ers, that would treat anthro­pol­o­gy not in the “sim­ple” sense of the term, as a mere ide­ol­o­gy, but rather as a medi­at­ing mate­r­i­al fig­ure of the com­plex­i­ty of the his­tor­i­cal process, anoth­er point, for instance, upon which we can ade­quate­ly cri­tique Chibber’s image of the ratio­nal human as a kind of tran­shis­tor­i­cal giv­en in the eco­nom­ic process. In oth­er words, because the reliance by cap­i­tal on the schemat­ic array of dif­fer­ences fur­nished and main­tained in the con­tem­po­rary world con­sti­tutes the con­crete real­i­ty of the glob­al­i­ty of the present, we must also look for the antecedents of this the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem in the his­tor­i­cal pro­duc­tion of the indi­vid­ual, trac­ing and out­lin­ing the par­al­lel lev­els of the anthro­po­log­i­cal foun­da­tions of the mod­ern state. This broad re-inves­ti­ga­tion of anthro­pol­o­gy on a the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el would reveal to us a long and com­plex his­to­ry of “a con­tin­u­al move­ment of inclu­sion and exclu­sion with which the indi­vid­ual is imag­ined and con­struct­ed.”23 This pro­duc­tion of dif­fer­ence by means of an oscil­la­tion or tor­sion between inclu­sion and exclu­sion cul­mi­nates in the dis­course of cit­i­zen­ship, which under­pins not only the mod­ern state-form but its gen­e­sis in the form of empire and colony. Here we con­front imme­di­ate­ly the “log­ic of con­trac­tu­al­ism” (so beloved of Chib­ber) that under­pins the cre­ation of the cit­i­zen, the “free” con­trac­tu­al­i­ty of social life that sta­bi­lizes the “enclo­sures”  or “bor­ders” of the regime of cit­i­zen­ship, installing a dis­course of gov­ern­ing and man­ag­ing the state cen­tered around what Locke called “prop­er­ty in his own per­son.” That is, through this “pre-his­to­ry” of the post­colo­nial con­di­tion, we are alert­ed imme­di­ate­ly to the chain of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion between the log­ic of the cit­i­zen as image of the state, and the log­ic of prop­er­ty as a micro­physics of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment as a whole. This dual homol­o­gy traces for us the inscrip­tions of pow­er that irrepara­bly con­di­tion the mod­ern regimes of cit­i­zen­ship and that con­tin­ue to show to us what is at stake in the state’s polic­ing of the fig­ure of the cit­i­zen.

It is no longer a sur­pris­ing or shock­ing his­tor­i­cal inter­ven­tion to note that the regime of con­trol con­sti­tut­ed by the dis­course of cit­i­zen­ship is some­thing that has a direct­ly colo­nial lega­cy, but it remains an impor­tant task to the­o­ret­i­cal­ly demon­strate how the polit­i­cal and juridi­cal the­o­riza­tions that accom­pa­nied the colo­nial project attempt­ed to nat­u­ral­ize “pre­cise racial hier­ar­chies” in the divi­sion of the earth itself, recall­ing among oth­ers Schmitt’s notion of the orig­i­nary nomos of the earth that char­ac­ter­ized the juridi­cal field of the colo­nial era, the jus pub­licum europaeum.24 What we must con­stant­ly empha­size is the cycli­cal deploy­ment of bor­ders, mar­gins, lim­its, inte­ri­ors and exte­ri­ors, in the his­tor­i­cal pro­duc­tion of the “colo­nial dif­fer­ence,” the means of recod­ing the “incom­men­su­ra­bil­i­ties” of the world as hier­ar­chi­cal com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ties, where­by the under­de­vel­oped or col­o­nized are tem­po­ral­ly locat­ed in a per­ma­nent “wait­ing-room of his­to­ry.”

Yet, this sys­tem­at­ic log­ic of cap­ture is only part of the sto­ry. The para­dox of the his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion of the colo­nial dif­fer­ence and its juridi­cal recod­ing is that it is being con­tin­u­ous­ly under­mined from with­in by the “dis­cov­ery of equal­i­ty” (in Frantz Fanon’s phrase) that the increas­ing inte­gra­tion of the world has implied. In oth­er words, by inte­grat­ing the world into a sin­gle schemat­ic, based on the unit of the nation-state, the colo­nial project also pro­duced the con­di­tions for a glob­al pol­i­tics of equal­i­ty, by plac­ing “dif­fer­ence” into an over­all frame­work of “com­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty.” It is pre­cise­ly this moment that shows us the way in which the his­to­ry of the anti-colo­nial move­ments, those polit­i­cal irrup­tions that demand­ed that the nascent equal­i­ty implied in the orga­ni­za­tion of the world be raised to a prin­ci­ple of soci­ety, con­tin­ue to impact our world today, inso­far as it is irre­versibly and irrev­o­ca­bly “a” world. There­fore, the his­to­ry of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry can be char­ac­ter­ized by this colo­nial para­dox – on the one hand, this “dis­cov­ery” of the world as a world pro­duced an “irre­versible thresh­old” in the his­tor­i­cal process of plan­e­tary uni­fi­ca­tion. On the oth­er hand, inso­far as this uni­fi­ca­tion is a his­tor­i­cal ten­den­cy that emerges from the colo­nial sce­nario, it also shows us that the colo­nial project is always tense­ly mov­ing in two direc­tions at once: it requires the form of con­fine­ment above all else – the bor­der­ing of groups, nation­al lan­guages, racial hier­ar­chies, and bound­ed spaces. At the same time, the prin­ci­ple of equal­i­ty or glob­al­i­ty that is pro­duced under the effect of the colo­nial enclo­sures is pre­cise­ly a revolt against this con­fine­ment or bor­der­ing itself, the devel­op­ment for the first time of a world as world (rather than a world as col­lec­tion of diver­gent parts). This form of enclo­sure thus “con­sti­tutes the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple and at the same time, the inter­nal lim­it, of the colo­nial project.”25

Today we remain with­in this ten­sion or para­dox, in a world in which “human­i­ty” itself is framed, in the final analy­sis, as an expres­sion or hall­mark of the fan­ta­sy of the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the West, or as the “real abstrac­tions” (the mon­ey form and the com­mod­i­ty form) of the glob­al cap­i­tal­ist order. This fact forces us there­fore to con­front the ques­tion of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy today, his­to­ri­ogra­phies con­cerned with the glob­al­iza­tion of the world, new his­to­ries of the world as a world – the lim­its and poten­tials of a “world his­to­ry” or Welt­geschichte. Return­ing through­out his work to a read­ing of the work of the Sub­al­tern Stud­ies group, Mez­zadra empha­sizes the impor­tance of their project for its his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal putting into ques­tion of the received order­ing of his­tor­i­cal time. The pri­or order­ings of time in the form of “his­tor­i­cal” and “pre­his­tor­i­cal” are always found­ed on a cer­tain dis­tri­b­u­tion of “his­tor­i­cal­i­ty” and “progress” that are insep­a­ra­ble from the expe­ri­ence of colo­nial expan­sion. Pass­ing through read­ings of C.L.R. James, Guha, Chakrabar­ty, Kosel­leck, Spi­vak, and oth­ers, Mez­zadra reminds us that what is in essence at stake in post­colo­nial cri­tique is not sim­ply a putting into ques­tion of the nor­ma­tive val­ue of “progress” in its puta­tive­ly “West­ern” mode, but rather a recon­fig­u­ra­tion of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy that demon­strates the cen­tral­i­ty of colo­nial­ism for the epis­temic pre­sup­po­si­tions of Euro­pean moder­ni­ty.

