Stalinist Realism and Open Communism: Malignant Mirror or Free Association

This is the full text of a little book published in 2022 by Resistance Books. You can buy the print version or e-book here and download the PDF of the book here.


1. Introduction

2. Stalinism

3. Camps

4. Bodies

5. Identity

6. Organisation

7. Freedom

8. Commons

9. Intersections

10. Plurality

11. Transitions

Further reading


Stalinist Realism

Mark Fisher gave us a cutting-edge analysis in 2009 of what he called ‘capitalist realism’; the ideological claim that capitalism is the only possible reality today, that there is no alternative. Mark’s analysis showed us that this kind of ‘realism’ locks us into place in capitalism, and is suffused with fantasies about our passivity and the impossibility of radical change. ‘Realism’ here is the mantra of those who want the world to stay the same, of those who want exploitation to continue as it is, of those who want to convince us to give up struggling for another world beyond capitalism.

There is an alternative, and Anti-Capitalist Resistance works alongside other revolutionary organisations here and across the world to build that alternative. Mark Fisher showed us that we need a deep analysis of the ideology of ‘capitalist realism’ precisely so we can better challenge it. Understanding the world, for us revolutionaries, is intimately connected to challenge and change, to struggle and transformation. That is what socialist politics is for us.

But we also face another threat, one Mark understood well, and which this little book focuses on. There is a weird flip-side of capitalist realism that pretends to offer a way out of global capitalism but which locks us all the more tightly into exploitation and oppression. That false path, a poisonous trap for the left, is ‘stalinist realism’ (a telling phrase we owe to comrade Ali); little s for stalinist here to mark it as a pervasive cultural-political phenomenon on the left. Stalinist realism is very present in the explicit politics of some groups that say they are communist and in the politics of their fellow travellers who are well-meaning but deeply mistaken.

Stalinist realism is a kind of weird malignant mirror of global capitalism; it repeats many of the most toxic aspects of capitalism while posing as an alternative. It is not an alternative. It is part of the problem. Here we explain what stalinist realism is, and why it needs to be avoided.

To understand what stalinist realism is, we will need to quickly backtrack to its origins, and show how it reflects and reinforces capitalism. Then we will look at different kinds of supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ and ‘feminist’ arguments made by stalinist realist politics, arguments that seem to be progressive but are in fact deeply reactionary, betraying anti-imperialist and feminist struggles.

These arguments have consequences for organisation and struggle. Revolutionary democracy is, against the stalinist realist tradition, the basis for authentic anti-capitalist resistance. That is the basis of a real alternative, open communism.

Open communism

There are plenty of corrupt pretenders to ‘communism’ that have smeared the word and turned it into exactly the kind of bureaucratic police state that the right-wing defenders of capitalism always said it would be. And capitalism benefits from this weird mirror image of capitalist un-freedom; the existence of authoritarian closed states that proclaim that they are communist or those regimes that are ruled by ‘communist’ parties effectively frightens people off from demanding an alternative, from building an alternative for themselves.

We need to open the roads to communism, open communism. We want a world that is just and fair, and where we hold the earth and what we produce in common as a shared resource for all. Almost everything we are told about communism is what we do not want; ranging from the idea that it is about state control to the claim that the ruling party will take away your toothbrush.

We are wary about setting out blueprints for exactly what a communist society will look like. Apart from the time taken piddling about tinkering with this or that rule for setting up a new society in a completely abstract way – an activity for nitpickers that turns communism from a practical accomplishment into some kind of ‘idea’ in the clouds – any blueprint drawn up now will simply reflect present-day life and limitations of living under capitalism now.

We do not know how things will unfold, from where, and when, and that means ‘communism’ is much more about a process than an endpoint. And, let’s face it, with the climate crisis condemning the globe to a fiery hell, it is possible we will not get to that endpoint at all. What counts is what we do now, how we struggle and what we build.

That’s why we show in this little book why freedom is essential to communism, and that includes the kinds of limited freedom that were stolen from us when capitalism was developed as a political-economic system, developed on the basis of the enclosure of land and control of our creative abilities. That freedom entails opening up to an international dimension of struggle, connecting with the struggles of all of the oppressed and valuing plurality of struggles, plurality of perspectives.

Against closed bureaucratic fake-communism – the heritage of tragic failed revolutions and counterrevolutions – we open communism to a transition that anticipates the forms of life we want in the forms of struggle we engage in now. We should not – as some of the hard-faced ‘old left’ imagine we should – do bad things now as means to the supposed good ends. That is a bankrupt dead-end. Instead, we realise our visions of communism now in the very process of making the transition. Making small significant steps is not the opposite of revolution, but the prerequisite for it as we open communism now.


Stalinism is one form of defeat and demoralisation, of failure of revolutionary hopes, and it has a brutal practical existence, a kind of ‘reality’, in the bureaucratic hierarchical regimes that appeared in different parts of the world after the 1917 Russian revolution. That revolution, the 1917 ‘October’ revolution, was a popular uprising, a time of revolutionary democracy both inside the Bolshevik Party, Russia’s communist party, and in the wider society. It was an opportunity and moment for radical experimentation, a flowering of rebellious movements in the fields of politics and art, of national liberation and sexual politics.

That revolution was crushed by the intervention of the surrounding capitalist countries, by capitalist regimes intent on preventing the revolution from spreading, preventing it connecting with rebellions in other parts of Europe, other parts of the world. It was crushed in part by those interventions and by the civil war that led to the militarisation of Russian society as it tried to defend itself. But it was also crushed by the internal counterrevolution that rose on the back of that militarisation.

During the 1920s Joseph Stalin came to power in the new Soviet Union, and the ‘soviets’, which were once the basis of revolutionary democracy, were turned into tools of control. In place of open debate there was the implementation of a line from the top, from the Kremlin in Moscow, and Stalin ruled from the height of a bureaucratic apparatus that betrayed the revolution. The communist party directed by Stalin claimed to defend the revolution, but it betrayed it, and the ‘Stalinist’ Soviet Union became a kind of mirror-image of the worst, most oppressive capitalist regimes.


Capitalist regimes hypocritically complained about the lack of democracy in the Soviet Union, but loved that Stalinism was smearing the reputation of revolutionary socialist politics in blood. Capitalism, and the kind of ‘capitalist realism’ that tells you that there is no alternative, was mirrored by Stalinism and a ‘stalinist realism’ that tells you that the only alternative is oppressive and controlling. This is how stalinist realism appears in the politics of the communist parties around the world loyal to Stalin, a kind of realism that tells you there is no hope for socialism except as a kind of military discipline.

Revolutionary movements had to defy Stalinism to overthrow capitalism in their own countries. As an ideological force stalinist realism insisted that the only reality was either capitalism or bureaucratic control, that these two systems should peacefully coexist, and not interfere with the functioning of each ‘camp’ or part of the world. If you took sides, you were told, it is one side or the other, either with capitalism or with the bureaucracy, and so with Stalinism.

China broke from Stalin, but after its own revolution against capitalism it quickly adopted the same kind of political form in which the local communist party had been schooled in, part of the oppressive mirror-world of stalinist realism.

That Stalinist mirror-world gathered many fellow-travellers to support the bureaucratic regimes, useful idiots willing to overlook abuses of power, cover up for the crimes of the regimes they were loyal to. And so when they argued for ‘peace’ and ‘peaceful coexistence’, for example, it was only to reinforce the idea that there were two ways of living, capitalist or ‘socialist’, and that the ‘socialist’ parts of the world were a heaven where man did not exploit man.

The joke made by revolutionaries was that in the Stalinist countries that claimed to be ‘socialist’, it was not so different; under capitalism man exploited man, but in the Soviet Union, it was the other way round. And with that exploitation came the reinforcement of other kinds of oppression, including the revival of the nuclear family and the power of men over women, as well as colonialism, with Great Russian chauvinism rearing its head again to control the less powerful nations in its assumed domain.


Attempts to ‘reform’ the Soviet Union, and attempts to bring about a ‘cultural revolution’ and then implement ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ in Beijing, showed that there was always desire for something better. People in those countries who had been told by the regimes that this is ‘socialism’ demanded that the regimes were true to their word, and attempted to implement socialist politics for themselves, by themselves. Those movements were beaten back time and again, and the bureaucratic regimes eventually transformed from a brutal mirror-image of the capitalist world into a part of it, becoming fully capitalist.

Sometimes, as in China, the old ‘socialist’ rhetoric was used, is still used, to justify repression, but Russia and China today are capitalist, tied into global capitalism, part of the chains of colonial and imperialist expansion, and signed up to the forms of racial and sexual oppression that makes power under capitalism work so efficiently. The ‘stalinist realism’ of the old regimes, and their supporters in communist parties around the world, had to adapt to the new reality, to the globalisation of capitalism that has become the only ‘realistic’ option, with no alternative whatsoever.

After the final incorporation of Russia and China and its various dependent satellite regimes in Eastern Europe and South East Asia, is the world of ‘capitalist realism’. And in such a world it really does seem that if you are to be ‘realistic’, you must accept that capitalism is the only game in town. You have to play by its rules, give up hope for a better world, for socialism. But there is a twist, and the twist is that Stalinism is not dead.

The old military-style bureaucratic conception of ‘socialist’ politics still lives, and while it pretends to be an ally of the left, it is a deadly enemy of it, kicking us while we are down. Stalinist realism is the kind of politics that tells you that if you dislike capitalism, if you are searching for another reality, then this, obedient and stupid agreement with bureaucratic power, is the only alternative you can hope for.


It is an overwhelming problem that there was always a material basis for capitalist realism – systems of production and consumption that locked people in place as if there was no alternative – and for stalinist realism in the ruling ideology of the actually-existing bureaucratic regimes that claimed to be socialist. There still is that material basis for both, for global capitalism and its malignant mirror-politics. The material basis for stalinist realism today is the existence of the regimes that are now capitalist but still hypocritically use old socialist symbolism to cloak their agendas, and the existence of the old communist parties that are still geared to the needs of those regimes.

The two main power-bases for stalinist realism today are Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China, and stalinist realism is the ideological force that glues some well-meaning radicals into the agenda of those regimes. The material apparatus of the regimes extends into the so-called ‘communist’ parties that cover up the crimes of Putin and Jinping, and into the network of ‘front’ organisations controlled by those parties, as well as the array of different movements that buy into stalinist realism.

There are those who mistakenly believe that China is ‘socialist’, and there are even those pretending that Russia has not fully embraced capitalism. These lines are handed down by the leaderships of the ‘communist’ parties, even though many of the members of those parties do not really buy that. The pity is that there are groups on the left who know well that these are capitalist countries, but their own ways of organising fits with the way those regimes operate, and they simply overlook what their own analysis shows them for pragmatic political purposes.

Stalinist realism as a bureaucratic top-down way of doing politics – a parody of alienated capitalist ideology and betrayal of revolutionary politics – has a number of components. One powerful component is the claim that the world is divided into different ‘camps’ and that you need to make a choice, that if you want to oppose capitalism and its own militarised NATO world then you must, of necessity, opt for the other camp, as if that is a progressive alternative. The illusion that there is a ‘progressive camp’ in the world now is an integral part of stalinist realism.


The trap is that strong state power presents itself as the only alternative to apparently looser liberal free-capitalism. So it seems as if when you oppose capitalism you have to opt for one of the strong states, and sign up to the kind of command politics that one of the old ‘communist’ parties engages in. At its worst, that means being obedient, following the rules of a kind of ‘democratic centralism’ that is highly centralised, and staying silent about abuses of power. Internal democracy is viewed as a threat by some left groups, and this leads them into campism when they should know better.

By forcing a choice between support for capitalist powers or one of the old ‘socialist’ states, global politics is reduced to a zero-sum game, which was always one of the ideological pillars of the Cold War when Stalinism was in full force. Forcing a choice for one camp or the other, as if Moscow or Beijing were somehow more progressive than Washington or London, is ‘campism’. Campism as part of the ideological worldview of stalinist realism then subjects you to the host of explicit and implicit conspiratorial propaganda ploys promoted by naïve supporters and algorithm-driven internet bots.

