Ideology, Anti-Colonialism and Marxism

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No 1341, Himani Bannerji interviewed by Mahdi Ganjavi, Dec 15, 2016.

Mahdi Ganjavi (MG): You are among the philosophers and social critics who have written extensively on the concept of ideology. In your article “Ideology”,[1] by means of a close reading of Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology, you argue that while all ideology is a form of thought, not all forms of thought are ideological. You assert that any “true” social inquiry should start from the concrete reality of people’s lives and their society, i.e. life activities of conscious socio-historical subjects as they produce and reproduce themselves. Furthermore, you argue against the assertion that knowledge can be “objective” or “autonomous.” Similar to Dorothy Smith in her piece “Reinterpretation of Marx’s Epistemology,”[2] you maintain that any knowledge is by nature a situated one.
How an argument in favour of situated knowledge can distance itself from necessarily resulting in spatializing epistemologies? Theoretically speaking, can we think of any true social inquiry that has not situated itself in terms of the class struggle?

  • Himani Bannerji (HB): I should begin by saying that I am not a philosopher, but a historical materialist sociologist who is interested in actual social organizations, their forms of relations, and modes of inquiry into them. Unlike philosophers, I do not offer universal metaphysical speculations between subject and object – the nature of Reality and the nature of universal categories, such as that of ‘absolute being’, ‘man’, ‘nature’ and so on … //


… MG: Tagore is famous for his arguments against the pitfalls of nationalism. You too, in “Cultural Nationalism and Woman as the Subject of the Nation”[14] support a non-nationalist feminist liberation, which is simultaneously anti-capitalist, anti-feudal as well as anti-imperialist. The same line of argument can be seen in your critique of subaltern studies in “Pygmalion nation.”[15] Can you elaborate on such a project of liberation? In what sense can Tagore assist us in developing our understanding of a non-nationalist anti-colonial/imperial struggle?

  • HB: Taking your cue from Frantz Fanon’s statement regarding “the pitfalls of nationalism” (The Wretched of the Earth),[16] you seem to be asking me to suggest how Tagore may be useful for putting forward a project of not only a non-nationalist but an anti-nationalist form of decolonization. Before I proceed to directly comment upon Tagore, I would like to pause on the topic of the relationship between social movements and class struggle. In responding to the previous question I indicated Gandhi’s idea of using popular political consciousness and integrating it with an anti-colonial struggle, and Gramsci’s idea of war of position to be moved to the notion of war of manoeuvre led by a communist party (“The Modern Prince”), quite different from that of Gandhi. We need to move on to a way of bringing class struggle and social movements together. This is a proposal which is more in keeping with Gramsci’s political direction than with Gandhi’s. Within Gramsci’s theoretical framework speculated upon during his prison years we can find a far more complex and nuanced version of communism/socialism which would create the kind of national liberation whose emergence I would like to see. Such a communism would match social and economic transformation with a polity and a state based on a participatory as opposed to a bourgeois democracy. This would allow us to move away from a reactive type of politics which simply reverses the terms of power, and changes the ruling classes from foreign to native. A real decolonization needs a concrete notion of the social, which cannot be taken up piecemeal and only changed partially. Thus social relations and ideologies of patriarchy, caste and racialization must be seen as integral to class relations and state formation. Lenin, for example, raised questions regarding such a necessity in State and Revolution when he prompted us to ask whether a wholly new state formation is necessary for creating a communist society, polity and economy. This question has not yet been answered, especially in practice, anywhere yet. Brief glimpses of a truly popular participatory democracy have been sighted in the interstices of political formation, such as very briefly in the organization of the Paris Commune, in the earliest phases of the Bolshevik and Cuban Revolutions, for a brief period in liberated Nicaragua and the abruptly truncated socialist programme of Hugo Chaves’s Bolivarianism. One might see in these moments the possibilities and concrete practices of what we could call truly communism – they are all elaborated upon a deep faith in and an actual exposition of human capacities.
  • It is here that Tagore’s contribution should be appreciated, both in revealing deformations and dangers of societies saturated with violence, greed, military and capitalist industrial complexes, and in moving toward the notion of universal humanism which is socially and historically grounded. Here the idea of the ‘human’, a core of oneness, loses its trans-historical status and becomes a socially experienced, sensuous, practical human activity which Marx talked about. In asserting creativity, beauty and mutual human compassion Tagore offers us a worldview wholly compatible with a communist project.

MG: De-linking the questions of race, gender and ethnicity from the question of capitalism, most contemporary social movements are detached from anti-capitalist movements and also from each other, not only in terms of historical analysis, but also structure, political aspirations, and methods of resistance. How can an emancipatory theory emerge in contemporary world, which results in the structural incorporation of these movements?

  • HB: This question is largely answered by what I have said so far. What I would stress is the need for a convergence of all social movements against oppression, with a clear view of forming a socio-political reality which preserves the ideal of participatory democracy. Though my ideas are widely shared, I have not seen a stable form of such a convergence, which would not erase the specificity of particular experiences of oppression and yet be able to create a politics in which the political and the social would be seen as interconstituting each other.

MG: Would you elaborate on your contribution on a critique of intersectionality? In your view, how do class, race and gender constitute each other under the condition of capitalist imperialism? … //

… (full interview text, endnotes).

Related Links:

  • Himani Bannerji (born 1942) is a Bengali–Canadian writer, sociologist, and philosopher from Kolkata, West Bengal, India. She teaches in the Department of Sociology, the Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought, and the Graduate Programme in Women’s Studies at York University, Canada …; /External Links;
  • Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment …; /See also; /External Links;
  • Mahdi Ganjavi on Google Web-search.

Other Links:

Evacuation of 5,000 militants with families from E. Aleppo under way – Russian General Staff, on RT, Dec 15, 2016;

Video – Global Capitalism, Monthly Economic Update [DECEMBER 2016]: Trump’s Plans for Jobs, Taxes, Trade, 91.40 min, uploaded by Democracy At Work, Dec 14, 2016;

Illegal wars, how Nato countries undermine UN – a chronicle by Daniele Ganser, on Current Cncerns, by Johannes Irsiegler, Dec 13, 2016;

#FAKE NEWS – Pilotsendung, 103.42 min, von Kulturstudio am 8. Dez 2016 … Lügen, Zensur & Propagnada stehen in diesem Format im Vordergrund. Wir schauen uns Dinge an die als #FAKENEWS gebrandmarkt werden und Wahrheiten die #FAKENEWS (geworden) sind;

Audio – Economic Update: Economics of Women Voting Trump, 55.04 min, uploaded by Democracy At Work, Dec 8, 2016;

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