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When the surrealist André Breton applied to join the French Communist Party in the 1920s, the party hierarchy – ever suspicious of flights of lyrical imagination – responded by directing him to crunch statistics on industrial output. Hard science, proletarian discipline and sexual hygiene were the governing values as Stalinism took hold. Even today, self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ are likely to spend an inordinate amount of time selling newspapers or sitting through interminable academic discussions that don’t exactly make the spirit sing.
Magical Marxism aims to counter this ‘cold-stream’ of Marxist orthodoxy with a ‘warm-stream’ of passionate revolutionary subjectivity. This draws upon an aesthetic in which dream and reality are suffused to reveal our ability to transfigure the world around us, and especially on Latin American currents of magic realism in literature (particularly Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude) and the Caribbean surrealism of Aimé Césaire. But this magic is not the kind of enchantment that induces passivity; drawing on the work of Guy Debord, the author argues that the spell cast by the commodified image-world of capitalist society must be broken through revolutionary action.
From the streets of Paris in May ’68 through to the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas and the emergence of the alter-globalisation movement, Merrifield celebrates those moments when the constraints of what appears possible or pragmatic are suspended, and where the diffuse currents of the apparently powerless begin to coalesce into a force capable of mobilising real alternatives. Understandably, the author is less concerned about whether this accords with a dogmatic approach to ‘Marxist’ orthodoxy than its capacity to resist the power of capital and open up alternatives.
But critics might wonder whether Merrifield’s approach essentially reverts to a radical dissenting liberalism – urging everyone to stand together for a better world – rather than mapping the fault-lines of class conflict internationally. Much the same move is played out at a philosophical level, where dialectical thought is rejected for its privileging of the negative, in preference for a stress on affirmation (a move characteristic of recent thinkers such as Hardt and Negri, who look to Spinoza rather than to Hegel for inspiration).
There is much to be commended here; it is deliberately, even gleefully, provocative and none the worse for that. Undoubtedly its revisionism will offend Marxologists. But it reminds us that Marxism without the magic is a meagre gruel indeed.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns