Militant Particularism and Ecosocialism

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1455 .... July 26, 2017

Militant Particularism and Ecosocialism:
Harvey, Klein, Smith, Foster

Brad Hornick

In "Militant Particularism and Global Ambition: The Conceptual Politics of Place, Space, and Environment in the Work of Raymond Williams" (1995), David Harvey discusses the challenges presented by moving from place out across time. In the midst of his involvement in a participatory research project within a high-stakes local struggle against the closure of an automotive plant, he was accused of being a "free-floating Marxist intellectual," an outsider, and he was given the "evil eye" and asked to explain "where his loyalties lay." (p. 71) This is in an environment where people were losing jobs, and families and communities were being destroyed. Harvey takes the accusation to heart and proceeds to explore the alienation inherent... in the intellectual’s role and the responsibility of abstracting concepts from the lived experiences of local activism.

Harvey approaches this research with an eye to understanding the politics of community and "broader social forces" as a "parallel force to the politics of the workplace" in a context where working-class solidarities at the particular worksite were diminishing. But Harvey is reproached by his co-researchers for his allegiance to methodological distance and his perceived shift to "reactionary intellectualism" in his contextualizing the passion of struggle within the closure of political categories. In negotiating a broadening of the conceptual space of interpretation, he is "disloyal" to local union and community activism -- the active, vivid, and unique lived experience of struggles for socialism in his midst. (p. 70-73)

His preoccupation with larger theoretical and strategic concerns potentially undermines the "structures of feeling" that embolden the activists involved in the immediate struggle. His motivation comes from the desire to positively influence local militancy but also to extend its program toward broader socialist aims, to "break out of its local bonds and become a viable alternative to capitalism as a working mode of production and social relations." (p. 73) But what right does Harvey have to intervene and impose layers of "scientific" strategy to divert the energies of a group of people in a particular place toward a more universalist political project? He asks,

"What might it mean to be loyal to abstractions rather than to actual people? ... What is it that constitutes a privileged claim to knowledge, and how can we judge, understand, adjudicate, and perhaps negotiate different knowledges constructed at very different levels of abstraction under radically different material conditions?" (p. 73-74)

Harvey confronts a paradox: In order to understand and contribute to the militant particularism of local struggles and not become a "spectator" abstracted from the local situation, he needs to immerse himself in and identify with that struggle. In order to accurately account for scientific and analytical causalities and meaningfully appraise particularism and become strategic, he needs to maintain distance from the Ecosocialism struggle. One threatens loss of subjectivity from approaching the object (embodiment), the other from receding (disembodiment).

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