By Aristides Baltas
Translated by Chloe Howe Haralambous
This opening question mark aims to underline two matters from the offset: first, that this volume was not written under conditions of theoretical certainty and quietude, in which an affirmative framing (lacking a question mark), might have implied the luxury of calm reflection and amicable disagreement. This book was written in the midst of full-fledged ideological battle. I anticipate that its title will be interpreted as a case of incorrigible degenerate ideology – if not dangerous impertinence. The title’s question mark is thus precautionary, aimed, if possible, at mitigating such responses in advance. Second, the question mark signals my own uncertainties regarding the subject of this book. In other words, it means to stress that this book does not concern itself with unshakeable truths, but with matters that demand investigation. And especially in the present moment, this investigation must of necessity be critical, complex, pluralistic and multi-faceted, drawing from diverse traditions of theory and practice. It must also be sober and generous, in keeping with the mutual respect demanded of a common and collective search for complex answers to big questions. While the relevance of these questions has endured in time, they are also provisional and fleeting, as each new period tends to reframe them in its own terms, adjusting them to its own conditions and interests.
This book was published in 2017, 169 years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, 140 years after the publication of the first volume of Capital; 100 years after the Russian Revolution and almost 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. By 2017, an entire generation had come of age since the fall of the wall had come to signify the end of all utopias. It was written after more than two centuries during which the world had been set ablaze by the demand for freedom, equality and brotherhood; the demand for an end to the exploitation of man by man – a demand seamlessly transmitted from generation to generation, enriched by each.
2017. Sixteen years since the attack on the twin towers marked the onset of the age of “terrorism” in which we still live – and likely for much longer. The event that provided the pretext for wars that continue to this day, for testing new weapons and for re-selling old weapons to destabilize the world. The event that perverted the sense of self-sacrifice, that criminalized peoples and an entire religion. It was also the event which, perhaps more than any other, ravaged the project of universal emancipation. Harnessing waves of blind hatred, xenophobia, racism and intolerance, it suffocated the dream (that is, the potential) of a peaceful future that would emancipate the exploited from their past. In its own way, 9/11, too, came to signal “the end of Utopias”.
1989 definitively marked the failure of the greatest socio-political experiment in the history of mankind. A leap in logic led it to signify the end of history itself and the futility of any prospect of total social emancipation. A number of leftists were quick to align themselves with the diagnosis. While they retained some nostalgia for the ideas that once inspired them, that nostalgia, too, quickly faded in the face of the bright neoliberal present that promised so much, if only on an individual and exclusionary basis. It is equally certain that the fall of the wall and the attack on the twin towers have done much to demobilize leftists of all stripes and tendencies, including those tendencies that had long been critical of the so-called Soviet-type regimes, and who had insisted, both in theory and in practice, that the Left, with its concern for the many and for the spontaneous expression of their will, is entirely alien to terrorism and to the narcissism of individual(ized) action, regardless of its revolutionary content.
The demobilization of the left has left its legacy in the enduring and despairing sense that there is no alternative to the fate wrought by the globalized reign of financial capital. It is what accounts for the dissemination of left melancholia: a feeling of political impotence, a mistrust of collective political action and its efficiency, and a theoretical atrophy that leads to resignation and disillusionment – if not to a complete about-turn in ideological and political persuasion. On top of it all, the wars waging around us and those threatening to unfold in the future have little to do with the prospect of social emancipation. This is not to mention the ecological catastrophe that is fast approaching. It is obvious why, according to Fredric Jameson, it is much easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
On the other hand, and despite all this, societies continue to exist, and the prospect of emancipation cannot be dismissed with one stroke because some people will it. Beams of hope continue to appear, often in unpredicted places, to break the climate of defeat and complacency. The unpredictable, the unhoped for, the unregulated, are being revived as historical certainties (if you allow me the oxymoron). We see this in the US with Sanders, in Britain with Corbyn, in Spain with Podemos and Podemos Unidos, in Portugal with the ruling coalition, in Greece with Syriza. These are political movements definitively opposed to the purportedly unbeatable trajectory of austerity, social catastrophe and war; they aim at an organic connection with deeper social processes, and with new social initiatives unfolding in their countries and in their spaces. These are social movements that have hitched themselves to the project of total social emancipation. They now seek a sufficient name for that project: a name that will encapsulate the experience of the struggles of the left, of the struggles in which their parents and grandparents were immersed, articulating it with the common project under construction by the Left today, waged under such adverse conditions.
