Dilemma ’89: My father was a communist

The Slovak author and journalist Martin M. Simecka and Hungarian architect and former samizdat publisher László Rajk are not only former dissidents of the younger generation, but also the sons of well-known persecuted communists. László Rajk sr. was the most prominent victim of the Rákosi show trials of 1949; the writer Milan Simecka sr. began his career in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and became a dissident after 1968. In the first debate in the Eurozine series “Europe talks to Europe”, held in Budapest, they discussed the still unanswered questions surrounding the involvement of their father’s generation in post-war communism, and the failings of today’s debate about the past in the former communist countries. Moderated by Eva Karadi, editor of Magyar Lettre Internationale.

Eva Karadi: There is an interesting common feature in both your biographies that has provided us with the title of our conversation: “Dilemma ’89: My father was a communist”. Martin Simecka, how well do you know the circumstances in which your father became a communist?

Martin Simecka: I know them very well because I spoke to him about it all. After my father was expelled from the party in ’68 he became a dissident, and so he had time to reflect on his past. He became a member of the party as early as ’48, as an eighteen-year-old. His personal motivation was very typical for the younger generation in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s. The Czechoslovak First Republic was extremely leftwing: there was a strong social-democratic party, a communist party and powerful leftwing intellectual movements. Many members of the intellectual elite – the writers and artists – were either communist or very leftist; it wasn’t unusual to be intellectual and leftist, or even communist. In this respect, Czechoslovakia was different to Hungary or Poland. In the ’48 elections the communist party won about 60 per cent in the Czech Republic and about 30 per cent in Slovakia, which was still a lot.

There were two profound reasons behind being a communist. One was the very common feeling that the Red Army had liberated Czechoslovakia at the end of the Second World War, and that it was the Russians who had brought liberty. The second was that Edvard Benes, who was president from late ’38 and then in exile in London, himself supported the idea that the Soviet Union is our friend, after Great Britain and others had betrayed Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement in ’38.

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The Common in Communism

Michael Hardt
The common must be the foundation of any communist hypothesis today. This is true due primarily to two interconnecting and conflicting conditions of the common with respect to capitalist production. First, contemporary capitalist production relies ever more centrally on the production and productivity of the common. And, second, the common, since it must be shared and open to free access, is antithetical to property. In other words, the common and its productivity are destroyed when relations of property (private or public) are imposed on it; and, in turn, the affirmation of the common implies the destruction of property. The dynamics of class struggle today and the project to overcome class society develop on the terrain of the common.

I generally agree with the efforts of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek to renew the idea of communism and the communist hypothesis. The concept of communism, like that of democracy, has been corrupted so that today in standard usage it has come to mean its opposite, that is, state control of economic and social life. I would like to shift the discussion slightly, however, or recenter it from Badiou’s and Zizek’s focus on the political decision to the critique of political economy and the project for the abolition of property. To realize the communist hypothesis for our times we need to move, so to speak, from Lenin to Marx. Indeed one of the reasons that the communist hypotheses of previous eras are no longer valid is that the composition of capital – as well as the conditions and products of capitalist production – have altered. Most importantly the technical composition of labor has changed. How do people produce both inside and outside the workplace? What do they produce and under what conditions? How is productive cooperation organized? And what are the divisions of labor and power that separate them along gender and racial lines and in the local, regional, and global contexts? In addition to investigating the current composition of labor, we also have to analyze the relations of property under which labor produces. Along with Marx we can say that the critique of political economy is, at its heart, a critique of property. “The theory of the Communists,” Marx and Engels write in the Manifesto, “may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”1

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Alain Badiou: La actualización del comunismo

Filósofo, dramaturgo y novelista, es uno de los nombres más destacados del pensamiento contemporáneo. En esta charla, hace un repaso por los sucesos del Mayo del ’68, advierte que la idea del comunismo no ha podido ser superada hasta hoy y ataca al presidente de Francia, Nicolas Sarkozy, a quien define como “el último bastión del conservadurismo francés”. Un diálogo sobre la política de la emancipación, el amor como categoría de verdad y la relación entre poesía y filosofía.

Por ANALIA HOUNIE

“El capitalismo global es una abstracción que excluye a buena parte de la humanidad”, sostiene.

—A cuarenta años del Mayo Francés, ¿cuál es, según usted, su legado?

