by Vann Seawell
An Open Letter to the Editorial Board of Historical Materialism
I am currently a subscriber to Historical Materialism and have been, off and on, since the first issue was published over 25 years ago. However, your recent publication of an article by Jesse Lopes and Chris Byron, “Phenomenology, Scientific Method and the Transformation Problem,” Historical Materialism, 30.1 (2022), p. 209–236, has raised serious concerns about your attitude to truth that have led me to cancel my subscription. Let me explain.
On the journal’s website there is the following “mission statement”:
Historical Materialism is a Marxist Journal. Founded in 1997 it asserts that, notwithstanding the variety of its practical and theoretical articulations, Marxism constitutes the most fertile conceptual framework for analysing social phenomena, with an eye to their overhaul. In our selection of material we do not favour any one tendency, tradition or variant. Marx demanded the ‘merciless criticism of everything that exists’: for us that includes Marxism itself.
Reading this now, I notice an emphasis on “balance” in the editorial selection of material for Historical Materialism, but a balance of what? There is nothing in it about this “Marxist Journal’s” commitment to truth and editorial accountability in the selection and publication of material. Not a word! In addition, on the basis of a quote from Marx’s letter to Arnold Ruge, we are told that the “merciless criticism of everything that exists … includes Marxism itself.” However, apparently, it does not apply to the Editorial Board of Historical Materialism itself, which exists in an untruth enclave, impenetrable to Marx’s dialectic of criticism of “everything that exists.”
Case in point: Historical Materialism’s cavalier attitude to truth and accountability is evidenced in a recent response of the Editorial Board to an article written by Andrew Kliman, “Value, Price & Prattle: A Response to Lopes, Byron, and Historical Materialism,” where Kliman demonstrates various errors, falsehoods and misrepresentations in the article by Jesse Lopes and Chris Byron referenced above. A simple example which should be obvious to anyone, except a Historical Materialism editor, is the following:
All Marx claims in that section is that ‘money as a measure of value is the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is immanent in commodities, namely labour-time.’ Yet, he never states that labour-time is also a measure. [Lopes and Byron, p. 230–231]
But this is not a one-off. Faced with numerous examples of such errors, falsehoods and misrepresentations throughout the Lopes and Byron article, Kliman requested, both in his article and separately, that Historical Materialism retract the Lopes and Byron article. In response, Sebastian Budgen, on behalf of the Historical Materialism Editorial Board, and within only a few hours of receiving Kliman’s email retraction request, wrote the following (quoted in Andrew Kliman, “Historical Materialism Doubles Down on its Embrace of Untruth“):
Dear Andrew Kliman,
We are not going to « retract » the article. But if you write a civil response and you don’t claim that people are making death threats against you etc, we will consider publishing it on the website.
Budgen’s answer is clearly unacceptable. Not only are his hubris and arrogance over the top, but, most importantly, his message demonstrates that Historical Materialism does not care about truth. The Editorial Board did not even bother to review or investigate the basis for Kliman’s request for retraction or Budgen’s unilateral dismissal!
Is this how a notable “Left journal” chooses to respond to Kliman’s truth-based argument against the opinion- and untruth-based article of Lopes and Byron that it published? If so, then the Historical Materialism “mission statement” quoted above should have stated that material selected for publication is chosen irrespective of its truth content, or lack thereof.
But make no mistake, this open letter is not directed at Lopes and Byron. Rather, this letter is part of a fight against post-truthism as exhibited by the actions of the Editorial Board of Historical Materialism. The failure to date of Historical Materialism to even consider retraction of the Lopes and Byron opinion piece, on the basis of Kliman’s truth-based request, undermines any claims that the foundational principle of the journal is truth and accountability.
Accordingly, it is time for myself and others to protest and use this example to expose and advertise such untruth practices like those committed by Historical Materialism.
In addition, for my part, consider this open letter notice of my subscription renewal cancellation.
Enough of the BS,
Customer Number: WB-0003757