Saturday, 28 July 2012

Communism – has its time come? It wasn’t too long ago that Francis Fukuyama was declaiming ‘The End of History’. Communism and Marxism had been conclusively defeated. How history can so easily upset the applecart of complacent thinking is now clearly emerging. Only a few years since that iconic statement was pronounced, global capitalism is in deep crisis, there are mass demonstrations on the streets, corporate bosses are reeling on the back foot As Al Jazeera recently reported, Marxism and the discussion of a communist society are back in fashion and Marxism is again at the centre of intellectual discussion. New editions of Marx's texts have returned to our bookstores accompanied by new introductions, biographies, and interpretations of his thinking. In our universities, too, we are experiencing a sea-change. Not long ago, few academics who valued their status and their funding would be willing to admit to being Marxists, now they seem to be queuing up to do so. A whole number of renowned philosophers (among them Judith Balso, Bruno Bosteels, Susan Buck-Mors, Jodi Dean, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Ranciere, and Slavoj Zizek), have began to envision how society could be constructed to avoid the pitfalls and injustices of capitalism and are looking at it in communist terms. Here in Britain too, there are a number of Marxist thinkers who are openly challenging the ethical and philosophical basis of capitalism. Not only celebrated academics like Terry Eagleton, but from the mainstream too, like professors Swyngedouw, Ben Fine, Sean Sayers, Terrel Carver and sociologists like Danny Dorling, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett are all challenging capitalist ideology. Recently, Turner short listed artist Phil Collins’s showed his video compilation ‘Marxism Today’ at London’s South bank on the teaching of Marxist economics in the GDR. It received enthusiastic reviews and avid public interest. There are new websites like ‘Marx and Philosophy’ and ‘Historical Materialism’. Recent conferences in London, Berlin, Paris and New York have been attended by thousands of academics, students, and activists around the ideas of Marxism and communism. There is a plethora of best-selling books such as Negri and Hardt's Empire, Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis and Vattimo's Ecce Comu, as well as new biographies of Engels, essays by the Peruvian Marxist Mariategui, and new publications on Gramsci and Rosa Luxemburg and so on. What is happening? Although not all these thinkers consider themselves communist, the fact that communist thought is now back at the centre of economic, political, sociological and philosophic research is highly significant and encouraging. Why is all this happening now? It is not simply a reaction to the global financial crisis, but has been brewing for some time. Facing the seemingly incapability of capitalism to address the problems of environmental catastrophe, climate change, over-population and social breakdown, more and more thinkers are looking to alternatives. And Marxism still offers the most useful pointers and potential solutions to these seemingly intractable problems Clearly, at these conferences and in these books, communism is not being proposed as a programme for political parties to repeat previous historical attempts to build communist societies, but more an existential response to the current neo-liberal global condition. Politics, economic planning and government policies should be based ideally on the goal of bettering the human condition, rather than, as at present, simple subservience to the chaotic meanderings of rampant and feral capitalism. To achieve this, we sorely need the input of academic research and innovative ideas. The Al Jazeera report, mentioned above, says: ‘But today, things are not that different if we consider the latest effects of neo-liberalism - apart from our current financial crisis, where differentials in material well-being have never been so explicit - slum populations are growing by an shocking 25 million people a year, and the devastation of our planet's natural resources is causing dire ecological consequences throughout the world, and in many cases it is too late to correct.’ Even the ruling class is recognising the ‘danger’ of a resurgence of Marxism. A recent UK Ministry of Defence report predicts not only a resurgence of, ‘anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism’. Of course the word ‘communist’ is loaded with different meanings, but in the minds of most people in the west it is associated with Eastern European attempts to build new societies. It is not only considered a remnant of the past but seen as a political system where everything is controlled by an all-powerful state. In this context, Zizek comments in his inimitable dialectical style: ‘If state communism didn't work, it's primarily because of the failure of anti-statist politics, of the endeavour to break out of the constraints of State, to replace statal forms of organisation with “direct” non-representative forms of self-organisation.’ Communism, as an anti-statist concept has today become the best idea, hypothesis, and guide for non-governmental and international political movements, such as those that arose from the protests in Seattle (1999), Cochabamba (2000), and Barcelona (2011), as well as in the World Social Forum movement, and in experimental new forms of governing as seen in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Kerala, India and in Latin America. Although each of these movements fought for different specific causes (against injurious economic globalisation, the privatisation of water supplies, and harmful financial policies) their enemy was the same: Western democracy's unjust system of property distribution under capitalism. As the increasing poverty and slum populations in the world demonstrate, this model has left behind all those who do not succeed within capitalism’s parameters, and this is generating new communists. What is still missing is a sufficiently strong mass movement of working people to force through the changes that are now becoming increasingly possible; however this situation can change very quickly. END

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