In your book Communism has a future … if we free it from the past (1) , here you are continuing a path which leads you to the idea of a rediscovery of Marx. How does this translate?
Bernard Vasseur Indeed, looking at what is happening in the world today, what is being written, what is also thought, I found something new. Thirty years ago, when you looked in the windows of bookstores, you couldn’t find a single book by Marx. The German philosopher was treated like a dead dog. He was equated with the failure of the socialist countries and the USSR. At the moment, on the contrary, we see a kind of incredible flowering of books by Marx and books on Marx. We find new translations, writings that we did not know in my youth. Marx with Engels are being rediscovered. It’s very strong. Within the French labor movement, two dimensions were separated for a long time in Marx. We have seen in him the thinker of anticapitalism and the class struggle, but we have often forgotten that he is also a thinker of communism, what he calls the “Classless society” or “The end of the prehistory of human society”. A “Classless society”, it is a society without dominants, nor dominated. This speaks to us immediately when we think of the inequalities of all kinds (not just income) that are exploding and which are perceived as unacceptable. Communism is the aim of human emancipation. So it is certainly not “the big night”, but it is indeed a revolution. It is the idea of a change of era of humanity, where each human being decides, individually and collectively, to fight for control of his life and to decide his work. I recall the beginning of the Communist Party Manifesto: “The history of any society up to the present day has only been the history of class struggles. “ Marx also poses the question of a real transformation, of a change in the way of making humanity and of working for the ” human race “, according to the famous word of the International. For me, we must reconcile the two dimensions and not stop at the thought of ” against ” in order to be, at the same time ” for “. We fight this capitalist society and we act in favor of a change of civilization. And besides, the current challenges are such that we cannot be satisfied with changing power or government, we need a deep, civilizational change. I would add that when we see the success of intellectuals like Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Frédéric Lordon, David Graeber, Bernard Friot, etc., and even Thomas Piketty in his own way and within his limits, who speak of Marx or the Communism, one can be astonished that the Communists themselves, and the party which is right to want to remain Communist, do not more proclaim themselves the heirs of Marx and evoke so little communism. It is also this paradox that led me to write this book. “Another effort, comrades! “
How then is Marx fully relevant today?
Bernard Vasseur I was talking about the many intellectual works. But, if we look at the latest social struggles and the Covid-19 health crisis, we can still see the shadow of Marx hovering there. We recall. The caregivers, especially the hospital workers, led a very long strike. I remember this slogan: “The state is counting its money, we will count the dead. “ We see what truth this warning acquires today in the midst of an epidemic. In the earlier period, this remark meant: health is not a commodity. We cannot run the public hospital like a capitalist enterprise with the dictatorship of numbers, with what Alain Supiot calls the “Governance by numbers”. Let’s take the yellow vests again. They have brought to the fore the precariousness of life, the poverty of people who work but who can no longer make a living from their work. The question of inequalities and the political representation of the humble, of the “rank and file” was raised. Here again, we can find Marx’s shadow with the stake of reappropriating the policy that he places at the heart of the communist idea. What is often translated in French by “The withering away of the class state”. Third example, the retirement movement: everyone has understood that the government project was intended to make us work longer. In a capitalist regime, this means being exploited for longer. The fact of living longer became a prey in order to make ever more profits. Here again, the shadow of Marx and his idea of communism appear. It is not only in intellectual circles that we see it, ideas are born today within the social movement. Which makes me say that communism is fully topical.
And then there is the health crisis and the climatic challenges we are facing. You have also published, with the Editions de l’Humanité, a small essay entitled After the health crisis? Post-capitalism. How do these threats to life raise the question of overcoming the capitalist system? And how to do it in the age of neoliberal globalization?
