Marxism and academia

hfspc002 at hfspc002 at
Tue Aug 16 00:37:56 MDT 1994

I've been following this thread in silence not because I have nothing to
say but because the split between "academic marxism" and "revolutionary
marxism" seemed a bit forced -- an artificial drawing of lines to split
the "authentic" marxists from the armchair revolutionaries...  But today I
feel the need to respond, as an academic, as a marxist, as someone
interested in revolutionary change.  (more below)

On Tue, 16 Aug 1994, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> I don't know any of you as individuals. And I'm not exercising a moral
> judgment. After all, in the spectrum of how people make their livings in
> American society, professors are much closer to the angels than
> investment bankers, corporate lawyers, landlords, cops or preachers.

Well the sad fact is that even if capitalism was simply a relic of the
past today we still wouldn't be able to make our living as "angels."  I
don't want to defend the academy as angelic or even as politically neutral
or a non-oppressive site of resistance.  We're not lAndlords, true, but we
are in the belly of the beast.  Education is, after all, the ideological
state apparatus par exellence, and higher education is not immune to this.
More specifically, universities are mined by corporations for unthinking
drones of multinational capitalism and sadly most of our undergraduates
(including, if not especially, those with working-class backgrounds) will
fall obediently into line as soon as they get out.  Those of us who are
fortunate enough to work at the more "elite" universities will train the
ruling and managerial classes of the future (or in reality ensure that
these folks get the piece of paper they need to get the job that they're
going to get anyway).  And let us not forget that often our research, or
the research of our departments (I am in a communication department, which
is especially problematic in this regard) will be used by multinational
corporations to better manipulate the public into believing the myths of
capitalist "progress" through advertising, etc.  Or that we would not have
jobs without the fat corporate and military contracts that keep the
university afloat.  We do what we can within this oppressive structure;
while we may be less respectable than, say, janitors or secretaries, I
think it helps to keep in mind that no matter what we do we must make our
compromises with capitalism in order to stay alive.  Janitors and
secretaries are also integral to the functioning of advanced capitalism.
Isn't it better to try to use the power that no one denies we have to
encourage our students (working-class or no) to think critically about the
society which they believe in so fervently that they have forgotten they
believe in it?

> My main beef is with what Perry Anderson calls "Western Marxism". This
> trend includes the Frankfurt school, Althusser, Sartre, Lukacs et al.
> This is a sanitized version of Marxism which is apparently quite
> acceptable in the academic world. This form of Marxism has very little to
> do with Marx's original goal: the abolition of capitalism.

I think that this argument misses the point of so-called "Western"
Marxism.  The critique of capitalism never left the projects of the
Frankfurt school, Althusser, etc.  What did change was due to
circumstances of time.  Remember, the revolutions that Marx predicted (in
the West) did not occur.  The contradictions of capitalism continued to
grow worse, but the system's dynamism and flexibility allowed it to thrive
in spite of (or perhaps because of) the exacerbation of these
contradictions.  The international working class has yet to recognize our
common interests and join forces in revolt.  The revolutions that did
occur in the east failed miserably.  (True, one can argue that the causes
of this failure lay in the international division of labor and the power
of multinational capitalist societies to strengthen this division, but the
point is that they failed nonetheless).  "Western" Marxism, I would argue,
arose out of a desire to critique capitalism from a stance that would
avoid the failures of the past, and that would account for the fact that
capitalism did not die the death that Marx predicted.  As well as to
account for and avoid the paroxysms of capitalism that arose in Nazi
Germany and Fascist Italy.

> "Western Marxism" tends to view Marx as some kind of post-Hegelian
> philosopher and offers commentary on him strictly as a philosopher. I
> think is a complete distortion of Marx's role in history. Marx is the
> author of the Communist Manifesto. In the Columbia on-line library card
> catalog, when you look up the subject "Marxism": you are referred to
> Communism or Socialism.

Marx is also the author of Capital and the Manuscripts and the Eighteenth
Brumiere and the Grundrisse.  While the Communist Manifesto is an
important work, one must account for the style of the document, especially
in light of Marx's other works.  Marx was a student of Hegel, and while he
was a "communist," he was also a "philosopher," and a "historian," and an
"economist."  The Communist Manifesto is, after all, a Manifesto, with a
specific rhetorical purpose and a style commensurate with that purpose.
I think it is a bit simplistic to reduce "Marxism" to this document alone,
when Marx wrote so much.  His insioghts into the workings of political
economy continue to have relevance today for Marxists and non-Marxists
alike, regardless of William Bennett's assertion that the only people
still reading Marx today are liberal humanists left over from the sixties
who somehow managed to get tenured positions in the academy.  Marx was a
philosopher, yes, but not "simply" a philosopher.  He changed the goals
and assumptions of philosophy in radical ways.

Ben Attias


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