Why the Anti-Marxists Are Wrong

By Fisk, Milton | Monthly Review, March 1987 | Go to article overview

Why the Anti-Marxists Are Wrong


Fisk, Milton, Monthly Review


WHY THE ANTI-MARXISTS ARE WRONG

The black movement that began in the United States in the mid-1950s and the women's movement that followed in the late 1960s not only shook and in some cases shattered social structures but also changed the way U.S. social theorists think about race and gender. A characteristic response of radical social theorists was to proclaim that Marxism, however useful it might have been in the nineteenth century when class was the dominant social force in the industrializing West, could not deal with this new awareness of race and gender. Marxism was dead, though for sentimental reasons new social theories might still call themselves Marxist.

In this process of setting Marxism aside, the standards of care in regard both to understanding Marxist theory and to pursuing alternatives were abysmally low. Those of us dismayed by this careless rejection of Marxism were of two kinds. The first were willing to go down into the lion's den and challenge these upstart iconoclasts who felt confirmed by the decline of the workers' movement in the United States and by recent social achievements of nonclass struggles. The second were, like myself, more cautious, delaying their counterattack until the iconoclasts had themselves been cooled a bit by the recession of the nonclass movements as well as the workers' movement.

Explaining the Drift to the Right

The drift rightward in the United States by blacks, women, and workers in the 1980s is a phenomenon that needs analysis as much as earlier thrusts to the left by these groups. A Marxist theory of the period holds considerable potential for understanding the turn to the right where the radical anti-Marxists, with their potpourri conception of society, offer only banalities. The concessionary movement is not something that is rampant in the trade unions alone; it has gutted the women's movement, the black movement, the environmental movement, and various community movements. Without essential reference to the long-term stagnation of the capitalist economy and the challenges to Western imperialism by determined lower-class opposition around the world, this rightward drift remains an enigma.

Attacks on black teenage pregnancy and black welfare dependency, which are little more than veiled attacks on the black community, occur without fierce rebuttals from black activists. The field is left open for neoliberal Democrats to advance "solutions" to these problems that force increased black participation in the workforce at subliving wages. When anti-Marxist theories of the uniqueness of black oppression fail to provide a mechanism for survival in teeming urban centers, what remains is joining the racist state in working out remedies acceptable within the concessionary framework.

There is a parallel reliance on the state within the growing group of women who want to stamp out pornography. The smoldering bitterness within the women's movement has left it without a social strategy that conforms with its own standards of autonomy. Stop-smut women make common cause with patriarchs in the courts and in the "moral majority" in their zeal to smash manifestations of male dominance. Their new allies will force concessions from them on abortion rights and on affirmative action. In contrast, an analysis of the drift to the right that connects it with secular economic stagnation and worldwide challenges to imperialism can reveal the dangers of joining the state of defeat male dominance. But anti-Marxism has done its bit to make such an analysis impossible.

Anti-Marxism Leads to Populism

One of the political imperatives of Marxism is building a socialist movement with the purpose of achieving a socialist state. The anti-Marxist radical in the black or the women's movement in the United States views such an imperative as a subordination of his or her movement to the effort to liberate the working class. …

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