Wednesday, March 7, 2012

174 Art market and Jews - the Art Critics define the taste of the moment

(1) Art market and Jews - what's the fuss?
(2) Art market and Jews - the ethnic signature
(3) Art market and Jews - the Art Critics define the taste of the moment
(4) & (5) Political Correctness & Frankfurt School - but Jewish factor written out
(6) A Trotskyist rejoinder to the claim of Political Correctness

(1) Art market and Jews - what's the fuss?

From: mary rizzo <> Date: 27.11.2009 06:02 AM

I read the articles on the art world, and had a few thoughts to add on the topic. I have been involved in that "world" on quite a few levels for almost all my life. I have been an artist, a member of an artists' collective, I ran a small gallery with someone, I've been an art critic and still occasionally write about art, I've been an "expert" for auction houses and courts, I was a "buyer" for a corporate client, I've curated exhibitions in museums and designed educational programmes in art and for the past 21 years, I've been a professional art restorer. One of my degrees is in Art History. I've been "thinking about art" since that first "picture lady" brought a copy of a Van Gogh to my elementary school and then I got as a gift a board game with paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago, my local museum. It's always on my mind.

I must say that the situation that is depicted in the papers is almost comical. In my lifetime, I have seen the constant debate about the limits of culture and the presence of culture and whom it is directed towards - is it a consumer product like any other? (and if it isn't, if it is more than that, where exactly is it located in the importance it has in the lives of people?) This debate had one of its most interesting discourse moments when Pop Art burst on to the scene. It seemed to already "determine" what's pop, because it's "popular" ie, the masses understand it - or at least, they do not need to interpret it. It is in a way a cultural imposition, that particular "popular" art, and the question is, who imposes what upon whom? Pop already had a style that reflected the personal taste of the individual or the dynamism of a marketing graphic that could serve to "decorate" the environment where people don't usually have paintings on their walls, but are surrounded by aesthetic choices and come to identify with them as being attractive/appealing or not). It was a moment when art was brought off of a platform. Whether or not that was good or necessary is a question that one can analyse together with the analysis of the user, where art is often meant as "futile, superfluous and decorative", since what's now known as indigenous art has always been popular and always been with the people, but we are restricting ourselves to the West, and the West is almost always doing things for an economic reason, not a spiritual one, but it always wants to find permanence and meaning to anything people do or make. The history of "taste", which is now called the history of "trends" basically had an abrupt shake come to it when it was admitted that "modern taste" could be the simultaneous co-existence of a variety of trends. While in the 1800s, there was a dramatic change from the Academic type of representational, figurative art to the preference of those with "culture" towards more abstraction and dissociation - of brushstrokes, etc... one started to "see the hand of the artist", in the late 1900s, one could like one sort of art and also another. And more importantly, the patrons could support on the market one type more than another, but bear in mind, almost all those who were later to become fashionable were destitute in their own day. This has totally changed in contemporary art, where the artist expects to be successful in his lifetime--- because he is a protagonist, part of the art, and to appreciate with time once he or she has been established as part of the mechanism.

And this means two things, in my view: 1) the artist who is a protagonist within his own work does not produce "remains" but experiences, and therefore more of a commodity that lives in real time, so whatever is happening in the world (the art world included) will be contained in his art. Just like Disco Music is about dancing... it's not necessarily intended to be meaningful, but to be an experience, 2) No styles are really imposed but there is the possibility of freedom to accept or reject a model according to taste, which no longer was subject to a need to be representative of the dominant style. The market (which is where art is located while it is contemporary) allows everything. Thus, I can't see the real sense in defining "degenerate art" once again, whether or not the artists are Jewish, or their agents, because the point is, I don't think that anyone who is not that interested in "art" is going to know or care about Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, but those who are can see it and decide if the symbols in it are vulgar, offensive or deep and meaningful. I find it almost silly to ethnically classify art and artists and really just don't get the point. No one is being forced to look into Annie Spinkle's vagina, just like no one is forced into enjoying a realistic landscape painting. One can laugh at it actually, and that is what I do.

Again, the issues of porn/art/censorship are very important and it is good to discuss them, but the papers amused me more than shocked me.

I can't understand all the fuss, maybe.


(2) Art market and Jews - the ethnic signature

From: Joe Fallisi <> Date: 27.11.2009 10:03 PM

Dear Mary, your message/reply is quite "naïve" - better: it has the typical appearence of "naïve", starting from 0°, tabula rasa, very "American" actually... First of all the problem is the same definition of "art", its hystorical development, changes and (it's well possible to judge) horrible "evolution", of course together with and within all general hystory of mankind society. But in your "positive", "cherful" (I repeat, very "American") view all has the same, normal, "free" adequation to the Spirit of Time, as it's cultural obvious food: I Bronzi of Riace <> = the tinned shit of Mr Manzoni, La Gioconda <> = it's spectral clone of Mr Warhol... and so on... Secondly you seem to give no importance at all (WHY please?) to the ethnic so clear (and proudly  self-recognized by the way) "signature" of most of the so called "contemporary art" (the "art not-art", starting from Dada, from the "shocking performances" of Mr Sami Rosenstock, till the cathodic pee - a true video happening, wow!, isn't? - of Mr Larry David)... not even, probably, to the indeniable fact that (almost) all fields and domains of its international organisation-market are in very precise and jealous Shylockian hands. No, sorry. I cannot agree with you. AT ALL.

