Post-Marxism without apologies?

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Mon Jan 30 00:26:20 MST 1995


On Sat, 28 Jan 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> 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.

OK, Louis, I'll take you up on this one.

Let me clarify first: as I've stated from the start of this list, I
regard myself neither as a post-Marxist, nor as a Marxist.  I'm not
especially sure of the value of these labels (though I happen to think
the former may well be more useful than the latter--as should become clear).

First, I think your schema concerning the academy in relation to its
outside is fundamentally wrong.  If there are a number of post-Marxists in
the academy, it is because the academy has fundamentally been influenced
by Marxism.  The working class in the US is not post-Marxist simply
because it has never been Marxist.  Maybe in Italy or the Czech
Republic... but in the US the proportion of Marxists in the academy is (I
guess) greater than elsewhere in the US, and Marxists have more chance of
influence in the academy than anywhere else--both the chair and the
director of graduate studies in my department would probably call
themselves marxists, for instance (though this is no doubt not typical).
Whatever, I bet that Marxists now have more say in the academy than they
did in the 30s, the 50s, *or* the 60s.  In this sense (as I've said
before) the new right attack on the academy since the early 80s is
fundamentally right--higher education, and the humanities in particular,
is substantially to the left of the "consensual" public sphere.

This does not make my faith in the intelligentsia any the greater, or
suggest to me that academics are particularly "radical."  Far from it.
Nor does it lead me to the quasi-elitism unfortunately expressed in one
of Justin Schwartz's recent posts.  But still, as far as definable
political positions, all the above is, it seems to me, very clearly true.

In this context, the debate over "post-Marxism" is interesting, not so
much as an indicator of how many have reneged against the cause, but in
terms of how few even identify their intellectual allegiances.  I would
wish that many more in cultural studies or the humanities generally would
identify themselves as "post-Marxist" in the strong sense identified by
Laclau and Mouffe (to whose names the term is most clearly attached, as
in their article which provides the subject line of this post), that is,
I wish that more in the humanities would emphasize the "marxist" of
"post-Marxist" and acknowledge the extent to which their fields of study
have been constituted by, and would be unrecognizable without, Marxists such
as Adorno, Benjamin, Althusser, Gramsci, Jameson, Eagleton, Hall etc.
etc.  In other words, I wish that many more in my field, at least, would
profess more openly to a "post-Marxism without apologies."

As to the substance of post-Marxism itself, I think your summary was
mainly correct--brief as it was.  For myself, I have two problems with
the position you implicitly portray: first, I really don't understand the
necessity of acceding to the label "Marxist."  I don't know what it means
or what it does.  My first question is "which Marxism?"  After that, I am
merely bemused.  There is no such thing as a coherent Marxism--there has
not been for decades.  This I regard as one of its strengths.  It is the
call for orthodoxy that is intimidating and counter-productive.

Second, I have little problem with anti-foundationalism and
anti-Leninism.  I am uncomfortable with the role of the party ascribed by
Lenin, and I had considered that one of the fundamental tenets of Marxism
was the idea that everything would and *could* be made new--and that this
would include what had assumed to be the present foundations of society.
Did Marx precisely not exhort us to think beyond and around such foundations?

Finally, I remain unconvinced (and this in the end is the reason why I
find it hard to call myself a Marxist of any kind) that class is the
overwhelming category by which to understand contemporary (or any other)
society.  I do not see class as analytically prior to gender (for
example).  Nor, on the other hand, do I see things the other way.  I am
not sure of the relations between class, gender, and race oppression, but
I cannot reduce any of these to the other.  In this sense, my opposition
to Laclau and Mouffe (who have taken on, as I said, most willingly the
label of post-Marxists) is not so much based on the fact that the
criticize Marx, as on the fact that in the process they evacuate all
political content (and praxis) from what they are doing.

But I swear that there are other post-Marxisms (if that is what you want
to call them) and that, again in the strong sense proposed by Laclau and
Mouffe, it is only within this legacy of Marx (for are we all not
post-Marx?  Have any of us remained unaffected?) that we will achieve
anything of use.

> Louis Proyect

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons


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