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Heinrich on the Necessity of a Rational, Realistic Vision for the Left - CAPPE Lecture

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

There are many reasons for the rise of right-wing parties (not only in Germany, but in other countries). One reason, for sure, is the transformation or the fall of the social democratic project which tried to combine a growing capitalist economy with an increasing welfare state. This project is, for many reasons, not working anymore and I think we can use the names Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder as symbols of the neoliberal conversion of social democracy. In Germany, France, Italy, and Greece, this did not simply bring a loss of voters for social democracy – this alone would not be a big problem. The big problem is that many of these voters are deeply disappointed by political parties and the political system. Some of these people are simply politically absent – they are disappointed and therefore do nothing. But some of them, at least (I can say) in Germany and also in France, are supporting the right-wing party. These right-wing parties and right-wing groups have, when we compare them with the left, one big advantage: they have a vision. The vision is awful, there is no question about that – the migrants are guilty for everything, and we must return to closed borders where a national welfare state can provide us with happiness etc. It is awful, it is not realistic, we all know this… but it is a simple vision which seems to be realistic... and the radical left (not the social democratic left that dreams of returning to the 60s) has nearly nothing to offer. We offer a critique of capitalism, but we have no realistic, rational vision.

Here, I think the occupation with Marx’s concept of communism is important. It also has to overcome the idea on the radical left (or at least some parts of the radical left), inspired by the thoughts of Adorno for example, that it is already suspicious simply to talk about communism – that to do so would already be a kind of betrayal. This, I think, is a very dangerous, very damaging position. But often, there is also the argument that Marx himself didn’t speak so much about communism – he analyzed capitalism. His main work is not entitled Communism, but rather, Capital. This is true, but when we examine Marx’s work more closely, I think we can find much more detail than is typically admitted or expected.

For me, there is also another point, which only became clear to me from working on the biographical project that was mentioned in the introduction. There is a view of Marx that he started with philosophy, then did philosophy, then at least from 1850 (when he was in London) he focused on the critique of political economy. OK, there were individual works like 18th Brumaire and The Civil War in France, but these are exceptions. The main course of Marx’s thinking and research is considered to be economics. I think this view is also wrong. It’s true that besides Brumaire and Civil War we have no big works of Marx, but we have hundreds of newspaper articles written for the International Daily Tribune in New York, but also for a lot of other journals and newspapers in different languages. These articles are occupied with very concrete political events (as is usual for a newspaper), but nevertheless they are based upon more general political analysis and moreover, the theoretical, political analysis develops through these articles. For example in the mid-1850s Marx wrote a series of 10 articles for the New York Daily Tribune about the Spanish Revolution in the 1820s. In these articles, he also discusses the political impact of different kinds of constitutions – you can find this kind of writing nowhere else. Meanwhile, in MEGA, the excerpts Marx used for these 10 Articles were published: several hundred pages from Spanish literature. So, he really did a kind of research process for writing a series of newspaper articles. I think we should take this more seriously, these small writings.

Now, for our issue tonight, I think we must not view Marx’s considerations of communism only as isolated considerations. We have to see them, on the one hand, developing out of his analysis of his critique of political economy, and also as emerging out of his constant occupation with the critique of politics. These considerations of Marx are not a kind of solitaire.

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