Can Communism Contribute to Culture?

Can Communism Contribute to Culture? (after giving birth to it)

            The question of culture within a communist mode of production is a highly speculative one. Not least due to the historical facts; there has never been an authentically communist society. Engels sought to close the circle on history itself, by reprising ‘primitive communism’ writ large and sourced in the largesse of rationalized industrial production. Social contract societies are the original human cultures, so in one sense, culture is itself a child of communism, or perhaps less ideologically, communalism. These types of social organization, referred to as having ‘mechanical solidarity’ by Durkheim and being pre-political in Pierre Clastres’ sensibility – here, only the presence of surplus generates social hierarchy and all that this radically novel form of social relations entails and has, in the interim, entailed – seem taken quite unawares by Engels’ appropriation of them as a test model for the future of humanity. This moment represents best the 18th century Rousseauist sense that Marx and Engels brought to 19th century social thought. And there is a dose of early romanticism, healthy or no, in all such utopian imaginings, from Plato’s ideal state to the relatively stateless vision of Ayn Rand. Such a moment is reiterative when examined through the lens of the arts, the chief contributor to culture in its narrower sense.

            For fraudulent communism, the cases are mostly negative. From Shostakovich’s serial house arrests, to Brecht’s remorseful disillusionment, to the official non-personhood of Nicolae Bretan and many others, the arts tend to suffer, often ignominiously, under pseudo-communist regimes of all stripes and hues. Just as does fraudulent religion contribute nothing to the value and history of belief, a fraudulent politics can offer nothing to the culture and dynamic of ‘political man’. But Marx singles out the artist, among all other possible social roles, in his early examination of the merits of industrial or technocratic communism. One of the arguments he makes is both rational and ethical; give everyone the opportunity to evidence whether or not they have the artistic genius. In China, there is a piano school wherein thousands of pre-selected students study. In the closing scenes of the wincingly intimate documentary of Yo Yo Ma, he is shown speechless and with eyes glinting, standing in a studio listening to a ten-year-old Chinese girl play Chopin. The legendary cellist, one of the greatest artists of our time, is in awe. For the young lady is not merely reproducing Chopin with utter perfection, and doing so sporting an oversize pink plastic watch on her wrist to boot, she is Chopin. Aside from such extramundane factors such as speculative reincarnation, her very being speaks volumes regarding Marx’s suggestion. For him, it was simply a question of available numbers. Only by extending the opportunity stream and structure of universal education can we identify such talents.

            China too is hardly communist in Marx and Engels’ sense, but unlike other social experiments of similar type, it has realized that its apical intellectual ancestors – both very much Western of course, in direct contradiction to all the nonsense emanating from Beijing about China being non-Western or even anti-Western in some whole-souled fashion – were correct; one had to have consistent and highly rationalized industrial means of production before any communist relations of production could take hold. And the only manner of reaching the former status is through capitalism, not communism, as Marx himself clearly stated. China backed into Engels’ historical curve, as it were, with the seeming inevitability that a controlled economy is either a dead-end regarding the dialectical fulfillment of history through the demise of class conflict – and ultimately the ‘withering away’ of the state itself – or that what we are witnessing, with dubious privilege, is just another transition point along the way to authentic communist relations. This latter claim seems to me to be fraught with potential rationalization, even abuse. For primitive communism, the first society, was also the most radically democratic, and this without surplus of any kind, which is probably the more germane aspect of any of this. The hypothetical communism of Marx and Engels presumes upon variables that on the ground feel almost as extramundane as does reincarnation: one, that an entire large-scale populace would have an equal and representative say in the doings of a skeleton government; two, that such leaders as they may be would themselves be Platonic ideals, ‘philosopher-kings’ politburo style; and three, that politics would continue to be of interest at all, in a society that on the one hand cannot imagine even the question of God, as Marx once again states, and on the other, accepts and endorses the sensibility that politics should wholly replace religion with regard to human passion and interest, as well as ‘belief’.

