Onyango Oloo contends that postmodernism, post-structuralism, post-colonial theory and other esoteric academic variants of these post- war bourgeois intellectual trends and tendencies have served as very effective ideological smokescreens to diffuse, divert and subvert the collective struggles against world monopoly capital by anti-imperialist and socialist activists and social movements in the North and the South. The writer suggests strongly that the various ID warriors who cropped up in the disparate social movements in the 1980s and 1990s(anti-racism, gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans communities; women, ecology and certain contingents of the Left and the Third World movements) are in actuality, conscious or unconscious purveyors of what is ultimately a PRO-imperialist project despite its "radical" "militant" and "critical" facade,veneer and trappings. Onyango Oloo reaffirms his commitment to Marxist-Leninist dialectical and historical materialist positions and postulations, arguing strongly for the need to completely wipe out the stubborn bourgeois cobwebs obscuring the ideological vision of many well-meaning progressive intellectuals, social change activists and their associated institutions, movements and causes.
1.0. The Enduring Legacy of Marxism
Those of us who are proud communists have watched with considerable amusement as bankrupt capitalist intellectuals of assorted hues go on an intellectual crime wave, shamelessly looting and brazenly plundering from the deep and extensive vault of Marxist-Leninist theory and praxis. The philosophical ideas of Engels, the economic theories of Marx, the intellectual contributions of Gramsci, the postulations on imperialism and the state by Lenin, the military science of Le Duan and Vo Nguyen Giap are but a few of the concepts that have been hijacked, appropriated and mutiliated by shameless bourgeois parasites who could not recognize an original thought if it slapped them repeatedly on both cheeks at ten o'clock in the morning. Entire disciplines- with sociology being the most obvious- have sprung up in REACTION to Marxist ideas about social relations and the attendant power dynamics in this or that social system.
When I was in my late teens I was part of that intellectual tradition in Africa that insisted on finding a so called ideological "Third Path" that was neither capitalist nor socialist. This allegedly Pan Africanist/cultural nationalist paradigm was a strange political mule neutered and blinkered in its twisted world outlook because it denied history, expelled Africans and rubbished Africa's contributions from the mainstream of humankind's accumulation and development of global knowledge, theory and practice. By calling Marxism-Leninism and Socialism "Un African" these lost Black followers of the benighted Third Blind Alley denied the humanity, insights and brilliant interventions and innovations of people like
Augustinho Neto, (remembered in this poem by Chinua Achebe)
Marcelino dos Santos (see this also),
Abdul Khalek Mahgoob
Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim
Claude Ake,(click here too)
Babu, hundreds of Ethiopians, Eritreans, Mauritians, Seychelois Senegalese and dozens of Kenyans. The first person to wake me up from these Afrocentric delusions was the late Zanzibari socialist AND Pan Africanist revolutionary, Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu. In his classic, seminal work,
African Socialism or Socialist Africa? composed while he was a political detainee facing a possible death sentence, Babu viciously lampooned the tepid, wishy washy nationalist theorists and Uhuru era icons like Julius Nyerere, Sekou Toure and other African nationalists who sought in the pre-colonial African village structures a prototype of an apparently "pure" and "unique" made in Africa "socialism" that was untouched by the noxious and toxic notions of those dead European men called
Frederick Engels and
V I Lenin.
By the time I had re-read Babu under my threadbare blankets in my solitary cell at
Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in the mid-1980s, I was completely cured of that pseudo-radical malaise that afflicts many petit-bourgeois confused minds in Kenya and other parts of Africa. Here is not the place to go into a deep and searing assessment of that African classic. If you have not yet perused or browsed the entire text, please do not even whisper or whimper at me.
That is why I always chuckle when I see numskulls barking at me, trying to convince themselves that Marxism-Leninism is "dead" "obsolete" and "irrelevant" while spending sleepless nights "responding" furiously, continuously and copiously to Kenyan essayists who happen to be, well,living and breathing, thinking and practising Marxist-Leninists.
2.0. Demystifying The Ideological Confusion Among North American Radicals
Arriving in Toronto, Ontario at the close of the 1980s I immediately immersed myself in the local Canadian activist scene. I remember the very second week we arrived in North America, racist cops gunned down Michael Wade Lawson, one of many such victims of police brutality and violence in Canada and we were soon attending community meetings over at Driftwood & Jane in North York listening to people like
Dudley Laws rail against discrimination against people of colour. One of the
South African Communist comrades in Dar es Salaam who was a programmer with the ANC's Radio Freedom linked us with some of their ANC counterparts in Canada like Jabu Dube; June Ward, an Afro-Guyanese communist who later became a senior member of Cheddi Jagan's government, but was working for the UN in Tanzania at the time we were leaving also gave me a list of veteran progressives and socialists to hook up with. Within weeks of our arrival we were attending events for the
Irish freedom struggle,
watching screenings of the guerilla movement in the Philippines, signing petitions for political prisoners and supporting the protests in
South Korea, going to fundraisers for the
Farabundo Marti Liberation Movement and buying books from
the Communist Party of Canada bookstore which used to be just east of
Spadina and College. And it was a no brainer for us to be involved in solidarity with the Kenyan underground movement at home. My ex-partner,"KK"(Sankara's mom) was even back then, a militant feminist who was very much involved with environmentalist issues and the anti-racism movement and we clicked right away. Through her, I met South Asian, Indigenous and Black Canadian anti-imperialist friends who were involved with
CKLN 88.1 FM a community-based radio station in Toronto whose motto back then was "the farthest left on the FM dial" and it tried, week after week to live up to that claim. At this radio station I met psychiatric survivors, homeless activists, gays, lesbians and transgendered people who challenged a lot of my orthodox Marxist views. Back then, I used to think, arguing from what I naively thought back then, were presumably, "socialist" positions, that gays and lesbians were "degenerate by-products of the decadent bourgeois system"- that was how foolish and naive about sexual orientation and gender identity back then in 1988/89. Let us just say that I have grown up ideologically a lot from those early days in Canada.
As luck would have it,I arrived in North America right around the time when
Mikhail Gorbachev was still a superstar even within some Marxist circles with his blatherings on
The Berlin Wall was crumbling and
Nicolae Ceausescu was about to face the firing squad choir and bite the bullet and over in Poland,
Lech Walesa and
Solidarnosc was taking over from the Communist even as
John Paul II's religious neo-conservative backwardness was being dumped on the world's hapless Catholics.
Down in South Africa, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, was loudly wondering whether Socialism Had Failed.
It was very a difficult period to be a communist in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially if you happened to be a Kenyan who was barely out of your twenties, had just got out of prison and was freshly in exile in a capitalist country in North America infested with rabid anti-communists on every other block. Some Marxists were finding themselves falling down on the Road to Damascus, embracing Jesus Christ as their Personal Saviour; others were drowning themselves in lakes of alcohol while others were becoming instant Conservative Party Life Members, not to speak of the Kenyans who were shaving off their beards at night to emerge in the morning singing KANU Tawala! Tawala! Moi Tawala! Tawala! and similar spineless, gutless and sycophantic foolishness.
