Re: Marxism and Today's Political Sensitivities

Thu, 12 Mar 1998 13:39:34 -0700 (MST)
Martha Gimenez (gimenez@csf.colorado.edu)


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

........snip .............

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."

I am not opposed to critiques; but i consider that some critiques are
more worthwhile than others. For example, to impute "cowardice" to Marx
adds nothing to the important observation about the absence of a specific
discussion of the future family form in the Manifesto. But the use of that
and other imputed personal traits which we can find in abundance, does
have important ideological effects in their own terms.

Walter Benjamin may be right, but let's remember that generations are
themselves divided by class. The debate between post-modern and
non-postmodern readings of Marx is not simply an issue of different
intellectual preferences but symptomatic of differences in class
allegiances and political standpoints.

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.

Just as the right complains of the "political correctness" of those who
dare criticize sexist or racist language there is a "political
correctness" of the postmodern left that chastises those who do not agree
with the postmodern critique and alternatives to Marxist theory.

To argue, like I do, that it is necessary to go beyond pointing out the
obvious and quite understandable holes in the theory to push forward its
potential to analyze the capitalist process affecting the mode of
reproduction or, for example, ecology or population (to mention areas in
which Marx did not write a lot) is not tantamount to being "defensive" or
"conventional" or engaging in futile exercises about what Marx really
said.

The postmodern "privileging of the act of reading" is not a new activity;
the best Marxist scholarship after Marx rests precisely in the readers'
ability to elicit new insights and expanding the relevance of his work.
But there is a difference, in my view, between readings that build upon
Marx's work, while recognizing its problems, and readings that essentially
subvert it, distort it, and contribute to generations of new scholars
receiving a stereotypical interpretation of Marx's work.

Finally, while it is true that Marx's work is not consistent and is open
to many interpretations, I don't think that all interpretations and
criticisms are equally valid. In literature it may be appropriate and fun
to recognize the "perpetual instability of meanings;" but the exploited
would rather keep some meanings estable in Marxism. As Eagleton states in
THE ILLUSIONS OF POSTMODERNISM (a book i highly recommend), terms cannot
mean just anything to retain their force and power; "there must be
something with which they are incompatible" and this means they have
elements which cannot be jettisoned without their turning into something
else altogether such as, for example, "the randomization of history"
(Perry Anderson) and "the retreat from class (Ellen Wood)."

in solidarity,

Martha E. Gimenez
gimenez@csf.colorado.edu