            But there is no need to believe in something which is factual, in the world as it is, and without the credulous. We may not know all there is to potentially know about our own political doings, but there is never a true mystery in the sense that some part of politics has itself departed from the quotidian in some irruptive manner. Even hypothetical communism appears otherworldly given that its goal is to eliminate itself, end history, vanquish ideology, transform individual will into that collective, and install a world ‘government’ that governs without itself being a state! All of this together does indeed require a leap of faith, enormous and enchanted at once. But the question of political alternatives, no matter how stylized and romantic, is yet quite salient to our time, when democracies, partial as they may be, seem disenchanted with themselves, and many appear to long for authoritarian practices in power as well as in personal relations. The tired adage ’be careful what you wish for’ seems to make no impression on such persons. Far from the mostly long mute ideologues of post-war versions of Neo-Marxism, it is rather the unstudied and uncultured franchises who desire to be dominated and told what to do – in spite of their rhetoric of freedom and individual responsibility; the only consistency here is the truer call to ‘let me be responsible for dominating and dictating to my own children et al’ – that present to contemporary historical relations its gravest threat.

            For history too does end within any authoritarian circle. The opposite of that sidereal, this enclosure pens its own history, ‘rewrites’ itself, as we saw in the Reich then and in Florida now, and thus pens itself inside it. That said, reactionary pseudo-history is likely no less a fraud than much of the ‘politically correct’ rewrites that equally scan the career of human endeavor for examples and exemplars favorable only to their narrowed and ideologically inclined druthers. PragerU has its corresponding entity in the DEI sensitivity; one might well say that they deserve one another, just as did, at least at the level of statehood, the Soviet Union deserve the Third Reich and vice-versa, however awful this may be to contemplate. Do then the actual Taliban deserve the self-proclaimed ‘American Taliban’? Does the Third-Wave ‘Feminist’ deserve the neo-liberal economist? One could go on of course, but the point here is that it is commonplace for the political pendulum, to borrow another cliché, once pulled back in one direction, to entail an equal and opposite swing. The oscillation thence initiated cannot be halted in any rapid manner, and we find ourselves swinging to and fro along with everything else. The pendulum is its own metronome, setting the pace of public discourse and the level of political interest. Dialogue is absent, as well as is historical consciousness. One does not understand history, or the history of thought, on purpose. In this, we also may say that we deserve our own shared ignorance.

            For Marx, the question of culture was, as ever, a dialectical one. It is just that, as perceptive as he was of the reality of the social conditions in which he found himself alive, he yet seems unable to extend this same profundity within his own analytic. If he had, he would have noted its inconsistencies, which in turn have allowed, and perhaps even prevaricated, the light readings both Lenin and Mao brought to their early studies, not to mention their personal vendettas projected onto a mostly unknowing social world. It is always possible, of course, that both Marx and Engels knew full well of the challenges to their own logic inherent in their claims, and simply ignored them in order to further revolutionary ambitions. I would like to doubt this was truly the case, as in any major thinker, there can be found lapses of both reason and imagination alike. That it would take such a lapse, perhaps calculated and controlled, in order for communism to recreate culture anew, as in the Chopin example – and is this an authentic contribution to culture? – and especially so, to actually give birth to a new culture entirely, suggests that any future attempt approaching the vision of Marx and Engels should hope that it never achieves its political goals.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 book in ethics, education, religion, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Anomie of the People

The Anomie of the People (subjective alienation today)

            In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx and Engels outline the four forms of alienated consciousness. In a sense, this quartet of disharmony in turn form the Gestalt of Proletarian unthought, just as they provide for the Bourgeois outlook an odd, even perverse, set of rationalizations for their own continuing alienation. Capital is more complex now than it was in the mid-19th century, and the failure of the middle classes of our own time has highlighted not so much Marx’s ideas but rather that of his successor in the human sciences, Emile Durkheim. Momentarily, we must admit that the former might well have seen in the latter a yet further decoy, but perhaps not. Subjective alienation, or anomie, is just as real as are the others, objective and structural as they may be. What Durkheim was confronting as a discursive manifest was the same thing that an individual person confronted as a producer and consumer as well as a human being: is it only the case that objectively alienated labor by necessity contributed directly to the anomic existence, or is it more interesting than this?