The fact that some of us DEEPENED our Marxist-Leninist commitment during these ardous times is a testimony not just to how political imprisonment had tempered and hardened us, but more about the enduring magnetism of socialist ideas. Our understanding of history, and especially dialectics made us see clearly that the crisis in international communist movement was a storm that would eventually pass even as moribund, disaster- prone capitalism would eventually wake up from its brief triumphalist hangover to confront its undending, in-built crises of chronic unemployment,racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, ableism, inflation and the occassional stock market melt downs and high profile corporate scandal. Just like Kenyans are no more to blame for the dictatorship of Kenyatta, the repression of Moi or the corruption of Kibaki, so those of us who are communists today do not feel that we bear ANY responsibility for the monstrosities and deformities called Stalin, Pol Pot, Ceausescu or Gorbachev for that matter. The Soviets and the East Europeans had distorted the socialist project on their continent; that did not make Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Chris Hani or Amilcar Cabral any less relevant to the revolutionaries of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean- on the contrary, it made us want to find out how these gross and egregerious aberrations in Marxism-Leninism had led to such things as the cult of the personality, the growth of the repressive state, the failure of economic production and other symptoms that presaged the total and virtual collapse of the Central and East European socialist oriented states at thie end of the politically melodaramatic eighties decade. Let us hasten to point out too, that at the roughly time when the Wall was coming down in Berlin the number of new, eager and active militant recruits into the South African Communist Party was reaching astronomical proportions. It is not often appreciated that many of the top leadership of the present South African government,including Thabo Mbeki, were at one time or another, dedicated members of the SACP Central Committee working under deep cover in this or that underground structure of the South African national liberation movement-
Walter Sisulu waited until just before he died the other year, to reveal that he had been a long time member of the Communist Party and
Senator Govan Mbeki,the president's father expired clutching his communist party membership in his sturdy, wizened hands. Nelson Mandela is in fact, one of the FEW non-communists to have ascended to the top ranks of the ANC by the way.
The Deputy President, Jacob Zuma and his ex-wife, Foreign Affairs Minister
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma were high ranking officials of the SACP before they moved over to their present government positions.
Why don't you do this.
Visit this link and check out the profiles of the leaders of the South African government and look at their political history and party affiliations.
As if this seething cauldron which was the global communist movement in turmoil was not enough, some of us had to make our acquiantance, almost overnight, ala blind date style, with the diverse North American radical movements. We quickly discovered to our horror that even the so called "Left" was soaked through and through with anti-communism- and this was before glasnost, before perestroika, before the Solidarnosc, before the fall of the Wall. The powerful toxin called the Cold War had infected all the social movements. From the fifties the North American Labour Movement had been right-wing in its ideological orientation and effectively infiltrated by the CIA through several shady front organizations. We need only mention the name of Irving Brown who worked hand in glove with our very own made in Kenya imperialist stooge-Tom Mboya. It did not take me a long time to realize that in Canada and the United States, the workers did not celebrate May Day(which had an American origin incidentally) but the carnival like Labor Weekend which marked the end of the Summer Holidays from the last weekend in August to the first Monday in September. All the so called "left" mainstream parties, especially in Canada like the New Democrats wore their anti-communism very proudly on their sleeves. Apart from the two Communist Parties, the other left formations, including the baker's dozen of Trotskyite grouplets and Anarchist collectives made a point of including an opposition to "Stalinism" in their platforms and manifestoes-a threadbare euphemism of their rejection of Marxism-Leninism. Within the Black community, many organizations were under the Rasputin like sway of the narrow cultural nationalists who made a simplistic binary assessment of their isssues into an almost literal Black(Good)/White(Bad) divide of race relations in Canada for example, ignoring the fact that such systemic matters as discrimination for instance, deeply implicate and indict capitalism and therefore call for a much more nuanced approach integrating class, gender and other superstructural components in the overall analysis of the problems facing people of colour. I distinctly remember being publicly upbraided at a community meeting by a brother from the Caribbean who was very upset that they were still people like Onyango Oloo daring to call themselves "Kenyan" and what not instead of PAN AFRICANS pure and simple.
It is into this left-wing and cultural nationalist ideological jumble and morass that you must fling the various rambling delusions of post-modernism.
One cannot understand post-modernism without locating this tendency within the capitalist vortex. No matter how "radical" "militant" and "anti-establishment" sounding it is, post-modernism is first and foremost, a petit-bourgeois tendency that tinkers and tailors with this or that concept within the overall arsenal of bourgeois ideology without seriously threatening the ideological hegemony of world monopoly capitalism. That is why all the high priests of post-modernism were not exactly jobless as far as their academic careers went.
