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Response to "Postmodernism Always Dines On Its Own Flesh"

Struggle Sessions' recent hatchet job on me, Postmodernism Always Dines On Its Own Flesh, is so bad, and such a terrible misrepresentation, that I have to wonder if the people behind these polemics actually read my work (beyond the odd quotes here and there) or if they're intentionally being dishonest. In the past I didn't think it was worth responding to them because I didn't want to feed the troll; dishonest criticism (whether intentionally or unintentionally) is always difficult to deal with because those behind it are usually interested in doubling down and repeating the same falsities regardless of what you say. But this time, since it was so bad, I felt it was worth making several interventions so as to correct the misrepresentations. That and they concluded the piece complaining that I hadn't responded to them so this will probably be my only direct response. I have no interest in a back and forth where I'll just be repeating my position over and over in the face of their reiteration of a misrepresentation. There's only so many times I can say: "no, I believe in Lenin's conception of the vanguard party in What Is To Be Done?" when they keep ignoring this claim and assert that I'm an "anti-Leninist".

The difficulty of responding to this piece is that it is all over the place, jumping from one point to another (some of which are not in the interview they're critiquing), and at many points are not dealing with I actually say in the interview but instead presuming that I'm saying something else beneath what is actually written. Hence I've chosen to confine this response to several points of misrepresentation and/or disagreement (because there are disagreements beneath the misrepresentations) so as to demonstrate how poorly they understand/represent my position(s).

1. The interview format

I want to begin here because the author, at various points, seems to think I could have had the chance to "correct" the interviewer on various points of difference between MLM and his position. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what the medium of an interview is in the context of a magazine like The New Inquiry (referred to disparagingly as a "hipster-left rag" by the author) that is not a Maoist, let alone communist, publication. First of all, the author of these types of interviews is the interviewer and their editor who choose to craft such interviews for their audience and for their reasons: guests are necessarily edited and those of us who choose to engage with such interviews know we are going to be edited and, as long as we aren't completely misquoted, often try to respect the vision of the interviewer whose worldview might not be identical to ours. Which is why I would never choose to be interviewed in a reactionary magazine, or any magazine that is expressly anti-communist, but I do think it is worthwhile to be interviewed by fellow travellers because I understand non-antagonistic contradictions and the importance of struggling––however limited this struggle is––in such contexts.

All of this is to say that the original interview resulted in a manuscript that was close to 13,000 words and contained many of the qualifications that Kavga, the author of the Struggle Sessions criticism, chastised me for not providing. But many of the questions were eliminated and many of my responses were edited down to fit within the required word count. Choices were made that were not my own, but I respected them because they were made by the interviewer who came up with the idea of the interview in the first place and the editors of The New Inquiry who know their audience. I assumed, which is a completely logical assumption, that those interested in my larger thoughts of the issues presented would read other work I have written on the same topic––work that, it should be noted, Kavga did not read based on how they read between the lines and invented positions I supposedly held.

2. "Post-modernism"

I find it quite amusing that Kavga thinks I am some kind of post-modernist considering that a large portion of my work to date has been a prolonged attack on post-modernism (and all forms of post-Marxism) so as to reassert precisely what post-modernism/post-structuralism despises: Marxism as revolutionary science. This is even more hilarious since Struggle Sessions published a critique of post-modernism that read like it was largely influenced by my critiques of post-modernism on my blog, in The Communist Necessity, and in several other essays I wrote.

Indeed, the title (postmodernism dines on its own flesh) is a reference to the author's complaint that I use a postmodernist to critique another postmodernist––that is, I use Spivak to critique Foucault––which is "a defense of postmodernism in Marxist dressing" and thus I am a "Trojan Horse" for postmodernism. This bizarre misreading doesn't seem to understand why I used Spivak: if there was a "Trojan Horse" it was aimed at those too engaged with Foucault for their own good. In fact, the main critiques of Foucault in this interview have nothing to do with the Spivak reference but Foucault's rejection of meta-historical approaches. I am well aware that Spivak ultimately is not a historical materialist (she wants to move instead to Derrida for crying out loud!) but I mentioned her critique of Foucault and Deleuze because: a) I was re-reading her at the time (because of a critique of post-colonialism I was working on); b) it was an odd instance where a broken clock was correct. The author needs to look no further than my very recent article This Ruthless Criticism of All That Exists to see what I think of Spivak's approach and those absorbed by such an approach.

