Marxist political advice and its discontents
By Omar Ali
Professor Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner professor of history at Trinity college. He is also a prominent left wing activist. The two roles have different requirements. Here he tries to bridge the gap.
Someone had commented on 3quarksdaily.com that this is “Another bucketload of gormless Marxist verbiage around a central anti-semitic core: forget the mountains of corpses and the decades of torture and oppression – Assad’s main crime is defined as “neoliberalism … and a practice of accommodation with both the US and Israel.”
That triggered the following comment (i have edited the original slightly for clarity) from me: The real problem with neomarxist verbiage is not double standards or selective outrage, its the unbridgeable gap between being a professor and being an actor on the ground in a civil war in a faraway country.
Vijay Prashad as a professor in a first world University may eventually contribute to changing the way X or Y issue is framed in the mind of the elite, and that in turn will eventually have some impact somewhere in actual daily politics and political struggles but those are big “eventually-s”. Some professors are OK with that and focus on doing their research and writing their books and teaching their students in the hope that their analysis will eventually “trickle down”. But that (for obvious reasons) is not very satisfying for most of us. Hence the need to suggest practical courses of action in today’s clash, to pick sides, to “organize a relief column”. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your estimate of said professor’s wisdom and insight) this aspect of a professor’s work has near-zero real world relevance.
I don’t know how to fix this problem, but it does seem to be a real problem. Most right wingers are almost by definition closer to the ruling elites so maybe they dont feel the pain as much, but left wing professors are in a painful bind here..to have no opinion on proximate politics and wars seems silly, but to have an opinion that arises logically from their theoretical framework is frequently sillier, and any honest and good man may end up in Professor Prashad’s position. Its a real dilemma.
In an attempt to pre-empt misunderstandings, let me add:
1. My question is not about the details of his analysis.
2. Its about this scenario. Lets say Vijay is Vladimir Lenin. Well, in that case he is not only a theoretician (though he would like to believe that his superior understanding of theory informs his practice), he is an organizer, a rebel, a leader, a politician with day to day decision to make. Very fine nuances and very involved calculations will come into play. Many of those calculations will be very cynical. All of them will be locally bound by existing circumstances. Theory will have to give way again and again. But Vijay (probably not even in his own mind, but I don’t know him personally, so I cannot say for sure) is not Lenin. He is a professor. He does research, he writes books. He has theories. And he is part of a broader left wing academic current that has its own internal dynamics very far from the ground in Syria. I am saying I don’t expect him to say things that are too useful as guides to action.
3. What do you think?
Courtesy: Brown Pundits