Post-modernist gibberish was and is music to the ears of the big bourgeoisie who would welcome any ideological cottonwool stuffing the ears of the youth, of women, of workers, of people of colour, of people at the margins of this odious social system.
3.0. What Is Post-Modernism?
Pompous and Bombastic Bullshit.
That is the raw, unedited explicit advisory warning version of the truth as I see it-hardly radio friendly is it now?
Here is a more formal, and less rude definition of post-modernism.
And you can
harvest a whole bunch of post-modernist matunda from this tree.
Almost a hundred years ago, in 1920 to be precise, Lenin wrote:
Little is known in other countries of the fact that Bolshevism took shape, developed and became steeled in the long years of struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows something from the latter and, in all essential matters, does not measure up to the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle. Marxist theory has established—and the experience of all European revolutions and revolutionary movements has fully confirmed—that the petty proprietor, the small master (a social type existing on a very extensive and even mass scale in many European countries), who, under capitalism, always suffers oppression and very frequently a most acute and rapid deterioration in his conditions of life, and even ruin, easily goes to revolutionary extremes, but is incapable of perseverance, organisation, discipline and steadfastness. A petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, and its tendency to turn rapidly into submission, apathy, phantasms, and even a frenzied infatuation with one bourgeois fad or another—all this is common knowledge. However, a theoretical or abstract recognition of these truths does not at all rid revolutionary parties of old errors, which always crop up at unexpected occasions, in somewhat new forms, in a hitherto unfamiliar garb or surroundings, in an unusual—a more or less unusual—situation.
Anarchism was not infrequently a kind of penalty for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement. The two monstrosities complemented each other. And if in Russia—despite the more petty-bourgeois composition of her population as compared with the other European countries—anarchism’s influence was negligible during the two revolutions (of 1905 and 1917) and the preparations for them, this should no doubt stand partly to the credit of Bolshevism, which has always waged a most ruthless and uncompromising struggle against opportunism. I say "partly", since of still greater importance in weakening anarchism’s influence in Russia was the circumstance that in the past (the seventies of the nineteenth century) it was able to develop inordinately and to reveal its absolute erroneousness, its unfitness to serve the revolutionary class as a guiding theory.
We can paraphrase those words today to also locate the emergence of post-modernism within the same petit-bourgeois ranks, only this time located even FURTHER AWAY FROM the working class and political/liberation movements and more firmly within the rarefied realms of academia where post-modernist "leftists" and "radicals" declaim before retreating to their suburban living rooms to watch a six part special on the life of
Saint Jacques Derrida(the late post structruculist/deconstructionist who is often claimed by post-modernists) showing on PBS or TVO.
Eight or ten years ago, I came across a book with a comic book format called
"Post-Modernism" for Beginners.
It was very useful and I highly recommend it.
As a Marxist-Leninist, one of the best critiques I have seen on postmodernism I am brought to say come from fellow communists like myself.
The first is a fellow named Eric Larsen, who in 1990 unleashed a searing digital essay taking on some of the major shibboleths of the post-modernist faith. You can read the entire essay by clicking on this link.
