Letter in reference to 'End Notes' in Fall 2017 issue of NYC journal 'n+1'

In response to a lengthy critique of the ultra-left theoretical journal End Notes by Tim Barker in its previous issue, this letter appeared in the Fall 2017, issue #29 of the New York City journal n+1:


There was a factual error in your review (“The Bleak Left,” Issue 28) of the ultraleft journal Endnotes. The ultraleft theorist Gilles Dauvé was not involved in the journal Invariance. Since the 1970s, Dauvé has been involved in publications ranging from Le Mouvement Communiste and Mordicus to Troploin. Jacques Camatte was one of the main authors of Invariance and there is a world of difference between Dauvé’s perspectives and those of Camatte. A wrong answer on something as crucial as this could get you bounced out of the final round on Jeopardy.

Regarding Endnotes: my understanding is that after Marx died, Engels reminisced that when the two began their partnership as young men, they resolved to write all their works at a level that would be readily comprehensible to persons of average intelligence and educational level. Anything other than this they regarded as being irrelevant to the real movement to abolish existing conditions. A set of theories that can contribute to a liberatory downfall of the global market order must emerge from ongoing involvement in public action that has some potential to generate this. It must try to suggest practical strategies and tactics of use to nonacademic working people. It has to grow and adapt as it engages with the complex, contradictory reality outside a theorist’s comfort zone. This does not take place in Endnotes.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who doesn’t have a doctorate in advanced Marxoid studies reading Endnotes. It is even more difficult to see how its insights can be put to use. If transit-system operators, transit-system riders, supermarket cashiers, and enlisted people in the armed forces will never encounter Endnotes, then in real-world subversive terms, Endnotes does not exist. Pessimism about the possibility of global revolutionary change is understandable, but the specific kind of pessimism exhibited in Endnotes is consistent with its subjectively insurrectionary authors’ lack of a credible will to act on what they believe -- outside a cosseted academic echo chamber, in contexts where they can be taken seriously by friend and foe alike.

For all its undoubted brilliance, Endnotes inadvertently proves that there is an impermeable firewall separating all college Marxist theory, no matter how subjectively radical, from life outside academia. What happens within the precincts of the bourgeois academy stays there. Ongoing collective action against what capitalism does to our lives has never been more necessary, and the conditions that give rise to it in the United States grow more promising by the day. If a body of supposed revolutionary theory does not contribute to mass collective resistance to capitalism however, this theory adds up to nothing.

Kevin Keating


I tend to think that much of what is published by revolutionary organisations is only understood by the minority, the majority will need a revolutionary process to take on board revolutionary perspectives.