Chris Williams/Jurriaan Bendien exchange

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sun Jan 7 12:14:25 MST 2001


(Although both these comrades have unsubbed for the time being, they have
been cc'ing me with a private conversation they are having. It goes without
saying that other comrades will find it as informative and thoughtful as I
do.)

At 10:02 AM 1/7/01 -0500, you wrote:
>     I have also unsubbed, but for different reasons...I am planning on
>subbing again, at least for a time.
>     Right now the list provides me with new ideas (not often, but they are
>there for myself) and keeps me up with current events...also not too often.
>And since I have just entered the political scene by becoming a communist
>(not really becoming, just discovering that many of my beliefs are
>Marxist/communist and the others of Marxism/communism are ones I agree with
>now that I have been exposed to them.)
>     Because of your comments about getting off the list, and a few words
> that
>a friend has spoken, I am now realizing the pointlessness of a lot of the
>discussion on their.  The 'Marxist racism' you coined is what I was
>addressing when I wrote the post entitled "Insults."
>     It bothers me that you become affiliated with the stereotypes attributed
>to an individual or group if you read writings from them.  Like if I was to
>read Hitler's Mein Kampf (which I hope to someday) many people will think I
>am a nazi without asking, or if I read one of Stalin's or Mao's works (also,
>which I plan to) I will be labeled as a Stalinist/Maoist.
>     Also, I understand what you mean about the use of words that few will
>understand in place of much simpler words that fit just as well, simply I
>wanted to point out that some authors/writers may use such words without much
>thought...perhaps more intentionally use such words, I really do not know.  I
>was simply basing it on the fact that people tell me I use large words, and I
>don't even realize it.
>     Good to hear from you, and take care.
>
>In solidarity,
>Chris


Hi Chris,

Thanks for the mail.

Every person who comes into contact with revolutionary Marxism faces the
problem of how to integrate this with their personality. In this sense you
can say that the far left attracts the best and the worst. At the one pole
you have a Noam Chomsky (to take a popular amarican figure), at the other
end you have the crazy sects.

The challenge is really if you can think for yourself through the issues,
make up your own mind about political questions, and live with that as a
person of integrity with a sense of responsibility and dignity. Marx is
quite explicit in the preface to his book Das Kapital for example where he
says "if you want to reach a real scientific understanding think for
yourself and do the work required". He doesn't say "accept my theory as a
fixed doctrine" but he says use my theory as a tool to make sense of your
own reality, and do your own investigation and criticism". It isn't true
because Marx said so, but because facts and logic prove it. And in that
sense Marx says "every scientific criticism is welcome, and vulgar
prejudice can take a hike".

For quite a number of marxists with personality problems, "being
revolutionary" means adopting a kind of fake personality or a kind of
posture which is ultimately fake. They want to be for example just like
Lenin although in truth they are more like one of Trotsky's rabbits (in
Mexico Trotsky had pet rabbits). I have never believed that, and I don't
fall for it. It is a con, a fake.

The tradition of swearing at you opponents has definite origins in Russian
Marxism, which developed in a peasant class culture, where superiors cursed
their inferiors and hit them with whips (the knout). But today of course
this appeals mainly to people who haven't found a better outlet for their
aggression and fear.

Because alienation and oppression is real in our society, there is also
rebellion against that alienation and oppression. But the rebellion can be
intelligent or it can be stupid. It can be wellintentioned but still
stupid. People's personalities can buckle in the struggle. Marxism is about
intelligent rebellion. Nevertheless it also attracts stupid people and
human wrecks. This means that if somebody says he is a Marxist it means
nothing. You have to find out what sort of Marxist he is. Somebody may be
very softspoken and very gentle but have a ferocious intellect. Conversely
somebody may appear to be ideologically staunch, but when you unpack it it
is just noise.

