The upsurge of colonial revolution in recent years has led to a fresh examination of earlier Marxist work on this topic, both by Marx and Engels themselves, and by theorists of the Third International. This bookfootnote1 gives a serious and mainly non-polemical approach to some aspects of this issue. Two central themes are included: the evolution of the theory of colonial revolution among Europen Marxists from Marx, through the Second and Third Internationals, to present Soviet theory; and the growth in China of a theory of revolution and socialist transformation. The body of the book is a selection from relevant documents, which is preceded by an essay discussing matters raised in the texts.
It is precisely because it discusses such a major political question that the book, despite many virtues and a wealth of material, suffers from two crucial defects. The first concerns its thematic and geographical limits. Thematically, the book is confined almost entirely to discussions of revolutionary strategy in the colonial areas and of the way colonial revolution relates to struggle in the industrial capitalist societies. The problem of Marxist analysis of Asian societies is treated in a cursory
The book also has a serious geographic limit. The only Asian country given serious consideration in the book is China. The Chinese Revolution has been the greatest single revolutionary victory in Asia, but much material has been produced on the important struggles in such other countries as Vietnam, Japan, India, Persia and Indonesia. This is largely ignored. Thus in both its thematic and its geographic content the book falls far short of the title, Marxism and Asia. Either a different title should have been chosen, or the full extent of the problem should have been indicated and discussed, even if a comprehensive treatment would obviously go beyond the confines of any one book.
The second major defect of the book concerns the theory of culture, geography and politics that lies behind the authors’ introductory essay. This affects their general reading of the texts. They argue that Marx was ‘Europocentric’ and regarded European culture as superior to that of Asia. His theory rested on the industrial proletariat, a social force not predominant outside Europe. The Chinese have been determined to preserve their cultural specificity and to modernize while ‘remaining themselves’.footnote2 This has led to an ‘Asiocentric’ approach, and the Chinese have ceased to be Marxists. The Sino-Soviet dispute is thus seen as a conflict between Europocentric and Asiocentric views, and has its origins in cultural differences. The Chinese reject Western values; hence they regard the West as incapable of revolutionary action. ‘Mao is in fact repudiating Marx, Lenin and Soviet experience’footnote3 in the Cultural Revolution; the Chinese are making ‘a revolution that has nothing in common with Marxism’.footnote4
Europocentrism usually implies a conscious or unconscious bias, resulting from the acceptance of European values. It is an effect of
If Marx’s strategic conceptions were Europocentric, this was because he saw the centre of revolutionary struggle as being in the industrial societies of his day—which is where it was at this time. In spite of this he realized, as the authors point out, that there was a possibility of the Irish, Indian and Chinese colonial peasantries liberating themselves and thus providing an impulse to revolution in the west. His theory was not, therefore, based on a bending of politics to culture, but on a concrete analysis of a conjuncture and was capable of change as that conjuncture changed. Marx, in some of his writing on India, did overestimate the industrializing effects of capitalism on pre-capitalist society and underestimated the uneven spread of capitalism across the world; but his theory always contained the future possibility of an autonomous Asian revolutionary strategy.
Marx’s analysis of imperialism does not valorize European civilization but arises from an accurate understanding of the progessive aspects of the impact of imperialism at a specific stage of history.footnote7 It went hand in hand with an awareness of how imperialism reveals ‘the profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization’.footnote8 For socialism and communism to become possible, the pre-capitalist societies of Asia had to be shaken up; through this it became possible for revolutionary forces to emerge which can move towards socialism by reacting against foreign exploitation. Although Marx sometimes exaggerated the degree of vegetative stagnation of Asian society, he was right to stress catalytic role of capitalist expansion and of the inclusion of Asia into a unified world market. In some minor respects Marx and Engels may have been influenced by ideas of their epoch, and in particular by Hegel’s stereotypes about China. Even today these concepts have been used by certain European Marxists who see themselves as defending ‘European civilization’ against the imagined ‘barbarism’ of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.