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Paper Marxists

Now that my unit has egregiously ratified a shite contract and left us in a position, come next Monday, of either crossing the picket lines of our own union or getting fired, I feel it's time to reflect yet again on the phenomenon of "paper marxists."  By this I mean those marxist academics whose entire career is built on papers and books about marxist theory but who, in practice, are often the most rank opportunists.  And since it is ultimately practice that matters for marxism, and not just a fucking career built out of published papers and books, paper marxists are about as marxist as carob is chocolate.  Except that I like carob and I don't like these pseudo-marxists.

Okay, maybe it's not entirely accurate to use the term "pseudo-marxist" here.  After all, I don't want to be accused of engaging in the "no true scotsman" fallacy (but screw all these random fallacies that are supposedly laws of proper thought!), so let me rephrase: these paper marxists are the kind of marxists that would make Eduard Bernstein and the renegade Kautsky proud.  Indeed, some of the arguments they make are similar, or at least the practices in which they engage, are similar to those made by the leading lights of the Second International: collaboration with the ruling class, social peace with capital, neo-reformism.

I have to say that I was somewhat shocked when a self-proclaimed marxist in my department chose to give the finger to the union as a whole and openly defend ratification.  He even justified his decision on a microphone at a mass meeting where the membership was attacking the backwards leadership, defending said leadership's collaboration with the employer!  Worse, he accused the membership as a whole of being "fascist" for openly attacking the executive… What a wonderful marxist analysis of fascism: fascism is anything that is not liberalism!  While a proper marxist analysis would be to question the economist limits of trade unionism, to point out the contradictions of a union that is also an academic union, and to maybe explore the gap between trade union and revolutionary consciousness, these paper marxists can't even figure out what the lowest commitment to trade union consciousness means.  If they can't do that, then they have fallen far, far below the standard of revolutionary consciousness; whatever they have to say about marxism and revolution should be dismissed out of hand.

Obviously it's not a revolutionary situation on the picket lines, despite what some academic anarchists might think.  When you get some rank-and-filers complaining about the political content of our propaganda then you know you're dealing with a context that is definitely not determined by the hard core of the proletariat (not that you needed this as evidence in the first place).  Which is why those so-called "marxists" who think that this kind of labour disruption is "going too far" are so far beneath the bar of anything that counts as revolutionary.  If you think this kind of labour disruption is ultra-leftist then what are you going to do when there's an actual insurgency?  Probably call it fascist just because it threatens you!  Really, this is the only way you can justify your decision to ignore the lowest level of resistance against capitalism: an extremely low-level resistance that is embedded in legalism and economism, that is curtailed within a discourse of academic respectability, falls far short of anything that qualifies as "ultra-leftism"––but hey, if this is the excuse you're going to use to justify your reasons for doing nothing, then go for it!

Some tenured marxist academics are even worse.  These are people who have made a career out of writing marxist theory and are just as liberal, and sometimes more so, then their post-modern counterparts.  Sometimes they're so bad that they've been lampooned in web comics!  Yeah, a marxist academic yelling at student activists to "shut up" is super marxist!

One wonders why these paper marxists even bother to define themselves as marxists.  Probably because marxist theory is all they know and, refusing to accept what it means for them politically, their only academic clout comes from talking about what they will never endorse in practice.  Paper marxists will thus never produce anything interesting because their entire existence is opposed to the intention of marxism.  It's like being a biologist who thinks it's acceptable to wallow in the era of Darwin and ignore all of the developments since the theory of natural selection––except worse because it means the betrayal of actual people.

When I'm getting called "ultra-left" for simply occupying a position that was traditionally left not too long ago––by marxists whose idea of leftism is voting for the NDP, calling devoted unionists "strike happy", or getting annoyed by student activists––then I have to wonder at these peoples' understanding of revolutionary politics.  For an opportunist, as I have noted before, everything that is not-opportunistic will be dismissed as "ultra-left"… but I bet it feels good to have a nice marxist-sounding phrase to defend your liberalism.


  1. Interesting post as usual.
    this is the reason why i brought up the issue of ethics and morality. you have put it better than i could.
    you accuse another of being a 'paper marxist', which is equivalent to being a 'fake' 'phoney' etc this is a moral claim of outrage, which in reality you have no right to express.
    if marxism is a science, then there is nothing to be outraged if individuals act according to their own class positions and interests. middle class academics with tenure will act according to their interests, whether or not they are marxist, it seems to me. the thing that might stop people from acting to their interests is precisely morality, ethics. but this is what marxism as a science doesn't really have.

    what i'm asking is what basis do you have to call someone else a fake marxist if it is not a moral basis? your post is obviously angry and precisely full of moral outrage.

    you also seem to refer to a kind of 'essentialist' marxism. to which one adheres to and is a true marxist, or does not adhere to and pretends, and is really a liberal masquerading as a marxist. but, as Derrida and others suggest, there is precisely no ONE marxism, an essential marxism, to which you or anyone else can point to and which the 'paper marxist' has deviated from.

    Je ne suis pas un marxiste! - karl marx.

    1. All of my responses provide an answer to this question, particularly my last one on the last post. At this point you really are just trolling… in point of fact, you can't even read properly.

      I began with the "not a real marxist", then pointed out that yes they are the kind of marxist that Bernstein was.

      As for an "essentialist" marxism, this is a ludicrous claim. Any concept can be anything you want it to be just because? Theoretical bodies do not have something that makes them what they are? If this is the case then there is no point about talking even about the differences between capitalism and non-capitalism. The point I made about marxism, if it is to be what it intended to be, is not that it is not open to the future and develops, but that it has always been about class struggle. If you aren't interested in that, and think writing papers is the only thing that qualifies as marxist, then you're kind of missing the point.

      As you are. So far the majority of your posts have lacked substance, have failed to respond to any of my responses, and have reasserted your original position over and over without taking into account anything I've said. (Did you even read my last comment on that string about ethics? Or the other things I said about how it does produce an ethics and certain ethical commitments? Or was that just another anonymous?) They also demonstrate a significant lack of understanding of the development of marxist theory, or anything I've written on this blog before. Finally, they have nothing to do with the posts: they are the equivalent of red herring arguments.

      All-in-all this is trolling. Empty rhetoric, the equivalent of which I used to see on the list serve of my union unit by people trying to provide justification for their pathetic understanding of solidarity. If that's what you're trying to do here, go back to your opportunist realm of inactivity. If your problem is that you have your own axe to grind and can't read, then find another blog to troll. I have low tolerance for this kind of one-dimensional thinking.

  2. I have a question unrelated to the current topic- I've heard that the PCR-RCP was planning on producing a book on the universality of protracted people's war a while back; is this still in the works?

  3. would you call Syriza paper marxists?

    1. Question doesn't apply. Syria as a whole does not define itself as marxist, though there is a marxist caucus. And those marxists involved, whatever debate we might have about the project's efficacy, are engaged in praxis that is much more radical than


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