[Marxism] Marxmail's fifteenth anniversary

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 1 12:30:54 MDT 2013

I usually post longer articles to my blog but since this is really about 
email communications, I am sending along the whole thing:

When I started working at Columbia University in 1991, the school was 
still mainframe-oriented just like the firms I used to work at on Wall 
Street. They had an email system called PROFS that ran under IBM’s VM 
operating system. That name might ring a bell with you since it was the 
same email system that Oliver North used.

About once a week I got an email with listserv in the subject heading 
that announced new listservs, usually something like “Raising Angora 
rabbits” or “The Bahai guide to a successful marriage”. About six months 
into getting such announcements, I strolled into the cubicle of the 
programmer who administered VM email and asked him what the hell a 
listserv was. He smiled and said, “So you haven’t heard about the Internet”.

After he explained what a listserv was (the term originally applied to 
IBM’s proprietary list handling software), I realized that there might 
be a listserv out there that would be useful to me. So I sent off a 
command to “list all” and got back something like 1500 listservs, one of 
which was PEN-L, the Progressive Economists List moderated by Michael 
Perelman, the prolific and inscrutable Marxist economist. I have been 
subbed to PEN-L for the better part of 22 years except for brief periods 
when Michael disciplined me for flaming people over something like the 
Brenner thesis or threatening to punch somebody in the nose (Doug 
Henwood on one occasion.)

In 1994 I got an announcement for a new mailing list called Marxism that 
was a project of the Spoons Collective. Jonathan Beasley-Murray, a grad 
student under Michael Hardt at Duke and a Spoons Collective member, 
kicked things off:

	So essentially (and following Negri etc.) I am interested in an 
analysis of the State, and also in looking at economics or the "base": 
hence, for me, the project to read _Capital_.  Also, I hope, this 
entails a "return" to Althusser (who, in my opinion, was never so 
interested in culture and ideology as he was in the State and economics, 
and who was the last thing around before everyone, by which I mean the 
Birmingham school, jumped on the Gramscian bandwagon).

	And I throw Bourdieu into the mix for good luck too.  I find his 
analysis of culture extremely useful, and a useful "antidote" to the 
celebratory nature of much of what passes for cultural studies nowadays. 
  However, I am interested in supplementing Bourdieu's social analysis, 
in part through a fuller investigation of the nature and sources of 
power (which is a given in his framework, it seems) and partly through 
re-interrogating both his notions of class and the moments at which he 
suggests the system may break down (which I compare to a 
DeleuzoGuattarian deterritorialization).  These moments, however, are 
few and far between.

(This is from the archived pre-Marxmail Marxism lists at 

You can imagine my consternation when I saw something like 
DeleuzoGuattarian deterritorialization. What kind of jive was that? 
After spending 11 years in the Trotskyist movement, I had no inkling 
that Marxism had become so fashionable in the academy—or at least a 
peculiar subgenre of it.

Within a year or so, the center of gravity in the Marxism list had 
shifted away from cultural studies and toward “Marxism-Leninism”. It was 
what Lenin might have called “One Step Forward and Twelve Steps 
Backward” since the left was still in the midst of sectarian vanguardist 
illusions that it is only first beginning to address and overcome.

By 1996 the Marxism list had degenerated into perpetual trench warfare 
between ortho-Trotskyists like Hugh Rodwell and Bob Malecki on one side 
(a Morenoite and Spartacist League fellow-traveler respectively) and 
supporters of The Shining Path in Peru on the other. If this was not bad 
enough, the Maoists were at each others' throats over who was the 
legitimate representative—one Adolfo Olaechea in London or Luis Quispe 
in New Jersey. They spent an inordinate amount of time and energy trying 
to expose each other as police spies or issuing death threats. Adolfo 
was quite a master of invective, making me look like St. Francis of 
Assissi by comparison. Here he is lacing into Bob Malecki:

	Malecki - you are so stupid and lazy.  Always trying to mix-up 
different kettles of fish.  In Peru it is not the GPU who is saying that 
the best strategy for the DEFENCE OF THE RULING CLASS STATE is to use 
"leftists" infiltrated in the social fabric, unions, "popular 
organisations", etc. IT IS THE MILITARY HIGH COMMAND behind the walls of 
their FORTIFIED VILLAS. It is the bloody rich speaking in the "tongues 
of the bogus leftists and windbags like you" who CONFESS that these 
organisms, whatever flag of convenience they may fly, are THEIR BEST BET 
in their ANTI-PEOPLES WAR.  Thankfully we NEVER ACCEPTED you into ANY 
United Front FOR THE REVOLUTION, you silly reactionary twit!  Malecki 
and the Peruvian Military High Command have the very same bloody 
counter-revolutionary STRATEGY against the LIVING REVOLUTION.

