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Forum Post: Why so many communist philosophers?

Posted 8 years ago on July 23, 2012, 10:14 p.m. EST by PeterKropotkin (1050) from Oakland, CA
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By Santiago Zabala

Barcelona, Spain - Reading and writing about Karl Marx does not necessarily make you a communist, but the fact that a number of distinguished philosophers are reevaluating Marx's ideas certainly means something.

After the autumn 2008 global economic crisis, new editions of Marx's texts returned to our bookstores accompanied by a large number of introductions, biographies, and new interpretations of the German master.

While this resurrection was undoubtedly caused by the financial meltdown allowed by our democratic governments, Marx's revival among philosophers is not as simple a consequence as many believe.

After all, in the early nineties the great French philosopher Jacques Derrida anticipated this return as a response to Francis Fukuyama's (self-proclaimed) "neoliberal victory" at the "end of history".

Fault Lines - History of an occupation Against Fukuyama's predictions, the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring demonstrated that history calls once again for a new beginning beyond the economic, neoliberal, and international paradigms we live in. A number of renowned philosophers (Judith Balso, Bruno Bosteels, Susan Buck-Mors, Jodi Dean, Terry Eagleton, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Ranciere, and others), led by Slavoj Zizek, have began to envision how such beginning would look in communist terms, that is, as a radical alternative.

This took place not only at successful conferences in London, Paris, Berlin, and New York (which were attended by thousands of academics, students, and activists) but also through such best-selling books as Toni Negri and Michael Hardt's Empire, Alain Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis, and Gianni Vattimo's Ecce Comu. Although not all these philosophers consider themselves communist - at least, not in the same way - the fact that communist thought has been at the centre of their political research permits us to ask why there are so many communist philosophers today.

The Marxist revival

Clearly, at these conferences and in these books, communism was not proposed as a programme for political parties to repeat previous historical regimes but rather as an existential response to the current neoliberal global condition.

The correlation between existence and philosophy is constitutive not only of most philosophical traditions but also of politics in its responsibility for the existential well-being of humans. After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.

This was the case at the beginning of the last century when Oswald Spengler, Karl Popper, and other philosophers began to warn us of the dangers that come from a blind rationalisation of all human realms and an unfettered industrialisation of the world. But politics, instead of resisting such human industrialisation, followed its logics with devastating consequences, as we well know.

But today, things are not that different if we consider the latest effects of neoliberalism - 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.

Because of this, a recent UK Ministry of Defence report predicted 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". This revival of Marxism is a direct consequence of capitalism's existential annihilations.

What is 'communism'?

Although the word "communist" has acquired innumerable different meanings throughout history, in today's public opinion it is not only considered a remnant of the past but also imagined as a political system where all cultural, social, and economical components are controlled by the state.

Inside Story - Demanding 'economic justice' Although this might be the case in China, Vietnam, and North Korea, for most philosophers this meaning is not only outdated but also stands in sharp contrast with their existential justifications for its revival. As Zizek put it, 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 the antistatist realm for equal opportunities, today has become the best idea, hypothesis, and guide for nongovernmental or stateless political movements, such as those that arose from the protests in Seattle (1999), Cochabamba (2000), and Barcelona (2011).

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: democracy's system of property distribution through capitalism's private impositions.

As the increasing poverty and slum populations demonstrate, this model has left behind all those who do not succeed within them, generating new communists.

Communism and democracy

In sum, while Negri and Hardt see in the "common" (ie, where private and public immaterial property can be held in common) and Badiou in insurrectional experiences (as that of the Paris Commune), the possibility of nonstate "forms of self-organisation", that is, of communism, Vattimo (and I) have suggested looking to the new democratically elected leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, and other Latin American nations.

If these leaders have managed to enact communist policies without violent insurrections, it isn't because of their theoretical or programmatic strength but rather their weakness.

Contrary to the "scientific socialism" agenda, weak (or hermeneutic) communism has embraced not only the ecological cause of degrowth but also the decentralisation of the state bureaucratic system in order to permit independent counsels to increase community involvement.

It should not come as a surprise if many other philosophers, now made communist by the destructive actions and life-destroying policies of neoliberalism, also see the alternative this region offers, especially because the Latin American nations have demonstrated how communist access to power can also take place through the formal rules of democracy.




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[-] 2 points by justiceforzim (-17) 8 years ago

Probably because Marxism is great in theory, eh...not so much in practice.


[-] 1 points by shadz66 (19985) 8 years ago

Maybe an increase of 'abject inequalities' has got something to do with it ?!!!

Thus please also consider :

fiat justitia ruat caelum ...

[-] 1 points by freewriterguy (882) 8 years ago

Jesus taught communism. Our world hasn't tried communism in over 200 years. A Russian dictator / mafia run "communism" isnt communism either. True communism is where the people rule in the village or community and share all things in common. Very much unlike our current community where 1 % rich hoards have stashed away in cayman islands and swiss vaults 150% of our national debt.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 8 years ago

What you described is called collectivism. Everybody owns everything.

