File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-21.060, message 4


Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 12:27:54 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: M-I: Academic Marxism


Comrades,

This anti-intellectualism is absurd. There are "good" and "bad" Marxists
in and out of the Academy. The correct critique of academia is not the few
Marxists who manage to wiggle their way into liberal institutions, but the
role the university has played in the reification of bourgeois social
logic. This critique has most usefully been conducted by academic Marxists
(such as Baran and Sweezy) and libertarians (such as C. Wright Mills). One
of the more important books recently published, *Promoting Polyarchy*, by
William Robinson is exactly this: a devastating critique of the role of
the organic intellectual in legitimating first imperialism and now
transnationalization. This is the critique of academia that Louis, if he
wishes to help the struggle, might pursue, rather than bashing Marxist who
"waste" their time writing books of enduring importance.
  
Marxists who have latched onto deconstruction and postmodernism are in
fact NOT Marxist. Postmodernism grows out of the Weberian mode of analysis
(philosophically underpinned by Nietzsche's attack on truth), the critique
of modernity, and it is a superficial form of analysis (it should be noted
that the most useful postmodernist analyses are those that drew from
Lukacs' theory of commodification and reification, and latter critical
theoretical formulations of the Marx-Weberian synthesis). Postmodernism is
also largely disappearing in academia, being replaced by the more
objective analytical construct of globalization (although postmodernism is
lingering in the literary field, where is continues to be a source of
amusement). Louis, buzzwords come and go--don't treat a fad as a habit. 
(Although I will agree with a critique that extends to the "left" in
general regarding identity politics and the fragmenting of struggle into
"mini"-struggles based on superficial socially-constructed "traits.") 

Louis' characterization of academia is therefore incorrect. His ignorance
of the actual character of academics leads him to make absurd statements
that reflect something other than a reality. He exaggerates out of all
proportion what sort of Marxists there are in academia.

The fact is that the academy needs Marxists there; Marxists who can
understand the production of bourgeois theory; Marxists who are permitted
the skills, the time, the resources (what little they can scare up in the
absence of corporate funding for their research projects) to produce
critical analysis of the social world and of bourgeois intellectual
production. What is missing is a connection between what Marxists do in
the university and the struggle for democracy. But we won't get there if
people condemn academic Marxism as somehow intrinsically evil (and this is
the definite impression I am left with here). People like Louis stand in
between the worker and their advocates, condemning the intellectual as
subversive to the worker movement. This line of rhetoric has always struck
me as the expression of fear of usurpation: Please don't listen to them!
Listen to me! They are bunch of snots in the ivy tower who only want
to.... What? I can't follow this logic. 

Louis' argument also completely ignores the objective reality that
academics are proletarians. Those Marxists who move in academic circles,
if even remotely self-reflexive, are far less likely to suffer from
contradictory consciousness, and far more likely to have an opportunity to
undermine hegemony of liberal intellectual production *at its source*. The
whole attack against the dominant bourgeois theory of modernization--
theories of underdevelopment--I would remind Louis, came from
intellectuals out of the universities in South America. The current
defunding of many sociology departments is a direct reflection of the
increasing inability of the bourgeoisie to impose liberal hegemony over
that discipline.

So, Louis, whether you are a proletarian who buys the capitalist line and
manages other proletarians in the factory for the boss, or you are a
proletarian who buys the capitalist line and produces intellectual
products to be used by capitalists in furthering their international
domination of the working and peasant classes, you are a sell out (and
suffering from false consciousness). But, by the same token, if you are
proletarian on the shop floor working to educate your fellow workers on
socialism, or if you are a proletarian in the academy working to advance
the theory of historical materialism into ever more damning critiques of
bourgeois practice, then you are in the service of the working class, and
you do not deserve to be degenerated in the fashion that you have set
forth here. 

The great thinkers of socialism wedded academics with activism. Rather
than divide the two falsely, I would suggest we reaffirm the role of
intellectual endeavors in our socialist praxis.

Andrew




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