Dear Radical Philosophy,
Since I want to offer a brief, critical comment on the project of RP ,
I first want to say that anyone who knows anything about
producing small unofficial journals will know what desperately
hard work it is – financially, administratively, personally. Simply
to keep a radical and committed journal such as RP alive and
kicking for 50 issues has been nothing short of heroic.
But. For me the strategy as I interpret it has been largely
misguided or perhaps for quotidian reasons due to the necessity
of sustaining publication from issue to issue with changing
personnel, just not consistently fonnulated (too like that of a
Labour Cabinet). Instead of taking as its over-riding aim (1) a sustained and coherent attack on the prevailing Anglo-American
philosophic discourse (2) matched by a willingness to encourage,
however critically, any alternatives to the prevailing mode, RP
has tried to set itself up as a Marxist and more recently feminist
opposition (hence, symptomatically, the general coolness of
response by RP to post-structuralist work, including that of Lacan
and Lyotard but especially Derrida).
Obviously as part of its radical project RP must be open to
work in Marxism and feminism. But, if my description is correct
(and it would not be very constructive to lose themain point in a
boring citation of number x which did in fact publish y on z), then
the political error has been the strategy of a kind of ultra-leftism
as against that of entrism; or, in other terms, attempting to offer
a critique from the outside rather than – as Derrida urges – seeking
to inhabit and deconstruct conventional philosophy from within.
RP should make critical interrogation of the still dominant Kantian tradition its central purpose and undertake this at such a level
that it becomes an inescapable voice working on the established
terrain. A still unregenerate Althusserian might put it like this: RP
will have failed unless it becomes a necessary if reluctantly
included reference in every philosophy syllabus in Oxford.
Yours sympathetically and polemically,
I have been reading Radical Philosophy since the beginning. At
first as a student (to counter the very traditional philosophy
element of my degree course), and later as a committed revolutionary socialist who believes that the battle o/ideas, even in the
area of philosophy, has importance in effectively fighting the
I suppose the first thing to be said on the 50th issue is congratulations on having survived and stayed on the left where many
others have not. Indeed it would seem that only History Workshop
and Radical Science Journals have managed a similar longevity.
B ut it would not be in the spirit of RP to stop at glib congratulations. Surely critique is the order of the day!
The survival of RP is remarkable because it has often flirted
with intellectual fashions (Foucault for example) that have led
many to disillusion, despair and the right. Herein though lies a
problem. Of course RP needs to keep track of changing academic
perceptions of philosophy, but that should not mean that it has to
adapt to them. Rather it would seem more useful if the commitment of early issues was to be recovered. Of course at that time it
was connected with a strong student ‘counter course’ culture
which in the ’80s is much diminished. But there is still an urgent
need for two things. Firstly, in the face of Tory attack to defend
the very presence of radical philosophy in academia. Secondly
and much more important to provide the arguments with which
socialists can counter the ragbag of philosophy which is the
Toryism of the ’80s. Martin Barker’s work on racism has been
good in this respect but there remains much to be done.
So forward to the next 50 issues! Maintaining radical
philosophy is an important task. But a bit more of the barricades
and a bit less of the armchairs please.
Mike Erben, who has been associated with RP since 1973 in a
number of capacities, has recently left the collective. We reprint
(below) an anecdote from his parting letter to the group:
In 1974 I submitted a review of Pierre Macherey’s
Pour une theorie de la production litteraire to RP which
was rejected. I thought this was a pity as I considered it a
pretty decent piece. Anyway some months afterwards I
was throwing out some junk and came across an old fIrstyear undergraduate essay upon which my tutor had written
‘I suppose you think French elegance, Celtic mistiness
and Ottoman sensuality will beguile any reader-well Mr
Erben it has me on this occasion … etc … etc … I returned to
the review and resubmitted it under the name of Louis
McTurk. Needless to say it was accepted for RP 11.
We would like to thank Mike very much for his work over the
years – not to mention his detennined reviewing.