'Subalterns of the World Not Aware of Mass Protests Because...': Gayatri Spivak

Here are excerpts from The Quint's interview with literary scholar & feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

South Asians
3 min read

"I think it [the creation of 'Hindu Rashtra'] will involve (indeed already involves) constant and focused violence because there is large-scale social acceptance of Hindutva," says literary scholar and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

The 81-year-old, who is University Professor at Department of English and Comparative Literature in New York's Columbia University, speaks to The Quint about a number of subjects including the Marxist ideology, Hindutva, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Is Marxism an ideology that has outlasted its relevance, especially to the aspirations of the subaltern populations across the world? Or is the ideology perennial in its genius, and so, will make a comeback in the foreseeable future? 

As long as capitalism lasts, Marxism lasts as the best way to combat it. It has to be fitted into historical and geographical contexts, which will include sensitivity to gender, race/caste, and social difference.  


Has human evolution hit a dead end with the global ascendancy of liberal-capitalist democracy? Is that the ideal political system, or are we moving towards the emergence of a more accommodative democratic system?

There is no global "we" who would be moving toward a single system.  Capitalism does unify the world, but otherwise, it is so divided by war, identity politics, gender/class apartheid in education, and linguistic nationalism that the answer must be negative. Also, the Anthropocene has brought about such climate disaster that we must rethink state-formations.

Are subaltern populations across the world inching towards a spontaneous outburst of resentment? Does it make sense to count the year-long, unprecedented farmers' agitation in India and the protests after the George Floyd incident in the US as pointing in this direction? 

The farmers' strike against neo-liberalism (now also in Europe) and Black Lives Matter were and are hopeful phenomena but their ideological future as transforming the human condition is undecidable. And they are not, strictly speaking, subaltern movements. The huge subaltern populations of the world are not necessarily aware of these movements, certainly the villages where I have my elementary schools are not.


In your widely discussed postcolonial studies essay written in 1988, 'Can the Subaltern Speak?', you have postulated that a core problem for the most marginalised in society is that they have no platform to express their concerns and no voice to affect policy debates or demand a fairer share of society's goods. Has the present situation changed for the better or the worse?

It was not a postcolonial essay; it was a critique of pre-colonial Hinduism.  The point was that subalterns speak but we do not have the education or infrastructure to hear. Nowadays, the subalterns are the largest sector of the electorate, and they are violently manipulated so that tyrants can continue to rule by way of democracy as body count.


Do you believe that the agenda to turn India into a Hindu theocratic state will involve large-scale violence? What is the symbolic significance of the Ram temple in Ayodhya to pan-Indian Hindu self-assertion? 

I think it will involve (indeed already involves) constant and focused violence because there is large-scale social acceptance of Hindutva. I think Gandhianism can take this on board, although Gandhi himself was not violent in this way. I live in the US and do not know enough about the idolisation of [Nathuram] Godse [in India]. The Ram temple in Ayodhya is a symbol of pan-Indian Hindu self-assertion given the approval of the state.


The Sangh agenda seeks to effect, and has nearly succeeded in this regard, an identity between Hinduism and Hindutva. Will this remain as the norm for the decades to come? Is the Vedic faith, in that case, in jeopardy?   

In the short run, perhaps so. Religion is a changeful phenomenon, so, if we persist in strong electoral education, there may be hope for change. I am an atheist, so I think of the Vedic and pre-Vedic material as a poetic expression of "first philosophy." I do not know much of it, being a Europeanist. That it is not now possible to think of that material in an impartial way is perhaps true. I think religion is a dangerous thing and should be systematically de-transcendentalised.


Much of the Indian media has been corporatised. What does this trend augur for the culture and future of Indian democracy?

Corporatisation is global and democracy is conducted in the interest of corporations. The only way to confront this is sustained ethical/electoral education from elementary to post-tertiary levels across class and gender.  An impossible hope. 


COVID-19 pandemic exposed the inadequacies and under-preparedness of governments across the globe and exposed the fissures otherwise latent in the world economy. What will be the long-term impact of the pandemic on the global economic order?

I think the fissures are already closing.  But I also think it is too soon to answer this question.

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