Once upon a time, comrades…
Forty years ago, I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). The youth wing of the British Labour Party. The LPYS was a dreaded acronym on the right wing of the party as the youth organisation had been taken over by a Marxist group called the Militant in the mid-1970s. It would retain control for a decade until the LPYS was dissolved.
The momentous year I joined and became a Marxist for a period of my life was 1980. A time with problems not entirely dissimilar to today. A thumping great recession. Youth unemployment going through the roof. The Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan in the US.
But there were differences – big differences.
Half the world was within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union (USSR), a state officially guided by Marxism. There was a nuclear arms race between the capitalist west and Soviet east and most young people thought there was a high probability they would die in a global nuclear conflagration. The ideas of Marxism were still in the mainstream and actively discussed. And organised labour was still a force to be reckoned with.
To me, the moment I started reading the works of Karl Marx, it all just made a whole heap of sense. I then ploughed through Engels, Lenin and Trotsky deciding early on that I wasn’t a fan of Stalinism. By the 1970s, the USSR was unarguably a bureaucratic, totalitarian giant with feet of clay. So, the idea of being a Marxist who nevertheless advocated a political revolution in the USSR to wipe away the bureaucracy was very attractive and so I adhered to Trotsky’s account of Marxism.
History though doesn’t roll out as you might want it to. The USSR collapsed but took the planned economy with it and evolved into a raw, gangster capitalism with oligarchs and their children ransacking state assets. China moved to unbridled capitalism as well. And in the west, organised labour was brought to its knees.
The 1990s to me was the death of big ideas and ideology. There were still radical movements and social upheavals but the ideas of Marxism receded. And Marxist groups struggled to find new adherents. I pursued a career in journalism and left my days of being a comrade far behind.
I’m not a Marxist now. But I still know what Marxism is and have a vast archive of political stuff from the 20th century. So what has compelled me to create this blog?
In part, it’s our precipitous slide into another period of deep crisis. The Covid pandemic accelerating the concentration of capital into fewer hands, technology replacing human labour, a massive increase in youth unemployment and greater relative and absolute poverty. All trends that Marx recognised and wrote about at voluminous length.
At the same time, the words ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ are no longer as toxic as they were after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But now, after decades of anaemic debate and a crisis of confidence on the Left, there’s a markedly poorer understanding of what Marx actually stood for.
Plus we have the malign influence of state actors, social media demagogues and the nuttier element of the identity politics crowd who intentionally or not twist Marxism into shapes I certainly don’t recognise.
So – the purpose of the blog is to lay out in simple terms, related very much to my past experience (so yes, rooted in a particular time), what Marxism means. Inevitably, it will obviously annoy some old and young Marxists who won’t agree with my interpretation. But that’s when we start debating and analysing. Which is a good thing.
That’s really it. I’ve spent the last two years chaffing at the bit. Wanting to put this blog up. Love it or hate it – here it is. If it gets your little grey cells buzzing – in agreement or not – then I feel my work is done. So – read on comrades!
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