Report from the academic Marxist frontline

Colin colin at
Sat Apr 14 18:41:22 MDT 2001

I always like Louis's reports on conferences, as he seperates the bullshit
from the rare gems that you find at these things. But his latest post
reminded me why I almost never go to any conference.

First of all, I'm not an academic so I  have to take days off from my
precious 4 week holiday entitlement.
Secondly, academic 'Marxist' discussion is these days usually of a
post-modern variety.
Thirdly, while understanding the need for theory, I think it has to be
linked to practice in some way. This is normally 'out of bounds' at
'academic Marxist' conferences.
Fourthly, I'm always in a small minority (often of one) of working class
activists at these events where the most common occurence is of the
academics being highly arrogant towards those not of their profession.
Finally, Tariq Ali, or Alex Callinicos, or someone similar (substitute the
name of your own least favourite academic 'marxist') always shows up at

Colin O'Brien

> From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at>
> To: marxism at
> Subject: Report from the academic Marxist frontline
> Date: 14 April 2001 23:38
> Hi, comrades. Just returned from the first day of the yearly Socialist
> Scholars Conference, which gives the unwashed mob like myself the chance
> hear some Columbia University professor pontificating on the prospects of
> working class transformation bleh-bleh. Being on my usual ornery worst
> behavior I challenged the muckety-mucks.
> At "Burying the Third Way", I heard Tariq Ali castigating fellow
> about their concessions to Blair et al including a dreadful Frenchman
> the Fondation Jean-Jaures who talked about the need for "left wing
> activists" to have fought for the re-election of Clinton. With the jaded,
> media lion Ali functioning as the left wing of such a constellation, the
> case for socialism is ill-served. With the New Left Review's "turn", I
> in no mood to put up with such silliness. During the discussion period I
> reminded Ali that there was such a thing as a "Third Way" in Latin
> which helped to prepare the electoral victory of Vicente Fox in Mexico.
> I asked, how come in the NLR interview with Jorge Castaneda (Fox's
> Minister and biographer of Che), there were only soft ball questions like
> Ted Koppel interviewing Kissinger. Was this a conscious decision or did
> reflect that the NLR editors were on vacation at the time. Ali responded
> that NLR often interviewed "the enemy" and would also have an interview
> with Subcommandante Marcos. Frankly I think the problem is that the NLR
> can't tell the difference between Castaneda and Marcos.
> In the afternoon there was a bang-up panel by the WBAI folks, with a
> audience.
> After that I went to hear a bunch of tenured professors in their sixties
> and seventies, including Bogdan Denitch, wring their hands about "a left
> politics for an age of transition." During the discussion period I
> suggested that people who have been department heads for 30 and 40 years
> (as was the case for just about everybody on the panel) would not have
> able to detect possibilities for a new radical movement if it fell on
> head. Interestingly enough, other members of the audience under 30 seemed
> to be in touch with the Quebec protests, etc. The gap between their hopes
> for the future and the timid, woeful presentations by the professors was
> wide as the Grand Canyon. It reminded me of the value of this mailing
> It serves to provide a bridge between the new generation of radicals and
> those old alley cats like myself who have learned the hard way what not
to do.
> Louis Proyect
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