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New Left Review I/185, January-February 1991

Robin Blackburn

Fin de Siècle: Socialism after the Crash

As we enter the last decade of the twentieth century, the ruin of ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Communism has been sufficiently comprehensive to eliminate it as an alternative to capitalism and to compromise the very idea of socialism. [*] I would like to thank the following for their written comments on an earlier draft: Perry Anderson, G.A. Cohen, Diane Elson, Gunder Frank, Monty Johnstone, Branka Magaš and Peter Wiles. I wish also to thank Tariq Ali, R.W. Davies, Meghnad Desai and Mel Leiman for bibliographical guidance. Of course none of the foregoing bear any responsibility for my arguments or mistakes. The debacle of Stalinism has embraced reform-communism, and has brought no benefit to Trotskyism, or social democracy, or any socialist current. Mummies of Lenin and Mao are still displayed in mausoleums in Moscow and Beijing as emblems of an old order that awaits decent burial. However, today’s moribund ‘Great Power Communism’ is not a spectre stalking the globe, but an unhappy spirit, begging to be laid to rest. Yet a socialism willing to confront history and to engage with the most penetrating critics of the socialist project could enable a new beginning to be made. Significant anti-capitalist movements still exist, some influenced by the Communist tradition, but they lack a programme that could take us beyond capitalism. There are surviving regimes that call themselves Communist or Socialist, but whether or not they can point to real achievements (as can, say, Cuba in the fields of public health and education) there can be no doubt that they too require an even more thoroughgoing renewal and reorientation—one aimed not just at constructing a genuinely democratic culture and polity, but also at discovering a new and viable socialist model of economy.

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