Elbaum wrote Revolution in the Air in 2001 to reclaim the lessons of the new communist movement for contemporary militants who, like their early sixties’ predecessors, became activists when the radical left was fragmented and weak. How relevant is this history and the lessons he draws for us now, in this new period of left upsurge?
Although a neo-communist with a novel platform i feel ‘solidarity’ only up to a point with the marxist to NCM historical line. My verdict on this history is: dreary, good bye to all that. The whole of marxism is a failure with embedded gems that have consistently confused every generation trying to either resolve a world view or create a practical platform. The fact must be faced: marx critiqued the failures of the early socialists of the 1830/40’s and saw the need to produce a systematic line. And that he did, with engels. But as the era of the Manifesto moved into the era of Capital something amiss in turn came to haunt this newly revised/still flawed socialist tradition.
This article keeps speaking of the need for theory, but theory is a tough discipline, perhaps an impossible one, depending on what you mean by the term. No theory of the social sciences has ever succeeded in the way that mathematical physics did, with its majestic tandem mathematical and experimental developments all of which suddenly fell together. Most of the mathematics needed had developed independently in the nineteenth century: linear algebra/matrix analysis, partial differential equations, hilbert spaces, etc… And all the pieces fit in the great formulations of the early twentieth century.
The expectation of many in the wake of newton that this could be replicated in the social sciences was a fantasy. It would thus be better to drop the fantasies of theory in the realm of marxism. We have critique many times, for example, the fictitious concoction of stages of production theory: feudalism to capitalism to communism. It is a crypto-teleological fallacy of world history based on economic analysis in a false debate over materialism and idealism. None of it works. Every marxist who ever lived has been confused about fundamentals from the start. The idea of a marxist science is hallucination.
We have suggested the need to simply start over without historical/economic theories using empirical categories, with a simple constructivist praxis that states in advance how it will deal with the creation of a viable postcapitalism.
The whole history, from marx to mao, is a failure. Small wonder it is hard to get anywhere now. Karl popper the arch reactionary once a socialist nonetheless made an interesting suggestion: piecemeal social engineering…drop the term at once, but get the point: you must construct a viable blueprint of a new social/political system, one that can operate somehow from the start, and then attempt to differentially remorph new elements experimentally.
We have suggested our ‘democratic market neo-communism’ in a starter nexus of ideas that, unlike the total void of the marxist futurism, could function day one, flawed or not, because it starts with a sleight, yet fundamental, ‘piecemeal engineering’ gesture: creation of a Commons, on the way to a communism. That’s not actually piecemeal at all and would seem to require a revolutionary restart (we at least honor the marxist emphasis on revolution without renouncing variants of reformism), but the point is simply that a liberal society would redeclare capital to a commons, yet leave most of the rest intact, thence moving to a series of new remorpings. The point is that liberalism merges with communism as communism merges with liberalism.
The whole marxist effort was ill-served by marx who could not grasp the markets he rejected in toto. But given the creation of a Commons the issue of markets fades to the theory background. Markets are hard to analyze and the whole of neo-classical economics as mathematical theory is NOT par with mathematical physics. Here the marxist/post marxist has been handed an ace, one they can’t play.
There is a lot more to say here, but frankly the history in this otherwise interesting book is of subjects that show total failure of all attempts at socialism, with the NCM a sort ‘last act’ of fairytale radicalism.