Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War

Sharad Charia1 and Katherine Verderya2

a1 Geography and Environment, London School of Economics, and School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

a2 Anthropology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Lenin spoke at the Second Congress of 1920 to multiple audiences. In continuity with the First International, he spoke in the utopian language of Bolshevism, of the successful revolutionary proletariat that had taken the state and was making its place in history without the intercession of bourgeois class rule. Recognizing the limits of socialism in one country surrounded by the military and economic might of “World imperialism,” however, Lenin also pressed for a broader, ongoing world-historic anti-imperialism in alliance with the oppressed of the East, who, it seemed, were neither sufficiently proletarianized, nor, as yet, subjects of history. There are many ways to situate this particular moment in Lenin's thought. One can see the budding conceits of Marxist social history, or “history from below,” in which millions in the East could become historical subjects under the sign of “anti-imperialism.” One can also see this gesture to those outside the pale as a flourish of the emergent Soviet empire, and as a projection of anxieties about Bolshevik control over a vast and varied Russian countryside with its own internal enemies. But Lenin also spoke to audiences who would make up the next, Third International, like the Indian Marxist M. N. Roy, who saw imperialism dividing the world into oppressed and oppressor nations. For this Third Worldist audience, looking increasingly to the new Soviet Union for material and military support for “national self-determination,” Lenin extends the historic mission of a future world socialism.


Acknowledgments: This paper began as a brief article by Verdery (2002), later used as the basis for a seminar on postsocialist and postcolonial studies, in the form of a dialogue between her and Ann Stoler, moderated by Chari. The event was organized by graduate students in the Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan. We thank Ann and the other participants for their comments. For the present version, Chari more than doubled the original text and added a number of points not part of the original discussion. Finally, we thank three anonymous CSSH reviewers for their stimulating suggestions.