For all these reasons, I wanted this book to be published now – that is, in the specific conjuncture in which we find ourselves. Not because it has many bright new ideas to offer or because it suggests concrete solutions to the very difficult issues we are facing. The book is timely because these texts, written in various occasions in very different conjunctures (personal and collective) are held together by a very specific theoretical and political concern: what, today, after all that has happened, can we adopt as the “sufficient name” capable of expressing the prospect of social emancipation in the present?
We are dealing, then, with Communism and its names. But above all with the concept of Communism and with the word itself.
To begin with, it is important to stress that the concept cannot be identified with the word. While the concept is expressed in a word, outside the specialized vocabularies of the hard sciences, words are rarely confined to the singular expression of a concept. Of course, a concept might be expressed in different ways – that is with different words – ways that are more or less familiar or appropriate and which are not, strictly speaking, always equivalent among themselves. They are, however, similar enough to allow us to identify a common concept in each of them. On the other hand, as words move through everyday linguistic exchanges, acquiring their meaning through their usage (Wittgenstein), they claim certain freedoms, accruing significations that are not strictly coincident with their concepts. Even so, these significations are bound by the ideological formations to which words are conscripted and by which they are shaped. These formations are not always innocent or “merely” linguistic insofar as they exist to reflect and express certain interests at the level of ideas. These interests relate to one or the other side of the ongoing social conflict – the antagonism Marx calls “the class struggle”.
In other terms, words in their everyday usage inevitably carry ideological baggage – a burden that can obscure or alter the concept the word originally sought to express. It is often extremely difficult to strip the word of its burden in order to bring its bare signification into relief. And since this burden is, as a rule, ascribed to the word unconsciously (because that is how ideology works) and the language’s users might move unconsciously into different ideological positions because of it, even well-intentioned language exchange often becomes unproductive because the two speakers might mean something very different by the same word. Spinoza has written some great pages on this subject.
These methodological observations are necessary if we want seriously to examine a concept as loaded as the idea of communism. It is a concept charged with the immense ideological burden of a lengthy, noble and painful history which is not over yet. It encompasses the hopes and aspirations of the world of labour even as, for the same reason, it attracts the burning hatred of the exploiters. Finally, it is a concept that still generates passionate tensions within the Left itself, which continues to debate the perversions and, even, the crimes with which the word has been associated. Today, it seems that some would like to reduce the word to an insult, barely concealing their ongoing fear of communism under their hysterical use of the word.
Against this backdrop, how can we give a considered definition to the concept of communism? And where does the concept take us?
First of all, in classic (if somewhat simplistic) terms: communism refers to a social regime in which the exploitation of man by man (and therefore social classes) has been replaced by the free association of producers. This association makes the state redundant and reduces governance to mere management. By these criteria, some form of communism in concept or in practice has existed in a number of incarnations and settings across class societies and their class conflicts. However, the concept acquired more definitive contours primarily through the work of Marx and the study of societies dominated by the capitalist mode of production. I should add here that, still in keeping with a traditional understanding, “socialism” refers to the transitional stage of social organization from capitalism (a society in which the capitalist mode of production is dominant) to communism. Equality, freedom and brotherhood, solidarity, the common good, justice and even, to a degree, self-sacrifice are all concepts that are indissolubly linked with communism and, therefore, with socialism.
Since their inception, the concepts of communism and, even more, of socialism have been elaborated in a number of different (not always convergent) ways, while efforts to refine the concept have rarely been purely academic. The theoretical and political passions incited by the concept of communism formed a complex constellation of positons and debates that would be nearly impossible to analyze comprehensively. Thankfully, that is not our objective. The aim of this book is merely to explore the concept of communism from a single theoretical and political vantage point: its present context. The concept of communism is rarely explicitly addressed in the texts that comprise this book. But it penetrates each of them subtly, appearing and running between the lines. This introduction is intended to explain these appearances.
Let us begin with first principles: is the concept of communism merely the conjuring of an especially imaginative and generous imagination, or does it have a material dimension? Is this concept tangibly inscribed anywhere in the social world? Can we identify features of communism and something like a communist prospect or even a tendency towards communism in our everyday exchanges?
