Blog post

Full Communism

Huw Lemmey 3 May 2012

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There are Reds under the bed. Or in the academies. Or worse: about to spill into the streets. So warns Alan Johnson in World Affairs, the esteemed Washington-based international affairs journal. Tracing the rising profile of a group of authors such as Alain Badiou, Bruno Bosteels and Slavoj Žižek and the popularity of their books, the columnist outlines what he sees as a nascent threat lurking in the incendiary words of Terry Eagleton and Toni Negri.

Johnson follows Badiou's thesis which describes the emergence of a "communist hypothesis" with the Paris Commune, an event which triggers attempts at realising that dream — for Badiou, most notably the Cultural Revolution — followed by the eclipse of that movement into a dreamtime of capitalist realism. The task of the proletarian today is to help "usher in the third era" of communism.

This nascent communist current has emerged with a series of core critiques that Johnson feels are "disparate", but which the new communists have somehow cobbled together into an ideological critique. These range from the global financial crisis and the growth of neoliberal policies to the enclosure of digital commons and looming environmental catastrophe. This critique, combined with the collapse of the reformist and social democratic left, has created a political space for the new communists, an appeal that:

rests on one fact above all: only the new communists argue that the crises of contemporary liberal capitalist societies-ecological degradation, financial turmoil, the loss of trust in the political class, exploding inequality-are systemic; interlinked, not amenable to legislative reform, and requiring "revolutionary" solutions.

According to Johnson "new communism is distinguished by refusing to treat these antagonisms in isolation", treating communism not "as a historical movement with a record of labor camps" but rather as a "leap" into "a society wholly beyond the market and representative democracy; a perfectly equal stateless society". There is, of course, only one logical conclusion to an analysis which sees capital as the cause of recurrent crises, and a movement which seeks to overturn capital through radical egalitarian princples: Gulags. Johnson procedes to conflate the thought of Rancière, Toscano and Vattimo into a single dogma of evasion and crypto-Stalinism, attacking this new current for both its vagueness and its specifics, and for its ever lurking rhetoric, and practice, of revolutionary terror. And, for Johnson, new communism's "flirtation with the notion of left-fascism helps explain why the new communism needs to be taken seriously."

Men such as Johnson and journals such as World Affairs might understand the hidden risks of an ideology which seems to promise so much. But others — younger, less enlightened, more naive — might fall under communism's seductive spell. With its crazy critique of capital mentioned above, combined with rising unemployment, political disenfranchisement and "the language of the thug-commissar" in hand,

[t]he new communist ideas might yet connect with the young, the angry, and the idealistic who are confronted by a profound economic crisis in the context of an exhausted social democracy and a self-loathing intellectual culture. Tempting as it is, we can't afford to just shake our heads at the new communism and pass on by.

Vigilant as a minuteman, Johnson declares that "new communism" is retreading the tired old platitudes of old communism. But what about the new anticommunism? What about the Gulags? What about the children? And what about the workers indeed sir?

Read the full article at World Affairs Journal.

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