review of the left press, september 2009

by Nathan Coombs

In my inaugural review of the Left press in the last issue of The Commune I took us on a journey across what seemed a fairly representative spread of the journals of the Left. On reflection, this taking them one-by-one approach was probably far from adequate: To get a sense of the pulse of the Left it would probably be more helpful to try and comment upon the emerging themes and concerns, and in some way to also provide an intervention upon them.

It is always difficult to discern much coherence to the output of the major journals; more so since so many of them seem so distant from engaged political thought. And so in this instalment I will cast my net wider than the predictable sweep of the New Left Review, International Socialism and so forth, to consider the wider world of blogs, non-typical journals and websites, all of which purvey some brand of leftist thinking. Continue reading “review of the left press, september 2009”

review of the left press july/august 2009

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. Continue reading “review of the left press july/august 2009”