ANT/Gramsci, pt. 4: Left intellectuals and the correct line

by CarlD

In a post at Crooked Timber on the history of the terms ‘politically correct’ and ‘liberal fascism’ John Quiggin writes

At least since the 1970s, the description “politically correct” or, in Australia, “ideologically sound”, had been used within the left to mock those who were excessively concerned with doctrinal and linguistic orthodoxy. The story of how “political correctness” turned from an inside joke to a Marxist-inspired assault on All We Hold Dear is reasonably well known. Bernstein traces its emergence as a pejorative to a conference by the Western Humanities Conference held, appropriately enough, in Berkeley.

Ha! I used to live just south of Berkeley, cosmic epicenter of well-intentioned impotent righteousness. In the comments John Emerson muses

The phrase I remember, used seriously within some Marxist groups, was “correct position”. It was used seriously by people who thought that solving the dialectical questions came first, and and that before these were solved, any political activity was opportunistic and doomed. It was used jokingly within this same groups by those of a more activist sort. One guy told me how, after a succession of Trotskyist splits, his group had ended up being of about 50 people in one room—but they had the correct position. And then he laughed uproariously.

I think that a lot of the ideologues of that time did not actually believe it, but just were trying to make a stand against the amazing sloppiness of the free-lance left.

Later the term “politically correct” came to be used internally to label the minute rules of cultural politics within the left. At the beginning the term was sometimes used by old-school macho leftists to ridicule the newer feminists and gay liberationists. But the personal cultural politics really did get extreme.

Scylla – sectarianism. Charybdis – sloppiness. With a touch of genius – both.

Can actor networks fix this? Well, given commitments to sectarianism or sloppiness, no. But otherwise a flexible orientation to alliances may offer both an analytical grasp on the conditions, configurations, operations, strengths and weaknesses of whatever situation one might want to change; and an activist grasp on actors likely to share and/or obstruct the agenda.

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One Comment to “ANT/Gramsci, pt. 4: Left intellectuals and the correct line”

  1. Not mentioned of course is the Right’s use of “Political Correctness” which is basically not being allowed to say what you (and everyone else) feels. I believe this broader use is actually closely related to the narrower phenomena in the Left. Articulated expression carries with it its own performative force, a force that has to be aligned with the force of thinking, action, planning, etc. There is normative tension between “speech” and conceptual ideals. How really does ANT work to address this normative need?

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