This is where you are made to draw lines. For example, lines between the supposedly progressive and ‘socialist’ regime in Beijing attempting to bring ‘civilization’ to its eastern regions, and to the Uighur Muslims in Xinxiang concentration camps. They are not really ‘camps’, you say, it is a fiction, invented by the West. Then, perhaps, you take the next step, and start to disbelieve Tibetans who are suffering under the military occupation because they are in the wrong ‘camp’, the Western camp. That is stalinist realism, as if the only possible alternative to the rotten West are these supposedly nicer regimes.

Because you oppose ‘Western intervention’, you then make the fatal mistake of believing the propaganda of, say, the Assad regime in Syria, that tells you that the main threat is Islamic terrorist insurgents who are being bravely opposed by the friendly Russian air-strikes. Or you proclaim that ‘the main enemy is at home’, which is true, but which then leads you to forget the deadly enemies of those you should be in solidarity with, the main enemy in their homes. In short, you risk ending up in the crazy mirror-world of stalinist realism, even painting the White Helmet humanitarian support initiatives as imperialist puppets because they are critical of the Assad regime, or even denying that this regime carried out deadly gas attacks.

Because NATO is a Western imperialist alliance – which it is, no doubt, and we should call for it to be dismantled as one of our tasks – then you slide into the campist assumption that those who are opposing NATO are the good guys. There is a real danger that you slide into a pacifist refusal to send people arms to defend themselves, abstain on supporting struggles for liberation. Then, bit by bit, you are drawn into the conspiracy theories promoted by the Kremlin, the idea that Ukraine is a Western puppet regime, that Ukraine’s attempt to assert its independence is merely a ploy to provoke Putin, who only has Russia’s legitimate ‘security concerns’ in mind. Does he hell; his concerns are for his own security and property.


The pity is that stalinist realism sucks in revolutionaries who once proudly declared that they refused to take sides, that they would choose neither Washington nor Moscow but struggle for international socialism. They were right then, and were suspicious of Stalinism to the point where they would never side with a brutal regime or cover up happening there. They were right then in the face of sustained propaganda from the West, when it was more difficult to get information out from inside Russia and China about what was really happening.

Now, with almost immediate online contact with our comrades around the world, we are, paradoxically, faced with more complete ideological control, the world of ‘capitalist realism’ where it seems as if the only possible global reality is international capitalism. And, as its mirror image, we have stalinist realism and its ideological apparatuses pumping out the message that we must choose, between our own government or theirs, between Washington or Moscow, or Beijing.

As with capitalist realism, this suffuses power with fantasy. Here the fantasy is that we can escape from a world of ‘soft power’, a world of empty alienating consumer fake choice, a world in which we are free to shop but not to collectively organise our own lives for the good of all. The fantasy that stalinist realism provokes and feeds is that there is good power, state power you can happily offer yourself to, that you can trust what those leaders tell you, and that deaths in Xinxiang or Tibet or Syria or Ukraine are myths or a price worth paying.

Those deaths at the hands of Putin or Jinping, you tell yourself, are not deaths at all – they are fabricated, made up, untrue – or they are little deaths compared to the bigger world picture in which our imperialism and its NATO weapons is finally being opposed and could be ended by regimes that are fantastically and marvellously stronger. Our weakness, our helplessness, finally finds a force that is more powerful, that will rescue us, so it is best to be grateful, keep quiet about the problems, and choose the good camp.


Stalinist realism loves strong borders, strong boundaries, it loves to know what is what and who fits where. And so it is not surprising that, just as Stalin revived the idea of the nuclear family inside the Soviet Union to make the regime rest on millions of little points of power – little dictatorships in every home – so ‘family’ and ‘normal’ family relationships are an obsession of Putin and Jinping.

While revolutionary Marxists seek alliances with all the movements of the oppressed, of Lesbian and Gay, Queer and Transgender movements as part of their fight for a world in which we are free to be who we want to be, stalinist realism tells you what reality you must accept and live with, what you cannot even think about changing. LGBTQI+ groups have been closed down in China now because they pose a threat to the regime. That is not only because those groups were places to speak that escaped the immediate control of the regime, but because sexual freedom and experimentation itself throws the regime into question. A key feature of stalinist realism is that there should be state control of bodies, that our bodies ourselves are not for us to experience and define and live in.

In Russia, the legal prohibition on what Putin calls ‘pretended family relationships’ – that is, gay and lesbian sexuality – is accompanied by state violence, persecution and imprisonment and by para-state physical attacks by religious and quasi-fascist groups. This situation inside Russia, and in China, mirrors the worst of the homophobic attacks on the gay and lesbian communities in the West. Control of bodies is a key feature of stalinist realism, and ideological control is enforced through fake-scientific knowledge about what ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ sexual and gender development is.


Stalinist realism makes deep claims about the nature of reality, and especially the supposed reality of the essential biological difference between kinds of bodies. It defines ‘reality’, not only at the level of experience – of who and how we love and what kind of beings we imagine ourselves to be – but also at the level of biological difference. Just as stalinist realism wants to define who is a Russian and to deny the ethnic reality of Ukrainians – they are told they do not exist, and Putin blames Lenin, among others, for promoting Ukrainian independence – so this kind of ‘realism’ pretends to define who is Chinese and depict Tibetans as relics of the past, and Muslims in Xinxiang as uncivilised remnants.

As with nations and strong borders beloved by old Stalinist states – something those states learnt from Western colonialism and imperialism, something that mirrors capitalist realism and the brutal control of populations – so it is with sexed bodies, and the division of people in the world into ‘real’ men and ‘real’ women. Those who travel across borders and claim their identity are treated as a threat, bodies to be contained, and those who travel across traditional gender categories are likewise treated as a threat, to be medically treated, corrected.

This is why there is such hostility among the stalinist realists and their fellow-travellers today to trans people, to those who either want to transition from their assigned gender to another or are ‘non-binary’, that is, refuse to conform to existing gender categories that enforce masculine and feminine stereotypes about how men and women should behave and think. Trans people are a threat to stalinist realism, and here is a paradox that pits stalinist realism against capitalist realism.


Capitalist realism is organised around the fiction of free choice, and makes it seem like you can consume what you like so long as you have the ability to pay for it – you need money to survive, and for that you need to sell your labour power. Therefore, Western capitalism is ready to incorporate different gender and sexual lifestyles, to ‘pink-wash’ exploitation to make it seem freer. There is for sure plenty of homophobia and transphobia under capitalism – suspicion and hatred of lives that are different, that do not fit – but the ideological watchwords of neoliberal capitalism are freedom, flexibility and choice.

These watchwords are fictions, and they obscure the lives of trans people, just as they do of lesbian and gay people, even at the same time as they pretend to ‘include’ them and make them more visible as market-niche consumers. This is part of the structure of capitalist realism; it seems as if everything is free and open, and as if anyone who complains has a personal problem, a grudge; neoliberalism strips away state support while increasing police powers, and it puts the onus on the individual to struggle to define themselves against a hostile world and hostile laws.

What stalinist realism offers is certainty, law and order. In place of the apparent anarchy of the market-place in the West, in the capitalist heartlands of imperialism, where people are made to fend for themselves and their families, the supposedly ‘post-socialist’ states, with Russia and China as the core examples, offer security and control. With security, being told who you are, including whether you are really a man or a woman, comes control, where the state will pathologise you if you step out of line, if you step out of your assigned sexuality or gender.

Stalinist realism thrives on order, and it promises – at the level of its direct political intervention in the lives of LGBTQI+ people and at the level of fantasy for everyone anxious about who they are and what they should do – an ordered world. The watchwords of stalinist realism are boundaries, borders and an ordered world. This order divides the world into ‘camps’, spheres of influence, and it divides populations into men and women who should healthily and happily fit themselves into the bodies described by the Stalinist realist ‘scientists’.

Stalinist realism is a political practice and fantasy of order – things in their place, people in their national territories governed by strong states, and bodies that have the right kind of desires for other kinds of bodies – and so it is, among other things, a form of organisation, and organisation of our desire to change this world. Actually, it is a form of organisation that blocks change


We desire to change the world. We know things are wrong, and that this capitalist world is not all there is. It came into being at a particular historical point, has not lasted that long, and it can be replaced. There is an alternative. But that desire is continually thwarted and distorted, and we have been betrayed time and again. It is understandable that, with the disappearance of the so-called ‘socialist bloc’ – the Soviet Union as a monolithic closed other world and China as an ideologically-rigid Maoist version of Stalinism – capitalist realism takes hold. Then it really does seem as if there is no alternative.

It is in that context that the fantasy that there must be something beyond capitalism becomes so alluring – and it is good that there is always that hope – but it is tragic that it becomes attached to actually-existing powerful apparatuses, whether of nation states or the organisations that promote them and tell us that things are really better there. We know that things are not better there.

The Internet gives us bewildering, competing images of the world and contradictory information about what is happening across the globe, but it also gives us quicker, more immediate access to the struggles of the exploited and oppressed inside Russia and China. And so, the desire for change runs up against reality, and it is in the grip of stalinist realism that reality itself gives way to fantasy, to the desperate fantastic hope that things must be different, must change, that someone else has done it, and can do it for us.


Stalinist realism rests on peculiar and toxic ideological mutations of our all-too human hope and fantasy that another world is possible, and it anchors that fantasy onto capitalist states and state agendas that are a malignant mirror-image of global capitalism, not at all the alternatives they pretend to be. It fixes our desire for change on things – leaders, states, parties, symbols – that seem to be eternal, ordered, never-changing, and that is one of the attractions in a capitalist world characterised by mind-spinning change, uncertainty and precarious anxiety about what will come next.

Identity is one of the underlying motifs of stalinist realism, the sense that things can be fixed in place, and that we ourselves can be secure in knowing where and what we are. Some nationalist and transphobe versions of this concern with borders and boundaries pretends to tell us about what is common to all humankind while betraying that promise. Instead of bringing us together, each respecting what is different about the others, making that diversity of experience and politics our strength, we are separated into our different identities. We are separated from each other, but it is not the ‘identity’ of the oppressed that is the problem.

One of the longstanding political lines rolled out in the peace and anti-racist movements by supporters of the various ‘communist’ parties loyal to Moscow, for example, was that racism as such is divisive, and that there are no ‘real’ racial differences between human beings. Racism was here countered by the well-meaning slogan ‘one race the human race’. That line reflected the material interests of the Stalinist bureaucracies in their attempts to govern many different populations, whether in the Soviet Union or in China, and while local folk communities were patronised it was only to better rule them, to make them good citizens, loyal to the centrally-organised state apparatus.

There is truth in the claim that there is one human race, but this truth has to be built, fought for, and it can only be fought for effectively, and with respect accorded to those who have suffered from racism, if we do take seriously how capitalism, and Stalinism, profited from division, from segregation.

The fantasy here, and it is not only a reactionary fantasy – it is an understandable response and challenge to racism – is that we are all the same, that there is something universal in our collective struggle as we work together to overthrow capitalism and build a better world, build socialism. The danger – and here the fantasy is not so progressive – is that as people are rendered the same, the ‘otherness’ of the different lives of human beings is wiped away, and we end up with a fiction. The fiction is that the people of a community or a nation or a world are ‘homogeneous’, all the same and with obvious common interests.


Then the desire for the working class to be the universal class is turned into a fetish, something we become attached to, and make a short circuit to arrive at it; we make an ideological short circuit that along the way leads us to trivialise or ignore what structural power differences among human beings under capitalism do to our different experiences of exploitation and oppression, of what it is to be a human being. Then, and this is where a peculiar and dangerous twist on the fantasy that we must all be the same has disastrous political effects, even the claim that there is racism is seen as ‘divisive’.

This is where the peculiar stalinist realist obsession with the supposed threat of ‘identity’ comes into play. This takes different forms, including in some places the fantasy that the working class is a kind of ‘red wall’ disturbed and disrupted by the enemy of ‘identity politics’. That fantasy of the working class as a ‘red wall’ is a fantasy that there is an already united non-racist homogeneous working class just waiting for the correct leadership by the right party, and that this working class has been somehow hurt and ‘left behind’ by the identity-politics promoted by anti-racist and LGBTQI+ movements.

In other words, instead of racism and sexism and other forms of oppression being seen as divisive forces, enabling the ruling class to divide and rule us, the attempts to name and call out racism and so on, are themselves treated as threats, as forms of division. The ‘unity’ of the working class is then used against the oppressed, and even sometimes used to defend the ‘unity’ of a colonial power against nations asserting their rights.

We need to face the fact that the lives of people under global capitalism are contradictory, diverse, complicated, and that we carry into our revolutionary organisations all of the toxic stuff – racism, sexism, assumptions about ability and disability – that capitalism brings into the world and makes use of and reinforces. Claims to identity empower the oppressed, and enable them to argue for their rights inside and outside of left organisations; they are not a threat.

We need to face the challenge inside our revolutionary organisations as well as in the outside world – in communities, trades unions and political parties – of taking seriously structural racism and sexism. We cannot assume that we are homogeneous, all the same. We are different, and with that difference there is potentially greater combined power for change.


At the heart of revolutionary Marxism as a theory and anti-capitalist resistance as a practice is a radical conception of organisation, of how we organise ourselves and how we might organise the world. That radical conception of organisation was effectively present in the flowering of alternative ways of living during the revolutions and liberation struggles that formed the Soviet Union, the Chinese state and independent nations that were formed as they broke from colonial control.

That radical conception of organisation has been transformed and refined by the encounter of revolutionary Marxists with feminists, anti-racist and de-colonial activists as well as with radical disability activists who showed us how capitalism relies on certain limited forms of ‘normality’ and able-bodied selves, the kinds of selves that capitalism can buy labour power from and sell its goods to.

The tragedy of the revolutions betrayed is that, among other things, structured top-down organisation becomes a fetish, and in place of authentic revolutionary democracy we have centralised command and control. In that way, one of the key aspects of stalinist realism is embedded in left organisations, and the world is organised around leaders and followers, a supposedly fully conscious ‘vanguard’. The ordinary members and fellow-travellers are then treated as a kind of part-time chorus, kept in the dark most of the time, and keeping themselves in the dark so they don’t have to think about what is being done in the ‘camps’ they have been supporting and endorsing.


In place of a genuine democratic collectivisation of experience – the bringing together of diverse perspectives and struggles – stalinist realism relies on the direct centralisation of politics. This is also the case in the so-called ‘democratic centralist’ organisations that claim to have broken from Stalinism and who should know better. In this way, stalinist realism replicates itself in the many little sects run by little tin-pot leaders.

Members and followers are expected to give their lives to the group, and anxiety is induced in them; they become anxious that their political worlds will disintegrate if the group collapses and the prospect of political change will be destroyed. This is where fantasy in stalinist realism once again plays a crucial role alongside pragmatic political manoeuvring. At the same time as members of parties are expected to ‘hold the line’ in public, not be open about the internal debates, they begin to live that divided and secretive experience inside themselves. They forget what they really think, and their own doubts are pushed aside, ‘repressed’.

Then, instead of delegates who are accountable and can be quickly and easily recalled, replaced if necessary, organisations and movements are composed of ‘representatives’ who are expected to fall into line with the demands of the leadership bodies. This is the world of the party or campaign congress where resolutions are fait accompli and, finally, when simply asked if ‘anyone is against’, we see who is against, who will be suspected of creating divisions or ‘factional’ disputes.

This mode of operation is replicated also in many supposedly ‘non-Stalinist’ or ‘anti-Stalinist’ groups that specialise in their own control-freak political operations. In the process, and as a key part of the stalinist realist worldview, members are inducted into a paranoiac way of dealing with ‘outsiders’ who, if they cannot be recruited, are treated as suspect, even sometimes with accusations made that anyone who disagrees must in be either a direct police agent or perhaps, in an insidiously irrefutable claim, an ‘unwitting’ police agent.

In some contexts, trades unions are treated as relay points, ‘fronts’ for the political organisation instead of the autonomous self-organised expression of working class consciousness and resistance. That may either take the form of a direct obvious connection between a trade union and a political party, or as an indirect more covert smearing of political opponents and control of the apparatus, with those who raise political differences accused of introducing political divisions. One of the hallmarks of stalinist realism is the closing of political debate around a set agenda and the accusation levelled against anyone who disagrees that they are creating a diversion or distraction, perhaps at the behest of outside forces.


Stalinist realism is organisationally structured around parties and leaders who know what’s what – in the old days it was Joseph Stalin himself or Chairman Mao who ruled the roost – and by a range of different organisations and movements that are gently ‘guided’, sometimes directly controlled by those in the know and at the centre of things.

Stalinist realist fronts usually work in a way that is closely connected with national and sometimes ‘red-brown’ nationalist agendas. That is, a favourite kind of stalinist realist front is a ‘popular’ alliance of close and distant individuals and groups – those that can be directly trusted and organised and those who are willing to follow along – around a limited range of issues, with other political differences and debates pushed into the background. Those who raise questions about stitch-ups in choice of representatives or political lines are then marginalised or slandered as ‘splitters’.

A special case of this kind of popular front is in the liberation movements in the so-called ‘developing world’ where the Stalinist states were historically able to trade their industrial and military power with ‘liberation’ movements and then emerging nation states. Here again, a command and control bureaucratic model of leadership is enforced, with local leaders who resist risking being sidelined or even murdered.

Today under the fullest spread of stalinist realism among left groups, locally and globally, it is the technical expertise and commercial and financial power of the Chinese and Russian states – through the ‘belt and road’ initiative or control of gas-supply lines – that underpins this colonial control. Now stalinist realism becomes part of the ideological apparatus of imperialism in the networks that promise to provide an alternative to ‘Western’ civilisation – seen as the bad camp – but which still lock dependent nations and political leaderships into real and symbolic debt traps.

This is where the malignant mirror-world of stalinist realism locks us all the more tightly into global capitalism. It is often said by the right that there is no alternative but this. Stalinist realism repeats the mantra of capitalist realism, that there is no alternative. But there is. Open communism.


Open communism is more than simply saying that another world is possible. There is something in the claim to communism that transcends our miserable everyday reality, and that is driven by the kind of impulse Karl Marx described when he was writing about the limits of religion. Spiritual yearning, a desire for something beyond capitalism, is not something communists should squash but that they should welcome.

Marx tells us that religion is ‘the sigh of an oppressed creature’, that it is ‘the heart of a heartless world’. Our hopes and desires in our sighing hearts are distorted by organised religion, but communism opens the way for those desires to be realised in the real world. Some academic philosophers will say that communism is an ‘idea’, and that it exists as a timeless state of being that we can then find a way to put into practice. But it is more than that.


Communism is not a form of religion, not a magical idealist blueprint, and not something already in our heads that needs to be made real. It is more than that, going beyond the limited frame of paradise that is promised by religious leaders. Here is a paradox, for we are suspicious of the big promises of future paradise on earth or heaven and so we promise less, but in the process we open up the possibilities for far more. Questioning what we are told about the way the world is – and following Marx’s own favourite dictum to ‘doubt everything’ – we realise the best of spiritual hopes but ground them in reality.

We can share ideas about what communism might involve based on what we resist, based on what we refuse in this wretched reality that puts a price on everything, that turns everything into a ‘commodity’, a thing to be bought and sold. But, in the process, we need to practically build it now.

Communism is not a promise that your suffering here will be redeemed in some distant future, and in that sense it is the opposite of religious systems that merely offer consolation and tell you to accept things as they are now. We resist, and on the basis of our resistance we go beyond the closed confined hopes of individuals and their prayers to a higher being to resolve their pain, and we ground our resistance in collective struggle.

So, communism is not an ‘idea’ into which we pour our fantasies and wait, not ‘abstract’ as a kind of ideal model or blueprint in our heads, but something we will need to piece together, as a collective practice. Communism needs to be grounded in what we can do now so that we are building it on real-world foundations, doing that so we can really make it possible.


It is possible, and we know that because there are already real-world practical foundations for it. Take, for example, the existence of money as a universal equivalent for all other goods, all of the other things we create and consume. Capitalism has created this strange commodity – money as a thing to be bought and sold – at the very same time as it turns human beings into commodities, into things that are bought and sold. Our labour and our bodies are turned into things.

This strange substance, money under capitalism, is, we Marxists say, ‘dialectical’; that is, it is contradictory and, under pressure, mutates into its opposite. Dialectically-speaking, money is both a trap and an opportunity. The tragedy is that, even for the super-rich – and we don’t feel sorry for them – it is a trap, it does not bring happiness. We consume things that we are told will make us happy, but they do not, and as we pay we try, in some strange way, to wish away the fact that we are just exchanging one commodity, money, for something else, the commodity we are buying. Then it is a trap.

But money enables things to happen, not when it is hoarded in banks but when it is put to work in building progressive alternatives to profit-driven capitalism. While capitalism is driven by the search for profit, destroying people’s lives and the planet through ‘capital accumulation’, we together in our social movements share and use money in a different way, and as we circulate money in solidarity with people close to us and far away from us we participate in something universal. Then money is an opportunity.

What is crucial here, and this is what makes this potentially part of the movement toward open communism, is that this use of money is more transparent and the systems that put it to work are democratically accountable. Every little left group and campaign knows this and goes in this direction with fund-raising and the collection of membership dues from members, and what marks out that use of money from being a mind-numbing commodity is that it is collective. It really then becomes the basis for something universal.

Yes, maybe we’ll do without money under communism, and it is often said that the communists will one day ‘abolish’ money. That doesn’t mean that they’ll burn your banknotes or melt your credit cards or siphon off the cryptocurrency now. What it means is that in the practical movement toward communism we will turn this money hoarded by a few very rich people into a resource that we put to work for all of us. Then, eventually, we will be able to do without it.

Communism is a ‘dialectical’ movement that transforms reality because it takes reality seriously, takes seriously the structure of reality under capitalism and the obstacles thrown in our way – obstacles that include the organisation of military coups by the capitalist state and lurid propaganda about what the ‘communists’ will do if they seize power. As part of that dialectical movement grounded in material reality, ‘dialectical materialism’, money will be transformed from being in the world of Mammon – the demon god of greed – into a tool of change, a materialisation of collective action.


Communism means seizing back what was once ours. Once upon a time we shared the land, hunting and gathering, making use of natural resources. True, that use of the land began a process of plunder and exploitation, as if the environment and the other animal species we share the planet with are only there to be subject to the needs of human beings.

That is a process scientists now agree set in place what they call the ‘Anthropocene’ epoch, something that took final catastrophic form with the rise of industrial capitalism. Perhaps we ecosocialist Marxists might better name this epoch the ‘Capitalocene’ since it is capital accumulation and the rapacious search for profit that drives the destruction of our ecology now.

Capitalism was only possible with the brutal enclosure of our common land, of the ‘commons’ as what we together inhabited and made use of. Enclosure is the diametric opposite of communism. Communism is the seizing back of the commons, enabling us to be aware of nature and other animal species not as a mere ‘environment’ external to us, but an ecology that we are an intimate part of. Capitalism requires enclosure and separation, ‘environment’, while communism enables sharing and connection, ecology.


Enclosure of the land separated what we lived on into walled-off private property, and so we were forced off our shared land, and made to buy it back or rent it in little portions fit for individuals and their families to survive in while they equipped themselves to work, work for others. This enclosure and rent is theft, repeated insulting theft of what we could together make use of.

That violent theft of what once belonged to us all is perpetuated in the private ownership of huge tracts of land, some of which is generously leased back by landowners or enclosed by the capitalist state, a state dedicated to the interests of those with property or those who treat those they employ as their property.

Enclosure of land is thus, as capitalism develops and spreads around the world, closely followed by enclosure of bodies. This happens through colonial expeditions from the developing industrial centres of capitalism – the ‘West’ – that are concerned with harvesting natural resources and turning local people into things to be bought and sold. The slave trade and the racist history of enclosure is at the heart of capitalism, not a mere unfortunate add on. That is why decolonisation is at the heart of communism as the seizing back of the planet by all of us as internationalists.


Communism pits cooperation, conscious collective activity, against enclosure as the mindless control of individuals divided from each other by others as they accumulate capital. The commons, the material basis of communism, were enclosed, but it is important to know that they are still here. There is still much of the commons that has not been completely enclosed, and the history of capitalism is also a history of the struggle of colonised and working people for the commons.

That struggle has conserved key elements of the commons and has partially succeeded in seizing back the commons. The commons as the material practical basis for communism has been fought for, and now we need to fight for all of it, for open communism.

