PURELY ACADEMIC, MARX-BAITING, LOST MESSAGES?

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Fri Apr 14 02:20:29 MDT 1995


>Whenever we get that feeling that we want to drive an ice pick
>right through the middle of someone else's thoughts, we are in
>touch with Stalin.

Only a psychoanalyst or a postmodernist would confuse thoughts
with people.  Of course I want to drive an ice pick through your
thoughts, but in your pose of moral and professional psychiatric
superiority, you presume to taunt me with the secret Stalin of the
soul, as if I would do the same to live bodies.  But you are the
one interested in Mao, not me.

>That is why for me an important test is the possibility of a
>link with practice.

The first principle for such a possibility even to exist is the
quality and fruitfulness of the ideas themselves.  False and
harmful ideas have been pressed into the service of practice, to
be sure, or I should say are the results of practice, from time
immemorial.  But ideas to be positively useful must be good
_ideas_.  Suddenly, when I am on the brink of uncovering the roots
of the shenanigans of professional intellectuals, that is the
moment when _you_ dare to challenge _me_: but what are you doing
in the realm of practice?

The intellectual finds that the realm of pure ideas is impotent;
he discovers that the world is irrational; all of a sudden, the
mysticism of the pragmatic becomes his god.  (Reminds me of
Freudianism as a social force: the world is organized around
irrational idolatry except for me.)  Ideas becomes "what works".
Then we prostrate ourselves before fictional entities, like the
epistemological privilege of the poor (liberation theology) and
bend over to let every ignoramus that comes by fuck us up the ass.
So so typical.

Very well.  What I do is none of your damned business, but let me
answer you in a philosophical way, the way a convocation of
philosophers should deal with such questions.  I will expose the
very assumptions of your interrogation and show you how you go
about thinking about this question and how I do.

>In order to start changing the material world, with which people
>do you make partial, limited and cooperative alliances?

Perhaps you assume I am an upper middle class do-gooder with time
on his hands to shop around the world looking for social causes to
participate in so I can feel a part of something, especially if
those causes involve something happening several thousands of
miles away rather than helping my next door neighbors or even
trying to redress the immediate urgent survival issues of my own
daily existence.

As for whom you make alliances with, that really depends on the
condition and mobilization of grass-roots forces.  Alliances
between different sectarian and other power-hungry misfits does
not interest me at all (Committees of Correspondence).  Getting
community "leaders" who control different turf together doesn't
move me (African-American Summit).  Bypassing existing corrupt
leaders to create something new on a mass foundation interests me
more.  It is very dangerous too.

>How do you tolerate their inevitable stupidity, and ask them to
>tolerate yours?

The last organizing activities I got mixed up in did not or could
not involve ideas and certainly were not appropriate to
proselytizing for Marxism or any other notions.  When one works
with others on common clearly defined practical tasks, one is wise
not even to open one's mouth about anything other than
pleasantries or the task at hand.  This is survival.  What I am
concerned with is people's actions.  These are my organizational
principles: leaders must keep the rank and file informed of what
is going on and not act in secret, leaders must be accountable to
the rank and file, leaders are only allowed to be sneaky and
dishonest with the enemy, not with their associates and followers,
the function of leaders is not to make people dependent on them
materially or psychologically but to create self-confidence in the
people and help them develop their powers and capacities.  If I
find somebody violating a position of trust by violating these
principles, my job is to get that person out of the way whatever
it takes.  I don't know what you mean by inevitable stupidity:
most people who get involved in things are amateurs; you can't
treat them like cattle, especially if you are not paying them.
One tolerates mistakes and foul-ups; one does not tolerate
unethical behavior.

Of course, broader social movements require more in the way of
ideological and policy considerations.  I can only go example by
example.

