Enlightenment, leftism, nationalism

Alex Trotter uburoi at panix.com
Thu Nov 17 13:39:52 MST 1994


Perhaps I was using inaccurate terms earlier in floating
the notion that Enlightenment thought was inherently male, as if that
were an essence. Maybe the term "masculinist" would have been more
appropriate. (If there's feminism, then there can be masculinism as
well.) The freemasons who were in many ways the spearhead of the
Enlightenment were a self-conscious "brotherhood." The American
revolutionaries said "all men are created equal"; the French
revolutionaries had "liberty, equality, fraternity" as their slogan; both
spoke of the "Rights of Man." This proclaimed an abstract universalism
that concealed particular interests based on class, race, and sex. But it
was precisely the universalist rhetoric that implied that *everyone*
truly could be equal. Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the first to call
them on it by asking, well, why not the rights of woman as well as the
rights of man. Subsequent movements to enfranchise women, blacks,
workers, and so on were largely the project of post-Enlightenment
liberalism, not of the Enlightenment itself. Once the bourgeoisie had
conquered political on top of economic power, philosophy started giving
way to ideology.
	The workers' movement also took on ideological characteristics, Marx's
critique of ideology notwithstanding. (If the proletariat is indeed the
universal class, the germ of the human community, why should it need an
ideology of any kind, even socialist ideology?)
	The "new social movements" that Rebecca champions have likewise
remained trapped in the synoptic of ideological representation. What real
contributions have "60s nationalisms" made to human freedom? I assume
you're thinking of the 'young nations' that emerged from colonialism in
Africa and Asia, the Cuban revolution, black nationalism and radical
feminism in the USA, etc. Surely you would have to admit that they've all
degenerated miserably, to the point that none of them can claim any
superiority to marxism. The world has more flags than ever before, and
we're no closer to the end of capital and the state. Do you seriously
believe that workers, not bureaucrats, ever had real power in Cuba or the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam or in the "liberated" nations of Africa
(where, for example, Kwame Nkrumah had a 40-foot statue of himself
erected outside the parliament building in Accra)?

The suggestion to talk about Rosa Luxemburg in connection with marxism
and feminism does sound interesting. I have read the Dunayevskaya book
and thought it had some useful things to say, especially since it touches
on Marx's (not Trotsky's) concept of "permanent revolution" and his very
late work in the _Ethnological Notebooks_. It does seem odd to me,
though, that Rebecca can reconcile Luxemburg and Marx, profound critical
thinkers that they were, with the awful leftist ideology of Love & Rage,
with (last time I checked) its tedious anti's--anti-racism, anti-sexism,
anti-imperialism. Does L&R know what it's *for*?

--AT



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