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Razmig Keucheyan’s The Left Hemisphere: a ‘dizzying menagerie of anti-capitalist thought’

Christina Chalmers24 October 2013

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On the website Pop Matters, Brice Ezell has written that Razmig Keucheyan's The Left Hemisphere constitutes a 'dizzying menagerie of anti-capitalist thought'. According to Ezell, the book is packed but also exhaustive with its 'sheer density' of information and analysis, giving a thorough overview of twentieth-century currents of thought. Ezell writes that 'In the post-Buzzfeed world The Left Hemisphere successfully avoids being a highfalutin listicle'.

Keucheyan situates the development of and different movements within critical theory of the second half of the century in the context of what is conceptualized as a 'severing of thought from deed'. His main strand of analysis is that these different trends of thought have 'arisen out of a crisis ... they have risen out of defeat.' He argues that critical theory has been 'demobilized' and Marxism removed from its traditional role as a theory which determines the organisation and praxis of working class parties:

The crux of Keucheyan's argument is that part of what has demobilized critical theory has been an elimination of the once "irreducible distance between intellectuals and [political] partie[s]" that existed before the German Revolution in 1923. During the propagation of Marxist ideals leading up to 1923 Germany, "to be a Marxist intellectual... was to find oneself at the head of one's country's working-class organizations... the very notion of 'Marxist intellectual' made little sense, the substantive 'Marxist' being self-sufficient.

Intellectual currents of the second half of the twentieth century are ultimately born from the experience of the defeat of the German revolution, which changed the expected course of the development of communism in the twentieth century and the direction of communist and socialist ideals.

Keucheyan further analyses the effects of this shift. He positions the change in modes of organizing intellectual labour within this development:

The classical period of Marxism was one of intense debates over, in particular, the character of imperialism, the national question, the relationship between the social and the political, and finance capital. From the second half of the 1920s, Marxism became fossilized. This places intellectuals in a structurally difficult position, since any innovation in the intellectual domain was henceforth denied them. This was a major cause of the distance that now separated them from working-class parties... With time the separation only grew, all the more so in that other factors aggravated it, like the increasing professionalization or academicization of intellectual activity, which tended to distance intellectuals from politics.

He argues that, fundamentally, what critical theory manages to do, without completely jettisoning its own core emancipatory desire and intent for change, is to criticise and revise the 'Marxist conceptual and organizational framework', which has collapsed in its traditional forms. In different ways, and with different goals, different theories seek to ask and respond to a very similar kind of question:

In such conditions, how is one to continue believing in the feasibility of socialism, when the facts have brutally and repeatedly invalidated the idea?

Visit Pop Matters to read the feature in full. 

The Left Hemisphere is now available to buy.