by Nathan Coombs
It is a well-worn cliché to decry the separation of theory and practice on the Left.
Firstly, you are meant to start by pointing to the specialised jargon and stuffy scholasticism of academic Marxism – a well-deserved reproach in my opinion; at least for anyone who has picked up a text by Theodor Adorno, or, god forbid, the yawn inducing post-Marxist procrastinations of Jurgen Habermas.
Secondly, you are then meant to imply that if only academic Leftists could remedy this state of affairs some sort of revolutionary synergy (praxis) would magically transform the situation – an attitude that could be surmised as “make your works ‘accessible’; take responsibility to lead the vanguard!”
The reality however is surely more mundane and ego deflationary. That is, more mundane in the sense that academic Leftism is a generally a closed circuit of thought in a professional debating chamber. And more deflationary, most people simply don’t have the time to keep up with it all – why should they?
Or perhaps worst of all there is the stinging sense in which we could take Louis Althusser’s idea of Marxist knowledge after Marx[i]: only a transformative movement that takes action and is thrown into a directly political situation can create knowledge which does not dissolve into idealist speculation. If we take Althusser seriously, then the best academic Marxists can seek to do is describe the situation, give class and production oriented historiographies, and provide critique. The separation of theory and practice is inevitable.
In any case, this unresolved apologia out of the way, what I want to do in this regular column for The Commune is to take a critical reading of the main (non-specialist) Left journals to at least help provide a short-cut to the best of the best and the best of the worst out there.
This includes a survey of old favourites such as the New Left Review, the SWP’s International Socialism Journal, the underappreciated Radical Philosophy, and various other forays into territories with questionable Left credentials: the Monthly Review, pandering to Greens (of the Islamist and environmental varieties), and Spiked Online, whose writers’ supposed Leninism and admiration for communism seems to have devolved into a knee-jerk liberalism and cryptic cheerleading for ‘subjectivity’ and ‘self interest.’