Thoughts and Questions From a Fellow Traveler

by Arran James on May 3, 2013

In a recent Jacobin piece, editor Sunkara wrote that, “What they [leftists] don’t always have is the social literacy to speak to a broader audience, a literacy that comes with grounding in practical politics.”

This doesn’t have much to do with sectarianism or a lack of grounding in practical politics. You can be grounded all you like, be as nonsectarian as you want, and still fail to be able to speak to a broader audience. By “broader audience,” I assume  Sunkara is referring to non-leftists? One might ask why the use of this euphemism? That is, more pointedly, what group(s) of non-leftists is it that leftists are supposed to be speaking to? Are we talking about workers? Are we talking about people who are concerned about the possibility of ecological catastrophe and, therefore, of the shadow of human extinction? Are we talking about the political classes? The media classes? In what way are we supposed to read this “broader audience.”

To be charitable, one might suspect that Sunkara meant all of these as, given exposure to the right conditions, these are all latent allies. Those conditions — immiseration, precarity, exploitation, direct exposure to ontological vulnerability through homelessness, lack of good food, unemployment-induced mental distress — do not, at this time, stretch to all possible sectors of the “broader audience.” Of course, it doesn’t follow from this that we shouldn’t be engaged in talking to, or rather making demands of, those groups; what does follow is that we need to know what demands to make to who (and when), and what we ought to be saying to the workers, the homeless, the students, and any other political community that might otherwise be unified, named as a collective subject, under the terms “the 99%,” “the people,” or, simply, “the superfluous.”

I would agree that there are those on the left who aren’t very good at addressing those sections of the broader audience, an audience that can be cleaved in half, divided as it is between the plutocrats and oligarchs and everyone else. I would agree that this can be damaging when hysterical demands are made of the plutocrats, and equally damaging when sections of the left represent themselves as joyless, grim, dour, and equally so when everything appears as a carnival of puppets and/or violence.

In the first instance, there is the appearance of the left as a kind of insane toddler demanding things that mommy could never provide; in the second instance, we get either the picture of the boring and passionless militant, the intoxicated post-political reveler, or the molotov-throwing anarchist. None of these images are particularly appealing to people that I speak to that do not consider themselves to be on the left. When I go to work and people see these images they are turned off.

Perhaps what is needed is some kind of amalgam of them? Almost like someone who had social literacy right?

What is this “social literacy” that the left lacks, something that Sunkara doesn’t think he lacks? It seems to come down to “self-awareness about the timing or propriety of their actions.” What does this mean? It means that the left lacks any ability to understand itself, to be self-conscious about what it is doing when it is doing it. Social illiteracy is thus identical to infantility. The spontaneous left is too stupid or to unwilling to think, although, in fairness, ideas of “infantility” admit that the left can undergo a kind of developmental progress, and ideas of “literacy” imply a skill that can be learned.

The left can learn how to be aware of itself, presumably if it listens to Sunkara.

I am not going to fall into the old slurs and accuse this of being a return to Leninism, although Lenin’s term has been tapped out from my keyboard into this text. I am not against Lenin or Leninists. Today, I think the left, as a whole, is undergoing something of a fundamental rethink; a reorientation that demands a moment of tactical openness and a critical re-evaluation of positions and forms that have otherwise been jettisoned on ideological or historical grounds. This is not least because, contra-dialectics, there is no immanent reason to history nor is there any transcendent ahistorical essence to things; that it was the case does not imply that it must necessarily always be the case.

So, given such a moment of openness, and putting aside from the moment questions of whether this spontaneity is really in play on the left at the moment, just what is it that Sunkara thinks we can learn?

First of all, Sunkara tells us that:

“the socialist left is in disarray, fragmented into a million different groupings, many of them with essentially the same politics. It’s an environment that breeds the narcissism of small differences. In a powerless movement, the stakes aren’t high enough to make people work together and the structures aren’t in place to facilitate substantive debate.”

Lesson number one: the left is fragmented.

I think it’s fair to say that everyone knows this. The “broader audience” knows that much about the left! The left is fragmented, but many (one detects the desired word here is “most”) have the same politics. Is that the case? I haven’t taken a count of all the active political groups on the left at the moment — in America or in my own native U.K. — but I’m suspecting that there is a lot.

I’ll stick to the American situation, as that is where Sunkara is based.

Taking the left to mean any group that orients left of centre, we could position the Communist Party, Platypus, the Socialist Workers Party, the Spartacist League, the Industrial Workers of the World, and Common Struggle – Libertarian Communist Federation, all have broadly the same politics. This isn’t even getting to all the non-aligned folk who took part in Occupy. On Occupy, a pretty good example of the lack of agreement on what its politics are is the recent argument between Jodi Dean and David Graeber on the organisational nature and ethical tone of OWS.  Was this a narcissistic small difference?

We can agree with Sunkara that the left lacks power, but I would take issue with the notion that the left is therefore powerless. If I can draw on distinctly non-leftist ideas, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus opens his famous Enchiridion (a text written for soldiers, how is that for a broad audience?) with the statement that “Some things are in our control and others not.” From here, he goes on to lay out an ethical theory that some people have seen as a kind of proto-existentialism in which the only thing that matters is the ability to decide. Yet this wouldn’t be the vapid capitalist fetish of the “choice” that Sartre ended up endorsing; it is the ability to decide on matters under one’s control, those things that fall in one’s power. For Epictetus, what was ours was our own “opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own  action,” while what was not ours was, predictably enough, all else.

This comes across as quite absolutist: this is under your power, this is not; if you lack a thing, it is not within your power to get it.

This could be read as profoundly anti-leftist in sentiment; if you don’t own the means of production, don’t go after them because they aren’t under your control in the end. Yet it is this “in the end” that modifies everything because “in the end,” at death, at the death of everything, nothing is under anyone’s control.

This might seem like a pointless diversion but what it reveals is that Epictetus had an attitude to orienting himself to the present in the here and now. What is it that I have under my power? What can I do? What can I make use of? This local assessment of capacity isn’t as binary as it first appeared, as it admits to a dynamic of power in which I can have more or less power. That is, I can realistically decide to do this or that. In other words, an anarchist could not, at this historical moment, decide to abolish the state, but, with an eye to this as the strategic horizon, the anarchist can make tactical decisions that make this a more and more realisable goal.

As you make such decisions, you are opened to the possibility of an extension of the domain under your power and, as such, a possible extension of the tools at hand.

I think that Occupy, anti-austerity protests, and countless small-scale initiatives show that the left has power. That it is not enough power to redress economic injustice, to act against the suppression of equality, to recompose society through overcoming capitalism does not mean that it has no power. Indeed, to suggest that a fragmented left is a left with no power at all is to play up to the discourses of the plutocrats and the right wing that would happily see the left wallow in its condition of self-pitying paralysis.

