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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Beyond Market Dystopia: 2 Events Special Price

MONDAY • August 24 via Zoom
What Should Socialism Mean in the 21st Century?

Drawing on an expanded conception of capitalism, this presentation will construct an expanded conception of socialism that overcomes the narrow economism of received understandings. NANCY FRASER is the co-author with Cinzia Arruzza and Titihi Bhattacharya of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (Verso, 2019)

MONDAY • August 31 via Zoom
The Affordable Housing Crisis: Its Capitalist Roots & the Socialist Alternative

The essay proceeds as follows: I begin with a short summary of the argument advanced by neoclassical economists that assert that the root of the affordability crisis is excessive regulatory interference on the part of governments. This is followed by a section presenting an alternative approach that draws heavily on Marx’s own work on the circuit of capital to explain the factors underlying the long-term inflation of building costs and housing prices. I briefly discuss the impacts of the long-term decline in interest rates and ‘financialization’ on housing prices in major capitalist cities. I conclude with a section that outlines how socialists can envision the transformation of the provisioning of housing during the transitional phase of creating a postcapitalist, socialist economy.

Sliding Scale—no one turned away for inability to pay • email to info@marxedproject.org for link to events if you cannot pay

For a Sustainable Future: The Centrality of Public Goods

with Nancy Holmstrom

via Zoom

In the 2020 Socialist Register “a number of the essays interrogate central dimensions of how we live and how we might live in terms of educating our children, housing and urbanism, accommodation of refugees and the displaced, and (to lean on that all too common phrase) the competitive time pressures for ‘work-life balance’. These are all key questions, of course, of ‘social reproduction,’ a theme that has cut across many volumes of the Register. They are the counterpoint to ‘economic reproduction’ and ‘how we work’ at the heart of several essays here. Today, this involves exploring and exposing all the hype and contradictions of the so-called ‘gig economy,’ where automation’s potential for increased time apart from work is subordinated to surveillance, hazardous waste, speed-up, and much else that makes for contingent work and precarious living. Finding new ways of living cannot but confront both these obstacles.”

The UN’s report on climate change makes clear that ways of living in the 21st century must be premised on the existential threat to our existence posed by multiple ecological threats. The current pandemic underlines this fact. For a sustainable future we have to transform some basic ways of thinking about the world and our place in it, starting with broadened and more inclusive notions of security, property and rationality. Instead of private property being the default as it is in capitalism, public goods/‘the commons’, should be the priority. And rationality must be understood principally in social terms, since on the dominant individualistic model fully rational behavior can lead to the destruction of the species. Thus the central focus of socialist strategy in the 21st century should be protecting and radically expanding public goods/the commons. We should use every means we can to raise people’s understanding that they are 1) the only basis of real security; 2) should be accessible to all as a right, like universal health care, and hence no one should be excluded by the alleged rights of private property; and 3) are foundational to the most rational way to organize society. The paper considers some examples of strategies that fit this approach, such as the Green New Deal, and explores the crucial role of democratic planning both on a societal and a global level.

Nancy Holmstrom is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University.

Tickets are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay. Email: info@marxedproject.org for the zoom code if you are unable to pay