Missives for the Future? Michael Löwy’s Close Encounters with the US Left

In: Historical Materialism
Alan M. Wald H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor Emeritus, Department of American Culture, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan United States of America

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The oeuvre of Brazilian-born and Parisian-educated Michael Löwy is widely recognised as the achievement of an exacting revolutionary cultural worker who integrates theory with his political duties, and labours hard at his craft so that the poetic imagination can reclaim and thereby re-enchant the reified reality of capitalist modernity. Nevertheless, when we come to Löwy’s reputation in the United States we face a curious situation. There is no doubt that his work is known and respected among many activists and scholars. Yet from the perspective of the needs of the Marxist Left, the disparity is striking between what Löwy has to offer as a militant thinker and the actuality of his impact. The search for an explanation of such a discrepancy must begin with a preliminary stab at what I regard as a ‘Löwyian’ interpretation of Michael Löwy’s life and writings. The method includes an exploration of his possible ‘elective affinities’, defined in a broad sense, with the cultural and political work of US radicalism since the 1960s. Are there analogies, kinships, or attractions of meaning that have entered into a relationship of reciprocal appeal and influence? In the end, however, I conclude that the disproportion between potential and actual stems largely from fractional perceptions of his accomplishment that are rooted in the peculiarities of US Marxist thought in general and of US Trotskyism in particular. Such partial and one-sided assessments are a profound barrier because the achievement of Michael Löwy needs to be understood in its totality.

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