Class – and critique – in Bad Marxism, poking fun.

I was looking something up and stumbled upon a quote of me that I did not recognise – that class ‘does not make much sense’. I am pretty appalled to be called left libertarian and neo-Weberian from a Northern think-tank (!!) – and completely misquoted – in this way by Ebert and Zavarzadeb in an otherwise marvellous chapter called ‘Hypohumanities’ from the 2010 book Class in Education: Knowledge, Pedagogy, Subjectivity, edited by Deborah Kelsh, Dave Hill & Sheila Macrine. I reproduce page 44 from that chapter, as follows:

Ha! – Do our authors think Marx and Engels really do have a bipolar view of class as ‘ossified and simplistic, if not simple’ – rather than this being a caricature that I expose. But no, I am associated somehow with Laclau and Hardt and Negri too – the very people I was critiquing in the book from which these misquotes are taken out of context. Yes, I said something almost like those they attribute, but there are important differences if you read with care. I’m afraid my point is missed and they attribute associations that do not stand up if attention is paid to the actual words, which are relational: ‘as much sense’ and makes ‘less sense’. They might also attend to the context in which these sense are deployed as there is no way that I am erasing production – on the contrary, I am making that same accusation of those who do not see class in the context on international production, outsourced imperialist capital and a brutal immiseration of a more diverse (non cloth cap wearing) global proletariat.

What I actually wrote in a book that spends a lot of time talking about Marx’s analysis of multiple class conflict in the Eighteenth Brumaire is that a notion of class from 1847 used today:

“does not make as much sense if rigidly restricted to a bipolar opposition of the kind necessarily sketched in the polemical opening of the Manifesto nor within rigidly maintained notions of nation. The working-class hero is best thought of as a far more diverse identity than that of the cloth-capped union man. For sure, the idea of class struggle makes less sense today in a national context but retains all its urgency and coherence if the international division of labour is, rather than ignored, taken as a key part of the calculus.”

I then do quote, on that same page, Gibson-Graham, and I see my interpreters do also, but it is a funny inverted honour to associate me with those I was saying were unable to even approximate Marx’s developed analysis (and recognise the Manifesto of Marx and Engels as a polemical text, about which their view moves). Marxism and class struggle are to be understood in a materialist international framework where ‘the immiseration of a global proletariat proceeds apace’ where the ‘division of labour prevails’ and ‘not to say the nation has no power, nor military might with heavy weaponry’ (p191)

Which leaves me a big surprised and amused that no matter how much one takes care to ask for at least some attention to the ways Marx’s text is framed and develops over his writing and rewriting and the contexts of that writing and the audiences, and which all the while should not be taken to be as ‘bad’ as so many commentators make out. Bad Marxism was the name of the book after-all, as if that had one single and only referent.

Of course in the end, its all welcome I guess – as I also pointed out on that very same page they quote, where I objected that:

“accusations of ‘bad’ Marxism as a way of silencing debate is an old routine. Divinations of correct line
Marxism act as a form of censure and as assertions of correct behaviour or discipline. The use of citation and counter-citation in hegemonic maintenance is not something ever completely avoided, the mystification of authority and pedagogic demonologies are also symptoms – there are so many contests and contexts. Given all this,
I am inclined to see debate over the line as evidence of vitality and leave it to the secret tribunal of the central committee to decide in the very last instance where we ‘really’ went wrong, so long as that grim finale never actually comes” (p 192)

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