In an effort to address this question, I will state (perhaps to the surprise of some) that the communist prospect – and therefore the tendency towards communism – is an intrinsic feature of all class societies, and one that is extremely familiar to us. If the values mentioned above are indeed indissolubly linked with the concept of communism, then forms of communist relations operate pretty much everywhere in our societies. Suffice it to qualify as communist relations shaped by solidarity, fraternity, the common good and the equality of all individuals before the common good etc. as these values appear in everyday practice. All these practices are governed on the one hand by the logic of freedom (no one can force anyone to be in solidarity with others) and by justice on the other (everyone is equal before the common good). The innate social tendency to generalize these values thus speaks also to an innate aspiration at a social organization built on equality, general freedom and total justice. The innate social tendency towards communism is thus nothing more than the tendency to reproduce relations of this type. In other words, the political concept of communism is nothing but the prospect of expanding the scope of these relations to the scale of society as a whole, and building the hegemony of those values at the same scale. And of course these relations are expanded wherever this prospect is called upon to fight the tendency to forever reproduce relations of exploitation and oppression, inequality and injustice.
If voluntary collective participation in such an inspiring political practice (inspiring insofar as it aims at overcoming specific interests and at the fulfillment of the desires of the many) produces such relations in a number of social spaces, it is (I think) obvious that these appear with greater frequency and clarity in spaces populated by those who possess nothing. Because if, according to the famous paraphrase, we possess nothing but our chains, then equality is something to be taken for granted, solidarity is somewhat obligatory (since, according to Spinoza, nothing is more valuable to a human than another human), emancipation from bondage is a material demand, and the implementation of universal justice is the demand that encompasses all of the above, insofar as it implies that its materialization will allow every man to freely develop his individuality.
I would claim with Derrida that the concept (and value) of universal (or “infinite, as he characterizes it) justice constitutes the cardinal concept (and value). If justice amounts to equality – all of us must be equal before justice – universal justice takes difference into account. In other words, it takes into account not only that justice can be adapted to novel conditions, not only that it needs constantly to expand in order to include new rights and so new levels of freedom, not only that its formal enforcement might at times appear unjust, but above all that the very concept (and value) of equality subordinates, if it does not erase, the irreducible specificity of each person and thus his freedom. This means that equality and freedom are in constant tension and that the (just) negotiation of this tension cannot but present the risk of a difficult decision. On the other hand, the concept of universal justice, as it is commonly understood, is precisely what is called upon to resolve that tension by means of that just decision. It follows, then, that the communist prospect is nothing but the prospect of establishing universal justice, the prospect of a convergence between the just equality of all and the irreducible specificity and consequent freedom of each. Derrida calls the prospect of universal or infinite justice the prospect of “free democracy”. We have, then, another theoretically elaborated name for communism, even as he does not explicitly refer to it as such.
If it is the case that the concept and value of universal justice actually refers to a “common sense” of justice, then we all have an empirical basis on which to understand the concept in principle and to embrace the value in principle. At one point or another in our childhood, all of us have had the sense of being subjected to an unbearable injustice, an injustice which no “rule of law” (of our parents or of the polity) was capable of correcting. The sense of justice which is not explicitly bound by rules or laws is “common” precisely because we share that experience. In other words, all of us share an empirical basis for grasping the basic characteristics of the value of universal justice; all of us, in some way, share the demand for its actualization. And this means that the prospect of universal or infinite justice or, equally, the tendency inherent in each class society to aspire at Communism, is a form of anthropological constant.
But we can go even further. The record of human history attests to the fact that all large-scale social movements harnessed each period’s equivalent of communist relations into a political program with the same (varying according to social and historical contexts) demand: equality and universal freedom – the same incorrigible demand as the one for universal justice. Despite stark historical differences, we can claim that the slaves of Spartacus, the Munster villagers, the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune, the workers, farmers and soldiers of the Soviets, the villagers of China, Cuba and Vietnam, the rebels of EAM, ELAS and the Democratic Army, the 1968 insurgents, those who supported the Allende government to its end, were communists claiming the communist prospect. The tendency towards communism thus reveals itself a historical constant.