By empha­siz­ing through these read­ings the neces­si­ty of treat­ing the colony as the “lab­o­ra­to­ry of moder­ni­ty,” we are con­stant­ly being vio­lent­ly re-intro­duced to the con­tin­gen­cies, era­sures, and acts of order­ing that pro­duce the ret­ro­spec­tive­ly “proven” his­to­ry. In oth­er words, post­colo­nial stud­ies’ capac­i­ty to open up, dis­ag­gre­gate, and recom­pose the “order of dis­course and silence” that orga­nizes the “his­tor­i­cal archive” can inter­vene in our under­stand­ing of the pow­er rela­tions that pro­duce his­tor­i­cal fields and objects them­selves, the epis­temic rela­tions that enable “the pro­duc­tion of an event as a his­tor­i­cal event.”26 This under­stand­ing in turn invites us to prob­lema­tize the lex­i­con of uni­ver­sal­ism as well as the canon­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions of knowl­edge implied by it, and also simul­ta­ne­ous­ly allows us to pro­duce a sound anti­dote to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of mere apolo­gies for “dif­fer­ence.” The neces­si­ty of this dou­bled inter­ven­tion is at base a recog­ni­tion that the the­o­ret­i­cal split between the uni­ver­sal and the par­tic­u­lar is itself a dis­cur­sive dyad (what Nao­ki Sakai for instance calls “the schema of co-fig­u­ra­tion”) that par­tic­i­pates in the epis­temic vio­lence of a world divid­ed between “nor­mal” (West) and “back­wards” (Rest) dis­tri­b­u­tions of his­tor­i­cal time. But the post­colo­nial view­point has an impor­tant site of inter­ven­tion against this log­ic: its his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter of irre­versibil­i­ty that under­pins all glob­al his­to­ry inso­far as it is tru­ly glob­al. This irre­versibil­i­ty is con­tained in the point that the vio­lence of ori­gin impos­es “a com­mon lan­guage which eras­es for­ev­er any expe­ri­ence of dif­fer­ence that has not been medi­at­ed by the colo­nial rela­tions of pow­er and by the log­ic of glob­al cap­i­tal.”27 It is the sense of the term “post” in the phrase “post­colo­nial” that opens up the capac­i­ty to politi­cize the study of his­to­ry pre­cise­ly because of this irre­versibil­i­ty, which fur­nish­es a the­o­ret­i­cal con­di­tion for its own expo­sure and cri­tique, not only to “sub­vert the canon,” but more impor­tant­ly, to inquire into these lab­o­ra­to­ries where­in this canon was, and con­tin­ues to be, mate­ri­al­ly pro­duced.

In geopo­lit­i­cal terms, the ongo­ing inte­gra­tion of Europe is some­thing that can­not be divorced from the lega­cy of the “colo­nial project.” Here we might ref­er­ence again the impor­tant work of Éti­enne Bal­ibar, who has exten­sive­ly point­ed out that the colo­nial lega­cy of Europe was not only a cer­tain encounter with “oth­er­ness” but that this “oth­er­ness” itself served as a mech­a­nism of Europe’s own iden­ti­ty, its vir­tu­al­i­ty, its pow­er.28 In oth­er words, the “image” of Euro­pean “civ­i­liza­tion” was always from the very out­set con­sti­tut­ed through a move­ment of con­stant com­par­i­son with images of the oth­er space, the fig­ures of the “bar­bar­ic sav­age” – but also para­dox­i­cal­ly, images of the “free­dom” of these “sav­ages” them­selves. There­fore, these sup­posed “sav­ages” have nev­er been some­thing periph­er­al to Europe, rather this image of the oth­er is “implied” from the out­set as the cen­tral fig­ure through which the puta­tive uni­ty of the space and con­cept of “Europe” could be con­ceived and artic­u­lat­ed. Here we see also the old­er split between “the cit­i­zen” and “the sub­ject,” under­stood broad­ly as the dis­course which sep­a­rat­ed the juridi­cal for­ma­tions of the metro­pole and colony, the sup­posed “proof” of which was the dis­junc­tion of his­tor­i­cal time in these two zones.

But, as we see today, this dis­course is both repro­duced and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly no longer capa­ble of jus­ti­fy­ing itself. This sit­u­a­tion is pre­cise­ly what Mez­zadra calls “the post­colo­nial con­di­tion”:  “a sit­u­a­tion in which the ‘metabor­der’ between metrop­o­lis and colonies no longer orga­nizes any sta­ble world car­tog­ra­phy but the pos­si­bil­i­ty is giv­en that it repro­duces itself, in a rather frag­ment­ed way, with­in the ter­ri­to­ry of the for­mer metrop­o­lis­es them­selves.”29 It is pre­cise­ly in the midst of this “con­di­tion” or “sit­u­a­tion” that the ques­tion of the Euro­pean con­sti­tu­tion (both in the sense of its for­ma­tion and in the legal sense) is posed – it is a con­sti­tu­tion in a process of “becom­ing” that takes its point of depar­ture from a “sit­u­a­tion” (both Euro­pean inte­gra­tion and the irre­versible glob­al con­di­tion of post­colo­nial­i­ty) that is itself in a process of “becom­ing.” There­fore, the Euro­pean con­sti­tu­tion is an inher­ent­ly ambigu­ous notion, one that can­not be so eas­i­ly under­stood on the basis of received his­to­ry. On the one hand, the Euro­pean con­sti­tu­tion is open to its con­stant trans­for­ma­tion, but also must be orga­nized in a way that is sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from one char­ac­ter­is­tic of the expe­ri­ence of the mod­ern State. It is clear that one char­ac­ter­is­tic of the form of the mod­ern nation-state, its rigid­i­ty of bor­der­ing, is being par­tial­ly undone by the form of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, and the con­sti­tu­tion is capa­ble of respond­ing to and con­cretiz­ing this form of social life past the bound­aries of the nation-state. But we must not see in this “fact” (that is, a ten­den­tial move­ment of the sit­u­a­tion but not a fait accom­pli) a cel­e­bra­to­ry space: rather, this ambi­gu­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion opens up innu­mer­able direc­tion­al­i­ties of social life, both with poten­tial and with dan­ger. These “open” char­ac­ter­is­tics also con­tain the new bor­ders or con­fine­ments of free­dom and arbi­trari­ness, in which the tran­si­tion from the par­a­digm of gov­ern­ment to the par­a­digm of gov­er­nance opens up the space for new forms and new tech­niques of gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty, that are not nec­es­sar­i­ly “soft­er” than the ones con­nect­ed to the tra­di­tion­al par­a­digm of gov­ern­ment.

