Communism began with the dream of a classless society, free of the exploitation and inequality of capitalism. Instead of private control of industry for private purposes, the fruits of human labour were to be shared by all.
The left never really recovered from the shocking reality of the Soviet Union. Capitalist control was simply replaced by Party control, and freedom and equality were strangled by the unity of state and economic power.
While the atrocities of the communist world were given a lot of airtime in Cold War propaganda, and those of the capitalist world conveniently ignored, the apparent failure of the people’s revolution was enough to ruin the name of communism. No longer is it a rallying cry for equality, but a derisive caricature of naive and outdated ideologues. Socialist parties throughout the industrial world embraced social democracy, alleviating the evils of capitalism rather than replacing them, reform rather than revolution.
At the dawn of a new century, with old revolutionary ideologies in tatters, it might seem that gradual reform of capitalism is the only way towards more freedom and equality, or at least free stuff and quality. However the revolutionary ideal remains alive and well, even in industrial capitalist democracies like the USA. Following on from the decades of non-communist activism like the civil rights, globalisation and peace movements and the success of events like the Life After Capitalism conference at the World Social Forum, a group of authors and activists have begun reimagining society.
Essentially a gigantic brainstorming session, Reimagining Society aims to move beyond simply criticising the existing system and towards an account of a revolutionary future. The loss of communism as an ideal has opened the field for more convincing alternatives, visions of the future that include concepts like gender and ethnic equality, decentralised planning, and democratic participation. In addition, contemporary revolutionary theory is beginning to recognise that classical communism fails to recognise a third class: in addition to owners and workers, society also includes a managerial class. The Soviet Union, China, Cuba – all simply replaced one set of rulers (the owners) with another (the managers). A real egalitarian revolution involves putting people in charge of themselves, through direct self-management. This is how the full development of every person’s potential can be achieved.
Such ideas can be found discussed throughout Z Communications, the hosts of the project. This site is an absolute stalwart of the radical left – a combination of magazine, social networking site, video and audio casts and blogs. One major source of inspiration for the Reimagining Society project comes from Zmag co-founder and -editor Michael Albert‘s work on Participatory Economics. If you’re at all interested in left or revolutionary theory, you owe it to yourself to frequent their site.