Marxism and Twenty-First Century Socialism

Throughout this book, I have constantly invoked Marxism as being more conducive to understanding racism and its relationship to capitalist society than Critical Race Theory; and have defended Marxism against CRT critiques of it. In order to both substantiate my defence of, and indeed, exaltation of the modern Marxist project; in order specifically to argue CRT attempts to render it passe, no longer relevant, racist and oppressive, it is incumbent on me to justify the overall strengths of Marxism as a worldview. The most effective way to do this, I would argue, is to address some common objections to Marxism, and to attempt to answer them from a Marxist perspective (this will also provide a backdrop and a base, as well as some political energy, for my discussion of classroom practice in the next chapter). After doing this, in order to further make the case that Marxism is not a spent force and is relevant to the twenty- first century, I then look, as a case study, at ongoing developments in the Bolivarian Republic ofVenezuela, focusing on the impressive social democratic changes designed to improve the lives of the Venezuelan working class. These include a number of very impressive reforms to the education system, which serve as a beacon of enlightenment when compared to the educational practices in the US and the UK that antiracist educators are challenging (see chapter 9 of this volume). I go on to discuss the potential in Venezuela for twenty-first century socialism. To counter CRT claims of an incompatibility between Marxism and antiracism, I conclude the chapter with a discussion of the way in which President Hugo Chavez and others are championing indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan rights as part of © The Author(s) 2017

M. Cole, Critical Race Theory and Education, DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-95079-9_8

what they perceive to be the transition to socialism (given the prominence I give to the voice of Hugo Chavez, a Venezuelan with both indigenous and African roots, hopefully my analysis in this part of the chapter might strike a chord with Critical Race Theorists). As a result of developments in antiracist thinking, including CRT, it is my view that a ‘color-neutral’ socialism, like a socialism that does not take account of gender (thanks to contributions by feminists and their supporters) is now permanently off the progressive agenda.

According to Marxist theory, the anarchy of capitalist production creates the material conditions for the proletarian revolution (the transformation of the socialised means of production from the hands of the bourgeoisie into public property) (Engels 1892 [1977], p. 428). While, for Marxists, proletarian revolution is not inevitable, it is always on the cards. As Tom Hickey (2006) explains, capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to generate conflict, and is thus permanently vulnerable to challenge from the working class. As he puts it:

The objective interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are incompatible, and therefore generate not a tendency to permanent hostility and open warfare but a permanent tendency toward them. The system is thus prone to economic class conflict, and, given the cyclical instability of its economy, subject to periodic political and economic crises. It is at these moments that the possibility exists for social revolution (Hickey 2006, p. 192).

At times, the ruling class may for forced into a settlement. For example, to take the case of the UK, during the post-war Labour Government of Clement Attlee (1945-1951), in order to foreclose the possibility of social revolution at the time, the ruling class was prepared to allow a series of major reforms. Thus the period saw sweeping legislation that began with the Beveridge Report of 1942 (Beveridge 1942). Attlee’s government created a national insurance system, the National Health Service and embarked on a massive programme of nationalisation. Given the political volatility of the period after World War II, these measures, which created the British Welfare State, may be seen as a compromise between capital and labour (Cole 2008a, p. 1).1

Another example is the General Strike of 1926. This ended a sixteen year period of intense industrial militancy by the British working class, which had commenced with the Great Unrest of 1910-14 and which continued through the engineering struggles during the First World War (Davidson 2006). This reached its climax in the mass strikes of 1919, which, according to Davidson 2006, was the point of maximum danger for the British ruling class, and its European counterparts more generally. The actual events of 1926 were less threatening, in part because they were held back by the trade union leaders (Davidson 2006).

Outside of these political and economic crises, everything under capitalism has a certain, at times hidden, at times transparent, class-based, racialized and gendered logic of inevitability and insurmountability, prompted in part by the success of the state apparatuses in interpellating subjects—this is how things are or even should be, and there’s nothing we can or even should do (see chapter 2, endnote 12 of this volume).2 The ruling class’s success at keeping Marxism off the agenda, most notably in the US, and significantly in the UK since Thatcherism and its aftermath (see Cole 2009) is not logical (indeed, given that Marxism is in the interests of the working class, it is, in fact, illogical). However, as Stuart Hall (1978) once remarked, ideologies don’t work by logic—they have logics of their own. Thus:

we act and respond to ideology as if we were the originators of the ideas and values within it. In other words, when The Sun or The Daily Mail? speaks of what ‘the public’ ‘wants’, ‘needs’, ‘is fed up with’, ‘has had enough of’ this strikes a chord with all the other organs of ruling-class ideology—the rest of the media, the various apparatuses of the state. Because we are largely trapped with one view of the world ... —it all makes sense to us (Cole 1986, p. 131).

It is the role of Marxism and Marxists to transcend these ruling class interpellations, to provide an alternative vision, an insistence that another world is possible. I will now address some of the common objections to Marxism, themselves by and large the result of successful interpellation, and attempt to respond to them.

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