The retreat of the "intellectual"

Zeynep Tufekcioglu zeynept at
Mon Oct 14 19:41:51 MDT 1996

I want to discuss the role of the "intellectual" as one among many
parameters that is defining the state of the revolutionary left. As
the acts of resistance by the working class and the oppressed minorities
has shown a noted increase in the past year or so, the question of
the political agenda of these movements has become more acute.

I want to start the argument by summarising/including some quotes
>from *Latin America in the Time of Cholera; James Petras & Morris
Morley; Routledge Publishers, 1992*.

"It is painfully evident that intellectuals no longer play a major
role as protagonists of working-class politics. Indeed for some the
'working class' no longer exist; for others the very notion of class
is 'problematical'. Marxism has become a term of opprobrium,
imperialism has been replaced by "discourses," socialism is usually
put in quotation marks, and the loud cries of crisis have Ben
replaced by claims of failure, disintegration, and demise." (p. 145)

"The retreat of intellectuals from Marxism in particular and the
scientistic posturing occurs precisely when the ruling classes are
most robustly ideological and mince no words in defending class power
with straightforward expositions of doctrinaire unregulated
capitalism and income reconcentration at the top. ... Never in this
century have the bonds between capitalism and the state been so
transparent as during the 1980s; and never has control over the state
and production had such a direct impact on 'distribution' of income.
Yet it is precisely in this period that the former Marxists choose to
emphasize the autonomy of the state from class power and the
autonomous role of ideological discourses in shaping historical
development, while disassociating 'distribution' from capitalist
ownership of production."(Ibid., p.146)

Both of these quotes from Petras & Morley's book describe a
phenomenon that is hard to miss. Petras & Morley claim that, "with a
striking and almost banal regularity, the same unfounded criticisms
of Marxism are leveled from Paris to Buenos Aires, from Warsaw to
Chicago" (Ibid. p.151).

It is true that previously in history there were times during which
we saw a mass flight from Marxist and revolutionary ideas (McCarthy
period is one example Petras & Morley provide). However there are a
few points I'd like to raise. Most of these were based upon
observations I made in Turkey. Reading similar accounts for Latin
America in Petras & Morley's book and in Gaby Weber's book (in
Turkish, and haven't been able to locate the original) has prompted
me to think the co-opting of intellectuals into the system has more
to it than a bunch of cowardly turncoats, though they are most
certainly that, spewing apologistic theories for capitalism.

More what? Obviously, this era is (actually was, as I'll come to this
point later) not a very optimistic one, no matter where one stands on
the left. Through the collapse of the Soviet system, central planning
has been discredited. (Never mind the argument about the nature of
the Soviet system. It's collapse has, in the eyes of millions,
discredited the plausibility of central planning). The world has not
witnessed a major revolution, but we have seen the demise of many
attempts. As Imperialism gained a freer hand, country after country
in the third-world submitted to neo-liberalism. (Again, a different
argument. Neo-liberalism in the "center" has different
characteristics and aims than neo-liberalism in the "periphery".)

This, obviously is not the perfect environment for cheering for
socialism (for the weak of heart at least).

However,  I think that a systematic attack against the "intellectual"
has been successfully carried out for the past decades. A certain
type of intellectual, we may call the "organic intellectual" as per
Gramscian phraseology has been attacked, conquered, killed,
annihilated by all means available to be replaced by a class that
Petras & Morley call the "institutional intellectual".

The organic intellectuals, are "writers, journalists, and political
economists linked directly to political and social struggles against
imperialism and capitalism. They were integral parts of trade unions,
student movements, and revolutionary parties. Che Guevera, Camilo
Torres in Colombia, Luis de la Puente in Peru, Miguel Enriquez in
Chile, Roberto Santucho in Argentina, and Julio Castro in Uruguay
were a few of the hundreds, if not thousands of intellectuals who
integrated their intellectual work with the social struggles of their
countries. And the consequential organic intellectuals established
the norms of behaviour for the rest of the intellectual class. For
thousands of other intellectuals, the political and personal example
of the organic intellectuals served as a measuring rod, which they
approximated to a greater or lesser degree" (Ibid., pp.158-9).

And the shift? "From Marxism to liberal-democratic politics, from
support of movements of popular power to bourgeois parliamentary
institutions, from egalitarianism to social mobility, from
collectivism to a very spare 'welfare state', from anti-imperialism
to 'interdependence.' Structurally, Latin America's intellectuals
have shifted from being organic intellectuals connected and dependent
on popular movements to institutional intellectuals tied to overseas
funding agencies and their intellectual agendas." (Ibid. p.159)

Petras & Morley have three factors accounting for the shift (in the
Latin American context).

"(1) Military dictatorships smashed the previous ties between the
intellectuals and mass struggles - killing many of the organic
intellectuals and dispersing the rest; (2) European and North
American funding agencies provided a haven and/or financial support;
(3) the remaining intellectuals established institutes that
flourished on the basis of external funding. " (Ibid. p.159)

I'll end this post by saying here in Turkey, all 3 factors hold just
the same. The best were killed after the 1980 coup and are still
killed by illegal state paramilitary death squads. Instead, a special
type of intellectual thriving on foreign funded research preaching
how marvellous the trickle down effect will be has come to being.

More to this argument are the questions :

1. What is the role of the 'intellectual' in the struggle?
2. How far was this "planned"? Where does it fit in the strategy of
"low intensity warfare?
2. What is the damage caused by the new generation of capitalist
apologists and how to fight against the breed?

     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list