So what else might we learn from Sunkara? That Jacobin was formed with an eye to a left wing “regroupment,” and that now is the time for saying so because

“It’s finally time to make a call for joint action on the Left with an eye towards the unification of the many socialist organizations with similar political orientations into one larger body.”

This same process has been happening over here in the U.K. Filmmaker Ken Loach’s appeal for a united left has seen massive, widespread, popular support for Left Unity’s platform to discuss a new party of the left. This support has spread quickly. Some have suggested that the speed of this spread speaks to the “parachuting in” of professional organisers from this left cadre or that, while others have simply recited the history of these attempts at political unity on the left in the U.K.: failure, after failure, after failure.

I, as one of the people Sunkara describes as on the margins of the left for some time, got interested in this call because it seemed like a moment of optimism, a beginning again, and something I could get involved in from below. I do not believe in electoral politics (a matter of relevance as much as of political analysis) and I do not believe that capitalism will be overcome and the state dismantled through parliamentary means alone. Yet, in the moment, this moment of tactical openness, I embraced the situation, picked up what tools I had to hand, and tried to form some part of the left’s collective power.

So far nothing much has come of this except a forthcoming People’s Assembly at which the party format will be debated, and, outside of which there will be, an anarchist rally and (a joke, but potentially serious) occupation. There has been no feeling of unity generated from Left Unity — there has only been a trotting out of old lines. I still remain behind it, despite its staleness, because it seem to be the only option at the moment to build something of a mass organisation.

The problem comes when Sunkara starts to talk about “a larger, more centralized organization” that would feature “paid staffers and organizers” but which, we are reassured, would have “an overarching democratic structure” that encouraged “plurality.” As I have said above, I am all for going back to re-examine Lenin, but the question is which Lenin, and with an eye to answering which questions?

I agree that the left requires a democratic mass organisation, as I’m sure many people do — hence the popularity of Left Unity in the U.K. — but I am also sure many people see terms like centralisation and references to a strata of paid “staffers and organisers” and cannot help but find the word “bureaucracy.”

It is obviously necessary to ask what, exactly, it is that is being centralised?

The most immediate answer would be the power to make decisions, decisions that would then be carried out by the bureaucratic employees of the central committee. I do not want to be just another voice that heckles about the risks of centralised bureaucratic party organisations those criticisms are well-known and well-worn. I am not about to make them again on ideological grounds, but on other grounds. Returning to how this short piece by Sunkara opened, there was a certain furtive discussion of people on subway trains masturbating. These figures Sunkara then goes on to identify with “the left” or, as he makes clear after he has staked out what the options are, a section of the left.

This would be a section of the left that did not recognise itself in Sunkara’s calls for unity, a section that might have questions about centralised organisation and bureaucratic strata. This might be a section of the left that had undergone experiences of such organisations lacking the kind of democracy that these kinds of parties tend to exhibit (in the U.K. I am thinking of the Socialist Workers Party whose on membership — until rightly resigning in the wake of a sex scandal — had an internal critical faction militating for democracy); it might be formed from those who have a desire to unite but not around anything that is attached to the Democratic Socialists of America; it might be composed of those who openly identify as communist, anti-state, or anarchist.

Now, one might expect, no matter the reaction of these groups before the initiative Sunkara is calling for took off, that these were the kind of people that a democratic, pluralist organisation would want to appeal to, would want to say, “we want to include you in our discussion, in our open and honest debate.”

Instead, these are the people he identifies with public masturbators. Sunkara presents himself — with an awareness of the broader audience, no doubt — as concerned with propriety. In one reading, this word means decorum and here it is clear that Sunkara is using this nicely. In fact, the basis of his rejection of this vast swathe of the left is that they are wankers. A sophisticated and nuanced critique, I’m sure.

In another reading, propriety also means being concerned with following the consensus. Following from the philosopher Jacques Ranciere, who defines democracy and politics as precisely a disruption of consensus rather than as an organisational form, we might want to ask to what extent Sunkara is, from the outset, attempting to get rid of those who embody this idea of democracy in order to be done with all that. If we want to get involved in “building [the left’s] own institutions and organs of class power and presenting real alternatives,” then let’s do so without first excluding any alternative we disagree with.

I see nothing in the idea of building institutions and organs of class power that determines a priori that that must be a centralised bureaucratic or party form.

Likewise, I am not against the left discussing the party again, from scratch.

In the end then, I agree with Sunkara’s call and would hope to see it responded to in good conscience. I also agree that the left has to be more aware of how it presents itself, how it extends itself to the people that it would benefit most. By that I mean that not every worker and citizen wants to hear grim recitals of ecocide, or how austerity is going to make them even more poor than they already are. They already know all that well enough. Instead, the left, whether in America or the U.K., or anywhere else, should present itself as convivial and capable of being serious, and should be reaching out to people on the basis of their desires and, ultimately, reminding them that capitalism produces an excess of wealth and scarcity, and that if we had power (in the broadest sense), then we would see to it that that irrationality was ended.

I agree with this even as I disagree with Sunkara’s characterisation of the left as powerless and even as I have suspicions about what his organisation might actually look like. I have suspicions, but the organisational question is a tactical one that can only be addressed from within the specificity of the situation itself; it can never be decided in advance. I would think Sunkara would appreciate that, given his magazine’s attempt to reconsider Lenin. Instead, we see him, in the name of some kind of public relations fit, and in the name of some auto-amputated concept of unity, name-calling and so displaying exactly the infantilism that he seems to think this “socially illiterate” left is guilty of.

Social literacy, by the way, is a vague and undefined in Sunkara’s essay but it can pretty easily be thought of as the ability to read the social. This could mean the ability to understand the world you are in, your immediate situation, what is required of you and what you should expect, what others are with you, what affects are being produced, what affordances are at hand, what relationships you can and cannot build. It can also mean the cognitive ability to understand other people, their emotions and to be, in other words, capable of empathy. It is therefore an embedded and ecological concept, one that demands a certain level of responsiveness and plasticity in place of an autistic rigidity, inflexibility, and compulsion to repeat past situations again and again until the reality is forced to match the idea.

In short, it demands that we are interested in what is possible and in how we might become a force to be reckoned with. It demands an authentic openness that does not forget the strategic horizon for which it is ultimately an opening: the creation and expansion of the actually-existing movement for the supercession of capitalism, otherwise known as communism.

Arran James is a registered psychiatric nurse from London in the U.K. and a communist. He currently lives in Scotland.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

arranjames May 3, 2013 at 4:48 pm

This guy goes on about social literacy, but he can’t even spell or proof-read properly! (I originally wrote the piece as a comment and submitted it a little hurriedly).

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Carl Davidson May 3, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Not much help here.

To get anywhere, the left, at least the saner contingents of it, need to reach for more critical mass. First, it has to speak to the 5,95 million of the people in the country who likely consider themselves socialist but are still ‘lone rangers,’ ie, not in any organized socialist group or project. Second, it has to learn to speak to the progressive majority of workers and their allies who are not yet socialists. Here in Western PA where I live, for instance, one third of union workers vote GOP, about half when you count the non-union workers, and 95% of Blacks vote Democrat. About 2% might consider a third party. Yet herein lies those most distressed by capitalism and the engine of change.