Here it is around us, limited, imperfect, not always democratically organised, but a collective accomplishment that we need to defend. It is here in the medical and welfare support we have demanded through our collective struggle, here in hard-won state provision, for example, as a ‘spirit’ of the strength of the labour movement.

It is even there in the millions of contributions, financial and practical to charity. Yes, charity as the benevolent giving of things to the poor soothes and covers over the exploitation that produces poverty in the first place – charity is perfume in the sewers of capitalism – but the impulse to care for others, the desire to respond to distress and to do that through organisations dedicated to support and sometimes to solidarity, is also an expression of something of the commons, of what we have in common as human beings.

The commons are present in the trade unions as the defence of rights and safety at work through agreements fought for in bitter struggle with employers. In each case, when the commons have not been directly enclosed and privatised, what is ‘communist’ about them is distorted, closed, bureaucratised. We see this when unions repeat structures of obedience, or, a little example of patriarchal micro-aggression, tell their representatives, including women, to dress up to speak to employers. Then, as part of our work in and alongside unions we need to open things up as part of anti-capitalist struggle.

The taking of the commons – through enclosure and privatisation – and the exploitation of our labour power as private ownership for a period of time each day, did not at all mean that capitalism replaced an earlier paradise of complete shared ownership. If there was once some kind of ‘communal’ life before capitalism it was a life of scarcity and violence, of conflict and control, including patriarchal control of women’s bodies by men.

Some look back to a pre-historical time of ‘early’ or ‘primitive’ matriarchal communism, but we cannot ever know if this romantic picture is true. It does give us hope that things could be different from the way things are now, but what is for sure is that communism built on the basis of plenty – plenty of what is good for us and good for all on the basis of our creative ability to produce enough for everyone – will be very different from the world before capitalism.

Capitalism is not always all bad; Marx, for example, saw it as a once progressive force and as globalising in the best sense of the term, enabling connections between people and the internationalism that today infuses our politics as revolutionary Marxists. The dramatic increase in innovation and technology is something we can and must make use of.

Communists do not wipe away the past, start from year zero, but conserve and build on what human beings have been able to achieve so far. So, our communism is not a return to a closed limited pre-industrial world, but values the growth of care and creativity over the drive for economic growth and profit. Ours is open communism.


Open communism is open to new and unexpected connections between people, and with the world, with the ecology of the planet and the species we share the planet with. Open communism is ecosocialist and feminist and anti-racist, attentive to the different ways we unthinkingly treat others as separate and lesser than us, the way we ‘disable’ others.

We listen and respond to demands and , we have had to do that to turn the limited, closed and sometimes authoritarian forms of party and state control that claimed to be socialist into something more genuinely communist, internationalist and ‘intersectional’. That has involved, and will continue to involve ,contradiction and moments of hesitation, uncertainty and puzzling about how to keep things open, how to open things up more.

The path to open communism is not a smooth easy path, but is as much about working with conflict among ourselves as it is engaging in productive conflict with those who are determined to hold onto their privilege and power.


With globalisation – the malign colonial harvesting of natural resources and bodies and the spread of capitalism as a political-economic system around the world – there always was a progressive potential for connection between peoples, a positive open globalisation of resistance and solidarity. That is the material basis of the spirit of internationalist struggle and organisation. And with that, as a necessary part of internationalism, a linking of struggles against global capitalism and its imperialist endeavours to subject one kind of peoples to another with struggles against racism.

That ‘intersection’ of struggles is part of open communism. It is a genuine alternative to the attempt to turn anti-colonial movements into pawns in a power-game between blocs, between a capitalist camp and a supposedly anti-imperialist or progressive camp, still worse the attempt to turn leaders of anti-colonial or anti-imperialist movements into ventriloquist puppets of closed militarised bureaucracies.

The working class is a ‘universal’ class in the sense of it being the source and materialisation of the labour power that underpins, makes possible, capitalism as a global system. This material class basis of internationalism is different from the particular ‘identity’ of the ruling class in one of the imperialist nations devoted to sucking in resources from other places for its own enrichment. And this is different from the nascent capitalist classes in dependent colonised countries who fight for their ‘independence’ only on the basis that they will have a share of the pie, a share they conceive of as having its own national identity, that of where they happen to be born.

While the working class is, in its universal existence, a crucial potential agent in the re-taking of the commons – the commons on a broader higher international level than the local commons enclosed as capitalism took root in different countries – it is also divided. One local working-class is set against the others, and in imperialist countries it can be bought off from time to time, absorbing racist ideas from its own ruling class and functioning as a kind of labour aristocracy in an international quasi-feudal division of labour.

Even so, there is a contradiction at an international level and at a local level in the class struggle against capitalism, and all the more so in times of massive migration; racism that obviously divides workers is countered by practical trade union and political work with asylum-seekers and refugees. Internationalism is not only solidarity with others who are out there in faraway places, but also solidarity through intersectional work across communities in each local context.


An ‘intersectional’ approach to the commons and communism is not a combination of different kinds of identity, but throws identity as such into question, whether that is national identity or gender identity or sexual identity. In fact, while intersectional approaches arose first in connecting class, race and gender – from a legal case in which Black women workers were having to confront a legal process that divided them into their different ‘identities’ in order to weaken their claim – there has been a profound questioning of identity that cuts across these categories from within ‘queer’ politics.

We can take this further now, and say that we always need to ‘queer’ identity of any kind in our political struggle at the very same moment as we might tactically lay claim to an identity to build a particular movement. And, to take this further in relation to open communism – the seizing back of the commons so that we may all be free to determine together how to enjoy the fruits of the earth and our own creative labour – we could say that the queering of identity is at the deepest core of internationalism.

Capitalism is good at incorporating radical movements, including lesbian and gay and even trans movements, turning them into consumer market niches, into ‘identities’ as commodities to be bought and sold. But when there is a queering of identity, a refusal of binary categories of male and female, a questioning of how we are assigned a place in the social order or in the family, capitalism is put under more pressure.

We see this progressive dialectical movement forward in the way that each radical gender and sexual movement takes on a queer aspect when it links with others across community boundaries and national borders; when it, as of necessity, becomes international. Then it opens the way to refusing private property or identity as the property of an individual; it opens the way to communism.

Internationalism enables us to build on our history of struggle for a better world, for a world we have in common, and it does this both by understanding and building on our history, of colonialism and anti-colonial struggle and by understanding and building on our ‘identities’ and the struggle to remake who we are in order to remake the world.

So, there are two dimensions of struggle at work here in the building of open communism. The first dimension is historical; we learn from the past so that we will not repeat it, and that also means taking care not to romanticise pre-capitalist societies or indigenous peoples as survivals of ‘primitive communism’ that we simply return to or emulate. We start from where we are, in a world that has been colonised, rendered subject to capital accumulation, globalised, and work together in movements of solidarity, internationalising our common struggle, building working class power, the power of the working class as the universal class.

The second dimension is geographical; we learn from other experiences of struggle so we can better understand how we have been made to live out different national or gendered or sexual identities. We learn the limitations of those identities so we know better how to make claims against capitalism for what is ours, not so we can divide the spoils but so we can share what is rightfully ours. For that we have to internationalise our politics.


Open communism unites the human race through the working class as the historically-constituted universal class; men and women and those who are non-binary, and those of every apparently separate ‘race’, work. All who labour, whatever particular ‘identity’ they choose to describe themselves or feel as they resist oppression, are part of the working class. Many are excluded, ‘disabled’, but it is a very small proportion of the global population who never work because they are able to choose not to.

There are, we know well, traditions of ‘communism’ that are closed and bureaucratic, with top-down centralised decision-making apparatuses, but there are many traditions of more plural open communism that connect economic struggle with cultural struggle. The tradition of work on ‘hegemony’ – the ideological domination of society that serves the ruling class – developed around the ‘prison writings’ of one of the Italian communist party leaders, is a powerful case example.

The battle of ideas in the struggle for hegemony inside social movements is crucial as a part of the cultural-political work we engage in alongside and inside apparently purely ‘economic’ struggles. But we need to know what kinds of hegemony count for us as communists and what misreadings of it holds us back.

That tradition also provides an opportunity to clarify what we mean by an intersectional, plural movement of open communism from a revolutionary Marxist standpoint. For there is a dominant reading of arguments about hegemony that led many ‘communists’ in the so-called ‘Eurocommunist’ critique of Stalinism to the right; that is, they not only opposed the old closed communism of the bureaucratic states formed after the October revolution in Russia and then in China, but directed attention to an ideological struggle for hegemony that would involve everyone from every class in society.

That kind of ‘plurality’ is generous and open to a fault, the fault being that class struggle and the strengthening of the working class in all its diversity is replaced with mere liberal plural debate that is hostile to conflict, tries to avoid it, prevent it. Class power and conflict under capitalism, the division between those who own and control the means of production, on the one hand, and those who are exploited – the working class – on the other, is thereby obscured, shut out.

The ideological struggle for ‘hegemony’ was, in its earliest most useful formulations, something that should be occurring inside the working class organisations and exist to strengthen the working class, not weaken it vis-à-vis the ruling class. It is that working-class plurality that lays the basis of open communism.


We can deepen these insights into the importance of a plural open democratic battle of ideas inside the working class – the struggle for hegemony as we work out the best way forward – by including in the working class many standpoints from different kinds of work, different kinds of labour.

From socialist feminism, one of the forms of struggle that revolutionary Marxism now intersects with, come arguments about the position of the exploited and oppressed and what that position allows them to see about power that those with power conveniently place outside of their awareness. That is, awareness and conscious resistance is tied to ‘standpoint’, and we must learn from the standpoints of those subjected to power if we are to open communism.

Marxism has always been a ‘standpoint’ theory. It is a theory that is geared to changing what it analyses – the very process of understanding capitalism is linked to practical political activity to resist it – and that is from the standpoint of the working class. Socialist feminism reminds us of that while also reminding us that the position of the women in the family and then as part of the work-force is another specific standpoint as women notice and challenge male power, the rule of men over women, patriarchy.

Women’s labour under capitalism is concerned not only with producing things – commodities exchanged for money, a source of profit – but also with maintaining and reproducing the work-force. That is, alongside production is ‘social reproduction’, and so women who are positioned as care-givers in the field of maternal labour, for example, have a standpoint within the working class that makes their ideological and political contribution different and vital.

Struggles against colonialism and racism deepened this analysis as other standpoints of the oppressed and claims to identity were fought for. Those struggles changed the world, and changed the left. Let’s have more of them to re-energise anti-capitalist politics open to communism now.


Ideology – the ideas of the ruling class that structure how we all think about the world in line with a certain set of material interests that are not ours – is not a fixed thing, but we can see from all the different cultural productions under capitalism today that it is flexible, mutating to try and incorporate and neutralise threats to it. So, our consciousness of exploitation and oppression also needs to be flexible, tactical about such things as identity, and plural, open to different standpoints.

The same principle applies to the international division of labour historically structured by colonialism and racism. Our internationalism is built into our politics as solidarity with those who are up against imperialism or up against the capitalist state wherever they are, and that means that we notice how different forms of labour produce different standpoints. International working-class organisations, whether as solidarity networks or trade unions or as political groupings, cannot be centralised as if they were a ‘world party’ governed by the selfsame set of principles applicable to everyone everywhere.

To say that the working class is the ‘universal’ class is not at all to say that it provides a complete, closed, total or ‘totalising’ image of what the world is or should be. Universality here means internationalising, and intersectionally so; learning from difference rather than trying to absorb those who are different with the aim of making them the same. We want a movement towards communism in which the future is open.

Argument and debate is at the heart of open communism, and whatever future society we build will be composed of contradictions and antagonisms that structure the debates we have about how to manage our lives, what our relationship is with the fragile ecology of the earth we live on. Communism is not the ending of contradiction, but an ability to work with it instead of trying to snuff it out.

In that sense, all of the hopes of the ‘liberals’ – that the world should be open to different viewpoints – are only realisable within the communist movement and under communism. Liberals pretend that everyone has an equal say now, that we can jettison the old divisive stuff about class struggle and have a big debate across the social classes, those who are exploited and those who exploit us. This is the road that the liberal ‘Eurocommunist’ misreading of the battle for ‘hegemony’ took us in, away from class struggle and to liberal acceptance of the rules of the game that capitalism plays by, so that it always wins, always survives and expands.

