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Culture and technology
7 May 2013

The Marxist revival that never happened

Isn’t about time that major awards – like the Oscars and the Emmys – were opened up to a public vote? 

The answer to that, of course, is no – for the very good reason that the public can’t be trusted. For instance, if the Brits (awards for popular music artists, m'lud) were to go fully democratic, then we could expect the most popular boy band of the moment (currently One Direction) to win in every category including best female solo artist.

Prospect magazine’s ‘world thinkers poll’, provides another object lesson in the perils of the public vote. With the lads of One Direction having been cruelly excluded from the short list, the way was left open for the celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins to top the poll. To add insult to impiety, the celebrity Marxist Slavoj Zizek came sixth – a remarkable result for an unrepentant exponent of a discredited ideology.

However, as Walter Lacquer reminds us in the National Interest, it could be worse. Among certain academics – with more taxpayers’ money than sense – Marx is certainly back in vogue. But as to any danger of this revolutionary fervour spreading from the chattering classes to the workers, the chances are on the slim side:

  • “Consider the agenda at a recent… meeting at the University of Washington. One has to doubt whether these followers of Marx are on the right track when the papers under discussion contain titles such as ‘Reconsidering Impossible Totalities: Marxist Deployments of the Sublime,’ ‘A Few Thoughts on the Academic Poet as Hobo-Tourist,’ ‘Reading Hip-Hop at the Intersection of Culture and Capitalism,’ ‘Annals of Sexual States’ and ‘The Political Economy of Stranger Intimacy.’”
  • “One wonders what Marx’s reaction would be if he sat at his desk in the British Museum’s Reading Room and contemplated such discussions at a gathering dedicated to rethinking his ideas.”

To be fair, the bearded one did have some eccentric notions of his own (other than actual Marxism). For instance, Lacquer tells us that he was convinced that Lord Palmerston was a secret Russian agent.

Still, if Marx is at all relevant to the 21st century it isn’t because of some intellectually-diverting read-across to literary criticism or peace studies, but because of the recent near collapse of international finance. We should be therefore be thankful that the finest minds of the extreme left are more interested in their silly academic word games than in exploiting the current weakness of capitalism.

But that leaves some unanswered questions about the Marxist revival, such as it is:

  • “If this perceived Marx renaissance has little to do with the actual teachings of Marx, with which the poststructuralists, postmodernists and gender scholars seem only vaguely familiar, how does one explain the renaissance, however modest it may be and however restricted to elite Western universities that have little connection to today’s industrial working class?”

Lacquer’s theory is that the academic Marxism of our time isn't about economics at all, but serves instead as a totem pole for the humanities department to dance around:

  • “‘Marx’ has become something like a shortcut or a symbol indicating a predilection for radical change in a wide variety of fields loosely called ‘cultural studies.’ It has little or nothing to do with what Marxism was really all about.”

Which, when you think about it, is just as well.


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