Re: '60s Marxism vs. M. today

Tue, 16 Jan 1996 13:09:47 -0500

Going back through a few saved entries, I was interested in the discussion
triggered by Country Joe MacDonald's note. It was interesting to hear from
Country Joe (I'd like to hear more). I thought Kali's response addressed alot
of points I wanted to; I could hear Joe's anger loud & clear, but felt he was
excluding / isolating himself & vets from too many allies in the struggle
against forms of oppression.

I found Ron Silliman's comments real engaging (as I usually do), especially
about Marxism and his:
>thoughts about how what we interpret today is
>handled through very different eyes than were used by any one of us
>back then. But I am interested, today, in how American perceptions &/or
>use of Marxism changed over the past 30 years.

My own path seems not too far removed from Ron's. While less directly
involved in the "self-announced Marxist groups" like SWP, PL, etc., I felt the
kind of alienation from their dogmatic and often detached-from-the-
issue-at-hand focus that Ron seems to have felt. In effect, these groups
alienated me from Marxian analysis for a long time. For me, instead of working
in the prison movement, it was involvement in the 80s anti-US-intervention in
Central America that brought home the systemic & economic characteristics of
what I had been active against during the 1960s (e.g., Vietnam) --that, and
beginning to work on my book on the 60s in the mid-80s. Reading alot (more)
of Chomsky during the US assault on Nicaragua & support of state terror in El
Salvador & Guatemala helped me see how (a) connected these & other foreign
policy pieces were and (b) invisible their systemic qualities were in the
mainstream media. Work on the 60s book brought home the difference between
liberal reforms achieved during the 60s & early 70s (many of which, of course,
have been rolled back) and structural characteristics of the "system" that
obstructed & undermined the kind of real democracy that inspired 60s
movements. My more recent work on propaganda & the media, and simply my
reading of left/critical/progressive journals on things like the global
economy, have greatly reinforced my view that Marx's critique of capitalism
(as opposed to his predictive writings about revolution, etc. --and
needing refinement, for example, on class) is as pertinent today as it
was in the 19th century. I, too, have benefitted from writers like Gramsci,
Marcuse & descendents who critique our mass mediated, pacified, consumer
I share Ron's dismay at the state of the left in this country (although
Chomsky is enormously upbeat about this, comparing it very favorably to the
early 60s). I'm not sure, though, that the fall of "Communism" won't in the
long run create a real opening (Glasnost) in the American anti-communist,
consumerist hegemony, much like the Test Ban treaty did (to a degree) in '63.
[Did anyone else notice the cover of a recent Economist, a poster about
"Communism II" --the propagandists never sleep!]
Given the inevitable (can one doubt this?) downward spiral of the US economy
in the globalized system, might we not expect a sharpening of neo-Marxian,
critical-of-capitalism awareness among the growing numbers of unemployed,
under-employed, and students with lowered horizons (thus Marxism remains
sharply relevant on campuses)...? Especially when and if this class
consciousness & economic awareness converges with ecological
awareness (and how, globally, we move toward Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons
under global capitalism). It just isn't going to all happen at once in the
high-expectations style of the 60s.

What do others think? Ron?

Ted Morgan