[Following is the Editor Raza Rumi’s editorial note, the post was published in Pak Tea House e-zine. Sherry]
This is the third part of the history’s diverse interpretations and their contribution in understanding the world. Indeed, we are not bound by any, nor is any particular version a gospel of truth but as analytical tools these approaches enable us to make sense of the mess that we know, preach and live with as History. Readers are encouraged to comment and indicate examples that validate or challenge the various ways of interpreting History. [Raza Rumi – Ed]
we have explained, the “critical” turn of “Modern History”, we have covered, the debate of Marxism and History, the various models, the critique of Nationalism as a philosophy, the advent of “Orientalism”, “Post-colonial critique”, the “critique of modernism”. Critique of “civilizing missions”.
The project of modernity, including the “Enlightenment” have come under critique, the new historiographies focus on the “oriental” and “euro centric” mind set of Modern thinkers. Tariq Ali for examples says:
“How many citizens have any real idea of what the Enlightenment really was? French philosophers did take humanity forward by recognising no external authority of any kind, but there was a darker side. Voltaire: “Blacks are inferior to Europeans, but superior to apes.” Hume: “The black might develop certain attributes of human beings, the way the parrot manages to speak a few words.” There is much more in a similar vein from their colleagues. It is this aspect of the Enlightenment that appears to be more in tune with some of the generalized anti-Muslim ravings in the media. (Tariq Ali in “This is the real out rage”)
Here we see the usefulness of Marxist historiography, the belief in “Purposefulness of History”. When George Bush started his War on Terror, what were the philosophical justifications? It was once again, the good old “modernizing mission”. The war to preserve “civilization” from old backward “barbarians”. Hence the term “Neo-colonialism”.
Ali is trying to make a connection between modernism and neo-colonialism and imperialism.
I want to address yet another question, for the sake of clarity here. We live in epoch of confusion and hyper-reality. Capitalism in form of imperialism has created the greatest propaganda system that ever existed, the “free media”.
One can ask, why a historian, or a libertarian political activist , or a anthropologist chooses to call himself “Marxist”. Doesn’t it makes him biased, does it suits the philosophy of knowledge?
The second part of the question is simple to answer. Every knowledge has a philosophy, weather you give it a name or not, you are looking at things from a perspective. In history we call it historiography. Now why some historians call themselves “Marxists”. The whole problem is put into perspective by Eqbal Ahmad.
“the biggest achievement of Marx and Marxism may have been to offer us the methodology of analyzing social and historical realities. I do not think anyone has so far come up with a substitute for historical materialism as an explanation for the turns of history, the processes of history. Nor has anyone elaborated the idea of dialectics into a methodological system in the way that Marx and Marxism did. These are not mean achievements. These are high achievements, and were made within the context of focusing the minds of the educated class, or at least a certain sector of it, on peoples other than themselves-the poor, the working class, the oppressed, the weak, even the distant ones. This had never happened before”
As explained by Eqbal Ahmad, we dont have a more effective method to study history and social formations and changes. His second great philosophical contribution is “dialectics”, but that is another debate.
Confronting Empire, Eqbal Ahmad.
Now Ahmad comes to Libertarian question, it is not possible to to think like that without Marx, even if you are not a Marxist.
“The history of humanity is replete with the rejection of the Other. It is replete with callousness toward the Other, toward the habit of and traditions of and the intellectual outlook of that which is not you or not yours. Marx and Marxism focused the intelligentsia’s attention in a positive way on the Other, the poor, the weak. And at least a section of the intellectual class, the intelligentsia as a whole, students, others, saw it as their moral and intellectual responsibility to comprehend reality in order to change it, to make the world better for all and not for themselves only. I don’t think there had ever been such a class in history before” (Eqbal Ahmad, in Confronting the Empire).
We see the way of thinking , of looking at the “other” is a Marxist construct and not only analysing it but changing it as well.
Talking of the other, we now come to one more school of thought in understanding history, it also developed, under the influence of Marxism. “The History from Below”, “The peoples History”. The movement of looking at history from below was started by what is known as “Communist Party Historian Groups” in UK. Eric Hobsbawm and EP Thompson were its influential members. For the first time they started looking at history from the perspective of the people, not from the perspective of kings, queens, great leaders, priests and founding fathers.
This type of history flourished in India as well under different Marxist historians, but as post-colonial criticism and Oriental criticism became more accessible, the Marxist historian came under criticism for accepting modernism without question. The devastating influence of modernism to “native cultures” and “civilization” was being under stood, a critique of “progress and development” was coming forward.
A movement started of “Subaltern Historians group” in India which took the world by storm. Subaltern are the people without voice, those who have no voice in history, whose existence has been ignored.
Now history was being understood from perspective of Dalits, the peasants, the Tribals, the adivasis. The radical critique of history was taken up by major centers of learning. Subaltern critique has really provided a radical new understanding of people under colonialism, partition and capitalist oppression. This trend is critical of traditional Marxist historiography for being “too elitist”.
Yet another is the “feminist historiography”, there is a remarkable debate going on on Gender and History. We are seeing a Feminist critique of Colonialism, Nationalism and Militarism. Great work has come up, on feminist critique of Partition of India, this has helped a lot in understanding the crimes against women in Partition and later in two “nation states”. In Pakistan, Dr Robina Saigol has given a brilliant critique of Nationalism from a feminist perspective.
With all this debate, it will now become clear that History is how we see it, there is no universal history; contemporary approach towards history is be critical of traditional under standings, to subvert the hierarchies, to de-colonize the history. Pluralism is important in history. As Marc Ferro says “Universal history is dead”. We need to re evaluate, the euro-centric, and colonial histories. We need to be critical of bourgeois leaders and their role in history. We need to be suspicious of “state” and “authority” and the ideologies they use for their legitimization.
I had chosen the name of this article from Irfan Habib’s because I wanted to post his article on “Historiography” in India. Next episode will be his article.
Irfan Habib is one of India’s most prominent historian, he was awarded Padma Bhushan as well. He stood up to the Hindu’s Right’s communalization of Indian History