There­fore, in order to under­stand Euro­pean inte­gra­tion and the con­cep­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion with­in the con­tem­po­rary post­colo­nial con­di­tion, it is crit­i­cal to under­stand how this “open­ness” and these “new mar­gins” are impli­cat­ed in the roles of migra­tion and the fig­ure of the “cit­i­zen.” Mez­zadra points out that rather than being “inte­grat­ed” into the new Europe-wide form of cit­i­zen­ship rights, an increas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are liv­ing with­in Europe as the objects of gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty but not as the par­tic­i­pants of “civ­il soci­ety.” Rather, they are being held in sta­sis, in an “inter­nal exclu­sion” (in Balibar’s terms), in a domain out­side civ­il soci­ety that is nev­er­the­less inter­nal to the social medi­a­tions of the bound­ed space simul­ta­ne­ous­ly func­tion­ing as an “inter­nal­iza­tion” and “tam­ing” or “domes­ti­ca­tion.” The gov­er­nance of the migrant does not aim at stop­ping or elim­i­nat­ing migra­tion itself, but rather at “domes­ti­cat­ing” it; in oth­er words, Bal­ibar claims that “the effect of this bor­der regime is to pro­duce a move­ment of selec­tive and dif­fer­en­tial inclu­sion of migrants.”31 This “selec­tive and dif­fer­en­tial inclu­sion” where­by move­ment itself, and the social com­po­si­tion of this move­ment, is includ­ed but not inte­grat­ed into the social polic­ing of the bor­der, is an essen­tial part of the func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean space (and we might say, increas­ing­ly an essen­tial part of the func­tion­ing of the nation-state and super­state orga­ni­za­tions as a whole today). In this sense, the ques­tion of the Euro­pean con­sti­tu­tion is noth­ing less than a crit­i­cal site where­in we can decom­pose the inher­it­ed and “giv­en” appear­ance of the con­cept of cit­i­zen­ship, or its “for­mal, insti­tu­tion­al def­i­n­i­tion,” and rethink it in terms of the cen­tral­i­ty and impor­tance for con­tem­po­rary gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty of the “social and polit­i­cal prac­tices” that chal­lenge this for­mal def­i­n­i­tion.

In this vein, I want to briefly focus on Mezzadra’s dis­cus­sion of the work of Nao­ki Sakai, because it is in this analy­sis that the cen­tral the­o­ret­i­cal physics of the prob­lem of post­colo­nial stud­ies can be most clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed. Here, the log­ic of cap­i­tal would be expand­ed in a crit­i­cal oscil­la­tion with the ques­tion of trans­la­tion, as a means of under­stand­ing more pro­found­ly the over­all dynam­ics behind the recal­i­bra­tion of social life implied by today’s con­di­tion of post­colo­nial­i­ty.32 This the­o­ret­i­cal artic­u­la­tion is not mere­ly devot­ed to the prob­lem of trans­la­tion as a “cul­tur­al” field, but also to it on a gen­er­al lev­el, as a term that express­es a cer­tain basic oper­a­tion of pow­er: how a coher­ence can be cycli­cal­ly forced into smooth­ness where it should be strict­ly impos­si­ble. Here Mez­zadra devel­ops Sakai’s insis­tent reminder that trans­la­tion is nev­er the sim­ple trans­po­si­tion of two dis­tinct, uni­tary fields, or the move­ment from one sub­stan­tial posi­tion to anoth­er. Instead, trans­la­tion must always be under­stood in a Fou­cauldian sense, that is, not as an encounter between two already exist­ing dis­crete enti­ties, but as a social act of artic­u­la­tion through which “two sides appear” in the first place, or more rig­or­ous­ly, as if in the first place. Although not itself direct­ly engaged with the Marx­i­an field of prob­lems as such, this analy­sis on a log­i­cal lev­el is deeply enmeshed with the ques­tion of capitalism’s ori­gin, func­tion­ing, and repro­duc­tion on a world scale.33

Cap­i­tal, the fun­da­men­tal social rela­tion of self-expand­ing val­ue, is expressed above all in its com­po­si­tion, the con­sti­tu­tive ele­ments out of which its pseu­do-total­i­ty can be iden­ti­fied. In this sense, the con­cept of “class com­po­si­tion,” as devel­oped in the ear­ly work of Negri and oth­ers, returns our atten­tion time and time again to the moment of trans­la­tion, the moment of the enclo­sure of the flux of life into “two sides,” the own­er of the form of labor-pow­er, and the own­er of the form of mon­ey. This moment there­fore shows how the orig­i­nary divi­sion is con­stant­ly or always-already return­ing in con­tem­po­rary capitalism’s reliance on the new modes of the bor­der: the com­po­si­tion of con­tem­po­rary liv­ing labor is criss­crossed at all times by this mul­ti­plic­i­ty of the modes of its cap­ture. Here, by empha­siz­ing the rela­tion between capital’s self-val­oriza­tion (Selb­stver­w­er­tung) and the ques­tion of trans­la­tion, we can per­ceive imme­di­ate­ly that trans­la­tion is an act through which for the first time a bor­der between one thing and anoth­er thing appears. Pri­or to the act of trans­la­tion, the bor­der can­not be drawn. Thus, it is not that trans­la­tion is a space that occurs after the dis­ag­gre­ga­tion of a con­tin­u­ous space into two zones. Rather, trans­la­tion names the act in which two zones appear for the first time. But the “mag­ic” of trans­la­tion as an ide­ol­o­gy, like the self-def­i­n­i­tion of cap­i­tal, is some­thing which cov­ers over its own con­tin­gent ori­gins. That is, although trans­la­tion occurs pri­or to the estab­lish­ment of two dis­tinct zones, its effects are rep­re­sent­ed as if they pre­ced­ed the act which pro­duced them. Thus, two dis­tinct zones are nat­u­ral­ized as if they exist­ed pri­or to trans­la­tion, when in fact they are traces of the act of trans­la­tion itself. Here we can imme­di­ate­ly see that the prob­lem­at­ic of trans­la­tion, which attempts to unbind the index­i­cal­i­ty of the schema of “the West and the Rest,” is always already relat­ed to the prob­lem­at­ic of tran­si­tion, in which the para­dox of the artic­u­la­tion of modes of pro­duc­tion is ana­lyzed on the lev­el of the log­ic and his­to­ry of cap­i­tal. This dual prob­lem is posed as fol­lows: “glob­al cap­i­tal­ism is char­ac­ter­ized by the fact that cap­i­tal as trans­la­tion is com­pelled to con­front the prob­lem of the estab­lish­ment of the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­la­tion at the very lev­el of its every­day oper­a­tion,” not only once, but con­stant­ly as if for the first time.34 Thus, because “the regime of trans­la­tion” or its rep­re­sen­ta­tion in effect cov­ers over or forces through an inter­ven­ing schema of “smooth­ness” that makes it appear as if it were the nat­ur­al result of an already-exist­ing sit­u­a­tion, the prob­lem of trans­la­tion and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion effec­tive­ly shows us an essen­tial ele­ment of how cap­i­tal func­tions: it is always recod­ing its own basis or extend­ing itself as if its own pro­duc­tions were already present, what Althuss­er for instance called “the becom­ing-nec­es­sary of con­tin­gency.”