I think an excellent very brief 54 page introduction to Marx is Terry
Eagleton, Marx and Freedom (a Phoenix paperback). If you really want to
come to grips with Marx's political theory, I recommend Hal Draper's 4
volume work "Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution" (monthly Review Press).
That's real scholarship and wellwritten. As far as Marx's economic theory
is concerned, the best introductory work I think remains Ernest Mandel's
Marxist Economic Theory in two volumes. That gives you the full range of
what Marx was on about, in plain language with lots of factual examples
which are a bit dated (but it doesn matter). Mandel also did a really brief
simple book "Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory" which is also quite
good.

If you want a more specialised commentary on Marx's Capital, an excellent
academic book to start with is John Weeks, Capital and Exploitation.

Cheers

J.

====

Hi Chris,

Just a thought. You wrote "It bothers me that you become affiliated with
the stereotypes attributed to an individual or group if you read writings
from them".

Yes, I have had that too. In anthropological terms, you can always look at
books in different ways, in content and form. You can see them for instance
as necessary tools, ornaments or works of art, stores of knowledge,
indications of beliefs or intelligence, status signals, or sexual signals.
You can also read books with different frames of reference. I don't like
the French Marxist philosopher Althusser all that much, however he did say
quite correctly that "there is no such thing as an innocent reading, and we
must say what reading we are guilty of". In other words we must read
reflexively and self-aware, place our own reading in the living context of
our situation. Moreover we must be aware of "silences" in an author, that
means, attuned to what he doesn't say, which is often as important as what
he does say. In the playful postmodernist culture, books often become a
more or less abstract metaphor, a sign in a game being played out in real
life; and many people who do not think critically but
functionally-pragmatically will not understand the real intention behind
your reading, or claim to know it better than you do yourself, because they
have more life-experience.

>From a postmodernist perspective a book (let's say the bible or the
autobiography of George W. Bush) can be interpreted in an infinite number
of ways, and therefore there isn't any fixed meaning, and anything can mean
anything depending on the context (a function of time and place, of the
moment). In that case, a book means what you want it to mean. I don't agree
with this perspective, because I think there is usually a limited number of
ways in which a book can be consistently interpreted, even allowing for
different contexts. We can quibble about the details, we can mistake the
context, but the main lines of a book are beyond dispute. If that isn't the
case, social communication breaks down. Since however people do want to
survive, they do want to communicate succesfully, and that is why, after
all the postmodernist relativism and sexual verbiage, it turns out that
many essential things of life do have an unmistakeable meaning. This is the
real significance of "ontological materialism" - real life isn't so
"relativistic" and there are absolutes, there are "laws". If you don't eat,
you get hungry and eventually die. If you rebel against society, you
attract trouble, and you are likely to be seen by some as a troublemaker.
If you place yourself in the force-field of political power, then
everything you say and everything you do, including what you look like,
counts, and if you do it wrong, there is invariably a penalty to pay. If
the bible has so many different interpretations, the reason is that it
isn't a consistent book. In volume one of the bible, there are lots of
fornicating people in it, a lot of begetting and begatting goes on, yet it
also says "thou shalt not fornicate". When I read Marx's Capital today, I
have a better sense of what he's trying to do, than when I first read it in
1980-1981. When he uses his Hegelian language, he is deliberately trying to
break people out of their accustomed frame of reference, and trying to get
them to think critically. But the basic thrust of the argument, his basic
attitude, remains the same as far as I am concerned. It's just that there
are more layers of meaning, because I have had more experience in the
meantime, I can filter what Marx says through more images, literature and
associations.

Well, Marx himself has this to say at the end of the Preface to his book
Capital: be on your way, do what you have to do, just let people talk,
don't be distracted by it. I have a similar dictum on a plate on my kitchen
wall, in Friesian language (my mother's family comes from Friesland). It
says the same thing - do what you have to do, do what you see as your duty,
and let people talk as they will. It's important to remind yourself of that
I think when everybody thinks you are stupid, or doing it wrong, or when
you have major doubts.

Regards

J.

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





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