One think that might help left unity is to set ideology to the side. We can argue ideologies at our leisure under the same tent until the cows come home. We already do in my group, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Instead pick 10 practical platform points addressing the progressive majority’s major problems from the point of view of transformational structure reform. Then build a Left Front organization around that. We might not get everyone under that tent, but we might get enough to win a few municipal elections, and see where we can go from there.

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arranjames May 3, 2013 at 6:26 pm

‘One think that might help left unity is to set ideology to the side’.

I agree, and that was one of the points of the post. Specially, those parts of the post that identified Sankara’s double movement in calling for left unity. On the one hand he calls for unity, and on the other he implicitly identifies a number of people, groups or tendencies to whom this call shouldn’t be extended. He calls for ‘allowing open factions’, and I think we should be mindful of this gesture towards ‘allowing’ rather than ‘accepting’ or ‘encourage’, but in the very same article points to ‘subway masturbators’; I’m only left able to conclude that these wankers are the people that this project of left unity will exclude.

Sankara also calls for unity and then lays out an organisational form with which many on the left are uncomfortable. This form is put forward as the tacitly necessary form of unity; it is the only one that Sankara can see as being operational. Isn’t this, though, up for grabs? Isn’t the form that such a project of unity would take itself part of the necessary discussion and open debate? In terms of the Left Unity project in the UK, this has spread precisely through the ‘New technology [that] will [in fact already does]connect activists’ and through the emergence of locals. As far as you can make out from the Left Unity website, there is a day-to-day organising group that is responsible for maintaining the website and some minimal level of coordination.

Left Unity has involved discussion about how a new party should be organised from the start, and is open to those who are not convinced by the party form at all but are willing to put ideology aside in order to make steps towards another attempt at a united front. Indeed, it has made no a priori assumptions or calls, aside from the idea of a party. It is an attempt to produce a new party from below.

The motivation behind what I wrote, and what I am trying to reiterate here, is that a call for unity should not be conflated with a call for how that unity should take place before the discussion is even begun. So my main point is precisely that the left, the international left as much as any national contingent, needs ‘to set ideology to the side’. Setting ideology to the side ought to include not making a priori decisions about how unity should take place, and should not make decisions about who is and is not eligible to take part on ideological grounds. Is unity to be imposed from above, or is it going to emerge from below? Is this unity, but only among those who already agree?

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Pham Binh May 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm

James is right. All talk of centralization and paid staffers of some future common radical left formation is extremely premature and a sure-fire way to drive away the elements that must be included in such an effort from the beginning if it is a serious attempt and just not shuffling the deckchairs on the small, competing lifeboats that constitute the organized far left today. You can’t have a real conversation with someone who already has a fixed idea of what will be said and agreed upon before the first words are spoken.

The elements I’m referring to here are anarchists or those who broadly identify with anarchism (Prodhoun, Bakunin, Malatesta, Goldman, Bookchin) as opposed to socialism (Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao). They have to be part of any realignment/regroupment or common front effort in part because their skeptical/hostile attitude towards political parties (and especially democratic centralism) is more in line with modern conditions of struggle than the Marxist conceptions of what a party is, why it is needed, and how it operates/is structured which are mostly 20th century holdovers.

Jacobin‘s derisive attitude towards anarchism has not served them well. It led them to argue that Occupy was a failure in the middle of its success (see http://vimeo.com/30743195), a success that put May Day and radical politics back on the political map in America.

Without anarchism, this simply would not have happened. Given this, I can’t imagine the results would be anything worthwhile if we Marxists try to regroup without them. Our humorlessness and opposition to fun would kill any chance at becoming a popular force before we even got off the ground.

Many Marxists are excited about SYRIZA in Greece and rightly so, but properly speaking it was not (until very recently) a political party but an alliance whose component parts came together and made decisions based on consensus, the modus operandi of Anonymous, Occupy, and the free armies of Syria and Libya. This is not a coincidence but a necessary result of an increasingly seamless, horizontal world wrought by Web 2.0. The old divisions (really a division of labor) between leaders and led, informed and uninformed, thinkers and doers, talkers and fighters is increasingly superfluous; Joe Six Pack doesn’t need a fancy degree from an Ivy League school to have a platform for his ideas and can build a readership-following while working a 9 to 5. Leaderlessness no longer means a free for all but that everyone is a leader; Occupy in this sense was leader-full, full of all kinds of ideas, initiatives, and memes, very few of which were cleared by a G.A. (much less a central committee); whether they succeeded and became popular or flopped was based on their merits and intrinsic appeal, not on the conscious decision of an organized body.

If you think we need an old-style party, you’re living in yesteryear; if you think Syria needs a Trotsky or a Mao to create and command a Red Army for victory over Assad, you don’t understand what a self-led, self-organized, self-conscious, self-directed revolutionary people is. Times have changed and organizational forms need to reflect what works now rather than what (sort of) worked for our grandparents.

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John Halle May 3, 2013 at 10:37 pm

That was, I think, the best comment I’ve ever read on the internet. But talk is cheap: it’s worth a contribution to Northstar, in fact. I’d encourage others of like mind to consider doing the same.

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Pham Binh May 4, 2013 at 5:29 am

Thanks for the donation John. The North Star team will
put it to good use as we prepare to relaunch a bigger,
better site. :)

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Will Emmons May 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm

“Our humorlessness and opposition to fun would kill any chance at becoming a popular force before we even got off the ground.”

Binh, I think you’ve been hanging out with the wrong Marxists.

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Thomas Barton May 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

The question is to some degree one of methodology.

Workers moving left and enlisted rank soldiers are not heathens to be converted to our faith. That isn’t politics, that’s religion, which, by the way, is the origin of the term “sectarian”, i.e. belonging to the world of religious faith and belief, expressed in Marx’s and our time by religious sects. That’s how the word entered the revolutionary socialist vocabulary.

Politics is the art of meeting human needs.

Religion is the practice of preaching at people about what they “should” know or think — their conversion to a system of beliefs.

Marx took pains to reject that way of approaching people. Thus his insistence on calling his politics “scientific socialism” to distinguish it from religions, which often named themselves after some mystic religious person: Christianity, Buddhism, etc. Today, references to “Marxism” “Leninism,” “Maoism” “Chavezmo” etc. is simply degeneration backwards to a religious approach. Understandable given the influence of living in a bourgeois world.

Whatever political differences one may have with anarchism, it is to their credit that anarchists do not go about referencing “Bakuninism” or “Kropotkinism.”

It may be useful for people involved in the political world, as distinct from the religious world, to ask people what they think their worst problem right now is, commonly called an “issue,” instead of yammering on at them about what the missionary thinks the worker/soldier-as-object should think his worst problem is, or what issue the missionary thinks he or she ought to be/should be concerned with.

