On Your Marx: Relinking Socialism and the Left

On Your Marx: Relinking Socialism and the Left

On Your Marx: Relinking Socialism and the Left

On Your Marx: Relinking Socialism and the Left

Synopsis

Randy Martin is associate dean of faculty and interdisciplinary programs and professor of art and public policy at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

Excerpt

What place does reading Marx have in left politics today? For some the question of Marx's relevance may seem obvious. For others it has become unnecessary. The case must always be made for reading Marx precisely because the value of his work comes to us neither already guaranteed nor already surpassed. Its meaning must be produced, and often in regard to criticisms that treat his work as a fixed set of propositions. Therefore, reading Marx in the light of what his critics attribute to marxism clarifies the conditions under which socialism can be envisioned and socialist politics be reasserted. In what follows, I want to articulate that activist version of Marx who seems more appropriate for our times. One way of keeping marxism alive and lively is for it to be constantly reread, retaught, and relearned, as an oppositional response to any criticisms of it and socialism that are made (sometimes in Marx's own name).

These criticisms, made most persistently under the heading of radical democracy, focus on three problems: totality, the idea of a universal subject, and teleology. What links them to Marx is that he is accused of distorting these issues by reducing each to a simplistic formula. I refer to this as the accusation of reductionism. Ironically, however, it is the simplification or reduction of his thought by his critics that so often yields the problems identified as fatal to marxist theory. I begin with this problem of the self-fulfilling prophecy, in which Marx is said to stand for a specific idea or conclusion and is then shown to be guilty of exactly that oversimplification.

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