Beyond the Marxist Ivory Tower

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Mar 12 07:21:28 MST 2003

This just showed up on Gerry Levy's OPE (Outline on Political Economy)
list. Most of the 80 or so people on this list are tenured economics
professors with a high profile in journals like Science and Society,
etc. The avowed purpose of the list is to "complete" the theoretical
work that Marx left unfinished in Capital. 90 percent of the discussion
is about things like the transformation problem and other "value theory"
arcana. To Levy's credit, he has tried to raise the question of the
looming war in Iraq on the list but this email that he forwarded to the
list highlights an acute problem both within the milieu that his
subscribers are part of, and left-academia in general.


Although I know that many, if not most contributors to the list do not
consider themselves Marxist, those who do must consider the 11th thesis.
During those times when there is little other than politics as usual,
one can understand political action taking a second place to theoretical
work. Marx himself devoted more time to theoretical work when the
periodic upsurges ebbed, though he never absented himself entirely from
politics. When such upsurges occurred, however, he joined them, both
physically and intellectually. It is no exaggeration to state that
madness now reigns and people are organizing to confront that madness.
The policies of Bush and company have now alienated not only people all
over  the world but the governments which represent those people. A
recent poll on Fox new had 44% of the respondents agreeing that France
is an enemy of the United States. The members of Congress are proposing
to develop and have a policy to preemptively use " low yield nuclear
weapons." We are about to launch a war which will create thousands more
Muslims who feel that they must join the terrorist in attacking the
United States. Madness reigns, but such madness has a material base.
There is consensus, I believe, that no account exists which explains
what material conditions underlie the present madness. At the very
least, it would seem that the time has come for those who are capable of
providing such an account agree to collectively try to devise a theory
to help those directly engaged in the current struggle. This means
considering not only abstruse theoretical issues but actual economic
facts. As things now stand, it would appear that it will be some time
before political economists can justifiably stand above the fray. I want
to stress that the only way that a contribution can be made by
intellectuals is collectively. In order to act together they must reason
together. I would argue that any one who considers themselves a Marxist
will recognize this and act accordingly.


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