Continuing with the Brenner debate

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Sat Oct 28 17:57:18 MDT 2000

On Sat, 28 Oct 2000 16:52:42 -0400 (EDT) Louis Proyect <lnp3 at>
> Yoshie:
> I'm advancing _my own synthesis_, which I urge everyone to adopt, in
> the interest of defending _the essence of historical materialism_
> against empiricism of the Annales School, world systems theory,
> post-modernism, post-colonialism, new historicism,
> neo-Malthusianism,
> etc.  :)
> LP: Did ever occur to you that 90 percent of the people on this
> mailing list have never heard of Annales school, nor have the
> slightest idea of what you are talking about when you refer
> to "post-colonialism"? Or "new historicism"?

As I recall Karl Marx spent a number of years considering and
refuting many of the doctrines of the Young Hegelians.  I doubt that
90 percent of the workers movement of Marx's time had ever heard
of people like Bruno Bauer or Max Stirner or Ludwig Feuerbach,
yet Marx thought it worth his while to devote his time to critiquing
ideas.  Lenin as you may recall carried out a bruising attack on the
empiriocriticism of Ernst Mach & Richard Avenarius after their ideas
were being defended within the Bolshevik faction by Bogdanov and
Lunacharskii.  I very much doubt that more than a handful of Russian
labor activists back then had any inkling concerning the contents of
Ernst Mach's philosophy of science.

>As I said, this
> is empty cocktail party chatter and rather harmless, as opposed
> to Robert Brenner's thesis being adopted by 'modernization'
> social scientists to use as a cudgel against Marxism in the
> 1980s.

All the more reason to disucss Brenner, I would think.  If Brenner
is indeed being used in this way, it is important that we determine
first whether or not these social scientists are accurately representing
or are distorting Brenner's ideas (I pointed out the other day that the
European New Right
has discovered Gramsci and they think they can use him for their own
purposes), and of course to assess the validity or lack thereof of
ideas.  Anyway, I wouldn't be so sure that 'post-colonialism' or
the 'new historicism' are as harmless as you might think.  Such ideas
being taught in elite universities have a way of filtering down through
media and eventually become a part of the rhetoric of "opinion-makers."
Pomo probably looked harmless back in its heyday but you can find it
in the speeches of President Havel of the Czeck Republic, and your
friend Meera Nanda has chronicled how its been taken up by right-wing
Hindu nationalists in India in order to bash the left as "colonialist"
amongst other sins.

> "See, a Marxist agrees with us that the problem of
> Latin American poverty is the absence of capitalism rather
> than its presence." Please let me know when you plan to begin
> your synthesis.

I think that Yoshie has already made an effort to thrash out such a
synthesis.  Such a synthesis will of course have to be thrashed
out through argument and debate but that is the way dialectics works.

>Since the Marxism list is such a high volume
> list, you might want to use a heading like "YOSHIE FURUHASHI
> SYNTHESIS IS STARTING NOW" to give me fair warning.

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