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Again: on my supposed anti-intellectualism

Despite my (apparently failed) attempts to be nuanced, I still keep encountering complaints about my supposed anti-intellectualism.  Such complaints, which most probably ignore an old post I wrote about anti-intellectual Marxism, rely on those other posts I have written about the ways in which Marxist academics are able to resign themselves to capitalism, the petty-bourgeois nature of capitalist academia (particularly first world capitalist academia), and other similar problems.  Indeed, the first time I posted something about Marxist academics "selling out" and the way in which this "selling out" tends to happen, a popular leftist website––that shall remain unnamed so as to avoid a flame war––decided to inform me that I must not be aware of the casualization of academic labour, the supposed proletarianization of academics, and all the things that I knew better than the complainer because, unlike them, I was (and am) a casualized, contract academic labourer who has even participated in a strike based on this very issue… So what?  Casualized academic workers are still privileged, as long as they keep getting contracts, and the post in question, or any of my posts, weren't precisely about that problem in the first place.

Part of me suspects that the reason I keep stumbling upon complaints about my supposed anti-intellectualism is because my posts are challenging the political consciousness of those making the complaints.  I mean, it couldn't be because they don't read my qualification post critiquing anti-intellectualism that I back-link in every post critiquing academics/intellectuals, could it?  The internet left is filled with lazy readers, but still…

I think it needs to be said that if I was a dyed-in-the-wool marxist anti-intellectual I would be possessed by a severe and self-defeating self-hatred.  After all, despite coming to the realization that secure academic jobs were far less available than they were in the past, I persisted in struggling through academia to achieve my doctorate.  And in a Canadian context that, for some reason, possesses far more requirements than US or British academia (in Canadian universities we have to complete an MA first, comprehensives, and more course work, all on top of our final PhD dissertation) despite, for all that, making us proper competitors with our US and British counterparts even though they have often have less education.  The reason I kept up with this humiliating and depressing process, completing my dissertation on my broken-down computer in a lightless room of the slum I was living in at the time, was because I cared about what I was studying.  To be an actual anti-intellectual is to turn on all those years of mental anguish (some of which I refer to the "dim years" due to the poor lighting of the room and my computer screen), which I have no intention of doing.

None of this is to say that there are not academics who adopt this irrational anti-intellectualism as a point of political pride.  I mocked them in the aforelinked piece about anti-intellectualism because I don't know what the hell they're doing in academia when they persist on claiming that they are secretly "proletarian" and that their essential proletarian nature means that they are opposed to learning.  Really, if you're going to claim that being uneducated is a proletarian virtue, drop out of university and work in a factory.  I have always found it bitterly humorous that the most anti-intellectual marxists are those who are labouring as intellectuals.

If I have written a lot about the problem of political consciousness as it relates to intellectuals and academics, it is because I have been trying to make sense of the ways in which my own political consciousness has been, and can be, determined by my social being.  If I continue to return to this topic it is because it is a topic that has to do with my own circumstances, and the political choices I have experienced in these circumstances, and we should always begin by being critical with our own circumstances.  Rather than simply assuming we have a handle on class struggle because we study it––or because our family was "working class" or whatever––those of us who are academic marxists should work hard to think through the problematic of our class position now as academics, particularly our class consciousness.  Does this mean we dismiss academia and intellectual pursuits as "bourgeois"?  No, of course not.  But it does mean that we should work hard to be aware of how bourgeois academia affects our way of seeing the world––a way of seeing that is not defeated simply by professing a banal anti-intellectualism.

Still, some continue to complain that my critiques about academia are anti-intellectual.  I suspect this complaint is a knee-jerk reaction to the critique that academics will not necessarily be in positions of revolutionary leadership, as well as my claims about the necessity of re-education.  "This asshole is daring to critique our right to command radical action and thinks we should be re-educated and proletarianized!"  Well excuse me for thinking through the problematic of the division of mental and manual labour and the need to annihilate this distinction.  At least I'm aware that I'll be sent down to whatever metaphorical countryside exists in my social context, and ought to be sent down.  Sadly, and perhaps ironically, it took a serious amount of intellectual labour to think through this problematic.

Moreover, this charge of anti-intellectualism might have to do with my propensity to dismiss certain theorists as obscurantists and eclecticists.  If one was to be branded an anti-intellectual for this crime, however, then we might as well brand innumerable academics with the same name.  John Searle, for example, thought that Derrida's work was worthless and yet Searle remains a significant analytic philosopher who is not at all treated as an anti-intellectual.  So just because you don't like it when your favourite theorist is being dismissed due to the obscurantist and incoherent aspects of their theory doesn't mean that those who are doing the dismissing are anti-intellectuals––usually they happen to be intellectuals (because who else would bother to read this stuff) who think that the work in question should be dismissed for x reasons.  This often has nothing to do with how difficult a work is––and usually, at least in the humanities, a work's difficulty is asininely conflated with its intellectual quality––but about the work's coherence.  Theoretical physics requires a serious amount of intellectual know-how to comprehend but it is not obscurantist.

