Plunging Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton studies in culture/power/history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. “Two Histories of Capital”


Marx’s critique of Aristotle’s economic deliberations in Nicomachean Ethics are a biting cultural/historical analysis of what Aristotle was not able to see, because of his lack of Enlightenment reasoning – that human lives were of equal value, and therefore the human labor of slaves was able to produce the exchange value between his house and five beds. Likewise, Chakrabarty’s reading of Marx as an Enlightenment and Hegelian thinker allows Chakrabarty to both analyze the assumptions of Hegel and the Enlightenment. As Aristotle could not see slaves, so Chakrabarty points out that there are historical differences and forces working against the Capitalist “life-process” that Marx himself could not see, as he was an Enlightenment thinker. This leads Chakrabarty to criticize current proliferations of Neo-liberalism and the “Protestant Ethnic”—the residue of Enlightenment philosophy.

The title of Chakrabarty’s essay, “Two Histories of Capital”, emphases the blind spots in Marx’s theories of the historical logic of capitalism. According to Marx, the resistance of laborers and factory workers are part of the very logic of capitalism, and these forces of resistance function in a limitless dialectical that assist in the emergence and growth of capital, but as Chakrabarty says, “[Marx] locates [resistance] in the structural ‘being’ of capital rather than in its historical ‘becoming’” (59). The “being” of capital is sustained by reducing “human labor expenditure of energy to a minimum” and that “it is capital’s tendency to replace living labor by science and technology…that will give rise to the development of the ‘social individual’ whose greatest need will be that of ‘the free development of identities’” (61-2). In other words, the constant improvement of labor work hours and the small pockets of resistance from collectivities like labor unions, are actually all partial to Capitalism’s logical progression. Since the dialectical pendulum never oscillates strong enough in one direction to swing itself entirely off its pedestal, so too the amount of hard labor and exploitation is never so intense as to necessitate a full-fledged revolution, be it cultural or national.

From Marx, Chakrabarty pulls two types of histories, the “being” stated above as “the state where capital has fully come into its own”, and “becoming”, the historical process in and through which the logical presuppositions of capital’s being are realized…the past that the category retrospectively posits” (62). Chakrabarty then derives two types of histories from Marx, the “being” that generates the enlightenment philosophies of human equality, liberalism and protestant ethics which support capitalism, and the “becoming”, which encounters antecedent histories that retrospectively were not of a dialectical nature—which were either indifferent to, or effectually resistant to capitalism’s logic and “life-process” (63). Money and the Commodity Form, according to Marx, are examples of the neutrality of historical events that Capitalism has merely “found” and then “destroyed as independent forms and subordinated to industrial capital. [Then] Violence (the State) is used against interest-bearing capital by means of compulsory reduction of interest rates” (64). By categorizing Money and Commodity into neutral phenomena, indifferent to capitalism, Chakrabarty shows that such “difference…is not something external to capital. Nor is it subsumed into capital. It lives in intimate and plural relationships to capital, ranging from opposition to neutrality” (66). Money and the Commodity Form are not necessarily inherent to Capitalism’s logic, nor do they function as dialectical resistance, but are neutral phenomena that are merely the conditions for wage-labor and debt.

The “becoming” of Capitalism in Chakrabarty’s argument shows that resistance, even in small pockets spread out over time, do not have to be seen necessarily as “the reproduction of the logic of capital” (67). In India, where the money form and the commodity form have become prevalent, capitalism is marking its territory through an ideological battle between Indian pluralism and acceptance of difference and the universal, protestant ethics. To Chakrabarty, India can accept certain neutral categories, like money and the commodity, without reproducing the logic of capital and the ideologies that it implies. As he says, “the idea of History 2 [‘Becoming’] beckons us to more affective narratives of human belonging where life forms, although porous to one another, do not seem exchangeable through a third term of equivalence such as abstract labor” (71). The Enlightenment ethos of universal dialectical history is then separated from the history of human belonging, difference and the specificities that are unseen by abstract labor power.

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