            Let us first review Marx’s conceptions, keeping in mind that in the interim many mitigating factors have been created, for better or worse, to mute at least the effects of the problem at hand. The four forms of alienated consciousness are as follows: 1. Alienation from the product of work: workers produce objects that for the most part they cannot themselves afford or are even ‘meant’ for them. 2. Alienation from other workers: workers are placed in a do or die competition with one another, thereby sabotaging any sense of a wider solidarity. 3. Alienation from work itself: most work is unfulfilling in any deeper sense, ‘its just a job’, and 4. Alienation from human potential: this is by far the most profound of the forms and speaks to our species-being being distanced from its own broader abilities. In this, capital inherits the worst of the religious pre-modern worldview, but without any of the entailing grace or salvation about it; one is born, one works, one dies.

            Each of the forms has undergone extensive mutation, some more, some less. 1. For the most part, workers can in fact afford the objects they help produce, and for some, such as contractors and skilled labor, the potential exists for they themselves to construct such objects, such as executive homes, for themselves and more or less by themselves, over time. 2. Unions, which Marx and Engels disdained, have eased the sense that workers are each other’s enemies and only that, though the globalization of labor has heightened the anxiety around finding and keeping a job at a living wage. At the same time, the more skills one has, the less likely an employer can afford to lose, not you yourself, but the class of worker in which you have placed yourself. 3. Much work has been augmented to become more existentially fulfilling, though it remains a servitude in the service sector; Durkheim himself made this first point not long after Marx’s death, and suggested that wages earned could ‘borrow’ from the prestige of wages spent, however frivolously. The journal The Hindu noted some twenty years ago or so that Europeans spent on average about one billion dollars on ice cream products per annum, for instance. 4. We are yet quite unsure of the scope of human potential, and presumably we are far from reaching its nadir. Marx himself stated that capital was the most liberating form of economic organization to date since it did free up some few people to reach their individual potentials and thus display something of the role-model to others. It is an open question whether or not an authentic communism would do as well. Even so, this final and most damning form of objective alienation remains a plague on our species-being, though one could certainly argue that wage labor is hardly the only factor in its ongoing presence.

            Durkheim was dissatisfied with the structural explanation of alienated consciousness in the main due to its utter ignoring of the chief locus of perception in Bourgeois relations, that of the individual. In this sense, Marx’s analysis presented itself as a contradiction in terms, and it was not the only one extant in the 1844 manuscripts. One can only be reminded at this juncture that Marx and Engels also ignored the fact that communism, as a still hypothetical mode of production, entailed no alteration in the means of production, unlike every other sea-change of this sort in history. In Marx, communism was simply capitalism bereft of pre-modern sentiments; the symbolic forms of the theistic period would somehow drop off, altering the relations of production but not the technical and industrial means. Communism thus is presented as an exception to the ruling dynamic of history – class conflict – and the only way one can rationalize this odd conclusion to Engels’ historical model is that within communism class conflict does itself end. But this is putting the cart before the horse in logical terms. Beyond this, though often seen as a mere aside, Marx’s analysis of the role of the artist ‘under’ communism also ignores the most profound aspect of what the artist does in society; she works against the grain, most simply, opening up human consciousness by transgressing norms and thus thereby transcending alienation as well. It is unclear how, in the communist mode of production, the artist would have anything to do at all, or if she did, would be able, or allowed, to do it.

