21st Century Communists of the Commons and Contemporary Proudhonism

A presentation and discussion with Radhika Desai

If Proudhonism in the nineteenth century was, as Marx argued, a petty bourgeois ideology, Radhika argues that the new communism of the commons propounded by Badiou, Hardt and Negri, and Zizek (among others) is a twenty-first-century avatar of the Proudhonism that was a perennial obstacle to developing a broad opposition to capital during the 19th and 20th centuries. The 21st Century Proudhonist speaks not for what Poulantzas called the‘traditional petty bourgeoisie’, as Proudhon did, but for the ‘new petty bourgeoisie’ of ‘non-productive wage earners’, which has also lately styled itself the ‘creative class’.

A failure to comprehend the dynamics of capitalist accumulation and a general antipathy to any general organization of labor in society, and thus to any serious politics, are common to both. In addition, the protection of the cultural commons, the core of the project, is but a program aiming for the continued reproduction of the creative class within the dictates of capital. The sum of what the 21st Century Proudhonists put forth as innovation, is instead prey to a series of misunderstandings – of the concept of the commons itself, of contemporary capitalism whose dynamics forms the backdrop of their project and key economic and political ideas of Marx whose authority they seek to attach to their project.

Radhika Desai is Professor at the Department of Political Studies, and Director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. She is the author of Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire (2013), Slouching Towards Ayodhya: From Congress to Hindutva in Indian Politics (2nd rev ed, 2004) and Intellectuals and Socialism: ‘Social Democrats’ and the Labour Party (1994), a New Statesman and Society Book of the Month, and editor or co-editor of Russia, Ukraine and Contemporary Imperialism, a special issue of International Critical Thought (2016), Theoretical Engagements in Geopolitical Economy (2015), Analytical Gains from Geopolitical Economy (2015), Revitalizing Marxist Theory for Today’s Capitalism (2010) and Developmental and Cultural Nationalisms (2009). Currently she is working on three books: Capitalism’s Geopolitical Economy: From Imperialism to Multipolarity, Marx as a Monetary Theorist and The Making of the Indian Capitalist Class. 

 

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Capital, Volume I

Class & Discussion with Capital Studies Group

Karl Marx’s Capital remains the fundamental text for understanding how capitalism works. By unraveling the commoditized forms of our interactions with nature and each other, it provides tools to understand capitalism’s astounding innovativeness and productivity, intertwined with growing inequality and misery, alienation, stunting of human potential, and ecological destruction all over the globe. In this way, Capital offers the reader a methodology for doing our own analysis of current developments.

The Capital Studies Group has been meeting on Saturdays for nearly two years. We are a diverse group of students, activists and teachers who are now dedicating themselves to a chronological reading of all three volumes of Marx’s Capital.