CHAPTER FIVE

Technologies and utopias:
Marx's communism

History and contradiction

After the collapse of'communism' in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe, it is time to take the longer view. Communism has a history, and some version of that history is invoked whenever the term is used. Marx has become the most famous communist of all, and in his words: 'Tradition from all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.' 1 In the case of communism the nightmare is more than usually vivid. However, in order to grasp this lurid clarity we must examine carefully the tradition that the dead generations have left behind. This is because when the term is used in the present, the dead are made to walk among us. Rightly we must turn first to the earliest dead, as their work exposes numerous conceptual associations and contradictions that have fuelled subsequent political debate. Indeed the full texture of those debates, and the full irony of modern political practice, will not be visible unless we spend some time examining the origins and development of communist theory and politics.

In this chapter I propose to examine the conceptual history of communism at some length in order to situate Marx's version thereof within it. My reading of Marx's work in Capital takes the text as an extended political argument against capitalism, rather than as a deductive and mechanistic 'proof' that its collapse is inevitable. The conceptual structures that make the disjunctions and alienations of

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