The crit­i­cal dif­fer­en­tial that Sakai con­tin­u­ous­ly points out between trans­la­tion (a gen­er­al name for any social act of artic­u­la­tion in the space of dif­fer­ence) and the rep­re­sen­ta­tion or the “regime” of trans­la­tion (an act or set of acts of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion in which this con­tin­gent act is rep­re­sent­ed as a sta­ble exchange) can clear­ly be devel­oped with capital’s own cycli­cal ten­den­cy to jus­ti­fy itself on the basis of its own effects. labor-pow­er, along with land, are the two ele­ments of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion that can be cir­cu­lat­ed as com­modi­ties, but that can­not be orig­i­nal­ly pro­duced as com­modi­ties. Rather, they must be “encoun­tered” or “stum­bled upon” his­tor­i­cal­ly in order to func­tion log­i­cal­ly. Already this intro­duces a rup­ture or gap into capital’s own image of itself. Fur­ther, once cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion is estab­lished as a cir­cuit-process, cap­i­tal must con­tin­u­ous­ly uti­lize the form of the “rel­a­tive sur­plus pop­u­la­tion” to pre­tend or act as if labor-pow­er can be lim­it­less­ly sup­plied, in order to expand itself in the form of the busi­ness cycle. There­fore, labor-pow­er, the piv­ot or motor-force of capital’s expan­sion and repro­duc­tion, is strict­ly speak­ing absent, but is mobi­lized as a trace. Thus, cap­i­tal extends itself on cred­it by means of a log­i­cal wager with the lev­el of his­to­ry, a wager on the traces of the body of labor-pow­er, which can­not be said to have a sta­ble or sub­stan­tial exis­tence, but only a pres­ence as a sem­blance of itself. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, cap­i­tal func­tions pre­cise­ly because of this absence. In turn, this para­dox as it appears in the dual rela­tion of capital’s self-expan­sion and the prob­lem of trans­la­tion can allow us to rethink the dead-end of con­tem­po­rary “uni­ver­salisms” and “par­tic­u­larisms,” both the­o­ret­i­cal direc­tions that are being ren­dered impo­tent by the new social rela­tions, the post­colo­nial con­di­tion, emerg­ing in capital’s recal­i­bra­tion of its order.

Above all, the poten­tial of post­colo­nial stud­ies depends on a rethink­ing of the prob­lem of the “so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion” (ursprüngliche Akku­mu­la­tion or “orig­i­nary accu­mu­la­tion”) as the back­ground to the ques­tions of ori­gin, bor­der, mobil­i­ty, and his­tor­i­cal time: the vio­lence of the “polit­i­cal con­sti­tu­tion” of the labor-pow­er com­mod­i­ty and there­fore of the labor mar­ket. The process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion (which is not a peri­od, but a cycli­cal­ly repro­duced log­i­cal moment) describes the instal­la­tion of “real abstrac­tion” into his­to­ry, and the fact that this moment is repeat­ing every­day shows us the para­dox­i­cal nature of the his­tor­i­cal tem­po­ral­i­ty that char­ac­ter­izes cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. More than any­thing how­ev­er, if we know that at the core of this prob­lem is an even more basic one, the com­plex­i­ty of the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of labor-pow­er, Mez­zadra reminds us: “the prob­lem of the pro­duc­tion of the labor-pow­er com­mod­i­ty is a pro­duc­tion that affects bod­ies and alters souls, a pro­duc­tion that invests and inter­twines [stravolge] the ter­rain of life itself in an absolute­ly con­crete and deter­mi­nate man­ner.”35 His analy­sis is thus not pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with the ques­tion of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion sim­ply as the “pre­vi­ous con­cen­tra­tion of cap­i­tal” for the begin­ning of cap­i­tal­ist repro­duc­tion; rather Mez­zadra uti­lizes this moment to ana­lyze the vio­lent pro­duc­tion of the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, for the “encounter” between buy­ers and sell­ers of labor-pow­er. Yet, here we must also recall that post­colo­nial his­to­ri­og­ra­phy has repeat­ed­ly remind­ed us that the his­to­ry of “sub­al­tern” revolts against their own pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion, the strug­gles that con­di­tion the estab­lish­ment of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, have nev­er once been “idyl­lic,” but rather mark a dense vio­lence of revolts of the oppressed, and the “reck­less ter­ror­ism” (Marx) used to sup­press them. The move­ments of the sub­al­tern are there­fore fun­da­men­tal ele­ments of the process through which the pro­duc­tion of labor-pow­er as a com­mod­i­ty is deter­mined, rather than sim­ply polit­i­cal cor­re­lates to an aus­tere and one-sided process.36 Thus, part of the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal impor­tance of post­colo­nial stud­ies for our moment is pre­cise­ly to open and expose the ele­ment of “com­po­si­tion,” the active force and role played by the “sub­al­tern” in the advent of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, a process that is nev­er com­plete, but that is always being renewed and rede­ployed. The seem­ing dou­ble-bind con­tained in the vio­lence of the indi­rect “pro­duc­tion” of the labor-pow­er com­mod­i­ty, whose social-his­tor­i­cal ori­gins lie in Marx’s dis­cus­sion of the so-called “prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion,” might appear to dis­able any con­cep­tion of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion, to be a closed cir­cle, but we could also say that the glob­al post­colo­nial con­di­tion today shows us pre­cise­ly the oppo­site. In this cycli­cal era­sure of vio­lence by means of vio­lence in the prob­lem of the ori­gin, “the con­cept of ‘deter­mined social for­ma­tion’ has become the con­cept of ‘class com­po­si­tion’: it restores, in oth­er words, the dynamism of the subject’s action, of the will that struc­tures or destroys the rela­tions of neces­si­ty.”37 What Negri reminds us here is not that the process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion inverse­ly “restores” some notion of the sub­ject as a giv­en, as a firm sub­stra­tum or sub­stance, but rather the oppo­site. The process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, and its para­dox­i­cal posi­tion with­in the log­i­cal core of cap­i­tal, “restores” for us the “dynamism” of con­tin­gency that remains at the basis of all attempts to con­ceive of the sub­ject as a giv­en, as a pre­ex­ist­ing ele­ment. Because prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion indi­cates not the advent of a ful­ly-formed cap­i­tal­ist cycle, but rather the con­tin­gent and haz­ardous field of chance in which the pri­mal com­po­si­tion­al ele­ments of the cap­i­tal-rela­tion are gath­ered and arranged, it also indi­cates the pri­mor­dial process by which the sub­ject is imposed onto the indi­vid­ual body, as well as the process by which this form of the sub­ject is uti­lized as a lever to force the emer­gence of process­es of indi­vid­u­a­tion nec­es­sary for capital’s “laws of motion.”

