[Marxism] Frank Furedi on the Left: the Left is Right - reply to Louis
andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Wed Nov 24 22:07:30 MST 2004
What is social progress?
Very good question, Louis, and one worthy of debate rather than answering
with a dogma. Furedi's point is basically that the Left assumes that "it
knows" what is social progress, and his argument is, that it doesn't.
Stepping up the use of DDT, nuclear power and Genetically Modified crops?
I am not aware he argued that specifically. As far as I know, the argument
is whether, if you have a choice or malaria or DDT, whether you use DDT or
risk malaria. Nuclear power is something the world will have to get used to
in this century, the only dispute concerns what is the safest and cleanest
technology (for instance, there's quite a difference between nuclear fusion
and nuclear fission). As regards GM food, part of it is perfectly safe, part
of it isn't, but the real issue does not concern that at all, it concerns
farming for private profit at the expense of people, inverting the real
purpose of farming, is to provide good foods for healthy human (and animal)
There is no such thing as "social progress" under capitalism.
This is not just anti-Marxism, but also total rubbish. You cannot find a
single quotation in Marx which says that. What Marx says, is the capitalism
is a contradictory mode of production and development. It creates progress,
but at a price, and often that price has been a terrible one. A stepo
forwards here incurs a step backwards there. I've just translated a
scholarly text on Marxist interpretations of the Soviet Union. 99% of these
Marxists could not even define what capitalism is and their knowledge, of
how it functions is pisspoor, if I may say so bluntly. Can you trust people
like that, when they pronounce verities about how there is no social
progress under capitalism?
Furedi espouses the same thing as Bjorn Lonberg or
Gregg Easterbrook, namely the untrammelled right of big business to spew
poisons into the air and water without penalty.
I don't think that is his argument, and not even most of big business agrees
with untrammeled business rights to "spew poisons into the air and water
without penalty", although it does occur. The question is whether you block
economic development for very good reasons, or whether you block it, because
people do not happen to share your higher concern for the planet (as if they
have no such concerns themselves). The issue is not economic growth or no
economic growth, but what kind of economic growth, and based on what kind of
priorities. If the only alternative offered is blocking people off from
doing things, that is not a good alternative. The real problems really start
when you want to implement an alternative, but don't want to get sucked into
somebody else agenda for how it should be done.
At one time Furedi wrapped this stance in Marxist verbiage. He no longer
guess--is a step forward. The only member of this cult who still does is
James Heartfield, a figure taken seriously by Doug Henwood and Scott
McLemee. But then again, I don't take them seriously.
I don't agree with either Furedi or Heartfield on particular topics, but I
do know they are very knowledgeable about the Marxist tradition. But heck,
people read Marx and draw all sorts of conclusions from it. The thing though
is that you cannot endlessly keep on talking about Marxism, or keep on
repeating the same old thing. The basic problem with Marxism is that it
keeps on recycling 1930s ideology. That is not surprising, because that was
when all the key debates took place, that is when things came to the
crunch - whether we are talking about the economics of capitalism, about the
degeneration of bourgeois culture, about the blessings of the Russian
revolution, or about the socialist calculation debate.
Yes, the people he is working with most closely nowadays is the PR firm
Hill and Knowlton.
Yet you are the one that defends Lenin and the Russian Revolution, from
robbing banks to Felix Dzerzjinsky, the Cheka and all that. You don't even
know half the story of what bolshevism was about. Frank is an academic who
has done contract work for various corporate agencies. I am not aware that
he personally had anything to do with projects directly related to Iraq.
The Hill and Knowlton site is here: http://www.hillandknowlton.com/ They do
all sorts of things. If I paid them half a million euros to devise a
strategy for presenting socialist ideas more effectively, they'd probably do
What emancipatory issues would you be talking about?
Basically, as I said, the Left believed it knew how forms of association
should be. It believed it knew what valid politics was. There was a correct
line, and a wrong line. Thus, the Left defined what was Left and what was
If therefore you questioned anything, or wanted to raise anything different,
they would slam you with righteous wrath, to the point where you'd feel more
comfortable going to church, where people at least treated each other with
respect and human interest. I went through this scene in my life, and I saw
every side of it. I could write a book or a novel about it. Let's say you
are interested in issues of human development or sexual development or
spiritual development. Let's say you have a particular hobby. Or you are
interested in developing a critical perspective on what is really
progressive about cultural phenomena. Or you are interested in developing
your own lifestyle. Well, best to keep away from these Leftists. Because
they already know all the answers in advance, the inexorable dialectic of
sinful ideas, they know what is ruled into politics and ruled out of
politics, they know what the correct line is, and they want to morally
adjudicate and pontificate about your idea, and gossip about all that.
Again, you are better treated in a church congregation.
On your list, I have made an argument about what capitalism is. What
response do I get? Nothing. I made an argument about what the Left is about,
several times. What response do I get? Nothing. I have made a number of
arguments about the relationship of Marx to socialism. What response do I
get? Nothing, except that some people imply that I am committing sacrilege.
