Marxism and Today's Political Sensitivities

Tue, 10 Mar 98 20:30:17
Manjur Karim (mkarim@moses.culver.edu)

On Sun, 8 Mar 1998 17:51:18 -0700 (MST),
Martha Gimenez <gimenez@csf.colorado.edu> wrote:

>I could indulge in a literal and postmodern feminist reading of the
>Manifesto and ask, but what does it say about women? practically nothing.
>Marx is obviously sexist because he refers to men only and writes very
>little about women and what it says is related to women's position in the
>family, not in the workplace.
>
>But I do not read this document expecting a 19th century intellectual to
>write with late 20th century political sensitivities or political
>correctness. This is why I find charges of sexism as unproductive as
>charges of "eurocentrism."

I have to disagree with Martha on that issue. If we want to maintain
the radicality of Marxism as a critical theory of praxis, we have to
continue to subject it to ongoing critiques. What is a better way to
pay tribute to a thinker who asserted the need for " a ruthless
criticism of everthing existing"? As Walter Benjamin once put it,
every generation needs to recreate Marxism within the context of its
own "now." Rethinking Marxism in connection with todays "political
sensitivities" or "political correctness" (interesting choice of
phrase for a left intellectual like Martha) is precisely what we need
to do. That re-reading is not the same as vilifieing Marx, but to
participate in the continuing regeneration of the Marxist project.
Appreciating the historical context of Marx or any other author is not
antithetical to the practice of re-reading him/her within the context
of the present. It is not really an either-or issue. In other words,
while it is true that Marx needs to be understood within his own
timespace, it is also true that Marx needs to be read within the
context of our own temporality and spatiality. This is the kind of
hermeneutic reading, that makes, to use Gadamer's phrase a "fusion of
horizons" of the past and the present of Marxism.

There is another theoretical reason why we need to locate Marxism in
today's political contexts. It is important to decenter the
conventional Realist emphasis on authorship which, among other things
imply that there is one possible way of reading a text. I am not
advocating a death of authorship in a Foucauldian fashion. What I am
trying to argue for is the need for a post-realist dialectical
problematization of the relationship between the author and the
readers, a new privilegeing of the act of reading where readers are
not passive recipient of some intrinsic "that's what Marx really
meant" sort of formula, but actively, creatively participating in the
generation of new meanings.

I am also disturbed when some people get defensive when one identifies
contradictions in Marx's texts. Recognizing the perpetual instabilty
of meanings in a text is not incompatible with a historically
open-ended dialectical method. It is unfortunate that our
conventional Marxist friends often forget that Marxism was never, not
even in Marx's own life time, not even in his own texts, a monolithic,
closed, thorougly consistent thought system. And there is absolutely
nothing wrong about it. On the contrary, that is why Marx is so
relevant for a plurivocal, open texual democratic socialist politics.
De-Eurocentrizing Marx is part of that radical plurivocality.

I have something to say about Martha's discussion of modernity and
tradition as well. But I should rather take care of some other stuff
now. May be tomorroow.

Manjur Karim


------ Forwarded message ends here ------