Every communist nation in history has benefitted the one percent.

Even in Cuba, which is probably the shining light of communism, there is elitism.

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 8 years ago

I don't want to disagree, but while I consider Cuba a good example of Marxist-Leninism in the transition stage, it falls far short of the final goal, maybe not because of Fidel, Raul, and other of the original revolutionaries, but because Cuba was a less-than-ideal ground in which to plant communism.

As Che Guevara repeatedly pointed out, Cuba under the American-puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista was a backward, feudal country. Even today in spite of many grandiose plans, and perhaps because of the US embargo, Cuba remains an agrarian country--hardly the fertile soil Marx envisioned.

Maybe a better example would be Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He calls himself various types of Communist, but leans heavily toward Trotskyism. He has, so far, moved the country toward a communist state without resorting to totalitariansim, which he may have. He certainly has the support of the masses. Still, he has resisted that move and left Venezuela an autocratic, but democratic society, perhaps more democratic than our own, which really is nothing more than an oligarchy.

After all in the upcoming Venezuelan election the citizens of that country have a real choice between Hugo Chavez and his opponent, who has vowed to reverse many of Chavez's measures. That's more than we have in this country, in which both "parties" represent the same minority.

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 8 years ago

Cuba has struggled under trade sanctions for several generations now. The country never got a fair deal from the US, despite their efforts to present as no threat to the nation.

You might recall that Cuba's admin offered practical assistance to the US directly after the hurricane called Katrina devastated a vast region of America's south. The offer of doctors, evacuation boats, and medical supplies. was declined.

I guess nobody was to know that the US admin didn't care about those poor people down south. I hear that the call for secession in the South is gathering speed.

If I was living in New Orleans at that time, I would consider the government and FEMA to be my new enemy. Wouldn't you?

They basically waited till the maximum death toll before offering any kind of assistance. This is factual. Not hearsay. Australian tourists were there too, you know. We got the full story of what happened there.

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 8 years ago

The US will probably resist any normalization of relations with Cuba until Fidel, Raul, and other original revolutionaries have died. The Batista sycophants and other beneficiaries of the Cuban feudal state, who fled to Florida, have unduly influenced US foreign policy toward Cuba for the past fifty years. The Cubans in Florida, including Marco Rubio a reactionary remnant of American interference in Latin America and a US Senator from Florida, steadfastly rebuff friendly advances by the Cuban government in the hope of returning someday to their island fiefdom.

Obama initially promised to begin repairing the strained relationship with Cuba, but like so many other of his promises, this one has remained unfulfilled.

I do not understand the aninosity of the US government toward Cuba, except that it is a Communist state.

The elitism of Cuba, I believe, can be directly attributed to the Leninism espoused by the original revolutionaries. They bought the whole concept of proletarian dictatorship, but never stopped to consider--as Trotsky pointed out--that once the elite bureaucracy had been installed, it became almost impossible to displace. Still, I believe that Fidel and Raul keep their dream of a truly communist Cuba alive. Maybe someday they'll realize the country they sought to create.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 8 years ago

Nice side-stepping of the Katrina issue.

The north really does hate the south, I guess.

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 8 years ago

No, I'm a westerner, not a Yankee, except in the sense of non-Americans referring to all residents of the US as yankees. I didn't sidestep the issue; only know most southerners would not have wanted to accept aid from Cuba, since that is a hot bed of American "conservatism," read reactionary thinking. Nearly all southern states, with the exception of Florida, are among the solid "red," read reactionary Republican states.

Most Louisiana politicians would have raised a hue and cry against W for accepting Cuban aid that you could have heard in Australia. Finally, W would never have accepted aid from Cuba, even if residents of the Gulf Coast had been lying on the streets openly bleeding. The reactionaries of America consider Cuba an enemy of the American state.

[-] 0 points by VQkag2 (16478) 8 years ago

Bush (from southern state Texas) refused the Cuban aid. Bush hates black people" isn't that what Kanye said.

Thats why he didn't help with Katrina. The North helped a great deal 'cause we love that "chocolate city".

And if you really wanna talk about hate. Who hates LGBT americans,? Who hates immigrants? Who hates Jews and other non Christian fundementalcases? Who hates African Americans? Who hates womens rights (no abortion clinics in MS? huh?), Who hates people not from "the real America"? How about Pres Obama? what part of the country hates him. Should I mention muslims?

No I think it's the South that has a corner on the hate market. And they always have.

Peace, & Love.

[-] 1 points by TitusMoans (2451) from Boulder City, NV 8 years ago

Thanks. I think those of us who believe in change should began to push this as a non-revolutionary alternative.