Marx’s contribution is crucial here. While insisting on the communist prospect as an inherent tendency of all class societies, and as a historical constant (not always explicitly or in so many words) his work simultaneously established the scientific knowledge of human societies and their history. As the following texts will show, the term “scientific knowledge” should be taken literally: a number of strong arguments show that the key components of Marx’s work and its successors – what is (erroneously) called “historical materialism” – founded a new science (a new “continent of knowledge”, in Althusser’s terms): the science or “knowledge continent” of societies and their history. As I will demonstrate below, it is a science or continent of knowledge which, despite its particular subject and peculiar character, can stand confidently beside the natural sciences and mathematics.
According to Marx’s own observation, his research did not “discover” class struggle – and its inherent tendency towards communism – as the motor force of history. This “discovery” had already begun. The innovative element of Marx’s work was the link it identified between class struggle and specific, historically conditioned, relations and forms of production – i.e. the modes of production that determine, according to the specific terms under which they are articulated, particular social formations – that is, each particular society a given stage of its history. According to Marx, ever social formation (every society at some stage of its history) consists of a combination of modes of production in which one is dominant (today, the dominant mode everywhere is the capitalist mode of production). Each of these modes is characterized by a specific form of articulation of the economic plane (the level at which members of society produce and reproduce their material life) with the corresponding political and ideological plane (the levels that ensure the political and ideological conditions for the reproduction of a specific mode of production and so of the social formation as a whole). This articulation determines the specific class structure.
Such a view of societies and their history might seem cold and lifeless: the passions of class struggle, the heroism and sacrifice of Communists, elude, or are marginalized by the distance of the supposedly impartial scientific gaze. Benjamin, however, amends this. By introducing his own variation on the name of communism, he teaches that Marx’s work itself demonstrates that scientific objectivity does not necessarily demand ideological and political impartiality. On the contrary, “historical materialism” is the science of societies and their histories only to the degree to which it can place itself on the side of and be integrated into the class struggle – that is, only as long as it is animated by revolutionary thought, by the “spirit” of revolution.
It is this temperament, this “spirit” – as active material force – that accounts for the communist’s willingness to bind himself existentially to the struggle, even at the cost of his own life. Sacrifice is connected to the idea of redemption, or of retrospective vindication: the Communist can face whatever fate awaits him because he is the bearer of historical continuity. His struggle in the present aims at redeeming the struggles of the past, and to vindicate or justify (another dimension of the concept of universal justice) fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers who fell victim to history or to the class enemy. The communist sacrifices himself in the name of all those who (knowingly or unknowingly) sacrificed themselves for the same goal: universal justice, the actualization of the communist prospect. The continuity of social struggle and the succession of generations – that is, the essential continuity of history – is guaranteed precisely by the “spirit” of revolution which is, in this sense, indestructible and literally immortal.
However, the works of Marx and his successors is not only scientific. It is philosophical as well. This is because every great scientific discovery, every juncture in the history of scientific thought (as in every major political overthrow), poses a challenge to philosophy and forces it to respond, to reorganize itself in order to understand those radical transformations. It follows that, if Marx’s work was so innovative as to create an entire continent of knowledge, linking its “discovery” with social conflict and the spirit of revolution, then his work could not but be accompanied by a reorganization of philosophy at a corresponding scale.
The fact that his work demanded such a philosophical revolution was immediately recognized. Its outcome was (probably incorrectly) called “dialectical materialism”. The fact that Marx had studied philosophy in his youth, when he featured as a critical follower of the so-called “new Hegelians” was taken as attaching particular weight and importance to the term.
Both “dialectical” and “historical materialism” (together with Communism, and a number of other terms of that tradition for that matter) have been charged with a great ideological burden. This has served to mystify or reduce them, giving them a particularly narrow (ultimately stereotypical) content. As far as I am concerned, Stalin’s “theoretical” codification is primarily responsible for this. It is a codification based in a specific political practice – a political practice which, in turn, was critically determined by that codification. Through it, the difference between the scientific and philosophical facets of Marx’s work – between “historical” and “dialectical materialism” was preserved, while the content of the latter became identified with the so-called “general laws of matter and thought” i.e. the famous “four laws of dialectics”. Within the communist movement, this codification has prevailed almost totally and more or less undisturbed for decades. During this period, critical thinking on matters of society, history, science, philosophy, revolution and political practice remained frozen at a standstill.
