Scholarship and politics (was Re: Proyect v Woods)

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Sun May 20 20:23:23 MDT 2001

Andrew, for the most part I do not disagree with your points, but I would
also reiterate my own and emphasize placing your points within our actual

What you say immediately below I too would endorse despite my previous
assertion "I consider pre-judging a work by the politics of the author is
not a good guide to much at all".

I know you are not reply to me, but the as is ever the case the use of
political accusations to pre-judge contributions is very prevalent in the
movement - in fact it has become the near universal fashion.

At 04:15  20/05/01 -0500, you wrote:
>However, the political position
>of a person is not entirely irrelevant to the form and content of their
>arguments!! From a historical materialist point of view, thought is the
>reflection (or at least the refraction) of one's social location. One may
>gain considerable insight into a person's intellectual products by knowing
>where they stand. This is particularly important in decoding rhetoric, as
>capitalist and racists are keen on dressing their interests up in populist

The usefulness of what you say, where the political position of an author
is used to decode rhetoric etc stands. However, everything with a pinch of
salt, as I have also seen "decoding" being used in order to avoid actually
dealing with what has been said. However, you have rightly qualified this
by pointing to right-wing populist literature - in this context I agree 100%.

The problem arises when contributions from within the proletarian camp are
made to carry the weight of political accusation as their "real" meaning
and where little attempt is made to assess arguments on their merits. As
said above, I believe this to be too common and it needs redressing in
order to break out of the ongoing sectarianism that is so damaging to the

At this point of time we could well do with a united intellectual front to
oppose this specious reasoning whenever it appears, which also means being
more sensitive and critical of arguments that may well be justified in
using it as a form of analysis. I would go just one step further, that is
as using the political standpoint of the author to understand the work, for
a good long while into the future we should insist that such analysis be
kept private (if it helps to order the criticism and understand the work
that is fine, but there is little justification of also publishing this

In other words, for the immediate benefit of the movement let us impose
this small discipline in ourselves even when right-wing populists do their
thing. The problem is that justifiable exposure of the politics of the
author, laps into less useful exposé, and finally underpins sectarian
slander. To remove the last I would argue that restraint from the others is
but a small price to pay, who knows but in battling right-wing popularism
dealing with textual inconsistencies and contradictions may well be more
convincing than simply labeling the author.

If the author is the enemy, then why not attack the person directly.

I bring this up only in an effort that the movement begins to think
seriously about what is needed to transform itself and raise itself above
what it has become.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

>It seems to me that the appropriate approach to the discourse of the "Shoah
>industry" is one  which accomplishes three interrelated things: (1) make
>sure that trauma stories are real (i.e., that they happened and that they
>concern oppressed groups); (2) make sure that genuine trauma stories do not
>silence other trauma stories; and (3) make sure that no real trauma stories
>are diminished.
>For example, some representatives of the Nation of Islam make it a point to
>elevate the African holocaust over the holocaust of the Jews. They perceive
>that white Americans have more awareness of and sympathy for the Jewish
>holocaust compared to the black holocaust. Yet, white Americans are
>unsympathetic to black suffering because white privilege has been purchased
>at the expense of Africans and their descendants. White America has no
>problem with Germans making reparations to Jews--this does not come out of
>its pocket. Representatives of NOI would get much more political mileage by
>championing the cause of Jewish reparations and using it as an analog for
>racial justice in the United States. Anti-Jewish sentiments (especially the
>conspiratorial rhetoric) is damaging to the cause of blacks in America.
>Another example is the cause of the Palestinians. There appears to be a
>widespread belief that the mere fact of the Jewish holocaust diminishes the
>plight of the Palestinian people. Such a belief is absurd. If the Jewish
>holocaust is used to legitimate oppression of Palestinians then this is a
>problem--but it is not a problem solved by diminishing the role played by
>anti-Jewish hatred in Europe during the holocaust. I have read Goldhagen's
>book, listened to him lecture, read his responses to his critics, and I have
>detected no desire on his part to use the genocide of the Jews as a
>justification for the oppression of Palestinians. To make such an claim,
>Goldhagen's critics enter into a silly critique akin to finding scholarship
>on the African American holocaust playing a role in diminishing the gravity
>of the oppression of the Oromo in Ethiopia. It is an exercise in
>Andrew Austin
>Assistant Professor
>Social Change and Development
>University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
>Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
>(920) 465-2791

More information about the Marxism mailing list