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(ReadWith) Marxism

Quora Answer : Can communists keep pace with the global trends without falling foul of their basic ideologies (like egalitarianism, dictatorship of the proletariat, etc.)? If no, then don't you think that communism as a political force has lost its relevance and must be consigned to the pages of history?

Nov 27, 2014

Let's take a party which is indubitably in the dustbin of history : the Whigs.

The number of people calling themselves Whigs today is vanishingly small. The viability of a Whig party is effectively zero. Perhaps the particular conjunction of ideals and policies that Whigs fought for no-longer form a coherent package that anyone would subscribe to.

But does that mean the spirit animating whiggism is gone from the world?

Not necessarily. There are people today who would have been whigs when that party was a major player. There are whig thinkers who had things to say that are still important and relevant to us today. And there are current ideals and policies, scattered among liberals, Libertarians, progressives and even conservatives that would have been called, and in fact been, "whig policies" in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Personally, I think the label "Communist" may well go the way that the label "Whig" has. Held onto by a small number of nostalgics and eccentrics.

But the problems that Communism - as a political ideal - came into being to address, the analyses that it made, the policies it inspired and the spirit that animated it will, of course, continue. With new labels and in new alliances. Undoubtedly these have to be adapted to new evidence, understanding and situations. The prototypical Communism in most people' mind was dreamed up in 19th century Britain, France and Germany when they were in the vanguard of industrialization. It's a steampunk political philosophy. Of course it's an anachronism.

But the questions it raises : what is legitimate property? What is economic justice? Who does the current regime benefit? When large numbers of people aggregate their work together to produce a value far greater than the sum of their individual contributions, how should that extra value be shared amongst them? What are the effects on the human "soul" of massive inequalities of wealth and power in a society? Etc. These questions all retain a white-hot relevance in the 21st century. Especially when we deal with a world of 7 billion people, productivity and technologies undreamed of by the Victorians, and corporations that span the globe.

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