(3) Art market and Jews - the Art Critics define the taste of the moment

From: mary rizzo <>  Date: 27.11.2009 11:14 PM

Hi Joe, you are very wrong that I put it all on the same platter, as in giving it a subjective judgment as being "all good" in the vain search for objectivity. This is actually the contrary of what I do in my own profession, and what I was trained to do when I was a buyer, being able to "distinguish" and thus, put one object alongside another similar (in my mind) and evaluating which is the model... and then, how much is it worth and what is its true state. I am constantly asserting the "historical instance" over the "aesthetic one" (the two moments in the lifetime of a work of art) and this is a judgment call as an art restorer. That someone can call, for instance, Giotto and Martini "Primitives", as they are called by those (objectively great and intelligent historians) who then decided back in the 1950s to give the market push to the Renaissance has always made me laugh, but you see, this is the way the art world works: the critics define the taste of the moment and the museum buyers and collectors follow. That Damien Hirst is "worth more" than Lorenzo Lotto is indeed shocking and contrary to what I think is right, but then again, the museum that will buy Hirst probably does not house Lotto, and therefore, since they are not contemporaries, there is no true competition between them! Generally the one who listens to Giuseppe Verdi is not going to put Eminem on right after that, if it's even in the same collection, to stay with an argument you know more. But does that mean that Eminem should not do what he does for those who want to listen to him, and instead we should be trying to "educate" people into loving Verdi?

I am merely defining what the transitional nature of contemporary art is, which combines elements of the classic "taste" question (it's beautiful if I like it vs. it's good if people say it is) with the artist/public question and how that is played out in the market or in "exposure", which is the new market, the market for our 5 minutes of attention. "Taste" in modernity (and every epoch is modern in its own time) today allows the simultaneous "existence" of something and its opposite. One can choose to ignore it too and one can chose to take it in but give it no meaning or enormous meaning. Why is there a need for all of us to come to the same conclusions?

Recently there was a debate in the translations collective I am in, about a drawing by a very dear friend of mine and tireless activist for Palestine, Ben Heine, and his cartoon of a crucified Christ with a condom on his erection. He asked all us to help him fight the censorship that a site was imposing by blocking that art, and to do it, those with sites should post the piece up. Now, with a site like mine, the problem is not that I want to stop Ben from his work, to censor him, or that there is something I personally do not want to promote as a message, but I thought about the sensitivities of the public reading the site, many of them Christians who would feel that this was very shocking and offensive to them, not so much the condom, but the erection, because Jesus is considered a-sexual, and besides, it was a crucifixion. Just like I would not print the Danish cartoons, it would offend those who I do not want to offend. But does that mean that a crusade should be made against them, against Ben as well? I can understand that all of this debate makes us think, and that's good, but why push something when the parametres don't require it? Is Jackson Pollack going to change someone's life still? Maybe his action painting did affect people then, but remember, what was the term.. action, ie, a temporal experience, something that predated the video age, and looking at a Pollack painting surely isn't the same as watching him paint one.

The art market, by the way, has a lot less importance than it did, because of the reproducability of the artefact, and this is precisely why contemporary art has moved into the realm of the "experience". Are you now going to define what experiences are pure and what experiences are not? I would not go in that direction, unless we are talking about experiences that cause pain, humiliation or oppression to another, which are always to be condemned in my eyes.

Comment (Peter M.):

It remains true, nevertheless, that Jewish dominance of the Art Critic world is not culturally neutral, but expresses resentment - even malevolence - at Western Civilization in general and Christianity in particular.

Similarly the Jewish presence in Pornography in general and Hollywood in particular.

Is it not appropriate to publicize the Jewish connection?

(4) Political Correctness & Frankfurt School - but Jewish factor written out

From: Charles Krafft <> Date: 28.11.2009 12:18 PM

These are two very Politically Correct essays about the Frankfurt School. Why? Because neither mentions the fact that each of the founding members, without exception, was a Jew. The history the Frankfurt School proves the perniciousness of Marxism which George Steiner declared is just Judaism in a hurry. Neither of these self-censoring writers dare to point this out. The only way to stop the destructive work of the Judaisation of Western culture is with bacon. "A strip of bacon a day keeps the picklesnoots away."
is what my grandfather always said.    

(5) Political Correctness & Frankfurt School - but Jewish factor written out

From: Mark MacCuish <>  Date: 28.11.2009 06:59 PM

What an amazing article that was.  I was glued to the screen as I read it.  I always understood the subversive movement that occured in the West and America in particular, however I never gave it a name -- Cultural Marxism is dead on.

I did some research about all the names mentioned in this article -- if you want you can send this out to your readers as it sheds light on an interesting pattern: every single person mentioned was Jewish.

