a christmas message from the vatican: marx was right!

Introduction by Chris Ford

Published below is what may appear a rather unusual article entitled ‘What Remains of Marx’ by Professor Georg Sans published in La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit paper, closely monitored by the Vatican. It was then republished by the Vatican’s own newspaper L’Osservatore Romano giving it added endorsement by the Roman Catholic Church on 21 October. What is so important is that Sans gives a strong endorsement to Marx’s critique of capitalist society. Now for a Christian to positively engage with Marx in itself is not unusual: there have been Christian communists for many years, furthermore there continues to be strong movement of liberation theology especially in Latin America.

What is important in this article is where it has been published – with clear Vatican approval. The Vatican has especially in the post-war period waged a campaign against the radical left-wing of Christianity, for example the Christian communist movement in Italy was hounded by the hierarchy. The current Pope Benedict XVI earned the nickname the ‘Panzer Cardinal’ when under his predecessor Pope John Paul II he lead the campaign against liberation theology in Latin America. One of the leading theorists of that movement, Leonardo Boff wrote that the Pope saw liberation theology as a “Trojan horse” for Communism: “He convinced himself that in Latin America, Communism was the danger, whereas the true danger was savage and colonialist capitalism, with its anti-people and retrograde elites.” Of the current Pope he wrote: “Like his principal counsellor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI], the Pope put forward an Augustinian vision of history, where what counts is only that which passes through the mediation of the Church, which carries with it the supernatural concept of salvation… This position led him to a total incomprehension of Latin American theology of liberation”. Boff concluded: “To the outside, he presented himself as a champion of dialogue, of liberty, tolerance, peace, and ecumenism, but within the Church he shuttered the right of expression, banned dialogue, and created a theology with powerful fundamentalist overtones”.

It is against this recent history of the campaign against liberation theology and corresponding retrogressionist trends illustrated in Church policy on gender and sexuality that the article below is of importance. It is noteworthy that whilst the article has been widely reported it has not been published in any of the Catholic press in the UK or Ireland. This is perhaps a reflection of the weakness of the left-wing of Christianity in the UK and Ireland, as regards Marxism there has only been a few Marxian theologians such as Alisdair MacIntyre and Rev.John Marsden. This conservatism has been compounded by the crude nature of the left’s own engagement with religious affairs, either accommodating to conservative trends such as in opposition to war, or taking an undifferentiated approach and failing to see the more radical emancipatory currents which also emerge: the article by Sans below is clearly an expression of the latter current. The article is published in full by The Commune, appropriately on Christmas Day, the official celebration of the birth of Jesus, the leader of a movement against oppression and inequality, who was later crucified by the Roman overlords.
Continue reading “a christmas message from the vatican: marx was right!”

the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce

David Broder reviews First as tragedy, then as farce by Slavoj Zizek

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profane (Marx, Communist Manifesto)

As we reach the end of the ‘noughties’ this month, there is much scope for reflection on the events of the last decade. There remains a crisis of alternatives to capitalism, yet together with the current dark spectres of recession and ecological crisis, two events bookmarking the decade disrupted the ideology of ‘the End of History’. The September 11th terrorist atrocities in New York shattered the illusion of the invulnerable American military hegemon, while last October’s financial meltdown has fatally undermined the gospel of free-market economics. George W. Bush’s speeches on each occasion were the same, of course: ‘action’ was needed to defend ‘our way of life’. As Slavoj Zizek acerbically comments, this brings to mind Marx’s quip that “History always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” Continue reading “the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce”

collective decision-making and supervision in a communist society

by Moshé Machover: only the introduction is presented below, see the full document here.

The importance of this issue cannot be over-stated: it concerns the very essence of communism. If communism means anything at all, it means a radical eruption of democracy. Bursting its present narrow political confines, where it is allowed to hold truncated and partly illusory sway, democracy is to engulf all spheres of social life. This applies in particular to what is, under capitalism, the alienated sphere of economics: major choices that are now made behind the backs of society – imposed by private owners who monopolize wealth, or left to the chaotic play of blind market forces – will be decided consciously and collectively by the community concerned. The enormous extension of the sphere of collective decision-making will necessarily imply a corresponding expansion and deepening of the scope of public supervision, ensuring proper implementation of decisions. Continue reading “collective decision-making and supervision in a communist society”

maoism meets chavismo? a review of badiou workshop ‘subject and appearance’

by Nathan Coombs

Nowadays it is hard to find many examples of academic leftism crossing paths with real left wing politics. One could even argue that the former might have a negative effect on the latter – the UK is, after all, home to one of the strongest left wing publishing empires and conference circuits in the world, and yet its organised, political left is drearily weak by all continental comparisons.