            All this aside, Durkheim’s’ main interest was complementing the structural model for the personal level. All very well to bandy about large-scale factors, at the end of the day, real people bore the results of their world-historical confluence. If revolution was consciousness in the making, how then could it occur at all without individuals processing their perceptions of their own alienation? Indeed, they do so, and the means by which they do Durkheim called the anomic relations of production. Anomie is subjective alienation; its symptoms are anxiousness, angst, embitteredness, resentment, and even neurosis and ressentiment. In a word, anomie is a most serious affair, and even it be seen as a mere symptom of objectively defined alienated consciousness within Bourgeois relations, what it presents to us is a full-blooded symptomology of the entire mode of production. Durkheim’s genius lay in his ability to take the most minute moment and see in it the whole of the relevant Zeitgeist. Witness his analysis of deviance in his 1893 The Division of Labor in Society, perhaps still the most famous example of inductive thinking in the human sciences. But anomie and its further effects – as in, suicide – appears as a working conception four years later. Part of another four-term model, the anomic person is alienated from his own selfhood. To him, this is a more present form of inexistence than any structural item could be. A job is a job, it is not a life. To be fair, we speak from our own time, and Durkheim, whether or not he was a critic of the fact that capital had augmented in significant ways its panoply of distractions by the fin de siecle period, had the vision to understand that this relatively free mode of production could not survive its socialist detractors for any length of time if it had not become more appealing to the worker himself. Nonetheless, in doing so, the symbolic life of the pre-modern period abruptly slipped away, leading to disenchantment, something that Durkheim’s major sibling thinker, Max Weber, became famous for analyzing. But for the former, Entzauberung, the loss of the ‘magical’ quality of and in the world, was not an end in itself, but rather something which had rather been transposed, with a variety of plausible substitutions taking the place of the once religious-inspired worldview aspects. Instead of a local sect, a local sports team, instead of a pilgrimage site, a sports stadium. Instead of a saint himself, a Taylor Swift herself, and so on. For Durkheim, all of these transpositions involved the perennial career of the concept of the sacred, something that Marx and Engels ignored, and something that Weber stated, rather perfunctorily, could not truly exist in modernity, just as he so claimed for authentic charisma. But we can compare Joan of Arc to Tiger Woods along such lines, Durkheim might have said. The sacred was for Durkheim a kind of meta-conception, something that survived even shifts in the mode of production, from subsistence to agrarianism to industry and perhaps yet to intelligent technologies. For Engels, such shifts were all inclusive, so concepts such as the sacred, or ideas such as archetypes, for that matter, were inadmissible to his modeling. This is clearly an oversight at best, especially in light of what we have already mentioned regarding his apparently incomplete premises for the ‘final’ shift from capital to communism. The only way to make one kind of sense of such a model is, aside from the usual inability to predict the future, which all human analytics fall short of, is that communism ends symbolic forms and in their entirety. As Marx put it, distinguishing his much more radical ‘atheism’ from that of Feuerbach, ‘For the communist man, the question of God cannot arise.’

            Needless to say, Durkheim’s vision of the sacred was much broader and deeper than any of this. He was aware, as was Engels, of cosmologies which had no Gods at all, but unlike his German compatriot, he used this knowledge in his own analyses. By 1912, with the publication of the legendary The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, appearing in the same year as the first essays of both Scheler’s Ressentiment and Freud’s Totem and Taboo, Durkheim had formalized the dialectic between trans-historical concepts such as the sacred, ritual, or the archetypes and their contrasting historical forms, such as specific pantheons or godheads, rituals in their ethnographic detail, and beliefs. Once again, as a clearly sibling analytic to Weber’s distinction between historical and ideal types, the sense that any specific mode of production would be immune to alienation in general, and anomie in particular, might be called into question. Durkheim had, somewhat ironically, somewhat painted himself into an analytic corner. At the same time, his understanding of that which can transcend historical alterations of world-orders and even worldviews was, akin to art itself, indeed the chief anonymous manner of initiating those very shifts themselves!

            This insight is of the utmost. In modernity, art has replaced religious belief, popular art, religious behavior. But the idea of the sacred remains intact, as does the enactment of ritual and the identification with the archetypes, though such lists thereof vary. Finally, we may state with more confidence that anomie, though also likely a local guise of another kind of presence, specific to human consciousness and perhaps even primordial and thence Promethean in its origins – such a sensibility Heidegger casts as Sorgeheit; the dialectical apex or synthesis resulting from the Aufheben of alienation and anxiety – leads mostly not to suicide at all but rather to care or concernfulness, allows us a glimpse of the possibility of a human future wherein alienation is itself overcome.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 59 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, social theory and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Is there a ‘Jewish Question’?

Is there a ‘Jewish Question’? (a god with a human interest)

            At first glance, Bauer’s 1843 thesis, in which the now notorious phrase of ‘the Jewish question’ is introduced to modernity, bears little difference from many other Enlightenment political analyses in that it declares that religious demands are by their very nature incompatible with, and thus inadmissible to, a secular state. Political emancipation can only occur if these pre-modern statuses conferred upon the social group in question are abandoned. None less than Marx and Engels were quick to critique this thesis in the following year, arguing instead that Bauer had failed to distinguish between political freedom and a more general human freedom, and that the secular state, far from being emancipatory, actually presupposed religion in its self-made ‘civil religion’, and that its demands were structurally no different than the demands of a deity, real or imagined. Indeed, since for these writers gods were but human projections, the state was actually far less free of an apparatus, since it has a material reality about it, even though its general conception is almost as abstract as that of Godhead itself.