That is religion as surely as some sect asking them to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, except Karl Marx, Lenin, or whoever is substituted for Christ, socialism for heaven, joining the organization for accepting the true faith, dues for the collection plate, whatever paper the group pushes substituted for the Bible, and hunting down “deviation” for the religious search for heresy.

Science is the methodology of solving problems in the material world.

Religion is the art of attempting to win coverts to a system of false consciousness, “ideology.”

Approaching people who have gone into motion over some issue in their lives, what can we offer that throws light on the material origin of that specific problem, and shows a scientific, historical materialist approach to finding a solution?

With petite bourgeois somewhat radicals, all this doesn’t matter so much, since they live mostly in a world of abstraction, drawn like flies to some hero or other to worship and name their political practice after: frogs who would have a King.

Radicalized enlisted rank soldiers, to the contrary, for example, are on average the sharpest, most at risk section of the working class, who have to live every minute in the here and now in order to stay living. Clarity of words, brevity, and connection to “the point”, in a very practical way, is everything to survival in war.

Preaching vague bullshit is loathed and despised.

The interaction with the immediate, material world is supreme. “Theory” must serve to clarify, rather than obscure.

In science, theory is not a subject for windy debate; it is an approximation to be tested by experiment in reality; “the scientific method.”

Marx elaborated the scientific method further by applying it to human science, through the method of successive approximations, the interaction of thesis, anti-thesis, and subsequent formation of synthesis: some examples of the dimensions of historical materialist methodology which we are not taught in school, but we can learn.

The good news for us is that the higher the rank of the officer/politician, the more he or she blathers on and on about nothing the soldier/worker cares about or really wants to know or have explained, but which the officer/politician thinks the soldier/worker should care about, know and should want to have explained.

But if we do the same and we are lost, wandering the world of sectarian abstract “ideology.”

The best will not be with us on that journey.

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Pham Binh May 4, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Even Christ knew it was folly to argue with people about they should and should not believe ideologically. Instead, he went around healing lepers, exorcising the possessed, and feeding the hungry. The socialist movement will never develop a mass following again if we spend most of our time preaching sterile sermons about the validity of our doctrines and denouncing the heresy of others in order to win converts one by one rather than listening, organizing, and leading people to fight for what they thirst for most.

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Thomas Barton May 4, 2013 at 8:38 pm

“listening, organizing, and leading people to fight for what they thirst for most.”

Sign me up.

T

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John Halle May 5, 2013 at 10:55 am

Or press the donate button on the right.

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PatrickSMcNally May 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

“anarchists do not go about”

That largely reflects the fact that Bakunin & Kropotkin did not produce any substantive lasting theory. It’s true that when a great intellectual appears, one can often find many lesser figures who seek to associate themselves with the name. “Social Darwinism” as a trend in the late 19th & early 20th centuries involved a melange of ideologues who sought to dress themselves up in the trappings of Charles Darwin. Karl Marx is just as vulnerable to this. But anarchism does not provide any solution.

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

It isn’t the aim of anarchist theorists to produce any such lasting theory. If the idea is that theory ought to reflect practice and the historical situation that such practice inhabits then it might seem suspect for anarchists to want to produce vast screeds of theory that went beyond that. On the other hand, in fairness, there has been huge periods of anti-intellectualism in anarchism that went hand in hand with the actionist impulse of the ‘propaganda of the deed’.

On the other hand, we could ask whether the lack of any lasting anarchist “isms of the name” is anything to do with the home that Marxists made for themselves in the academy. Most “isms” tend to propagate within university departments rather than in the midst of direct action and workplace organisation. This might be turning with people like David Graeber, Todd May, and Simon Critchley all openly identifying as anarchists (although we could question Critchley’s claim). Mind you, there is absolutely no need for anarchists to have produced great intellectuals of the order of Marx or Darwin. What prevents anarchists from making use of these figures? So there are members of the intellectual left happy to produce these nuanced and complex theories; all to the better for the anarchist immersed in his fieldwork. (On the specific question of Kropotkin, his intervention in Social Darwinism is one that continues to be borne out by the contemporary findings).

What you tend to find in anarchist debates is less an allegiance to a Great Man and more to forms of organisation: hence there is a litany of terms that come with the prefix ‘anarcho-; commmunist, syndicalist, individualist, primitivist, collecivist, especifico, platformist, and lastly, Malatesta’s “anarchist without adjectives”. These aren’t questions of theory, it is true, they are questions of organisation based on interventions embedded in struggle.

That anarchist’s haven’t produced great intellectuals like Marx means little. Marx is Marx; is there any need for an anarchist rewrite? That anarchism “does not provide any solution” is already to put the benchmark for establishing left unity too high: you can only join in if you have the/a solution. Look about you. Do you see much in the way of solutions? If that is the criterion on which participation in left unity is to be judged it’s a dead animal before it’s even been born.

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PatrickSMcNally May 5, 2013 at 2:35 pm

“in the academy.”

It’s closer to the opposite. Russians in the 19th century spoke of “Marxism” at a time when it would have been out of the question for an academic to present themselves as a Marxist. Evolutionary science has been well enough accepted that today hardly anyone speaks of “Darwinism” anymore. Someone may be considered an “evolutionary biologist” but they would hardly bother calling themselves a “Darwinist.” In contrast, a generic concept of “scientific socialism” has never been adopted by bourgeois academia, and that makes sense. Darwinian science had enough of a correlation to advancing real bourgeois interests such that it could be accepted as a general science and eventually freed of an over-reliance on Darwin per se. Today Darwin is no longer a prophet but just a ground-breaking pioneer. No one today would regard “Darwinism” as a special subfield of evolutionary science. Darwin’s works have been completely absorbed and even critiqued within the domain of evolutionary science.

Since bourgoeis class interest fundamentally negates the concept of “scientific socialism” there has never been any such analogous development in the academy with Marx’s ideas being formally blended into a broader field. One can follow the dvelopment of “social sciences” and very often identify ways in which Marx has influenced the lines of thought. But “Marxism” is explicitly penned off as something distinct from “social science,” even when sometimes recognized as a subdomain of the latter. Only after revolutions have spread across the whole globe will it come to pass that “Marxism” will be left behind as an early manifestation of “scientific socialism.” For the present, simply invoking the term “scientific socialism” must automatically brand one as “Marxist.”

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

On the first point, anarchism isn’t a coherent theory and anarchists have never made it their business to submit to this theory of that. The proclamation ‘No Gods, No Master’s’ does not sit well with an identification as a disciple of this or that thinker. This is a question of identifications, not of relevance of any particular thinker’s contribution. The idea that one would identify as Kroptokinist is opposed to the spirit of anarchism. To identify oneself with an intellectual master would already be to disavow any claims to anarchism.

