So, we had a big party at the homestead recently and I was lovingly described as a communist by my son-in-law. I appreciate the sentiment behind this remark. For him, it’s a term of endearment. There were many ‘left-leaners’ in the crowd who would have appreciated the comment because in some senses we share many moral precepts. Oh, I’ve been described as a commie before. It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last in all likelihood. I really don’t mind all that much. Whether or not people actually believe that I’m a communist is another matter and I hope to set the record straight here for anyone who cares. If people read this blog posting, and few will, they will know my position on the matter. For my own sense of self, for myself, I want to set the record straight once and for all.
When I state that I’m not a commie, that doesn’t mean for one second that I’m a proponent of ‘capitalism.’ Many people see communism and ‘capitalism’ as opposites, as alternate ways of organizing ‘the economy’ and ‘society.’ I don’t, nor did Karl Marx when he got old enough to think straight. As an aside, Harold Adams Innis, the brilliant Canadian political economist and historian said, in a moment of particular lucidity, that one cannot make a contribution to the social sciences before one reaches the age of 50 and he’s probably correct. He was 58 when he died and his best work happened in the last 5 or 6 years of his life. Marx was born in 1818 and died in 1883. It wasn’t until the late 1860s that he really got his shit together, hunkered down in the British Museum and started writing Capital. Yes, yes, he wrote the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts earlier, but he really got serious later.
The reason I say I’m not a communist is that I’m not a proponent of communism. For me, or anyone else, to be labeled a communist or anything else for that matter implies a certain level of advocacy, of ‘proponency.’ It’s not necessary to be proponent of something that will eventually happen no matter what we think or wish. It’s like being described as an old-agist. I know that old age will happen to all of us, but that doesn’t mean I’m a proponent of old age. I’M getting old, but that doesn’t mean that I advocate old age. That would be ridiculous. A communist mode of production will inevitably replace the capitalist one because the internal contradictions within the capitalist mode of production dictate it in the same way the feudal relations of production replaced slave based ones and the capitalist mode of production replaced feudal ones. The change will happen gradually, just as old age creeps up on us. Before it’s clear what’s happening, the old bones get brittle, the arteries plug up and the organs just can’t cut it anymore. The resiliency of youth is past, old solutions no longer get the same results they used to. Life inevitably brings on death, they are different sides of the same coin. What that means for me as an individual is clear, what it means for ‘society’ or for the ‘capitalist mode of production’ is also clear. Nothing is forever, nothing. Not the capitalist mode of production, not our beloved countries, not our cities, not our towns, not our fabulous wealth. The question is not whether or not the capitalist mode of production will live on forever, but when it will die. It’s not even a question of how. That’s also been clear for a long time. Still, classical economics is still in classical denial over the whole thing, a fact which is made clear on virtually every page of The Economist which is a proponent of capitalism.
For what I’ve written above I could be branded with the sin of determinism, one of scholarship’s seven deadliest. If saying that one day I will die makes me a determinist, well that’s ok by me. Call me whatever name you want. Furthermore, what I write above does not mean that life is completely meaningless to me. We live life on many levels, a day at a time. My life is full of activity and that means that every day I make many moral decisions most having nothing or little to do with my eventual death. I don’t live life as though my life is about to end (I didn’t do that even when I had cancer and the possibility of my quick exit from this life was very real). I DO things, there is nothing else to do. I read the papers, listen to the radio and watch TV. I play with my grandkids. I can’t help but get outraged by the blatant bullshit and crap that comes out of the government in Ottawa on a daily basis. Yet I understand the role that national governments play in the capitalist mode of production and their essential collaboration in making it possible for capital to flow with greater and greater ease globally and for controlling labour by keeping tight reins on migrations and regulation. I haven’t lost my moral compass. I even get angry on one level…say, at incivility, at stupid driving, at poor highway engineering…while understanding that at other levels, the picture is much different and anger makes no sense. As I write above, we live life on many levels, many planes. They are all connected although not always in obvious ways. Even otherwise highly educated people don’t see the connections. The connections, interconnections and interweavings become visible only after a sustained gaze upon them. To see them requires special training. Somewhere, Norbert Elias got that training, as did many other thinkers who have had a sustained influence on me over the decades.