Open communism is a society in which class division is abolished, and those who labour share the fruits of their labours so that they are able to manage things so they work less and play more, a society in which liberalism is made possible. You cannot be a liberal apologist for capitalism now if you want that kind of world. You must be anti-capitalist, a communist.


How we open communism, how we get there, is the key question. In fact, that is even more important than dreaming up detailed blueprints for what a communist society will look like. There are many false paths, some of which have led to disaster.

There is a very slow road, cautious and careful not to upset those in power who are determined to protect the private property of the super-rich and corporations to which they are tied through the state apparatus and by a million threads. Here are the social democrats, those who run some of the large electorally-strong ‘left’ parties, for example, who will bit-by-bit take things so slow the ruling class will not notice. But they will notice, and when the crunch comes the social democrats hesitate, compromise and lead us either back to where we started or into the hands of a brutal military coup they are unprepared to resist.

There is a very fast road, impatient with compromise, quick to denounce anyone building an alliance of the left that will give people confidence and power to demand more. Here are the ultra-left, those who are take up a radical posture that does not really frighten anyone but drives people away from politics because it drives people away from those kinds of sect-like politics. The ruling class can tolerate this quasi-revolutionary play-acting, and just as quickly mobilise people to marginalise and isolate the small groups intent on keeping themselves pure.

Then there is the bureaucratically-organised road-map of the Stalinists who tell us that all human history is neatly-organised into stages and states of development. Here is the comforting romantic story of ‘primitive communism’ at the beginning of history and then the bad news; the story is that society has to proceed through slavery and then feudalism and then capitalism and then state-organised ‘socialism’ before arriving at the final goal. The ruling class loves this, for this road takes us through all kinds of delay and pain to justify a long march that is not an appealing alternative to capitalism.


It was socialist-feminism that reminded us of a transitional strategy that combined an ethical opening of communism now, one that linked social change with personal change. Our future society, the socialist-feminists argued, needs to be anticipated in our forms of struggle. How we organise ourselves now will ‘prefigure’, and have consequences for the kind of society we are trying to build. This ‘prefigurative’ politics is transitional, focused on what we need to do now to make the transition to communism.

This brings us up against the limits of the social-democratic strategy that makes us adapt, compromise, and ends up telling us to behave, so then we just reproduce capitalist society as it is now. It brings us up against the manic macho sects that replicate in miniature forms of power that they claim to be against. And it brings us up against the Stalinist tradition that tells us to subordinate our hopes to the existing states and parties that pretend to be ‘progressive’ or ‘socialist’, bad mirror-images of capitalist society.

If we really want a society in which there is democratic collective debate about the way forward we need to ‘prefigure’ that now. Only that will give people the confidence to demand the earth and inspire them to believe that it is worth struggling for.


Just as Marxist analysis of society is intimately linked to transforming its object of study – for it is a revolutionary transformative science of social and personal change – so transitional strategies dialectically link the means of change to its ends. Capitalism is built on hypocrisy, selling us things that promise to make us happy while treating people like objects, turning their labour and their bodies into commodities. Our politics cuts through this hypocrisy, and our vision of communism is profoundly ethical.

Socialist-feminist prefigurative politics returns us to the revolutionary Marxist anti-Stalinist history of a ‘transitional’ programme for change. Transitional demands include that there be no secret diplomacy, that the books of the companies be opened, and that we directly link wages to inflation so we don’t pay for the recurring economic crises that characterise capitalism. Notice that these demands link what is humanly possible now with the kind of society that will be more democratic and just.

These means – a strategy composed of transitional demands and self-organisation of the working class – are what we wish for as the ends we hope to arrive at. An ethical vision of open communism is thus put into practice now so that people experience in their everyday life and political struggle what they are aiming for. This is instead of hypocritically and unethically manipulating people in the vain hope that the ends will justify the means.

We are open about our politics, saying what we mean, being clear, for example, that those who opt for reforms instead of revolution are taking a false path. But instead of just denouncing them we engage them in debate, and we may even vote for them to put them to the test, knowing that whatever increases people’s confidence and power will enable people to insist that what they have asked for is reasonable and fair.

For that, alliances and united front organisation with those we disagree with will be necessary to build a context in which we can better build independent working-class self-organisation through the unions and progressive social movements.

Capitalism saps our strength and is already, for most people in the world, a form of barbarism. So to argue – as the revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg did – that the choice we face now is ‘socialism or barbarism’ is not between far-off future options. The choice is between the barbarism that capitalism is now and a genuinely socialist alternative that we can build now in the process of building anti-capitalist resistance, open communism.


For more analyses of what has gone wrong on the left and resources to put it right again in collective democratic revolutionary struggle, these six books are a good start:

Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? Washington and Winchester: Zero Books. [This book sets the scene for the world we live in now, one in which every possibility for change seems bought off and we are rendered powerless with consumption of commodities being our only escape, but the analysis opens possibilities for moving beyond capitalism]

Mandel, E. (2020) Introduction to Marxist Theory, Selected Writings. London: Resistance Books. [This collection of writings by a leading Trotskyist theoretician of the Fourth International shows a different, resolutely non-Stalinist way of thinking about the state, imperialism, bureaucracy and revolutionary organisation]

Parker, I. (2020) Socialisms: Revolutions Betrayed, Mislaid and Unmade. London: Resistance Books. [Part travelogue and part analysis, this series of essays gives an account of revolutions and their outcome in Russia, Georgia, Serbia, North Korea, China, Cuba, Laos and Venezuela]

Rowbotham, S., Segal, L. and Wainwright, H. (2013) Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism (3rd Edition). Pontypool Wales: Merlin. [This brings together three socialist feminist analyses of encounters with revolutionary organisation in three different non-Stalinist traditions, reflecting on pitfalls and opportunities to do something different]

Samary, C. and Leplat, F. (eds) (2020) Decolonial Communism, Democracy and the Commons. London: Resistance Books. [This book brings together a series of anti-Stalinist essays on the intimate links between revolution and colonialism, with attention to ecosocialist politics and critique of actually-existing socialist states]

Trotsky, L. (1937) The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? Online at [This classic text was written in exile by one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution who resisted the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy and who was part of a ‘left opposition’ that tried to keep alive the spirit of October]


The Republic of Seychelles

The Republic of Seychelles gained independence from Britain in 1976. A year later, on 5 June 1977, Albert René at the head of the Seychelles Peoples United Party, seized power in what was proclaimed, and is still remembered by some activists here today, as a ‘socialist revolution’ in Africa. René quickly dismantled the opposition, and ran a one-party state from 1979 until 1993. He then opened things up for multi-party elections, which he won that year, 1993, and in 1998 and 2001.

René’s anointed successors held onto power after he stepped down in 2004, winning elections for what became the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front and then People’s Front in 2006, 2011 and 2015, apparent clear endorsement of the course of the ‘revolution’. This until 26 October 2020, when, in the midst of the Covid crisis, and disarray and defections from the ruling party, the current neoliberal coalition, Linyon Demokratik Seselwa, LDS, took power, with Anglican priest Wavel Ramkalawan as President.

What remains of the Seychelles People’s United Party, Seychelles People’s Progressive Front and People’s Front is still present in the 35-member National Assembly as United Seychelles, with 10 seats, but the apparatus of the old regime is under investigation for corruption, disappearances and murder. Over a hundred testimonies are now being heard by the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission.

The revolutionary events of 1977 are now officially and mostly popularly regarded as a coup followed by a dictatorship. It is difficult to disentangle what was progressive from what was reactionary about René’s regime, and to find spaces of genuine open resistance. A taxi driver told us that the new government is doing well, but that the opposition were always creating trouble, now objecting to the plan to raise the retirement age from 63 to 65.

Seychelles is, according to polls, still, for the third year running, the most romantic travel destination in the world. There are white powder beaches in which turtles lay eggs, azure clean seas, intense green vegetation that include mango trees around which the giant fruit bats swoop at dawn and dusk. There is even, away from the super-expensive island resorts, a network of bed and breakfast places surrounded by friendly helpful people who seem happy to see you.

But it is not all perfect, beneath the waves are often rocks, sometimes spiny sea urchins, and at 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the morning it is dog o’clock, with the noise of barking and yapping breaking through the windows that you must keep open if you are to avoid using the air conditioning. If you dig deeper, you will learn something about the deep political divisions. I travelled around for three weeks, barely enough to scratch the surface, not enough for the kind of analysis that needs to be developed by those who have lived through the last half a century here, but these notes are reflections on what I read and saw and heard.

Versions of the present I

There are two printed papers. The daily newspaper Seychelles Nation, the 16-page A5-size mouthpiece of the current LDS regime published on the main island of Mahé, carries under the title the words, in capitals, no accents, ‘LIBERTE, EGALITE, FRATERNITE’. About 3,500 copies of the paper are distributed to government departments and state outlets and a few are sold in shops. The November 15 issue carries the main headline ‘Air Seychelles out of insolvency process’, the paper reporting the conclusion of a thirteen-month company reorganisation which will ensure ‘financial stability’; just below that, still on the front page, is good news about funding for ‘capital projects’ in the 2023 budget. There are reports inside the paper on agreement brokered at COP27 for a solar cooling cold storage project off the island of La Digue and a ‘national entrepreneurship strategy’.

There are also reports on a deal with Cable and Wireless, with the hook that live sports will be offered in English. The paper is almost entirely in English, with one small item in French about crowds gathering to watch masses of crabs and tuna on Eden island, another about a special mass held in one of the Catholic churches on Grand Anse in Mahé – the country is over 75% Catholic – to celebrate International Men’s Day.

There is a small item in Seychellois about finance debates in the National Assembly. Seychellois, the local form of Creole, is the official language of the National Assembly, and was promoted in schools – it is the language used by most of the population, more widespread than English or French – but there is now a backlash against this which some supporters of Linyon Demokratik Seselwa, despite its Creole name, is willing to pander to. The leisure page, with a crossword, wordsearch and cartoon, is in Seychellois, and the rest of the paper is pretty-well taken up with job and commercial tender advertisements.

The sports page, in English, reports on hockey and on Everton and Manchester City as winners of the Seychelles Schools’ Premier League. ‘Everton’ and ‘Manchester City’ here are actually Pointe Larue and Belonie; La Digue island is ‘Norwich’, Praslin island is ‘Brighton and Hove Albion’, and Anse Boileau is ‘West Ham’. Among the classified advertisements is one for the Gerard Hoarau Foundation about the Annual Anniversary Memorial Service at St Joseph’s Church at Anse Royale, ‘an invitation to all Seychellois to participate in this moment of spiritual reflection and prayer in thanking God for a patriotic son of Seychelles’.

Reconciliation and National Unity

This is a work of reconstruction, something that one of our hosts describes as the return of capitalism to the island now that ‘the communists have gone, thank god!’, this last thanks is said while crossing himself. For this guy and other members of his family we met in different parts of the main island, the teaching of Seychellois was nonsense, and the communists were at the source of all that is now bad on the island. But then, as you listen more, contradictions open up, and we hear that while he was away from Seychelles the government ‘stole’ some of his land – he waved his arms across a mountainside to show us what had once belonged to him – and refused to mend the roads, ‘jealousy’ said his wife.

Anything and everything, ranging from noise and theft to drug abuse and benefit scroungers is laid at the door of the communists, and this guy, who was in the army when René seized power, and fled for some years to be part of the very large exile Seychellois community, is quick to remind us of the London 1985 assassination of Gerard Hoarau, who led the Mouvement Pour La Resistance, by the regime, ‘probably by Russian hitmen’, he says. It’s possible; it’s true that René had a security apparatus and financial support from the Soviet Union, East Germany and North Korea. Cuba provided ‘advisors’ embedded in the police force.

Again, as for the West, it seems like support for the ‘socialist’ regime from the Stalinist bloc was based on geopolitical calculation, with little care for what was actually going on inside the country. Nationalisations were carried out sometimes to settle scores rather than as part of a democratically-agreed plan of development, and disappearances were engineered to deal with individual troublemakers and, it is true, some sustained military attempts to depose the regime.