On the second point, there is a couple of things to be said. First of all, you seem to be conflating Marxism with “scientific socialism”, a particular Marxist nomination that many Marxists have rejected. This isn’t even a phrase that originates with Marx but with Engels, a thinker that many would claim vulgarised the Marxist dialectic after Marx’s death. My point isn’t to dimiss ‘scientific socialism’ as a concept but simply to destabilise the identification between it and Marxism as such. Secondly, I am not sure what it means to say that “bourgeois class interest fundamentally negates the concept of ‘scientific socialism'”. Bourgeois class interest would be the interest of the bourgeoisie as a class, I assume. Why do you think that within this class interest there are not microinterests that compete with one another and that such competition is essential to being able to speak of a total class interest? It strikes me that the bourgeoisie may have an interest in common but they do not agree on expressions of that interest, as if between the bourgeoisie there were no animosity, disagreement, or hostility. I would assume that ultimately the bourgeois class interest would be the reproduction of capitalism, the maximisation of value production concentrated in their own hands, and the prevention of workers becoming a united class for itself. I don’t see how any of this negates the development of scientific socialism which is an analytic methodological, not a point of political unification and revolutionary action. I can well imagine the bourgeoisie chuckling away at scientific socialists; “you want to understand the historical terrain and to use such an understanding to win people’s minds? Very well…we still have them by their desires”.

Finally, the idea that Marxism hasn’t found its way into the academy is ludicrous. Perhaps you are speaking from the American position but as is made clear in my article and biography I am in the UK. In the UK and across Europe, as elsewhere in the world, Marxist do have plenty of positions in the academy. I underwent my philosophy undergrad at the then Middlesex University’s CRMEP, an entirely Marxist faculty. I could point out other examples, but I think that is enough to point out that your claim isn’t correct beyond your own national border.

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PatrickSMcNally May 5, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I would certainly nevver dispute the fact there are academics in place who regard themselves as Marxist. That was my whole point. No one today rreally egards themselves as “Darwinist” because Darwin has simply been absorbed into the field of evolutionary science. When socialist revolutions have swept across the whole globe one day there will come a time when people will simply speak of “social science” and the main ideas which Marx formulated as to how class contradictions gave rise to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism will simply be assumptions inherent to social science. When that time comes Marx & Darwin will be on the same level. The fact that academics in the UK need to brand themselves as “Marxists” reflects the fact that bourgeois sociology still closes Marx off in a way that biology does not do with Darwin.

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm

So Marxists only call themselves that in the academy because the bourgeois close them off, where Darwin doesn’t have to be mentioned because he has been fully integrated. Have you considered that alternatively, it may be that scientists do not fetishise Darwin anymore (they identify as evolutionary biologists and, first of all, as scientist) and that evolutionary biology may have begun with Darwin but did not end with him? Has it also crossed your mind that many evolutionary biologists do identify as neo-Darwinian, while other’s dispute whether Darwin’s account of evolution is the final say on the matter? Plenty of theories of evolution counter Darwin’s adaptionist account…not least the theory of evolutionary drift.

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PatrickSMcNally May 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Most of those who are considered as evolutionary biologists today would share more in common with Darwin’s ideas than a lot of academics classed as “Marxist” would those of Marx. It’s just a reality that someone in academia must be “Marxist” in order to be able to draw even just a fraction from Marx of what many evolutionary biologists draw from Darwin. If it were not for that as a social reality, most of the academic “Marxists” could be easily be separated away from the thinking of Marx with just a few degrees of commonality.

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Scientists don’t need to claim that they are Darwinists because Darwinism is a well evidenced theory. Scientific method has confirmed that the broad theory that Darwin put forward can be claimed as true with more certainty than any competing explanation. This is a matter of scientific method and how scientific truth-claims are grounded. Similarly, people working in physics don’t go around calling themselves Einsteinians. It just isn’t necessary because the theory has been proven; which is not to say that it is an absolute truth. Marxism doesn’t operate according to scientific method.

Likewise, an evolutionary biologist is unlikely to identify as a Darwinian because they are more likely to speak in operational terms: I am an evolutionary biologist looking into the evolutionary traits/adaptations of species x, y, z. Why would they identify as Marxist? Even if Marx got accepted as the gospel truth, the absolute truth, or a matter of fact according to scientific method (which his theory is not amenable to) then it would still be necessary to claim oneself as a Marxist. This is a political identification, not a methodological one.

The last point is an empirical claim and unless it can be evidenced its just rhetorical wheel spinning.

In the end though, you have struck on the most important point out political identifications. Whether one claims to be a Marxist or an anarchist, a liberal or conservative this is a claim one is staking, with a particular understanding of the nomination that contests other understanding. We also shouldn’t forget the old story that Marx refused to identify as Marxist. What matters is the content of your analyses and your practice…not what you call it.

At any rate, I feel like we’re having a pretty minor disagreement really. I’m happy to simply agree to disagree on this point.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm

ARRANJAMES: It isn’t the aim of anarchist theorists to produce any such lasting theory.

DAVID BERGER: You are already contradicting yourself. The notion that: “It isn’t the aim of anarchist theorists to produce any such lasting theory,” is itself a “lasting theory.”

ARRANJAMES: If the idea is that theory ought to reflect practice and the historical situation that such practice inhabits then it might seem suspect for anarchists to want to produce vast screeds of theory that went beyond that.

DAVID BERGER: While you are correct that “theory ought to reflect practice and the historical situation,” what you are ignoring is the other side of that dialectic: that practice also needs to be guided by theory. In the absence of theory, practice becomes a combination of impulse and opportunism.

ARRANJAMES: On the other hand, in fairness, there has been huge periods of anti-intellectualism in anarchism that went hand in hand with the actionist impulse of the ‘propaganda of the deed’.

DAVID BERGER: And it is my observation, having worked with anarchists over the past year and a half in Occupy Wall Street, that this disgusting tradition persists. Let’s also recall the opportunism of the Spanish anarchists in supporting the Popular Front government in Spain. A proper theory would have precluded this.

ARRANJAMES: On the other hand, we could ask whether the lack of any lasting anarchist “isms of the name” is anything to do with the home that Marxists made for themselves in the academy.

DAVID BERGER: Pretty wild that you think that Marxist theory comes from “the academy.”

ARRANJAMES: Most “isms” tend to propagate within university departments rather than in the midst of direct action and workplace organisation.

DAVID BERGER: With all due respect, you are showing your lack of knowledge of “direct action and workplace organization.”

ARRANJAMES: This might be turning with people like David Graeber, Todd May, and Simon Critchley all openly identifying as anarchists (although we could question Critchley’s claim).

DAVID BERGER: Do you really want to claim David Graeber as a colleague? Are you really going to claim that prefiguratism, extreme horizontalism, consensus decision making, etc., is a viable politics?

By the way, he’s been associated with Yale, the London School of Economics, the Association of Social Anthropologists, Berkeley, Cambridge, Goldsmiths College and the London School of Economics.

