Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tailor of Ulm

"It may be objected - indeed, it is crucial to object, so as not to throw away a precious historical and theoretical legacy - that the hypothesis of a 'post-industrial transition' was not only present in Marx but underpinned his idea of communist society. Perhaps he was the only thinker who, seeing the nexus of capitalism and industrialism so far in advance, linked the overcoming of one to the overcoming of the other. 'The exploitation of living labour will become a palty basis for the general development of wealth'; 'production for the sake of production' will lose all meaning when the primary measure of progress is 'the enrichment of distinctively human needs, and in particular the general need for non-alienated activity.'

This and only this prediction, contrasting with any 'primitive' theory, allowed him to see capitalism as the necessary premise for socialism, and to conceive of communism as a reversal, not a development, of previous history: the realm of freedom opposed to the realm of necessity, the 'critique of political economy'. It was this prediction which gave to his radical conception of communism - the overcoming of commodity relations, alienated labour, the social division of labour and delegated democracy - the character of a rational project, rather than an empty utopia. The fact that human history is moving beyond the threshold of basic needs, that new technologies permit a reduction in necessary labour, that education levels and the speed of information allow a great diffusion of power and decentralization of decision-making, that quantity is no longer the only or main criterion of progress, should mean that the discourse of communism, in its original, emancipatory meaning, has come of age for the first time in history.

All this is true: we were arguing it in 1968 and we are still convinced that it is the key to a communist identity that involves both recovery and profound innovation."

Lucio Magri, The Tailor of Ulm tr. Patrick Camiller (London: Verso, 2011), 388-399.

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