In the small amount of free time I have had lately I have been reading quite a bit about Eurocentrism. Particularly, rereading Robert Biel’s Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement and Samir Amin’s Eurocentrism. For the past few months I have been preoccupied by the question of nailing down precisely what Eurocentrism is, how it operates, and how to oppose it. My previous engagements with Eurocentrism were solely confined to theoretical insights like Edward Said’s Orientalism, which were beneficial intellectually, but these engagements raised as many questions as they seemed to answer. While I felt that the post-modern texts on Eurocentrism had a powerful critique of Eurocentric cultural construction, I was unable to conceptualize how this analysis would translate to communist practice, or even if it could be incorporated into anything more than a fanciful academic critique.
Rereading Biel and Amin’s works has provided me with a much more substantive Marxist conceptualization and critique of Eurocentrism than before. This leads me to the main thrust of my thoughts here, which actually stem from a point that Biel alludes to in his work, but something I would like to attempt to flesh out further here. Namely, the notion of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (or Maoism here for the sake of brevity) as the only anti-Eurocentric form of Marxism capable of fully grasping the phenomenon of Eurocentrism in its all-sidedness, and ultimately providing a way to dismantle it.
First we must begin with a definition of Eurocentrism. Here we will use Biel’s separation of the economic and political structures of Eurocentrism from the ideological manifestation of Eurocentrism. As to the economic and political structures,
Capitalism and imperialism are truly Eurocentric, in the sense that the rest of the world is superexploited by the Euro-American world and its ruling class. This enables the ruling order not just in a narrow sense to acquire profit, but also to maintain itself structurally, to indulge in domestic social engineering so as to defuse the acute social contradictions which would otherwise overtake the core itself. – Robert Biel, Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement, 13.
Of course the Eurocentric system of imperialist capitalism produces its own ideological component as well, one that
…presents such dominance as natural, as historically justified, as constituting the mainstream of historical progress. – Ibid.
In this sense, Eurocentrism is the very real economic, political, and ideological structures through which the capitalism and imperialism of the global centers (primarily concentrated in Europe and the U.S.) maintain, extend, and legitimate their domination of the peripheries. This domination can manifest itself as outright colonial occupation, racist narratives, or as the modern day system of neo-colonialism. As discussed by Biel, and in more detail by Eric Williams in his book Capitalism and Slavery, Eurocentrism is not a new phenomenon. It, like imperialism, arose alongside the colonial system and slave trade, both of which were integral in the process of the capitalist transformation that shaped Europe beginning in the 17th century. Since then, Eurocentrism has been not only those political and economic structures designed for the purpose of extraction and domination, but also as an ideology of the bourgeoisie in which the capitalist development that occurred in Europe is cast as the necessary development for the rest of the world. This ideology legitimates the imperialist world system by conceptualizing the European experience as universal, and by constructing a “hierarchy” of civilizations or a linear “progression” of history in which countries march forward from “barbarism” towards the supposed freedom and prosperity that capitalism claims to offer.
It is in the discussion of economic and political development, so often maligned as an inherently Eurocentric concept in post-modernist critiques, in which an important distinction needs to be made. According to Amin, we should clearly separate modernity from Eurocentric conceptions of a “progression” in history, a notion based on historical progression proceeding by a divine will, or by an imperialist nation “training” an oppressed country in “democracy”. The core feature of modernity is the rejection of supra-historical laws, and in their place the erecting of the principle that history is driven by people, both collectively and individually, as they make their own world. This conception of modernity necessitates a universalization of agency, a fact that Eurocentrism denies in its maintenance of the ideological and economic structures that deny that agency. Here is where Amin and Biel converge. Both agree that one of the primary ideological features of Eurocentrism is its insistence on replicating the development that occurred in Europe, from the emergence of feudalism to its disintegration and transformation into capitalism, on a global scale. However, when we examine the capitalist system as a world-system, we find that the Eurocentric view obscures the reality of imperialist deformation in which vestiges of pre-capitalist modes of production (or tributary modes of production as Amin calls them) are incorporated into the capitalist social formation in an oppressed country.
