May 18, 2004

Marxists of the World, Cheer

Marxists of the World, Cheer Up!

Recently, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” mentioned that our financial backers only allow a certain amount of funding for journals and magazines. As a result, we are often left with some difficult choices: Do we cancel our subscription to “Cat Fancy,” or take a pass on “Lesbian Feminist Herstory”?

Sometimes, our small budget for publications causes a veritable in-house brouhaha. Such was the case with the lively journal “Radical Society.” To some of our staff, the magazine was the quintessential example of an intriguing blend of Marxist activism and anti-capitalist grumbling. To others, it was inane.

Thankfully, the former group won out, and thus we, dear reader, can discuss a particularly special article in the first issue of the thirtieth volume of “Radical Society.”

But first, a word on “Radcial Society” itself. Published by our friends at Routledge Press, “Radical Society” is primarily notable for sporting a backward “R” on its cover. It’s as if the journal is advertising to its reader(s) that it’s a blend of Lillian Hellman and Toys ‘R’ Us.

With this in mind, we can move on to a discussion of the article in question: “The Poverty of Theory: Anti-Intellectualism and the Value of Action,” which was penned by one Stephen Duncombe. Upon reading the author’s name, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” were almost certain we had heard of this fellow before. On page 16 of his article, Mr. Duncombe relates why his name was so familiar to us: He is a member in good standing of the “direct action group” “Reclaim the Streets.” We, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” are part of a splinter group of “Reclaim the Streets,” an indirect action group named “Reclaim the Sidewalks.”

Whereas Reclaim the Streets “throws street parties to protest, among other things, the privatization of public space,” Reclaim the Sidewalks throws eggs to protest, among other things, the ludicrous pieties of contemporary Marxists.

Realizing that we had stumbled upon an article by a man whom we have previously met, we eagerly pored over the piece. It starts, as is Mr. Duncombe’s wont, with a gnomic utterance: “Another world is possible.” Okay. Thanks for the tip. We, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” feel as if we should respond with our own nugget of wisdom: “Salmon can swim upstream.” How’s that?

Mr. Duncombe continues: “Before 9/11 and before the shift from demonstrating against global capitalism to protesting U.S. imperial nationalism, the globalization movement’s slogan was a curious, conscious creation of positive optimism.” Well, we’ll give you “curious.”

In his next paragraph, Mr. Duncombe avers “For a movement seemingly so a-intellectual, a surprising number of intellectuals are part of it.” Funny, that. Perhaps this has something to do with that great George Orwell quip: Some ideas are so stupid you have to be an intellectual to believe them?

Well, you’re probably asking yourself, what is the point of Mr. Duncombe’s disquisition? The article poses the pressing question: Why is “theory” seemingly antithetical to the activism against global capitalism? In essence, the piece serves as a kind of pep talk for downtrodden Marxists.

Now, we submit, Marxists deserve a good pep talk as much as any other political group. After all, the twentieth century didn’t exactly prove a swimming time for devotees of Mr. Marx and Mr. Engels. Unless, of course, you enjoy the slaughter of 200 million people.

As such, we can fully understand—if not sympathize with—Mr. Duncombe’s penchant for castigating Americans as dimwitted and for lamenting the “death of a communist alternative” to the noxious United States. And we can fathom why Mr. Duncombe attempts to offer an optimistic reading of the disorganized state of Marxist activism—whether it is or is not tied at the hip with so-called “theory.”

Still, we found his article a little too rosy. If we were betting men and girls, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” would offer a hefty wager against Marxism as the twenty-first century’s panacea.

Moreover, we found Mr. Duncombe’s stylistic tics a bit irritating. As we noted above, he enjoys cryptic utterances: “Within this world there is no path”; “Mass actions, quite simply, teach you how to act within a mass.” Thanks, Guru Duncombe. If a tree falls in a forest, is Stalin responsible for the death of 20 million people?

But what bothers us the most about Mr. Duncombe’s cheery assessment of the current vicissitudes of anti-capitalist protesting is the fact that it doesn’t even mention the most obvious reason for the dilapidated condition of the movement: Perhaps anti-globalization protests prove so intellectually wanting because their practitioners are, in a word, stupid? Or is that too simple an answer?

Posted at May 18, 2004 12:01 AM | TrackBack