You end up thinking, why bother?
Here's what Furedi
wrote in a faculty newsletter:
I don't know what the motive was behind what he wrote there, whether it was
absurdist humor or what. But as far as I know, nor do you, and point is you
never asked him what he meant by it. Here is his address:
frank at frankfuredi.com or F.Furedi at ukc.ac.uk . Go ask him.
I hate to sound old-fashioned, but I think that Palestinian rights are
more important than sex education.
Well, from my point of view sex education is also part of Palestinian
rights. Did you see the movie Divine Intervention? I think there's a very
deep message in there somewhere. Basically what I take Furedi to be saying
here is that you can fight about a lot of different things, and that he
thinks some things are worth fighting about, or a waste of time fighting
about, and that he makes a choice in that. If some other leftist goes into a
froth about it because he thinks that that is not the priorities of the
Left, I don't think he would be unduly worried about that. Behind the
propensity to dictate to other people what their priorities should be, is
the hidden assumption that values cannot be questioned, and do not have to
be argued for. But this gets you precisely to the very heart of the whole
problem with the Left. They cannot tell you what capitalism is or how it
really functions. They cannot tell you what socialism is. They cannot tell
you how to get from one to the other. And yet, they want to tell you how
life is to be lived, while at the same to complaining about the weakness of
The reason you just say "blather" is because you have no good arguments in
this regard. All you have is (1) the party idea, (2) the objective
situation and (3) propaganda. Moreover, your grasp of European political
culture just isn't such that you can really make those sorts of judgements.
In the US, politics is mainly about money. In Europe, politics is about many
other things as well.
You yourself are the one who brought up Milgram's experiments in another
context. You have also talked about the reactionary nature of election
propaganda in the US. That is YOUR psychobabble. In fact it is not
psychobabble at all, it is about the techniques used for mass manipulation
and domination, and for convincing people that what they know to be correct
in their own healthy minds is really wrong. If you object to Hill &
Knowlton's consultancies, you can hardly object to my discussion of how
reactionary the controversies are which are stirred up with the aim to
control people, by focusing on their vulnerabilities, rather than their
strengths (what they are good at). Much of modern politics has nothing to do
with rational argument anymore. It is just about techniques of persuasion.
Frank Furedi sees himself as operating in the same environment as
Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz and any other renegade from the left
does, namely the bowels of Mammon.
Well I am glad I have your righteousness to save me from the bowels of
Mammon. Again you are using the familiar Stalinist tactic of the amalgam. I
don't think you can argue that Furedi is a renegade from the Left, and I
don't think you can equate him with Hitchens or Horowitz. The fake Marxist
complains that Hitchens and Horowitz are there.What a real Marxist does is
enter into argument with Hitchens or Horowitz and provides an irrefutable
case of why they are wrong on a particular issue. Obviously you must be
correct in some sense, because in some sense we all operate in the same kind
of environment. What I am talking about, is the pattern of subjective
responses people make to changing structural realities. And there's a whole
analysis behind that.
The situation in the US is very interesting at the moment. Most of the Left
caved in to the Kerry idea... and then he lost the election. Now they're in
tears. What have they got to say? Almost NOTHING. What it is, you see, is
if you have a few rightwing demons that you can diatribe about (Bush,
Hitchens, Horowitz etc.) and if you have some kind of left-liberal milieu
that you can be "to the Left of" as critic and "improver", then things are
easy and comfortable, you can project this image. But what if that whole
milieu starts to disappear? In that case you have to stand on your own feet,
and start to provide positive alternatives and plot a course of your own.
Then an identity politics established negatively by kicking against people
who aren't "sufficiently Leftwing" is no longer adequate.
On Marxmail, you have these bizarre diatribes about the US SWP. Now I have
my differences with them, but I can see that they are socialists of some
sort. The diatribes are just venting a puberal hatred, that is all, where
people project their own inadequacies on to the SWP. If I was Jack Barnes I
would be thinking, how pathetic you are. If the critics were any good, they
would have taken over or incorporated the whole SWP by now.
Furedi says the Left is Right, i.e. it has conservative reflexes in response
to changes that it doesn't really understand. You say Furedi is Right.
What's the difference? Nothing at all. You are absolutely in no diferent
position than he is. The only difference is that he says "I think this, I
think that, because" whereas you say "this is Left, this is Right, Jehovah
says so". It seems to me that the honest thing to do is either to
acknowledge that he has real arguments, and engage with those, or decide
that you don't want to have anything to do with him, his agendas or his kind
of people. You don't get much credit for setting up a straw man, either with
Frank Furedi, or with myself.
When I was in Britain last, a friend of mine who is professor there said to
me candidly "well, whenever the media want to get a point of view from the
Left, they usually get Furedi". I don't know how true that is, but to the
extent that you can get a hearing like that, which he does, you must be
doing something pretty well, I can tell you that now.
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