One long excerpt will suffice:
One typically appeals to the term 'postmodern' to characterize a broad and ever-widening range of aesthetic and cultural practices and artifacts. But the concept itself, however diffuse and contested, has also come to designate a very definite current of philosophy as well as a theoretical approach to politics. Postmodern philosophy-or simply postmodern 'theory,' if we are to accept Jameson's somewhat ingenuous observation that it "marks the end of philosophy"-arguably includes the now standard work of poststructuralist thinkers such as Derrida and
Foucault as well as the more recent work by ex-post-Althusserian theorists such a Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, academic philosophical converts such as Richard Rorty and the perennial vanguardist Stanley Aronowitz. The latter elaborate and re-articulate an increasingly withered poststructuralism, re-deploying the grandly dogmatic and quasi-mystical "critique of the metaphysics of presence" as a critical refusal of the "foundationalism" and "essentialism" of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. These two assignations--which now come to replace the baneful Derridean charge of "metaphysics"--refer respectively to the Enlightenment practice of seeking to ground all claims regarding either truth or value in terms of a self-evidencing standard of Reason; and to the ontological fixation upon being as *essence*, rather than as relationality or 'difference.' Postmodern philosophy for the most part adopts its "anti-essentialism" directly from Derrida and company,adding little if anything to accepted (or attenuated)post-structuralist doctrine. Where postmodernism contributes more significantly to the honing down and re-tooling of poststructuralism is, I propose, in its indictment of foundationalism--in place of the vaguer abstractions of "presence" or "identity"-as the adversarial doctrine. It is not all "Western" modes of thought and being which must now be discarded, but more precisely their Enlightenment or modern modalities, "founded" on the concept of "reason". Indeed, even the charge of "foundationalism" perhaps functions as a minor subterfuge here. What postmodern philosophy intends is, to cite Aronowitz's forthright observation, a "rejection of reason as a foundation for human affairs." Postmodernism is thus a form, albeit an unconventional one, of "irrationalism". To be sure, important caveats can be raised here.Postmodernist theoreticians often carefully stipulate that a rejection of reason as foundation does not imply or require a rejection of all narrowly 'reasonable' procedures. Postmodernity is not to be equated with an anti-modernity. Aronowitz, for example, has written that "postmodern movements" (e.g., ecology and "Solidarity" type labor groups) "borrow freely the terms and programs of modernity but place them in new discursive contexts" . Chantal Mouffe insists that "radical democracy"--according to her, the political and social project of postmodernity--aims to "defend the political project [of Enlightenment] while abandoning the notion that it must be based on a specific form of rationality." Ernesto Laclau makes an even nicer distinction by suggesting that "it is precisely the %ontological status% of the central categories of the discourses of modernity and not their "content", that is at stake. . .Postmodernity does not imply a "change" in the values of Enlightenment modernity but rather a particular "weakening" of their absolutist character." And a similarly conservative gesture within the grander irrationalist impulse can,of course, be followed in Lyotard's characterization of "paralogy" as those practices legitimating themselves exclusively within their own "small narrative" contexts, rather than within the macro-frames of modernist meta-narratives of Reason, Progress, History,etc.
Two counter-objections are necessary here,however. The first is that any thoughtful
consideration of claims to locate the attributes of reason within supposedly local or non-totalizable contexts immediately begs the question of what, then,acts to set the limits to any particular instance of "paralogy," etc.? How does the mere adding of the predicate "local" or "specific" or "weakened" serve to dispense with the logic of an external ground or foundation? Cannot, for example, the ecology movement be shown to be grounded in a social and political context outside and 'larger' than it is, whatever the movement may think of itself? If reason is present (or absent) in the fragment, does not this presence/absence necessarily connect with the whole on some level? If,as one might say, postmodernism wants to proclaim a rationality of means entirely removed from a rationality of ends, does it not thereby sacrifice the very "means/ends" logic it wants to invoke, the very logical framework in which one speaks of "contexts"? I suggest it would be more precise to describe the measured, non-foundationalist 'rationalism' of postmodernism as simply an evasive maneuver designed to immunize from critique the real object here: that is to preserve "Enlightenment" as merely an outward and superficial guise for irrationalist content, to reduce "Enlightenment," as an actual set of principles designed to govern consciously thought and action, to merely the specific mythology needed to inform the project of a "new radical imaginary" (Laclau, UA 77).
