Communism staging a comeback?

karl marx
He’s back and ready to party (maybe)

From the Guardian

Move over Jacko, Idea of Communism is hottest ticket in town this weekend

The hottest ticket in London this weekend is not for a pop singer or a football match but for a conference on communism which brings together some of the world’s leading Marxist academics.

Should corporate titans be trembling in their over-leveraged boots? Ah, no. Given a superb, once in a lifetime opportunity to genuinely organize, given the current economic crisis, are these Marxists plunging into the torrent, mixing it up with the workers. Not hardly

One of the organisers, the Slovenian philosopher and writer, Slavoj Zizek, has emphasised that the purpose of the gathering is not to “deal with practico-political questions of how to analyse the latest economic, political, and military troubles, or how to organise a new political movement”. He added: “more radical questioning is needed today – this is a meeting of philosophers who will deal with communism as a philosophical concept, advocating a precise and strong thesis: from Plato onwards, communism is the only political idea worthy of a philosopher.”

Absolutely. Let’s all try to be as irrelevant and useless as possible. Rather than using some of Marx’s ideas to explain to a worker why he just lost his job / home /pension, instead let’s get theoretical and talk philosophy. No wait, I’ve got an even better idea. Let’s spend inordinate amounts of time squabbling about what some obscure Communist in 1920 thought about the national question. That will be sure to win followers and smash capitalism too.

On socialist listservs, you can sometimes find long (very long) debates about “What is the working class.” Well, uh, how can you organize it if you can’t even define it or find it? But here’s a hint. Go to the West Texas oil fields. You’ll find lots of genuinely exploited working class folks there. Tell them you’re a philosopher and that communism is the only worthy political idea. You’ll be sure to grab their attention, I guarantee that.


  1. I’ve met some Marxists who have a real grasp of history and the practical understanding of how to change it. More often than not, they don’t belong to Marxist organizations. One was a history professor at a community college in Los Angeles. His pragmaticism influenced me greatly. I’ve also met intellectuals in their ivory towers who pontificate from afar. Whatever their philosphy, they don’t seem to have much impact because they don’t live in the real world.

    These days, I tend to think that doctrinal Marxism would be hard pressed to survive contact with the working class. And I don’t mean just the American working class. Go to the rice farmer of Sri Lanka or Thailand and suggest that state ownership will solve his problems. If he’s got an AK-47, he may just show you how it works. (Actually in Sri Lanka he’ll probably just smile and ignore you; in Thailand he’ll laugh.) And if you can’t sell it to some of the poorest people in the world, where does that leave you?

    • There’s plenty of capitalists, like Alan Abelson of Barron’s, who says Marx’s analysis of capitalism is dead on correct. Where Marx was not so accurate perhaps, was in predicting the inevitable crash of capitalism via the boom-bust cycle. Capitalism is a wily beast and can morph into new forms rapidly. It survived the Great Depression and kept on going.

      Also, many Marxists have the bizarre to me belief that revolution can only come from the working class, preferably the most exploited strata, because I guess that makes it more authentic or something. But history shows that leaders of revolution invariably are middle class to upper class. As are most hardcore Marxists. So why not just accept that.

  2. That professor I mentioned used Marxist analysis to explain what was happening in the world– an analysis I still use today. But the political strategy flops.

    As Marx envisioned the working class, it was the industrial workers of the world– who are now as often as not relatively well-paid union members. Keep in mind that the median world income is about $2 per day. The real downtrodden either live quietly at subsistence level or are busily blowing themselves up at the call of wealthy extremists like Bin Laden or Prabhakaran who promise to support their families.

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