In oth­er words, para­dox­i­cal­ly it is the fact that our fore­clo­sure into the social field has tak­en place that opens the pos­si­bil­i­ties of pol­i­tics. Here is exact­ly the polit­i­cal poten­tial­i­ty that we see at work in post­colo­nial stud­ies’ poten­tial to rethink and rean­a­lyze the raw under­cur­rent of vio­lence that sus­tains the social order and its tor­sion­al expo­sure of the excess of force that is nev­er quite cov­ered over by capital’s recod­ing of itself. That is, a new polit­i­cal­i­ty for post­colo­nial stud­ies comes from the over­lap­ping of the­o­ry and his­to­ry or trans­la­tion and tran­si­tion.

In par­tic­u­lar, Mezzadra’s empha­sis on the spe­cif­ic prob­lem of labor-pow­er as a com­mod­i­ty allows us to recon­cep­tu­al­ize the “his­tor­i­cal and moral” fac­tors that under­pin the cycli­cal repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety: the epis­temic order­ing of the world through the form of the bor­der, the insti­tu­tion of nation­al lan­guage, the inti­ma­cy between the new nation­alisms, new racisms, and regimes of cit­i­zen­ship. All these moments can be rich­ly the­o­ret­i­cal­ly ana­lyzed as part and par­cel of the main­te­nance and sup­ply of labor-pow­er that can be com­mod­i­fied through the spe­cif­ic form of pop­u­la­tion. There­fore, Mezzadra’s dis­cus­sion is both one that returns post­colo­nial stud­ies to the ques­tion of the emer­gence of the cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­ty econ­o­my, and at the same time, one that returns Marx­ist the­o­ry to the crit­i­cal con­cerns posed by the for­ma­tion of the nation-state as a mode of belong­ing, and it is this the­o­ret­i­cal mod­el that holds pos­si­bil­i­ties not only for thought, but for our own polit­i­cal poten­tial. But we might also say that this for­mu­la­tion points to a new the­o­ret­i­cal begin­ning for post­colo­nial stud­ies: one in which the ques­tions of “uneven devel­op­ment,” “unequal exchange,” and so forth, which char­ac­ter­ized the ear­ly polit­i­cal­i­ty of post­colo­nial stud­ies, are dis­placed (but not denied) in favor of a return to the “con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion” of the post­colo­nial order of the world itself. In oth­er words, such a new point of depar­ture can allow us to ana­lyze a world in which the forms of dif­fer­ence that com­pose it are increas­ing­ly becom­ing direct fac­tors of pro­duc­tion, direct­ly polit­i­cal in and of them­selves. Thus we see that “colony” means some­thing much broad­er here than the empir­i­cal expe­ri­ence of colo­nial­ism. It means the enclo­sure of ter­ri­to­ri­al­i­ty that the state requires in order to give to itself an image of “the peo­ple” or “the nation,” so that it can dis­cov­er its own legit­i­ma­cy, so that it can assuage its own doubts about itself. In this sense the expe­ri­ence of colo­nial­i­ty is itself locat­ed in the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal trace of the bor­der, the orig­i­nary ges­ture of bor­der­ing, in which mod­ern life is always-already enclosed.

The con­tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non of the simul­ta­ne­ous over­com­ing and mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of bor­ders is not under­stand­able with­out recourse to the inter­change or inter­course between the state and all its forms (its need for an image of the “nation” or “eth­nos” to ground itself, its insin­u­a­tion from this dri­ve for the “nation” into the polic­ing tech­niques of the nation­al lan­guage, its expan­sion into super­state forms of being, its capac­i­ty to dis­lo­cate and refound itself) and capital’s cease­less enclo­sure of the earth. The orig­i­nal bor­der that holds back (and yet enables) capital’s dynamism is pre­cise­ly the bor­der between cap­i­tal itself and the labor-pow­er that it requires yet can­not pro­duce. This bor­der per­me­ates and tor­sion­al­ly spreads through­out the oth­er bor­der­ing forms that emerge in the his­tor­i­cal world, under­pin­ning them and refer­ring them back to capital’s “out­side.” Post­colo­nial stud­ies, after the “implo­sion” of post­colo­nial­ism, remains cru­cial in its polit­i­cal grasp of this “para­dox­i­cal” out­side – an out­side that is nev­er a pure exte­ri­or (because its “bor­ders” are drawn in the inte­ri­or of capital’s motion as a pure cir­cuit) but that is an under­cur­rent of poten­tial always present in social life. As Marx’s work so fre­quent­ly reminds us, the dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of all social exis­tence under cap­i­tal is that social exchange must always take place as the exchange of things, that all social acts must be medi­at­ed by the com­mod­i­ty form. It is pre­cise­ly on this point that a new polit­i­cal­i­ty for post­colo­nial stud­ies opens – the need to con­stant­ly ana­lyze the con­tem­po­rary post­colo­nial con­di­tion of the world in a par­al­lax with capital’s own move­ment, which can nev­er be divorced from the acts of bor­der­ing that take place under its aegis. In this sense, the polit­i­cal­i­ty of the post­colo­nial con­di­tion of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism as a prob­lem “helps us to ques­tion any sim­ple notion of the ‘We’ we refer to in our polit­i­cal prac­tices. But at the same time it leads us to inten­si­fy the search for a new ground of com­mon­al­i­ty.”38 This com­mon­al­i­ty, or com­mons, is some­thing that can nev­er be “dis­cov­ered” as a sub­stan­tial and ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized “we” or “them” – rather, only inso­far as we always attempt to under­mine the inher­it­ed vio­lence of agglom­er­a­tion that is cov­ered over by this “we” or “them” can we imag­ine a new com­mon­al­i­ty beyond the form of iden­ti­ty.