These attempts included the farcical ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare adventure in 1981 which was organised by the opposition in South Africa. Mercenaries arrived at the International Airport and almost succeeded in getting the hidden guns through security. Their bad luck was that the guy in front of them in the queue was caught smuggling fruit into the country and so customs police decided to search all the other customers; there was a shootout, and the mercenaries were confined to the airport. René then brokered a deal to release them and, after negotiations with the South African government, got agreement that the apartheid regime would crack down on the Seychellois opposition and pay financial compensation to the Seychelles.

Here is another indication of the paradoxes at the heart of the regime which give lie to claims that it really was ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Apart from some military and police support from ‘friendly’ states willing to make the most of a regime that appeared to be breaking from the West, most of the internal and external security – including surveillance of the opposition at home and abroad – was also run by mercenaries; a private security firm, Priority Investigations. This outfit was run by a mercenary, Ian Withers, who was appointed National Security advisor, and who then described himself as a member of the ’Seychelles Security Service’. Withers also ran the ‘overseas unit’, was hired by René to oversee these matters.

René made little reference to apartheid in South Africa after the 1981 coup attempt against him, and there was always a cautious shrewd balancing between different international and regional powers. For example, and it is a significant one, there was no support for the Chagossians after the US and Britain seized the islands – geographically and historically part of the Seychelles, though legally under Mauritius administration – and René did nothing to speak out for these people exiled from their own archipelago.

René did not significantly disturb the Brits, the old colonial power, even while he began using French terms to describe aspects of the new state administration – mere symbolic shows of defiance – nor the United States; the listening base that the United States maintained on Mahé was never put in question – it provided money and employment – and it was the United States that finally pulled the plugs on that after 1989, which was also a watershed moment for policy inside the Seychelles.

Now the new government has just brokered a deal with Thai Union which operates a massive tuna processing plant in Victoria, the capital. The factory runs 24/7 with clattering and rumbling echoing up and around the hills, and this operation will now increase, with an expansion of the plant over the next few years. The three main economic drivers of the Seychelles economy are tourism, then tuna and then offshore financial services, all three sectors of which René explicitly and deliberately kept in private hands while using some resources to fund education and welfare, which is still free, but which is under threat from privatisation.

Versions of the present II

The weekly newspaper, the other printed paper, The Seychelles Independent operates as if it is the print voice of United Seychelles now, but is actually the weekly mouthpiece of Ralph Volcere, whose previous political activity was as a 2016 election candidate for the ‘Legalising Cannabis in Seychelles Movement’. Volcere was allied with the LDS but broke with them several years back, now occasionally carrying pro United Seychelles pieces. The United Seychelles paper The People is available online, and they have a Facebook page.

Below the main title of The Seychelles Independent is the legend ‘Sesel avan tou’, though all of the paper is in English. I picked up a 9November copy at a supermarket in Anse Boileau where there had been a recent United Seychelles rally, an event reported in the paper. It is impossible to know how many copies of the paper are printed and sold. The front page of the 12-page A4 paper carried three stories about LDS mismanagement and corruption, an important pitch now by United Seychelles in the face of the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission, TRNUC, testimonies and investigations that are basically targeting the party.

The LDS 2023 capital investment budget story is given a quite different twist from The Nation, claiming that there is lack of attention to the ‘ordinary citizens who carried the burden’ for the economic sacrifices that are being made. These stories run over the first four pages, and then there are two stories on page 5 that run in stark contrast to each other, stories that point to some contradiction in the paper’s attempt to wrongfoot the government. The main story on page 5 with a full-colour photo of a rally at Anse Boileau is topped by the headline ‘Red revival is a reality!’.

The United Seychelles local rally on the West coast of Mahé shows, the story claims, that United Seychelles is ‘still a force to be reckoned with and even that it is well on the road to recovery’. ‘Despite the revelations of the TRNUC’ it continues, and despite the accusations of corruption, ‘the 28,000 plus followers saw no reason to change their allegiance’. Impressive though the photo is, in no way are there 28,000 people there, and it is improbable, to say the least, that such a number out of a total Seychelles population of under 100,000 people gathered at the beachside that afternoon. That said, photos from The People show a good crown.

The story also complains that the Seychelles Public Transport Corporation had refused to hire out their buses to take supporters to the rally, so the numbers hinted at in Anse Boileau are even more questionable. Rare graffiti was around in Anse Boileau; an environmental ‘Save Our Seas’ slogan echoing an ecological youth movement developing in Mauritius, and one proclaiming that ‘there is no political solution’, which hints at political disaffection rather than engagement.

The same page sees the second story, and it is a surprise to read the headline for that which is ‘Health Ministry should consider outsourcing ambulance services’, basically a call for privatisation. The following pages complain about increased powers given to the police and string together some quibbles about proposals mooted at a teachers’ symposium; ‘Teachers feel inundated with paperwork’ says a little box highlight in the middle of the article.

Two pages are taken up with an interview with Ralph Volcere about shortcomings of the LDS proposed budget. This, the opening paragraph says, is the first instalment of a two-part series. The article is underpinned, again, by the argument that all real economic success that the government claims is down to the ‘poor working people of the country’. Ralph Volcere is the editor of the paper. There is a reprint of a rather neutral article about negotiations between Britain and Mauritius over the future of the Chagos Islands. Many articles are simply pasted in from different websites.

Later copies of The Seychelles Independent make it clearer where its editor Ralph Volcere is coming from politically. The 23 November issue has the headline ‘The LDS Government is corrupt like the SPPF/PL/US’; that’s a side swipe at United Seychelles. There is a glowing report of a United Seychelles protest in the 30 November issue which also, however, notes along the way that the party’s founders were ‘notoriously against the free press’. That last issue also includes an appeal, in English and in Seychellois, for readers to support the investigation into the murder of Gerard Hoareau, and, in line with the ‘International Men’s Day’ reports in Seychelles Nation, there is an article about domestic violence which is all about violence against men.

The Volcere ‘interview’ in the 9 November issue is followed by a downright weird unsigned piece that looks like it is designed as internal political education for party members. It is titled ‘Do we have the political will to tackle our problems?’, and includes ruminations on the nature of the human being as being ‘the focal point of all forms of motion of matter’. The piece, in a garbled version of good old Soviet ‘socialist man’ pegagogy, contrasts individual competitiveness in present society with the nature of the human being as ‘a subject of historical creativity’. The final paragraph speaks of ‘the spiritual nucleus of the structure of the personality’ and this puzzling article – some indication of the political heritage and line of the paper – concludes with the enigmatic sentence ‘What is it all about?’. Indeed.

Albert René

It does seem that if René had not seized power in what was actually more of a coup than a revolution in 1977, the first elected President James Mancham would himself have shut down opposition parties and ruled through his Seychelles Democratic Party, SDP. René moved fast while Mancham was away in London at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to which he had been invited as a speaker, an invitation that was rescinded pretty well as soon as the Seychelles People’s United Party was installed.

That rapid recognition of the new regime was a sign that though Mancham was the preferred choice by the old colonial powers, Britain and the United States reckoned they could live with René. In fact, both Mancham and René, both trained as barristers in London, had been groomed as future leaders before independence, with paid visits to London and the US. In some respects, with the geopolitical location of Seychelles more important than internal administration, this hedging of bets in René’s favour, was the safe and rational option for the West.

René clearly had support in the country, and attempts to depose the new ‘socialist’ regime would, in the view of imperial and regional powers, cause more chaos and uncertainty than was worth it, but the problem was that in no ways was the Seychelles People’s United Party a mass party, even less so a democratically-structured organisation, and the coup was carried out by tens of people, most of whom had no idea about what they were involved in when it happened. That contradiction – a single individual attempting to construct a socialist alternative in a country of less than a 100,000 people in a 115-island archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean – haunted the regime from 1977 onwards.

It is easy to reduce what happened in 1977 and since to the personality of the single individual at the head of the regime. There is a thorough, and thoroughly partisan account of what happened in the just-published book by Ashton Robinson, René and Postcolonial Seychelles: An African Chameleon in the Indian Ocean, which does exactly that. Robinson writes for the neoliberal Lowy Institute, and it is clear where he stands in his reports on the island.

You will learn from Robinson’s hatchet job that Albert René was a thoroughly bad sort who treated his family badly, duped the Church into providing sponsorship to train as a priest, dropped out and trained as a barrister and then plotted a path to power with a ruthless determination to drive out the West and let in the reds. All of the errors of the regime are reduced to deliberate behind-the-scenes machinations by René, something which obscures the very constellation of social forces that made 1977 possible.

For example, the Catholic Church was and is a powerful cultural and potentially powerful political force in Seychelles, but one of the dominant orders – the one that René was initially sent to train with in Switzerland as a novitiate priest – was the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. The Capuchins were not at the forefront of liberation theology, but there were plenty of local priests in Seychelles in the order who were sympathetic to it, and this, according to Robinson, gave encouragement and licence for René to engage in the coup. The Church did not know the coup was going to happen, did not support it, but they did not, as they could have done in other circumstances, condemn it. In Robinson’s book, the reds in the Church effectively egged evil René on.

Also significant, and noted by Robinson, was the determination the British Callaghan government in the 1970s to implement its ‘East of Suez’ policy, to divest itself of the old colonies. Joan Lestor and Judith Hart, among others, are leftists blamed for lack of oversight for what was about to happen in the Seychelles after independence. This, for Robinson, was disastrous and so the British Foreign Office bears some responsibility for letting René in. There may well be some truth in this specific play of circumstances, but the political slant Robinson gives to it is quite reactionary.


A supporter of René’s regime said that the revolution in 1977 was, for all of the problems, and it was by no means perfect, ‘necessary’; it was only with the land reforms that were promised and then delivered that slavery in Seychelles was finally ended. Up to that point the ‘moitié’ system that effectively prolonged slavery after its formal abolition gave former slaves only the right to ‘half’ of their freedom and kept control of the land in Seychelles in the hands of 9% of the population. This was definitively ended by René, to the anger of many of the old landowners and their descendants who provided financial support to the different iterations of the ‘opposition’.

Slavery, and the legacy of particular forms of patriarchal oppression that issued from it, structured Seychelles as a newly independent country in 1976 and set particular kinds of tasks for a progressive regime. This history set in place specific kinds of intersection between class, ‘race’ and gender. This was a revolution in Africa – the bulk of the Seychelles population are black, descendants of slaves – with René and his close circle of supporters intent, in the early years, on reorienting the country away from Europe to Africa. Seychelles is still a member of the African Union.

René had close links with Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, who ran his own ‘socialist’ one-party state, before the revolution, and Tanzanian troops were present at key points in the island during the coup. Relations with Tanzania cooled later on. A leader of the then-radical Mouvement Militant Mauricien, Paul Bérenger, was photographed with René on the island very soon after the coup – he was apparently there at that time by chance, it was claimed – though links with the MMM were not maintained for long after the revolution. It was, however, independence as an African nation that was crucial to René, and one supporter said that it was only with the 1977 revolution that the Seychellois were able to begin constituting themselves as an independent nation.

Even the most hostile accounts of the René regime, with Ashton Robinson’s book a prime example, had to acknowledge that there was a legacy of racism from slavery, this in a country that was governed by a self-proclaimed African liberation movement headed by Albert René, a white man who combated racism. It was difficult to instrumentalise racism by opponents of the regime, even if that was a sub-text of some hostile comments against the old regime. One older man we spoke to claimed that the country under the ‘communists’ was taken over by Whites, Russians and, more latterly, Indians who run the supermarkets.

The government did, and still does, take efforts to represent Seychelles as an inclusive family; the faith of the President, Anglican, and the Vice-President, Muslim, is of little interest in an overwhelmingly Catholic country where it is the political history that counts. That said, there is a legacy of racial divisions, and of racism. One guy we spoke to who was obsessing about the ‘communists’ switched tack at one point to say that it was the ‘blacks’ who supported United Seychelles, and things were messed up under that regime because of the kind of ‘mindset’ that you see in other corrupt African countries. A taxi driver who was, he proudly told us, one of the first group of rebels imprisoned by René, referred disparagingly to the ‘black communist’ regime.

Women, we were told, formed the active support base of the movement, insofar as it could be said to be a movement, and United Seychelles is in the process of recomposing itself following the 2020 election defeat, including a women’s wing and youth wing. There are very good detailed accounts of the position of women here by Penda Choppy who is Director of the Creole Culture and Research Institute in the University of Seychelles at Anse Royale of the forms of family that gave women certain forms of autonomy and power in Seychelles. United Seychelles beat the LDS in Anse Royale, as it did in La Digue and the very small nearby ‘Inner Islands’ (and it is location of one of the best beaches we found in Mahé, by the way).

The 1994 Termination of Pregnancy Act which loosened control of reproductive rights was a blow to the Catholic Church, probably René’s revenge against the Church that had, with the rest of the opposition, effectively blocked his referendum over the ratification of his new constitution two years earlier. Nevertheless, abortion is still illegal in the Seychelles, and there is no publicly visible women’s reproductive rights movement or, for that matter, visible feminist movement.

Most of the population are descendants of slaves, many of whom had been freed from bondage by anti-slavery activists who impregnated many of the women they left on the island. No European hands were clean during the history of slavery and its aftermath. Women were then forced to take charge of family finances and the care of children, independent and, in some sense, powerful in relation to men, men who were, as a function of slavery and racism, emasculated. That history of women’s power carried through in the allegiance they showed to radical movements, even movements like René’s that were run by men.

A youth wing of United Seychelles is a difficult, touchy, subject, for some of the first public mobilisations against René in 1979 were actually by school and college students protesting against the formation of a National Youth Service and, a disastrous mistake in hindsight, the closing down of football clubs and the incorporation of sport into the same administrative apparatus as that which was responsible for imposing a two-year spell of national service. The Rovers FC was politicised as a side-effect of it being disbanded by the government, and the opposition later on included many past Rovers FC players or officials. The National Youth Service was a typically top-down initiative, designed to bring the nation together, and, predictably, it failed.


One thing is for sure, that ‘socialist’ rule in Seychelles from 1977 to 1993, and for some time after that even while there were multi-party elections, was a form of dictatorship. It was René who called the shots, perhaps, according to Robinson’s book, also present during some of the police and army interrogations of arrested opponents, and it was René who saw which way the wind was blowing after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Just as he had been able to balance between East and West up to then, playing Soviet against US support while developing an offshore banking system that had links with organised crime, after 1989 and the effective end of the Soviet bloc, he put all his bets on the West again, and that required shifts in policy and significant shifts in forms of rule; now there needed to be elections in order to secure legitimacy from his primary investors. These shifts saw a more explicit emphasis on external capital investment, something he had always anyway courted.

From then on, it was a downward slope towards neoliberalism, first under René and his successors, and now under the LDS. The regime came to an end during the Covid pandemic after some missteps, but that situation of intermittent lockdown and closure of the islands – something that badly impacted tourism, of course – cannot be blamed for the final election defeat for Danny Faure, educated at the University of Havana and from 2016 President as appointed heir of René’s chosen favourite James Michel, who ruled from 2004 to 2016, and successfully fought elections until he stepped down mid-term.

Faure’s gambit was to call for a government of national unity to tackle the crisis, but by that time the opposition was well-organised and the ruling party was in tatters. Other contenders for a ‘national unity’ coalition were better placed, more credible. When the left plays this tune of ‘national unity’, it is usually the right who benefit. One member of United Seychelles we spoke to even admitted that perhaps it was right that the party lost power in 2020 and maybe it was not yet in a good enough condition to be able to govern after the next election. Covid or not, Faure was going to lose.

Nonetheless, they reminded us, Wavel Ramkalawan, current President at the head of the coalition, is not suited for power either, with a history of personal and public violence, and in his past and broken promises, which include opposition to the army when in opposition and support for increased army presence on the streets now he is in power.


One could say, in fact, that the ‘socialist’ revolution of 1977 was, with added progressive land reform, education provision and welfare benefits, not so much a proletarian revolution of the kind that Marxists looked to in order to bring an end to capitalism as a very radical bourgeois revolution. To say this is not to subscribe to a crude linear ‘stage’ account of political-economic systems, but to situate Seychelles history in the twentieth century in the context of a process of globalisation, of combined and uneven development, in which as an isolated island state it could not build socialism. Socialism is necessarily international; Seychelles had to settle for national development, capitalist.

That is exactly what the Stalinist states René traded with would also prefer. Now, in December 2022, United Seychelles calls for a ‘general strike’ against the LDS and, in the same issue of The People, praises China’s Belt and Road project. Despite the claims by some of the old United Seychelles cadre – a very small group of people at the head of an apparatus and then electoral machine – there was very limited collectivisation of production and, instead, the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a new elite at the helm of the state.

From that kind of bourgeois revolution, one would expect, if there was no active democratic socialist movement, a degeneration, bureaucratisation and then exactly the kind of abuse and corruption that the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission – a commission that was referred to as a ‘circus’ by one United Seychelles member – is homing in on. A woman described her sense of fear when she heard reports of the Commission and remembered being watched by men she now thinks could have been from internal security. This circus, if that what it is, has material effects on the memory of those who lived through the last half century here.

This was, at first sight, a ‘socialism’ betrayed, mislaid and unmade, this time almost all at once, unravelled by the concentration of power in a few hands right from the start, impossible to carry through without a mass movement and without any democratic accountability. That pattern seems to be replicated now in the ‘United Seychelles’ movement, even if there are claims that many local branches are led by women, and it is an open question as to whether a new opposition that is not trapped in the false choice of having to decide between or balance between different international blocs – East or West – can develop inside United Seychelles or must begin from scratch outside it.

This is a corrected version of an article published on the Anti-Capitalist Resistance site.

Free Albania (not)

Ian Parker reviews Lea Ypi’s Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History

This book strikes some personal chords. I nearly joined the Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist in the mid-1970s, a time when they had broken with China and thrown in their lot with Albania, which they described, in the title of one of their pamphlets, as ‘the most successful country in Europe’. This was the group that Alexei Sayle was once part of. We read Lenin, and long-haired scruffy comrades came back from visits to the most successful country after being shorn short at the border. You would have believed that they had visited heaven, but they had not.


This book gives us a striking child’s-eye view of the transformation of the country in 1990, when Lea Ypi was 11 years old, through to the ‘civil war’ of 1997. The years before 1990 are, in the eyes of this child, a time of hope, of the possibility of transition from socialism to communism. After the Enver Hoxha regime broke from the Soviet Union, and then from China, to be all the more isolated, those years of her life, from 1979 to 1999, were in some ways confusing times and in some ways certain about what was to come.

All of that certainty was to fall to pieces after the fall of the Berlin Wall, even though the regime was convinced that this defeat of the ‘revisionists’ would have no real consequences for them, but in 1990 the ‘democratic’ transition hit them too. It was a transition from socialism not to communism but to brute neoliberalism, with privatisation of enterprises and services leading to mass unemployment and precarity, and with pyramid schemes scamming large numbers of people. A consequence of that rapid escalation of exploitation from 1990 through to 1997 was bloody conflict and attempted coups that led to thousands of deaths.

The image that was fed to well-meaning political tourists as well as sun-seekers, was that this was a haven, but Lea Ypi as an insider unravels that image neatly in detailed description of the separation of the population from the outsiders. The book is beautifully written, with a compelling motif structuring each chapter; for example, the purchase of a Coca Cola can by a member of the family and its disappearance is the occasion for vitriolic accusations and the breakdown of relationships between families and neighbours. The picture we have is very different from the ideological framing of Albania as descending into chaos because of the flaring up of old tribal rivalries.


The conflicts are structured, as social conflicts always are, and it is crucial to understand how they have a historical genesis as well as how people try to overcome divisions that enable those in power to retain their grip. Ypi shows us a world before 1990 that is structured by lies and self-deception, those of her family included, and by the painful attempts to speak about oppression without actually naming it in front of the children, something that would put the whole family at risk.

Most painful are the revelations that come as 1990 unfolds; we learn that the family discussions about who has ‘graduated’ and who has been ‘expelled’ from this or that university, for example, are really about who has been arrested and imprisoned and who has been executed.

And then, with the arrival of full-blown economic ‘shock therapy’, comes ‘structural adjustment’. The mother becomes an activist in the Democratic Party, an opposition group that is closely tied to Western NGOs keen to fight ‘corruption’, while the father is reluctantly caught up in new managerial practices. He must fire workers at the company he has been hired to make efficient, and does not want to; he points to them assembling outside the building and says, with anguish, that those people are being turned into objects; look out there, he says, there is ‘structural adjustment’.


Those who were linked to the old regime before Enver Hoxha’s gang came to power are trapped in their ‘biography’, assumptions about who they are and where their loyalties lie that effectively operate as a form of divide and rule. There is division, but there is also, Ypi shows, much solidarity that is destroyed, deliberately destroyed, after 1990 in order to allow capitalism to run rampant.

The ‘Free’ of the title is ironic and sarcastic. Some in the family embrace this freedom and the language of socialist struggle is wiped away from their speech. Some engage in hopeless nostalgic searches for freedom that existed before the regime was installed, and end up disappointed. And some come to realise that freedom is something very different from how it is painted, either by Hoxha or by new false friends from the West.

The grandmother, a supporter of the French Revolution as the best example of the struggle for liberation, tells the young author this; Freedom is being conscious of necessity. And now Lea Ypi, able to write this biographical account which reworks ‘biography’ not as a trap but as a space for critical reflection, takes this seriously. The book is about how we become conscious of necessity, but also how we live it. It poses choices about how we will be free.


Lea Ypi, now a respected academic in the London School of Economics, is writing this account from the left, and the book includes some reflections towards the end on the way some on the far left reacted to her ‘biography’ which make for uncomfortable reading. She clearly had to deal with some crass assumptions about the failure of socialism in Albania, including the claim that the country was backward or that bureaucratic mistakes were made that simply would not be made by an enlightened Western left vanguard.

Publication of the book in the UK last year – this US edition has been published by Norton this year – embroiled her in further problems. It was lauded in the liberal press, and read as if it was testimony of the necessary failure of Marxism, not a lesson she herself subscribes to. And there were some nasty reviews by quasi-tankie critics who were too quick to point to the honest revelations about the complex family history she herself is clear about in the course of the book.

The book needs to be read by the left, addressing misconceptions both about Albania and about the nature of ‘actually-existing socialism’ in general. It is a generous open account, and needs to be read by us revolutionary Marxists generously too, learned from and responded to as in debate with a comrade. She was a comrade there in Albania, related to others as such, and she has made the best she could now of that bitter history. That history is ours too, and now we must know better what to make of it.

This review appeared on the Anti-Capitalist Resistance site

Postcard from Mauritius

Ian Parker travelling east in the Indian Ocean

Mauritius is an African country, but Hinduism is the most widely-followed religion, one of the legacies of enforced travel to the island as indentured labour – debt bondage with promise of release after the cost of travel has been paid back, usually a scam. The arrival of indentured labourers is commemorated each year on 2 November. Creole, Kreol Morisien, is most widely spoken, but signs at the airport on arrival are in English, French, Hindi and Chinese.

Arab traders knew of it and then the Portuguese and then the Dutch had their fingers all over the island before the French moved in. The Brits ran Mauritius as a plantation economy from 1810, when it took it from the French, until independence in 1968.

Mauritius is often touted as a successful capitalist economy after independence (and a counterweight to the horror stories sold to Réunion about what would happen to them if they broke from France). It is about the same size as that island to the west, actually a bit smaller with a larger population, despite what taxi drivers tell you. They insist, indignantly, that their island is much larger than Réunion.

Unemployment now runs at about 8%. A B&B host complained that Réunionese on unemployment benefit (with unemployment over there at over 40%) come to cheaper Mauritius on the 45-minute flight east to holiday here.


Among many of the dominant Hindu population, a strong work ethic, tuned-in now to contemporary neoliberalism, is seen as the way out of poverty, and so racial divisions function to divide and rule, and also to often marginalise Afro-Mauritians. They are part of the ‘General Population’, which is one of the four official categories used to balance representation in parliament, the Assembly; the three specific designated groups are Hindu, Muslim and Sino-Mauritians.

