Marxism, Postmarxism?

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Thu Nov 2 12:55:45 MST 1995


Louis:

Recently I took a seminar at the Brecht Forum in NY on "Marx and 
New Social Theories". This was supposed to be a discussion of how 
well Marx stood up under the attacks mounted by postmodernism, 
postcolonialism and feminism (Irigarry, not Betty Friedan).

I took the class in order to pick up some more ammunition against all 
that "neo" and "post" stuff that's been driving me batty over the last 3 
or 4 years. In the very first session, the teacher, one Randy Martin, 
announced that his goal was to show that Marx should not be 
understood as a thinker who is to be replaced by Lyotard et al, but as 
someone who "subsumes" most of the newer trends within the general 
framework of his thought. Even though the aim of Lyotard, etc. is to discard 
Marxism, the best way to see them is as dialectical reflections of 
changing social reality. We should not dismiss their criticisms but use 
them as spotlights to understand the complexities of the current world. 
It is not as though Marx is "wrong" and Gayatri Spivak is "right" 
about postcolonial India, but rather that her thought is a reflection of 
contradictory aspects of the reality of contemporary India and can be 
helpful.

Now those are Randy's arguments roughly and I can't say I've been 
sold exactly. I remain a fairly vulgar Marxist as well as a vulgar human 
being and will be so for some time to come, I guess. But Randy is a 
subtle and challenging thinker, this despite his tenured professorship at Pratt 
Institute in NYC, and is worthy of respect. He is strongly pro-Castro and pro-
Sandinista which further endears the chap to my cold heart.

Perhaps one of the side benefits from our cyberseminar will be that it will 
allow us to test Randy's hypothesis to some degree. My approach to 
fascism is a more or less "class-oriented" approach, heavily influenced 
by Marx and Trotsky. (However, my "reading" of the 18th Brumaire 
was also shaped by some of Randy's insights in the seminar -- "reading", 
that is what you call analysis nowadays, isn't it?)

I think reports from Bryan, David and Jon, three thoroughly shrewd 
individuals, will provide some very interesting contrasts. Perhaps I 
will not be "right" in my approach and they "wrong". Reality may turn 
out to be more complex. I might end up quoting Althusser to the list in 
the future, who knows?

You can expect a report on the 18th Brumaire from me on Sunday or 
Monday at the latest. I will post another copy of the first and final 
sections of Marx's pamphlet to the list on Friday.


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