The ice began to melt in the 1950s. The 1960s witnessed an explosion of theory. These developments made it clear that Stalin’s codification was based on a particularly schematic reading of Marx’s relationship with Hegel’s philosophy. In this reading, the latter’s philosophy aimed at establishing a logical principle for understanding historical development: the constitution of the Prussian state, Newtonian science and Hegel’s own philosophy all constituted expressions of the revolutionary course of the same Absolute Idea at the threshold of its Telos i.e. the End of History. Before beginning his detailed analysis of political economy in Capital, the Young Marx had largely adopted the schemas of the Hegelian dialectic (simply “inverting” Hegel’s “idealism” into “materialism”, by his own accounts) while identifying a new historical force in the rapidly emerging proletariat. This presented him with the notion that the End of History (or the “end of prehistory”, in his terms) was at a further step in its advancement. He identified this stage with the advent of communism, in which he assigned the proletariat the leading role. Without addressing any of the serious distinctions in the components of Marx’s works, their period, their content and the affinities between them, the Stalinist codification embraced and sponsored this schema.
That same schema, upheld by the power of the CPSU and the USSR, came to be fully identified with Marx’s philosophy in general. Any attempt at critical discussion, however documented or well-meaning, was stigmatized as “revisionist” and led to the critic’s expulsion and its consequences. And of course, the rigidity of this schema had tragic implications for the field that concerns us here.
Given the primary role of philosophy is to create the conditions for deeper and more nuanced understanding, this schema conditioned not only the reading of the Marxian oeuvre, but also the reception of scientific innovations and historical events, the “plotting” of the historical trajectories of societies, as well as the basic characteristics of communist political practice. The blind adoption of this schema and its enshrining as the quintessence of Marxist philosophy ossified Communist thought for decades. It is at the root of the censure of the theory of relativity, of quantum mechanics and psychoanalysis; the simultaneous enshrining of historical determinism and the “iron laws of history”, of the inevitability of communism, of the linear sequence of modes of production (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism), of stagism and the notion that socialism presupposes the maturation of capitalism, of the blind belief in the “development of productive forces” and its role, of the theoretical suppression of the heterogeneity of relations of production. Thus we can argue that the lack of a comprehensive critical assessment of the relationship between Marx and Hegel – that is, an analysis demonstrating both the specificity and the scope of the radical philosophical reorganization incite by Marx – created a theoretical void. It proved extremely costly.
The explosion of critical thought in the 1960s and the events that followed wrought dramatic changes. It became clear that the above schema was too simplistic to express the philosophical implications of a work that had opened up a new continent of knowledge. At the same time, it emerged that Marx had never aimed at a systematic philosophical treatise (whose necessity he nevertheless felt and invoked a number of times). It follows that the philosophical reorganization demanded by Marx’s scientific work (that is the hypothetical content of such a philosophical treatise) can only be critically based on and derived from the entire philosophical tradition – from Democritus, Epicurus and Aristotle to Spinoza, Hobbes, Rousseau, and finally Kant, Hegel and Feuerbach. Not to mention later philosophical approaches that can critically illuminate things from new angles.
With this, the field of theory opened up into many new and unexpected directions. The environmental movement came convincingly to challenge the Promethean determinism of “the development of the productive forces” and feminism the schematic nature of class analysis. Meanwhile the widening influence of psychoanalysis stressed the absence of a theory of subjectivity in the work of Marx. The features of politics, power and government, the periods and duration of history, its ideology and mechanisms, the education system, gender, the visual and performing arts, literature (its production and criticism), scholarly and popular culture, the forms of post-colonial societies, among others, developed into objects of study and research closely or loosely connected with the Marxist oeuvre. In addition, anthropological, historical and sociological studies have demonstrated why the scientific component of Marx’s work had to and could confront different modes of production and social formations from the capitalist, as well as social and historical phenomena of all kinds. It also revealed that Marx neither referred to “historical laws” nor relied on them. In revealing the specificity of his subject while preserving the scientific quality of his method, Marx’s work could only address trends that contradicted other trends.
