From: Peter Limb <>
Message-ID: <>
Subject: Marx and Africa
To: (carolyn aflabor)
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 1995 14:35:43 +0800 (WST)

Marx and Africa

By Peter Limb, 27 June 1995

An interesting contribution to the ongoing debate about whether or not Karl Marx/Engels were ethnocentric/Eurocentric is the communication by Thomas Meisenhelder, “Marx, Engels and Africa” in Science & Sociey v. 59 Summer 1995, pp. 197-205.

This is a response to articles by Nimni [ibid 1989] and the rejoinder by Hoffman and Mzala [ibid 1991} and also Traverso and Lowey. In a nutshell, Nimni accuses M&E of ethnocentrism whilst both the other pairs of writers argue that Marx's thought was more complex, and rejected the [Hegelian?] view that Africans were “nonhistoric peoples” and placed the blame for retardation of development squarely on the shoulders of capitalism/imperialism. Meisenhelder offer textual and interpretative evidence in support of the latter claim.

I found these issues both fascinating and difficult when I was writing my dissertation on the relationships between the ANC and black workers in South Africa from 1912-1955. They are quite important when considering: the origins and the ideologies of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA, formed in 1921); ways in which non- or anti-communists in the ANC responded to the CPSA; the ongoing debates over theories such as “Colonialism of a special type” (late 1940s+) and the “Black republic” (1928+).

To give a few examples of the complexity: Engels wrote some pretty disparaging things about the indigenous resistance to the French in Algeria—see his article “Abd al-Krim” in which “Berbers” [sic-read Amazight] were characterized as a band of perpetual robbers—though he did partially qualify this by admiration for their heroism and by unstinting criticism of colonial pillage very rare at the time.

Some have even suggested that the ethnocentrism of M&E was predicated on a dislike of Tsarism and how Tsarism “manufactured” mini-nations for its own ends. Of course they were products of their age just like anyone else, and quite a lot of research has been done on the theme, which I would be happy to debate.

A recent idea that I have been thinking about is the impact of postmodernism here: if, following Gilles Deleuze et al., various postmodernists REJECT Hegelianism [and its progeny] in toto, then does this give them an advantage over Marxists [influenced by the use of Hegelian philosophy] by making them more sensitive to ethnic diversity, given Hegel's disdain for non-European history? Or are they no better off, given their more general disdain for History in toto, or at least the modernist versions of History? See Jack Amariglio and D. Ruccio, “Postmodernism, Marxism, and the Critique of Modern Economic Thought” Rethinking marxism v. 7 1994 pp.7-35 for a view that pomo, which has been slow to influence economic thought, at least is able to declare its partiality, and the uncertainty, of any socialist project (p.31)

Anyway, I dont have time now to go into all the intricacies, but raise this as a talking point on labour history across the continent and how it has been influenced by ethnocentrism.

Peter Limb University of Western Australia
fax: (09) 3801012 ; phone (09) 3802347