Clearly, there is a complete failure-or refusal-of "dialectical"reasoning incurred in postmodernism's attempted retention of an Enlightenment 'micro'-rationality. And this brings up the second rejoinder: postmodern philosophy's practiced avoidance on this same score of the Marxist, dialectical materialist critique of Enlightenment. Postmodern theory,virtually without exception, consigns something it calls "Marxism" to the foul Enlightenment brew of "foundationalism." Marxism is, in effect, collapsed back into Hegelianism, the materialist dialectic into the idealist dialectic-or,as Aronowitz somewhat puzzlingly puts it, the "form of Marxism is retained while its categories are not" (_UA_ 52). But in no instance that I know of has a postmodern theorist systematically confronted the contention first developed by Marx and Engels that "this realm of reason was nothing more than the idealized realm of the bourgeoisie." I think perhaps it needs to be remembered that the Marxist project was not and is not the simple replacement of one "universal reason" with another, but the practical and material transformation of reason to be attained in classless society; and that this attainment would not mean the culmination of reason on earth a la Hegel but a raising of reason to a higher level through its very de-"idealization." Reason, then, comes to be grasped as a time-bound,relative principle which nevertheless attains an historical universality through the social universality of the proletariat (gendered and multi-ethnic) as they/we who-to quote a famous lyric-"shall be the human race."
But again, postmodern irrationalism systematically evades confrontation with
this critique of Enlightenment. It typically manages this through a variety of fundamentally dogmatic maneuvers, epitomized in the work of Laclau and Mouffe-who, as Ellen Meiksins Wood has shown, consistently and falsely reduce Marxism to a "closed system" of pure economic determinism.
Why this evasion? Surely there is more than a casual connection here with the fact that the typical postmodern theorist probably never got any closer to Marxism or Leninism than Althusser's left-wing structuralism and Lacanianism. One can readily
understand how the one time advocate of a self-enclosed "theoretical practice" might elicit postmodern suspicions of closure and 'scientism.' Indeed, Althusser's 'Marxism' can fairly be accused of having pre-programmed, in its flight from the class struggles of its time and into methodologism, the subsequent turn-about in which even the residual category of "theoretical practice" is deemed "foundationalist."
But this is secondary. What I would propose is that postmodernism's hostility towards a "foundationalist" parody of Marxism, combined with the elision of Marxism's genuinely dialectical and materialist content, flows not from a simple misunderstanding but, objectively, from the consistent need of an ideologically embattled capitalism to seek displacement and pre-emption of Marxism through the
formulation of radical-sounding "third paths." That postmodern philosophy normally refrains from open anti-communism, preferring to pay lip service to "socialism" even while making the necessary obeisances to the demonologies of "Stalin" may make it appear as some sort of a "left" option. But is there really anything "left"? The most crucial problem for Marxism today-how to extend and put into practice a critique
from the left of retreating "socialism" at the moment of the old communist movement's complete transformation into its opposite-remains safely beyond postmodernist conceptual horizons.
Postmodernist philosophy's oblique but hostile relation to Marxism largely duplicates that of Nietzsche. And the classical analysis here belongs to Lukacs' critique of Nietzschean irrationalism in The Destruction of Reason, a work largely ignored by contemporary theory since being anathematized by Althusserianism two decades ago. Lukacs identifies in Nietzsche's radically anti-systemic and counter-cultural thinking a consistent drive to attack and discredit the socialist ideals of his time. But against these Nietzsche proposes nothing with any better claim to social rationality. Any remaining link between reason and the emancipatory is refused. It is,according to Lukacs, this very antagonism towards socialism--a movement of whose most advanced theoretical expression Nietzsche remained fundamentally ignorant--which supplies to Nietzschean philosophy its point of departure and its principal unifying "ground" as such. "It is material from 'enemy territory,'problems and questions imposed by the class enemy which ultimately determine the content of his philosophy." Unlike his more typical fellow reactionaries, however, Nietzsche perceived the fact of bourgeois decadence and the consequent need to formulate an intellectual creed which could give the appearance of overcoming it. In this he anticipates the later, more explicit "anti-bourgeois" anti-communisms of the coming imperialist epoch--most obviously fascism. This defense of a decadent bourgeois order, based on the partial
acknowledgement of its defects and its urgent need for cultural renewal, and pointing to a "third path" "beyond" the domain of reason, Lukacs terms an "indirect apologetic."