Erich Seligmann Fromm

Abraham Maslow

Karl Marx

Wilhelm Reich

György Lukács

Sigmund Freud

Leon Trotsky

Kurt Eisner

Emma Goldman

Betty Friedan

Rosa Luxemburg

Henryk Grossman

Bela Kun

Theodor W. Adorno

Max Horkheimer

Friedrich Pollock

(6) A Trotskyist rejoinder to the claim of Political Correctness

Issue 61 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Winter 1993 Copyright © International Socialism

The 'politically correct' controversy


The debate over Political Correctness has been going on in the United States for several years and it is to some extent already an issue in Britain. The tabloids are handling the question in their usual style. More 'serious' journalists such as Simon Hoggart and Melanie Phillips have also jumped on the anti-PC bandwagon. But what is PC? Despite the capital letters it is not an organisation, a campaign or even a movement. There are no recognised PC leaders, no official or even unofficial PC programme or manifesto. Nor is it even possible to identify key theoretical texts which exemplify the PC outlook. At most, perhaps, it could be described as a trend, a cultural phenomenon, a series of attitudes and practices which are an effect or residue of certain aspects of the movements for black, female and gay liberation. Indeed PC did not even name itself. The term 'politically correct' appears to have originated within the left. Paul Berman tells us that:

      'Politically Correct' was originally a phrase on the Leninist left to denote someone who steadfastly toed the party line. Then it evolved into 'PC', an ironic phrase among wised up leftists to denote someone whose line-toeing fervour was too much to bear. Only in connection with the PC debate itself did the phrase get picked up by people who had no fidelity to radicalism at all, but who relished the nasty syllables for their twist of irony.1

For this reason the analysis of PC is best approached by starting with its opponents on the right whose attacks have constructed it as a bogey.

In retrospect it is clear that an opening shot in the anti-PC campaign was fired by the right wing University of Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom with his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. This rather bizarre work, which denounced not only the student revolt of the 1960s and its consequences but also rock music, was dedicated to the proposition that universities and especially American universities were the 'home of reason' and the disinterested pursuit of truth until undermined by radical 'relativists'. Such an eccentric production contained too many hostages to fortune to launch a crusade but nonetheless met with extraordinary success--more than six months at the top of the New York Times best seller list.

      Bloom demonstrated to publishers and potential authors one thesis beyond doubt: it is possible to write an alarmist book about the state of higher education with a long winded title and make a great deal of money.2

Bloom was soon followed by educational journalist Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals: How Politics has Corrupted Our Higher Education and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus which rapidly became 'the bible of the anti-PC campaign3. ...

In a short article such as this it is obviously impossible to document or even summarise all the charges and arguments produced by this conservative campaign, but the essence of their case can be summed up fairly easily. It is that America's universities have been, or are in the process of being, taken over by a new alliance of radical faculty members (lecturers) and student activists who are destroying the hallowed traditions of American academia and higher education through their obsession with the politics of race and sex. The key weapons of the radicals are said to be affirmative action, ie positive efforts to recruit hitherto under-represented ethnic minority students (basically blacks and Hispanics) which is lowering academic standards, curriculum revision designed to attack the canon of Western civilisation and culture, and language codes prohibiting racial and sexual abuse which contravene the right to free speech. The effect of this leftist subversion is to transform the universities into citadels of totalitarian intolerance in which racial antagonisms are increased, honest academic inquiry inhibited and 'ordinary' students and 'moderate' or traditional staff members walk in fear of constant repression and harassment by PC fanatics.

Before dealing in detail with these specific issues, some of which present quite knotty problems, some general observations on the nature of the anti-PC campaign are in order. First it should be noted that in America the debate has focused primarily on the narrow terrain of the university, with only limited overspill into other areas (the schools, arts, etc). In Britain, a point I shall return to later, the key terrain for the PC battle seems likely to be elsewhere, for example the social services.

Second, the issue which in Britain seems most to have caught people's attention, namely euphemistic language reform (calling short people 'vertically challenged' etc) has only been one small aspect of the debate and not the one which has generated most heat. Far more important have been the fights over affirmative action and the literary heritage.

Third, while the anti-PC campaign was clearly launched by and has been dominated by right wing forces, in its latter stages it attracted at least qualified support from some surprising sources. I have already mentioned the erstwhile Marxist historian Eugene Genovese but others from the left, or at least left of centre, who have weighed in on the anti-PC side include Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice7, veteran social democrat Irving Howe8 and perhaps most surprising of all Edward Said, who as the author of Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism many would have identified as himself a PCer9. Paul Berman notes 'the way that certain liberals and old-school leftists joined the neo-conservatives in making several of the arguments as something new and perhaps quite significant, since previous debates tended to observe a chaste division of left and right'10.

At this point it is necessary to mention the intervention of Robert Hughes, author of the best selling history of modern art The Shock of the New and the art critic of Time magazine. In 1993 Hughes published Culture of Complaint--The Fraying of America, which in a number of ways is a quite distinctive contribution to the debate. Firstly Hughes broadens the focus from the university to American culture as a whole which he sees as having become an 'infantilized culture of complaint', a 'broken polity' polarised between the 'twin fetishes of victimhood and redemption'11. Secondly, unlike D'Souza and Co, he does not concentrate his attack exclusively on the left. Instead from a position of robust 'commonsense' liberalism he treats the politically correct of the left and the 'patriotically correct' of the right (the likes of Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Jessie Helms who dominated the pre-election Republican Convention of 1992) as mirror images of each other, twin descendants of America's witch hunting puritan past; and lambasts both with equal fervour. Thirdly, and this is also in contrast to most of the literature on the subject, Hughes writes with such gusto and panache that it is hard not to be beguiled by him even when one is in sharp political disagreement with a number of his arguments12. Nevertheless, despite these distinctions, it was inevitable, given the context and timing of its production, that Culture of Complaint would be received and taken up primarily as a blow against PC.

This then is the anti-PC line up: a formidable array comprising almost all strands of the American media stretching politically from the far right to the liberal left.

