Barbara Epstein on the antiwar movement

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 2 14:18:19 MDT 2003


In the current MR, there's an article titled "Notes on the Antiwar 
Movement" (http://www.monthlyreview.org/0703epstein.htm) by Barbara 
Epstein, a professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the 
University of California-Santa Cruz. Sometimes when I read her stuff I 
wonder if it is actually the Unconsciousness Department.

The last time I took up her ideological peregrinations, it was in the 
context of an article she had written hyping the anti-globalization 
movement at http://www.monthlyreview.org/0901epstein.htm. She wrote:

 >>"Actually existing" anarchism has changed and so has "actually 
existing" Marxism. Marxists who participated in the movements of the 
sixties tend to have a sharper appreciation of the importance of social 
and cultural equality, and of living according to our values in the 
present, than did many members of previous generations of Marxist 
activists. If a new paradigm of the left emerges from the struggle 
against neoliberalism and the transnational corporate order, it is 
likely to include elements of anarchist sensibility as well as of 
Marxist analysis.<<

You can read my reply to her at: 
http://www.mail-archive.com/marxism@lists.panix.com/msg25869.html.

 From where I stood at the time, it seemed like a wholesale adaptation 
to ultraleftism by people who should have known better, both at MR and 
at Socialist Register, which was trying to figure out a way to 
synthesize Marx and Naomi Klein in a manner similar to Epstein's shotgun 
marriage between Marxism and anarchism. I am for crossbreeding and all 
that, but exposure to the likes of Chuck "Zero" Munson on Henwood's list 
convinced me that fanatical anti-Communism from those quarters would 
stand in the way of getting under the covers most days.

Epstein has not given up on the anti-globalization movement, even though 
it has not mounted any significant actions in the post 9/11 period. Her 
hope?

"The antiwar movement, if it is to gain strength and momentum, needs to 
link up with the broader antiglobalization movement, and the 
antiglobalization movement needs to link its labor and environmental 
segments more effectively. To accomplish all of this it is necessary to 
draw out the connections between production and consumption under 
capitalism—by way of the critique of commodity fetishism."

I can only imagine what kind of leaflet the good professor would put 
together for the next demonstration in Washington against the occupation 
of Iraq. "Americans: unite against commodity fetishism and imperialist 
war. Burn your Calvin Klein underwear and boycott Halliburton!!!"

In the course of a rather superficial comparison between UPJ and ANSWER, 
Epstein offers up the following profundity: "It would be unfortunate if 
the antiwar movement in the United States were only capable of 
responding to war, or threats of war." In my opinion this is really its 
only responsibility. Given the extraordinary mobilization preceding the 
outbreak of war and the *willingness* of UPJ and ANSWER to work with 
each other, there is not much more we can ask. Our job is simply to draw 
in new forces as the quagmire in Iraq becomes more and more obvious to 
the American people and the people of the world.

I will conclude with a brief note on a falsfication that sticks out like 
a sore thumb. She writes:

"But most people who participated in demonstrations went with family or 
friends, not as members of organized groups. Once the atmosphere of 
crisis dissipated, there were few avenues for continuing antiwar 
activity, or even arenas for discussion of what to do next. During the 
First World War, in the United States the Socialist Party served as a 
center for antiwar activity. During the War in Vietnam, the Students for 
a Democratic Society played the same role."

I have no idea what kind of antiwar activity she is talking about. 
Except for campus protests, the SDS had turned its back on the antiwar 
movement by 1967. After 1970, even this was coming to an end as the 
organization was entering its death throes. History of Unconsciousness 
indeed.


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