Postmodern philosophy receives Nietzsche through the filters of Deleuze, Foucault and Derrida, blending him with similarly mediated versions of Heidegger and William James into a new irrationalist hybrid. But the terms of Lukacs' Nietzsche-critique on the whole remain no less appropriate. Whereas, on the one hand, postmodernist philosophy's aversion for orthodox fascism is so far not to be seriously questioned, its basic content continues, I would argue, to be "dictated by the adversary." And this adversary--revolutionary communism as both a theory and a practice-assumes an
even sharper identity today than in Nietzsche's epoch.Let it be said that Lukacs, writing forty years ago,posits an adversarial Marxism-Leninism more free of the
critical tensions and errors than we know it to have been then or to be now. If, from our own present standpoint,The Destruction of Reason has a serious flaw, then it is surely this failure to anticipate or express openly the struggles and uncertainties within communist orthodoxy itself. (Lukacs' subsequent allegiance to Krushchevite positions--by then, perhaps,inevitable--marks his decisive move to the right on these issues.) But the fact that postmodern philosophy arises in a conjuncture marked by capitalist restoration throughout the "socialist" bloc and the consequent extreme crisis and disarray within the theoretical discourse of Marxism, while it may explain the relative freedom from genuinely contestatory Marxist critique enjoyed by postmodern theorists, in no way alters the essence of this ideological development as a reprise of pseudo-dialectical, Nietzschean "indirect apologetics."
This becomes fully apparent when one turns to post-modernism's more explicit formulations as a politics. I am thinking here mainly of Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, a work which, though it remains strongly controversial, has attained in recent years a virtually manifesto-like standing among many intellectuals predisposed to poststructuralist theory. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy proposes to free the Gramscian politics linked to the concept of "hegemony" (the so-called "war of position," as opposed to "war of maneuver") from its residual Marxian 'foundationalism' in recognition of what is held to be the primary efficacy of discourse itself and its "articulating" agents in forming hegemonic subjects. And it turns out of course that "socialist strategy" means dumping socialism altogether for a "radical democracy" which more adequately conforms to the "indeterminacy" of a "society" whose concept is modeled directly on the poststructuralist critique of the sign.
The key arguments of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy-as, in addition, the serious objections they have elicited-have become sufficiently well known to avoid lengthy repetitions here. What Mouffe and Laclau promise to deliver is, in the end, a revolutionary or at least emancipatory political strategy shorn of 'foundationalist' ballast. In effect, however, they merely succeed in shifting the locus of political and social agency from "essentialist" categories of class and party to a discursive agency of "articulation." And when it comes time to specify concretely the actual
articulating subjects themselves, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy resorts to a battery of argumentative circularities and subterfuges which simply relegate the articulatory agency to "other discourses."
Neil Larsen, 1990
James Petras has added to this analyzes with his unsparing Marxist critique of the so called Post-Marxists and by fingering those bourgeois academics who are making their peace with imperialism.
4.0. No Mo Po Mo, Legoo Po Co: Post-Colonial Theory and Marxism
It speaks volumes of the deep intellectual insecurities and rampant theoretical poverty of bourgeois academics that they keep raiding Marxism's bank of ideas in order to come up with a clone which is at the end of the day overtly or covertly anti-Marxist, even as it spouts pseudo-Marxist jargon.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in this strange mule called "Post-Colonial Theory". Various Marxist-Leninists from the North and the South, the East and the West have articulated and accumulated a well developed concept of imperialism that explains not only the reality of orthodox colonialism, but neo-colonialism as well. Instead of building on this, many of these "radical" or "critical" petit-bourgeois academics instead on latch on to the nebulous notions of Post Colonial Theory. Thus instead of having a Neo-Colonial State for example which is still a client of imperialism,you have the indeterminate "post-colonial" state which could go either way. And then you have the other by-products like "post-colonial literature" and other very problematic notions.
