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May 1998, Week 5


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Brian Ganter <[log in to unmask]>
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Fri, 29 May 1998 21:54:15 -0400
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Put An End to Clique Rule in the Society for Cinema Studies
                        HANDS OFF BOB NOWLAN
       Recently, when Rob Wilkie, a "duly elected" English
graduate student representative at the State University of New York at
Albany, protested the cronyism that passes as "policy" in the English
Department's funding of graduate students, the "senior" graduate
students who had benefited from the existing "policies" decided that
he did not "represent" their interests and attempted to depose him as
an official departmental representative of the graduate students.  Rob
Wilkie is a member of The Red Theory Collective -- a Marxist
collective that has in recent years struggled against the overwhelming
power of a coalition of conservative faculty and students who
currently run the Department in a closed and autocratic manner; the
aim of Wilkie and of the Red Theory Collective is to contribute to the
rebuilding of the Department and its practices so that these will, in
the future, be conducted in an open and democratic way.  In its public
writings and other interventions The Red Theory Collective has tried,
among other things, to show how the bourgeois democracy to which these
holders of institutional power declare formal allegiance is simply an
ideological device for legitimating the interests
of this clique in maintaining its own power. The clique in power
respects the rules of election and terms of office only if members of
the clique are elected to the office.  Democracy, in short, is reduced
to a set of purely formal procedures for protection of their private
interests.  Rob Wilkie insisted on public accountability and as a
result became the target of a massive attack and vicious red baiting.
         As the triumphalist narratives of big business about the
"collapse of socialism" fall apart (narratives which for a long time
had reassured these businesses' "faculty lobbyists" in the academy of
their uncontested control of universities and other knowledge
institutions), and as a new generation of Marxist theorists and
activists appears on the scene of contemporary knowledges, in turn
newer and ever-more aggressive anti-red tactics are unleashed on
campuses, in so-called "scholarly" organizations and conferences, on
the editorial boards of academic journals, on supposedly "left"
listserves on the Internet, and in college and university classrooms
and programs of study.  The aim of all these crypto-fascist and
anti-democratic practices is to keep the red knowledges away from the
very people who might benefit from them -- the workers, the students,
and the citizens who have not yet completely yielded to the
brand of cynicism bourgeois academics are today marketing as both the
most advanced and the only legitimate form of "new" and "progressive"
          Bob Nowlan -- the current Chair of the Caucus on Class of
the SCS -- is the latest target of these neo-fascist and post-al
McCarthyist attacks by the cronies of capitalism in academic film
theory.  Over the course of the last three years, Bob Nowlan -- a
revolutionary Marxist theorist and editor, and a member of The Red
Collective -- has attempted to open up the intellectually
claustrophobic and politically self-validating practices of the SCS
and to provide new spaces for transformative knowledges and practices
to the Caucus on Class.  His radical practices have created a "panic"
among the "senior" holders of power in the SCS who cannot (owing to
the bourgeois interests they effectively represent) engage his
theoretical practices which tear the mask of serious, principled, and
committed knowledge away from their reactionary preaching to show the
hollow pragmatism behind this deceptive facade.  Having failed to
contain him intellectually, they have now, in a desperate move --
which is in fact a repetition of the maneuvers at SUNY-Albany --
initiated a deceitful and imperious attempt to remove him
from his position as the Chair of The Caucus on Class on the
ostensible grounds of procedural technicalities that they have in fact
fabricated for this very occasion.
        In addition to the (newly invented) "policy" considerations
which the ruling clique is deploying to get rid of Nowlan
(considerations which contradict the very terms under which Nowlan
agreed to stand for election and was elected), the clique is also, in
the tried and true manner of all post-al reactionaries to get rid of
the RED and the REVOLUTIONARY, attempting to redirect attention away
from issues of principle to ones of "pragmatics" and (ethics of)
"personality. "  Thus one of the dominant narratives being circulated
aims at attributing the source of the current contestation to the
"individual" failures of Bob Nowlan and his predecessor as Caucus on
Class chair, Terri Ginsberg, to speak, write and act in "properly"
"responsible" ways -- ways which involve simply deferring to
established institutional authorities and operating in blind
obedience to entrenched traditions and pragmatic protocols.  The
members of this clique have gone so far as to invoke twisted readings
of Nowlan's own "body language" to support its zealous quest to remove
him, while also sarcastically deriding Nowlan and the few other "reds"
on the listserv as simply a handful of infantile thinkers for
proposing that the current contestation is ultimately rooted in
serious intellectual and political differences and that it is
important not to conflate "policy" with "politics," and, especially,
not to reduce the latter to the former.
        Behind the clique's appeals to "policy" and "personality" is
not the advancement of a "principled" and "democratic" agenda but  the
narrowly self-serving practices of a ruling minority who have
recognized that Nowlan's practices are "dangerous" because his acts
hold up for public inspection their own reactionary practices and, in
doing so, remove the veneer of "the scholarly" and "the progressive"
from their theoretical and pedagogical practices to show these for
what they ultimately are -- lessons in allegiance to capital and its
regime of escalating global exploitation. While these lackeys of
global capitalism (who masquerade as "progessive intellectuals") are
plotting their coup d'etat against Bob Nowlan, we call upon members of
the Caucus on Class and others to join us in protesting these acts of
red-baiting which are now becoming commonplace -- from classrooms and
other sites of pedagogy to the "committees" whose primary
institutional function is the bureaucratic policing of transformative
ideas and practices in the interest of capitalist crisis management.
        We call upon all members of SCS and the Caucus on Class as
well as all interested persons to join us in defending the university
as a place of critique-al knowledges for social transformation and a
site of open pedagogy: that is, a space for free exchange of ideas,
rigorous critique, and open contestation -- practices that are
constitutive of a democratic society.  We urge all members to resist
the behind-the-scenes deal-making and careerist wrangling for selfish
and solipsistically personal and professional advantages. Support Bob
Nowlan and oppose the authoritarian move to remove him as the chair of
the Caucus on Class.
For Red Critique,
Jennifer Cotter, Kimberly DeFazio, Minette Marcroft-Estevez, Brian
Ganter, Christopher Hank, Adam Katz, Deb Kelsh, Donald Morton, Grant
Phelong, Erica Pittman, Brad Rothrock, Amrohini Sahay, Julie Torrant,
Stephen Tumino, Rob Wilkie, Mas'ud Zavarzadeh
* Note: For a further sustained critique-al engagement with the issues
which are outlined here, refer to Bob Nowlan's "For the Caucus on
Class," available by contacting Professor Nowlan at
<[log in to unmask]>.
For detailed red critiques of issues regarding the English Department
at SUNY-Albany see The Red Theory Collective Web Site: or contact The Red Theory Collective
at <[log in to unmask]>.
For an extensive revolutionary Marxist engagement with the
postintellectual "activist" left on the Net see _The Alternative
Orange_ Vol. 5, No. 2, or contact the Revolutionary Marxist Collective
at <>.
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.