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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016


As the horrors of the next four years unfold, with Climate Change deniers, women's reproductive rights opponents, public school opponents,gun enthusiasts,  proponents of eliminating any minimum wage at all, those eager to up the rate of deportations, and war starters in control of the government, there are people on the left who will devote all their time and energy to condemning what they see as the inadequate ideological purity of others well to the left of the center of American politics.

I have seen this farce before.


s. wallerstein said...

I tend to agree with what you're saying above.

However, I'd like to point out that those on the far left who spend a lot of time condemning those on the more moderate left don't consciously do it on grounds of ideological purity, but on the ground that the strategy of the moderate left is inadequate to carry out needed social change.

Now we can speculate about the unconscious or semi-conscious motives of the far left, and I'd say that in many cases there are elements of ideological puritanism there, self-righteousness, etc., but then to be fair we'd have to carry out an amateur psychoanalysis of the moderate left.

That is, it seems fair to compare conscious, stated strategies with conscious, stated strategies or to compare unconscious or semi-conscious motives with unconscious or semi-motives, but not to compare conscious, stated strategies with unconscious or semi-motives.

Marx himself spends a lot of time condemning others on the left, by the way, and we tend to attribute that to his superior wisdom and insight, not to his unconscious ideological puritanism.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I don't know about you, but I have never doubted the unacknowledged psychological motives for Marx's sectarianism, which started when he was quite young in his feuds with the so-called Left Hegelians, the Bauer brothers et al.

s. wallerstein said...

I've always found it to be one of Marx's less endearing traits, and by the time we come to Lenin, I find him almost impossible to read becauses of his puritanical sectarianism. He spends so much negative energy attacking Kautsky that one begins to suspect that there must have been something positive about Kautsky to be so detested by Lenin.

Let me tell you a story which was told me. During the Allende government advisors from the Socialist countries came to Chile, including from North Korea.

The comrades from North Korea spent most of their haranging Chilean peasants about the evils of the fascist Chung Hee Park, at that time military dictator of South Korea. After the North Korean comrades left, the Chilean peasants named a trail that they had cut in honor of Chung Hee Park. They apparently were so put off by the negative energies of the North Koreans that they decided that Chung Hee Park must have something good about him.

Chris said...

"However, I'd like to point out that those on the far left who spend a lot of time condemning those on the more moderate left don't consciously do it on grounds of ideological purity, but on the ground that the strategy of the moderate left is inadequate to carry out needed social change."

Thank you!

The character assassination going on here is just unnecessary at best, and mean spirited at worst.

s. wallerstein said...

If I may make one more comment, in the Brothers Karamavoz (I believe) there's a lawyer who claims that psychology is a knife that cuts both ways.

Just as you (Professor Wolff) find some leftists who comment here to be ideological purists, what do you think your "leftwing" academic colleagues thought of you when you were talking about unions (horrors!) while they were talking about the role of mirrors in 19th century French literature?

What do you think your colleagues at Columbia University, most of them undoubtedly left of center in their theoretical views, thought of you when you were actively supporting striking students who were smoking the dean's best cigars (horrors of horrors!) and demanding that the neighborhood residents (Columbia's nearest neighbor is Harlem) be granted access to the gym of those who own New York?

Ed Barreras said...

"...the strategy of the moderate left is inadequate to carry out needed social change."

Okay. But if we're talking about strategies to effect outcomes, what about the outcome we're currently facing?

I voted for Bernie, and in that sense I don't consider myself "moderate" left. The Bernie phenomenon was a wonderful ride while it lasted, and the inroads he made with young people especially were an enormously hopeful sign. As long as he had a chance of clinching the nomination, then I agree that the best strategy for effecting social change was to vote for him.

Still, he lost. Like it or not, after Clinton won the nomination the world became divided into the sheep and the goats. The *only* prudentially rational thing to do at that point was to vote for Clinton, to encourage others to vote for her, and to not contribute to the noise that was harming her chances. In fact I'd say this was practically a patriotic duty.

I know that many disagreed with me on the grounds that they actually thought Jill Stein (with her 9/11 Trutherism) stood a chance. Not to play the amateur psychoanalyst, but those people belong in the looney bin.

s. wallerstein said...

Ed Barreras,

When you say that Jill Stein supporters "belong in the looney bin", aren't you doing exactly what Professor Wolff is warning against, that is, dividing the left?

I doubt that anyone who has been consigned to the looney bin will want to work together with you in the future.

For the record, I advocated voting for Clinton, but I know people who voted for Stein, who definitively do not belong in the looney bin.

As to which vision is right in the long term, history will tell. Those on the far left will claim, I imagine, that the failure of the Clinton left is clear insofar as the white working class, once supporters of the Democrats, now vote for a proto-fascist such as Trump.

Having followed this debate for over a month now, I'm even less sure than I was when it started about who is right, but consigning the other side to the looney bin is not a wise strategy if one is trying to build unity on the left.

Ed Barreras said...

S. Wallerstein,

My looney bin comment was sort of a riff on the theme of psychoanalysis. It was a joke. I will say, though, that those (like Cornel West) who were holding out hope that Stein would somehow triumph over Clinton and the current minority-president-elect were terribly misguided. It wasn't gonna happen. And if, in the general election, you voted for anyone except Clinton out of principle, then yes, I do think there's an element of self-righteous preening in that, since at that point the prudential choice was as clear as could be.

Tom Cathcart said...

This has gotten way too convoluted and weird. I sometimes try to follow the thread, and then I walk away, muttering that the country's on fire and we're arguing about what constitutes the best kind of firefighter. It's time to grab the nearest extinguisher.

Ed Barreras said...

You're right, Tom. At this point the Clinton-Bernie-Stein debate has turned into one big hamster wheel. We should all focus our efforts on helping the Democrats take back Congress in 2018 (no purity tests though, if you please). But, I will say that if this Russia saga is what convinces the Electoral College to flush the T***p turd down the toilet, then by all means, let's have it. Sadly, I doubt that's going to happen.

Tom Cathcart said...

Alas, I'm afraid you may be right, Ed, but let's keep throwing everything we can at him (demonstrations in DC and NYC, questioning his cabinet picks, supporting hearings on the Russia connection, going after his conflicts of interest. Hopefully, the combination will eventually wound him, perhaps fatally.

Chris said...

"We should all focus our efforts on helping the Democrats take back Congress in 2018 (no purity tests though, if you please)."

Unless their position in the democratic party (e.g., wall street funded versus populist) is a necessary component to their winning/losing...

Jerry Fresia said...

I agree with Comrade Tom. I keep thinking of Michael Moore's statement: "All hands on deck. This is not a drill."

BTW, for those of you still looking for a way to do something - anything, you might want to check out this:

It is called "We Stand for Peace and Justice" and I think the non-controversial title reflects the urgent need to cast a very big net. Check out the statement; it is interesting. The effort is being organized by Mike Albert and other lifetime activists (whose roots go back to MIT and Chomsky, and later the UMass econ department. They have posted the first 100 plus names - many notables.

Pangur said...

It occurs to me if that an academic with your views ("atheist, anarchist, Marxist") thinks that the country is headed in the wrong direction, that's very much a desirable reaction.

LOL at "All Hands On Deck" Michael Moore. Your hero was at least smart enough to understand Trump's appeal to the working class (these are the human beings who show up to fix your stuff when it breaks).