Sunday, December 12, 2004

Imprints Vol 8,1

The latest edition of Imprints (Vol 8, no 1) has reached me. They've changed their subtitle from A Journal of Analytical Socialism to egalitarian theory and practice and provided a short editorial to explain why. They see it as having a broader perspective than just the Marxist tradition and the new subtitle actually covers the focus of the journal as it has developed, which is usually high-level abstract political theory. For anyone who sees this a dreadful sell-out remember that the ideas of egalitarianism are still far more radical than the usual liberal approach of 'equality of opportunity'.

This issue isn't a wow, but is worthy (translate that as 'a bit boring' if you must). There's an interview with the American political theorist Martha Nussbaum, who is to me a 'left liberal' ( a controversial term I know, see Charlotte Street's denunciation of 'Left-liberal as a pseudo-concept' but although I am happy that in that post an n.b. allows for an 'older use' of the term as 'left of liberalism', while continuing to insist there are possible crossovers and intersections between left and liberal, especially in considering the broad histories of these ideas, and especially in a US context where the relative lack of implantation of the socialist tradition in both ideas and practice has meant that the term 'liberalism' has covered some of the area of 'socialism' in the European tradition. And, dammit, I'm against seeing the whole of liberalism as rightwing and would defend some components of liberalism against the right.) Anyway, Nussbaum but does refer to a kinship between her work and the early Marx.

Albena Azamanova writes about 'Curbing the Deficit: Democracy after the European Constitution' on the 'democratic potential of the draft Constitutional Treaty'. Leaves me cold, maybe something to look up next time I have to do any work on the EU.

A very different note is given in the completely untheorised memoir article by Richard Bruner, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times', about his time as a union activist/official for the United Packinghouse Workers (UPWA) in the early '50s, against the background of McCarthyism and racism. For someone with a dim memory of Hubert Humphrey as a dreadful vice-president to LBJ, a 'B52 liberal' and a completely lacklustre opponent of Nixon in '68 it was a shock to read a radical defence of civil rights from him in 1948.

Paul Warren focuses on issues around G.A.Cohen's theories of exploitation in 'Locating the Injustice of Exploitation: Some Thoughts on G.A.Cohen's 'Exploitation in Marx'.

And finally there is a review by John Christman of Harry Brighouse's School Choice and Social Justice (OUP 2000). Christman makes the claim that 'Liberal egalitarianism is the dominant framework of the non-Marxist left in contemporary (modernist) thought...' Brighouse's book is about a liberal egalitarian case for school choice via vouchers.

For bloggers the positive review of Brighouse and the presence of Chris Bertram on the editorial board must make us think of the multiple delights of the Crooked Timber website. Chris Bertram's web-site can be found at Harry Brighouse's web-site can be found at and provides a link to a long review of Alex Callinicos's book on Equality, which I guess is the same as the review he did with Erik Olin Wright in Historical Materialism Vol 10,1 (2002) and got a reply from Callinicos in HM 11,2 (2003).

But for many the downside of this is a certain pro-war orientation. Check-out the Imprints web-site , which only goes up to Vol 7,2 (2003). They do promise to provide links for more articles. One of the best features of the journal has been a series of interviews with political theorists of various sorts. The interview I most enjoyed was with Alex Callinicos, sadly not online; but you can get links to interviews with Michael Walzer of Dissent and Just and Unjust Wars fame (Imprints Vol 7,1) . Walzer defends war in Afghanistan as a just and defensive war, and although not pro the war on Iraq did want a much more coercive diplomatic posture from the leading powers. There's also a link to an interview with Norman Geras (Vol 6,3). For young bloggers who've only come across Geras as the grumpy old liberal pro-war pro-occupation blogger of Normblog I do recommend this interview. Back in the days when he described himself as a 'militant of the Fourth International' he wrote The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, which remains marvelous and a great starting-point for understanding the strategic debates of international socialism before the Russian Revolution. There's his resolute critique of theories of 'post-Marxism' coming from Laclau and Mouffe and his interventions in debates on 'Marxism and Justice'. I also strongly recommend his book on Marxism and Human Nature, which put an end to all those meetings on how Marx didn't have a theory of human nature I used to go to. It's an impressive achievement. Geras says he is a Marxist, still defends historical materialism, but mounts an ethical case against terrorism and oppression that leads him to a pro-war position.

These are serious arguments, as are the arguments presented in its Symposium on Afghanistan, including a strong defence of the war on Afghanistan presented by Chris Bertram.
The anti-war left needs to confront these serious arguments rather than getting hung up in what seems to be a contract of mutual sniping with the bloggers of the pro-war left.


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