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Tropical Marxism: Rethinking Marxism in the Shadow of Empire

Friday, March 1, 2024, 9:30am–6:15pm CET
Saturday, March 2, 2024, 9:30am–4:00pm CET

University of Chicago Center in Paris / Zoom

The conference is fully booked for in-person attendance; please use the link above to register to join via Zoom.

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.

Presenters include:

  • Max Ajl
  • Noaman G. Ali
  • Arwa Awan
  • Amzat Boukari-Yabara
  • Nadia Bou Ali
  • Layla Brown
  • Jean-Jacques Cadet
  • Luciano Concheiro
  • Glen Coulthard
  • Jackqueline Frost
  • Sudipta Kaviraj
  • Kolja Lindner
  • Peter Morgan
  • Aditya Nigam
  • Kevin Pham
  • Shozab Raza
  • Sara Salem
  • Jorge Lefevre Tavárez

Tropical Marxism is organized by Arwa Awan and Jennifer Pitts.



9:30–10:00am — Welcoming Coffee & Tea

10:00–10:30am — Introduction by Arwa Awan, Jennifer Pitts, Lisa Wedeen, Julian Go

10:30am–12:45pm — Panel 1: Marxism in the (Post)Colonial World: Theory Immanent in Practice

Noaman G. Ali, University of Bath & Shozab Raza, University of Toronto
“Worldly Marxism: Rethinking Revolution from Pakistan’s Peripheries”

Kevin Pham, University of Amsterdam
“Free Speech and the Road to Socialism: Insights on a Liberal Idea from Revolutionary Vietnam”

Sara Salem, London School of Economics
“Haunted Histories of the Left: Anticolonialism and Collective Memory in Egypt”

Max Ajl, University of Ghent
“Third World Marxist Ecology: The Thought of Ismail-Sabri Abdallah”

Chair: Jennifer Pitts, University of Chicago

12:45–2:15 — Lunch

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

Sudipta Kaviraj, Columbia University
“De-historicizing Marxism: Indian Marxists and the Problem of Historical Difference/Difficulties with Difference”

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

Peter Morgan, University College London
“Mariátegui’s Last Resort: ‘Inca communism’ as the Failure of Cosmopolitan Marxism in 1920s Perú”

Chair: Julian Go, University of Chicago

4:00–4:30pm — Coffee Break

4:30–6:15pm — Panel 3: Tropical Marxism: Charting the Concept

Kolja Lindner, Paris-8
“Tropical Marxism and Racial Capitalism”

Luciano Concheiro San Vicente, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
“Thinking the Plurality Within Tropical Marxism”

Nadia Bou-Ali, American University of Beirut
“Resistance to Theory: Against the Habermas-Foucault Consensus”

Chair: Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago



9:30am–12pm — Panel 4: Marxism in Translation: Intellectual Genealogies and New Syntheses

Jackqueline Frost, University of London
“René Depestre’s Marxist-Surrealist-Négritude in the Cuban 1960s”

Jorge Lefevre Tavárez, Universidad de Puerto Rico
“René Depestre’s Poète à Cuba and the Prose of the Tricontinental”

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

Arwa Awan, University of Chicago
“Work and Alienation: Marxist Humanism in Fanon’s Thought”

Chair: Kolja Lindner, Paris-8

12:00–1:30pm — Lunch

1:30–3:00pm — Panel 5: Tropical Marxism Today: Pan-Africanism and 21st Century Socialism

Amzat Boukari-Yabara, Independent Researcher
“Neoliberal Trap or Socialist Renewal? Pan-Africanism is Back in the Agenda”

Layla Brown, Northeastern University
“Revolutionary Pan-Africanism and the Formation of a Multicentric and Pluripolar World”

Chair: Arwa Awan, University of Chicago

3:15–3:45pm — Closing Discussion

This is a hybrid event, and it is free and open to the public. Registration is required to participate in person and on Zoom. Please email us of you require any accommodations to enable your full participation. 

Presented by 3CT, the Pozen Center for Human Rights, and the International Institute of Research as part of the University of Chicago Center in Paris