This dou­ble struc­ture reminds us that it is not enough to sim­ply cri­tique insti­tu­tion­al­ized post­colo­nial­ism for its “bur­den of par­tic­u­lar­ism” – it is also nec­es­sary to defend the poten­tial­i­ty of post­colo­nial stud­ies against the direct accu­sa­tion that it is sole­ly reducible to the “weak thought” of so-called “iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics.” In order to think at the lim­it of this poten­tial­i­ty, we must above all refuse the false choice that is posed between the cul­tur­al­ism of iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics and the rejec­tion of these same pol­i­tics for being insuf­fi­cient­ly “polit­i­cal.” In fact, this schema of two posi­tions (on the one side, the sub­stan­tial­ist fan­tasies of par­tic­u­lar­ism and on the oth­er, a rein­vig­o­rat­ed and nar­cis­sis­tic Euro­cen­trism of uni­ver­sal­i­ty) itself is what post­colo­nial stud­ies, and par­tic­u­lar­ly a new post­colo­nial his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, expos­es as fun­da­men­tal to the very struc­ture of colo­nial moder­ni­ty itself – I think here of the orig­i­nal­i­ty of the work of Achille Mbe­m­be, Ann Lau­ra Stol­er, and oth­ers who refuse the enclo­sure into the schema of “anthro­po­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence” posed by this ide­ol­o­gy of “two sides.”39 The post­colo­nial is a con­di­tion of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism that ren­ders this ten­den­cy towards a sim­plis­tic split between the uni­ver­sal and the par­tic­u­lar large­ly inco­her­ent as an orga­niz­ing mech­a­nism for glob­al social rela­tions: on the one hand it expos­es our con­cep­tion of world as an agglom­er­a­tion of giv­en nation­al enti­ties with sup­posed roots in antiq­ui­ty to its log­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty; on the oth­er, the colo­nial sit­u­a­tion shows us the dis­cov­ery of the world as a world, as log­i­cal­ly pri­or to the form of the nation. Yet, as a gen­er­al rule, we have very few exam­ples of what a “world his­to­ry” would actu­al­ly look like, despite the fact that we have long had the con­cept “world his­to­ry” or Welt­geschichte. In this sense, Marx is one of the few fig­ures whose work pre­sumes the exis­tence of “world” as a world, and not as an agglom­er­a­tion of nations. He begins his his­tor­i­cal analy­ses from what he called “the eco­nom­i­cal­ly giv­en social peri­od” (ökonomisch gegeb­nen Gesellschaftspe­ri­ode)40 and not from the pre­sump­tion of the nation’s con­ti­nu­ity or sub­stance.41

The poten­tial for post­colo­nial stud­ies to be a site of mil­i­tant inves­ti­ga­tions will depend on its capac­i­ty to recal­i­brate itself through a broad swath of the­o­ret­i­cal moments – new his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal stud­ies of impe­ri­al­ism, colo­nial­ism, and the for­ma­tion of the “inter­na­tion­al world,” the crit­i­cal study of the ide­ol­o­gy of nation­al lan­guage and the­o­ry of the regime of trans­la­tion, new rad­i­cal legal analy­ses of cit­i­zen­ship and migra­tion, and a rein­vig­o­rat­ed polit­i­cal read­ing of Marx – in order to clar­i­fy the emerg­ing “con­di­tions” we face today. It is this space, point­ed to by Mez­zadra among oth­ers, that gives us an impe­tus and con­crete direc­tion for a new politi­ciza­tion of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy beyond the dead-end of the cul­tur­al­ist inco­her­ence with­in which so much of con­tem­po­rary cul­tur­al stud­ies, media stud­ies, and lit­er­ary stud­ies is embed­ded (one might ask where our equiv­a­lent of Stu­art Hall is today42 ), and which can no longer jus­ti­fy its image of the world. This new expres­sion of the rich poten­tial of post­colo­nial stud­ies as a mil­i­tant and direct­ly polit­i­cal field of the­o­ry is a task: nei­ther the fan­ta­sy of the full plen­i­tude of eth­nic sub­stan­tial­i­ty, nor the safe nar­ra­tive of some undis­cov­ered “cul­tur­al” con­tent that leads us to a place of com­fort, but “noth­ing less than the task of cre­at­ing a form or sym­bol­iza­tion of the world… a strug­gle of the West against itself, of cap­i­tal against itself.”43 Pre­cise­ly because the pyra­mi­dal struc­ture of knowl­edge cen­tered on the pin­na­cle of “the­o­ret­i­cal man” is the ulti­mate incar­na­tion of this absent object called “the West,” and the fig­ure of the sta­t­ic and frozen archae­o­log­i­cal or cul­tur­al trea­sure is the incar­nat­ed form of “the Rest,” we can exploit this fig­u­ra­tion by a the­o­ret­i­cal resis­tance to the schemat­ic of “the­o­ry and data” itself. With­out this coor­di­nate, there is no need for the sup­pos­ed­ly “explana­to­ry” mech­a­nism of “the West and the Rest” – thus to employ puta­tive “data” as the­o­ry, to treat the­o­ry as an archae­o­log­i­cal object or curio in a con­stant dis­lo­ca­tion would be one step towards a broad­er task: not the provin­cial­iz­ing of Europe, but the provin­cial­iz­ing of “the West” as a schemat­ic, that is, a new and fluc­tu­at­ing dia­gram on the Earth’s sur­face, a remap­ping of the pri­ma­cy of social rela­tions in an impro­vised ter­ri­to­ri­al­i­ty that does not obey the cap­i­tal­ist axiomat­ics con­tained in the form of the nation­al bor­der.