In any case, the problem is not that thinking and studying is "bourgeois" but, as I have consistently maintained, the accessibility to education.  Due to this problem of accessibility a certain level of class privilege can and will develop amongst those who are able to persist within academia, and this privilege will affect the ways in which he engage in social struggle.  My long-standing concern is about being wary and mindful of how we can be forced into positions of collaboration, disaffection, or resignation based on the consciousness that accrues within the ranks of even leftist intellectuals.  Simultaneously, and here is where the critique needs to be nuanced, we also have to be mindful of a knee-jerk anti-intellectualism that attempts to solve this problem by declaring all of higher education bourgeois and valorizing ignorance as radical.

Here it is important to note that it is the height of reactionary politics to perform such a valorization.  Open and rampant anti-intellectualism defines the neo-fascism of the US religious right and other extreme conservative ideologues.  "Those liberals with their book-learning," is the complaint of every right-wing apparatchik that wants to keep people from reading and making sense of the society in which they live.  Due to this discourse, I always have a visceral reaction to those marxist groups that adopt a similar anti-intellectualism.

I mean, seriously, do we really want to be confused with these people?

To return to the issue at hand, the fact that I keep returning to this problematic, re-emphasizing certain aspects or looking at it from different angles, is because, as aforementioned, it relates directly to my lived experience.  Everyone should critically think through the questions of social being and social consciousness according to their lived experience, thinking through the problems presented to them by the everyday activities that allow them to put food on the table, pay their bills, and reproduce the terms of their existence.

Furthermore, I'm of the opinion that marxist intellectuals have even more of a responsibility to think through their social position since, if they actually care about what they study then they should be led to think of how their intellectual labour can be operationalized in class struggle rather than simply accept that they are going to spend their lives in debates with other marxist intellectuals.  It is not an "anti-intellectual" move to complain about the academic echo-chamber of marxist scholarship: the complaint is not that such scholarship exists, or that it isn't important, but that it needs to somehow communicate to concrete class struggle.  In truth, this is the most intellectual argument one can make as a marxist: how do we make every proletarian also a marxist scholar, or how do we make every proletarian also an academic of any type?  Mass education, mass art, mass critical thinking, mass academia… So that the division between mental and manual labour is finally abolished and, in this abolishment, there is no privilege in being an intellectual because such intellectualism is immanent.


  1. I don't see how anyone who has read your blog could think you are anti-intellectual, but the internet does not make for close reading. for a start, it hurts the eyes, and people tend to read quickly an article, and not thoroughly.
    you are absolutely right, of course. however, it seems to me that almost all contemporary philosophy is written for other philosophers and academics who go to conferences and read and write journal articles etc. and Marxism is, viewed in academic terms, not any different from say,any other subject. I mean, if you look at ethics journals, and the different positions, ie moral realism, consequentialism,, virtue ethics etc, it is obvious from those journals that they are not interested in writing for a general educated reader, nor in reforming morals, but are writing simply for other people working in this field. I guess it is largely the same for Marxism, it is just another subject of study, for other specialists to read and react to. when this is pointed out, however, there is a tendency to dismiss the critic as 'anti-intellectual'. indeed, with a lot, if not the majority of academic product, i do not see why anyone ought to read this stuff unless they are studying it and they have to read it. if there were mass communist parties as in the past, perhaps it wouldn't be like this. but it seems that is how it is for the moment.

  2. Hi,

    Is it possible for you to change your blog theme so that is able to archive it? Something without all the silly dynamic javascript nonsense.

    1. The only reason I have it on this theme is because the other blogger themes look like crap. The fact is that I should have started this blog, way back, on wordpress. If you change the drop down menu on the left hand of the pages bar to "classic" would that help? I'll try to comb through the themes again and see if there's something that looks halfway decent. Unfortunately, last time I checked they were all still shitty looking.

    2. It's not so much the appearance -- though that's certainly a factor -- it's that the javascript and the dynamic nature of it flies in the face of web standards and interoperability. It's incredibly hard to interact with. The pages don't load like a normal website.

      This is an archive of this post:

      Your blog serves a skeleton "web page", which makes the user's browser run some code to load the actual content in-place.

      Anyway, I'm sorry if this feels like I'm complaining or feeling ungrateful or something. I don't know. Your blog content is totally awesome and I love it, even if I have my gripes with the way it's served! I think I have you to blame, in very large part, for getting me started on Maoism.


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