Further reply to Mark Lause on Tea Parties

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Wed Jul 23 05:32:40 MDT 2003

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comment. You wrote:

Depending on what you mean by "intellectual," we might be speaking to cross


This utterance sounds sounds exciting, applying a bit of Januzzian
linguistic/semiotic analysis and focusing on formal and phonological
ambiguity, but I still don't think you get it, and one can read too much
into this anyhow. YOU  introduced this a priori contradiction between
academic conferencing and "real mass work" blah blah, not me. YOU are
speaking derisively about intellectuals, not me. Therefore the onus is on
you, not on me, to specify what you mean, you perceive a problem, I only
perceive a solution in the furtherance of my aim. I already referred to a
literature on intellectuals in the Marxist tradition, some of which is
ideologically distorted, because it is intellectuals writing about their own
kind. As I have indicated, I do not counterpose intellectuals and workers,
it makes less and less sense in the modern world where everybody can have a
Ernest Mandel once wrote an article "Intellectual and manual labour: A
vanishing distinction" and it was. He was talking about the integration of
science into capitalist production, as Marx predicted, and the
proletarianisation/commodification of intellectual labour. But I do not want
to get into this here, because in this context I am talking about something
different, namely varieties of experience and utilising that experience. The
basic definition of an intellectual is somebody who thinks through things by
himself or herself in a systematic, sustained and rational way, and earns
his/her daily bread from intellectual activity, for example as scientist,
researcher, journalist, lawyer, academic, teacher, public servant, media
presentator etc. In order to earn your daily bread with this, of course you
have to have reached a certain standard of competence in advanced
independent thinking and in the appropriate expression of ideas, you
normally need an advanced formal education for this, which in turn costs
money, which in turn shuts out a lot of people from this careerpath, who
don't have the money for it. Many Marxist intellectuals aren't
intellectuals, because they do almost no independent thinking, they just
mouthe Marxist phrases but haven't thought it through, and when you ask them
to analyse and assess anything specific, they can't do it, apart from citing
a bunch of quotes from Marx and Engels. There is a lot of info on the net
about this general issue about intellectuals, you can find that easily.

You wrote:

 It's easy to get some academics to join almost anything, but I've never
seen--or heard of--anything done in isolation
from the wider society that did not, in the process, make itself "academic."


Well it depends on what you mean by the "wider society".  The notion that
academics somehow operate in a social vacuum is ridiculous, in fact, the
academic often has more connections with the "wider society" than an
industrial worker has, because the academic has this as a professional
concern, has social reponsibilities for students, and has the time to make
those connections. You are mystifying academic work, and confusing
"academic" with "scholastic". You are implying that academics are somehow
divorced from "real life", but this is nonsense, all we are talking about is
a specific sort of life experience, which may introduce distortions in
thought and practice depending on the case. After all, if you are constantly
preoccupied with the world of ideas, you may fall into the trap of imputing
a power to ideas, which ideas do not really have. It is this kind of thing
which led Marx to invent what he called the "materialist conception of
history", as a corrective to academic presentations of human history as
being driven by the ideas which people have in their heads, without
inquiring any further into the source of these ideas in the real, practical
circumstances of life. If Yoshie seeks to promote a conference or an
intellectual network, this is precisely in order to connect intellectual
production to political issues and activity, i.e. to facilitate a better
connection of the academic professional to the "wider society". I have
already commented on this, no need to go through it again.

You wrote:

But, by all means, if you folks thinks you can do something new this way,
have at it.


Well, Mark, I am most grateful that you are finally giving your personal
permission to Ms. Furuhashi to agitate and organise for the repatriation of
American troops stationed in Iraq ! This makes a really valuable
contribution to socialist politics and the political issues we are currently
focusing on ! (note: I am joking here). But even so, you are missing the
point. The organiser has to do "something new" all the time, has to be
innovative, has to accumulate more and more new experiences, because s/he is
not trying to preach to the converted, regurgitate obscure Marxist quotology
and dogma endlessly, or bicker in quarreling little socialists sects, but
win more and more new people to anti-militarist and socialist consciousness,
people who have't a clue about Marx or about socialism. And then there is
the question of HOW do you do that, how do you win these people over. And
here we do not get anywhere here by being hostile to those people, by
appealing to people we cannot reach, by ignoring the lived experience of
these people, or by ignoring the consciousness that they currently have.
Rather we have to get into dialogue with them, and through that dialogue,
developed from where people really are at, we are able to introduce our own
ideas into the situation. In so doing, we have to recognise that the people
we try to reach may be evaluating us in the first instance not on the basis
of the ideas we have in our heads, as an academic might do, but rather on
the basis of what kind of people we are. Indeed, what is finally persuasive
to them may not be any cogent argument, but rather what we do, or the
humanity that we show. And that is the organiser's ABC.



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