What the list needs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Oct 30 08:23:32 MST 2000

>Hi Les & Lou:
>I like Les's proposal, but my alternative proposal is that, instead
>of getting stuck with Robert Brenner & Ellen Wood (on whom perhaps
>_more than anyone cares to hear about_ has been posted on Lou's list
>& PEN-L, I believe), we can invite folks in general to contribute to
>the list on the following suggested topics: "so-called primitive
>accumulation"; capitalism & slavery; historical materialism vs.
>historicism vs. empiricism; reassessment of dependency theory;
>reassessment of world systems theory; gender & the origins of
>capitalism; social formations in the colonial Americas; the origins
>of the bourgeois state; revolutions & counter-revolutions; Gramsci &
>hegemony (esp. right-wing misappropriations of Gramsci); agriculture
>& capitalism; capitalism & imperialism today; etc. (the topics which,
>in one way or another, have popped up in the course of threads on or
>related to Brenner).

This was addressed by Yoshie to Les Schaffer who proposed a formal debate
on the questions. I want to suggest a different approach.

In general I want to stress topics for discussion on this list that do not
presuppose access to scholarly material. Except for graduate students like
Mine, Yoshie, Dennis Redmond and a handful of others, most people who
subscribe to this list are not in the habit of reading journals like New
Left Review or academic textbooks. One of my biggest gripes with PEN-L is
that it has always been oriented to the needs and concerns of professors
and graduate students.

The Marxism list is not really a scholarly mailing list. If I intended for
it to be so, I would have investigated a university internet provider like
CSF (where PEN-L is housed) or H-Humanities. One of the biggest peeves I
have with Yoshie is that she is swamping the list with material from the
academic world without providing context. Unless one has some grounding in
the question of the crisis of the 17th century, text wrenched out of
context only adds to the general state of confusion. One of the reasons I
have been pushing for less of this is to help clarify the issues and not to
be burdened with a forest/trees dynamic.

Yoshie has been a graduate student for over 10 years now and seems somewhat
a product of this environment. I do not say this because I am on the other
side of a debate with her, but only to highlight a communications problem
that exists on a list where academics and working people exist side by
side. Mine, who obviously agrees with me on these questions, also carries
some of the same baggage. If one is immersed in preparing a dissertation on
the world economy using scholarly material written by Wallerstein or
whoever, it is almost inevitable that you will forward it to the list.
Alas, most people are probably not even aware what world systems theory
really means, so are not even in a position to judge the
Brenner-Wallerstein debate.

Whenever I think of the typical reader of the Marxism list, I always think
of my old friend Jon Flanders, who repairs diesel locomotives for a living
in Schenectady, New York, a hard scrabble working class town with very few
amenities, especially libraries where you can read old copies of the New
Left Review or books by Braudel or Wallerstein. When he gets home from work
each day, he has to deal with getting two young kids to do their homework
and not putting bubble gum in their hair. When he sits down at his computer
each night to read material from the various mailing lists he subscribes
to, he only has time to go over the most important threads which invariably
have some relevance to his trade union activities and interest in issues of
war and peace. I can't imagine him having the time, nor the energy, nor the
resources, to make sense of this arcane debate about English versus French
cereal production in the 17th century. I dare say that if Yoshie was a
construction worker rather than a graduate student, the same would be true
for her.

I have a responsibility to keep this list focused on the burning questions
of the class struggle: Colombia, Nader, Palestine, Fiji, East Timor, etc.
Having stated that, I will now allow Yoshie to have the final words on the
Brenner debate because everything I have had to say I have said already.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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