In other words, the continent of knowledge of societies and their histories does not admit predictions typical of the natural sciences because it remains open and susceptible to the unpredictable commotion of class struggle. History, that is, is “governed” by the unknown, by the chance encounter of one social element with another – encounters which can sometimes be explosive and lead to completely unanticipated transformations and revolutionary upheavals. In the same period, May 1968 proved that a spark could really start a fire.
But if it is true that the historical trajectory of societies is subject to unpredictable and chance encounters, then political practice in general – that is, the practice that conducts the trajectory – cannot belong to the order of law, but only to the order of a risk. In other words, a crucial element of political practice is necessarily the risk of a decision, an opportunity that is seized or left to pass, the initiative whose result cannot be guaranteed. It follows that the political practice of communists cannot simply involve “following” history, “pushing” developments along in the direction of the inevitable advent of communism. For communists, nothing is historically inevitable, and the only lost struggles are those that were never waged.
In this context, it is necessary for us to refer to some basic elements of communist political practice that have been obfuscated or occluded by a tendency to compromise, marginalize or forget.
First of all, communist political practice cannot but be a politics of principles – that is, it can only be governed by the system of values mentioned above, to the degree that these values can engender substantial democracy. On the other hand, however, if political practice in general belongs to the order of opportunity and risk, then the decisive political move in a given conjuncture cannot, at least in some key moments, fully be made subject to broad horizontal democratic consultation. The decision is necessarily made by a few, and the responsibility for it is theirs. The matter of whether the decision was right or wrong is always judged in retrospect, that is by its result.
This observation, of course, expresses nothing new; no political subject (party, trade union, collective or other body) can escape centralization. “Democratic centralism” does not, at least in its original conception, amount to a “resolution of the contradiction” between democracy and centralism (as suggested by the erroneous Stalinist codification which led to the subordination of everyone to the whims of a quasi-transcendent leadership). Rather, it recognizes the constant tension between the two constitutive elements that define political subjects: on the one hand, voluntarism that calls for and demands effective democracy (a political subject is not constituted by force, nor is it an army, much as the army might at times play the role of a political subject), and on the other hand, political activity that requires forms of centralization (decisions that cannot always be democratically sanctioned in advance).
The political level is the level at which power is exercised (and claimed) within a social formation. Until the advent of communism, power is necessarily exercised by the few in the name of the many, but also on the many. At the same time, as we have seen, major political decisions often cannot be democratically sanctioned in advance. This has the effect of attributing a certain coldness and even cruelty to political practice, distinguishing the exercise of politics from the sphere of the moral. Much as his work has been misunderstood, Macchiavelli must be introduced into the debate. This means, among other things, that political tensions between strategic constants and tactical flexibility, between the cold valuation of the constellation of forces and the passion of participation, between the sense of opportunity and the responsibility that inheres in decision, between sobriety and daring, between expansion and circumscription, cannot be resolved definitively by any theoretical schema or by any set of inviolable constitutional rules or statutes. These tensions can be suspended, or rather, mitigated, only temporarily, according to the demands of the conjuncture situated within an overall strategy whose end goal is communism.
The work of the political level, however, can in no way immobilize or undermine the forms of internal relations that must govern a political subject integrated into communist prospect. Such a political subject cannot convince either its membership or others that it has committed itself to the prospect and is governed by its norms unless it is internally defined by the communist relations mentioned above. That is, if it does not demonstrate in its function and everyday practice that it is guided by the values of solidarity, equality and fellowship; that it is grounded in the freedom of participation and the freedom of criticism; that it readily recognizes the work, contribution, and individuality of each member; that it is governed and regulated entirely by the demand of universal justice. Through their way of life and the entire form of their existence, communists must substantiate the claim that the tendency towards Communism is an anthropological constant. Only here does the “moral advantage” of the Left emerge. And I would add that this oft-cited “moral advantage” has no value. Or, to be more precise, reliance on a “moral advantage” inevitably leads to its undermining.
We can summarize by returning to Marx. According to the Communist Manifesto, communists do not necessarily form a separate party. They are defined merely as those who consistently place the general interests of the class above the specific interests of this or that portion of it and, of course, over their own individual interests. The concern for the common good to the point of complete self-sacrifice is a fundamental feature of the revolutionary. But it does not stop there. The same text specifies that the proletariat cannot be emancipated if it does not emancipate society as a whole. That includes its class opponents. This means that the prospect of communism does not concern the proletariat or the Left alone, but everyone. After all, as we have said, the tendency towards universal justice is inherent in class societies and is an anthropological constant.
