Article Image

J. Moufawad-Paul, The Communist Necessity: Prolegomena to Any Future Radical Theory, Kersplebedeb, 2014.

Finally, after decades of post-modernism and capitalist triumphalism, it is no longer considered impolite for academics and popular intellectuals to speak the word communism. (15).

I started my undergrad in 1995, six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and only four-and-a-half years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man was published in 1992, part of the triumphalist crowing of a capitalism that felt itself not only victorious, but morally and intellectually vindicated. I remember being shocked that the University of Manitoba bookstore carried the Communist Manifesto, but I was already working a telephone tech support job with all the mindless tedium that entails, and the Manifesto began to explain things to me. Nevertheless, at that time, you could not talk about Marx or Marxism with any seriousness or sympathy in a North American university. Communism and Marxism had been completely discredited. In 1999, I watched the “Battle for Seattle” from Winnipeg and felt that at least something was being done. Then there was Genoa in 2001, and other clashes followed. But none of it ever seemed to add up to anything. I delivered election flyers and went to a few meetings of the Communist Party; I went to a meeting or two of the Industrial Workers of the World, but all of that seemed intellectually bankrupt and directionless. Reading Marx or Lenin I would run up against chauvinists or Ukrainian nationalists who angrily took issue with anything that didn’t fit the triumphal capitalist/nationalist/bourgeois order. So I more or less gave up, and for many years kept my reading of Marx more or less to myself. In library school I read Habermas and Foucault; in my MA I relied on Bourdieu, because even then I felt that there was no way to openly declare a Marxist perspective in the academy.

After 2008 this began to change, as capitalist crisis returned in a major way, and Marx became relevant and persona grata once more. Harvey’s Companion to Marx’s Capital came out in 2010 and Eagleton’s Why Marx was Right in 2012. Along with this developed anti-capitalist movements that seemed to still be based in a liberal - rather than a radical - view of the way bourgeois society operates and what must be done to change it. Moufawad-Paul’s The Communist Necessity is a take-down of this kind of movementism, as well as the theoretical projects that support it, projects like Badiou’s Communist Hypothesis and Jodi Dean’s Communist Horizon, both of which, in Moufawad-Paul’s view, posit a future communism that we just shouldn’t concern ourselves with right now. The anti-capitalist movements, too, see communism as something that will come about by itself, magically somehow, once the right people and the right ideas are gathered in the right place. This, to my mind, sounds very similar to the liberal position that the problems and evils of capitalism are just mistakes, and that if we simply refound the social contract (as Ursula Franklin has put it), then the problems will simply melt away.

Moufawad-Paul argues, I think persuasively, that the various movements, horizons, and hypotheses, defang communism

They refuse to examine the past revolutions just as they refuse to examine the revolutionary movements of today, in those zones that they claim to defend against imperialism, that had never been enamoured with this movementist praxis. They are willing to settle for reformism and pretend that it is revolution, acting as if a successful defense of the right to assembly and the ability to make one’s complaint heard are the only victories the movement can achieve. (10).

Moufawad-Paul sees much of this liberalism posing as communism as due to s belief that simply “because capitalism is mean, evil, immoral - because we don’t like it” it is doomed to fail. But from this perspective one cannot commit to communism, because there is no way to argue that it is a better alternative than capitalism. By standing on the argument of capitalism’s immorality, communism can only be fully committed to if it can be proved to be more moral, an impossibility. Rather, communism must be committed to as a necessity because “otherwise capitalism, due to its intrinsic logic, will devour existence”. Much of Moufawad-Paul’s argument connects back to Rosa Luxemburg’s stark formulation of the choice we have to make: socialism or barbarism. Moral justifications do not provide a reason to transcend capitalism, only a reason to try (a futile attempt) to blunt its excesses. The justification for a communist revolution cannot come from competing moralities. Instead,

the necessity of revolution is due to the fact that the position of [capitalism] is, in the last instance, contingent upon the annihilation of the basis of existence. […] Communism,then, is more than an ethical necessity: it is a historical and material necessity. […] To claim that ‘another world is possible,’ after all, is not the same as claiming that another world is necessary.

Moufawad-Paul is a Maoist, and one of the most compelling aspects of his argument is that, while the left in North America continues either to argue over Stalin, or to march peacefully in the name of some vague anti-capitalism, revolutionary organizations in the imperial periphery are engaged in the project of making revolutions. Whether these revolutions succeed or not is beside the point, in Moufawad-Paul’s view, because even in failure we gain new insights, new theories, new experiences. A scientific experiment that “fails” still proves or disproves a hypothesis, adding to the sum of scientific knowledge. Why should political experiments be any different?

As with Moufawad-Paul’s latest book, Austerity Apparatus, there’s a lot to dig into and chew on here. There’s a lot of thought condensed into every paragraph, and both books will repay rereading. Whether or not you identify as a Maoist or subscribe to the positions Moufawad-Paul takes up, these are ideas that must be engaged with by any self-respectng leftie. They are often uncomfortable ideas, predicated as they are on a rejection of the kind of common-sense bourgeois values and opinions inculcated in us since birth. But as Moufawad-Paul argues in a passage that had great resonance for me, we have to be prepared to draw lines.

Political lines can and must be drawn: the enemy draws them, and thus understands that we are the enemy, and so we need to have the very same understanding if we are to survive. Only liberals, who imagine that there really is no enemy and that everyone will get along under the peace of welfare capitalism, believe that the drawing of these lines is a violent act that - like violence itself - is immoral because it is the way in which the enemy behaves. In this context, however, the liberal stands within the lines drawn by this enemy and is thus incapable of understanding that they are endorsing a reality determined by the most insidious and immanent violence.

I was criticized recently for holding an “us vs. them” mentality. But it’s true, it is us vs. them - to believe otherwise is to believe that the Canadian government has traditionally been on the same side as indigenous peoples, that the police are on the same side as the Black people they murder with impunity, that those who own the means of production are on the same side as those who eke out a precarious living on the scraps of surplus profit. It is to believe that the wolves and the sheep are on the same side - a point of view that can only benefit the wolves.


Sam Popowich

Discovery and Web Services Librarian, University of Alberta

Back to Overview