Gramsci, Laclau, Mouffe (and Bhaskar)

Philip Goldstein pgold at strauss.udel.edu
Wed Mar 8 07:24:34 MST 1995


	Justin Schwartz praises Norman Geras' attack on Laclau and Mouffe
on the following grounds: "They attack a caricature of Marxism qua
economic determinism and narrow class reductionism which none of the
theorists they actually discuss in fact holds." This criticism of L & M,
similar to Kellner and Best's criticism in their book on postmodern
theory, complains that L&M's account of Marx and Marxists from Marx
through Lenin to Gramsci is reductive, narrow, fails to see their genius,
continuiing truths, universal validity, etc. I find the criticism wrong
headed. In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, they are not so much
analyzing the thought and beliefs of particular Marxists; they are
tracing the development of ideas which they consider incompatible on
postmodern grounds -- socio-economic determination by class position and
indeterminacy of value and identify which explains hegemony. Such studies
of Marxism's development or reception are commonplace among political
scientists, many of whose textbooks on communism present similar accounts
of how communism developed out of Marx's thought. L & M's account has the
aim and the virtue of telling us how Marxism can overcome the quagmire
into which Soviet communism led it --e.g., how Marxism can overcome its
totalitarian impulses and recover a democratic ethos. To argue, as Geras
and others do, that L & G neglect the subtlety and the grandeur of great
Marxist thinkers beg the point: Totalitarian communism has widely
discredited Marxist thought and even the most brilliant Marxists are
implicated in its discrediting. You don't overcome the legacy of Soviet
or totalitarian communism by claiming that Marx or some Marxists were
much smarter than their followers thought. The conservative answer is
Marxism is good in theory but terrible in practice.

Philip Goldstein


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