But of course, universal justice cannot be actualized without a struggle. The tendency towards communism is permanently in tension with the tendency to reproduce the exploitative and oppressive relations of inequality and injustice that continue to be dominant. Almost overwhelmingly so. Which means that this fight is a long-term one. It is grounded in societies’ inherent tendency, but today this tendency remains subdued, marginalized if not ridiculed. Our present moment is egocentric, if not self-worshipping; this is the age of a new “presentism” that deifies the superficial, the transitory and ephemeral. What is required then is the long struggle that will transform this spontaneous social tendency into a powerful political force and into a struggle aimed explicitly at the hegemony of universal justice at the scale of society as a whole – that is, a struggle aimed at establishing universal justice as a social norm. And since man is an ideological animal, the struggle is inevitably, if not primarily, an ideological one. It is a struggle that aims to sway – to persuade others, including ideological opponents. It requires convincing others through words and deeds, deploying texts and interventions, both in argument and by example.
However, this struggle of persuasion is undermined if its logic is expressed without reflection or empathy, but rather with arrogance and haughtiness. That is to say, if its expression suggests privileged and exclusive access to truth and justice, demeaning those who have not been convinced to the status of confused, deceived, deficient. The struggle cannot be waged without the explicit recognition of how much we have to learn from others and from their criticism. That includes opponents and their criticism. We have already seen how much we have been taught, especially since the 1960s, by people who are not considered communists. Nor, of course, can this struggle be waged without ideological and political generosity: the generosity that respects and honors the dignity of the other regardless of his or her politics, in the belief that no one is entitled to think himself as superior to another. I insist on this not for ethical reasons, but patently anthropological ones: beliefs are only a small part – the tip of the iceberg – of the entire constitution of human personality and its worldly existence. It is an element that can be changed given the right stimulus, and by forces drawn from the depths of man himself which are not always calculable or even comprehensible; they might include forces whose power might surprise their bearer himself, demonstrating in practice how little cause we have for arrogance or conceit.
A final word: the theory and politics of communism are not geared towards further divisions. They recognize the pre-existing class divisions and bitter class struggle that continue to drive societies; they aim to study the terms that govern that struggle and to participate in it on the side of justice. Unwaveringly. But they also aim at convincing and uniting, drawing everyone into a prospect that is, in the final analysis, the only livable one for everyone.
The texts gathered here were meant to be both theoretical and political texts. The relation between the two is not always obvious. To begin with, the theoretical text as a genre follows conventions requiring a certain length: the length necessary to account for the formation of the idea that will be presented, its contexts, for the recognition of intellectual debts, precautions against objections that can be foreseen and – as far as is possible – a rebuttal to those objections. This is not to mention the many revisions that make the text comprehensible and interesting for its intended readers without depriving it of the rigor by which, as a theoretical text, it ought to be governed.
The political text, on the other hand, responds to a sense of urgency. It is written in a given moment, at a certain juncture, in order to draw attention or respond to a debate. If the text misses the moment, if its expression does not correspond to the exigencies of the moment, then it loses momentum and is lost as a political text. That is, it becomes politically outdated and is thus politically useless, if not politically dangerous.
However, these two types of text are not clearly demarcated. I would venture to say that their traits cannot clearly be distinguished, even if only because the political text, however austere or removed, cannot possibly efface everything of the circumstances of its development and the more profound thoughts and personality of its author. On the other hand, no text can be fully and purely political; whether it likes it or not, it belongs to a political tradition which cannot but conjure a theoretical landscape, however obvious or arcane its referents.
Thus each of these texts leans in one direction or the other, without, I hope, the diachronic elements of the theoretical texts losing their anchoring in the political, or the conjunctural nature of the more political texts losing their broader theoretical relevance.
The collection of texts has a clear theoretical and political project. I am referring specifically to the project of foregrounding the constancy of the communist prospect, its unresolved elements, those that endure in time and in spite of historical transformations, making it politically resilient even under the most unfavorable circumstances such as the ones in which we live today, when long term demands are at a critical meeting point with the exigencies of the present.
