Marxism, philosophy, and more

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sat Jan 28 18:37:01 MST 1995


On Sat, 28 Jan 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:
>
> I vehemently disagree with Proyect if, in calling us to emulate the
> popularizers in the Monthly Review, he means that we know all the answers
> and our job is just to translate them into accessible form for the masses.
> In fact we do not know all the answers and getting them straight requires
> a good deal of hard, technical, specialized, and necessarily unpopular
> thinking and debate. As someone once said, introducing a notoriously
> difficult work of economics, There is no royal road to science.
>

Louis Proyect:

This actually does describe my notion of Marxism. I think
that Marxists must by necessity be popularizers since the
mass audience for Marxist ideas should be the working class.
After all, the working class is the only class which has the
social power to overturn capitalist property relations. From
this standpoint, some exemplary Marxists are
intellectuals like Herbert Aptheker, Isaac Deutscher, EP
Thompson and all of the Monthly Review authors. Not all of
these figures belonged to parties, but they certainly
understood the importance of communicating to the masses.

People who popularize Marxism very often are organized in
socialist organizations which systematically try to
propagate Marxist ideas among the working class. People, for
example, like Joe Slovo, Tomas Borge, Shafiq Handal and Lula
discovered ways to win the workers and peasants to
socialist ideas in their respective countries. Those who
wish to reach the American people with Marxist ideas would
be well-advised to study the approach taken by
Sandinistas like Tomas Borge who learned to adapt a class-
struggle program to the concrete conditions of Nicaragua
under Somoza. Roger Burbach, who is head of the Latin
American studies department at Berkeley, co-authored with
Orlando Nunez, a Nicaraguan, a book called "Fire in the
Americas". This book shows how the successful strategies of
the Central American left can be applied to advanced
countries like the US.

Now there is a place for research and investigation within
Marxism, but I don't believe it falls within the purview of
"amending" or "improving" it. This is a big waste of time.
The crying need is for Marxist economists, political
scientists and historians to apply the Marxist method to
some of the complex issues of the day and to make sense out
of them, in order to facilitate effective political action.
For example, there remains large open questions about the
American working-class. Despite excellent studies such as
those by Mike Davis and Stanley Aronowitz, there's a lot
that remains enigmatic and contradictory. Who would have
expected 20 years ago that so many of the bastions of US
blue collar trade unionism could be destroyed with so little
resistance. What has happened to places like Pittsburgh,
Flint and Buffalo? What transformations is the US working
class going through? These are the types of questions that
preoccupied Lenin when he wrote about the Russian peasantry.

In any case, Marxism requires a subject. It is an analytical
method that is geared to solving problems. The types of
subjects that have engaged Marxists in the past have been
war, revolution, fascism, racism and antisemitism. These are
the burning issues of the real world and which are almost
never discussed on the Marxism list. This list is a little
like the cave in Plato's Republic in which the shadows of
the real world are occasionally reflected off the walls of
the cave. Except in this list, everything is reversed. We're
surrounded by ideas but isolated from the material world.

Perhaps the problem is that the list is a mixture of two
currents. There are Marxists within it, but there are also
post-Marxists. Post-Marxism is widely accepted in the
academic world, but challenges many of the "foundational"
ideas of Marxism. Post-Marxism views traditional Marxism and
especially the Leninist current as reductive and
antidemocratic. It opposes any political movement which
tries to explain history or society in terms of the role of
a specific class or privileged agency. Post-Marxism does
accept the inspiration deriving from Marx's intellectual
legacy, especially his early works, but denies the Marxist
emphasis on the economic substructure. Many post-Marxists
tend to argue on behalf of radical democracy rather than
socialist planned economies in the Soviet model.

Stating that there is a clash between Marxism and post-
Marxism might go against the stated goals of this list, but
it would certainly explain some of the occasional acrimony
which crops up. Well, maybe the acrimony is just coming from
this quarter but I invite anybody out there to give me a
piece of their post-Marxist mind. I love a good debate.

Louis Proyect

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