1000 petals by axinia

the only truth I know is my own experience

Looking for alternatives: a symposium on the idea of communism March 17, 2009

(image by me)

An interesting article found in the GUARDIAN, let me quote some abstracts:

The speedy panic with which our governments agreed to throw billions of pounds away to restore “confidence” suggests that the dream is over and we are awakening to a strange new socialism, in which an increasingly authoritarian government has taken public control of financial capitalism in order to save it from itself. We read today that equal pay reviews no longer matter. Migrants are left to starve on the streets as the government heads off the far right by pandering to it. And so it’s precisely now that the question of an alternative must be re-opened.

Against this backdrop, Birkbeck College this weekend hosted a symposium on the idea of communism. Originally planned as a meeting of philosophers and those who enjoy hearing their debates, the unexpected material circumstances of history instead gave the event a genuine sense of urgency. Even the BBC came to hear Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciere, Michael Hardt, Toni Negri, and others speaking on the possibilities and challenges of reinventing the communist ideal today.

The conference was happily free of dogmatism. No one on the stage was there to represent a particular party or doctrine. There were disagreements, but at heart was a simple proposition. Communism is an idea that has been with us in different forms for thousands of years, as Terry Eagleton pointed out. The task is now to think what the concepts of egalitarian voluntarism, self-organisation, common ownership of common means of production, abolition of class-structured society, and freedom from state power can mean today.

First, the question of the role of the state and the economy remains open. While Judith Balso, Toni Negri and Alain Badiou insist on creating new political movements at a distance from the state, Zizek and Bruno Bosteels point to the experiences of Bolivia and Venezuela as contemporary proof that by taking power, a progressive radical movement can survive even against overwhelming reactionary forces.

Perhaps the true question is: why communism? It does no harm to remember that for Marx, communism was not something anachronistic and programmatic. Marx insisted on the simple idea that we and no one else are responsible for remaking the world. Communism can only be enacted from what really exists. The party-states attempted to bend society to match some abstract idea. A true philosophy of communism cannot provide all the answers, because it has not yet encountered the problems.

Separating the promise of communism from the disasters of the 20th century is no easy task. But it feels necessary. Already we know that choices will have to be made and sides taken. Impending ecological disaster suggests that this could be our last chance to do so. If another world is possible, it will happen in action, not abstract theory. The first choice is very simple: to begin. (by Bernard Keenan)


10 Responses to “Looking for alternatives: a symposium on the idea of communism”

  1. Axinia, communism is an idea that is destined to fail just as the notorious “free market capitalism” is destined to fail. I use the word communism and NOT socialism. Because communism is synonymous with the idea of a repressive single-party state that controls everything and opposes the freedom and rights of its own citizens. Communism masquerades as socialism when it is has got nothing to do with the idea of egalitarian socialism. Communism, as the world has experienced it, is nothing but state-owned and run capitalism. In a communist state, the government is the all-powerful super-capitalist tyrant like it is in North Korea. Or the government is just an authoritarian dictatorship that runs a capitalist economy, like in the PRC.

    In a typical “free market capitalist” economy without any kind of regulation or social safety net, a small cabal of filthy rich elite runs the show for their own benefit and exploits the masses like neo-serfs. In a typical communist economy, a single party dictatorship runs the show, again treating the masses like neo-serfs.

    I don’t know any place in the world where socialism as it should be, existed or exists at the moment. Venezuela held a lot of promise but Hugo Chavez’s self-styled “socialism of the 21st century” seems to be heading for a more humanitarian form of the hated and highly corrupt license raj system that existed in India 😦 Maybe the Nordic model of a socio-democratic welfare state is the the best compromise till a real form of socialism can be worked out.