            For Marx, both the question of God and that of human freedom through a political entity were false questions, and thus any specifically Jewish rendition of such a question was, at best, a red herring. Why single out a particular ethnic group in any case, as Bauer had done, when it came to unemancipated cultures enthralled to pre-modern moral demands? Even in our own day, there remain many such communities, some contrived, as in the popular usage of the term ‘cult’, and others traditional or at least, historical in scope and in pedigree. In fact, much of world conflict may be understood as an ongoing clash between loyalties to mysticism and the demands of rational discourses, though I would caution a too-heavy reliance upon this tension, as it often can overlay, either by default or by design, other more palpable stressors, such as access to resources, political power, and enfranchisement in modern institutional discourses, no more so than those of the applied sciences and thence their technical miracles.

            If Bauer’s thesis was more or less immediately dismissed as a Bourgeois fraud – similarly, the 1789 revolution in France was seen by Marx and Engels as a half-step towards human freedom; no secular state based upon the new French model could hope to deliver the more radical authenticity of freedom from the reduction of the species-being to its labor power under capital (this is a point that must be borne in mind in any discussion of Israel as a modern state populated with apparently emancipated Jewish citizens) – it is not otherwise clear how Marx advanced the question philosophically beyond the vague sense, at the time, that communism would at once clear the decks of both any ideas of God and such theo-political demands that religion made upon believers and the more worldly demand of wage-slavery itself. What is more certain, is that Bauer’s introduction of the phrase got stuck in a darker corner of European political discourse and was thence embarked on a criminal career.

            It could be seen as anti-Semitic to point to the Jews and suggest that they remained the epitome of moral backsliding, assuming that all other cultures and ethnic groups had rushed headlong into Enlightenment freedoms. This is hardly the case even today, when rather what we observe is a general regression of all cultures and classes into a nostalgic fantasy of premodernity, replete with the very demands Bauer and Marx agreed must be shed, with their essential difference being, as stated, that the latter saw this as only a first step and not an ethical terminus. Marx was himself Jewish of course, though he, like Freud after him, had perhaps ironically ‘heeded’ the advice Wagner had given to his virtuoso musicians, a cadre of cultured elites who had developed a great, and for them, emancipatory, faith in the composer’s art and even his politics, which too were anti-Semitic, and had thus ‘shed their Jewishness’. It is always somewhat awry to accuse someone of Jewish descent of anti-Semitism, and yet one is always capable of writing and working against one’s own culture. And it is this point, at this moment, that we are made more aware of the possibility that there could be an authentically Jewish question after all.

            I think that there is, and it would be: Is it possible that there could exist a God with a human interest? There were many mascot gods in the Near East and Levant at the time the Hebrews occupied a semi-nomadic subsistence which included warfare with neighboring groups. Weber argues that the ancient Hebrews were both a ‘pariah’ people and a guest people. They were quite familiar with others’ gods and were explicitly told by Yahweh not to worship them. It should be immediately noted that Weber uses the term ‘pariah’ only in the most technical sense, and not as a derogation. Even so, the sense that the Jewry were always somehow an ‘attachment’ to a dominant regional culture no matter where they had rusticated historically had engendered a dangerous disdain for them. Partisans of both Christianity and the later secularism Bauer exhorts, began to make suspicious claims against the Jews, at first because they refused conversion, and then refused nationalism. Marx would certainly say that these refusals amounted to the same thing in the end; that the ‘chosen people’ owed nothing to anyone or anything other than Yahweh Himself.

