Saturday, April 07, 2007

More About ICFA

Geoff Ryman was the Guest of Honor at ICFA. He is very bright and interesting man, but he managed to irritate me at several points – not as a person; he seems to be a very nice person; but as a thinker. In his GoH speech, he mentioned that Freudianism and Marxism have come and gone, while SF, another product of the 19th century, remains.

Patrick’s comment was, “If he thinks Freudianism is gone, he hasn’t spent much time on the East Coast.”

What bothers me is the casual, in-passing dismissal.

Freudianism may be gone in most places, though not on upper Park Avenue. I am less sure about Marxism, a term which has a lot of meanings.

I would define it as referring to (a) the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; (b) a group of theoretical schools, often in conflict; (c) a large number of political organizations, often in conflict; (d) an analytical tool usually put to use in the human sciences of history, economics, political science and sociology. One commenter on Max Speaks said Marxism is the moral center of the left. Without Marxism, he wrote, we have only decency; and decency is not enough

I ought to add the 20th century national states which claimed to be Marxist, though that claim was always in question.

If Ryman means the nation states – yes, he is right, they are mostly gone, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba remains and is a considerable force in Latin American politics.

What else is gone? Many of the traditional political organizations. This may not be a loss. The featured article in Wikipedia a few days ago was a history of the Trotskyist Fourth International. Reading that -- a horrible history of faction fights and splits into ever smaller groups, which then had their own faction fights and splits -- is like watching someone inflict the death of a thousand cuts on himself.

The idea of the vanguard party is gone. The power of the people cannot be delegated to anyone. They must act for themselves, in their own interests. Popular movements in the late 20th and early 21st century have affirmed this over and over.

What remains? The intellectual tradition; many fine scholars; the trade union movement in South Africa; the entire country of Cuba; the current revolution in Nepal; two communist parties in India; and many political movements which have been influenced by Marxism, though they do not always call themselves Marxist. I would include Europe’s Social Democratic parties, which come out of the Second International and have created the most successful societies on Earth. I would also include the Zapatistas in Mexico and many other popular movements in Latin America.

This last may be a stretch. But even if you say Social Democracy and the new popular movements owe nothing to Marxism, which sounds weird the moment I write it, the ideas of Marxism remain important for many people throughout the world. It’s even possible that more people on Earth read Marxist texts than read science fiction.

I don't know how I'd find a comparison of the number of the people who have read The Communist Manifesto vs. the number of people who read science fiction. Maybe I should hunt around on Google.


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