Interestingly enough, though, Kavga cites a passage from an old blog post of mine, More On The Problem of Postmodernism, where I discuss the post-colonial dismissals of Marx as a European white male:
postmodernism, especially post-colonialism, has been quite critical of the discourse of, to put it in Spivak's terms, the discourse of "Europe and the Other"; some of its more polemical dismissals of marxism concern the fact that Marx was "a white European male"… And though Marx's historical specificity is something that historical materialists should also note (for it explains Marx's theoretical limitations while, at the same time, allows us to use Marx's method to critique his own short-comings), and though we should perhaps take some of these postmodern/post-colonial critiques seriously, we also cannot accept that the same eurocentric limitations do not apply to a theory that is mainly significant in eurocentric academia and is built on the same, supposedly flawed and suspicious, foundations of European specificity. 
They seem to think this is a valorization of identity politics, which is a very strange interpretation. All this passage is saying is that some post-colonialists might have had a point about Marx's European specificity but this doesn't really matter since historical materialism can account for this (and have accounted for this) and that, more importantly, postmodernism/post-colonialism cannot escape the same critique since it is based (as I noted in the following sentence) on the thinking of writers such as Nietzsche who were European chauvinists. This is called a reductio ad absurdum: an argument where you take your opponent's core commitments seriously and demonstrate that they are absurd. In any case, considering the point of this passage was actually a critique of Spivak's perspective and a rejection of the identity politics based on such a perspective (because such a politics was based on the same "european essence" Spivak and others claimed to reject), it is weird that it shows up in Kavga's criticism as some kind of evidence when it is anything but.

But if there's any confusion let me be clear… A perspective based on postmodernism or any form of post-Marxism is useless and ultimately contributes to counter-revolution. This does not mean we cannot use these grey eminences against each other, though, as any tactician in war will do with their enemies… Which is why I used Spivak against Foucault and why I will use Foucault against Derrida, all the while rejecting all of these perspectives. And again, my main points about postmodernism had nothing to do with the mention of Spivak. I am very aware that she is not a friend of Marxism which is also why I draw pretty clear lines between historical materialism and her approach in other work.

3. Althusser and Revisionism

Kavga claims that I move "on to a total conflation of Marxism and revisionism" by positioning "Althusser as the underdog hero to the villainy of CIA translated Foucault." They then remind the reader that the CIA "regularly translated revisionists as well." Aside from the fact that, at the time that the translation industry of Foucault existed the CIA was not regularly translating revisionists as well (and in fact there is no evidence that there is a CIA translation industry of revisionists, though I would like to see such evidence because I think it would be useful), this is a bizarre misreading of what I said in the interview. I did not position Althusser as an "underdog" but, in point of fact, I was simply repeating the facts stated by the Gabriel Rockhill article I was referencing which simply spoke of the CIA industry of Foucault in response to the popularity of Althusser and his students. All I said was that these theorists that CIA industry of Foucault was created to overwhelm were "grouped around Althusser", which is what the article I cited claimed, and thus was a bland empirical fact. Mountains out of anthills to be sure!

Otherwise, I am well aware that Althusser was ultimately a revisionist who could not escape his fidelity to the PCF. I have been quite open about this, and have publicly made this claim on more than one occasion, but this was beside the point of what I actually said in the interview and probably has more to do with the author's annoyance that I have elsewhere cared to use Althusser in a productive manner. Very well! I think Althusser is useful in some areas (particularly his understanding of philosophy's relationship to science) but I have also critiqued the limitations due to his revisionism. The fact that his students were anti-revisionists who took his understanding of Marxism as a science to its logical direction only to be betrayed by Althusser is telling. I also think it is important to use thinkers who have useful insights that challenge their own bourgeois and revisionist limitations––just as Marx and Engels thought that it was useful to draw from Hegel and Feuerbach. In any case, in my upcoming book (Demarcation and Demystification) I both use Althusser and critique his revisionist limitations, so I have nothing further to say here aside from the fact that it is a bizarre reading based on an empirical reference.

