Scholarship and politics (was Re: Proyect v Woods)

George Snedeker snedeker at
Mon May 21 13:30:38 MDT 2001

it seems to me that Jim is trying to offer a very specific definition of
"Marxism." it is a definition which would greatly limit the number of
Marxists in the world. during periods in Marx's life it might even exclude
him, during the 1850s? I was actually trying to draw a parallel between
Woods, Sweezy and Magdoff as editors of Monthly Review. were Sweezy and
Magdoff Marxists according to Jim? this discussion is getting trapped by our
own circumstances. revolutionary movements are a quite limited phenomena in
today's world. there are plenty of struggles. perhaps Jim is right to
suggest that intellectual criteria are not enough to determine the validity
of a particular line of thought. purely academic work which is radical only
in its ideas might be thought as marginal to the struggles we are all
involved in.

let me close by saying that I like Blaut's position on the origins of
capitalism more than Woods'. I think what we are dealing with here is a
moral narrative. her story of capitalism leaves out much of the blood shed.
in her analysis, the slave trade and the plunder of the native populations
of the "new world" were marginal events, not the core of the story. the real
story was taking place back in England according to Woods. My own favorite
quote from Marx is the one that says, "Capital came into the world dripping
with blood from head to foot."

----- Original Message -----
From: Craven, Jim <jcraven at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Monday, May 21, 2001 11:18 AM
Subject: RE: Scholarship and politics (was Re: Proyect v Woods)

> George Snedeker wrote:
> in a special issue of Monthly Review in I think 1999, Ellen woods, Paul
> Sweezy and Harry Magdoff were all interviewed. I think it was a 50
> anniversary year issue. in her interview, Ellen Woods says that her
> political work has been as a writer. . now, does this count as political
> activism? does it make her ideas more or less true? I'm not sure.
> Response (Jim C):
> Let me try once more: If her (Woods) "primary 'work' has been as a
> it does dot make her words more or less true, but does it count as
> "activism", well that depends. Where does the material about which she
> writes come from? On what basis has it been derived and tested? Who reads
> (i.e. often the subjects of "revolutionary analysis" never get to read or
> use that which has been written about them)? How is the material applied
> concrete struggles and contexts?
> The issue is what does it mean to be a "Marxist"? Does it mean simply
> anti-capitalist? Does it mean simply seeing the world (theoretically)
> through a disctinctive prism or paradigm? Or does it mean more than that?
> Does it mean not only seeing the world through a distinctive paradigm, but
> also applying that paradigm in concrete ways, in concrete contexts and in
> concrete struggles. I thought that the inscription on Marx's grave at
> Highgate Cemetary, from his 11th thesis on Feuerbach summed up the essence
> of Marx and Marxism very well: "The Philosopher's Have Only Interpreted
> World in Various Ways; the Point, However, is to Change it."
> As to being published in Monthly Review, even alongside Magdoff and
> well, that to me is not automatically some kind of Marxist credential.
> Again, there is no crime in not being a Marxist, and not being a Marxist
> does not automatically invalidate one's analysis, but I was responding to
> comment about Woods being "A" Marxist or "THE" premier Marxist
> "theoretician". And since I am unfamiliar with her work (I thought her
> was repetitive and a lot to do with very little personally; and I do not
> that out of affection for  Jim Blaut with whom I corresponded privately
> extensively) and I asked for some enlightenment on the subject.
> And finally I find the term Marxist activist to be as redundant as I find
> the terms Marxist theoretician or Academic Marxist to be oxymoronic. What
> also distinguishes Marxism, epistemologically speaking--from positivism,
> pomoism, reductionism--is the basis upon which knowledge is derived,
> and tested. Marx certainly had carbuncles on his ass from long hours in
> London Museum library, but he was always intimately involved in concrete
> struggles of real people and real issues. I just find it interesting that
> self-professed Marxist would describe her primary political work as a
> "writer". A writer about what, for whom and in the service of whom?
> Jim C

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