Kevin B. Anderson

Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

[Los Angeles] Socialist Party L.A. Local Freedom School: “Rethinking Socialist Humanism after Poststructuralism and Postmodernism”

Saturday, September 13 2014


2617 Hauser Boulevard

Los Angeles, CA

Since the 1970s, antihumanist and anti-Hegelian currents, from the structuralist Marxism of Althusser to non-Marxist critiques of radical humanism (Foucault, Bourdieu), have dominated radical philosophy and social theory. By the 1980s, the ascendancy of Foucauldian poststructuralism in particular was marked by identity politics, a rejection of global perspectives, and a theory of resistance rather than one of human emancipation. Over the past decade, the alterglobalization movement and the economic crisis have led to a greater emphasis on both Marxist thought and on universality, while the academic world has experienced a revival of Hegel studies. A humanist deficit remains, however, insofar as radical humanism continues to be ignored or even attacked. This paper revisits a number of strands of radical humanism, ranging from Marxist and socialist humanism (Fromm, Dunayevskaya, Kosík), to African socialism (Fanon), and to French existentialism (Sartre). While some of these strands exhibited an abstract form of universalism that left insufficient room for particular forms of consciousness based upon ethnicity or gender, leaving them open to the poststructuralist critique, other forms of humanism grounded themselves in more concrete forms of universality. This is important, for the left today needs a more than strategic form of universalism in order to ground a fully emancipatory opposition to the capitalist order. At the same time, a contemporary Marxist humanism has to appropriate critically the insights of the past several decades concerning issues like ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.