Bush's election defeat in 1992 took some of the wind out of the anti-PCers' sails. Bush's attempt to win re-election on the back of conservative cultural themes like 'family values' failed. But the potency of the issues on which the anti-PC campaign focused remains. In June 1993 President Bill Clinton withdrew his nomination of a liberal Black civil rights enforcement appointee following a conservative campaign that labelled her a 'quota queen'. And campus anti-feminists have recently taken to labelling women who speak out against date rape as 'sexually correct'.

The socialist response

A socialist response to the anti-PC campaign has to both analyse the debate as a whole, examining the social forces and politics involved on both sides, and also respond to a number of specific issues raised by the debate which present themselves as concrete practical questions in workplaces, colleges and elsewhere quite independently of our choosing. At the general level the most striking feature of the anti-PC campaign is the disproportion between its rhetoric and the enemy which it is attacking. Irving Kristol claimed in the Wall Street Journal that 'multiculturalism is as much a "war against the West" as Nazism and Stalinism ever were'13. George Will argued that the war against the politicisation of higher education was more important than the war against Iraq14, while one of the most common charges against PC has been that it is a new McCarthyism. Thus December 1990 Newsweek headlined its key PC article 'Is this the New Enlightenment or the New McCarthyism?' only to be echoed a few months later by Eugene Genovese: 'I fear that our conservative colleagues are today facing a new McCarthyism in some ways more effective and vicious than the old.'15 ...

Even Robert Hughes, though dissociating himself from Genovese's McCarthyism charge17 and other extravagant claims, is still prone to this exaggeration. It is a central weakness of Culture of Complaint that the book is premised on equating the two PCs, politically and patriotically correct, both morally and in terms of their significance. To imagine that Leonard Jeffries, Paula Rothenburg or the Black Faculty Caucus at the University of Texas18 are the equal of Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan or William Bennett (not to speak of Bush) in terms of status and power in American society is absurd. The error derives from Hughes' over-concentration on the cultural sphere to the exclusion of the economic. As a result he fails to see that 'the fraying of America' which he detects is far more the product of the ongoing crisis of US capitalism than of particular statements and attitudes of journalists, academics and politicians. Enthusiasm for his polemic also leads Hughes into rhetorical lapses of his own. When deploring pro-choice disruption of a Village Voice sponsored debate on abortion he immediately reaches for the imagery of fascism, 'the jackboot and the gag ...Brownshirt ranting'.19 ...

The great radical movements of the 1960s (and to be accurate, the early 1970s)--the black movement, the student revolt and the anti-war movement--fell apart in the mid-1970s, part crushed, part exhausted and part incorporated, but they left a legacy. Racism remained, of course, but the laws, the culture and the consciousness of mainstream America with regard to race were significantly changed. So too was the consciousness of black Americans--Malcolm X was killed but not forgotten. There was also the emergence of a substantial black middle class, as both price and condition of the defeat of black revolution. The women's movement and to a lesser extent the lesbian and gay movement had similar effects.

The universities were also changed. Mass student activism subsided but a generation of teachers who had lived through the 1960s, even if they themselves had not been activists or had moved to the right, could not simply return to the smug conservatism and stifling conformity of the 1950s. In the humanities and social sciences the old certainties of art for art's sake, cold war politics and functionalist sociology were no longer good enough even for 'moderates' and liberals. At the same time the combination of social change and affirmative action meant that the student population ceased to be virtually all white, which itself inevitably put new demands on the curriculum. For the right wing the campaign against PC is the intellectual equivalent of the invasions of Grenada and Panama. They see it as an opportunity to start turning the clock back to the imagined golden age of elitist higher education unsullied by the politics of race and sex.20

It is therefore clear that in the PC war socialists must in general side with the left and counter-attack against the right. In that sense we must defend PC. But what kind of defence should this be? One possibility is to take advantage of the distortions and exaggeration in the anti-PC campaign to enter a plea of not guilty, ie to argue that it is all a case of right wing hype and that nothing particularly radical or controversial is happening. This option is likely to be attractive to academics and professionals who, while well meaning and progressive, are not political activists and lack a worked out political perspective.21

Another possibility is aggressive support for PC and all its works: an approach which sees the PC fight as the latest frontline in the struggle against racism, sexism and homophobia and tends to assume that all opposition and criticism is simply a manifestation of covert bigotry flushed out by PC's iconoclastic attack on the assumptions of white Western civilisation.22 This response is perhaps most likely to be adopted by militant black nationalists and radical feminists.

However, for Marxists neither of these options is satisfactory. In the first place it is clear that the PC phenomenon does exist, if only on a limited scale and only as kind of cultural mood, so simple denial will not do. It is also a fact that some of the things done in the name of PC are, to put it charitably, simply silly. Consider the testimony of Edward Said. Said was presenting a paper based on aspects of his book Culture and Imperialism to an advanced historical studies seminar. Its theme was 'the emergence of a global consciousness in Western knowledge at the end of the 19th century', which he argued, coincides with a fully global imperial perspective:

      The first question after my brief resume was from a professor of history, a black woman of some eminence who had recently come to the university, but whose work was unfamiliar to me. She announced in advance that her question was to be hostile, 'a very hostile one in fact'. She then said something like the following: 'For the first 13 pages of your paper you talked about white European males, thereafter, on page 14 you mention some names of non-Europeans. How could you do such a thing?' I remonstrated somewhat. After all, I said, I was discussing European imperialism, which would not have been likely to include in its discourse the work of African-American women. I pointed out that in the book I say quite a bit about the response to imperialism all over the world ...[including] such writers as ...CLR James. To this my critic replied with a stupefying confidence that my answer was not satisfactory since CLR James was dead!23

That an academic of Said's standing and anti-Eurocentric credentials should be criticised in this way (as opposed to a number of other ways in which he could quite reasonably be criticised) and that he should be driven by PC zealots to public protest is a sign both that something is up and that something is wrong.

