File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-03-16.132, message 4


Date: Fri, 14 Mar 1997 08:58:47 -0500 (EST)
Subject: M-I: Application to Reality?


Justin Schwartz:
>
>I'm a pretty severe critic of Roemer on lots of counts, but I think Louis
>misses the boat and Barkley catches it on this exchange. Game theory is a
>useful tool. It can't be confused with reality, but it can be usefully
>applied to it. As Elster argues, it does capture in very precise terms at
>least part of the notion of contradiction. In particular the idea of the
>Prisoner's Dilemma and its analogue, the core of which is that
>individually rational (i.e., selfish) action will have perversely
>suboptimal consequences, is key to an important aspect of contradiction.


Louis: You assert that game theory can applied to reality, in particular the
Prisoner's Dilemma. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Can it
explain the origins of World War One? Or World War Two? The rise of fascism?
The contradictory aspect of nationalism? The rise of the new feminist
movement? Gay liberation? The collapse of the USSR? A whole century has
passed and Marxism has applied itself to understanding phenomena such as
these. What would "game theory" have to say about a single burning issue in
the class struggle today? Albania, Zaire, Turkey?

I have been impressed by one and one thing only in my reading of Elster,
Cohen and Roemer. And that is the degree to which it is cloistered from the
real class struggle. It is an escape from history and society. Its audience
is not the working-class but opponents of Marxism in academia, who AM'ers
seem bent on  outshining.

The one thing that you share in common with Elster, Cohen and Roemer is your
very own allergy to the real world of politics and the class struggle. You
have been on these Spoons lists for as long as I have and you have never
once mobilized your AM background to explain a single issue that the rest of
us were trying to understand. Whether it is the civil war in Yugoslavia, the
militias, the Nation of Islam or gay liberation, you recede into the
background and pare your nails until the topic comes back to "theory".

Your pet topics are the very same things that AM has chewed to the bone such
as the LTV and market socialism. No new ideas or information is ever
advanced. You simply repeat the same things that you said when you arrived.
You offer the same tired endorsement of Schweickart that our Trotskyites
make of the Transitional Program.

Your lack of curiosity about and engagement with current events is an
indication of how AM steers people in the wrong direction.

I have volume 12 of the Collected Marx-Engels at home, which is from 1853. I
want to include some remarks about India in my Roemer post. You should take
a look at what Marx and Engels were writing about in volumes 12 through 18,
some of the most productive years of collaboration, the 1850s-60s. It is
*nothing* but consideration of current events: the Opium War in China, the
Sepoy Rebellion in India, Turkey, the American Civil War, etc.

One of the worst sins of academic Marxism, that you embrace with your heart
and soul, is that it hurls this aspect of Marx's work into oblivion. You
defend your lack of engagement with current events in the most singularly
arrogant manner. Current events is somehow the province of popularizers
while the more serious theoretical work is covered by people like G.A.
Cohen. This is utter bullshit. The goal of Marx and Engels was to apply
their theory to the class struggle in order to change the world. AM pays
lip-service to this goal, but the only world that it appears interested in
is the world of the academy.

Now on the question the "differences" in AM. Tony Smith is for dialectics.
Prezowski does good empirical work on Social Democracy, etc. Let me leave it
like this. I am not motivated to read further in AM beyond Elster, Cohen and
Roemer. These three figures leave me with a grand feeling of "so what". This
is a school that had some impact ten years ago but has run out of steam. My
guess is that it will be seen as a intellectual fad of the Reagan years,
just as postmodernism was. I have read some Lyotard, Deleuze and Laclau.
What I read was enough. The law of dimishing returns applies to AM as it
applies to pomo. I am as likely to delve into Tony Smith as I am into
Jameson. There is only so much time that I have available.

My focus is on history and politics. These are the books on my queue and
that are the kind that I tend to find useful:

1. George Cominel's study of the French Revolution (argues that the
bourgeoisie was *not* a revolutionary class.)

2. Polanyi "Great Transformation"

3. David Harvey's new book

4. A dozen books on environmental problems

5. Michael Denning's study of Popular Front Culture

One has to make choices in life. I have tasted enough of academic Marxism on
the Internet to know that this doesn't interest me. I would also argue that
if you had never had a job as a philosophy professor, you would never had
bothered to get as involved with the AM project as you did. It was simply
part of your professional background, as MVS or UNIX was in mine. 30 years
ago when I was working on a PhD in Philosophy, I could quote chapter and
verse of Husserl and Merlau-Ponty. When I left the academy and took a job as
a computer programmer, my interest in phenomenology came to a screeching halt.

I had spent 26 years in radical politics, in Trotskyism and then in the
broad socialist and anti-imperialist movement, before I had a clue that AM
or post-Marxism existed. No socialist would go out of his or her way to
investigate this stuff. What socialists read tends to be material that help
them figure out real problems in the real world. This means in my case
learning as much about Central America as I could in the 1980s.

There is a real need, however, to get into the deeper questions of Marxist
theory. The whole question of the feasibility of socialism is one of these
questions. Is the working class a revolutionary class? From what I have seen
in AM, this is just not the place to look for such answers. AM, for all of
its intellectual pretensions, does not really get beneath the surface of
anything, at least in what I have been reading.

Meanwhile, Justin, I would remind you publicly what I wrote you privately.
My interest in AM is temporary. I want to take it apart and see what makes
it run. And then throw it on the trash heap. I will pull together my 3
articles and put them on the Marxism archives. If you want to promote the
cause of AM, I have a suggestion for you. Instead of telling the list that I
am wrong or don't understand AM, why don't you simply defend it? Or your
version of it. I don't think most people find your citation of your
published work helpful. This strikes me as patronizing. Most of us don't
have access to the sort of libraries that stock the small-circulation
academic journals that your work appears in. Why don't you translate one of
your better efforts into ordinary English and favor us with an "Idiot's
Guide to Analytical Marxism".



Louis Proyect
(www.columbia.edu/~lnp3)



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