George Walford: Reader Wanted

In TLS 5 Sept 86 John Gray reviews Marxism by J. G. Merquior. (Paladin paperback, £3.95). Gray starts off fireworks, describing this body of literature as a treasury of the absurd. He instances Lukacs saying the Kronstadt rebels were serving the bourgeoisie and Althusser blaming the Stalin regime for an excess of humanism. He almost despairs of finding a historian capable of doing justice to the material, but decides that Merquior is up to the job and gives the conclusion reached in his “invaluable” study:

Now that its creative period seems spent, Western Marxism is about to become a mild form of institutionalised counter-culture – the drab, jargon-ridden and highly ritualistic romanticism of the don in the land of humanities dutifully embattled against the drift of modern society.

If Merquior is right then Marxism, despite its opposition to Christianity, is following in the steps of its predecessor; that paragraph could well be a description of the present position of this religion in Europe. There is nothing in Marxism that can explain this, but it is completely in line with the ideological structure presented by s.i. As Marxism has ceased to be the preserve of an excluded minority and moved towards academic acceptance so it has lost its revolutionary quality. As revolutionary theory comes closer to the general body of the people it is not the theory that affects the people but rather the people that affect the theory. Since Marxism entered the universities in the ‘sixties the academics, most of them eidostatic, have been adapting it to fit their assumptions. If we may create a piece of jargon which is probably worse than any Merquior has in mind, they have been eido-staticising Marxism.

“If Merquior is right.” Our own reading list, in spite of constant overtime, gets farther ahead of us each week. Somebody else care to tackle this book and report back?

from Ideological Commentary 25, January 1987.