  1. Gay­a­tri Chakra­vorty Spi­vak, A Cri­tique of Post­colo­nial Rea­son (Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999), 191. All trans­la­tions from lan­guages oth­er than Eng­lish are mine unless oth­er­wise indi­cat­ed. An ear­li­er ver­sion of part of this text was pub­lished in Japan­ese as “Gendai shi­hon­shu­gi ni okeru ‘min­zoku mondai’ no kai­ki: Posu­toko­ro­niaru kenkyū no aratana sei­jite­ki dōkō” [The Return of the Nation­al Ques­tion in Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism: New Polit­i­cal Direc­tions in Post­colo­nial Stud­ies] in Shisō, no. 1059, July 2012 (Tokyo: Iwana­mi Shoten), 122–47. Thanks to Sandeep Baner­jee, Asad Haider, and Rachel Sandwell for help­ful com­ments on this ver­sion. 

  2. San­dro Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale: Sto­ria e polit­i­ca nel pre­sente glob­ale (Verona: ombre corte, 2008), 18. 

  3. Fredric Jame­son, “Peri­odiz­ing the 60s,” Social Text, no. 9/10 (Spring–Summer 1984): 178–209, 207. 

  4. Vivek Chib­ber, Post­colo­nial The­o­ry and the Spec­tre of Cap­i­tal (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2014). 

  5. See Jacques Der­ri­da, “Sig­na­ture Event Con­text” in Mar­gins of Phi­los­o­phy, trans. Alan Bass (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1982). 

  6. Karl Marx, Eco­nom­ic Man­u­script of 1861–63, in Marx-Engels Col­lect­ed Works, trans. Ben Fowkes, vol. 34 (New York: Inter­na­tion­al Pub­lish­ers, 1994), 247. 

  7. Karl Marx, “Mar­gin­al Notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehrbuch der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie” in Marx-Engels Col­lect­ed Works, trans. Bar­rie Sel­man, vol. 24 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1989), 547, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied; “Rand­glossen zu Adolph Wag­n­ers Lehrbuch der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie” in Marx-Engels Werke, bd. 19 (Berlin: Dietz, 1962), 371. 

  8. See Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, bd. 2 in Marx-Engels Werke, bd. 24 (Berlin: Dietz, 1973), 109; Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 2, in Marx-Engels Col­lect­ed Works, vol. 36 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1997), 110. 

  9. Kevin B. Ander­son, Marx at the Mar­gins: On Nation­al­ism, Eth­nic­i­ty, and Non-West­ern Soci­eties (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2010). In this sense, Anderson’s text sim­ply repeats the points made by Teodor Shanin in the 1970s and ‘80s, albeit with ref­er­ence to broad­er mate­ri­als. See Late Marx and the Russ­ian Road: Marx and “The Periph­eries of Cap­i­tal­ism” (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 1983). 

  10. Susan Buck-Morss’ impor­tant Hegel, Haiti and Uni­ver­sal His­to­ry (Pitts­burgh: Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh Press, 2009) reminds us of the deci­sive influ­ence of the con­crete his­tor­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions in the Hait­ian sce­nario not only on Hegel’s his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing, but on his the­o­ret­i­cal work itself. 

  11. Dipesh Chakrabar­ty, Provin­cial­iz­ing Europe: Post­colo­nial Thought and His­tor­i­cal Dif­fer­ence (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2000), 62–63. 

  12. Ibid., 64. 

  13. With­out ques­tion, the most exten­sive devel­op­ment of Marx on this prob­lem is that of Uno Kōzō. On Uno’s work, see in par­tic­u­lar Gavin Walk­er, The Sub­lime Per­ver­sion of Cap­i­tal: Marx­ist The­o­ry and the Pol­i­tics of His­to­ry in Mod­ern Japan (Durham & Lon­don: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016), esp. chap­ters 4 and 5. 

  14. Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, bd. 1, in Marx-Engels Werke, bd. 23 (Berlin: Dietz, 1972), 619; Cap­i­tal, vol. 1, in Marx-Engels Col­lect­ed Works, vol. 35 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1996), 589. 

  15. San­ti­a­go Cas­tro-Gómez, “Cien­cias sociales, vio­len­cia epistémi­ca y el prob­le­ma de la ‘inven­ción del otro’” in Mod­ernidades colo­niales: otros pasa­dos, his­to­rias pre­sentes, ed. Saurabh Dube, Ishi­ta Baner­jee Dube, and Wal­ter Migno­lo (Méx­i­co: El Cole­gio de Méx­i­co, 2004), 296. 

  16. See Marx, Grun­drisse der Kri­tik der poli­tis­chen Ökonomie in Marx-Engels Werke, bd. 42 (Berlin: Dietz, 1983), 365; Marx, Eco­nom­ic Man­u­scripts of 1857–1858 [Grun­drisse], in Marx-Engels Col­lect­ed Works, trans. Vic­tor Schnit­tke, vol. 29 (Moscow: Progress Pub­lish­ers, 1987), 378–79. 

  17. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guat­tari, Mille plateaux (Paris: Minu­it, 1980), 558; in Eng­lish see A Thou­sand Plateaus: Cap­i­tal­ism and Schiz­o­phre­nia, trans. Bri­an Mas­su­mi (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 1987), 456. 

  18. San­dro Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale: Sto­ria e polit­i­ca nel pre­sente glob­ale (Verona: ombre corte, 2008). For a dis­cus­sion of Mezzadra’s work in Eng­lish, see Gavin Walk­er, “Post­colo­nial­i­ty in Trans­la­tion: His­toric­i­ties of the Present,” in Post­colo­nial Stud­ies 14, no. 1 (Feb­ru­ary 2011): 111–26. Mez­zadra has also edit­ed an impor­tant vol­ume of analy­ses of the cur­rent moment of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment: see Andrea Fuma­gal­li and San­dro Mez­zadra, eds., Cri­sis in the Glob­al Econ­o­my: Finan­cial Mar­kets, Social Strug­gles, and New Polit­i­cal Sce­nar­ios (New York: Semiotext(e), 2010). 

  19. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 24. 

  20. See in par­tic­u­lar on this point, Žižek’s “Polit­i­cal Sub­jec­ti­va­tion and its Vicis­si­tudes” in The Tick­lish Sub­ject: The Absent Cen­tre of Polit­i­cal Ontol­ogy (Lon­don & New York: Ver­so, 2000), 171–244. 

  21. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 35. 

  22. See among many impor­tant texts, his “Vio­lence and Civil­i­ty: On the Lim­its of Polit­i­cal Anthro­pol­o­gy” in dif­fer­ences 20, no. 2/3 (Decem­ber 2009): 9–35. 

