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“Spectres and struggles”: Michael A. Lebowitz

May 3, 2013 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The above talk was presented in Zagreb, Croatia, at a conference organised by the Centre of Workers’ Studies. (More videos are available at

A spectre is haunting the working class of Europe (both east and west) and the working class of developed capitalism in general. That spectre is the spectre of communism. For the working class, that frightful hobgoblin is a society of little freedom, a society of workers without power (in the workplace or community) and a society where decisions are made at the top by a vanguard party which views itself as the sole repository of truth. Of course, this was not what communism meant for Karl Marx and Frederick Engels nor, indeed, for Lenin.

But now in the 21st century, it is not the 19th century dream that the working class thinks about. Rather, it is the experience of the 20th century. That memory (both real and exaggerated) has seized the minds of masses; it acts therefore as a material force not easily dissolved by the mantra, “Communism! Communism!”, chanted by philosophers and other magicians of the word.

We need a new vision, a new dream. As Hugo Chavez declared in Porto Alegre in 2005, “We have to re-invent socialism.”

But where will that vision come from and how will it displace the spectre of 20th century communism? It will not spring full grown from the forehead of Zeus. Rather, the starting point for the development of a vision of a socialist alternative can only come from the struggles of resistance of working people themselves against capital’s assault.

This talk considers the importance of beginning with what people view as just and fair and how they struggle against violations of that. And it stresses the necessity to go beyond that moral economy of the working class to struggles informed by the political economy of the working class. The vision behind the latter and the concept of “socialism for the 21st century” is considered both in general and with respect to the experience of Venezuela.



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