Of course socialists support and identify with all struggles against oppression and bigotry, and some PC activity, or activity which is attacked as PC, comes under this heading. But it is also possible for well intentioned (as well as not so well intentioned) anti-racists and anti-sexists to adopt strategies, tactics and positions that are ineffective or even counter-productive and when this happens socialists have a duty to criticise--without however lining up with the right.

The basic problem with PC derives ultimately from its social location. Essentially it is a middle class phenomenon, which is not to say that PC issues cannot arise within the working class movement, but its social roots lie in those sections of the left and of the black, women's and gay movements which have attained positions of relative comfort and authority within bourgeois society. Moreover at its heart PC is an attempt to use those positions of authority to impose anti-racism, anti-sexism and so on from above. In America, as we have seen, PC culture is concentrated in the universities (and in some of the most elite campuses), but it is not in the main associated with mass student revolt against the govemment or the university authorities, rather it is primarily an attempt to pressurise the authorities and even enlist them as allies.

... Despite all the talk of the 'rights' and 'empowerment' the main tactic of PC is to appeal to the consciences of 'the oppressors' on the basis of moral guilt. Hence the PC cult of victim status so excoriated by D'Souza and Hughes.26 Unfortunately it is far easier to guilt trip an idealist student or a liberal intellectual than the US ruling class. Guilt is also a very poor basis for fighting racism and other reactionary ideas in the working class. The mass of white workers will be won to anti-racism and unity with black workers through an understanding of their common class interest, not through guilt over the legacy of slavery (for which they were not responsible in the first place).

Therefore, while Marxists and socialists must start from a position of exposing the anti-PC witch hunters and defending PC against the right, the defence must be a highly critical one.  ...

Taking all these considerations into account, it is clear that 'freedom of speech' cannot legitimately be invoked to defeat or protect hate speech. Moreover socialists, whose whole aim is to unite the working class and fight all forms of oppression, have special reason to combat these disgusting and divisive terms. Therefore, in general terms, attempts to combat abusive language have to be defended. Once again, however, it cannot be an uncritical defence. Speech codes have a number of defects which socialists must not lose sight of. First there is the obvious point that outlawing certain expressions does not in itself change attitudes or ideas. Thus there is the fact that speech codes are normally drawn up and imposed by university administrators, rather than emerging from below, and consequently are bureaucratically operated. This in itself is likely to compromise and alienate the codes in the eyes of students by associating them with the rest of university's authority structure and disciplinary procedures.

There is also the danger that politically sophisticated right wingers will dance rings round any speech code while non-political and unsophisticated students may fall foul of it. This is especially likely if it is mechanically and pedantically applied. Such cases are then likely to be seized on by the right and the media to discredit anti-racism and antisexism as a whole.

Finally there is the likelihood that speech codes will be used against the left rather than the bigots. It is easy to imagine situations where calling scabs scabs or Nazis Nazis would become disciplinary offences. Selfa and Maass give an example from Harvard where a white Southern student was allowed to hang a Confederate flag in her dormitory while a black woman was required to remove a 'No Racism' banner bearing a swastika, and cite the University of Michigan where the authorities did nothing when right wingers destroyed shanty towns built by anti-apartheid and Palestinian activists but disciplined student journalists who criticised Israel.

For all these reasons the best strategy for student activists is not to rely on speech codes but to concentrate on mobilising students for collective struggles against racism, sexism and homophobia. If this is done the social pressure of student opinion will be far more effective than codes in discouraging hate speech.

Language reform

It is through its attempts to promote language reform that PC, certainly in this country, has gained its greatest notoriety and been subject to the most ridicule (though as we noted earlier this has not been its most controversial aspect in America). Language reform is related to the attempt to outlaw hate speech but is also distinct from it. All the main terms of racist, sexist and homophobic abuse are well known parts of everyday speech and their insulting nature is commonly acknowledged. Also they all have perfectly straightforward non-offensive alternatives already in common use. Eliminating hate speech therefore involves little more than omitting certain deliberately derogatory and offensive expressions.

In contrast language reform involves discovering pejorative or oppressive meanings in words or expressions where none was previously acknowledged and attempting to replace them with new, often artificially created, words and expressions. At the same time even the strongest supporters of PC have not generally tried to make use of these neologisms a disciplinary matter (though doubtless there is an exception somewhere). Rather the attempt is to reform the language through example, moral pressure and sometimes administrative measures.