We have already seen how and why the communist prospect has been an anthropological and historical constant. We have already revisited the scientific character of so-called “historical materialism” and we will soon move to examine the arguments for it. This is extremely important because it allows us to establish a stable conceptual structure that can persist beyond the conjuncture, incorporating additions, modifications and conceptual changes without losing its stability. Indeed, the more “historical materialism” consolidates its scientific character, the more it hones its inherent capacity to resist even the most politically dramatic conjunctures, given its object is, among other things, precisely to understand the conjuncture. I would add that the following texts present additional questions that concern theoretical traditions and philosophical approaches that are substantially different from those that have focused our attention until now. In one way or another, these issues relate to the communist prospect by developing its context, enriching its content and broadening its horizons. Moreover, their own resilience demonstrates the stability of the communist prospect itself.
In short, this book is set against the current because it insists that the communist prospect remains politically feasible today and in the future. In other words, this book proffers an antidote to “Left melancholia”; it is a response or antidote to a pressure to continually shrink our living space and our rights; a response or antidote aimed at shaking a complacent mindset by stressing that the communist prospect still has a very firm basis.
But there is a further sense in which this book has positioned itself against the current.
The movement that actively opposed neo-liberal globalization spoke of “another world [that] is possible”, a world of “people before profit”. But despite its debates about Spinoza and Wittgenstein, its various initiatives, its global, European and national fora, it did not venture to name this new world. It hesitated in the face of the enormous ideological burden than overwhelmed the name of communism and it could not or would not commit itself to opposing the dominant deceptive uses of the word. But it also avoided replacing it with another name. Justifiably. First, because of the absence of the kind of rigorous self-criticism that could cleanse the old name of its deceptive burden and give it new life. Second, because it remained unconvinced by its substitutes: Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, Anarchism, Autonomism, Eurocommunism, Democratic Socialism, etc. – which permitted, or even nurtured, ambiguities, stalling the process of self-criticism demanded by a long painful history and present circumstance. And thirdly, because they felt that it would take more than a mere act of baptism to conjure a new political name capable of stimulating thought and inspiring action in the long term.
But this absence of a sufficient name – an absence that was both ideological and political – contributed to the proliferation of exclusively localized interests and struggles (with a resulting dissipation of forces) and to the formation of loose networks that simply substituted the purportedly “suspicious” political formations (the party etc.) that had sought to overcome. Those formations, in other words, that that had expressly aimed at forms of governance and power that could have paved the way to the prospect of universal justice. As Poulantzas teaches us, that way would either have to be democratic (with all democratic rights guaranteed, that is, with the possibility of reversing its path if the people and popular vote willed it) or it would not be able to exist.
Lately we have seen things change. In the United States, Sanders has dared to discuss socialism in the language of class struggle which has rarely featured in that country. In Britain, Corbyn is bringing the Labour Party back to its class roots. In Spain, Podemos (or Podemos Unidos) have achieved a great deal. And here, SYRIZA continues its social struggle and its struggle in government. Even European social democracy it quietly moving in similar directions. In addition, the name of communism has again begun to resonate on the lips of some important leftist thinkers.
However, all this is still movement against the current. This book wishes to contribute to it. I reclaim the name of communism not only because the contents of this book are organically related to movements such as those mentioned above. Not only because it refers to political formations with a specific strategic goal – i.e. formations which claim power in the face of fragmentation, the prevalence of the cult of the individual and the pervasive narcissistic fear before politics. But primarily because the re-appropriation of the name is an act of responsibility: political responsibility towards history and political responsibility for the continuity of this history. Because our own history is not unblemished. It is not characterized by generosity and self-sacrifice alone, but also by tragic mistakes and serious crimes. Because it is only by reflecting on these mistakes and admitting to those crimes, recognizing our historical responsibility to the preservation of the name that we can face the present and the future with pride in our name. Only in this way can we secure the continuity of our history as it has unfolded since the age of Spartacus..
 When Derrida characterizes justice as “infinite”, he means it is “infinite” both in its breadth (it renders justice to all things, living and dead, in the past, present and future) and in its depth (no matter how many finite steps are taken in its direction, it remains in the depths of the horizon). I prefer the term “universal justice” as I try to stress that its attainment is the object of political struggle in the finite lives of men, implying at the same time that its infinity will tend always towards the improvement of any social organization, however “perfect”.