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?