  23. Ibid., 43. 

  24. Carl Schmitt, Der Nomos der Erde im Völk­er­recht des Jus Pub­licum Europaeum (Berlin: Dunck­er & Hum­blot, 1974); The Nomos of the Earth in the Inter­na­tion­al Law of the Jus Pub­licum Europaeum, trans. G.L. Ulmen (New York: Telos Press, 2003). On the rela­tion between Schmitt’s dis­cus­sion in The Nomos of the Earth and the for­ma­tion of sys­tem­at­ic dif­fer­ence in the advent of cap­i­tal­ism, see Gavin Walk­er, “Prim­i­tive Accu­mu­la­tion and the For­ma­tion of Dif­fer­ence: On Marx and Schmitt,” in Rethink­ing Marx­ism 23, no. 3 (June 2011): 384–404. 

  25. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 53–54. 

  26. Ibid., 62–64. 

  27. Ibid., 65. This point also ref­er­ences Fed­eri­co Rahola’s Zone defin­i­ti­va­mente tem­po­ra­nee: I luoghi dell’umanità in ecces­so (Verona: ombre corte, 2003). 

  28. Here see Éti­enne Bal­ibar, Nous, citoyens d’Europe?: Les Fron­tières, l’Etat, le peu­ple (Paris: La Décou­verte, 2001); in Eng­lish see We, the Peo­ple of Europe? Reflec­tions on Transna­tion­al Cit­i­zen­ship, trans. James Swen­son (Prince­ton, N.J.: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010. 

  29. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 85. 

  30. See Balibar’s now-clas­sic essay “Cit­i­zen Sub­ject” in Who Comes After the Sub­ject? eds. Eduar­do Cada­va, Peter Con­nor, and Jean-Luc Nan­cy (New York: Rout­ledge, 1991). 

  31. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 86. 

  32. Mezzadra’s essay “Liv­ing in Tran­si­tion,” ded­i­cat­ed to an impor­tant polit­i­cal read­ing of Nao­ki Sakai’s work, can be con­sult­ed in The Pol­i­tics of Cul­ture: Around the Work of Nao­ki Sakai, eds. Richard F. Calich­man and John Namjun Kim (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2010). This essay also appears as chap­ter six (“Vivere in tran­sizione”) of La con­dizione post­colo­niale

  33. Here we could men­tion Sakai’s extra­or­di­nary Voic­es of the Past (Itha­ca: Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1991), which under­takes a com­plete archae­o­log­i­cal analy­sis of the pro­duc­tion of the sen­ti­ment of nation­al­i­ty, and there­fore is a doc­u­ment that traces the cap­ture of a flux of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion into an order of mean­ing that we are still liv­ing through. Although I do not have space here to under­take this argu­ment exten­sive­ly, the cross-read­ing of Voic­es of the Past with the analy­sis of the prob­lem of “begin­ning” (Anfang) in the work of Marx would reveal, I believe, a “secret” or “under­ground” read­ing of capitalism’s orig­i­nary cir­cuit of entry into the his­tor­i­cal world in this text. 

  34. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 113. 

  35. Ibid., 132. 

  36. Ibid., 138. 

  37. Anto­nio Negri, Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grun­drisse, trans. Har­ry Cleaver et al. (Lon­don: Plu­to, 1991), 111. 

  38. Mez­zadra, La con­dizione post­colo­niale, 126. 

  39. On this point, see two essays, both absolute­ly essen­tial for an under­stand­ing of this ques­tion – Achille Mbe­m­be, “Provin­cial­iz­ing France?” and Ann Lau­ra Stol­er, “Colo­nial Apha­sia” in Racial France, a spe­cial issue of Pub­lic Cul­ture 23, no. 1 (Win­ter 2011). 

  40. Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, bd. 1, 371; Cap­i­tal, vol. 1, 547. 

  41. On the “defec­tive cir­cle” of capital’s log­ic, the extra­or­di­nary work of Yuta­ka Naga­hara must be men­tioned, in par­tic­u­lar his two recent major books, War­era kashi aru mono­tachi: Han-‘Shihon’-ron no tame ni [We, the Defec­tive Com­modi­ties: For an Ana­lyt­ics of Anti-‘Capital’-ism] (Tokyo: Sei­dosha, 2008) and Yasagure-tachi no gaitō: Kashi son­zai no sei­ji-keizaigaku hihan joset­su [The Rab­ble on the Streets: Intro­duc­tion to a Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Defec­tive Exis­tence] (Tokyo: Kōshisha, 2015). Nagahara’s unclas­si­fi­able inter­ven­tion into Marx­i­an polit­i­cal econ­o­my is per­haps the only true attempt, on a glob­al scale, to re-read the eco­nom­ic con­tent of Marx­ist the­o­ry by means of an inten­sive read­ing of post­war crit­i­cal the­o­ry, espe­cial­ly through the work of Der­ri­da, Deleuze and Guat­tari, and many more thinkers. It is an under­state­ment to empha­size here that Nagahara’s excep­tion­al body of work over the last twen­ty years ought to be much more wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed in west­ern Euro­pean lan­guages. 

  42. The recent repub­li­ca­tion of much of Stu­art Hall’s cru­cial work shows the regres­sive space that the project of cul­tur­al stud­ies has large­ly fall­en into today, sus­pend­ed between pos­i­tivist archival trans­for­ma­tions of more and more obscure infra­struc­tur­al exam­i­na­tions, and increas­ing­ly friv­o­lous, total­ly depoliti­cized accom­mo­da­tions to mid­dle-class cul­tur­al and aes­thet­ic pref­er­ences. The main antag­o­nism under­ly­ing all of Hall’s work – how to join an anti-cap­i­tal­ist pol­i­tics to an anti-racist pol­i­tics in the post­colo­nial con­di­tion – remains one of our cen­tral tasks, and we might prof­itably today rethink Hall’s devel­op­ment of the con­cept of the “artic­u­la­tion” between these moments, in our own con­junc­tur­al terms. For a bril­liant recount­ing of his project as a whole, see Stu­art Hall, Cul­tur­al Stud­ies 1983 (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016). 

  43. Jean-Luc Nan­cy, The Cre­ation of the World, or, Glob­al­iza­tion, trans. François Raf­foul and David Pet­ti­grew (Albany: SUNY Press, 2006), 53. 

Author of the article

is Associate Professor of History at McGill University, the author of The Sublime Perversion of Capital (Duke University Press, 2016), and a member of the editorial collective of positions: asia critique. His work concerns the interrelations of capitalism, the national question, globalization, and the postcolonial at the crossroads of Marxism, critical theory, history, and literature. He is the editor and translator of Kōjin Karatani’s Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility and the editor of The Japanese ’68: Theory, History, Politics (both forthcoming from Verso). Walker is currently finishing his second book, Topologies of the Dialectic: Cultural Forms and the Allegories of History. Together with Ken Kawashima, he is working on a new theoretical project, Surplus alongside Excess.