    • axinia Says:

      Thank you, Raj – the idea will socialism is a good one and I agree with you that today it is probably only the Scadinavic countires which managed more or less to achieve a good social and economic model. But at a very high cost – but this is another story…

      You might be wondering that I am so persistant on the topic of capitalism/communism – it is only because of my strong desire for harmony and balance: the Western way of thinking does not want to see any alternative to capitalism (at least that was the case till now) and I think I can give my input from the other perspective. After all I live in so called democracy 🙂

      • The concept of egalitarian socialism is surely a great idea, Axinia, and if a stable, peaceful and functioning democracy is allowed to evolve on its own course, such a concept is a natural outcome. That’s why we find the best democracies in the world naturally gravitate towards a good socio-economic model. It’s really sad that Icelanders allowed the nasty parasite called “free market capitalism” 😡 into their country and true to its nature, the parasite has made the host very sick 😦

        I guess many Native American (Amerindian) peoples practised some form of socialism and democracy too. Not the empire-builders like the Incas, Mayas, Aztecs, Toltecs but the smaller Amerindian groups primarily in North America until Columbus “discovered” America and the resulting colonisations resulted in horrible genocides. It’s a real pity because many of those Amerindians were truly spiritual people who lived in harmony with nature. Their enlightened and largely socialist, democratic societies were destroyed by settlers from the highly feudal European empires of the time.

        These are some reasons why I believe a “global enlightenment” that you hope for will never happen 😐 History has shown us that even if the people of some societies achieve enlightenment, the primitive, backward forces like feudalism and “free market capitalism” will destroy those societies 😦

        • axinia Says:

          Raj, I agree with you to the wide extend. It is true that there have been civiliazations (and not only in America, also in Russia) that were very advanced that thie human qualities wree concirned. And they have been distrated by the more barbaric ones…it is all true.
          But these have been sigle civiliazaitons, and now we are all together!!! I mean there have NEVER been in the human history (at least so far as it known) that people of all continects have access to generally the same information (thnks to Internet) and are getting closer and closer in theri value systems and understanding of each other every day. IT IS HAPPNING, one need to see things a bit more globaly and it get very clear.
          There is a global raise of awareness that has never taken place before. And that will make the difference! – that is the source of my optimism, as you can call it.

  2. swaps Says:

    The fact that it took a crisis to start a rethink proves we cannot change. Anyway, just what do they propose??…fact is, communism and capitalism are two faces of the same coin.

    I see no crisis, nature is just forcing man to search for a broader meaning of life. For once, let nature have its say, for our sake.

    • axinia Says:

      I like your idea, swaps – but how are going to let Nature have its say? Wait until we all go underwater? or some other calamity happens?…

      To listen to Nature also means to listen to our inner Self, which means to me that the humanity finally has to realise the spiritual powers within. And acutally use them with wisdom.

      • swaps Says:

        Yeah, we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth and some correction is needed. Something will happen, we as individuals must duck the blow …and live another day to continue this discussion 🙂

  3. sakhi Says:

    yes… the so-called democracy!!! 😦

  4. Caleb Williams Says:

    I think every educated person should have a copy of the communist manifesto on their bookshelf … not because Marx was absolutely right about everything … he wasn’t … but there are insights in the manifesto that are so right; it’s only 40 pages or so … you can knock it back with a tea and 3 biscuits in an afternoon nod along with the good bits … Read More and then think …. about about all the madness, bloodshed, anarchy, the various cults of personality, repressive totalitarian governments and megalomaniac dictatorships that set themselves up and sustained rule in it’s name … and yes, still somehow enjoy it as a critique of the ‘cash nexus’, and the ‘alienation’ that comes with ‘wage slavery’ …. my copy is the old penguin version with the AJP Taylor introductory essay … which is also a great read (b.t.w. this version is currently available for $1 in the used books section on the US Amazon website, a steal … does that mean this text is now consigned to the rubbish bin of history as a permanently ‘remaindered’ book ) … “A spectre is haunting Europe-the spectre of Communism…”.

  5. axinia Says:

    Caleb, it is great to read your comment here!!! I am a bit surprised you have not commented on “your” post 🙂 Hope you still will!

    Yea, on communism..I am glad you think same way. And this ““A spectre is haunting Europe-the spectre of Communism…”.” is really the best! I used to hear it a lot in my life in USSA 🙂

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