However, generally I will say this.  In the USA 1995 one does not
start out with a general audience by proselytizing Marxism or even
saying the word.  The subject is society, not the left.  One
analyzes society in a marxist manner; one does not shill for
Marxism. It is not at all hard to get people to accept the facts
of what the concentration of capital is doing to them.  The hard
part is to overcome their (and ours too) sense of helplessness
before the infernal machine.  One can no longer do this by
screaming: join our party and we will lead you.  I am examining
the ideas of C.L.R. James, which I believe must be seriously
considered just now, though at the same time the notion of the
self-activity of the masses seems like science fiction to the very
masses who have no confidence in self-activity, not to mention a
common social vision.  I'm convinced though, that's the direction
to go in, but that requires a lengthy analysis.

I am also convinced, however, that the time is past for the
support or even toleration of nationalism with all of its
prejudices.  Certainly not in this country, anyway.  Nationalism
is gangsterism and materially contradictory to the needs of the
coming mass movement.  One must uphold a common social vision
against it.  If you lie down with dogs, you come up with fleas.

>And what practical things do you aim to do together ?

Since I am not one of these upper middle class do-gooders with the
luxury of devoting myself to causes on other continents while
ignoring my own neighborhood, this is my position: I am only
interested in immediate survival issues of local interest, which
turns out to be a national problem anyway given the unique
conditions of Washington.  The social crisis here is coming to a
head.  However, the options presented in this situation require
much more extensive discussion.  There are organizations forming
to address the problem, but one must be very very careful.  As to
whether even provisional reconciliation of competing viewpoints is
possible in a common program, and to whether I have a strong
enough stomach or could even stay alive for a week working with
the type of people that are running around loose here .......
well, my predicament is very very serious.  And indeed, I will
have to make those decisions, but for me they will not be
do-gooder ones, because among the persons most in need of being
done good to is me and mine.  More I will not say, because you
have not enlisted in my cause; you have not volunteered to help me
solve my problems (a couple of you assholes even gloat over them),
though you are insolent enough to impute your concern for practice
as greater than mine.

But now for the role of ideas.  I thought we were discussing
ideas.  All kinds of trivial intellectual rubbish has been
tolerated; now the question of practice is introduced.  Well, Ron
Press introduced it before, and Scott Marshall has a running
citation from Freddy Engels undoubtedly torn out of proper
context.  However, I am not interested in the Communist Party
formulation of the issue.  I am, however, very much interested in
the problem of ideas in social movement.  Coincidentally, I had to
think about this last night, because I was presented with a
serious exemplification of the problem.

I attended a presentation by Michael Lerner and Cornel West (in
conjunction with hawking their book) on black-Jewish relations.  I
hope you are groaning along with me.  No, I did not expect
anything of substance to be said.  I was interested in the event
strictly as a social force, and I learned some very important
things, not from those two, but from the reality of the situation
as a whole and the connection between ideas and action, and of the
need for a proper balance between hard-core materialist analysis
and mythological psycho-babble.  (Hans Despain, here is where I
will address your concerns with a nuts and bolts practical
example!)  It occurred to me for reasons I will explain later that
this was an occasion of non-ideas or at best half-baked ideas in
social motion.  There is a social force at work here (I'm talking
about the audience, the Church, the selling of the book, the germs
of a social movement, the activists and the skeptics present,
etc.), but its ultimate direction is both confused and very
precarious, and that has something to do with the low quality of
the ideas presented and my judgment that Cornel in his zeal for
coalition-building has made a serious mistake (no mistake, really,
but an outcome of Cornel's very methodology) in hooking up with an
imbecile like Michael Lerner.  (The politics of meaning, Hans:
more later.)  I'm actually thinking about this very practically,
and not as an intellectual purist scornful of lowbrow thinking.  I
am not saying that one should get up on the podium and preach
straight-up Marxism either, but one must be attentive to the ideas
one presents to people to influence their minds as well as to the
social forces that already exist in the audience and the social
force one is trying to create.  I am reminded of the saying by
C.L.R. James: one does not play with revolution.

This event demands the most precise description and acute
analysis.  Damned if I'm going to find the time for it, but I
must, because this is a test case on which lives may ultimately
depend, so we ought to discuss it.  But now I must depart.


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