Marxism Is a Nice Idea, but It Will Never Happen (for Some of the Reasons Headlined Above)
Bringing Marxism to the forefront is not an easy task. Capitalism is selfevidently a resilient and very adaptable world force and, as I have argued throughout this volume, interpellation has been very successful. However, Marx argued that society has gone through a number of different stages in its history: primitive communism; slavery; feudalism, capitalism. It is highly likely that in each era, a different way of living was considered
‘impossible’ by most of those living in that era. However, each era gave birth, in a dialectical process, to another. Thus, though it may be extremely difficult to imagine a world based on socialist principles, such a world is possible if that is what the majority of the world’s citizens come to desire and have the will to create. Marxists need to address the obstacles full on. As Callinicos (2000, p. 122) has argued, we must break through the ‘bizarre ideological mechanism, [in which] every conceivable alternative to the market has been discredited by the collapse of Stalinism’ whereby the fetishization of life makes capitalism seem natural and therefore unalterable and where the market mechanism ‘has been hypostatized into a natural force unresponsive to human wishes’ (ibid., p. 125).9 Capital presents itself ‘determining the future as surely as the laws of nature make tides rise to lift boats (McMurtry 2000, p. 2), ‘as if it has now replaced the natural environment. It announces itself through its business leaders and politicians as coterminous with freedom, and indispensable to democracy such that any attack on capitalism as exploitative or hypocritical becomes an attack on world freedom and democracy itself’ (McLaren 2000, p. 32).10 However, the biggest impediment to social revolution is not capital’s resistance, but its success in heralding the continuation of capitalism as being the only option. As Callinicos puts it, despite the inevitable intense resistance from capital, the ‘greatest obstacle to change is not ... the revolt it would evoke from the privileged, but the belief that it is impossible’ (2000, p. 128). Given the hegemony of world capitalism, whose very leitmotif is to stifle and redirect class consciousness, and given the aforementioned reactionary nature of certain sections of the working class, restoring this consciousness is a tortuous, but not impossible task. Callinicos again:
Challenging this climate requires courage, imagination and willpower inspired by the injustice that surrounds us. Beneath the surface of our supposedly contented societies, these qualities are present in abundance. Once mobilized, they can turn the world upside down (2000, p. 129).
As we hurtle into the twenty-first century, we have some important decisions to make. Whatever the twenty-first century has to offer, the choices will need to be debated. The Hillcole Group expressed our educational choices as follows:
Each person and group should experience education as contributing to their own self-advancement, but at the same time our education should ensure that at least part of everyone’s life activity is also designed to assist in securing the future of the planet we inherit—set in the context of a sustainable and equitable society. Democracy is not possible unless there is a free debate about all the alternatives for running our social and economic system ... All societies [are] struggling with the same issues in the 21st century. We can prepare by being better armed with war machinery or more competitive international monopolies . Or we can wipe out poverty . altogether. We can decide to approach the future by consciously putting our investment into a massive drive to encourage participation from everyone at every stage in life through training and education that will increase productive, social, cultural and environmental development in ways we have not yet begun to contemplate (Hillcole 1997, pp. 94-5).
While the open-endedness of the phrase, ‘in ways we have not yet begun to contemplate’ will appeal to poststructuralists and postmodernists, for whom the future is an open book, this is most definitely not the political position of the Hillcole Group. Whereas, for poststructuralists and postmodernists, all we have is endlessly deconstruction without having strategies for change (see Cole 2008a, chapter 5), for Marxists, the phrase is tied firmly to an open but socialist agenda.
For transmodernists like David Geoffrey Smith, the way forward is to ‘desacralize capitalism’ and to move towards a ‘rethought liberal democracy’, while for Enrique Dussel, the answer lies in an ‘ex nihilo utopia’ (a utopia from nothing) (for a critique of these positions, see Cole 2008a, pp. 75-84). For Critical Race Theorists, there are non-specific notions of ‘ending oppression’ (see the Conclusion to this volume). These suggestions are no doubt well intentioned, but they are idealistic in the current historical conjuncture. Like the views of the utopian socialists (Engels 1892), neither Smith’s nor Dussel’s ideas nor the vagaries of Critical Race Theory engage with the nature of the contradictions within capitalism, the dialectic, and with the working class consciousness needed for revolutionary change.
An equitable, fair and just world can be foreseen neither through post- modernism/poststructuralism, nor through the more enlightened and progressive ideas of transmodernism and CRT. For Marxists, as global neoliberal capitalism and imperial hegemony tightens its grip on all our lives, the choice, to paraphrase Rosa Luxembourg (1916), is quite simple: that choice is between barbarism—‘the unthinkable’—or democratic socialism.
Ok, Show Me where Marxism Works in Practice
Even if all of the above questions are answered convincingly, Marxists are inevitably asked, ‘Ok, show me where Marxism works in practice?’ I have lost count of the number of times in a lifetime working in education that I have been asked that question. Since I first visited Cuba a decade or so ago, and up to my trip to Venezuela where I worked briefly for the Bolivarian University of Venezuela in 2006 (see Scott 2006, p. 14), I tended to reply on the lines of, ‘well, I know it’s not perfect, but the case of Cuba is in many respects a good example’. However, I am now able to commend developments in Venezuela with far fewer reservations. Elsewhere (Cole 2008b, 2009) I have discussed at length the 21st Century Socialism advocated by President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Here I will present a summary.