Friday, January 2, 2009

A brief note on the publication of "Steiner, Brenner and Neo-Marxism: The Marcusean Component"

On January 2, the World Socialist Web Site greeted the New Year by offering its readers yet another polemic that attempts to discredit us, this one with the pretentious title, "Steiner, Brenner and Neo-Marxism: The Marcusean Component". [1] This isn’t the place for a substantive reply, but a few quick points are in order:

First, the basic premise of this essay is a misrepresentation of our attitude to the Frankfurt School and Marcuse. The author, one Adam Haig, states:

“One of the arguments Steiner and Brenner make is that despite the incompatibilities of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory with orthodox Marxism, not everything by the critical theorists is worthless. That is beside the point. The question is whether or not Frankfurt School critical theory is Marxism.”

Why is it “beside the point” to claim that “not everything by the critical theorists is worthless”? Haig is simply dodging the substance of our position and replacing it with a different view, i.e. “that Frankfurt School critical theory is Marxism.” This is what is called setting up a straw man, and Haig then spends 17 pages knocking him down, arguing against something that we never claimed. In this respect as in many others, Haig merely echoes the misrepresentations advanced by ICFI leader David North in his various polemics against us, particularly the series “The Frankfurt School vs. Marxism: The Political and Intellectual Odyssey of Alex Steiner”. [2]

Second, in the manner of a clever graduate student, Haig pads his essay with several pages of completely extraneous material on Erich Fromm and Slavoj Žižek. We have never cited the latter’s views in any of our polemical material and our few references to Fromm are confined to his writings from the early 1930s, long before his politics (and psychology) lost their revolutionary edge. Haig has clearly been trained by North in the ‘art’ of cooking up amalgams: Marcuse leads him to Fromm (even though their differences on psychoanalytic theory were of a fundamental nature) and Fromm then allows Haig to throw in ‘socialistic humanism’, left-liberalism, Eugene McCarthy and the proverbial kitchen sink.

(One has to say in passing that while this essay offers very little of intellectual or political merit, it is a striking – and frankly depressing – indication of how newer party members and supporters are being trained. They are being taught that one ‘defends’ Marxism through setting up straw men, cooked-up amalgams and smear campaigns. It would be hard to think of a worse indictment of the present leadership of the ICFI than this kind of miseducation of young comrades.)

Finally, a small but telling point. From the time it first appeared a little past midnight on Jan 2 to some hours later that morning, this essay went through a slight ‘change’. The first edition of this essay had some footnotes citing our essays. The footnotes included hyperlinks to the essays that were referenced on our web site, Several hours later, the hyperlinks were removed. Right now, there is no way for anyone reading this essay online to link directly to any of our material. The footnotes refer to something called “Permanent Revolution” (without the hyphen). For instance, here is footnote 1:

1. Alex Steiner, “Unable to Answer Our Political Criticisms: The WSWS Resorts to a Smear Campaign,” Permanent Revolution, 9 November 2008.

It is not even clear whether “Permanent Revolution” is a web site or the name of a periodical or a book. It is true that the enterprising reader who is determined to find our material can do a Google Search and eventually they will be led to the URL,,
but of course the editors of the WSWS who removed the original hyperlink to this document are banking on the fact that the great majority of their readers will not be so enterprising.

Now it is one thing not to insert hyperlinks in the first place but it is something yet again to remove hyperlinks that were already there. This was obviously a deliberate decision made by the editors of the World Socialist Web Site to prevent people from actually reading the views of a polemical opponent.

This little ‘edit’ is particularly ironic given the following statement in the essay itself:

“Ironically, Steiner claims that ‘feelings of “party-patriotism” will blind many members and supporters’ from seeing ‘the [Socialist Equality] party's abstentionism and estrangement from the working class,’ and that ‘the SEP's theoretical degeneration’ has been laid bare in Marxism without Its Head or Its Heart. Steiner has a very low opinion of the ability of SEP members and supporters to seriously think through theoretical, political, and historical questions.”

Actually, it seems that it is the WSWS editorial board that “has a very low opinion” of the abilities of its readers and of party members; otherwise, they would have left the links in and allowed readers to judge for themselves the validity of our criticisms.

Alex Steiner
Frank Brenner
Jan. 2, 2009.

[1] Adam Haig, “Steiner, Brenner and Neo-Marxism: The Marcusean Component,” WSWS, Jan. 2, 2009: