David Harvey, Budd Hopkins/Flying Saucers and Marx’s Critique

May 27th, 2015 | By | Category: Articles

This is a rough draft for a presentation to be given at the start of a Panel Discussion at the Left Forum and hosted by the Marxist-Humanist Initiative. The panel is entitled Harvey vs. Marx: On Capitalist Crisis and "Marxist Entertainment" and will feature Andrew Kliman, Brendan Cooney, and Douglas Lain as participants. Michael Dola will be the moderator.

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About seventy years ago Joseph McCarthy dragged entertainers from Hollywood in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee and asked them if they were now or if they'd ever been communists. Today we're turning that around a bit and asking the commies and Marxists if they have ever been entertainers.

So I want to start today by admitting that I've been writing short stories and novels professionally for sixteen years and so far no one, not one critic, not one reader, not one listener to my podcast, has ever accused me of being entertaining.

Please try to stay awake for what follows.

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After reading both sides of the debate, that is both Andrew Kliman's critiques and David Harvey's rebuttal, its clear that Harvey does not treat Marx's theories in the volumes of Capital as if he believes the books have any direct connection to reality. He plays fast and loose in his interpretation of the text, makes at least one embarrassingly basic error (confusing a rate of profit for total profits) and rather than concede to his mistakes he defends his position by changing the topic and muddying the water by shifting over to a debate about metaphors and paradigms. Given all of this I'm beginning to suspect that the Marxism Harvey discusses and creates in his books is the imaginary kind.

As a science fiction writer I can respect that, up to a point. In fact, I'm reminded of the late Budd Hopkins. Hopkins was an abstract expressionist painter who I once had the pleasure of interviewing on my podcast. Hopkins was friends with Motherwell and Mark Rothko, knew Jackson Pollack, and was a friendly and interesting guest. He was a serious artist but he was most famous for his empirical research on flying saucers. He wrote many books on the subject, most of which were published by big New York presses, and in the UFO research community Hopkins was more than respected, he was practically worshipped. Still, as you might expect given the topic of his research, he was eventually outed as fraudulent. It was his ex-wife, a woman named Carol Rainey, who exposed him. Budd spent his final years defending himself from her criticism and evidence. She had, unfortunately for Budd, documented both his credulousness and his tendency to stack the deck.

One thing worth noting about Budd is that his ex-wife didn't claim that he was a conscious liar, but only that he approached research in the same way that he approached his art. For example, Budd collected drawings from people who reported (often while under hypnosis) that they'd been abducted by aliens. He had his clients draw what they'd seen on the walls of the saucers and he had a filing cabinet full of these drawings. The film Carol Rainey released online includes an interview she did with him back in 1996 and in it Hopkins describes the symbols people drew. He holds up his portfolio to demonstrate how these different people, people he claims never spoke to each other, ended up drawing symbols that look remarkably similar. However, what becomes clear in the film is that Hopkins shared his drawings with the group of abductees that worked with him, and that new clients had at least the opportunity to see or hear about these drawings before they themselves would be called upon to draw anything. Worse still was the way the drawings were preserved. It turned out that in order to reproduce the original drawings Hopkins would trace the originals and in the process of tracing the drawings came to look more and more alike.

Again, I don't think Budd was entirely aware of what he was doing and in a paper entitled A Critique of Budd Hopkins' Case of the UFO Abduction of Linda Napolitano written by Joseph Stefula, Richard Butler and George Hansen, the authors come to a conclusion about Hopkins, based on other evidence, that I think applies to the Marxist left in general.

We would suggest that perhaps, at some semiconscious level, these individuals do not really believe their UFO investigations to be fully engaged with the "real world." Rather, their behavior and statements seem more consistent with something like fantasy role playing, perhaps akin to the game Dungeons and Dragons.

Again, here's what I think can be fairly concluded from Harvey's reaction to Kliman: Harvey doesn't believe in Marx's critique of Capitalism and he doesn't believe in the possibility of a world after Capitalism. What he believes in instead is the spirit of Marx's critique and some fantastic vision of a world after Capitalism. Its the fantasy of Marxism, the fantasy of an escape from Capitalism that Harvey is involved in. And let's face it, most of us are like Harvey. The hope is that recognizing our fantasies for what they are might help us get past this temptation to role play.

This probably sounds like I'm slamming David Harvey, but I'm not.
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Budd Hopkins was a decent artist; a master of abstract expressionism. His paintings were exhibited at the Guggenheim, at the Whitney, and in many other museums.  His UFO books, while fantastical to the point of ludicrousness, were also well written and often thought provoking. I think the same sorts of things can be said about David Harvey and his work.

Still,we really should aim at getting Marxism beyond the level of UFOlogy. That won't happen until we take Marx's critique and the possibility of life after Capitalism seriously. The first step down that path is to take up Marx's theories, understand them, and to test them in a rigorous and methodologically sound way. Taking Marx seriously means taking his argument for the tendency of the rate of profit to fall seriously. That's got to be the first step toward recovery.

Those Marxists who can't or won't do that, those who don't want take Marx's theories seriously, should do something else with their time. Maybe they should write science fiction novels.

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