Language has of course always been a political issue and political struggles have always involved battles over language. In the Reformation the translation of the Bible into common language was a political question. The suppression of native languages by conquerors--a common practice ranging from the banning of Gaelic in the Highlands to the prohibition of Kurdish in Turkey--has always been a political question. Forms of address, sensitive indicators of social rank, have always been political. In The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky indicted the Stalinist bureaucrats for their habitual use of the second person singular with subordinates and workers. 'How can they fail to remember', he asks, 'that one of the most popular revolutionary slogans in Tsarist Russia was the demand for the abolition of the use of the second person singular by bosses in addressing their subordinates'.36 Revolutions in thought have introduced new terms and concepts which are important to the new way of understanding the world but which at first may seem strange or obscure. It makes a difference whether we speak of the 'creation' or the 'evolution' of the species, whether we call modern society 'industrial' or 'capitalist', whether we demand a 'people's state' or a 'workers' state'. Revolutions in practice have always led to the renaming of cities and streets, to calling people citizen or comrade instead of sir or master and to the popularisation of new words. Here is Trotsky again:

      Notice with what sensibility the languages of civilised nations have distinguished two epochs in the development of Russia. The culture of the nobility brought into world currency such barbarisms as Tsar, Cossack, pogrom, nagaika. You know these words and what they mean. The October Revolution introduced into the language of the world such words as Bolshevik, Soviet, Kholketz, Gosplan, Piatiletka. Here practical linguistics holds its historical supreme court.37 ...

The most fruitful sources of positive linguistic change in recent times have undoubtedly been the black movement, the women's movement and the gay movement. The shift from 'coloured' or 'Negro' to 'black' that took place in the 1960s both reflected and signified a great step forward in pride and self assertion. The appropriation of 'gay' was also obviously a progressive step since all that existed before was the clinical (and usually pejorative) 'homosexual' or hate speech, and gay has won very widespread acceptance. 'Homophobia' was also useful as the appropriate naming of a specific bigotry. 'Sexism' contributed by the women's movement, which has generally replaced the more clumsy 'male chauvinism' (also contributed by the women's movement) has served the same purpose as homophobia and has also achieved widespread use. ...

The problem underlying many of the recent PC efforts has been that these real mass movements have receded, leaving a layer of intellectuals stranded in academic or cultural ghettos trying to continue the struggle by purely verbal means and falling over themselves to find linguistic wrongs to be linguistically righted.

The social condition has been reinforced by two other influences which are, at bottom, expressions of the same situation. The first is French philosophy and social theory, deriving from the work of Sansurre, namely structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, postmodernism et al.39 This has led to a pervasive and deep seated philosophical idealism according to which (reversing Marx) social consciousness determines social being and language determines social consciousness. A good example of the kind of thinking this has produced is provided by Dale Spender whose book Man Made Language has been influential in the language reform project: 'A patriarchal society is based on the belief that male is the superior sex and many of the social institutions and much social practice is organised to reflect this belief.'40 Note that here society, institutions and social practice are all based on 'belief'. Where this belief comes from is not explained. This has led to claims that language as a whole is male created and male controlled.

These claims are as plainly and simply false as the idea that the human mind created the physical world or that humanity has suffered lamentably from the idea of gravity.41 While some men (essentially ruling class men) can exercise a disproportionate influence on some parts of language and some of its meanings, language as a whole is no more controlled by men as a whole than is the world economy or world culture. It is in the nature of language that it evolves historically through human practice--which includes, albeit in subordinate roles, the practice of women, children, blacks, Jews and everyone else in society.42

While it is true that the development of language gave an enormous boost to the development of consciousness and thought, and that the nature of language exercises an important influence on what is thought and what is 'thinkable', it cannot be true that there is no consciousness or thought prior to language or animals would be unable to hunt, cats would not find their way home, chimps could not engage in elementary tool use and babies would not be able to learn language. Nor is it true that language constructs or determines consciousness from nothing. If it were, the project of language reform would itself be inconceivable. There is an ongoing complex interaction between external material conditions, physical and psychological human needs, human social relations and human thought and language. Within this interaction social being--the combination of circumstances, needs and social relations--remains primary.

The development of language is tied to the development of society, reflecting the contradiction and conflict at the root of society, not just the views of the ruling class and their academic followers. ...

Western culture and the canon

Of all the issues arising in the PC debate in America it is the struggle between the defenders of Western culture and the proponents of multiculturalism which has probably generated most heat. The European and the North American bourgeoisie has invested a great deal--financially, politically, intellectually--in its particular view of history and culture. This view depicts the 'rise of civilisation' as a more or less linear process beginning in the Middle East (temporarily annexed to Europe for those purposes) and running through Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment to present day Western democracy. It depicts all, or almost all, the highest philosophical, scientific and artistic achievements (Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Mozart, Goethe, Kant, Einstein etc) as lying within this tradition. Until recently this world historical picture has permeated and dominated all education in the West; indeed it remains overwhelmingly dominant to this day. At present, however, it is facing a challenge from within American universities--a challenge mounted in the name of multiculturalism.

This debate has raised a host of issues ranging from the status of scientific knowledge to the origins of Ancient American civilisation--enough to fill volumes with many of the individual controversies requiring specialist knowledge in their own right. All I shall attempt to do here is to offer a brief summary of the multiculturalist case and the outline of the Marxist response to the issue as a whole. The main charges levelled at the canon of Western civilisation are as follows:

1. That this form of education is inappropriate for a multicultural society and a multicultural student body--it assumes a single, more or less homogenous dominant culture and fails to meet the needs of minority students (for role models, sense of identity, self esteem and so on).
 2. That this Western tradition is not only inappropriate but false. That its profound Eurocentric bias has distorted the true picture of human development, excluding, downgrading and trivialising the contributions of non-white, non-European cultures.
3. That the Western tradition as a whole has been imperialist, racist, 'classist', sexist, homophobic and so on.
4. That all, or virtually all, the individual products of this tradition are permeated or at least tainted with racism, sexism and other reactionary ideologies.

