I think the communist left is stalled and the inability of leftist parties to expand at a moment of such global crisis is ominous. To me the problem is not hard to analyze in principle, whatever the solution in practice: social historical forces ‘freeze’ after a prolonged period of stasis or stability in the mechanization of habit, and conditioned action. This can befall even successful organizations. But the spectre of stalinism in one’s historical account makes the problem almost impossible.
Part of the problem is the ‘shattered nerves’ of those who review the legacy of bolshevism: they are hep to invent anything but. The Occupy movement was really ‘anything but’. Chomsky and many others, as ‘anarchists’, are strongly ‘anything but’. We need to move to a realistic ‘anything but’ the capitalist endgame of a burnt out planet.
But the tide is turning. The case for market domination is beginning to lag even in the minds of ordinary TV consumers of ideology.
And yet the moment for a new left is likely to stall again, …and again. What is needed is a clear rethink of fundamentals, a complete restatement that eliminates all cliches, boilerplate and all the stale arguments about Marx’s theories, etc…
Last and First Men tries to invent some solutions here:
Treat the saga of Marx and Engels up to 1848 as the ‘Core Heroic Saga’, but attempt to create a superset of the classic canon using new language, jargon free, and moving swiftly to the issue of modern neo-classical economics and its expose as a pseudo-science. The dated theories of Marx waste all the energies of leftists forced to defend them in the studied and instant counterattacks of trained anti-marxists. Who cares? Start with fresh analyses of the modern economy as it is, and focus on the vulnerable marginalist fiction scenarios at their Achilles’ Heels.
Downplay historical materialism and try to create a new world history that is not based on the crude logic of nineteenth century scientism. LFM tries to create an historical framework based on an analysis of the Axial Age, the modern transition, and the larger evolutionary account of man, freed from darwinism.
The left’s stance on religion, the evolution of religion, and the Feuerbachian critique is largely a failure at this point. The US now has far more buddhists than marxists. These people won’t even look at a marxist analysis of anything at this point.
The modern transition produced one of the most fantastic sequences of original philosophic geniuses, from Spinoza to Hegel and yet now all of that is thrown away for the crudest of reductionist thought systems. How did that happen? A leftist can’t even discuss Kant without a fierce reaction of scorn. A strange mindset for those whose efforts must found a living culture. Looking at the stalinist litanies of dialectical materialism we must protest the goal of repeated imposition of bolshevik ‘crud’.
The issue of darwinism haunts the whole radical left coming out of the Second Internationale. Who really won the Scopes Trial? It looks like a victory for darwinist science. Eighty years later we see the right’s thinktanks with an expose of darwinism far superior to the academic ideology of evolution.
Last and First Men shows a way to escape from darwinism within the context of a non-religious historical analysis. The left is completely addicted to Darwin, but the reality is that darwinism is killing the left.
There are a lot of ways to expand this analysis but the key issue is that the old left is a mechanized terminal thnought system. The cure for that doesn’t even have to be leaving it behind. Simple refreshening can be enough. Lettuce is lettuce, but the week old lettuce is instantly recognizable.
And this leaves the tricky questions of Leninism. I think that here we can try it both ways. The historical sequence leading to Lenin was unique and won’t recur. Or is that wrong? A crisis is coming that will demand those who are ready to seize the initiative. That’s the real ‘lenism”: being ready to lead the movement into a new postcapitalist era. That seems so unlikely we do nothing. But we should act as if the neo-communist moment is to come. And it must be ‘neo’, because the forces of reaction will be instant in their counterattack at senile ‘paleo-communism’.
It is, btw, time to drop the term ‘marxist’ given the strange cult of personality that now freezes the real legacy of Marx.
And the new atheism is a demonstration of the way the older secular humanism got stuck in reductionist thinking. The issue of ‘god’ hamstrings the current left, because they have already lived through the failure of the ‘new atheist’ movement in an older incarnation, secular humanism of the era of Feuerbach. IN a world of several billion theists, atheism is the wrong strategy. For myself I have no opinion on the ‘god’ question. After the revolution you can ask me again. Til then the issue is Kantian indecidability. In that context a radical leftist should be ready to discourse courteously with theists, atheists, and the many ‘in betweens’. If we examine the historical framework of Last and First Men we see that the modern transition has the same foundation as the Hellenic and Judaic transitions, one on top of the other. So we need not gaze backward for an ‘age of revelation’, that misnomer nonetheless worth flashing once before the eyes of religious conservatives. The modern transition makes the Judaic ‘transition’ with its age of Revelation look like a kiddie ride at Disneyland. And we should definitely not try to make a god religion out of the modern instance. That said, the materialist interpretation has gotten too hard. The great yogis of antiquity were also ‘materialists’ in the canon of Samkhya. So the brief moment of hard materialism which served to stun the rightist religious reaction may have served its purpose. A religion of atheism isn’t needed for a new communism. After the revolution, ask me again.