- Capitalism and Alternatives -

It's time to bring back utopian thinking

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on September 02, 1999 at 18:32:23:

In Reply to: On forward planning. posted by Red Deathy on September 02, 1999 at 14:30:28:

: My point is that M&F considered themselves parts of the same movement of the utopians, and their critique of utopianism was not of the same sort as dished out by the Stalinists (see the postings of Red-Wasp). they saw the material movement of the working class as bearing these ideas, and brining them into fruition...

SDF: Thanks to the doctrinaire treatment of Engels' pamphlet about "scientific socialism," we have this nonsense about Marxist socialism being "scientific" amongst the "Marx had all the answers" crowd, sorry, only the part about the critique of socialism (Capital,Critique of Political Economy etc.) makes any claim to being scientific.

Marx's theory of the revolution was a streak of pure utopianism. The Communist Manifesto was a demand, but it was also a plan (and a rather vague one at that), and putting the task in the hands of "the people" without specifying a lot of the things I mentioned in the above posts was like putting a 3-year-old in the driver's seat of a car, starting the engine, and taking off the emergency brake while putting it in gear.

So let's look at Marxism today, what it consists of.

You have 1) the cadres of the "formerly communist" nations, for whom Marxism was the ideological emblem of (formerly) planned economies that are now being integrated into global capitalism -- we can perhaps agree that this version of Marxism was false to begin with, as it was predicated on the "socialism in one country" model. Nevertheless many of these people have had the temerity to read vol. 1 of Capital all the way through. But, only the Cubans have any hopes outside of capitalism, and they're now quite dependent upon European and Latin American tourist dollars.

You have 2) the tiny parties that claim to be "socialist" or "communist" in the conquering nations of the North. If they're in power (France, for instance), they've been co-opted (and in France I hear that the most radical changes are coming from the Green Party), and if they're out of power, they've been marginalized.

You have 3) the tiny groups of academics who originally rescued "Western Marxism" from the Soviet commisars of academic truth, and who are busy achieving tenure (against departmental disapproval) in the world's capitalist universities. This group isn't necessarily willing to stick its neck out for the tiniest intimation of social change, gee maybe a little more butter on the bread for the wage-slaves of the working class perhaps, because it's too busy trying to get tenure. The only ones among this class that appear to have any hope of endorsing a revolution are those who have accepted their marginalization within the global university system; see for instance Ronald J. Schindler's The Frankfurt School Critique of Capitalist Culture.

So it seems to me that Marxism has widely been declared moribund because it's too hung up on its "scientific," "realistic" assessment of life-as-it-is. And such an assessment is likely to conclude what Craig Calhoun concluded upon a reading of E.P. Thompson -- that "From Marx's day to the present, the conditions of revolutionary mobilization have been continuously eroded in the advanced capitalist countries" (239), because the working class today has too much to defend under the current set-up (regardless of the rate of oppression of the working class), and that therefore there isn't enough utopianism around to inspire people to do anything more than work for better conditions under capitalism. The more well-established capitalist cultural practices become in a country, the more reformist the working class becomes. It has nothing to do with the immiseration of the working classes, and everything to do with their lack of willingness to destroy a system they've contributed their entire lives (so far) to supporting.

What's happened to the utopian milieu which Marx and Engels claimed to come from? The belief in utopia is now a privilege of the elite stockholders who can stand to read Alvin Toffler's or Francis Fukuyama's volumes without laughing. And the folks who think Marx had all the answers aren't going to rescue utopia from the elitists, for the reasons I've specified above. It's time to bring back utopian thinking, to rescue it from its premature death in the world of commodity fetishism.

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