Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Friday, November 20, 2009

(Fred) Halliday's 'What Was Communism?

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, November 20, 2009 | Category: , , |

I finally got around to reading Fred Halliday's article at OpenDemocracy 'What Was Communism?' I found it quite edifying, from the little things I appreciate, such as expanding my vocabulary (I did not know, or do not recall looking up previously, that 'aporia' was the Greek for impasse, specifically in the case of understanding potentially divergent or ambiguous meaning), to larger and more significant contributions such as finding a worthy critique and commentary on the lessons that we must learn from Communism and its failure; particularly how it is necessary for us to realise the ways in which capitalism adapted to the presence of, and how it now adapts to the lack of, communism as a an alternative for state policy.

Though one may be sceptical of the 'if you don't know history you'll be doomed to repeat it' trope, Halliday articulates the role of 'communism as reminder' well:

Judging from the politics and intellectual debates of today, neither those who celebrate the end of communism, nor those who are now articulating a radical alternative, have carried out such an assessment: between (on one side) the still resilient complacency of market capitalism and an increasingly uncertain world of liberal democracy, and (on the other) the vacuous radicalisms that pose as a global alternative, the lessons of the communist past remain largely ignored. And so, as they say, they will be repeated.
And on adaptation,
The greatest achievement of communism may well turn out to have been not the creation of an alternative and more desirable system contrasted to capitalism, but its contribution to the modernisation of capitalism itself. No account of the spread of the suffrage, the rise of the welfare state, the end of colonialism, or the economic booms of Europe and east Asia after 1945 could omit the catalytic role which, combined with pressure from within, the communist challenge from without played.
I subscribe fairly strongly to the notion of institutional evolution: that institutions either adapt to the social environment in which they find themselves: they mutate and succeed, they mutate and fail, they do not recognise that the environment has changed and they expire because unadapted. With institutions, as with most things on such an epic scale, what matters is that we recognise how both an historic presence of an institution and how contemporary legacies of an institution affect the current institutions that appear and mutate to adapt to the current institutional milieu. Certain things in our 'democracies' scare me: for example, the evisceration of rights historically held sacred in the West petrifies me as a potential adaptation of capitalist democracy to a world in which communism no longer threatens it. I hope though that mass action - demonstration, voting, community involvement - will act as counterweight. Though I get annoyed by aphoristic 'Time will tell's, it should.

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