Tropical Marxism

Rethinking Marxism in the Shadow of Empire 1- 2 March, 2024

Tropical Marxism: Rethinking Marxism in the Shadow of Empire 

During his visit to Cuba for the 1968 Cultural Congress of Havana, Aimé Césaire used the phrase “tropical Marxism” to call for creative re-interpretations of Marxism that would rework Marxian concepts and analyses for the particular conditions of non-Western societies. In the spirit of Césaire’s call, this conference explores efforts to theorize Marxism anew from the peripheries of the global order.

Throughout its global career, Marxism’s relationship with the Western European origins of its articulation has been a bone of contention for theorists and practitioners of this tradition, generating a myriad of conceptual puzzles, political dilemmas, and theoretical experimentation. As capital brought more and more arenas under its fold, it also generated new contradictions and registers of difference which supplanted or merged with pre-existing configurations. This historical unevenness of capitalist modernity prompted, especially in the colonized world, a reexamination of some of the central thematics of the Marxist tradition, such as the promise of a universal destiny, the role of class vis-à-vis other entrenched modalities of social difference, and the relationship between pre-capitalist and other “non-capitalist” forms, on the one hand, and the socialist horizon, on the other. 

This conference explores these situated attempts to rethink Marxism. Following Césaire’s invitation to devise original approaches to Marxism which respond to the specificities of a society, the conference will feature presentations on theories and practices of Marxism from the colonial and postcolonial world.  The heuristic of tropical Marxism will allow us to attend to particularity while charting larger theoretical questions posed by the dazzling trajectory of Marxism beyond the West. 

Organizers: Arwa Awan and Jennifer Pitts

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9:30-10:00: Welcoming coffee/tea

10:00-10:30: Introduction by Arwa Awan, Jennifer Pitts, Lisa Wedeen, Julian Go

10:30-12:45 Panel 1: Marxism in the (Post)Colonial world: Theory Immanent in Practice

Chair: Jennifer Pitts (University of Chicago)

- Worldly Marxism: Rethinking Revolution from Pakistan’s Peripheries Noaman G. Ali (University of Bath) & Shozab Raza (University of Toronto)

- Free Speech and the Road to Socialism: Insights on a Liberal Idea from Revolutionary Vietnam Kevin Pham (University of Amsterdam)

Short break

- Haunted Histories of the Left: Anticolonialism and collective memory in Egypt Sara Salem (LSE)

- Third World Marxist Ecology: The Thought of Ismail-Sabri Abdallah Max Ajl (University of Ghent/MECAM/Université de Tunis)

12:45-2:15 — Lunch for speakers

2:15-4:00 Panel 2: Epistemology, Scale and Temporality: The Challenges of Stretching Marxism

Chair: Julian Go (University of Chicago)

- De-historicizing Marxism: Indian Marxists and the problem of historical difference/ difficulties with difference Sudipta Kaviraj (Columbia University)

- ‘Caste’ and the Passive Revolution: Synchronicity of the Non-synchronous Aditya Nigam (Delhi Center for the Study of Developing Societies)

- Mariátegui’s last resort. “Inca communism” as the failure of cosmopolitan Marxism in 1920s Perú. Peter Morgan (University College London)

4:00-4:30 — Coffee break

4:30-6:15 Panel 3: Tropical Marxism: Charting the Concept 

Chair: Lisa Wedeen (University of Chicago)

- Tropical Marxism and Racial Capitalism Kolja Lindner (Paris-8)

- Thinking the Plurality Within Tropical Marxism Luciano Concheiro San Vicente (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México [UNAM])

- Resistance to Theory: Against the Habermas-Foucault consensus  Nadia Bou-Ali (American University of Beirut)



10-12:30 Panel 4: Marxism in Translation: Intellectual Genealogies and New Syntheses 

Chair: Kolja Lindner (Paris-8)

- Work and Alienation: Marxist humanism in Fanon’s thought Arwa Awan (University of Chicago)

- Epistemology, Marxism, and Alienation in Haiti  Jean-Jacques Cadet (ENS—Université d’État d’Haïti)

Short break

- René Depestre’s Marxist-Surrealist-Négritude in the Cuban 1960s Jackqueline Frost (University of London)

- René Depestre’s Poète à Cuba and the prose of the Tricontinental Jorge Lefevre Tavárez (Universidad de Puerto Rico)           

12:30-2 — Lunch for speakers

2-3:30 Panel 5: Tropical Marxism Today: Pan-Africanism and 21st Century Socialism

Chair: Arwa Awan (University of Chicago)

- Neoliberal trap or Socialist renewal? Pan-Africanism is back in the agenda Amzat Boukari-Yabara (Independent researcher)

- Revolutionary Pan-Africanism and the Formation of a Multicentric and Pluripolar World Layla Brown (Northeastern University)

End of public program

Short break

3:45-4:15 Closing Discussion for participants

Conference ends by 4:30pm