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On your Marx...

Tamar Shlaim 5 July 2012

Stuart Jeffries gives an overview of the mainstreaming of Marx in today's Guardian, featuring Verso authors Alain Badiou, Jacques RancièreOwen Jones and Slavoj Žižek as well as the new edition of The Communist Manifesto

Class conflict once seemed so straightforward. Marx and Engels wrote in the second best-selling book of all time, The Communist Manifesto: "What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable."...

Today, 164 years after Marx and Engels wrote about grave-diggers, the truth is almost the exact opposite. The proletariat, far from burying capitalism, are keeping it on life support.

Jeffries interviews Jacques Rancière, philosopher, radical social historian (and Ségolène Royal's favourite thinker) to shed light on the 'new Marxism': 

 Aren't Marx's venerable ideas as useful to us as the hand loom would be to shoring up Apple's reputation for innovation? Isn't the dream of socialist revolution and communist society an irrelevance in 2012? After all, I suggest to Rancière, the bourgeoisie has failed to produce its own gravediggers. Rancière refuses to be downbeat: "The bourgeoisie has learned to make the exploited pay for its crisis and to use them to disarm its adversaries. But we must not reverse the idea of historical necessity and conclude that the current situation is eternal. The gravediggers are still here, in the form of workers in precarious conditions like the over-exploited workers of factories in the far east. And today's popular movements – Greece or elsewhere – also indicate that there's a new will not to let our governments and our bankers inflict their crisis on the people."

 Jeffries takes on the critique of "the new communism" advanced by Alan Johnson recently in World Affairs  (and critiqued here). Speaking of Badiou, Žižek, Rancière et al, he wrote: "A worldview recently the source of immense suffering and misery, and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism, is mounting a comeback; a new form of leftwing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity but aspires to political power. The fear, says Jeffries, is that these: 

nasty old left farts such as Žižek, Badiou, Rancière and Eagleton will corrupt the minds of innocent youth. But does reading Marx and Engels's critique of capitalism mean that you thereby take on a worldview responsible for more deaths than the Nazis? Surely there is no straight line from The Communist Manifesto to the gulags.

These been the most proeminent critics to the current state of affairs and their writings don't merely represent a throwback to past failures but rather a valid alternative for the present failure. The Marxism Festival (which starts today in London and is the biggest for over a decade) is attracting more young people than ever, who are more than capable of critically engaging with communist theory old and new. Alongside the "old left farts" in attendance are young leftists of all types, a new generation who have realised that a "less absurd, more just" world is possible. But what might such a world look like? 

"It is extremely unlikely that such a 'post-capitalist society' would respond to the traditional models of socialism and still less to the 'really existing' socialisms of the Soviet era," argues Hobsbawm, adding that it will, however, necessarily involve a shift from private appropriation to social management on a global scale. "What forms it might take and how far it would embody the humanist values of Marx's and Engels's communism, would depend on the political action through which this change came about."

This is surely Marxism at its most liberating, suggesting that our futures depend on us and our readiness for struggle.

Visit the Guardian to read the full article. For further reading, check out Verso's pocket communism series. 

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