The ‘Culture’ of Capital in the Middle East: Subalterns, Democracy, and Post-Colonial Theory.

Jonathan Viger


*Paper submitted to the Politics of Identity Stream. This paper’s objective is a critical assessment of – and dialogue with – postcolonial analysis of political, economic, and cultural developments in the Middle East, with a specific emphasis on the question of the development of capitalism in the region.We will focus on the writings of Timothy Mitchell, arguably the leading representative of the approach in the case of the Middle East, and especially Egypt.
On the question of capitalist development, Mitchell rejects Marxist accounts, and the concept of capitalism more generally, for its incapacity to make sense of the complex interaction and articulation of various forms of social reproduction in the region. In other words, capitalism’s ‘universalizing’ logic remains incomplete, because it is incapable of absorbing – and is constantly being disrupted and diverted by – ‘traditional’, ‘pre-capitalist’ and ‘non-market’ social and cultural forms.
Our core argument is that this rejection of capitalism as a category of analysis is a consequence of Mitchell’s misunderstanding of the universalizing logic of capital, i.e. what does capitalism universalizes?
But what if that inherent power was never given to capitalism in the first place? The problem seems to lie with what Mitchell thinks capitalism should do. We argue for a different definition of capital’s universalizing logic, where capitalism accommodates itself of a wide variety of social forms while subordinating them to the compulsion of capitalist competition. In other words, what capitalism universalizes is market competition as a coercive mechanism forcing people to reproduce themselves through exchange. This definition allows us to understand how capitalism has from its origins developed in an uneven and internally differentiated way.
The final part of the paper looks to highlight the critical importance of the concepts of capitalism and class struggle in the study of the Middle East. This paper hopes to be more than a mere critique, but provide a basis for further dialogue between Marxim and Post-Colonial theory, it thus proposes to revive the ‘subaltern’ methodology in assessing the role of lower classes in the path towards democracy.

Post-Colonial Theory - Capitalism - Class - Subalterns - Egypt