4. Attacks on Revolution Leaders

"In essence," writes Kavga, "JMP only plays lip service to Marxism, what is consistent is his attacks on revolutionary leaders while smuggling in postmodernist and revisionist thinkers. He attacks Lenin, Stalin, Gonzalo and more while defending Spivak, Zizek, Badiou, Althusser, etc." This is a completely weird and unsubstantiated charge. First of all, anyone who has read my work faithfully knows I despise Zizek, that I use Badiou and Althusser tactically while also seriously critiquing their foundations, and that I uphold the revolutionary leaders as the basis of revolutionary theory. There is no question that I think that Lenin, Stalin, Gonzalo, and other revolutionaries have more to contribute to revolutionary thought than these philosophers. I've gone out of my way in my writing to demonstrate how these philosophers are not part of the theoretical development of the revolutionary terrain but are only intervening, and often incorrectly!

Weirdly, Kavga claims I am "ramping up for an attack on the great Lenin" when I have done nothing of the sort. Yes the interviewer says something about "corruption" that is "endemic" to Leninism but this is nothing that I agree with and (as noted in the first point) I was in fact quite unequivocal about this notion of "corruption" which I think is complete garbage. I've never written anywhere that there is corruption, only a problem of the limitations of the monolithic form of the vanguard party that was transgressed in the Chinese Revolution.

5. Cults of personality

This issue does not show up in the interview but it is an issue that Kavga complains about. This is a very real disagreement: I don't like dogmatism. But Kavga complains about my view of "cults" and "brainwash" as if this anti-mass. Which is fucking hilarious because, in my opinion and the opinion of many other Maoists (including those Struggle Sessions have maligned despite celebrating when they were released from prison, i.e. Ajith), dogmatism has no place in Maoism.

Yes, I have heard the argument that the bourgeoisie also talks about personality cults but this is the same argument the RCP-USA has used for three decades when criticized for their cult of Avakian. Revisionists attack anti-revisionists for being in the same camp of capitalists when they charge China with imperialism but we know this is a garbage charge. But this revisionist defense of China is logically identical to the charge of personality cults. This might be the only meaningful disagreement in this critique of my interview.

6. The Party

Apparently I am opposed to the vanguard party, though such a position is not evident from the interview. All that is evident is that I've said that Mao's understanding of the party was an advance of Lenin's and Kavga complains because he thinks this conception of the party was understood by Lenin. But if this is Kavga's complaint then he is not a Maoist but only a Marxist-Leninist because there was no new understanding reached by Mao… And since Mao said this understanding was only "Marxism-Leninism" this must be the case! So just Mao Zedong Thought at the end of the day, and thus not a newer and higher stage that is Maoism, that we understand (following the PCP and following the RIM) now after the Chinese Revolution.

But of course there is no rupture, which means there are no stages, which means there is just Marxism without revolutionary developments. Which means that Lenin was wrong when he talked about scientific development as "breaks in continuity"… But let's just forget about that!

To be clear, this claim that I'm opposed to the vanguard party comes from an obsession with some quotations from Continuity and Rupture where I use the term "mass party" which, apparently, mean that I am devoted to the conception of the mass party rather than the vanguard party. Although I have already pointed out that this is a misreading based on the fact that I used the term "mass party" rhetorically (and maybe this was a bad use of rhetoric) to show that the Maoist vanguard party was superior for the masses to the so-called "mass party", this charge still lingers. Okay, whatever, read what I've written about Lenin's conception of the vanguard since then and understand why I uphold that over "mass party" conceptions––because I do.

In any case, it should be clear that I find this kind of trollish engagement with my work disappointing, inaccurate, and highly dishonest. I'm sure that, after I post this complaint, those responsible for these criticisms will double-down and repeat the same criticisms under different names. Which is sad because it demonstrates that they are functioning at the level of theology rather than science and I'm tired of Jesuit-like takes on Maoism when Maoism ought to be understood as a scientific terrain rather than a theological oubliette. What is funny is that I agree that revisionism is primary contradiction, but I simply think that those who are making these critiques are also revisionists––this conjuncture's dogmato-revisionists––whose problem is the failure to make a clear distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions.