Modern Socialism: Marx, Marxism And Doing Things Differently From Now On

artist taxi frankie boyle

Frankie Boyle and the Artist Taxi Driver: Straight-talking luminaries of the New New Left

Marx is overrated, the Bolsheviks killed people and put socialism back decades, and the Marxism most worth with bothering with nowadays isn’t very Marxist at all. Thus concluded our whistle-stop intellectual coach trip through far-left political philosophy, now pulling in at its final destination.

It’s obviously been a very selective and simplified overview. I’ve tried to write it in such a way that people not massively acquainted with the ins and outs of radical philosophy could understand it. Continue reading

Marxism After Marx II: (Finally) The Good Bit



Marxism was originally billed as some grand, infallible, all-encompassing theory of everything – which it then went on to spectacularly fail to be. Unstoppable social and economic trends were supposed to spell the inevitable destruction of capitalism and guarantee that socialism would spring out of its ashes. As it turns out, just because a clever man with a beard says something is going to happen doesn’t mean it will.

Classical Marxism has been roundly trounced by history. Marx’s predictions haven’t come to pass. Messy reality just hasn’t unfurled in the neat, systematic manner he anticipated. And as a result, in the decades since, the best Marxism has abandoned attempts at cast-iron predictions and rigid socioeconomic frameworks, and instead concerned itself with pragmatically addressing two big questions: if capitalism is so abundantly awful – anarchic, crisis-prone, horrifically exploitative to an extent that limits and ruins billions of lives (which it is) – then 1) why do people not rise up and get rid of it? And 2) how can we bring about a situation where they do rise up and get rid of it? Continue reading

Marxism After Marx: Bolshevik Blues (Modern Socialism #4)


Talk about Marxism after Marx and most people will think of Russia – bleak, backwards, stiflingly authoritarian dawn-of-the-twentieth-century Russia, and the luxuriantly facial-haired revolutionaries waiting in the wings to knock it all over.

That’s where the first leg of our historical-intellectual bus tour through Marxism post Marx is going to start, but we’re going to spend as little time there as possible.

When I say the Left is obsessed with Marxism, what I really mean is that it massively overinflates the importance and contemporary relevance of A) Marx himself and B) the theory and politics of the Russian revolution.

The Bolsheviks lived a hundred years ago, in a decaying feudalistic dictatorship, and replaced it with something that, by all accounts, wasn’t all that much better.

It’d be nice to never have to hear the names Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin again – particularly since so-called Western Marxism, emerging from non-Soviet Europe from the 1920s onwards, is massively more relevant to the world as it is today, and woefully neglected by present-day radicals.

But they’re a part of the story, and so, even if you want to encourage a modern, radical socialism that leaves them and their theorising well alone, it wouldn’t be right to omit them entirely. So seatbelts on and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times – we’re going in. Continue reading

Seven Marx Out of Ten: Cherry-Picking From The Left’s Favourite Thinker (Modern Socialism #3)


One of the main reasons this blog, this series of posts, and the thing we’re for the minute calling Modern Socialism all exist is because we think the Left needs to abandon its obsessive fixation with Marx. Rather than trying to desperately crowbar Marxism into contemporary relevance, we need to cherry-pick its best insights and work them into a new, accessible, modern manifestation of radical socialism. And then, with all that’s worth preserving safely extracted from the stifling dogma, we need to leave the old symbols and the old jargon and the old near-theological splits and squabbles behind.

That’s what this post is going to have a go at. Separating the delicious, nutritious, mind-expanding socialist wheat from the variously discredited, irrelevant and just-wrong-in-the-first-place dogmatic chaff. Examining Marx. Then providing a sound barrier-breakingly fast (and necessarily selective) whistle-stop tour of Marxism after Marx. For socialism, for equality, and for great justice.

Karl Marx was a very clever man, and having spent considerable time studying history, politics, and economics, he decided he’d figured out a grand theory of everything. He called it dialectical materialism. Continue reading

Modern Socialism #2: What Is Socialism?

GreshamCollege-AneurinBevan_VernonBogdanor234 Last time, in the first bit of this series, we sketched out what the thing we call Modern Socialism is and why we think it’s needed. This time, we’re more interested in socialism in general.

A question that seems stupidly obvious to begin with, but gets harder to answer the more you think about it – what actually is socialism? If you’re over-precociously trying to modernise something, you better have a cast-iron grasp of what it is, and what it isn’t. So, as quickly and painlessly as it can possibly be made – an attempt to nail down an increasingly fuzzy and flippantly-employed socio-political concept.

There are really two types of left-of-centre political position. The first is what’s called social democracy. The second is what’s called socialism.

Confusingly, the terms are often used interchangeably – or in distorted, politically motivated ways. But there’s a fundamental difference between the two. Social democracy aims to make capitalism nicer. Socialism aims to replace capitalism with a nicer system. Continue reading

Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation

modern socialist triangle

Not the Modern Socialist triangle, but nice and spinny nonetheless

THE GIST: As the name suggests, Modern Socialism is an attempt to modernise socialism. It’s not about ‘modernisation’ in the toxic, principles-shedding, status quo-pandering New Labour sense of the word. It’s about revamping the radical left into something far more open, accessible, flexible and ecologically-focused.

The Marxes and Engelses of the world thought they’d created a ‘scientific’ socialism, one based on processes and principles they’d divined from studying economics, sociology and history – and that therefore was much better than the wishy-washing moralising of the socialisms that had come before. But a lot of their ‘scientific’ analysis was wrong. A lot of their predictions didn’t come to pass. Meanwhile, it’s always going to be wrong that millionaires exist in a world where people starve.

Rather than some grand, sweeping theory of everything, Modern Socialism needs to be more humble – a values system and a set of priorities used to approach the problems the species faces. A lot of these (appropriately) red lines should be the same ones the Left has always had – egalitarianism, libertarianism, public ownership of crucial services and industries, etc. But there are also areas the conventional Left has tended to neglect, and, unfortunately, they happen to be staggeringly important.

Unforgivably often, left-wingers have ignored immense human suffering in the global South, caused by entirely preventable poverty, starvation and disease. They’ve also been distinctly rubbish about embracing eco-politics on a planet where another hundred or so years of the status quo will probably leave the environment irreparably damaged – and our prospects of survival along with it.

To be properly viable in the twenty-first century, we need a socialism that’s both radically humanitarian and ecological – that takes humanitarian suffering as seriously as it takes anything, and that aims at making genuinely sustainable, egalitarian societies free from dependence on economic growth. Continue reading