Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Not quite so fiery as last week's skreed, but my favorite radical journalist with a Master of Divinty from Harvard, Chris Hedges, is at it again. From

How the Purge of True Dissent Has Starved Our Discourse

The silencing of radicals such as Davis, who had been a member of the Communist Party, although he had left it by the time he was investigated by HUAC, has left academics and intellectuals without the language, vocabulary of class war and analysis to critique the ideology of globalism, the savagery of unfettered capitalism and the ascendancy of the corporate state. And while the turmoil of the 1960s saw discontent sweep through student bodies with some occasional support from faculty, the focus was largely limited to issues of identity politics—feminism, anti-racism—and the anti-war movements.

The broader calls for socialism, the detailed Marxist critique of capitalism, the open rejection of the sanctity of markets, remained muted or unheard. Davis argues that not only did socialism and communism become outlaw terms, but once these were tagged as heresies, the right wing tried to make liberal, secular and pluralist outlaw terms as well. The result is an impoverishment of ideas and analysis at a moment when we desperately need radical voices to make sense of the corporate destruction of the global economy and the ecosystem. The “centrist” liberals manage to retain a voice in mainstream society because they pay homage to the marvels of corporate capitalism even as it disembowels the nation and the planet.


Let's just get this out of the way right now: I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. But I am definitely a communist sympathizer. That is, while I reject the vast majority of Karl Marx's prescriptions for dealing with the savage inequalities of capitalism, I wholeheartedly embrace his criticisms of capitalism, which are as timely today as they were a century and a half ago: I'm sympathetic to those who go all the way with Marxism if only because I think their hearts are in the right place, if not their heads.

But really, that's all beside the point. What concerns me here is Hedges' intriguing notion that American liberalism was dealt a crippling blow by
McCarthyism back in the middle of the twentieth century. If I'm understanding his thesis correctly, the blacklisting of supposed "Reds" in academia back in the fifties essentially lobotomized the liberal brain.

A potential problem with this point of view is my own experience. I learned the principles of Marxist criticism in college. Back in the early 90's, years after there weren't supposed to be any Marxists in the ivory tower, or at least, years after academic Marxists had learned to shut the fuck up about the revolution. I even knew a couple of Marxist professors at the University of Texas. One was in the film department and another taught French literature.

On the other hand, the guy who taught me Marxist film analysis did so by way of feminist film theory, which borrows heavily from the commies, and this guy was very definitely not a Marxist. And the two actual commies I knew fell into the STFU category: they didn't teach criticisms of capitalism; they taught film and French literature. So my "communist indoctrination," as it were, was kind of accidental. I wasn't supposed to take Marxist film theory into the broader culture and political landscape. I'm pretty sure most of my peers didn't even think of taking their new found theory approaches to anything outside of film. I mean, I'm weird. Of course I was going to go crazy with the communist stuff. Maybe a few others I didn't know went with me. But I think types like us are on the fringe.

In short, Hedges may very well be right. Right-wing psychos like the former 60s communist radical
David Horowitz would have us all believe that American universities are spawning grounds for communists like he was back in the day, but that just doesn't match my own personal experience at all. At the University of Texas back in the 80s and 90s, most students were white bourgeois kids who were far more interested in sex, alcohol, and getting a piece of paper called a degree that would get them into the suit and tie culture that would give them the good life. Same when I was at LSU just a few years ago. American college students are, for the most part, materialistic apolitical drones who just want to party and eventually emulate the lives of their well-off parents. And their professors cater to that view. No speeches about the oppressed proletariat. Nothing about "the revolution." If professors say anything with any left-wing tone to it, it's usually just an aside. It really does seem that the notion of all these radical professors turning our youth into communists is an intellectual construct, and I use the word "intellectual" very loosely.

I don't know that McCarthyism destroyed what would have been a lively prevailing leftist attitude on college campuses, but I do know that such a situation does not exist today in academia. I know that college students do not discuss the evils of capitalism. I know that college professors do not push the concept of an exploited working class.

I often wonder why liberal ideas are so off-the-radar in this country, and I've pondered many explanations, you know, the corporate controlled media, the bend-over-and-take-it Democratic Party, the brilliant and relentless right-wing propaganda machine. But could it be as simple as this? Is it possible that by denying the nation a vocabulary and intellectual structure conducive to thinking about capitalism from a dissident viewpoint, McCarthyism paved the way for neoliberalism's eventual triumph?

Hard to say, but Hedges usually has a point.