All this went on for the longest time mostly because the Spoons 
Collective had a principle about “free speech”. After hearing one too 
many protests from people like me who were tired of the flame wars, they 
set up a moderated list called Marxism-International that had a 
moderation board consisting of Jon Flanders, Zeynep Tufekci (who has 
gone on to a career as a technology and society guru), Louis Godena—a 
guy thrown out of the CP for Maoist deviations, and Adolfo Olaechea. Jon 
and Zeynep eventually stepped down because the job of moderating such a 
zoo became too much of a hassle. Once Godena and Olaechea took charge, 
they began unsubbing people left and right, with me the first to go.

After seeing where things were going, I took the initiative of launching 
Marxmail on May 1 1998, the same day that Doug Henwood launched 
LBO-Talk. About 100 people left Marxism-International in short order and 
joined Marxmail. It has attracted about 100 new subscribers per year and 
the current count is 1479—so we are 21 short of a minyan.

Before a year was up, Marxism-International went kaput. Adolfo continued 
to speak out for the Shining Path until facts on the ground (being 
crushed by the cops and the army) forced him to switch gears. In 2003 
Adolfo was arrested by the Spanish cops and deported to Peru where he 
faced charges that could have led to a lengthy prison term or worse. I 
tried to raise awareness of his case on Marxmail and have stayed in 
touch with a mellower Adolfo over the years, most recently on Facebook. 
You can see that he can still rise to the occasion:


There are a number of people on Marxmail now who were veterans of those 
battles. My apologies if I leave anybody out but these names come to 
mind: Jon Flanders, Gary McLennan, Jim Farmelant, David Walters, Juan 
Fajardo, and—most importantly—Hans Ehrbar, an original member of the 
Spoons Collective.

When the Marxism lists were about to get booted from a commercial 
server, Hans stepped into the breach and transferred them to his 
computer on the U. of Utah network, where he has been teaching economics 
forever. Unlike his fellow Spoonsperson Jon Beasley-Murray, Hans is the 
last person out of whose mouth you are likely to hear DeleuzoGuattarian 
deterritorialization. Despite being a tenured academic, Hans—like many 
of us—took part in a grueling “colonization” effort that led him to the 
point of production in some factory or another as part of a Maoist 
party’s master plan. He, like Moby Dick’s Ishmael, lived to tell about 
it. Nowadays Hans is very involved in teaching young people both in the 
U. of Utah and elsewhere how to understand Marx’s Capital. His highly 
acclaimed annotations to Capital are here: 

Within a year after the launching of Marxmail, Les Schaffer stepped 
forward to take charge of technical coordination. With a PhD from 
Cornell in astrophysics, he certainly is equal to any task even though 
the integration of the Marxism list into the machine room at U. of Utah 
has lightened his workload. That being said, Les is trying to figure out 
a way to conduct a survey of what countries Marxmail subscribers come 
from and will be getting back to us once he has decided what is the best 
approach. Leaving aside technical chores, Les’s main contribution to the 
list is keeping me moored to the planet Earth, a job that sometimes is 
tantamount to controlling the toad in “Wind in the Willow”.

Finally, I want to say something about where Marxmail is today in terms 
of the overall political climate on the left. When I launched it in 
1998, it was advertised thusly:

	The Marxism list is a worldwide moderated forum for activists and 
scholars in the Marxist tradition who favor a non-sectarian and 
non-dogmatic approach. It puts a premium on independent thought and 
rigorous but civil debate.

In 1998 it was swimming against the stream to call for a “a 
non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approach.” Thanks to the inexorable tide 
turning against the “vanguardist”model, the list has become a lot more 
civil and a lot less like a parliament of fools. I hope that the list 
will continue to be an important asset for those trying to construct a 
genuine revolutionary movement. Insofar as it serves that need, to even 
the slightest degree, it will have vindicated itself.

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