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Jim Neilson and Gregory Meyerson Access to Grind: A Reply to Michael Bérubé Until reading Bérubé's response, we had considered ourselves minor figures working on themargins of the profession. We thank Bérubé, therefore, for recognizing our work and for giving us a professional identity as disingenuous, self-negating, defeatist ideological purists whose fraudulent paraphrase brings into question the state of left critique . Our gratitude notwithstanding, we'll address some of Bérubé's mischaracterizations and show the weaknesses ofhis political theorizing and policy recommendations. We argued that Bérubé's discourse was enmeshed in postmarxian and liberal pluralist assumptions whose ideological effect is to mystify the structural nature of inequality and the class character of institutions —whether the media, the university, or the state. We argued that his strategies for keepingleft-like positions alive via the circuitous route of legitimating the center rested on (1) the liberal pluralist assumption that all positions have potentially equal access to discursive power and (2) postmarxist notions of institutions as sites of struggle, ideas which rest on pluralism's view of institutions as level playing fields. Bérubé argues that the first is a fraudulent paraphrase of his position, and the latter prompts the suggestion that we "stop marginalizing [our]selves with self-negating Marxist rhetoric." It would indeed be self-negating to argue that institutions are not sites of struggle. What we said, however, was that they are not sites of struggle in the liberal pluralist/ postmarxian sense that Bérubé means. To Bérubé, institutions, in effect, are sites of classless struggle where discursively defined groups like progressives and authoritarian populists battle over who can best rearticulate, interpellate, or hegemonize the popular. Thus he argues that a "media-conscious left, a left that knows how social signs can be appropriated and reappropriated, may be capable of deliberately wresting cultural meaning away from the New Right on its own ground" (Public 148). Marxian class analysis, on the other hand, argues that important institutions like the media function to reproduce the structural domination of capital over labor. This process is uneven and not guaranteed , but it cannot be threatened without threatening the basis of the capitalistsystem. Bérubé impatiently declares thathe, ofcourse, knows that Chomsky has far less media access than Limbaugh. But the point is that there are intractable reasons for the exclusion from the mass media of Chomsky-like positions, an understanding which, presumably, should inform a leftist argument about media strategizing—and which 240the minnesota review one might hope to find in a book called Public Access. Instead of recognizing the institutional marginalization of the left, though, Bérubé tacitly subscribes to the belief that the media provides a potentially level playing field. Similarly, he implicitly sees the economy as classless, "to be nudged and nagged by a chorus ofegalitarian voices" (Public 34). In other words, he presents the political program of the left as haggling with the powers-that-be rather than understandinginequality as a structural property of capitalist economies that no amount of mere nagging can change. Bérubé is at once optimistic (a media savvy left can reappropriate the popular from the authoritarians) and pessimistic (this same left struggles against tremendous odds). These views are consistent with pluralist premises. If we keep nudging against the power of the right (note the purging of class from Bérubé's argument: the opponent of the left is the right, not capitalism), there's a chance that we—and the large majority who have no access to capital—may win the lottery ofa better society. But as he reveals in his conciliatory rhetoric and as has been demonstrated in actual history, the radical left is consistently denied access. The left cannot gain substantial access to the media withoutprovoking a revolutionary crisis—though frankly such a left would be attacked physically, financially, and ideologically well before that point. However minor a crisis, the PC scare should serve as a reminder that throughout U.S. history, according to Thomas Ferguson, "As whole sections of the population begin investing massively inpolitical action, elites become terrified and counterorganize on a stupendous scale. . . . And invariably, elites openly begin discussing antidemocratic policy measures...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 239-248
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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