Re: The Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing

Over the last few months I have had three comrades who I have known for more than two decades unfriend me on Facebook over (in order of the unfriending): (1) skepticism about the bourgeois media narrative concerning gas attacks in Syria, (2) analysis of immigration from orthodox Marxist ideas about class struggle in nation-states, and (3) identification of Islam as a motive in some terrorist attacks. I will miss seeing their posts in my Facebook feed. I friended and followed them because, while I disagree with each of them on many things, I also benefitted from reading what they had to say. They write well and are interesting and witty. I knew each of them well before the existence of Facebook. I have learned much from them over the years.

The objection to skepticism of capitalist war aims and identifying ideological motives in mass violence—taking up (1) and (3)—throws me. The latter objection is especially curious given that Marx’s first major essay was on the importance of grasping religion as an explanation for action. Marx would have fit right in with the Christopher Hitchens of the modern world. While I recognize that Hitchens and the so-called New Atheists were loathed by many Marxists on account of their support for the Iraq war (I didn’t agree with them on that issue, either), it doesn’t make them wrong on everything or, obviously, change Marxist thought. To be frank about it, I suppose I do know what explains it, namely loathing of the West and allyship with its enemies, but that doesn’t follow from Marxism, and these are Marxists (one of whom is “Unrepentant,” his blog’s name tells its readers), so it remains a curious thing.

Enough with (1) and (3). I understand more the objection concerning immigration, because Marx’s assertion that “workingmen have no country” is routinely taken out of context and used as a slogan and many Marxists are too lazy to look into it. Had that comrade hung around a bit longer, I could have educated him, albeit he would, in an honest moment, be the first to tell you he has nothing left to learn about this (or anything other) subject. I am sure my readers don’t suffer from such hubris.

Marx uttered that phrase because the proletariat had not yet overthrown the bourgeoisie and established a worker state. It is clear in the Communist Manifesto that the proletariat has first to settle accounts with its national bourgeoisie. And in other writings, Marx identified the nation-state as the locus of the emancipation of property and religion from the state that set the stage for proletarian revolution. Moreover, Marxist economic thought, as a critique of bourgeois political economy (which, preceding dialectically, only negates the wrong bits), makes unavoidable the conclusion that immigration is a lever capitalists use to undermine the economic and political power of the working class. Really, even without Marx, this should be obvious with even a cursory grasp of market forces—when ones thoughts are not confused by other commitments, of course.

In reflecting on this today, I chalk up these misunderstandings to the depth to which many Marxists have embraced identity politics and multiculturalism, such anti-worker sentiments being the result of the third worldism that many Marxists adopted in the cultural revolutionary moment of New Left turn. Given that, I wonder why they wanted to be my friends or put up with me for as long as they did, since I am actually the unrepentant one (not out of habit). My guess is that my training in international political economy and my interventions on various leftwing and progressive listservs over the decades gives the impression that I am sympathetic to progressive politics. To be sure, there was always tension there as they did not quite seem to know from where I was coming, this because I actually took the time to read the source material and the best interpretations of it and did not throw myself into journalism and sloganeering where I would have to dim my lights to be appreciated.

The last fifteen years or so does find me shifting in my politics as I have been sorting through all that I have learned and continue learning, retaining and elaborating what makes sense and jettisoning that which is inconsistent with what a reasonable person can know about the world. I loath ideology, so I am constantly engaged in self-examination. One grows through critical reflection. I guess I can understand how disconcerting it can be for people who have become habitual in thought or practice cerebral hygiene to interact with somebody who still engages in a ruthless criticism of everything existing.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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