There was something a bit edgy, then, about the recent workshop on the philosophy of Alain Badiou  taking place in the Venezuelan Embassy’s Bolivar Hall on 20th November. One half expected to be spending the day staring at an enormous portrait of Hugo Chavez hung at the back of the hall during the proceedings. Thankfully, the large hall was graced by a more tasteful/less piece of generic modern art and there was not a trace of Chavez propaganda in sight. Continue reading “maoism meets chavismo? a review of badiou workshop ‘subject and appearance’”

issue 9 of the commune

The November issue of our monthly paper The Commune is now available. Click the image below to see the PDF, or see articles as they are posted online in the list below.


To purchase a printed copy for £1 + 50p postage, use the ‘donate’ feature here. You can also subscribe (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international) or order 5 copies a month to sell (£4) online here. If you want to pay by cheque, contact uncaptiveminds@gmail.com.

are we ready for a winter of discontent? – by Sheila Cohen

post strike: this is no deal – by Joe Thorne

underground pay deadlock – by Vaughan Thomas

what is the union bureaucracy? – by Alberto Durango

occupation and state building in the new afghanistan – by Jessica Anderson

mixed reactions to cwu-royal mail deal – interview with a communist postman

manchester students build solidarity with post workers – by Mark Harrison

honduras: democracy has not been restored – by Socialismo o Barbarie

month long strike in france: ‘papers for all!’ – interview with Seni cleaners and piece from Où va la CGT?

communism twenty years after the berlin wall fell – interviews with eastern european activists

scottish ruling class: division over union – by Allan Armstrong

obituary of chris harman – by Andy Wilson

university occupations in austria – interview with vienna student activist

question time row: did the straw man really slay the griffin? – by Adam Ford

communist recomposition and workers’ representation – by Chris Ford

‘full and open debate’ on post-no2eu project: ok, when? – by David Broder

building from below: the work of paulo freire – by Dave Spencer

the global commune, january 16th

activities of the commune around britain


the persistent fall in profitability underlying the current crisis

by Andrew Kliman

I have just released a new study of the rates of profit of U.S. corporations, 1929-2007, with emphasis on the period since the early 1980s. It’s entitled “The Persistent Fall in Profitability Underlying the Current Crisis: New Temporalist Evidence.


You can obtain the text, and an accompanying spreadsheet file containing data and graphs, by clicking on the link. Continue reading “the persistent fall in profitability underlying the current crisis”

issue 8 of the commune

The October issue of our monthly paper The Commune is now available. Click the image below to see the PDF, or see articles as they are posted online in the list below.

To purchase a printed copy for £1 + 50p postage, use the ‘donate’ feature here. You can also subscribe (£12 a year UK/£16 EU/£20 international) or order 5 copies a month to sell (£4) online here. If you want to pay by cheque, contact uncaptiveminds@gmail.com.

we’re not ‘all in it together’ – editorial of The Commune

update on the activities of our network

tuc congress: an opportunity wasted? – by Gregor Gall

fragile livelihoods at cowley mini factory – by  Brian Rylance

what is the london postal strike really about? – interview of CWU reps by Sheila Cohen

gordon brown’s workhouses for single mothers – by Zoe Smith

‘new’ tactics versus rubbish bosses – by Adam Ford

lessons of the tower hamlets esol strike – interview with two members of teaching staff

how we fought education cuts in tamworth – by Rob Marsden

on the necessity of pluralist communism – by Nathan Coombs

a letter from tegucigalpa: resisting the honduran coup – by a member of Socialismo o Barbarie

political report from the land of the haggis-eating surrender monkeys – by Allan Armstrong

electoral parties: let’s not put old wine in new bottles – by David Broder

a beginners’ guide to cuts – by Robert Kirby

platform of our communist network

new pamphlet – storming heaven: the paris commune of 1871

The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first working-class revolution in history. With the French capital surrounded by the troops of the newly founded German Empire and the ruling-class government in Versailles presiding over military and economic chaos, the Parisian population overthrew the state apparatus and created a revolutionary government. The Paris Commune comprised diverse political forces, from radical plebian French nationalists aspiring to complete the 1789-93 revolution; to communists and anarchists: but its democratic way of organising and splitting of the army meant it represented what Karl Marx called in his first draft of The Civil War in France “a revolution against the state as such“.


The Commune’s new pamphlet features a chapter from Marx explaining how the revolution came about and its significance; and the reproduction of the text of a pamphlet by libertarian socialist group Solidarity critiquing the traditional left’s claim that the Paris Commune proved the need for a vanguard party to seize state power on behalf of the masses. Continue reading “new pamphlet – storming heaven: the paris commune of 1871”

on ‘marxism today’

by Nathan Coombs

This is an edited copy of a talk originally given at the Institute of Ideas Postgraduate Forum.