Bernard Vasseur Regarding Covid-19, we have talked a lot about ” next day “. Hay herbal teas and lukewarm water, for my part, I spoke of the “After system”, therefore, post-capitalism. It is this struggle in the present to get out of capitalism that Marx qualifies as communism, and not a distant horizon, a marvelous ideal or a social model presenting the portrait of a society of the future like a tourist brochure. Now this idea of leaving capitalism, of a new civilization, is coming of age. I read zoonoses specialists (those diseases that pass from animals to humans). To explain the pandemic, they call into question the most “high-tech” contemporary mode of development of capitalism. Now, capitalism is now rushing into the world without obstacles or safeguards, it dominates societies like no other mode of production before it and it is alone on the trail. He cannot disguise or erase his responsibilities and we can look him in the face, as Marx did in his time. The pandemic which strikes the world sows disease and death, makes visible to all that it imposes a mode of development and existence which is distressing and deadly. This is indeed a de-civilization that must be stopped if we want to continue living by leaving fear. Behind the globalization of capital, that is to say the crazy dream of imposing on the entire planet the Western way of inhabiting it, arise the always most essential impulses of capitalism: the insatiable will to power, the wild competition, inequality, cash fetishism. They have been known for a long time, but they take on considerable proportions, become visible and largely shocking. Here again, the exit from capitalism: this is a good rallying point. Finally, there are the ecological disasters that are looming and which are also becoming visible: the earth is heating up, the polar caps and glaciers are melting, natural resources are being exhausted. For all this too, exit from capitalism!
Does capitalism, with the development of a green market, want to give itself an environmental face?
Bernard Vasseur I show in my book that green capitalism is inconceivable. There is indeed an operation underway to do green marketing around ecology. But capitalism cannot reconcile the search for profit and ecosystems, a myriad of private enterprises and social control of respect for ecological standards, the short term of finance and the long term of planetary balances. If we really read Marx by getting rid of the reading imposed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, first by German Social Democracy and then by the Soviet reading of the Third International, we will find absolutely pioneering texts by Marx in it. matter. John Bellamy Foster made this remarkably evident in his Ecologist Marx (Amsterdam, 2011). The productivism that we associate with Marx today is not found in his work, which, on the contrary, is concerned with natural balances in several texts of the Capital. But this is what the Soviet conception of Stakhanovism slipped under its name and made it take for its thought. This is the reason why I say that communism has a future, on condition that it is freed from the traditions of the past. Free Marx from the militant Marxism of the past.
In this concern to “free oneself from the past”, you insist on the fact that socialism and communism have too often been confused. What do you mean ?
Bernard Vasseur Indeed, there is an anomaly – a ruse of history – in the development of the workers’ movement. I repeat: Marx and Engels are thinkers of communism. But what prevailed for two centuries was the word “socialism”, both in German social democracy and in Soviet socialism. Even today, these two words are still considered synonyms. Did Marx identify them? I think not and I am trying to demonstrate it. In 1848, Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Party manifesto. Subsequently, we called for socialism but, in my opinion, there is a difference in ambition and political means between the two. For example, socialism suffers from its belief in the state as the engine of social dynamics, not communism. Communism according to Marx has never been tried.
But how is post-capitalism, in other words communism, capable of being the first reference point for change?
Bernard Vasseur In 1992, in the end of history and the last man, Fukuyama portrayed a world where triumphant capitalism achieves “Intimate marriage” market economy and representative democracy. The time for such enthusiasm has long passed. However, what weighs on social struggles is the idea that what collapsed in the twentieth century was communism. So if communism is dead, there can be nothing other than capitalism. This seriously handicaps all current social movements, which must therefore remain on the defensive. We can only defend ourselves “against” but we have nothing to propose “for”. I believe that if one decides to speak of communism as Marx thought it, things can evolve. In the capital, Marx writes: “Communism is a form of superior society, the fundamental principle of which is the full and free development of each individual. ” If we look at what happened in the twentieth century, what we call communism and that we should actually call “Failure of the socialist countries”, Has nothing to do with “The full and free development of each individual”. In the first part of Communism? (La Dispute, 2018), Lucien Sève produced a corner stone that we can draw on this story. In view of the world around us, we have to step into the breach. It is time to put Marx and communism back in the public debate, and to recreate the idea that there are two paths for humanity. We are not condemned to capitalism ad vitam aeternam. The second path, that of human emancipation, which has been called communism for more than three centuries, has a future.