—La complejidad de la pregunta consiste en que no hubo un Mayo del ’68 sino cuatro. Mayo del ’68 fue un acontecimiento, precisamente, porque estuvo compuesto por elementos diferentes. Cuando hablamos entonces de este acontecimiento, debemos precisar siempre de qué Mayo del ’68 estamos hablando. Para decirlo brevemente, hay un primer Mayo del ’68 que es la rebelión de la juventud; de hecho, no de toda la juventud sino de los estudiantes: es la revuelta de una minoría. Es la parte más visible del Mayo del ’68. Debemos decir también que esta parte no fue completamente original porque hacia fin de los sesenta hubo revueltas de los estudiantes prácticamente en todo el mundo: en México, Alemania, Estados Unidos, China… El segundo Mayo del ’68 es la huelga más importante de toda la historia de Francia. Es muy diferente del primero pues concierne a los trabajadores, millones de ellos, y no a los estudiantes. El tercer Mayo del ’68 es algo así como una revolución cultural. Tiene que ver con la agitación de los teatros y de los cineastas, también con la transformación de las reglas sexuales y con la revuelta feminista. El cuarto Mayo del ’68 es, finalmente, el más interesante. Consiste en la búsqueda de una nueva concepción de la política –la búsqueda por crear, por ejemplo, una colectividad entre trabajadores, estudiantes, extranjeros, etcétera–. Creo que aquí yace el legado del Mayo del ’68. Porque la revuelta de los estudiantes en sí misma no es una cuestión universal, concierne a las universidades, a la relación entre la educación institucional y la educación pública. La huelga de trabajadores en sí misma es ampliamente controlada por el Partido Comunista y por los sindicatos tradicionales, no es un fenómeno nuevo. La transformación de las modalidades sexuales y la revolución cultural crean una modernidad, pero esta modernidad es compatible con el capitalismo. Hoy somos contemporáneos del Mayo del ’68 en la búsqueda de una nueva definición de la política. El problema clave es encontrar una forma de organización política que no se halla en la forma del viejo Partido Comunista (organización jerárquica, participación en las elecciones clásicas, etc). Este problema aún no esta resuelto.

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Alain Badiou- Is the Word Communism Doomed Forever?

A Lacanian Ink Event, Miguel Abreu Gallery 11/08

WHEN INSURRECTIONS DIE. Gilles Dauvé

Gilles Dauvé, Quand Meurent les Insurrections. ADEL, Paris, 1998.
This version, translated by Loren Goldner and revised by the author, first published by Antagonism Press, 1999.
“If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.”1

This perspective was not realised. The European proletariat missed its rendezvous with a revitalised Russian peasant commune.2

BREST-LITOVSK: 1917 AND 1939

Brest-Litovsk, Poland, December 1917: the Bolsheviks proposed peace without annexations to a Germany intent on taking over a large swath of the old Tsarist empire, stretching from Finland to the Caucasus. But in February 1918, the German soldiers, “proletarians in uniform” though they were, obeyed their officers and resumed the offensive against a soviet Russia as if they were still facing the Tsarist army. No fraternisation occurred, and the revolutionary war advocated by the Bolshevik Left proved impossible. In March, Trotsky had to sign a peace treaty dictated by the Kaiser’s generals. “We’re trading space for time”, as Lenin put it, and in fact, in November, the German defeat turned the treaty into a scrap of paper. Nevertheless, practical proof of the international link-up of the exploited had failed to materialise. A few months later, returning to civilian life with the war’s end, these same proletarians confronted the alliance of the official workers’ movement and the Freikorps. Defeat followed defeat: in Berlin, Bavaria and Hungary in 1919; then the Red Army of the Ruhr in 1920; the March Action in 1921…

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Three Theses for Virtual Communism

Toni Negri

l. COMMUNISM AS EQUALITY, that is the material contents of communism, the critique of capitalism (the market of private individuals) and of socialism (the state-run market), the irreducible desire for equality, “social” property and “social” entrepreneurship… Reexamine and comment on the great texts: especially the Paris Commune and sections of the Grundrisse dealing with the “collective subject.” But also Spinoza, the democracy of the “multitude,” Machiavelli on class struggles, Campanella, Thomas More,
James Harrington… Bring the discussion of equality to bear on the reality of the capitalist world and show how capitalism constructs the conditions of equality in terms of the organization of labor and the organization of society, but then denies that equality in the framework of the judicial and political superstructures.

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Communism is back and we should call it singularity

A book launch and discussion with Franco Berardi aka Bifo

5pm Friday, February 27th in the Octagon Room, People’s Palace @ Queen Mary,
University of London, Mile End Road, E1 4NS

The event marks the first and long awaited  publication of his work in English: Félix Guattari. Thought, Friendship, and Visionary  Cartography (London: Palgrave, 2008), and Precarious Rhapsody. Semio-capitalism and the  Pathologies of the Post-Alpha Generation (London: Autonomedia, forthcoming).  The launch  will be followed by a social evening at the Freedom Bookshop, Angel Alley, 84b  Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX. All welcome.

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