Po-Mo critiques

Guy Yasko guyy at aqu.bekkoame.or.jp
Mon Feb 27 00:00:40 MST 1995

Howie Chodos' criticisms of my reply to Andy Daitsman's pomo critiques post hits
the mark.  As Chodos observes, I avoid the question of what it means to be a
Marxist in this day and age.  I agree that we ought to discuss this question in
depth.  However, I will point out that in some ways Jane Flax and others have
already defined what it means to be a Marxist.  No matter where one begins, be
it feminist marxism, C.L.R. James, or Marx,  in the final analysis (which always
comes rather quickly), Marxism reduces to their version of Orthodoxy.  According
to this line, all Marxism boils down to Stalinism, which in turn is but a
variant of Modernity, The Enlightenment, or Western Metaphysical Thinking.  Even
worse, because Nazis, Patriarchy, Capitalism, and Western Imperialism also
result from the same Western Metaphysics, there is ultimately no significant
difference between Marxists and anyone else -- except of course, the post-
modern.  This vulgar post-modernism owes more to political currents in the U.S.
academy (which, through the media of translations, visiting scholars, graduate
training, etc. plays a central role in determining the content and direction of
discussion in the rest of the world) than to post-structuralism.  In any case,
what is interesting about all of this is that people hostile to Marxism maintain
hegemony over the term.  One of the best ways to undermine this vulgar
caricature of Marxism and to win back hegemony would be to begin the process of
defining it ourselves.  I admit that I haven't contributed to the effort except
in saying in a roundabout way that Marxisms other than Flax's are possible.

Chodos suggested  that part of our effort must include efforts at gaining an
understanding of Stalinism and developing a practical alternative.  I couldn't
agree more: this combination of practical theory and theoretical praxis is a key
to a socialist future.  However, I think Marxism faces even more problems than
Stalinism.  After all, few went beyond the Socialisme ou Barbarie group in the
investigation of Soviet Marxism and the attempt at developing a practical
alternative. The group developed an anti-Stalinist definition of Marxism  as a
move to unseat the primacy of theory, speculative philosophy, and by extension,
capitalist managers, by means of the 10th thesis on Feuerbach; in a sense by
realizing philosophy, but without granting itself in advance the solution the
problem of history.   [Cornelius Castoriadis, in "Marxism: A Provisional
Assessment," in _The Imaginary Institution of Society_, Kathleen Blamey trans.,
(Cambridge, Mass: MIT, 1987), p.56]  Those of you familiar with Castoriadis know
how he concluded the essay: by declaring that the group faced the choice of
remaining faithful to a certain Marxist method or content or remaining
revolutionary.  Paradoxically, Castoriadis beleived that remaining faithful to
revolution was ultimately more Marxist than sticking to the letter of _Capital_,
(ditto for people like Dick Howard, who borrows the  approach in the _Marxian
Legacy_).  So despite anti-Stalinism and theoretical openness, some S ou B
members decided to part with Marxism in the early sixties.

It might be worth re-opening the discussion that led to S ou B's breakup in
order to ask if there were alternatives to their path. It might also be worth
asking to what degree our situation differs from 1964 France.  Discussing the
question of how the working class accquires socialist consciousness, Castoriadis
wrote that either one sides with philosophy and judges the workers according to
whether they conform to the specifics of "Marxist-Leninist" science, "Or the
activity of the masses is an autonomous and creative historical factor, in which
case any theoretical conception can be no more than a link in the long process
of realizing the revolutionary project.  It can, and even must be overturned by
this process.  The theory, then, no longer takes for itself history as given in
advance and no longer posits itself as the standard of reality but accepts
entering truly into hisory and being jostled and judged by it." [ibid, p.59]
The problem for S ou B was that the masses they encountered in the factories
chose the Fordist bargain over the long process of the revolutionary project.

In conclusion, we need to redefine Marxism in the face of post-modernist
triumphalism in such a way that both avoids Stalinism and fosters enthusiastic
participation in the project.

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