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The idiocy of anti-communism

Maybe it’s just distance giving me more perspective, but I don’t remember that Start The Week used to be quite so offensively gliberal. A friend pointed me to last week’s edition, in which Simon Sebag Montefiore and Robert Service discuss whether or not Stalin was literally a pirate, and all the most unthinking anti-communist cliches are wheeled out. Sebag Montefiore unveiled his exciting archival research that showed that Stalin used to rob banks for the Bolsheviks (research presumably carried out in a GCSE history text-book), while Service made the controversial claim that, if it hadn’t been for the outcome of the Second World War, Eastern Europe would not have become communist (yes, I think it’s fair to say communism would have done less well in Eastern Europe if the Nazis had won the war).

And of course we got the unargued claim that Marxism is a religion. This is the great bulwark of liberal disavowed intolerance; no need to argue with Marxism, as it can be determined in advance to be irrational. This is why Dawkins’s or Dennet’s refusal to engage with actual religious belief is so reactionary; the same structure appears, in a slightly different form, in Johann Hari’s recent Žižek article, with Hari’s apparently complete obliviousness to the idea that Žižek might have arguments for the positions he holds.

Service did ask one interesting question, though. What, he asked, was it about the first half of the 20th century that made revolutionary change, or utopian imagination, so plausible? Appeals to the religious character of Marxism swiftly covered over any need to answer this question, but it’s an interesting one, I think. Various people, including Žižek, have talked in the last few years about the importance of rejecting the coordinates of capitalist realism. What I have seen less of is a consideration of the material conditions that would make such a rejection possible.