L-I: More from Ken Lawrence

Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Thu May 4 13:47:17 MDT 2000

Doug wrote,

>  It's pretty weird. As even LNP3 conceded, the stuff I write about
>  hasn't changed much, nor has my prose style. I still care about
>  economic and social polarization, exploitation, the despoilment of
>  the natural environment, etc. etc. - all those issues of "real"
>  politics that the enemies of the "merely cultural" disparage.
>  Apparently any sign of interest in the psyche (a distraction that
>  leads us from the struggle, even if many people don't perceive any
>  need to struggle), or gendering (aside from what Carrol characterized
>  as the exploitation of women, as if that were a self-evident,
>  straighforward field of analysis), or sexuality (nothing material
>  about that, of course!), or discourse (plain speech, unambiguous
>  slogans, that's what we need! forget Marx's interest in Hegel) makes
>  you a wanking dupe of the bourgeoisie.

    Not at all. But the political tradition I come from is instructive of the
problem. Our group had various names at various times, but was principally
defined by the leadership of C.L.R. James, whose interest and elegant writing
on all these concerns of philosophy, literature, culture, personality,
sports, and so forth, and their importance to Marxism, is well known. No one
in the 20th century did as much as James to demonstrate the importance of
Hegel to Marx and to Marxism. The trouble is, we spawned a large constituency
of mostly academic admirers (Paul Buhle is one), who enthusiastically
propagated those aspects of James's legacy while excising the revolutionary
heart that made them all matter. Selma James, another of our leaders,
pioneered a Marxist understanding of women's oppression and independent
women's struggle in the 1950s, which eventually made her views a "paradigm"
for academics in the 1980s, but shorn of its proletarian focus.

    And that is the central problem with LBO-talk dialogues. By a wide
majority, they are preoccupied with scholastic minutia (Ken M is the worst
example, but Doug's infatuation with Zizek's diversions are, if less
impudent, nevertheless more effective in their misdirection), while being
contemptuous of actual mass struggles that raise a direct challenge to
bourgeois authority (excepting when Doug is personally on the scene), and
particularly avoid developing the most essential
political/philosophical/dialectical element of all, the importance of dual
power in the transformation of mass consciousness.

    For example, the political limit of union struggles, as almost everyone
agrees, is their assigned role to establish the terms of exploitation, but
not to abolish it. How then do Marxists propose to advance beyond that? Our
first answer is, by developing strategies of struggle in which ordinary
people exercise actual power over their conditions of life, which we regard
as fundamental, in contrast to statistical evidence of alleged improvements
in income, consumption, longevity, etc. Our second answer is, by developing
strategies of struggle that impart the morality of cooperation and solidarity
in contrast to individualism and self-interest. The other discussions are
important to Marxists to the extent they contribute insights to these
projects, not as independent subjects. But these are precisely the issues
that are regarded here as beneath contempt, particularly when someone tries
to sweep away the fog of obscurantism that the various academic celebrities
impose, in order to avoid the requirement of actually becoming involved in
struggles for power.

    I agree that for people who reject concerns with a transfer of power to
oppressed and exploited people, and who see no value in solidarity, elements
of Leninism are anachronistic, and the dialectics of esthetics and sexuality
are probably more enticing. But to caricature those of us who remain
committed to a revolutionary transformation of society as cultural boors is a
bum rap.

    We can read here literally hundreds of posts on the nuances of sexual
desire and satisfaction, which are taken oh so seriously by our scholars, but
not one serious discussion of, let alone a declaration of support for, the
brave Austrians who have battled selflessly on behalf of immigrants whom
their bourgeoisie and their country's fascists have terrorized. This is
Marxism? Bullshit. It is narcissism, no matter how much windy dialectical
mystification is appended to it.

Ken Lawrence

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