[OPE] Marta Harnecker's Ideas

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Tue Dec 01 2009 - 11:24:41 EST

I'm sorry, but while Martha may be a committed activist, from my point of
view this piece falls more into the category of a paranoid fantasy by an
Althusserian Marxist engaging in "intellectual class struggle", at a level
so supremely abstract that it is almost totally useless for the purpose of
providing any real political orientation.

Maybe some academics who imagine themselves to be politicians will like it,
I don't know. It is sort of like "elementary psychology", or "elementary
management studies".

These sorts of conclusions were already drawn by Trotskyists in the 1970s
and 1980s, but this is 2009, thirty years later.

Martha offers tautologies and authorative definitions, but the problem is
precisely with the concepts and definitions used themselves - the whole
thing is totally question-begging, because the meaning of every single
concept and slogan used is contestable and cannot be simplistically assumed.

It already starts with the title. The piece is titled "Ideas for the
struggle", but what struggle exactly? Struggle, what for? Whose ideas are
they? What is the source of those ideas?

For the Left, "theory" is often a sort of verbosity which conveys a moral
point of view that should guide action, although the morality itself is not
made explicit. Making it explicit would be too dangerous, because then you
could be held to account. Well, actually, this Leftist theory often isn't
really theory, but ideology, an ideation based on a certain language which
sounds "Left" because it is strident and critical.

But that is not what Marx taught at all. What Marx taught is that the task
of theory is to explain what the struggle is really about, what people are
really fighting about, as a basis for practical and political orientation.
For that purpose, you need to distinguish between what does happen, and what
should happen. What Martha does in her paper, is to confuse those two

Theoretical reasoning is necessary, because what the fight is really about,
is typically not readily apparent at the surface in immediate reality. To
understand the full meaning of what is happening, we need to do more than
just observe or participate, we need to be able to relate events to the
total context in which they occur, aided by useful conceptual distinctions
and generalisations.

Understanding that "totality" is not simply a matter of long experience of
life, partly because we can never experientially access "everything", and
partly because it is a question of understanding the meaning of experience,
its true significance. It requires theory, and then everything depends on
how this theory itself is formed, in other words how we come by our
distinctions and generalisations.

But there is a trap, and the trap is that the very way we meaningfully
experience things is going to be influenced, driven or even determined by
our theoretical conceptions. People start to believe in their own
propaganda, and when they do, what they believe "to be the case" begins to
be mixed up with what they think "should be the case". Driven to an extreme,
you get pure fanaticism, an "us and them" perception which becomes paranoid.

That may be unpleasant in itself, but the real problem is that actively
trying to "make your idea true" in this sense, starts to interfere with
understanding what is really the case.

Marx opined that all science would be superfluous if the appearance and
essence of things directly coincided, if things were simply transparent.
That was not an invitation for a Bhaskar-type Kantian ideology however.
Because at a certain point the appearance and essence do coincide, and the
underlying issues do come out into the open, so that the real thing is
exposed for what it is, it becomes transparent. If that wasn't the case, the
"essence" would only be an unprovable metaphysical speculation, which - this
is the point - science could never hope to discover even in principle.

The problem now with Martha's piece is, that with her ideological language,
she hides the essence behind the appearance from herself. But she gives the
game away in the conclusion anyway. "Summing up, in order for the party left
to develop strong bonds with the social left, the party left must renew
itself ideologically, change its political culture and work methods, and
incorporate into its arsenal the innovative forms of struggle and resistance
utilised by the social left."

But all that rhetoric says is "The party doesn't have any ideas, and it
should parasitize people who do."

That is the culmination of Althusser's "process without a subject" which
destroys the subject. The dead language of the party fails to capture
anything meaningful anymore.


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Received on Tue Dec 1 11:30:52 2009

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