• Umberto Melotti


The points we have just established also enable us to reach a more accurate picture of certain present-day social trends.


Ching Dynasty Cultural Revolution Free Development Primitive Accumulation Advanced Industrial Country 
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  1. 1.
    Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism are the two sides of one and the same false coin. There is no need to dwell on European culture’s old sin of ethnocentrism; its role as the ideology of colonial conquests, which were supposedly exporting ‘civilisation’ and ‘true religion’, is well known. But cultural relativism is no answer; to abandon the attempt to find answers is no less dangerous than ethnocentrism. Carlo Tullio-Altan has this to say on the subject: ‘The first “idol” to knock down was the old deep-rooted ethnocentric outlook, which puts one’s own culture at the centre of the human universe and brings with it fanaticism, intolerance and oppression.... It was therefore understandable that there should have been a reaction against it, led by the American scholar Melville Herskovits, founder of a school of anthropological thought that became known as cultural relativism. The theoretical tenets of that school were clear and simple: as all our judgements are coloured by our own cultural ethos, we can never judge a culture different from our own, as its difference lies precisely in its own peculiar ethos, which is the only basis on which it may be judged. Cultural relativism has a specific use as an argument against all forms of racial oppressiveness. It was first formulated in the years following the Second World War in justified reaction against the crimes that had been committed in the name of racial superiority. But if one takes this position to its logical conclusion one is placed in a striking dilemma.... In fact, one is condemned to a complete laissez-faire with respect to the politics, society and culture of all other peoples.... Besides, cultural relativism obviously contradicts itself on its own premises. It condemns every person to stay hedged in by the restricted milieu of his own culture... in a sort of “polycentric” ethnocentrism.’ (Carlo Tullio-Altan, Antropologia funzionale, Bompiani, Milan, 1968, pp. 15–16Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    On this point we can do no more than refer the reader to the works of those authors who, like myself, visited and studied Cuba both in the early years of the revolution and more recently. In particular one should mention the books by Huberman and Sweezy (Cuba, Anatomy of a Revolution, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1960Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Marcuse, whose latest work very forcefully restates the case for this, is thus the most consistently Marxist in outlook. ‘The preconditions for the liberation and development of the Third World must emerge in the advanced capitalist countries. Only the internal weakening of the superpower can finally stop the financing and equipping of suppression in the backward countries. The NLFs threaten the lifeline of imperialism; they are not only a material but also an ideological catalyst of change. The Cuban Revolution and the Vietcong have demonstrated it can be done: there is a morality, a humanity, a will and a faith which can resist and deter capitalist expansion. More than the “socialist humanism” of the early Marx, this violent solidarity in defence, this elemental socialism in action, has given form and substance to the radicalism of the New Left; in this ideological respect too the external revolution has become an essential part of the opposition within the capitalist metropoles. However, the exemplary force, the ideological power of the external revolutions, can come to fruition only if the internal structure and cohesion of the capitalist system begins to disintegrate. The chain of exploitation must break at its strongest link.’ (Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, London, 1969, pp. 81–2.)Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1977

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  • Umberto Melotti

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