In the two decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, global capitalism became entrenched in its modern, neoliberal form. Its triumph was so complete that the word “capitalism” itself fell out of use in the absence of credible political alternatives. But with the outbreak of financial crisis and global recession in the twenty-first century, capitalism is once again up for discussion. The status quo can no longer be taken for granted.
As Eric Hobsbawm argues in his acute and elegant introduction to this modern edition, in such times The Communist Manifesto emerges as a work of great prescience and power despite being written over a century and a half ago. He highlights Marx and Engels’s enduring insights into the capitalist system: its devastating impact on all aspects of human existence; its susceptibility to enormous convulsions and crises; and its fundamental weakness.
After Greece’s agreement with the European Union – with the aid programme being extended in exchange for the continuation of structural reforms – the new government has arrived at an impasse. The hopes of those seeking an end to austerity have not even lasted a month. Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the Syriza central committee and reader in political theory at King’s College London comments on these developments in the interview below.
What is the symbolic importance of Syriza’s victory?
Syriza’s victory represents a historic turning point. It is the first time in European electoral history that a party of the radical Left – that is, to the left of social democracy – has won the elections and entered government.
Up till now, the only times that parties from this political family exercised governmental roles they were part of wider coalitions, and even that was in very particular circumstances. This unprecedented success undoubtedly marks a turning point, one that is all the more important in that Europe is in the grip of a social and economic crisis that has led to growing political turmoil.
Some have noted that in the countries of Northern and Central Europe far-Right forces and the radicalised Right are the ones benefiting from this. Conversely, in the peripheral countries, which have been subjected to the harshest austerity policies, it is instead the forces of the radical Left that seem to be raising their head. We see this in Greece but also in Spain and Ireland.
As Europe's political climate is increasingly defined by an assurgent left populism, we re-publish Razmig Keucheyan's discussion of political theorist Ernesto Laclau, whose theoretical legacy is a critical engagement with this problematic realised today in Greece and Spain. This piece was originally published in Keucheyan's cartography of the contemporary world's leading critical thinkers; The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Thinking Today.