Marxism: Radical Alternative or Totalitarian Relic?

Criticaldivide_1_84x84 Jirí Pehe and Benedict Seymour in Eurozine:

MS: Was communism a Romantic idea, a Romantic approach to history and to human destiny? Or is it a rational, thought-through and working system?

BS: I would say that Marxism does come from Romanticism: historically Marx emerges from the Romantic critique of the Enlightenment. But he doesn't remain within Romanticism – although arguably capitalism does. For me, Marxism manages to pose a critique of post-Enlightenment, industrial, capitalist market society. Marxist writings contain a critique that could only emerge through Romanticism. More concretely, it seems to me that Marx sees in capitalist society a kind of metaphysical, mad, inverted world. He therefore complicates the picture of capitalism as rational. The whole point is that capitalism is profoundly irrational, but in a way that is scrupulously and narrowly rational. Marx is interesting because he manages to think this strange combination of rationality and irrationality.

What I am trying to get at is the idea that communism has not yet existed; that what was called communism in the twentieth century was not worthy of the name. But the possibility of the communist society is still something that capitalism secretes. Capitalism, to paraphrase Amadeo Bordiga, is an inverted phenomenology of communism. It is very basic to Marx that communism would not be just the antitheses, the black to the white of capitalism, but the realization of something that is already there, latent in capitalism.

Capitalism's normal function is romantic, it is dependent on the mobilization of the national myths, of personal and social mythologies and fantasies. As we enter a crisis, we are likely to see capitalism become more romantic. As we have seen in the past, in the 1930s for example, there is a great romanticism to a society that has passed its sell-by-date, as it keeps rehearsing these melodramas of final collapse – which are dangerous because we are the ones cast in these dramas.