[Marxism] Quiting Marxism, embracing what?

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Sat Dec 2 06:57:46 MST 2006

Thanks for the challenging post, Robert. I believe you have raised a
fundamental point that I'd like to address if I may.

> Haines Brown wrote:

> > And how anarchism got in here I don't understand. Anarchism... is
> > the ideology originally of artisans and the petite bourgeoisie,
> > and arguably has come to embrace some declassé elements in our
> > society.  But it has nothing to do with the left or with Marxism,
> > or, as far as I know, with Stan.

> By this definition Noam Chomsky would have nothing to do with either
> the left or Marxism. As a committed anarchist Chomsky has something
> to do with each.

The issue, of course, is what is "Marxism". One answer might be that
it is a collection of ideas that are associated with Marx or are felt
to represent the essence of his thinking. This kind of answer has all
the problems associated with empiricism. Marxist notions are highly
diverse, have evolved in different directions, and have percolated
throughout (especially European) thinking. Some are embraced by people
who would not consider themselves Marxist at all. By what criterion
are we able to draw a line and say that those on one side are Marxist
but those on the other are not?

That Chomsky has "something to do with" the Marxism therefore says
very little, for almost everyone, whether they realize it or not, has
something to do with Marxism. The question is whether this something
really makes Chomsky a Marxist.

My own view, which I'll not elaborate here, is that the "essence" of
Marxism is that it is the ideology of the modern working class in that
it is a mode of thinking arising from the material circumstances of
labor today. Whether Chomsky's thinking satisfies that criterion is
another question.

As for the "left", that is a vague term that may be much broader than
Marxism. Someone considered a "liberal" in US political culture is
considered left. I don't want to get sidetracked on this point, but
"left" may merely mean being in favor of (more or real) democracy, in
which case it is as much at home in capitalist ideology as it is
in Marxism.

> There are lots of varieties of anarchism around today; it's a major
> current on the global left.

Yes, there are many varieties of anarchism, some of which I find more
or less appealing. But we have the same problem I mentioned above in
regard to Marxism. If there are so many varieties of anarchism, how do
we define it? My inclination, as I illustrated in my last post, is to
see it in terms of class. If anarchism is a major current in the
_modern working class_ world wide, it would come as a surprise to me.

> Whether or not Goff calls himself an anarchist is somewhat
> academic. He has been a radical activist, publicist and polemicist
> who has recently supported the Democrats in the last election.

That Stan Goff is one of the good guys I have no doubt. But his
personal virtues are not the issue here.

> He was very defensive re this move which was followed in short order
> by a declaration of independance from all Marxist tendencies.

I'm still left uncertain. Does your independence from all Marxist
"tendencies" mean a dissociation from Marxist ideology or from Marxist
parties?  The difference here is enormous. I regret having missed
Stan's declaration, for that undoubtedly would have answered this
question, so I must rely on your interpretation.

> As I wrote previously he's been struggling with Marxism for some
> time and apparently thinks he's crossed some kind of line since he
> needs to make public professions of "quitting."

You seem to imply that Stan has given up on Marxist ideology. I have
difficulty grasping just what that means. For example, Marx offered an
analysis of capitalist dynamics and Lenin put it into the context of
imperialism, and this was later elaborated by people like Sweezy,
Baran and Magdoff, etc. Stan broadly rejects this whole body of
interpretation in general? Possible, but somehow I doubt it, for
there's really no alternative; to a significant extent it is embedded
in all modern thought on the subject. The alternative is to say that
imperialism does not exist.

> The real question is where he will go now. In the best case he will,
> as Chomsky, continue to be active as a libertarian radical.

Assuming your question here refers to ideological position, where
indeed can one go? For exmaple, some on the left abandoned Marxism (to
a large extent) and under the influence of Strauss at Chicago have
surfaced as "neocons", a kind of Machtpolitik branch of capitalist
policy. Others go the other direction in capitalist policy and instead
embrace a libertarian fundamentalism that puts the lonely individual
at center stage. This is a kind of reaction to big capital and in
favor of rugged individualism, self-sufficiency, etc. I tend to
associate libertarianism with the far right (militias, vigilantism,
etc.), which may be open to challenge, but it sure isn't a
working-class ideology for obvious reasons. If Stan has really become
a libertarian radical as you say, I fear he has drifted to the
capitalist right along with the neocons.

> This will allow him to do some good work, while giving him a free
> conscience to support whatever bourgeois political tendency he
> desires and to advocate that others do likewise.

Yes, we do seem to agree that the alternative to Marxism is the
support of bourgeois capitalist ideology. But, again, the issue is
hardly a judgement of individuals in terms of their personal virtues,
but whether their activities serve to deepen capitalist contradictions
_and_ whether they rely on the working-class potentials that develop
as a result.

The 911 bombers were radicals who rejected western capitalist values,
but that does not make them Marxist. George Bush's policies serve to
deepen capitalist contradictions, but he's not for that reason a
Marxist. The local soup kitchen does good work that benefits the
working class, but it is not a Marxist institution.

> Speaking loosely, I'd call that a form of intellectual anarchism.

I suppose that lending one's support to whatever bourgeois political
tendency happens to catch one's fancy is indeed a form of intellectual
anarchism. But I see nothing praiseworthy about it. More importantly,
as you insist, it is bourgeois ideology and therefore not Marxism, the
ideology of the modern working class.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM
   	 Dialectical Materialist        

More information about the Marxism mailing list