Scholarship and politics (was Re: Proyect v Woods)

Greg Schofield gschofield at one.net.au
Mon May 21 19:22:45 MDT 2001


First I need to be clear, I have not found Jim's responses to be
non-substantive or pugnacious. Jim I have liked your responses and found
them most interesting, my remarks were only directed at the last one.
Perhaps I read it in a light that was far different than intended,
certainly the response below is both serious and well stated and I note
carries the themes broached in the post I criticised which argues strongly
for the fact I was wrong to raise these matters - please consider it a
result of late night reading and a certain unnecessary pugnaciousness on my
behalf.

Also I would add that I am relatively new to the list and not to be taken
all that seriously.

What you write below not only deserves attention but by a strange
coincidence strikes at things I am much interested in raising as well.

At 10:16  21/05/01 -0700, you wrote:
>For those who haven't read it, I would suggest reading some of the writings
>in Ward Churchill's "Marxism and Native Americans".

I doubt if I will have much luck in finding this but I would be interested
in a short summation of the main points (just to orientate myself a little
better).

What you say below I would echo, albeit not from an Native American
perspective. The distance between what passes for marxism and the working
class in my country has the same symptoms as below - a gigantic
disconnection from the class which is embarrassing at best and disgusting
usually.

>One of the reasons so
>many Indians have come to distrust some self-avowed "Marxists" with whom
>they have come into contact--and unfortunately also Marxism itself--is the
>perception of some of being descended upon by "saviors", who use Native
>issues and issues of other oppressed groups, who really know nothing about
>the realities about which they are writing and do nothing to really live and
>learn in those environments, and then exit as fast as they parachuted in to
>write in media that the "subjects" of "revolutionary analysis" will never
>see, with words and elaborate "mathurbatory" equations (like in the URPE
>stuff) that the "subjects" do not understand and that are essentially
>meaningless to concrete Indian struggles in concrete contexts. Further, many
>Indians find a know-it-all and I'm-more-pure-and-correct attitude among some
>self-avowed activists that they just can't relate to. This has been my
>experience at least.

I am not familiar with URPE acronym, but aside from that the saviour
complex and know-it-all attitude is rife. My view is that despite
everything this is because the communist movement has become thoroughly
utopianised (that is the ideological form at least) in practice it means
that the practical dislocation is political. The movement does not listen
because in listening it would soon find that its political perspective is
rejected by the working class precisely because it does not represent their
immediate interests, in fact represents no interest whatsoever except as a
sect like devotion to abstractions.

I cannot speak for indigenous struggle in my own country except to say that
you don't have to be Einstien to see what the left in general is saying is
patronising for the most part and nearly always pointless. In Australia,
Aboriginal struggle has become very important, in fact nation shaping in
its impact. Millions of non-aboriginal people give direct support to
Aboriginal struggle for self-determination, however, the effect of
organised marxists groups has been peripheral at best. Mind you because of
Australian history many of the activists (aboriginal and non-aboriginal)
have had in the past direct connection to marxism through the old and now
defunct CPA (Communist Party of Australia), marxism is thus something of a
distant background to this but that is all.

The present government's hostility to Aboriginal aspirations will be one of
the elements that will bring it down at the next election (even
conservative commentators concede this from time to time). Aboriginal
struggle has had an epoch making effect and very quickly (from someone my
age, 44, the swiftness has been outstanding). This is not to say that there
does not exist opposition, there has been and naturally that has taken on a
racist flavour, the incredible thing is that support has been overwhelming
and even the extreme right wing One-Nation Party has been forced to drop
and quieten its racist elements. (I must add that on the ground material
changes for Aboriginal people are not even marginally better - despite the
struggle and the good will generated).

Which brings me to my point, which is historical. The old CPA, Stalinist
and theoretically bankrupted for much of its existence, did listen and
respond to the working class, and became instrumental in serving emerging
Aboriginal struggle. Before 1967 Aboriginals had no rights of a citizen,
were not counted in the census (they were a dying race by official formula)
and were used as virtual slave labour on cattle stations. Moreover, their
lives were regulated in the familiar pattern (ie regulated by
administrators) while their children were systematically stolen.

No-one, given the small fraction that Aboriginal people are within the
overall population, could reasonable expect then that by their own efforts
they would be able to make an impact. However, a long tradition amongst
Communist activists of listening and responding to people.

On critical moment in this struggle came when a well known communist
writer, Frank Hardy, visited the Top-end and made acquaintance with the
Aboriginal stockmen of Wave Hill station. What followed was the first
Aboriginal workers strike and eventually the station reverted to its
Aboriginal ownership. I knew Frank and he was never one who was backwards
in having an argument, but he also was a listener, never dismissed what
ordinary people had to say (which became one of his strengths in writing)
and thereby became a conduit to the rest of Australia for the Wave Hill
actions.

Obviously this is just a single episode amongst many chosen only because it
obliquely strikes at the "writer" aspect of the discussion. However, the
mystery remains that the best work done in Australia by avowedly marxist
activists was done when I think we all could agree, the political "line"
was wrong (in the main) and the theory much less than perfect.

The aspect of utopianism (and there are quiet a few) which is obvious now
is that abstraction replaces reality in most debates. Abstract line is
counter-posed to abstract line, theory is given more importance than it
actually has in reality and we as a movement jousts tenaciously at the
windmills slaughtering dragons to the left and right of us.

Little wonder then that most ordinary people find the movement distasteful
and insulting.

I would propose that the problem will not be solved but at least alleviated
by denuding political statements of theory and phrases, rather we should
concentrate on revealing problems and issues in plain English, unadorned by
political qualifications. Likewise this has its counter-part in theory,
where we should avoid making political mileage out of a perceived error and
instead more closely examine the logic of an idea and try and rescue what
might be insightful about it (not easily done I might add).

Where we should come to both political and theoretical agreement and use as
our common basis of criticism has to be the utopianism of our own movement
(in theory and practice) until this postulant boil is lanced and drained I
cannot see a proper way forward at all. On this I would very much like some
comment - because either this, or something like it, is at the heart of our
troubles, or we are really at sea grasping at straws (a purposefully mixed
metaphor).

>On the other hand, maybe this discussion is simply hitting some raw nerves.
>I for one am sick of some verions of "Marxism" as an academic market-niche
>and vehicle for CV-building--as opposed to Marxism as a paradigm and tool
>for concrete activism in concrete struggles in concrete contexts. When I
>read the Woods article, I'm sorry if I missed something, but my response
>was: "OK, so what?". Some of the vitriol associated with the discussions on
>Woods I just couldn't/can't understand.

Likewise on all three comments:
1)Professional Marxism (of the CV variety) has to brushed aside.
2)Nor did I find anything exceptional in Woods article and I still have not
seen a summation of what the other point of view actually is.
3)The passion seems totally out of place (forgive me Jim but I read your
original posting in this light - that is as part of this "over-the-top"
hypersensitivity, I now see that I in fact misread you in this).

>But OK, I'll drop this discussion; but to say it's or whatever's so
>(pugnacious etc) by me or anyone else of course doesn't make it so. Just as
>saying someone is highly respected as a Marxist, doesn't make them worth
>being respected or make them a Marxist; and if someone is worth being
>respected as a Marxist, that does make their particular work worth being
>respected or accepted at face value.

Fair enough - point accepted.

>And that's my final comment on this subject--perhaps.

Despite my misgivings originally I think this is well worth pursueing.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia




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