Wednesday, December 01, 2004

evil is an empty signifier

Over Thanksgiving I found out that my mother is reading (well, she hadn't started reading it at the time but had borrowed it from the library) David Horowitz's 2003 book, Left Illusions. I started skimming some of it while visiting the fam and eating food, and last night I took a trip to my local library and took it out--so as to be prepared for any upcoming holiday conversations at the New Hampshire household. This morning I read his article "Marx's Manifesto: 150 Years of Evil," and I can't believe the way I've allowed this guy to get under my skin. This guy's writing is absurdly empty at times. He simply deems Marx as "wrong." He lists everything he's wrong about: the oppressive nature of the bourgeoisie, the increasing misery of the working class (I must have forgotten about all the happy looking teenage girls working in Honduran textile factories), about the increasing polarization of class (can anyone say second term in office?), and he goes on from there. Of course, he fails to provide any evidence for why Marx was supposedly so wrong about all of these things.

Allow me to work backward for one moment. At the end of his article, Horowitz tells us that "private property, which marxists want to abolish, has been proven by history to be the indispensable bulwark of human liberty, and the only basis for producing general economic prosperity and social wealth." Excuse me? Go tell that to the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia whose water supply has been privatized. I'm sure they feel very prosperous without access to water. Sounds like human liberty to me....

I will, however, concede to Horowitz on one point--that Marx's economics is outdated because of its severely polar class distinctions: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. I will agree with him that class has become more complex than this, more fluid, but it is what he does with this point that makes me crazy. He claims that this fluidity of class structure has "made a mockery of the core principles of marxist belief." I disagree. Fluidity does not remove conflict--conflict based on class differences--differences manifested by the existence of private property and corporate control. So while my concession is indeed that Marx's economic categories are too narrow in scope, I concede this because there is an existence of a "middle class" and there are changes in what might comprise the "bourgeois," not because as Horowitz claims (is the response of progressives everywhere) "it is necessary to confront race and gender oppression as well"--(side note: I do in fact believe this and this is one of my difficulties with orthodox Marxism and its entirely obsessive focus on class struggle....but that is for another entry...someday). And Horowitz is correct, Marx couldn't account for the rise of Trans-National Corporations in a way that has broken down and over-powered the nation state. Marx couldn't account for the political power we have handed over to these corporations that ignore any kind of borders and boundaries--allowing for an unchecked control. But these added complexities to Marx's economics do not erase the conflict and class issues that are still very much prevelant, very much harmful. (This rise of the TNC makes a mockery of Horowitz's statement that "when the power of the state is unchecked by private property and the power of private associations...public power becomes absolute, totalitarian." Who, may I ask is checking the private associations???)

Horowitz despairs over the fact that the core marxist model is still a potent force, that this model sees a just solution to social problems in "confrontation and political war," and that "this model is alive and well among radical feminists (this is actually wrong--you're wrong, David Horowitz--some radical feminists have been the most successful at deconstructing the traditional Marxist model)..., queer nationalists, and the rag-tag intellectual army of post-modernists, critical theorists...," and so on.... His use of militaristic language irritates me: political war, intellectual army.... Yeah, we tend to be a really violent lot. Look at us in our campus offices, look at us at peace protests--lots of bloodshed there. But Horowitz insists on focusing on Marxism as the bloodiest, most war-driven revolution in history, at the same time he can't seem to get his head out of the United States long enough to see the Honduran textile workers and the people of Bolivia I mentioned earlier.

1 comment:

Clydesdale said...

Radical Feminism is soon becoming a mere catch phrase in the neo-con world. It was never, never meant to be violent or sarcastic or exploitative...but with W's agenda (and those around them) the concept of improving the independence of women in a male-dominated society is being heretical.