            Seen only in this light, the modern state of Israel is both emancipatory politically and religiously, something that for nineteenth-century thought is precisely impossible. Hence the problem of regression in its objective circumstance; the secular state must be overthrown by a theocracy – this is the evangelical line  – or the secular disguise of the theocratic demand must be overthrown by revolution – this is the communist goal. While the former is clearly backward looking, we cannot be certain that the latter aims at a more humane future since all major attempts thus far have turned backward upon themselves. One might object that if one understands Marx and Engels authentically, a real human freedom is at hand, but one could make the same claim for the Gospels. Indeed, Marx often comes across as the modernist Jesus, and for that matter, in all three great critiques of Enlightenment thinking, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, a replacement gospel is in fact sought, as if these iconoclastic thinkers had reached back around modernity itself in order to turn it inside out.

            But if there were mascot gods aplenty in antiquity, ignored or tolerated to a point by the official imperial belief systems, arranged much as folk religions and syncretisms range in contrast to the Catholic church, only Yahweh was the deity whose interest became historical. Yahweh was the God who apparently had an interest in a small slice of humanity, and then in the most radical act in the history of Western religion, instantiated Himself on earth as a human being the form of Christ, according to Christian tenets. Interest in humanity had, in one revolutionary stroke, been embodied in a human interest. I would suggest that our entire idea of revolution begins at this juncture, and so any authentically Jewish question is one that involves, at least now, all of humanity and not only its source culture.

            And yet, by definition, a god cannot have a human interest, so in appearing on earth as the Son of God, this immaculate birthing, rather fittingly, did not kill the mother but instead the father. We can read, perhaps at least literarily if not literally, that this was the reason why Jesus received no answer from his father when on the cross. Indeed, his father had not forsaken his son at all, for the former was already dead. I have argued elsewhere why an ethical god cannot exist, even if we cannot be certain that a metaphysical one does not, as atheists claim so vehemently. If this is correct, the Christian God is in essence but the afterlife of the Hebrew deity, nothing more.

            But surely also nothing less. And this is where the perduring quality of the Jewish question resides; even if we must answer ‘no’ to its original formulation, we cannot dismiss so easily the consequences of believing in an ethical godhead. On the lighter side, we discover a sensibility that all human beings are in principle a value, and thus have value, no matter their relative status, ignorance, enlightenment. On that darker, we are burdened with the sense that in order to transmute that base value into the precious material of the elect one must believe in a certain set of none other than religious demands, has lent itself to criminal abuses, even genocide. What must be acknowledged is that both the blessing and the curse are built into this structure from the beginning; indeed, they have been ‘placed before us’ and we have in fact chosen not between them but rather both at once.

            The Jewish question, seen in this way, has nothing to do with emancipation of a specific cultural group, but puts forward the very idea of human freedom in a world that, then as now, is mostly unfamiliar with, and even suspicious of, this auto-soteriological genius. If this question can be abused and turned to regression, it can also be exulted and evolved to engage the species in a radical freedom. If it remains human, then it cannot transcend history itself, but instead invites us to overcome our own specific histories, which is also the most charitable manner of interpreting remarks like Wagner’s and analyses like Marx and Engels’. Even if we must answer in the negative to its first formulation, in so doing, we must also understand that same question as suddenly a metaphorical interrogative, and one that remains immaculately pregnant with the future of the species entire.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Very Late Capitalism?

Very Late Capitalism?

            Late capitalism is the epoch in history of the development of the capitalist mode of production in which the contradiction between the growth of forces of production and the survival of the capitalist relations of production assumes an explosive form. This contradiction leads to a spreading crisis of these relations of production. (Ernst Mandel, 1972:500).

                It is a delicate operation to discern what, within any social critique, is itself ideology, is itself millennialism, is itself despair, is itself anxiety. Greta Thunberg’s first book calls for a sea-change in world systems, but specifically in that economic. And while it is certainly the case that humanitarian crises as well as those environmental have been exacerbated by a cut-throat dog-eat-dog system of exchanges and values, it is also equally the case that, as Marx himself suggested much closer to its advent, Bourgeois capitalism has been ‘the best system yet invented’. It has created unprecedented levels of wealth and spread that wealth far wider than any other economic dynamic in human history. It has levelled both systems of caste and class. It has elevated the Bourgeois class to political power. It has made the genders far more equal. It has invented technologies that can aid a radical democracy of the kind Thunberg envisages, and most importantly, in its dogged doggerel of individuated ideology, it has exhibited no respect for either gods or kings alike.

