July 16, 2012

If there is one thing that trotskyists have been extremely successful at, it is that they have become the official representatives and gate-keepers of marxism in first world academia. Thus, the academic industry of published marxist texts is largely dominated and managed by trotskyist and post-trotskyist intellectuals. Even those popular academic marxists who have rejected trotskyist orthodoxy or semi-orthodoxy are most often people whose understanding of communism has been heavily influenced by a trotskyist style marxism.

As one of my good friends and comrades has pointed out, regardless of the historical disagreements we maoists might have with trotskyism, at the very least we have to admire their ability to wage ideological struggle within the confines of bourgeois academia. At the same time, however, the fact that the already non-hegemonic field of marxist academia is dominated by a trotskyist-influenced interpretation of historical marxism is a serious problem for us academics (who are not the exceptions of Alain Badiou and Jacques Ranciere) whose understanding of marxism emerges from “that other marxism” of a maoist and/or non-western revolutionary communism. Marxism has already been marginalized in first world academia; marxist currents that are not trotskyist-influenced, or at least in accordance with that interpretation of history, are generally marginalized further.

Of course, the reason for this trotskyist academic success at the centres of capitalism makes sense. The so-called “Fourth International” was a eurocentric affair led by first world academics. A marxism that began by distancing itself from the Soviet Union, regardless of its supposedly “nuanced” claims about a deformed workers state, was palatable to a US and European context during the cold war. Then, when other first world marxist intellectuals were aligning themselves with China and other third world revolutions in the 1960s (sometimes going so far as to embark on short-lived and adventurist escapades), trotskyists generally stuck to the sphere of legality and became part of the intellectual establishment. So when the rise of maoism, which crystallized in 1993, meant that the only communists actively pursuing revolution were maoist (or at least maoist inspired), trotskyists, who have done little more than ideological struggle, didn’t have to worry about losing their hold on academia.

Still, the fact remains that a trotskyist-inspired discourse––even if it is no longer precisely “trotskyist”––has been successful in pushing marxism, and thus primarily representing marxism, in the academic terrain at the centres of global capitalism. And though this trotskyist (and/or post-trotskyist) hegemony is annoying for those of us who are excluded and marginalized by its terms, it is still is something worthy of respect. It is definitely more commendable than the more dogmatic offshoots of this tradition whose idea of promoting a more religious version of the same discourse consists only of producing newspapers nobody else wants to read.

Look at those academic marxist-oriented presses, for example, commanded by those trotskyist-influenced intellectuals: Verso and Haymarket Press. They both pump out a lot of books that are important for those of us who are interested in waging what Althusser called “a class struggle on the level of ideology.” Indeed, they publish Althusser and the classics as well as the odd quasi-maoist––the aforementioned Badiou and Ranciere––and maybe a small collection of Mao’s essays… just as long as the introduction is by someone whose writing is convoluted enough that he would end up making maoism seem convoluted (i.e. Zizek). At the same time, while they can afford to be magnanimous, they remain the gate-keepers of academic marxism. They sure as hell can’t lead a revolution, but they know how to wage ideological struggle in academia. (Trotskyist readers, before you send me angry comments, just realize that I’m talking about actual history––it is a factual statement that, while it is true that Trotsky was a leader in the Bolshevik Revolution, no group emerging from the Fourth International has ever initiated or been involved in a significant revolutionary movement.)

So what are we maoist academics/intellectuals supposed to do when it comes to the prospect of publishing and carving out a tiny corner of academic discourse? The easy answer, obviously, would be do nothing because you should be focusing on concrete class struggle. Clearly there is some truth to this position: communists should be trying to figure out what it means to involve oneself in class struggle on a concrete level rather than becoming fully submerged in academic/theoretical work. At the same time, though, fighting to have some sort of ideological representation in the marxist academic sphere is rather important because this sphere, overly dominated as it is by trotsky-esque perspectives, needs to be utilized in order to give some meaning to the concrete struggles of actually existing revolutionary movements and Peoples Wars. We maoists have been known to complain when marxist intellectuals ignore these mass revolutionary movements––from Nepal to India––and yet we are struggling to produce very little to force the existence of these movements into academic discourse. And though it is true that these movements’ success or failure is not dependent on being represented in academia, any representation helps––look, for example, at how much help to the Naxal uprisings that Arundhati Roy (who is not a maoist) has been.

More importantly, if we want to build revolutionary movements in our own social context, one of the ways to popularize said movements is to, in some way (no matter how small), involve ourselves in this class struggle on the level of ideology. Not as a substitution for class struggle itself––not to excuse ourselves from figuring out how to go amongst the masses––but as a way to popularize revolution in the sense conveyed by the concept of the war of position that I discussed in a previous post. In this way, then, I think we can learn from the trotskyists who have been very successful in marking out the boundaries of marxist discourse––even if this is pretty much the only struggle they have waged successfully, it is still an important struggle.