On the basis of these charges the conclusions are drawn that both the canon and the curriculum are in a drastic need of revision; that the Western tradition and all its works must be criticised in such a way as to expose its inherent oppressiveness and, if not ousted altogether, at least removed from the centre of the stage and placed on an equal footing with other cultural traditions; that the study of DWEMs (Dead White European Males) must give way, at least partly, to the study of work produced by the oppressed. ...

In the 20th century the United States has been the premier capitalist country and its culture is inevitably saturated with capitalist values yet American culture also includes Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Chaplin's Modern Times, Ginsberg's Howl and the songs of Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie and that is without mentioning the black contribution. {the first 3 are Jewish}

Therefore any simplistic rejection either of Western culture as a whole or of individual writers or artists on the grounds of their colour, ethnicity, gender or class is foolish in the extreme.

For Marxists this aspect of the PC debate has a familiar ring, for a similar tendency making similar mistakes arose within our own tradition after the Russian Revolution. Proletcult, the movement for proletarian culture, took its stand on the ground of class, not race or gender, but it fell into the same grandiose rejection of past culture, the same oversimplification of the relation between politics and art and the same illusions that a new culture could be generated by dogmatic prescription. At the time the foremost Marxist theoreticians, Lenin and Trotsky, firmly rebutted these exaggerated claims and explained that a revolutionary attitude to 'Western'--ie bourgeois--culture meant not throwing it in the dustbin but a long struggle to appropriate its achievements for the benefit of all the exploited and oppressed who have hitherto been denied them.47 ...