One person who has devoted an entire book, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures to debunking post-modernism, post-structuralism and post-colonial theory from a Southern, Marxist perspective is the Indian man of letters,
Aijaz Ahmad. His 1992 book examines literary theory and Third World literature; languages of class, ideologies and migration; Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and so called "National Allegory"; Salman Rushdie's work "Shame" to explore the them of postmodern migrancy and representation of women; Orientalism, ambivalence and the metropolitan location in the work of the late Edward Said; Marx on India; towards a definition of "Indian Literature" and his contribution to the debate on the Three Worlds Theory.
In his introduction, Aijaz Ahmad observes:
...The notable development in literary studies, as these have evolved in all the Enlish-speaking countries over the past quarter-centgury or so, is the proliferation, from a great many critical positions, of what has come to be known simply as 'theory'....dominant strands within this 'theory' as it has unfolded after the movements of the 1960s were essentially over, have been mobilized to domesticate, in institutional ways, the very forms of political dissent which those movements had sought to foreground, to displace an activist culture with a textual culture, to combat the more uncompromising critiques of existing cultures of the literary profession with a new mystique of leftish professionalism, and to reformulate in a postmodernist direction questions which had been previously associated with a broadly Marxist politics- whether communist or social democratic, or inspired by some other strand in the labour movements around the globe. For the historic 'new Lef' as it arose in Britain, the reference points had been Hungary and SUez, supplemented then by the crisis in labourism itself; in the United States, these sorts of energies had been associated first with Cuba and then with Vietnam, with the ambiguous liberlism of the Democratic Party itself becoming a very considerable issue. In France, the terminologies were slightly different, but the wars in Indochina and Algeria had payed the same constitutive role in the imaginations of the Left before the ascendancy of structuralism- in the perspectives of High Gaullism, of course. Literary debates in these three cultures presumed those realities up to, and somewhat beyond, 1968. The notable achievements of 'the children of '68' is that they did not even intend to give rise to a political formation that might organize any fundamental solidarity with the two million workers who are currently unemployed in France. Debates about culture and literature on the Left no longer presume a labour movement as the ground on which they arise; 'theory' is now seen, by Graff among many others, as a 'conversation' among academic professionals....
Aijaz Ahmad In Theory(Verso 1992, pp1-2)
5.0. Conclusions: Kenyan Progressives Should Reject Post-Modernist Bunk
Given the fact that we are a neo-colony with an educational system not only modelled on the West, but actually married to it, it will come as no shock I presume to observe that all the post-modernist confusions in the West are replicated in Kenya, but as very poor knock offs of the carbon copies from North America and Europe. Because the "prestigious" campuses like Harvard, Yale,Stanford, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford and the Sorbonne are seen as the apex of formal academic learning, one will see a slavish imitation of all the slavish imitations by Kenyan academics and their respective Kenyan institutions going on within those mainstream bourgeois institutions. Thus in a very direct sense, you will find Kenyan academics reproducing at the educational level all the imperialist hegemonic ideas that are currently packaged as postmodernist this, post-structuralist that and postcolonial sijui nini. Many years ago, Ngugi wa Thiongo warned Kenyans about our notorious kasuku culture where we imitate everything from the Imperialist West from the language to the ideas of our former colonial masters and present neo-colonial overlords. How many proud Kenyan postmodernist were aware that they are actually appendages of mainstream bourgeois thought even as they were smugly "deconstructing" this or that text and signifying I don't know how many signifying monkeys?
Those of us who remain Kenyan and Marxists are proud that we are still part of the ONLY consistently oppositional, liberatory and revolutionary intellectual tradition that has been embraced by humankind in all the continents and regions of the world. We wait patiently for our petit-bourgeois academic brothers and sister to wake up from their postmodernist fantasies and postcolonial nightmares.
I am OUT.
It is 8:46 in the am. Thank goodness Friday is my day off because I could do with a nap right about now....
Friday, February 04, 2005
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