[Marxism] re: A critique of the 2005 Left Forum

Carlos A. Rivera cerejota at optonline.net
Wed May 11 23:14:46 MDT 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "M. Junaid Alam" <mjunaidalam at msalam.net>

> Such militantly workerist posturing has never moved things forward an 
> inch. Never ceases to amaze me how much Right ideology and attitudes 
> penetrates the "Left" : Basically, you end up with this snickering 
> contempt for existing leftists because they're often in the refugee camp 
> of academia, as if this is the cause and not the symptom of leftist 
> weakness.

I was about to electornically beat you over the head with a trout, until in 
an uncommon excercise of self-restraint I decided to read and re-read the 

You see, I am a militant workerist, from a militantly workerist 
organization. So when an academic, middle class leftist who writes a lot 
speaks about workerism as some sort of trojan horse for rightwing attitudes 
in the left, I get a little bit defensive. After all, I view the academic 
elitism, dictatorship of bibliographical knowledge, meritocratic rigidity, 
and tenure-fed protagonism as right-wing values, too.

Yet, correct me if I am wrong, your point was not criticism of workerism in 
the abstract, but a particular form of petty-bourgeoise workerism, of the 
sort practiced by the ISO, or more extremely the SWP.

Just like when I critize academic marxism I criticize the sort of "marxism" 
practiced by *some* of those who organized the Left Forum and the previous 
Socialist Scholars thingy, not all intelelctualism. I mean, if I were to 
criticize intellectualism, I would be an hypocrite.

In other words, it is a correct, fair, and totally warranted attack on 
anti-intellectualism as a left-fetish.

This view, if correct, leads me to belive that any differences are actually 
of focus detemrined by our concrete situation: I am a salaried worker with a 
problematic relationship with academia, you an academic intellectual with a 
problematic relationship with salaried work. Yet I think the synthesis we 
seek, again if my view is correct, is more or less in the same place.

> Ironic thing about this workerism, ie. doctrinaire Marxism, is that it 
> shares with anarchism a kind of anti-intellectual attitude that insists on 
> the uselessness of most analysis and the romanticization of simply "going 
> among the people."

This is true of a brand of "workerism", which is the entryist type. That is, 
taking ivy league graduates students and sending them to chocolate factories 
to "be among the workers".

It reminds me of one of my favorite drawings from the "Far Side" cartoon:

The drawing has a group of bears in a cave, and one guy dressed as bear with 
an obvious zipper showing. The ballons have one bear pointing at him and 
"talking gibberish" the other has the guy in the suit writting into a pad 
and deciphering the gibberish until he realizes the bear said "Zipper"...

The caption reads: "Professor Wainwright's painstaking field reaserch to 
decode the language of the bears comes to a sudden and horrific end."

Likewise, such "workerism" will always meet a sudden and horrific end, as 
workers see the zipper and become distrustful and the people sent to "be 
among workers" become suffocated inside a hot and heavy bear suit not made 
for them.

On the other hand, the academic left, with is focus on the adquisition of 
knowledge and with its own star system based upon publishing and other 
intellectual pursuits that does alienate the working class, who by 
definition has had no access to such privilege. Stan Goff, who is by far the 
most famous organic intellectual in the USA left today, has only become such 
a rising star because he published a book. (Read a little Gramsci, wait, 
re-read as I must presume you already have read him.)

For me it is ludicrous that the Marxist left of today completely lacks any 
real non-academic star leaders.

> This is an extremely ahistorical view. In the present period, we need only 
> look at Venezuela, where the leftist military elements are radicalized in 
> part because the junior officers enrolled in civilian college courses and 
> linked up with those eggheaded leftist professors and intellectuals who 
> helped supply them ideas and historical knowledge. Conversely, what kind 
> of results did all the attempts of leftist grouplets to enter into the 
> unions produce? Mainly, suicide and self-implosion.

This is not an entirely correct view of the situation of the class struggle 
in Venezuela. For one, Venezuela has always had a vital workerist left, even 
within the unions. The guerillas were not insignificant, and as a matter of 
fact, the connection between the 1970s guerillas and the left-nationalist 
officers corps of the late 80s is in no way accidental: Chavez's older 
brother, and a Bolivarian leader on his own right, defines himself as a 
Marxist and was a veteran of several such guerilla groups.

But more importantly, the current situation in Venezuela was shaped in the 
main not by intellectual engagement, that is, by an ideological excercise, 
but by a very material historical event: The Caracazo. That is, the mass 
murder said junior officers had to lead forced them to seek redemption in 
the eyes of society by doing something against thos ewho ordered the mass 

The left-intellectual influence on "El Proceso" while not to be discounted 
(after all, a group of cocky, macho, paratroops can't write a Constitution 
like Venezuela's without the help of brainiacs), has actually become organic 
only *after* the Chavez victory, driven in large part because of a 
recognition of the lack of trained brainpower in its ranks.

In other words, while ideology's role in the origin of the revolution was 
secondary, in its construction it has actually become central.

The reason I dwell on this so much is because, honestly, it goes to 
perspective. You see too much weight on the influence of intelelctuals upon 
the Bolivarian Revolution, while reality is seldom that simple. Likewise, I 
might be understemating the influence of community college lefties upon the 
junior officers who formed the core of Chavez's movement, but I wager I am 

> You start at where you are, not where you want to end up. Not all the 
> academics are useless. The field imposes its own set of limitations, but 
> above all it is the broader political climate which causes paralysis. And 
> you're seriously mistaken if you think that ideology - that is, the battle 
> over ideas - is not  a major part of the problem.


I offer this, which has to be one of my favorite formulations by lenin, and 
one I use well beyond the narrow limits of the actual quote:

"We hope that the reader will understand why the Russian Bolshevik who has 
known this mechanism for twenty-five years and has seen it develop out of 
small, illegal and underground circles, cannot help regarding all this talk 
about "from above" or "from below", about the dictatorship of leaders or the 
dictatorship of the masses, etc., as ridiculous and childish nonsense, 
***something like discussing whether a man's left leg or right arm is of 
greater use to him.*** [my emphasis -sks]"

Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, V.I. Lenin.

In this sense, I see the whole discussion of intellectuals vs workers as "as 
ridiculous and childish nonsense, something like discussing whether a man's 
left leg or right arm is of greater use to him."

It should be self-evident to any honest marxist that a left leg is a worthy 
and as important as a right arm, but that they both serve a different, 
complementary purpose.

Which does mean, like with the question of "dictatorship of leaders or the 
dictatorship of the masses" we must take a position against excess on both, 
but are better served by judicious use of the power of both, while not 
forgetting that even the most perfect revolutionary theory is but dead word 
without workers (yes, workers) to carry it out (and that hence, there can be 
no perfect theory without workers engaging in its creation), or the most 
militant and class concious proletariat will be lost and adrift in a sea of 
struggle if it does not posses the theoretical knowledge to guide them.


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