   1  P Berman (ed), Debating PC: The Debate over Political Correctness on College Campuses (New York, 1992), p5. This combines a collection of articles from across the US political spectrum, including pieces by Edward Said, Irving Howe, Stanley Fish, Dinesh D'Souza, and Barbara Ehrenreich. It is therefore an essential source for the debate as it happened in the US.
   2. J Searle, 'The Storm over the University', ibid, p86.
   3.  L Selfa and A Maass, PC: What's Behind the Attack on Politically Correct? (Chicago, 1991), p5.
   4. D D'Souza, Illiberal Education (New York, 1991), p251.
   5. 'With admirable restraint and civility, D'Souza has written an informative account that provides a rare combination of tough-minded analysis, principled judgements, thoughtful proposals and a humane solidarity'. E Genovese, former Marxist and author of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, quoted on the dust jacket of Illiberal Education.
   6. Quoted in L Selfa and A Maass, op cit, p2.
   7. See N Hentoff, '"Speech Codes" on the campus and Problems of Free Speech', in Debating PC, op cit, p2.
   8. See I Howe, 'The Value of Canon', in ibid.
   9. See E Said, 'The Politics of Knowledge', in ibid. Said also appeared on a late night TV discussion programme chaired by Christopher Hitchens in which he was billed and spoke as an opponent of PC.
  10. P Berman, ibid, p5.
  11. R Hughes, Culture of Complaint--The Fraying of America (New York, 1993), pll.
  12. My guess is that such stylistic seduction was responsible for the relatively uncritical review of Hughes' book that appeared in Socialist Review (July/August, 1993).
  13. I Kristol, 'The Tragedy of Multiculturalism', Wall Street Journal, 31 July 1991.
  14. See L Selfa and A Maass, op cit, p3.
  15. E Genovese, 'Heresy Yes--Sensitivity No', New Republic, 15 April 1991, p30.
  16. 'Faulty Attitudes and Characteristics: Results of a 1989-90 Survey', Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 May 1991, A16-A17, cited in L Selfa, op cit, p9.
  17. See R Hughes, op cit, p56.
  18. Jeffries is the Afrocentrist author of the theory of Ice people (whites) and Sun people (blacks), Rothenburg is the author of a textbook, Racism and Sexism: An Integrated Study and professor of philosophy and women's studies at William Paterson College of New Jersey. The Black Faculty Caucus was in a dispute about 'multiculturalism' at the University of Texas in 1990.
  19. R Hughes, op cit, p16.
  20. This may be an accurate characterisation of the anti-PC campaign as a whole, which has been dominated by the right, but it obviously does not fit someone like Hughes who makes clear his commitment to what he sees as a non-PC multiculturalism and anti-racism. The problem with Hughes is that he takes the very real gains of the 1960s for granted and fails to appreciate the extent to which they were won through struggle, including methods that were extreme or revolutionary. It is this classical liberal error of failing to understand that the cultural and intellectual climate depends not only on rational argument but also on the clash of real social forces, which leads him to write a book which, whatever his intentions, lends aid and comfort to the reactionaries.
  21. One example of this approach is M Berbe, 'Public Image Limited: Political Correctness and the Media Big Lie' in Debating PC, op cit. Berbe knocks a lot of spots off Messrs Bloom, Kimball and D'Souza but essentially his article does not go beyond being a defence of 'young faculty members' against media misrepresentation. Another is P Rothenburg, 'Critics of Attempts to Democratise the Curriculum are waging a Campaign to Misrepresent the Work of Responsible Professors', ibid.
  22. See for example M K Asante, 'Multiculturalism: An Exchange', ibid.
  23. E Said, ibid, pp173-174.
  24. B Ehrenreich, 'The Challenge for the Left', ibid, p335.
  25. The term 'classism' is among the least happy of the PC inventions with its tendency to reduce the material relationship of class exploitation to a mere ideological phenomenon of class prejudice, ie snobbery (a tendency put forward by the bourgeoisie and its apologists including, of course, John Major). It is therefore a theoretical step backwards from the concept of class as such and particularly from 'class struggle'. It should be noted that, whereas socialists oppose racism and sexism, we support classism in the sense of supporting class consciousness and class struggle.
  26. D'Souza repeatedly attacks what he calls 'the victims revolution on campus', but the reality is not revolution but pressure for reform.
  27. R Polenberg, One Nation Divisible: Class, Race and Ethnicity in the United States since 1938 (New York, 1980), p271.
  28. Between 1970 and 1977 'the number of black students had more than doubled', ibid, p276.
  29. 'In 1975, 32 percent of black high school graduates enrolled in institutions of higher learning. In 1988, 28.1 percent of black high school graduates did. During the same period, the white enrolment level increased from 32.4 to 38.1 percent'. L Selfa and A Maass, op cit, p12.
  30. D D'Souza, op cit, p51. Conservatives like D'Souza use Asian academic 'overachievement' to claim that racism is no barrier to those with the 'right' values and dedication to hard work--both of which are assumed to be 'Asian' cultural traits. In fact, Asian achievement is a function of class. Unlike other racial minorities in the US (ie Blacks and Latinos), the Asian population is a heavily middle class population, owing to US immigration policies which favoured middle class Asian immigrants over working class Asians.
      The 1990 US Census showed that four of 10 Asian families earn more than $50,000 annually and that a similar percentage (39 percent) of Asians 25 years and older have four or more years of college education. Two-thirds of Asian voters voted for Bush in the 1992 election.
      In fact, the University of California admits Asians at a rate of more than three times their representation in Californian high school graduating classes--more than twice the rate at which it admits Latinos. See A Hacker, 'Affirmative Action: The New Look', New York Review of Books, October 12, 1989, pp63-65.
  31. See L Selfa and A Maass, op cit, p10.
  32. The extent of white dominance of American universities in the past is well symbolised by the fact that Harvard, the oldest and most prestigious of all the colleges, has only had two tenured black professors in more than three centuries.
  33. L Selfa and A Maass, op cit, p17.
  34. N Hentoff, '"Speech Codes" on Campus and Problems of Free Speech', Debating PC, op cit.
  35. S Fish, in Debating PC, op cit, pp231-232.
  36. L Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (London, 1967), p104.
  37. L Trotsky, In Defence of the October Revolution (London, 1971), p28.
  38. It should be noted that the Bolsheviks did not get around to giving even themselves the politically correct name of Communist Party until well after the revolution.
  39. For a Marxist critique of these tendencies see A Callinicos, Is There a Future for Marxism? (London, 1982) and Against Postmodernism (Cambridge, 1992).
  40. D Spender, Man Made Language (London, 1980), p I.
  41. See K Marx and F Engels, The German Ideology (London, 1985), p37.
  42. It is hard to think of a more marginalised and oppressed group than the gypsies, yet the argot of my home town, Portsmouth (and Portsmouth is not alone on this) contains numerous Romany words which are widely used in the working class: dinlo (stupid), chary (child), mush (bloke), chore (steal), bok (luck or bad luck), kushtee (good, OK).
  43. B Ehrenreich, in Debating PC, op cit, p335.
  44. See for example, Engels to J Bloch, 25 Sept 1890, in Marx, Engels, Selected Works II (Moscow, 1962), p488.
  45. See K Marx and F Engels, op cit, p64.
  46. D'Souza and Hughes are both able to make great play of African complicity and Arab practice in the slave trade (see D D'Souza, op cit, pp76-77, and R Hughes, op cit, pp140-147). Indeed Hughes is able to turn the slavery argument round into a special merit of the West on the grounds that while 'Africa, Islam and Europe all participated in Black slavery... only Europe (including, here, North America) proved itself able to conceive of abolishing it (pl46). But Hughes misses two crucial points again through his focus on culture rather than economics and struggle. First, Western abolition of the slave trade and slavery derived not from morality but from the transition to industrial capitalism for which slavery is unsuited--hence the conflict between the northern industrialist states and the Southern plantation based states. Second, he ignores the role of the slave revolts such as that led by Tousaint L'Ouverture in San Domingo.
  47. See L Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (London, 1991), and L Trotsky, On Literature and Art, (New York, 1970), especially, 'Class and Art', pp63-82.
  48. See The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Harmondsworth, 1968), pp258-262.
  49. The main exception to this and the main instance of PC in higher education has been in the upper echelons of the National Union of Students. In recent years the NUS conferences and the NUS bureaucracy have been dominated by frantic tokenism and identity politics. This has been linked to a move to the right in terms of both general politics and student struggles and PC has been used, more or less consciously, as a weapon against the revolutionary left to attack direct action or any kind of vigorous politics as 'macho' and 'intimidatory'.
  50. Socialist Worker, 31 July 1993.
  51. M Phillips, 'Oppressive Urge to Stop Oppression', the Observer, 1 August 1993.

No comments:

Post a Comment