It has now become something of a rite of passage for those of us who declare fidelity to marxist theory––especially those of us who are also academics––to spend some time and energy bashing that semi-unified field of theory which falls under the rubric post: post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-marxism, and post-colonialism. Obviously, since this post tradition has often set itself up as a radical rejection of the "totalizing" theory of marxism, those marxists who encounter Foucault, Butler, Spivak, Said, etc. usually feel that they must mount a counter-defense for marxism. Especially since this post theoretical terrain, like marxism, often seeks to set itself up as a rejection of capitalism. So almost every year there's at least one marxist text devoted to attacking the Foucaults and Butlers of the world, generally in the hope of proving that these theorists are all secret liberals who have nothing important to say.
Clearly, when it comes to the revolutionary movements in the global peripheries––to the radicalism of the world's most exploited and oppressed––the supposed radicalism of post-modernism/post-colonialism is generally unknown and definitely non-influential. An Indian peasant that is part of the Naxal rebellion could care less for these theorists who, unlike so many marxists, have nothing to say to the wretched of the earth and whose theory will never resonate with the masses in whose name they often claim to speak. Even those committed to a post-modern politics must be forced to admit that the most revolutionary movements have never found marxism as eurocentric as the post-colonialists (whose ideas, by-the-by, can be traced back to arch-eurocentrists like Nietzsche) imagine; perhaps to Spivak's horror, the subaltern's embrace of marxism can be seen as some sort of totalizing move on the part of devious communist intellectuals… But the fact remains that these intellectuals are often embedded in the masses whereas those who take issue with this fact are making conjectures from the standpoint of academia.
Point being whereas the supposed "totalizing" theory of marxism has always inspired revolutionary action, the radicalism of post theory––with its over-reliance on jargon, reified categories, and intentional opaqueness––generally resonates only with academics. By the same token, however, the academic marxist rejections of this very same theoretical terrain also resonates primarily with academics. For if the masses aren't reading Foucault, then they sure as hell aren't reading the latest rejection marxist critique of Foucault. (Just as, to be entirely honest, the masses aren't reading this blog!)
None of this is to say that theoretical engagements with post-modernism/post-colonialism aren't useful. More importantly, none of this is to say that this terrain of post theory––despite its alienation from the masses and philosophical limitations––also isn't useful.
Indeed, as much as I think that it is important to wage ideological struggle against theory that I consider to be ultimately idealist, I also think that a lot of marxist engagements with this post theory are thoroughly flawed in that they are dismissive and that they generally misread and straw-person the object of critique. I would rather read Foucault than some random-academic-marxist-with-a-publishing-contract's asinine "critique" on something s/he was too lazy to read in a respectful manner: at least Foucault is a better writer than these second-stringer marxists; at least Foucault has something more interesting to say than "post-modernism is dumb cuz it en't marxism, dur hur hur."
Even worse is the fact that a lot of marxists read these critiques rather than reading the theory itself and then make the rest of us look like idiots when they talk about Foucault or Butler or Spivak or whoever based only on reading these terrible critiques rather than the theory itself. And then they, in turn, write their own critiques based on reading these previous flawed critiques… Foucault would be chuckling at this discursive process, folks!
|Michel "Uncle Fester" Foucault smirks at you.
As much as I have serious problems with the philosophical foundations of post-modernism/post-colonialism, I think it is worth admitting that this theory, despite its equally asinine critiques of marxism, is useful for marxists: some of the critiques of marxism's more orthodox aspects are insightful, some of the analyses of history (regardless of the flaw in method) can be imported into a historical materialist understanding of things, some of the critiques of eurocentrism are worth investigating, etc. Although we should challenge the philosophical foundations of this school of theory and uphold, if we are revolutionary communists, the living tradition that began with Marx and Engels, we should have nothing to fear from the challenges raised by post-modern/post-structuralist/post-colonial theory: the proof of marxism is in the unfolding of class struggle, the historical momentum of revolutions, and what we communists often refer to as science (which is to say that very "totalizing" theoretical approach) that proves theories like post-modernism to be as flawed when it comes to social and historical science as idealist and fragmented theories of nature are to natural science. Simply by dismissing these theorists entirely and not seeing how their ideas might challenge the historical process of marxist theory is not very dialectical––moreover, it's kind of like protesting so much that some people might think we have something to hide.
[Caveat: I don't think Homi Bhabha needs to be taken seriously. This is because I think his work is entirely useless, has nothing interesting to contribute to theory aside from jargonistic mystification, and is the perfect example of a theory that is radical in form but vapidly liberal in content. Seeing as he strives to be needlessly opaque, and once you reduce his opaqueness to properly translucent sentences you can realize he's not saying anything very interesting, Bhabha's essays are prolonged exercises in academic obscurantism. Considering that he only ever mentions "colonialism" and "imperialism" in the sense that they are indeed post––as if they are events that happened in the past rather than ongoing––it is no surprise that he is a liberal in practice and has endorsed imperialist interventions such as the invasion of Afghanistan. His introduction should be taken out of the current edition of The Wretched of the Earth so that Fanon can stop spinning in his grave.]
It is also worth pointing out that some of the marxist critics of post-modernism have a political praxis that is actually worse than the theorists they are attacking. Take Aijaz Ahmad, whose In Theory is actually a pretty good (aside from that terrible chapter on Said) engagement with post-colonial theory: whereas Arundhati Roy, who is closer to a post-modernism, is supporting the most revolutionary movement in India, Ahmad is a supporter of the Communist Party India (Marxist)––a party which really does deserve the term "social fascist"––that is actively engaged in supporting neo-liberalism and endorsing the slaughter of peasant revolutionaries. So while it may be true that no revolutionary praxis can be derived from post-modern theory, it is also true that some marxists will always have problems deriving revolutionary praxis from marxism.