Postmodernism/Laclau&Mouffe

Guy Yasko guyy at aqu.bekkoame.or.jp
Fri Mar 3 22:57:07 MST 1995


Dear Louis,

I'm sympathetic to Martin's project, but I don't think he summarizes Laclau and
Mouffe very well.  I'm not just quibbling here.  I think that anyone interested
in defending radical politics needs to come up with a reply to Laclau and Mouffe
and to do that, one needs to know what to reply to.

First of all, I think Laclau and Mouffe use the post in the term post-Marxism in
the same way that Martin does, that is as a mark of inclusion rather than in the
sense of a Hegelian overcoming (aufheben) of Marxism.  You'll find them at the
end of _Hegemony and Socialist Strategy_ saying that we do indeed need to get
rid of capitalism.  (Although in his solo performances, Laclau doesn't seem as
convinced of this.  I'm thinking of his remark in _Reflections on the Revolution
of Our Times_ to the effect that people shouldn't resist capitalism's spread.  I
haven't followed them recently, so I don't know what they may have said lately.)
And as the title indicates, they find certain Marxist thinkers, Gramsci in
particular, very useful.  I leave it to the Gramsci experts to evaluate Mouffe's
use of hegemony.  The reason they give for the need to become post-marxists is
essentialism.  According to Laclau and Mouffe, although people like Rosa
Luxemburg and Gramsci made contributions to the project of "radical" democracy
with their conceptions of the mass strike and hegemony, they eventually
succumbed to an essentialist notion of politics as representation of the
proletariat.  The problem with such an essentialism is that by reducing politics
to the proletariat, which in turn boils down to the economy, it becomes
impossible to hegemonize by building alliances with feminists, minorities,
ecologists, etc.  To sum up, Laclau and Mouffe argue that the  big problem is
essentialism.  I think they see themselves as taking the next logical step and
taking the essentialism out of Marxism.

I have developed a critique of Laclau and Mouffe, but I do it through an
analysis of '68 in Japan.  Put in its crudest form, I argue that parts of the
left had already adopted a version of their anti-essentialist politics, but that
it wasn't particularly helpful.  Since one could argue that it would be helpful
in other situations, my argument is certainly not the strongest.  I'm wondering
how some of you on the list respond to Laclau and Mouffe.  Has anyone read Dick
Howard's article on Laclau and Mouffe? I think a critique from someone who knows
Lefort as well as Howard does would be interesting.  It's supposed to be in a
book called _Defining the Political_ from Minnesota.




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