ARRANJAMES: Mind you, there is absolutely no need for anarchists to have produced great intellectuals of the order of Marx or Darwin.

DAVID BERGER: Why not? You’d think that in 150 years or so anarchists would have produced at least one or two first rate thinkers.

ARRANJAMES: What prevents anarchists from making use of these figures? So there are members of the intellectual left happy to produce these nuanced and complex theories; all to the better for the anarchist immersed in his fieldwork.

DAVID BERGER: Ah, yes, we Marxists are engaged in our musty studies while the anarchists are out there doing “fieldwork.” Please!

ARRANJAMES: (On the specific question of Kropotkin, his intervention in Social Darwinism is one that continues to be borne out by the contemporary findings).

DAVID BERGER: Do you really want to claim Kropotkin as a “great intellectual”?

ARRANJAMES: What you tend to find in anarchist debates is less an allegiance to a Great Man and more to forms of organisation: hence there is a litany of terms that come with the prefix ‘anarcho-; commmunist, syndicalist, individualist, primitivist, collecivist, especifico, platformist, and lastly, Malatesta’s “anarchist without adjectives”. These aren’t questions of theory, it is true, they are questions of organisation based on interventions embedded in struggle.

DAVID BERGER: All of which means that anarchists haven’t even evolved a method of developing consistent politics.

ARRANJAMES: That anarchist’s haven’t produced great intellectuals like Marx means little. Marx is Marx; is there any need for an anarchist rewrite?

DAVID BERGER: True, but it would seem that at some points, if anarchism is the “true politics,” it would have produced at least a consistent body of theory.

ARRANJAMES: That anarchism “does not provide any solution” is already to put the benchmark for establishing left unity too high: you can only join in if you have the/a solution.

DAVID BERGER: Frankly, I’ll settle for a consistent method, or even a groping for a method.

ARRANJAMES: Look about you. Do you see much in the way of solutions? If that is the criterion on which participation in left unity is to be judged it’s a dead animal before it’s even been born.

DAVID BERGER: Based on my experience with anarchists in Occupy Wall Street, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for their participation in “left unity.” What I have seen with anarchist factions is an individualism/egotism so extreme as to make cooperation of any period of time almost impossible, likewise planning and decision making.

And since, as anyone who has been involved with politics knows, some kind of leadership is necessary in groups larger than about eight, what I have also seen with anarchists is a nasty tendency towards behind-the-scenes manipulation

I know I’m being harsh here, but it’s been a bad year and a half or so with anarchists in OWS. Yes, they were there at the start and initially played one of the most important roles. But them days is past, Comrade.

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

DAVID BERGER: You are already contradicting yourself. The notion that: “It isn’t the aim of anarchist theorists to produce any such lasting theory,” is itself a “lasting theory.”

ARRAN JAMES: Erm…the idea that anarchists aren’t trying to put forward a lasting theory is my contention. I have not identified as an anarchist at any point. I have simply wanted to remind people that there is another side of the left, including but not limited to anarchism, that the Jacobin editor is excluding on an a priori basis (a point these comments are diverging from at a remarkable pace). Even if that were not the case, the notion that anarchists aren’t trying to produce lasting theories is not itself lasting theory, as you claim. Firstly, because it is not a theory but a claim, and secondly, because it is not necessarily a lasting claim (ie: it is open to empirical invalidation). I will add a third point while I’m at it; if anarchist theorists attempted to produce a lasting theory in the sense of developing the final statement on a given problem that would be to produce an ahistorical theory that took itself to be transcendent of any specific historical moment. That would not be very anarchist. Indeed, it wouldn’t be very Marxist either.

DAVID BERGER: While you are correct that “theory ought to reflect practice and the historical situation,” what you are ignoring is the other side of that dialectic: that practice also needs to be guided by theory. In the absence of theory, practice becomes a combination of impulse and opportunism.

ARRAN JAMES: I am not missing the other side of that dialectic, I am purposely emphasizing a particular side of it. Of course, I agree that practice also needs to be guided by theory. Yet does this mean that there has to be a Kropotkinist theory or a Bakuninist theory guiding such practice? If you think that a theory must come from one man or another then you’re ignoring vast swathes of theoretical wealth; and not just anarchist theory, but the theory of Marxists who do not identify only with Marx, Lenin, or Trotsky. Just like that, autonomia disappears, as does any French Marxian theory from the last few decades. As to feminism, don’t even think about it! You won’t find any Big Name-ists in their ranks.

Obviously, these theories have nothing to contribute simply by the fact that they do not identify as Tronitist, Badiouist, or de Beauvoirist. The claim, taken to its logical conclusion, approach the idea that only theories that come with an approved name from the Pantheon can be considered legitimate. Well then, the bulk of social psychology, anthropology, and other more empirically validated disciplines ought to be thrown away. I am certain this isn’t something you would claim, but I can’t help seeing a proximity between your attitude and this outcome.

DAVID BERGER: ‘DAVID BERGER: And it is my observation, having worked with anarchists over the past year and a half in Occupy Wall Street, that this disgusting tradition persists. Let’s also recall the opportunism of the Spanish anarchists in supporting the Popular Front government in Spain. A proper theory would have precluded this. On the Spanish anarchists, this is a deft move. Conflate a multiple tradition with one historical instance dominated by one organisational faction. As a critique of syndalicalism or the anarchists of that time period, it might have some cogency. Add to that the notion that a “proper theory” (which you possess?) would have prevented the tragedy of Spain is speculation at best, and gives unwarranted material power to theory at the expense of all the other considerations of that historical specificity.

ARRAN JAMES: So over the last year and half your finely crafted Marxist theory has led you to the conclusion that anarchism is a “disgusting tradition”. Well, nice choice of aesthetic concept for an analysis that would require political thought (isn’t disgust a question of taste? a fairly bourgoise and relativist concept, I’d have thought).

DAVID BERGER: With all due respect, you are showing your lack of knowledge of “direct action and workplace organization.”

ARRAN JAMES: If you mean my ignorance that theories develop in these places then you have missed my point. I am not arguing against theory as such, and I am not arguing against the idea that theories end in the suffix “-ism”; I am arguing that the pronoun-isms do not originate in these places.

DAVID BERGER: Why not? You’d think that in 150 years or so anarchists would have produced at least one or two first rate thinkers.

ARRAN JAMES: What you consider as a first rate thinker may differ from what an anarchist thinks is a first rate thinker. Seeings as you ask though, one might have expected such a thing to happen yes. I believe I already suggested some reasons for why that might not have happened.

DAVID BERGER: Do you really want to claim David Graeber as a colleague? Are you really going to claim that prefiguratism, extreme horizontalism, consensus decision making, etc., is a viable politics?

ARRAN JAMES: Again, I haven’t identified as an anarchist. All I have done is call for left unity to be a call that is extended to the entire left. If anarchists want to heed that call or not is up to them; but to be a genuine work of unification (rather than an imposition of unity among those who already agree) then this is a democratic minimum. Who can be unified and what form that unification should take can not be decided ahead of schedule. This is main point of my article.

