Po-Mo critiques

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc2.igc.apc.org
Sun Feb 26 00:20:12 MST 1995

Howie Chodos says:

>We cannot simply dismiss the problem by saying that Stalinism
>was a deviation from the true Marxism of the founders of the

What problem again?  I thought the whole issue was the
mischaracterization of Marx and his relation to the enlightenment.
Of course there are objective reasons why Marx was not properly
understood, and objective reasons why Stalinism has a historical
logic to be explained materially and not as a deviation from
original Marxian principles, though it is that too, logically
speaking.  The existence of many Marxisms is one matter, but the
proper interpretation of Marx's Marxism is what matters, and this
petty-bourgeois feminist was irresponsibly putting words in Marx's
mouth.  Marx saw the "progress" of class society as radically

>I am uncomfortable not only with this kind of hyperbole but even
>with the dismissive qualification of Flax as a "petty bourgeois
>feminist". Implicit in it are a series of assumptions: (a) that
>it is possible to discern the "true" interests of the working
>class (before that class enacts them); (b) that there is a
>clear-cut (necessary? inevitable? probable?) correlation between
>what one does and what one thinks;

Your implicit assumptions are very different from my own.  I
object to her infantile whining - the self-centered despair C.L.R.
James used to write about -- about her disillusionment with
progress, and her distortion of Marx as a simple-minded whig.
There is an agenda here; it is to trash any conception of rational
understanding of the world and to replace the hard-won
intellectual achievements of the modern world with her
self-indulgent, obscurantist philosophy.  Your assumptions you
find implicit in me are products of your own fantasy; they have
nothing to do with the matter at hand.

>(c) that feminism and postmodernism are ideologies which
>inherently attempt to subvert the "true" ideology of the working

I don't like your phrasing, but they do indeed attempt to subvert
a proper understanding of class society as a whole and a rational
understanding of anything.  This is indeed harmful to the
interests of the working class.

>(d) that it is the working class that is the agent of
>revolutionary change by virtue of its position in capitalist

How could it be otherwise?  The key problem here is the obvious
social differentiation of the working class.  In the absence of
unity, certain groupings have to go it alone and take the lead.
The lack of solidarity in overthrowing ALL forms of oppression (as
Marx had claimed the proletariat would do) increases social
fragmentation, creates new social movements, encourages identity
politics, places certain groups in the vanguard of change (Blacks
in the USA), and ultimately makes it difficult for revolutionary
change to be accomplished.  However, my ultimate question for the
partisans of identity politics: do you have what it takes to take
on corporate America, because if you don't (and I can tell some
stories of how you crumble in the face of corporate power), all
your militant posturing is a load of crap.  And keep this in mind,
when I criticize petty bourgeois feminists, I do not equate
dim-witted, narcissistic professors with working class women, who
have all of the burdens of class put on them and for millions of
them race as well.

>history" which it can endorse?

"Pre-given" implies teleology, which implies some form of
objective idealism.  My phrasing "implicit telos" would refer to
an inherent logic of self-realization, not pre-ordained, not of
History, but of real people developing historically.  I wanted to
be open-minded about this latter possibility, not because I think
it applies to Marx, but because it does apply to the Hegelian
Marxism of C.L.R. James (see his essay "Dialectical Materialism
and the Fate of Humanity" in THE C.L.R. JAMES READER).  James
considered his view to be scientific and not idealist.  (See "The
philosophy of history and necessity: a few words with Professor

A few final words about the Enlightenment.  Professors in the
humanities are so steeped in snob culture they forget that ideas
have been historically appropriated by different people, in
different contexts, and for different purposes than those who
originally created them.  Instead of caterwauling about the
limitations of the bourgeois propagandists of the Enlightenment,
why not look at how oppressed people appropriated these ideas for
their own benefit: 19th-century feminists, the Jewish
Enlightenment, the tradition of working class autodidacts, to
begin with?  Anti-enlightenment bitching is already old and stale;
it is merely a pretext for the new irrationalism that engulfs the
intellectuals in their self-centered, arbitrary, subjectivist
crybabyism and self-satisfied illusions of their own superior
sophistication and morality.  Yet they are nothing but the Young
Hegelians of today, "haughty hucksters of ideas" engaging in
mortal combat with "the shadows of reality".

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