Michael Keany on post-Marxism (from PEN-L)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Jun 15 09:48:54 MDT 2001


Firstly, thanks to Doug for forwarding his review.


I understand his concern to move beyond what seems the unremitting
pessimism of a lot of Left writing and opinion. Unfortunately, I think the
pessimism is well-founded, for reasons Yoshie has eloquently stated. And
Lou's rhetorical analysis only underlines Rob's concerns about flights of
idealist fancy.

There are 2 major problems with post-postist post-its for me. Firstly, the
heady combination of scholasticism and anarchism. This stuff is very
abstract and self-consciously clever -- and often as impressive as publicly
masturbating while saying "look, Ma, no hands!" The painful "playfulness"
of a Derrida, or the bandwagoning of "Empire" suggests at once a retreat
into imaginary castles of wonder (idealism) together with a fatalistic
pragmatism that runs up the white flag and, with an "if you can't beat 'em,
join 'em" rationale, gets with the fellow travellers' programme, as with
many cheerleaders of the Third Way (materialism). Which leads to the
second, related point. Many of our post-postist post-its are former
"Marxists" whose faith in whatever version to which they once adhered is
gone. The postmodern declaration of the collapse of the "grand narrative"
suits their psychological predicament, as it rationalises their
rejection/disillusionment with/inadequacy of whatever "grand narrative"
they once followed. So what we get instead is the intellectual and
political equivalent of the post-it: random assembly and re-arrangement of
diffuse ideas and political projects with no clear strategy or end-in-view,
other than the celebration of "differance", consumerism, identity, me me
me. Postmodern radicalism collapses ultimately into reactionary
conservatism, since its practical effect is negligible (with regard to the
status quo), while it rationalises and further compounds the alienation and
atomisation inherent in contemporary capitalist development.

Before Doug goes and slashes his wrists, however, all is not lost. As a
European, I learn a lot from my comrades stateside, where I believe Marxian
and radical thinking to be in a reasonably healthy state. If that is albeit
relative to the generally sickly condition of global anticapitalist
thinking (and I don't believe it is), it's still no mean achievement. In
particular, and this is thanks largely to Doug's original prompting, I've
been impressed by much of the work emanating from Jim O'Connor's stable in
Santa Cruz (J. Donald Hughes notwithstanding, Lou). And, while grounded in
a historically materialist reading of the current situation, it is also
seeking to extend debate and action beyond the confines of Marxism,
narrowly conceived. And it is internationalist, not just in its politics
but also in its embrace of thought and struggle going on elsewhere, as
recent contributions from folks like Walden Bello, Patrick Bond and Alain
Lipietz demonstrate. But the key, for me, is its essential groundedness in
the Marxist tradition. Without that anchor, we generally end up with the
flights of fancy of the pomos (idealism) and a parallel development of
narrow, nationalist, nativist reaction (materialism). Hardt-Negri seems to
fly too close to the latter, for my taste at least, in that it appears to
reinforce the separation of the thinking and the doing that Marxian praxis
was supposed to have overcome.

Michael K.

Louis Proyect
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