against marxist moralism

I am continually inspired and awed, frankly, by the intellectual and political histories of marxism. I am continually repulsed and disappointed by marxists.

In San Jose as in Amherst, there were a lot of boring, baseless ‘logical’ feats on display from the self-appointed political economists. Here’s the basic algorithm:

a) Class exploitation and inequalities pertaining to the distribution of wealth have only worsened since the ‘end’ of the Keynsian era (let’s say 1973).

b) Since 1968, left academics have moved away from marxist materialism, towards an (idealist) politics of identity, and an anti–institutional (Foucauldian) theory of power.

c) Thus, these left academics have participated in (and are partly responsible for?) the increased inequalities mentioned in statement ‘a.’ Their accomplishments are tainted, and they themselves are collaboraters.

This is the stupidest shit ever, but it’s everywhere. It is valid to argue that intellectuals’ estrangement from the working class and the poor has critically starved their theory of a class aspect. It is also valid to argue that their resultant theories could be said to mystify and/or elide anti-capitalist politics in the name of an (ultimately bourgeois) preference for ‘diversity’ or ‘recognition’ or some such. However, one cannot assert that, say, Foucault and Thatcher’s projects echo (or even buttress) one another’s, simply because both renounced ‘society’ as a transcendental signifier.

This move is as intellectually ham-fisted as it is often rhetorically effective. It’s also horseshit. I denounce it as marxist moralism, alongside all other moralisms that lurk in and around theories of the socius (social theory is no place for morality, much as moral psychology is maybe no place for communism?) As with all moralisms, its employment (emplotment?) says as much about the insecurities of its authors as it does the failings of its objects. Thus we should take the late-middle-aged pissiness of Terry Eagleton, or the quite unrefurbished leninism of Zizek, about as seriously as we do the ‘outrage’ of an adolescent punk screaming ‘sell-out’ at everybody.

This marxist moralist move is the main conduit through which discourse of ‘false consciousness’ has haunted the tradition like hemorrhoids. It’s painful to see how its adherents claim Marx’s critique of the commodity form as their antecedent, forgetting that the author spent much more time explaining how the commodity worked then explaining how it was somehow wrong. Imbeciles read the ‘fetish’ of the commodity as a blind, primitive obedience (to which they would of course never succumb), whereas Marx actually highlights the fetish as a definitive mode of modern social power in which capitalists manage workers through things. His subsequent critique is if anything more positivist than moralist, more interested in description than declamation.

Of course, this positivism has a troubled history of its own, running from Engels at least up to Althusser, who is really probably the weirdest and least understood of ’em all. But that’s another story for another time, eh?


3 Responses to “against marxist moralism”

  1. Wilbro Says:

    Comment to follow soon, when I get a chance. Good to see the blog is back after San Diego. I’ve moved mine to a new location, it’s now at:
    I can now post images, video and audio in the body of the text, hence the move. Go and join us in our discussion of the day about what work of art we would pick to own, if we could own it. We’re waiting on you there.

  2. wobs Says:

    Heh. Reading that took me back to our social theory 2 class with jbf. It was basically a term long refutation of post-modernism, kicking off with Eagleton.

    The problem with most contemporary political-economists is that they refuse to acknowldge the last 38 years of intellectual tradition and instead seem to focus jurisdictional battles concerning the true carries of Marx’s torch. More time spent defending (one’s own particular vision of) Marx = less time working for the acquisition of knowledge. Instead of well-considered analyses, you get bouts of doctrinal infighting and the nth parsing of two sentences in the Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy.

    That’s why post-Marxism felt like a nice intellectual home to me. It was able to draw upon the important work that Marx did, but jettisoned the fetishization of Marx that keeps a lot of political-economy so stale.

  3. nuge Says:

    Good comments. This all reminds my of one of my planning professors, who consistently glossed the marxist planners. She is definately left (read Democrat) but, being a Yaleie I guess she had the Marxism (read light feminism) pretty much beaten out of her in PHD land or in local government. Her excuse (from what I could gather) for abandoning Marxism was the absence of choice (i.e. Marxism falls flat because the lack of free choice, identity, diversity etc.). I totally see what your saying with the Foucault/Thatcher arguements, I think she’s trapped in the same shit. Foucault to a large extent was the Marxist moral voice, to even compare with Thatcher degrades his work to the status of horse piss. But, too many people are looking for an out, so they don’t have to deal with the “dirty” (or being called the dirty). BACK TO BASICS. There is more positivism in traditional Marxism than the watered down variety. Many of the post marxists (of which I have read very little), are reactionary which undemines the descriptive aspects you mention previously. This is an easy out and ultimately solves nothing, a lot more Foucauldian desrip. is needed in today’s society, I think we need to go back before we can go forward again. Sorry I haven’t visited U more often, seems like you’ve hit a vayne here.


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