Global Capitalism and Unevenness Rethought: Modern India

Through March 4, 2017
UChicago Center in Delhi

Mar. 3

Marxists have theorized unevenness or ‘combined and uneven development’ by looking at the historical development of capitalism across the globe. One’s understanding of capitalism changes fundamentally by grounding these theories of unevenness (or what seems like the co-presence of different temporalities) in the concept of abstract social labor or domination of the different social spheres by abstract units of time underlying an overarching temporal dynamic. This two-day workshop debated issues such as continuous and ongoing primitive accumulation, imperialist wars, a ‘surplus humanity’, and other phenomena pertaining to the work of global capitalism in South Asia. Moishe Postone’s novel unfolding of the categories of Marx’s mature critical theory formed a crucial starting point and touchstone for our discussion.

Postone’s understanding of capitalism and his reading of Marx have been both path-breaking and controversial. He argues that Marx expounds a critique of labor in capitalism rather than a critique of capital from the standpoint of labor. For this reason, he contends that labor movements, to the extent that they affirm the identity of the worker, re-create capitalism rather than point beyond it. Furthermore, he argues that most Marxists have not understood capitalism at a sufficiently high level of abstraction, since they have remained focused on class-relations. He argues that the fundamental categories—such as the commodity form and value—ground various aspects of modern life, including the modern state and the rationalizing tendencies of modern bureaucracies. 

In Postone’s view, the structural logic of capital pervades the globe regardless of relations of unevenness. Unevenness, in this reading of Marx, is a temporal category and emerges because of the different speeds at which people are producing surplus. As the rates of productivity change, relations of unevenness will also change. From this perspective, China and India are still part of a globally uneven world, but their relation to that world has changed, and continues to change.

Professor Postone presented the keynote, and was present throughout the workshop for interaction and discussion with the participants. The workshop came out to be a landmark event, crucially relevant for understanding developments in South Asia and across the globe; essential for formulating a rigorously Marxist approach to the challenging and paradoxical realities of modern life.


Friday, 3rd March

9:30am-10:00am: Registration for participants

10:00am-10:05am: Introduction and Welcome by John Mark Hansen, Faculty Director, UChicago Center in Delhi

10:05am-12:00pm: Moishe Postone, Department of History, The University of Chicago: Keynote: Marx, Modernity and Temporality

Chair: Andrew Sartori, New York University

12:00pm-1:00pm: Lunch at the Delhi Center

1:00pm-3:00pm: Rethinking Standpoint Politics

Pratyush Chandra, Radical Notes:  The Question of In-Against-and-Beyond

Pothik Ghosh, Radical Notes: Understanding Subjectivity against Subject

Saroj Giri, Delhi University: Resisting Ambedkar: A Marxist Reading of The Annihilation of Caste

Chair: Deepankar Basu, UMass Amherst

3:00pm-3:30pm: Tea & Coffee Break

3;30pm-5:30pm: Rethinking Chinese History in Relation to Capital

Stacie Kent, University of Chicago: Chasing the Dragon: Rethinking Governance and Capital

Jake Werner, University of Chicago: A Unity of Opposites: Unevenness and Uniformity in Shanghai, 1925 to the Present

Robert Stern, University of Chicago: Rethinking Legal Orientalism

Chair: Saroj Giri, Delhi University

5:30pm-5:45pm: Tea & Coffee Break

5:45pm-7:15pm: Reading of a paper written by Harry Harootunian, New York University. The paper will be read by Viren Murthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Saturday, 4th March

9:30am-10:00am: Registration for participants

10:00am-12:00pm: Rethinking the Political Economy of the Colony

Dwaipayan Sen, Amherst College: The 1872 Census, Indigenous Agency, and Political Economy in Bengal

Andrew Sartori, New York University: From Locke's Theory of Property to the Problem of Primitive Accumulation in Marx's Capital

Utsa Patnaik, Jawaharlal Nehru University: Imperialism, War and the Forgotten Holocaust – Bengal, 1943-44

Chair: Annapurna Mamidipudi, Maastricht University

12:00pm-1:00pm: Lunch at the Delhi Center

1:00pm-3:00pm: Rethinking Unevenness in the Global South: Kalyan Sanyal

Viren Murthy, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Impossible Rapprochement: Kalyan Sanyal, Postcolonialism and Capitalism’s Outsides

Nandini Chandra, Delhi University: Re-articulating the Idiocy of Rural Life: Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Implicit Critique of Sanyal’s “Need Economy”

Deepankar Basu, UMass Amherst: Capital, Non-Capital and Transformative Politics

Chair: Andy Liu, Villanova University

3:00pm-3:30pm: Tea & Coffee Break

3:30pm-5:30pm: Rethinking the Question of “Heterogeneous” Labor Practices

Anup Dhar, Ambedkar University: Gravel in the Shoe: World of the Third, Third World and Global Capital Logic

Annapurna Mamidipudi, Maastricht University: Rethinking Labor and Time in Contemporary South India: Legacies of Colonialism and the Case of Handloom Weaving.

Andy Liu, Villanova University: Unevenness and Capitalism: India and China in Economic History

Chair: Dwaipayan Sen, Amherst College