Research in Literature and Critical Theory (Post-1800)

L764 — Fall 2020

Purnima Bose
Days and Times
4:00p - 7:00p M (4 CR)
Course Description

*Authorization Required* English department graduate students and minors please email All other students please contact the instructor first for permission.

TOPIC: Marxism and Post-Colonialism

*Meets with I500 and C701

The central preoccupation of Karl Marx’s writings, and those of his colleague Friedrich Engels, was to elaborate the ways in which the complex history of capitalism produces the necessary preconditions for the emergence of socialism. In addition to developing a methodology for analyzing historical and social relations, i.e., historical materialism, Marx sought to understand the stultifying effects of capitalism on human subjectivity. His powerful theorization of capitalist modes-of-production, the creation of value, and capitalism’s insatiable appetite for growth also crucially considered the psychic investments we make in commodities and the money form, as well as the different types of alienation that inhere in capitalist social relations.


Unlike their analyses of capitalism, Marx’s and Engel’s writings on imperialism were not systematic and were concentrated in articles that they published in the New York Daily Tribune from 1852-1963. Covering topics such as Ireland, the 1853 East India Company Charter Act, the “Eastern Question” in relation to the Crimean War, the 1856 Anglo Persian War, the 1857 Indian Mutiny, and the 1857-1858 Spanish invasion of Morocco, these articles were informed by a European universalism that made frequent references to “Oriental despotism” and posited the destruction of Asiatic modes-of-production as an important aspect of the realization of human emancipation.


Notwithstanding Marx’s and Engel’s simplistic analysis of imperialism--perhaps because of its humanism--Marxism has proven inspirational and seminal in national liberation struggles in the Third World. The utopian aspirations of Marxism have their productive iterations in writings by intellectuals and practitioners involved in the anti-colonial struggle, who have taken up questions such as the efficacy of violence, the function of culture in creating nationalist consciousness, the identity of the revolutionary agent, the role of the peasantry, the relationship between communist parties and bourgeois independence movements, and the challenge of responding to the simultaneous presence of different modes-of-production in the colonies, among other issues.


In this course, I hope to make students conversant with Marxist concepts and their importance for generating debates and practices in anti-colonial struggles. My approach to Marxism is threefold: as an ethical commitment, as a body of theoretical tools, and as an historical practice in national liberation struggles. To this end, we will spend the first third of the course studying Marx’s writings before turning to engagements with Marx, mainly emanating from contexts outside of Europe. We will begin by perusing Robert C. Tucker’s The Marx-Engels Reader and V.G. Kiernan’s Imperialism and its Contradictions before turning to other readings by Eqbal Ahmad, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Frantz Fanon, Ranajit Guha, David Harvey, Mahmood Mamdani, José Carlos Mariátegui, Gayle Rubin, Joe Slovo, and Gayatri Chravorty Spivak among others. The final section of the course will consider questions of US imperialism in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Interested in this course?

The full details of this course are available on the Office of the Registrar website.

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