chapter  7
13 Pages

Fellow Travellers and Homeless Souls: Said’s Critical Marxism

WithROSS ABBINNETT

The encounter between Marx and Said which occurs in part two of Orientalism is, it seems to me, crucial to understanding the latter’s relationship to the dialectical strictures of revolutionary politics, scientifi c socialism and historical necessity. Famously, Said used a quote from Marx’s pamphlet ‘The Future Results of British Rule in India’ to introduce his book: ‘They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented’. The choice of Marx as an exemplary Orientalist is certainly not accidental: for if the greatest Western exponent of human emancipation could not help reverting to mythologies of ‘Oriental despotism’ when it came to determining the role of India in the coming revolution, then surely this ought to give rise to suspicion about the universality of his categories.1 Might it not be the case, in other words, that the hegemonic organization of race and culture functioned as a guiding presupposition of historical materialism, and that Marx’s method is no more than the reiteration of a Eurocentric vision of Enlightenment? This is certainly part of Said’s contention; for he argues that Marx, despite his inherent ‘sympathy for the misery of people’, perpetuates a messianic vision history in which the reality of colonial intervention (expropriation of property and resources, de facto perpetuation of slavery, destruction of cultural identities) is treated as a precursor to the decisive intervention of the Western proletariat. Thus the impossibility of self-representation is inscribed at the core of Marx’s analysis of Oriental civilization, and functions to erase the difference of its culture from his concept of universal humanity.