MONTHLY REVIEW/red-baiters/Derrida

Adam Bandt bandt at cleo.murdoch.edu.au
Wed Jul 19 02:24:58 MDT 1995


As a final year undergrad student in Australia in Law and Social
Sciences, I am gratified to find I'm not alone after Ralph Dumain's
comment about "a number of grad students as well as community activists who
have had it up to here with Cultural Studies ...<snip> stunting the
development and limiting the options of students who want to do genuine
revolutionary intellectual work.  I'm glad to know there are still some
young people with sense; I was beginning to lose hope.".

Every now and then, I'll find a lecturer who used to be marxist in the
70's (when it was fashionable) and who will nostalgically grade my essay
on The Grundrisse, but when it comes to the crunch (ie when they
want to get published) will side with the other so-called 'progressives'
in the most facile 'anti-GrandNarrative'-ism. If one scratches the
surface, one inevitably finds a form of red-baiting, whereby discourse
fetishists side with liberals in condemning emancipatory theory.

I have recently put my feelers out to get support for doing postgrad work
in Marxism and Law. There aren't too many people who still identify
themselves with this field anymore: those whose wrote texts on this topic
in the 1970's and 1980's - texts which I still find useful - now spend
their time writing books on 'Foucault and the Law', jettisoning their
socialist baggage.

I'm kind of hoping that things are slowly swinging back. After all, the
rise of neo-liberal economic startegies and ideologies put
(psuedo)progressive academics right in the firing line. Surely these
people will soon pull out and dust off those arguments about wage slaves
and collective organising when they realise that localised resistance is
pretty pathetic up against the power of capital to influence
government spending ...

However, as one of those commies who scours currently fashionable leftist
academia for something useful, I do think it is a bit hasty to dismiss
Derrida in the way that Ralph does. Sure, the guy gets used to justify
the most vulgar liberalism (whoops, postmodernism), but I think you have
to give some respect to a guy who dedicates his most recent book to Chris
Hani. [Interestingly, despite the book's many failings, I haven't come
across any po-mo adherent who is willing to accept the premise that
contemporary theiorists need to acknowledge their debt to and reorient
their work towards Marx. A curious, but predictable silence.]

Indeed, Derrida explains his lack of engagement with Marx during the '60s
and '70s as an unwillingness to jump on the red-baiting bandwagon
post-'68 (compare Foucault's hasty departure from the PCF and his
subsequent comments on Marxism). I believe this shows admirable politics.

Derrida has, in fact, consistently identified himself as communist or having
communist leadings.

Years ago, he also edited a book on Mandela (remember, this was before
Mandela sold out to international capital), and railed strongly against
the deconstructionists and cultural relativists who had a go at him for
suggesting that apartheid contravened some fundamental principles of
human decency.

I like Marx. A lot. And I like Derrida. Ignore the crap second and third
hand interpretations of him and read his work. Sure, he's written some shit,
and there is plenty of stuff there for the red-baiters to
misinterpret. But then again, people have made sound arguments that
Marx believed in positivist social science and then (unconvicingly)
suggested that Marx should be ignored or ridiculed.



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