Gramsci, Laclau, Mouffe (and Bhaskar)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Wed Mar 8 21:49:20 MST 1995

Insofar as I understand Goldstein's point it is this. Because totalitarian
communism has discredited Marxism in all its varieties, i.e., caused
general rejection of Marxist ideas, it doesn't matter what the actual
views of any real Marxist figures might have been: they are all tarred
with the same brush, whatever they may have said, thought, or striggled
for, and even if they opposed totalitarian impulses with every fiber of
their being or gave their lives to stop such tendencies. No matter: Stalin
has refuted Marxism. We therefore need not trouble ourselves with details.
What is important is critiquing an idealized version of Stalinoid Marxism
on postmodern grounds. As legitimation for this project we may refer to
nonMarxist or anti-Marxist political scientists who do likewise, although
they may not be postmodernists.

Is this an accurate reading of Goldstein's views? If so, these views are
groundless. Marxism in its various varieties needs to be understood to be
criticized in a serious way. Saying Stalin! Stalin! won't do. While (as I
said in my last post) there are lots of good reasons not to be a Marxist,
Goldstein hasn't persuaded me that L&M have identified any of them.

--Justin Schwartz

On Wed, 8 Mar 1995, Philip Goldstein wrote:

> 	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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