            And all of this Marx realized in his own day. For he and Engels, communism would surpass its predecessor in both its humanity and its equalizing force. Thunberg’s too easy dismissal of such an idea that has never been tested at a national level contradicts the entire heritage of her own critique. With some minor local exceptions, the communism authentic to Marx and Engels is as yet an untried device. Given the remainder of her basic suggestions for change, her own view is essentially the same as was theirs.

            Now this is not necessarily a terrible thing. ‘Communism’ is, at least in theory, simply a more equitable and humane version of capitalism, for in the transition from one mode of production to the next, in this case, the means of production remain unchanged. Indeed, Marx had himself to understate this issue within his own dialectical modeling due to two problems: One, purely theoretical, which had Engels’ historical evolutionary scale-level model cohere on the basis of a double change; both means and relations of production were altered in each of the world-shifting limens that had preceded the proposed, and still hypothetical, ‘communist revolution’. And two, purely political; Marx and Engels could not afford to extoll overmuch the system they desired to overthrow.

            And thus neither can Thunberg. Overcoming capitalism is made possible only by the presence of the dynamic forces within capitalism itself, just as Marx understood the case to be for the potential communist outlook. For him, the nation in which he was eventually exiled was in fact the ‘closest to communism’, that of Victorian England, replete with its world-wide colonial empire so derided by Thunberg. That pseudo-communist revolutions occurred in backward, non-capitalistic nations such as Russia and China were world-historical events, to be sure, but ones doomed to failure on Marx’s rubric alone. The ‘small is beautiful Star Trek technocratic humanism’ which settles down like a light drizzle upon the umbrella of future visions of a better world could only be had with the high technologies that capitalism invented. This is not capital ‘selling the communist the rope’ by which the latter will hang the former, but rather presents a series of opportunities for the more ethical use and deployment of resources unimaginable in any other economic system, in any other mode of production.

            And it is not a case of mere technology. The greatest triumph of capital rests not in its products nor its wealth, but in its human liberation, the very human freedom Thunberg so casually denigrates as being delusional within capital. Not quite so. Freedom is a modern construct that is ‘value neutral’, in that it can be manipulated as a sacred ideological cow – and all political parties in the Bourgeois state do this – or it can be realized by the individual in his or her own existential journey, and indeed, only there. The ‘pathless land’ of Krishnamurti is our unwitting and perhaps ironic guide to this kind of authenticity, and the very idea that a human being, fragile, mortal, subject to both ‘the insolence of officials’ and ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ alike, should even be able to dream of such an existential business is nothing if not astonishing. And this dream, realized in a yet few persons but available in theory to all humanity, is the central dream not of communism, but of capitalism.

            Why so? Because along with the idea of freedom comes the conception of the individual. Though its Enlightenment sovereignty and holism is long gone, even in its fragmented and fractured ‘postmodern’ form it is yet more free. Gone are its loyalties to family, to credo, to crowd, even to vocation. The modern self replaces only itself with a further, hopefully wiser, guise of itself. We do ‘die many times to become immortal’, as Nietzsche intoned. That capital places the privileged in a position where they may exercise this basic human freedom on the backs of others makes most attempts at such unfree. Hence the alienation that Marx stated was a hallmark of Bourgeois relations of production. Even in our radical freedom, we are divorced from our shared birthright, our common humanity. So much so, that we do not tend to think of the distant others who are yet enslaved by our very attempts to end the slavery of the modern self.

            This much is true of capital. Even so, the idea that it must be overthrown as its own dialectical force is likely overblown and premature. For within it lie the keys to its own evolution, not revolution. An equitable taxation policy, a surcharge on stock trades of the Tobin variety, an emphasis on sharing innovations, especially in the climate and medical fields, an awareness that we are one species and one world, an adherence to Ricoeur’s dictum that ‘the love we have for our own children does not exempt us from loving the children of the world’, none of these need be sought in a system other than the one we have today. In his day, Marx was understandably coy about his discovery that the essential characteristic of communism were already present in capitalism, but we today have no need to be so. For Thunberg and others to be ignoring this historical insight makes it much less likely that their vision of the future will indeed occur at all.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.