File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-21.060, message 51

Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 22:59:08 -0500
Subject: Re: M-I: Academic Marxism

I agree with Will that we do need to consider what separates academics from
other sorts of workers who all Marxists can agree are indeed proletarians.
But I don't think that the division is solely or even mainly a matter of
wage levels. For instance, I am a graduate student teacher and my wages are
probably about five times lower than those of unionized production workers
in the core--as opposed to peripheral--labor market. Besides, I do not get
any fringe benefits, other than access to e-mail and libraries. (That's why
we are trying to organize a union here.) However, I do think that academics
and certain sorts of intellectual workers--including computer
programmers--do have more control over the work processes. For instance, I
am asked to teach my students how to read and write. Nobody--at least at my
university--tells me *how* my teaching should be conducted. So that gives
me a lot of freedom as to what I can do within my classroom. Proletarians
in most work places and occupational categories, on the other hand, are
more directly and tightly subjected to their immediate bosses, paces of the
assembly lines, and so on. Therefore, marxist academics need to consider
how the nature of their labor--as well as their positions in social
relations under capitalism--may shape their understanding of socialism and
how to bring about it, in both positive and negative senses.

Academic workers are vey unevenly proletarianized, but because of the
growth of contingent labor in this sector, even the traditional privileges
of tenured professors have come under pressures, and many of them will be
taken away unless they put up a good fight. My hope is that such pressures
will make them more inclined to think of themselves as "workers" rather
than "professionals," to get involved in other workers' struggles, and to
turn to Marxist analyses in their efforts to understand the conditions of
their labor as well as others'. On the other hand, it is possible that the
fiscal crisis of the state and the ideology/practice of neoliberalism will
make many academics believe that the only way to defend their working
conditions is to adapt the form and content of their labor to what they
think so-called post-Fordist capitalism demands.

So ideological as well as material struggles of some significance go on in
academy, and one of my responsibilities as a student of Marx is to get
involved in both while supporting other workers' struggles.

Having said this, I also think that Lou is right in some sense. Given the
marginality of marxism inside (as well as outside) academy, marxist
academics are of necessity forced to grapple with the fact that the terms
of the debates are set by their opponents. This position of intellectual
subordination, I believe, has and will distort the nature of intellectual
labor that marxist academics undertake. Nonetheless, the same can be said
for other kinds of worker, in that the processes and products of their
labor have and will be distorted by the imperative of capital accumulation.

yoshie furuhashi (

>Andrew says in his comments on Lou's views on
>academic Marxism:
><Louis' argument also completely ignores the objective reality that
>academics are proletarians.>
>As it happens - this is an 'objective reality' that has
>passed me by as well as Louis P. A definition of
>the proletariat so wide that it includes academics
>is wide least if it includes senior academics
>and proffessors. Is surplus value extracted from these
>people? In what sense are they exploited? It seems to me that
>Marx and the Marxist tradition as weak when it comes to an
>analysis of the relative wage levels of wage earners
>(which in the UK at least have a spread of at least a factor
>or twenty times) and the class divisions that these
>relative wage levels engender. It is not just
>false consciousness that divides university
>academics (and doctors, dentists, journalists,
>lawyers) from factory workers, lorry drivers
>and bricklayers - it is the fact that they are
>paid twice or three times as much.
>For me this does not mean that academics can't
>be on the side of the working class, it doesn't
>mean that they can't play a positive roles in the
>struggle or that they should be treated with contempt.
>But surely the deep gap between (social, emotional
>and material) between academic marxists and the
>working class (narrowly defined) must be of significance
>for the Left and be capable of analysis without
>people getting so upset that they either on the one
>hand deny it exists or on the other condemn all
>academic marxism as being entirely irrelevant.
>Will Brown      Bristol
>PS      An excellent academic marxist book i've
>just bought  edited by John Holloway and Werner
>Bonefeld is called :
>Global Capital, National State and the Politics
>of Money  Macmillan Press
>ISBN 0-333-67234-8
>If academic marxists can help us they they tell
>us what is going on in the world economy.
>     --- from list ---

     --- from list ---


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