Marxism and philosophy

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Fri Jan 27 14:04:37 MST 1995


I wish I had more time to respond to the discussion of Marxism and
philosophy, which hits on the themes dearest to me.  I'll have to
content myself with a few comments for now.

I think Justin's remarks are excellent, and there is not much I
would add to his overall points.  I used to tutor semi-literate
black women in philosophy, and the problem goes much deeper than
anti-intellectualism, even.  I don't know the answer, but I
believe we have to pursue the problen to its core.  Though I too
am complaining about academics all the time, I still believe
philosophy and intellectual work in general matter in the scheme
of things.

As to the Lenin-Bogdanov, Trotsky-Hook/Burnham/Shachtman debates,
there is much more to be said, but I must point out that Trotsky
was utterly inept in defending dialectical materialism, though I
do agree with his basic goal in doing so.  Trotsky, George Novack,
and hence all the Trotskyist sectarians that followed them, were
utterly confused on the nature of dialectical logic and its
relation to formal logic.  (Someday I'll tell the story of Jean
van Heijenoort, but I haven't the time now.)  There is an
important lesson here: one cannot let onself be cut off from
mainstream society and the general advancement of knowledge.   One
has to be careful about being a "proletarian philosopher" in the
present day.  Though I have a passionate interest in
autodidacticism, one must be aware of the pitfalls of being in
that position.

As to phenomenology, etc., I can understand people's frustrations
with having to absorb all this stuff.  I avoided it like the
plague  for a long time, but I think one ultimately has to come to
terms  with it.  IN fact, one has to come to terms with hegel and
everything that followed out of that path.  But I would like to
see someone boil down this whole philsophical trajectory and
summarize for the masses what it all means and even to give us a
few ideas out of it all that we must know and answer the question:
was it really necessary to go through all this rigamorole, and if
so, why?  I think that is an open question.

I for one, however, have been unwilling to waste my entire life
catching up on all the latest theories if I see no particular
merit in doing so other than to avoid being deemed an uncultured
slob.  I am unwilling to spend my time with decontruction and pomo
and I put the burden of  proof on those who do to convince me that
I ould not be wasting my time.  I also don't see why I should
waste my time with vacuous non-entities like Murray Bookchin or
the Greens. No, I don't have to come to terms with them at all.
They are ants to me.  Environmentalism, save for the recent
concern with environemtnal racism, is a hobby for yuppies, as far
as I am concerned.  It goes to show how the middle class ruins
everything it gains control of.

As for avoiding academicism, I think the issue is to decide what
are the philosophical questions that really matter, and whom do
you feel you have to answer to, if anyone?  Do you need to impress
people like yourselves, other professors, grad students,
professional-managerial types?  The right understands something
the left is too stupid to grasp -- in their attacks on PC, they
understand working class resentment of professionals and know how
to exploit it.  If the left got its priorities straight, they
might not be popular overnight, but they would cut out a lot of
crap and stop contemplating their own navels.  There is no
automatic cure for the ills caused by the division of labor, but
one has to immerse oneself to some extent in the realities people
live, and not just in the realities professors and professionals
live.  When one has penetrated to the depth of the
anti-intellectualism Justin writes about, one becomes not less
intellectual but more so; one sees how deep the battle goes.  Marx
saw it, and so he left the intellectuals behind.  But he did not
drag himself down to the level of the gutter -- say, to the level
of liberation theology or feminist anti-science -- revelling in
irrationalism and the impotence of intellect.  Instead he
proclaimed: "ignorance never yet helped anybody".

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