To continue, as I have not identified as an anarchist I do not claim David Graeber as a colleague. If I was claiming him as a colleague I would just have done so but I didn’t, and I didn’t because my claim was that the academy historically lacked anarchists but that this is changing. I was claiming that David Graeber is both an anarchist and an academic- no more and no less. To impute any other claim to what I wrote is to distort my reply to the point of rewriting it. (And I’m not sure why you provide a list of institutions he’s been associated with).

DAVID BERGER: Ah, yes, we Marxists are engaged in our musty studies while the anarchists are out there doing “fieldwork.” Please!

ARRAN JAMES: Again, that is not my claim. I am claiming that an anarchist engaged in fieldwork will make use of Marxist theory as much as she will anarchist theory. There is no need to reproduce a grand theory of capitalism when Marx’s is clearly the proper account. The idea that I am attempting to make a separation between anarchists and Marxists is pretty silly considering that the main point of my article was that this is a separation that should be forgotten in the name of ”tactical openness’ and ‘left unity’. It’s also absurd considering all those theories that seem to be anarchist and Marxist in almost equal measure.

DAVID BERGER: Do you really want to claim Kropotkin as a “great intellectual”?

ARRAN JAMES: No I don’t…but I don’t particularly want to claim Marx as a great intellectual either. My questions are more pragmatic: does it help me to understand the world; does it help me to formulate a practice; does it help me in this situation with what I have. The intellectual status of the originator of a theory isn’t really my concern. Not only do I not want to claim Kropotkin as a great intellectual, but I don’t either; it was you who raised Kropotkin and Bakunin, and who also raised Darwinism. I was merely pointing out that Kropotkin made a contribution to the scientific literature that is now confirmed. This doesn’t make him a great intellectual, it makes him a thinker that doesn’t need to be a great intellectual- just someone who has contributed to the accumulation of scientific knowledge.

DAVID BERGER: All of which means that anarchists haven’t even evolved a method of developing consistent politics.

ARRAN JAMES: Because Marxism has, right? It’s not like Marxism has ever known any splits, factions, sects, internal critiques, to develop is it? I mean…that would require that people make a call for unity or something, wouldn’t it?

DAVID BERGER: Frankly, I’ll settle for a consistent method, or even a groping for a method.

ARRAN JAMES: Right, that’s a very different ask than the “solution” you originally asked for; about as wide as the difference between asking for soup and then changing one’s mind to merely wanting to know how one might go about making soup.

The anarchist could easily ask the Marxist to show her “consistent method”. Marxist theory and practice is divergent and diverse. Anarchists, on the other hand, have never said that they had a consistent method. They have said that methods should be determined by the situation. They have also said that anarchism is not a single theory but a set of principles. I believe anarcho-syndicalism, among other theories, has a consistent methodological approach. Anarchism is full of approaches to method, searches for method, and elaborations of method. Shock horror: because anarchism isn’t interested in producing great intellectuals, it often finds methods outside it’s own anarcho-[insert intellectual disciplinary field].

DAVID BERGER: Based on my experience with anarchists in Occupy Wall Street, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for their participation in “left unity.” What I have seen with anarchist factions is an individualism/egotism so extreme as to make cooperation of any period of time almost impossible, likewise planning and decision making.

ARRAN JAMES: That isn’t my issue. I explicitly state that whether or not those that are being excluded a prior would want to take part, the invitation to do so should nonetheless be extended to them. I also stated that the form of unity should be discussed by those who are unifying, not decided in advance. This has absolutely nothing to do with anarchists or anarchism and everything to do with the authenticity of the call for unity, and everything to do with a democratic method of organising (which Sunkara advocates, and then seems to withdraw).

In fact, I use anarchists as examples in my article because they are at the extreme end of those most likely to heed a call for democratic organising and also because (at least in the US) they are the ones who are most likely to want nothing to do with such an organisation. That you identify me as an anarchist when I don’t, and that you reply at some length on the subject of anarchism rather than the content of my article makes me wonder whether or not the accusation of”making cooperation…impossible” should be pointed at yourself. Indeed, if you agree with Sunkara that anarchists should be excluded from the off, then you are guaranteeing the impossibility of such cooperation.

DAVID BERGER: ‘And since, as anyone who has been involved with politics knows, some kind of leadership is necessary in groups larger than about eight, what I have also seen with anarchists is a nasty tendency towards behind-the-scenes manipulation’.

ARRAN JAMES: I agree that leadership is necessary. Most of the anarchists I’ve met (in the UK) also agree. It is on the nature of leadership that they disagree. Similarly, many Marxists disagree over what leadership consists of…or is only Marxist-Leninism to count as Marxism, just as Marxism seems to be the only “left” that is allowed to attempt any unity?

What you have seen with anarchists is anecdotal evidence. For someone so keen to discuss scientific socialism, I would expect you to maintain scientific rigor (or is that in the class interest of the bourgeoisie?). Even if it is the case, and I’ll admit that I’ve seen it to, that doesn’t mean very much. It’s not as if the same kind of manipulation doesn’t happen in Marxist parties, is it?

DAVID BERGER: I know I’m being harsh here, but it’s been a bad year and a half or so with anarchists in OWS. Yes, they were there at the start and initially played one of the most important roles. But them days is past, Comrade.

ARRAN JAMES: Listen, I agree that we can’t just fall back on anarchism. I haven’t made any claim to it! I haven’t made any claim to the value of any political position at all! What I have said in the article, and I quote, is that:

‘ Today, I think the left, as a whole, is undergoing something of a fundamental rethink; a reorientation that demands a moment of tactical openness and a critical re-evaluation of positions and forms that have otherwise been jettisoned on ideological or historical grounds’.

This extends to the anarchist as much as it does to the Marxist-Leninist. That is why I speak of the left ‘as a whole’.

Them days are past indeed, but so are a great many other days. There is an intergenerational moment happening here where there is a mass of people becoming politicised who don’t give the first shit about anarchism or Marxism, for whom the very terms are a turn off, and the bloody histories and infernal schisms mean that anarchist and Marxist look like history’s fool. Them days aren’t just gone, they’re being buried as well. That is why I find it so hilarious that in an article about openness and democratic decision making on how to organise ANEW, we end up in a discussion about what constitutes anarchism and what constitutes Marxism…as if the mass of the working class even cared.

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Sorry, I think I missed one of your points.

“Pretty wild that you think that Marxist theory comes from “the academy.””

I don’t know why you have scare quotes around the academy; its a standard term. Perhaps this is a point I’m being stupid about, but the majority of contemporary Marxist theory seems to be coming from academics and phd candidates. Might just be my reading is a tad limited, in which case point me in the right direction to broaden it out.