What ever happened to Marxism Today? There is, of course, a word play at work in this question: we could be asking both about the fortunes of Marxism as a political movement, and about the various publications that have professed insight into said movement over the years under that title. Still, it is uncanny the extent to which tracking the fate of those publications called Marxism Today gives us insight into the fate of the political movement – from the heroic early years to the banality and absurdity of a lot of what passes as institutionalised Marxism nowadays. Understanding this passage also helps us understand how unhelpful a lot of contemporary academic Marxist and post-Marxist theories are when they do not allow for the radical freedom to become a revolutionary Marxist. Continue reading “on ‘marxism today’”

introduction to marx’s understanding of work

An essay by David Broder on Marx’s understanding of wage labour drawing together notes for a recent meeting of our London reading group on workplace organising.

Capitalists pursue development to accumulate capital: they do not invest in the production of linen because they want lots of linen or in the extraction of oil because they want lots of oil, but because they believe that putting capital into the production process will allow them to accrue capital by selling the end product.

Although wealth exists in nature and not just thanks to human endeavour, capitalist development must depend on investment in a commodity which can itself produce further value – this means human labour, our mental and physical energies. In this framework our work must create some goods or services which satisfy some human desire or need (‘use value’) but also be sold as a commodity to those able to pay for it (‘exchange value’). Continue reading “introduction to marx’s understanding of work”

on the necessity of pluralist communism

By Nathan Coombs

It is not difficult to imagine the results if a newly trained M.B.A. in marketing arrived in London with the following diabolic challenge: do what Blair did for New Labour for the far Left; make them sell!

Clipboard tucked under arm, what our marketer would firstly observe is that the Left is indeed a crowded marketplace, with far too many groups attempting to sell their wares to far too few customers. Cross. However, looking into the content of these groups our marketer would be encouraged to see that their products are already well differentiated. Each group has a clear sense of their identity and the ideological niche which they represent. Tick. Conclusions: good product differentiation and branding, but insufficient mass market appeal and attempts to reach out to new consumers. Continue reading “on the necessity of pluralist communism”

14th september reading group: why do workers form trade unions?

Monday 14th from 7pm at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street station, London

The Commune’s next course of reading groups is entitled ‘Schools for communism?’ and is on the subject of workplace organising and theories of trade unionism.


Following a recent series on ‘communism from below’, this autumn we will look more closely at how the working class organises and the limitations of different means of struggle.

The first session will be on the themes:

– What relations underlie the exchange between capital and workers?

– What mechanisms do management use to try and get workers to produce more for less money?

– In what different ways have workers organised to resist this? Of what particular importance are trade unions as a means of organising? Continue reading “14th september reading group: why do workers form trade unions?”

fictitious capital and credit schemes

This talk given by Michael Egoavil at the Left Forum 2009 panel “Marx’s ‘Capital’ and the Economic Crisis” argues against the demand for state ownership of banks. Michael can be reached at michaelegoavil@gmail.com.

Today I’m going to be discussing Marx’s theory of fictitious capital and its relation to real capital accumulation. Along the way I’m going to focus on Marx’s seldom-read analysis of a French bank known as the Credit Mobilier, in which this theory played a fundamental role. I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how this relates to socialist politics today.

In the third volume of Capital, Marx discusses what he calls “fictitious capital” – what we know as “securities.” Essentially these are titles to streams of income, which are treated as commodities and bought and sold on financial markets. There are significant differences between types of securities. Some represent corporate debts, as with bonds, some represent consumer debts, as with mortgage backed securities, and others represent capital investments, as with shares of stock. But the common aspect of all these different securities is that they all give their owners a right to a stream of income, hopefully leaving them with more money than they started off with. The security owner therefore looks upon his security as capital. Continue reading “fictitious capital and credit schemes”

review of the left press july/august 2009

by Nathan Coombs

It is a well-worn cliché to decry the separation of theory and practice on the Left.

Firstly, you are meant to start by pointing to the specialised jargon and stuffy scholasticism of academic Marxism – a well-deserved reproach in my opinion; at least for anyone who has picked up a text by Theodor Adorno, or, god forbid, the yawn inducing post-Marxist procrastinations of Jurgen Habermas.

Secondly, you are then meant to imply that if only academic Leftists could remedy this state of affairs some sort of revolutionary synergy (praxis) would magically transform the situation – an attitude that could be surmised as “make your works ‘accessible’; take responsibility to lead the vanguard!”

The reality however is surely more mundane and ego deflationary. That is, more mundane in the sense that academic Leftism is a generally a closed circuit of thought in a professional debating chamber. And more deflationary, most people simply don’t have the time to keep up with it all – why should they?

Or perhaps worst of all there is the stinging sense in which we could take Louis Althusser’s idea of Marxist knowledge after Marx[i]: only a transformative movement that takes action and is thrown into a directly political situation can create knowledge which does not dissolve into idealist speculation. If we take Althusser seriously, then the best academic Marxists can seek to do is describe the situation, give class and production oriented historiographies, and provide critique. The separation of theory and practice is inevitable.

In any case, this unresolved apologia out of the way, what I want to do in this regular column for The Commune is to take a critical reading of the main (non-specialist) Left journals to at least help provide a short-cut to the best of the best and the best of the worst out there. Continue reading “review of the left press july/august 2009”