Maoism, as an extension of Marxism, represents the first true break from the Eurocentric view. Firstly, because of its rejection of the stagist application of historical materialism, in which all societies have to neatly proceed from primitive communism, to feudalism, through capitalism, and eventually to communism. And secondly, in its formulation of semi-feudalism (here we will ignore the problematic nature of using feudalism as a descriptive term outside of Europe because no more useful term has been put forward yet), which is a recognition that the realities of the effects of contemporary capitalist-imperialism make European-like progression an impossibility. Here the anti-Eurocentric core of Maoism is present in the fact that it reestablishes historical materialism on the basis of a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, rather than on a mechanical transposition of Eurocentric categories. More importantly, Maoism stands as an affirmation of the project of modernity, in that it sees the masses as the makers of history by recognizing the absence of supra-historical laws of necessary development and insisting on the transformative agency of the working-class on a truly global scale. And indeed, Maoism insists that the only way to overcome the chains of the Eurocentric system is through the process of modernity, i.e. a mass struggle to transform the world by making history through social revolution.
Biel notes that although Marxism has always carried the potential to be anti-Eurocentric, it never completely eliminated its own Eurocentric prejudices, except through the process of reorienting itself to the struggles of the oppressed outside of the European core. Inside the imperialist countries a type of Left Eurocentrism prevailed, which Biel categorizes as manifesting itself in the following ways:
- It builds upon, and in a sense takes further, the bourgeois unilinear theory of “social progress” (with Europe as the highest point, leading factor, and universal point of reference of world history). […] left Eurocentrism takes it one step further and uses this reactionary line of argument to justify also the system which is supposed to replace capitalism, i.e. socialism. […] In this corrupted vision, the Euro-American world inevitably continues to lead a socialist world order, just as it did the previous capitalist one.
- It employs a false version of historical materialism to depict early capitalism as a progressive social order at a world level, when in reality it was only progressive, if at all, in relation to the feudal system within the major European states.
- It underplays the role of colonialism, the slave trade, etc., as a basis for the historical origins, and ongoing accumulation, of the capitalist mode of production.
- It schematises world history on the basis of the Euorpean experience and forces everything into this mould…
- It holds that advanced industrial productive forces necessarily produce advanced struggles, looks down on the peasantry (here we can observe why Trotskyism carries within it an unavoidable Eurocentrism- K.B.), conceives of revolution primarily as the sharing out of the national cake between the proletariat and bourgeois classes in the core capitalist countries, and subordinates practical political strategy and tactics to the fulfillment of this goal.
- […] it elevates inter-imperialist contradictions above the fundamental contradiction between oppressor and oppressed nations and considers relations among the great powers to be the main event in world politics.
- It fails to see the continuing character of superexploitation and the unequal international division of labour as the fundamental basis for imperialism…
- […] regarding nationalism in the colonial countries as a backward, tiresome, “drag-inducing” factor; a prejudice to be treated at best with condescension.
- It generally regards the national liberation movements as subordinate to the supposed interests of the proletarian movement in the industrialised countries, and tells them what to do. – Biel, Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement, 17-18.
Maoism, although a development of Marxism-Leninism, serves as a negation to the Eurocentric project in totality, whether it be “Left Eurocentrism” or the Eurocentrism of the bourgeoisie. Primarily, because Maoism as Maoism, that is as a summation of the Chinese experience and the anti-revisionist struggle of the ’70s into a qualitatively new development, was forged outside of the centers of global capitalism. However, here we shouldn’t fall into the trap of tokenization that assumes because Maoism was developed on the peripheries that it is a priori anti-Eurocentric, as Leninism was developed on the periphery too, yet it was unable to shed completely all of its Eurocentric garb. What makes Maoism anti-Eurocentric is its assault on the misapplication of historical materialism by the revisionist parties to justify or cozy up to imperialism, its concrete analysis of capitalism as a world system that produces stunted and uneven development, its support for national liberation struggles, and its rejection of conceptions of a universal and linear path of societal development.