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Pham Binh May 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Not written by a PhD candidate or an academic: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=5759

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arranjames May 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Ach…as if my reading list isn’t long enough! :-)

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arranjames May 5, 2013 at 10:16 am

Thomas, you essentially describe the way anarchists and libertarian communists think of their practice. I couldn’t agree more that the left as such needs to renounce evangelism (especially on ecological matters- people who reject the possibility of ecological disaster are caught up in a self-protective delusional system; delusions, by their definition, can’t be challenged rationally). I am developing a philosophical position, in line with others, that could be called ‘post-nihilist pragmatics/praxis’- and this leads onto a kind of left-pragmatics. The point is to consider what our actions betray of our beliefs, and what the consequences of the action-belief circuit are. People have their desires, their needs, and our praxis must orient itself on these problems in a way that can be popular but not necessarily populist.

The essence of this let pragmatics would not be the question of ‘what is to be done?’ but ‘what can be done’?

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Danny May 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

Just want to point out one thing. The statement:

“left as such needs to renounce evangelism” is a form of evangelism.

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arranjames May 6, 2013 at 10:01 am

A definition of evangelism:

1. Zealous preaching and dissemination of the gospel, as through missionary work.
2. Militant zeal for a cause.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/evangelism

Neither of these definitions would make the statement ‘the left needs to renounce evangelism’ a form of evangelism, unless you radically redefine that word to mean ‘express anything’.

You could take issue to the second definition, as that would seem like I’m asking that revolutionaries display no fanaticism whatsoever. Alberto Toscano makes good arguments that critiques of fanaticism with an identification of stupid religiosity. That wasn’t my point though.

The evangelism I’m talking about is at once a faith that one can simply “speak the good news” and convert people (without actually doing the work of getting among them, listening to them, talking in their own language), and that such a tactic is a desirable way of trying to build unity and towards revolution.

Although I think it’s really a matter of semantics, maybe I should have said that the left needs to stop trying to proselytize; that is, to stop attempting to convert people from one faction to another, or from one level of consciousness to another. It turns people off, and it misunderstands why people who aren’t on the left remain outside its currents (hence the reference to delusional structures).

If suggesting that a tactic that hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and will in all likelihood continue not to work (unless the material conditions of society change) is evangelism then we’re left unable to to say anything at all after such a critique of all content.

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danny May 6, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I don’t really think we disagree, I just want to point out that there is a place for ideology, and Leftist politics is a sort of ideology. It is a value judgement. As leftists we say we want the world to be a fairer more egalitarian place and we are willing to fight for it.

Using that standard as a metric for what is right and wrong, we can begin to say some behaviour and understanding of the world is not compatible with our vision. And we can and should be passionate about it.

Again, I am not really saying you feel this way, I am just reacting to that “everybody has their own truth” line of thinking that I have heard people argue for before.

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arranjames May 6, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Yes, the subjectivist idea that we each have our own truth isn’t just politically ruinous, it is also a symptom of the capitalism. In the West, capitalism produces subjectivities that structure bodies as selves of a particular kind: selves to be expressed. Self-expression has become essential to post-Fordist capitalism and will more than likely continue to be essential to the authoritarian capitalism that is emerging in through austerity. Our supposed interiorities become sites of commodification to be sold on the labour market along with our flesh and our time, and we are encouraged to consume in order to express ourselves further (a recent advert by Coca Cola made the point explicitly by featuring a song called “Express Yourself”). Subjectivism is merely an expression of this process, and it ought to be resisted.

On ideology: I think I would prefer to speak, as I do in my article, of strategy or a strategic horizon. The military distinction between strategy and tactics is that between ends and means. So the question is what tactics will lead to our strategic outcome?

I tend to think the word ideology all too readily lends itself to ideas of false consciousness and mystification that aren’t entirely helpful, or particularly materialist; but that’s another issue.

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danny May 6, 2013 at 2:08 pm

yeah, I guess we are getting way off topic here. But my basic take on this is that everybody has an ideology. In fact, just to relate to the world in anyway, you have to have a way to understand the world and engage it. This is what I would call an ideology.

The dangerous thing, is when we don’t realize that we have an ideology. I think, to some extent this is what liberals do. They have this sort of “to each their own” type of thinking and then the market will sort it out. But what they don’t realize is that is just as extreme an ideology as anybody else. Religious people in a way, have a similiar type of thing they think their ideology is recieved from heaven or something and so it can’t be modified in anyway.

My thinking is something like leftist type ideologies should be discussed and articulated and critiqued. In this way we become very aware of what we are thinking and why we are thinking it. The ideology becomes more fluid and a bit self aware. This is the way to avoid the trap of dogmatic.

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arranjames May 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm

On your last paragraph, I think we could also use a bit of Georges Santayana’s approach to pragmatism. You don’t just look at what say you think, you look at what your actions reveal about what you actually think.

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arranjames May 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I’m a bit long winded, hey?

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Kirk Hill May 11, 2013 at 10:08 pm

This very long-winded discussion illustrates one of the fatal deficiencies of consensus political decision-making. Another is the lowest-common-denominator phenomena. Negativity is the only circumstance where it can work and that is nowadays always short-lived.

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arranjames May 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm

I’m not really sure what your point is. This “long-winded discussion” is pretty short by any standards operating outside of pressing ‘like’ on facebook or upvoting/downvoting on reddit.

I’m also not sure what the ‘lowest-common-denominator phenomena’ is and how it is operative in the article or the discussion.

All in all, I don’t have a clue what your on about.

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Kirk Hill May 20, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I thought the discussion interminable. But below is what interested me:

“Many Marxists are excited about SYRIZA in Greece and rightly so, but properly speaking it was not (until very recently) a political party but an alliance whose component parts came together and made decisions based on consensus, the modus operandi of Anonymous, Occupy, and the free armies of Syria and Libya. This is not a coincidence but a necessary result of an increasingly seamless, horizontal world wrought by Web 2.0. The old divisions (really a division of labor) between leaders and led, informed and uninformed, thinkers and doers, talkers and fighters is increasingly superfluous; Joe Six Pack doesn’t need a fancy degree from an Ivy League school to have a platform for his ideas and can build a readership-following while working a 9 to 5. Leaderlessness no longer means a free for all but that everyone is a leader; Occupy in this sense was leader-full, full of all kinds of ideas, initiatives, and memes, very few of which were cleared by a G.A. (much less a central committee); whether they succeeded and became popular or flopped was based on their merits and intrinsic appeal, not on the conscious decision of an organized body.”

Leaderless, horizontalism, consensus, web 2.0 leadership: won’t work, folks. Been there, done that. The utopian presuppositions are breathtaking and, well, utopian. For temporary, ad hoc formations, fine. It’s not the basis for lasting organizational decision making. I guess everybody has to learn things for themselves. Coalition-building also doesn ‘t work. Leadership is never given, it is always taken. Always.

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top eleven hack December 8, 2014 at 8:59 am

I searched a hack for Dragon City for too extended and identified it here,
thank you.

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