But Maoism would not truly be anti-Eurocentric if it was not universal, as that is the only counter to Eurocentrism’s anti-modernism and inverted universalism. In order to universalize something, it must be torn from its original context (which should be understood as a ceaseless process!) and reapplied elsewhere to produce new insights into theory and practice. In this sense, Maoism is the only universalized development of Marxism, and therefore the only development capable of understanding and opposing Eurocentrism. Maoism, as a re-contextualizing and universalizing of Marxism-Leninism, repeated the process that came before it, but on a qualitatively higher level. Marxism was born through the ideological and political struggle of the working-class of Europe, yet it took Lenin and the Bolsheviks application of Marxism to the Russian context to affirm its universal and revolutionary potential. Marxism itself had to be violently torn away from the dogmatic, and Eurocentric, confines of Europe and thrown into the “backwater” of imperial Russia. From this we get the qualitative leap of Leninism, a step towards further universalization and a blow to Eurocentrism. However, as outlined by Biel, the Leninist “leap” still retained elements of Eurocentric ideology, especially in its stagist application of historical materialism. Despite this, Marxism-Leninism still inspired numerous anti-colonial and anti-imperialist revolutions on the peripheries of capitalism, which produced challenges to the Eurocentric capitalist world system. However, it was the revolution in China, followed by the summation of the Chinese experience by the Peruvian communists, that led to the crystallization of Maoism as a new development of Marxism-Leninism in the form of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
Maoism, unlike the earlier manifestations of Marxism which were reductionist in overemphasizing the role of economics, also recognizes the interactions between the economic and political structures of the Eurocentric world system with its ideological apparatus. It is this ideological apparatus, projected on a world stage by imperialism, that allows for the reproduction of Eurocentric ideologies, especially amongst segments of the bourgeoisie in the dominated countries. One need only look to Costa Rica in the 19th century, in which a rising bourgeois class, allied with the aristocracy, embraced the ideology of white supremacy brought by American filibusters in order to create a racialized class of laborers from which to exploit in league with imperialism. It is along these lines of Maoism as a universalized Marxism that Biel was thinking, which he expressed as follows.
The strength of Maoism was its assertion that institutional structures, functionaries, intellectuals, etc. must, in the first place, respect the most exploited working masses and thoroughly integrate with them in their life and mode of thinking. If we take this to its logical conclusion, it means seeking out those whom the whole structure rests, the most marginalised and exploited. For this reason, it carries within it the potential for the defeat of Eurocentrism. In this sense, we can regard Maoism, like Marxism in general, as the property of humanity as a whole, as something bigger than the limitations of the people who developed it. – Robert Biel, Eurocentrism and the Communist Movement, 151.
If we are serious about challenging the Eurocentric world system, which is one and the same as the capitalist-imperialist world system, then we need to be sober in our recognition that Maoism presents itself as the fullest development of the anti-Eurocentric trend within Marxism. Therefore, it is the only way to grapple with the realities of our situation from a holistic standpoint, and through application, dismantle Eurocentrism. Other forms of Marxism, whether it is the stagnant and dogmatic Marxism of the Hoxhaists and left communists, or the inability (an sometimes refusal) of Trotskyism to come to terms with its failed universalization and confinement to Europe and America, cannot accomplish the necessities imposed on us by the Eurocentric system. The lessons and analyses drawn from the Chinese experience, the Peruvians, Nepalese, and today’s Naxalites and Filipino Maoists are universal in scope. They have taken the first steps towards the dismantling of the capitalist-imperialist world system, yet few in the centers of global capitalism have taken notice. Largely due to the prominence of bourgeois ideology amongst vast sections of the Left, which can and does manifest itself as “Left Eurocentrism”. However, there is a growing segment within the core of capitalism, concentrated amongst oppressed nationality groups, the most exploited sections of the proletariat, and even amongst students and intellectuals, that, while not fully articulated yet, sees Maoism as the expression of a universal and transnational struggle against all forms of capitalism, imperialism, and Eurocentrism. The conclusion to be drawn here is that Maoism, unlike all other emancipatory movements, including past developments of Marxism, has been able to free itself from the bonds of Eurocentrism be re-situating the discussion of the necessity for revolution from a Eurocentric worldview that privileges struggles in the “advanced” countries, to a total view of a truly universal class struggle that links the masses’ struggles in the core countries with the struggles of the masses in the oppressed countries.