Gandhi stopped in Mauritius in 1901 on his way to South Africa, and he sent an envoy back to represent Indo-Mauritians in court still battling over their indentured status. Our Hindu host in one place said her family had been here for five generations, lured here by the British with the promise of gold, but she was glad she was here; she was not Indian, she said, but Mauritian. It was then clear, as she spoke about her neighbours, that lines of heritage among different Indo-Mauritian groups, Marathi, Telugu and so on, was keenly felt.

Discussions at dinner among host and visitors included trading of stereotypes followed by a caution; that it is fine to say such things in private, but if you post anything negative about another group on social media you will be visited by the police. During a minor robbery here in the centre of the countryside one night – three youth were caught by a German tourist running off with some electrical equipment – the B&B host, Hindu, asked if the miscreants were African (they were not).

Some Afro-Mauritians turn to Rastafarianism. Dope was criminalised here though there is still widespread use, with a crackdown in 1999 leading to mass arrests and then the death in custody of a well-known local musician Kaya. Kaya, Joseph Reginald Topize, had been one of the founders of Seggae, a blend of Reggae and Sega music. One of his concerts was followed by arrests and imprisonment, and claims by police that he had suffered concussion after banging his head against jail bars during withdrawal from drugs. There were riots, including against exclusion and pathologisation of Afro youth.

We were told that there are no Jews in Mauritius, but there is a Jewish cemetery in Saint Martin. The British diverted a ship carrying refugees from Nazi Germany during the Second World War to Mauritius and Jews were then contained here, dying here or leaving as soon as they good after the war.


There were no indigenous people here on the island prior to colonisation. Slaves were transported from Madagascar, and then augmented by import of more slaves and then indentured labour from the Indian subcontinent. Sugar-cane was developed as the main crop. Chinese labourers were also brought across, the descendants of which are now part of the ‘Sino-Mauritian’ community.

40% of the land is agricultural, with 90% of that still taken up with sugar cane plantations, but that is much less than the old colonial days, and the government is keen to move into finance in which India is a key player. Mauritius the main provider of Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, to India through the so-called ‘Mauritius Route’. India is second largest FDI provider to Mauritus, after the US (then it is the UK, Cayman Islands and Hong Kong). Most of this investment now goes into tourism. Most real estate investment, including hotel complexes, comes from France, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

The decline of the sugar industry and the interplay of different racial stereotypes, including of Chinese as shopkeepers and docile manual labourers, is evoked well in the 2014 film Lonbraz Kann. The title of the film is in Kreol Morisien. You can get an idea of how Kreol transforms the language of the colonialists to find a voice for the people if you say the title of the film and then the title in French, “A l’ombre de la canne” (or, in English, “In the Shadow of the Sugar Cane”).


There is an active local feminist movement, and also a backlash here from men who throw the phrase ‘cultural Marxism’ around (and the unspeakably reactionary British Home Secretary Suella Braverman, known for repeating this far-right phrase, is daughter of a Mauritian mother who herself was a Tory councillor and parliamentary candidate in north London). So, resistance and reaction of different kinds abounds here, ideological confusion and internalised oppression. Feminism is present in politics and culture, with some writings by feminists initially banned.

Ananda Devi’s 2014 Eve Out of Her Ruins is a case in point, and it captures something of this context for women, and the way their lives operate at the intersection with other forms of oppression. The book published originally in French, and then made into a film before it was translated into English, is set in a deprived part of the capital, Port Louis. The fictional name of the suburb is Troumaron, which will serve for Kreol and French speakers to convey that it is a shithole.

In the course of the story the four teenage characters encounter sexism, racism and poverty. There are passing references to French Johnny Hallyday, to conflicts between Hindu and Muslim youth, and to the scapegoating of Afro youth by the police. The core of the story, however, is the plight of Eve and her relationship with her lover Savita and sexual exploitation by a school-teacher. Desperation and power drive the young women, and the young men are torn between violence and solidarity.


The second largest political party in the National Assembly is the Mauritian Militant Movement, MMM, which is now an affiliate the (Second) Socialist International. There is a Hindu-dominated ‘Labour Party’, also a Socialist International affiliate, and a local party representing Rodrigues island, and fighting for autonomy. The largest party is the misnamed Militant Socialist Movement, a split from the MMM, and governing in an electoral alliance with the Rodrigues Island representatives and the Muvman Liberator, another MMM split-off following a spat about MMM support for a Labour Party Prime Minister.

There is also a far-left local party, Lalit, which split from the Mauritian Militant Movement in 1981, and which defines itself as feminist as well as environmentalist and internationalist. Lalit, “struggle” in Kreol Morisien, campaigns against the presence of British and US military forces on Diego Garcia, land which is historically part of Mauritius. Ecology is also a key issue here, with the fate of the dodo, native to the island, seen as emblematic. Other species are set to go the same way.

Bats with a wing span of up to 31 inches, Flying Foxes, are endemic, but with deforestation driven from rural areas into the cities. They can be seen swooping down at dusk to eat lychees and mangos in gardens. Viewed as a pest by many people, they have been wiped out in Réunion, and are now under threat here. Macaque monkeys, introduced by the Dutch, roam wild in some parts of the island, and are then harvested and contained and exported; Mauritius is the biggest exporter of monkeys for research, the rate now is over 10,000 a year.

Lalit has not bad positions on most international questions, and activists have worked in the past with Fourth International comrades in nearby La Réunion (and I saw a copy of a Kreol translation of a book by Ernest Mandel published in Port Louis). There is also a smaller ecosocialist breakaway group called Rezistans ek Alternativ that has been in active contact with the Fourth International in the last few years. A former government minister from the MMM told me that they were still in friendly contact with Lalit and Rezistans ek Alternativ. This is a small place, about 1.3 million people in total, and in radical politics circles people know each other well.

Current Rezitans ek Alternativ mobilisations have been around the case of Bruneau Laurette, arrested for drug-dealing. There have been protests and a strong police presence against demonstrators outside the court in Moka, just south of Port Louis. This is a test case for civil liberties connected with environmental concerns, but difficult. Laurette emerged as a problematic populist leader following the Wakashio oil spill off the south coast in July 2020. He raised questions about failure to clean up after the tanker burst open on a coral reef, and about corruption. There were significant demonstrations with an ecosocialist dynamic.

Capital accumulation in Mauritius is no longer directly colonial, but the ruling class is busy investing the fruits of the labour of others overseas, with the finance sector operating effectively as a site of money-laundering. The future of an opposition movement is intimately linked to what is happening in the region, and internationally. Much of the left is caught in electoral politics, but there are repeated attempts to break out of that, and as activists do so they are linking different forms of resistance to envisage a real alternative to the form capitalism has taken here.

This is a corrected version of an article that appeared on the Anti-Capitalist Resistance site

Postcard from La Reunion

The flag on sale in the local Chinese-run multi-mart is for La Réunion, with the number 974 displayed in the red triangle. There should be a point in the number, for this island is a French département, sending representatives to the mainland from around 900,000 inhabitants, and it is at the bottom of the list with the other overseas territories. It is not even marked with a full number; it is just the number 97.4.


There is a history of struggle here, against colonialism and the forms of sexism that link racism with capital accumulation, and also a vibrant radical history. Activists who built anti-apartheid movements against the South African regime, a regime that the local politicians were willing to back, are still around, some standing for the far-left in the recent elections. Support for the left is difficult to harness, however, either to elections or to popular struggle. Many local votes for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round then went to Marine Le Pen in the run-off with Emmanuel Macron.

There are strong institutional connections to France and attempts to resist that. During the May 1968 events, travel from the mainland was temporarily stopped altogether, but many of the images of what was happening in Europe were of the inexplicable chaos there. It was and still is localised action that counts, action that addresses immediate exploitation and oppression.

Recent protests Fifty years later, in 2018, gilet jaunes protests were massive in La Réunion, bringing the island to a standstill. The movement was quickly bought off, with leaders of the movement being given jobs and housing. The movement is still alive and well, though those involved no longer refer to themselves as gilets jaunes.


When we arrive at the ‘Qj des zazalé’ old gilets jaunes encampment in Le Tampon in the ‘sud sauvage’, the wild south of the island, accompanied by a long-standing militant and local candidate in the recent elections, we are met with friendly banter that marks us as ‘zoreilles’, old whites from La France.

Why ‘zoreilles’? Possibly from ‘les oreilles’, and that may be because you have to be careful what to say in front of the whites, or it may be because the whites arriving from mainland France had red ears from the sun and stood out to the locals, or it may be that they cupped their ears while getting the incomprehensible locals to repeat what they were saying.

At the same time, whites are still very much in command, and class politics is refracted through racial domination and anti-racism. Those who travel from mainland France, the zoreilles, are given additional salaries, with the ‘correction’ adding a sizeable amount as well as tax concessions which enable them to buy houses, sometimes two or three extra houses, which can then be leased to the locals. This is settler colonialism in practice.

The ‘Qj des zazalé’ camp (General Headquarters of the Azaleas camp) was attacked by the police two weeks ago and has had to be rebuilt after the cyclone. Land nearby in a ravine that was used to grow food has been seized by the authorities. They are under pressure, but a small group keeps the place going, which includes a garden area, “guest quarters”—that is, a small hut—and a café. There are open meetings every Monday to which everyone in the local community is welcome.

These are the remains of the gilets jaunes, and the radicals involved have taken on a new autonomous movement form. Many of the old activists, those who were not bought off, got caught up in anti-vaxx conspiracy stuff during the pandemic, and there are still posters on the walls in nearby Saint Joseph for a mobilisation against the authorities wishing to impose on their right to refuse vaccination passports. The poster carries two flags, those of France and of La Réunion, a sign that this movement is now run by the far right.  

Here, as on the mainland, the left has had to be careful around this because these documents pose a real threat to civil liberties. During the pandemic, there were a lot of conspiracy theories, and people didn’t know if deaths were caused by COVID or by dengue, which was a real threat.


If ‘zoreilles’ are the privileged, and the term used as an insult, if sometimes affectionately so, the ‘kafs’ are those most subject to exploitation and oppression, with ‘kaf’ a racist term that is also designed to infantilise those who are black. A child might also be referred to as a ‘kaf’.

There are local organisations that reclaim the term, one of which, ‘Association Rasine Kaf’, was set up with the help of local comrades building a section of the Fourth International in the 1970s. Comrades then hoped for the island to be another Cuba, allying with Mauritius and Madagascar. Today, anti-racist activists tend to move away from Marxism and only talk about slavery and the fight against colonialism.

There is a focus in these movements on racism and on the interiorisation of colonialism, the way that it becomes embedded in everyday relationships, and that is also a necessary response to the way that French colonialism has operated here. Slavery may have been formally abolished in 1848, but it took many years for it to be effectively put an end to.

Some local cultural practices of ‘maloya’ music, for example, were prohibited until 1981 with the election of François Mitterand. A maloya event was broken up by the police on the day of the election and took place successfully two weeks later.

Internal colonisation proceeds alongside obvious state control from Europe. There is a mural on a wall in Saint Joseph’s for Raphael Babet, for example. Babet was a deputy from La Réunion to the mainland from 1946 to 1957. One of Babet’s big ideas was to found a white-governed enclave town in the middle of nearby Madagascar, also a French colony at the time. The town was founded and named ‘Sakay’, later ‘Babetville’, with La Réunion as a local staging post for the colonial administration. “Colonialism” replicates itself inside each of the colonial possessions.


The local press systematically misrepresents what is happening on the ground. The right-wing daily newspaper Le Journal d’île de La Réunion carries a scare story today over the front page and the first two inside pages about the dangers of prostitution. The centre-left Le Quotidien de la Réunion et de L’Océan Indien fills these three pages of its issue with photos and reports of the run-up to the 11 November celebrations of the end of the war, the First World War.

The local communist party was not a branch of the French Communist Party, PCF, but was Réunionaise and was a mass party that fought for independence (against the PCF) and so the shift to the right during the 1970s, formalised in 1981 with election of Mitterand (when it concluded that independence was unnecessary because it could fight inside the system) was all the more dramatic (and it finally lost all electoral influence in 2012). One result was a lingering hostility among the social movements towards political parties, a suspicion that was present in the gilets jaunes protests. Leftists were welcome, but as individuals, not as representatives of organisations.

Before Macron abolished the wealth tax, the disparity between rich and poor was more visible, with the highest proportion of high taxpayers to those living below the poverty line – now running at 40% – of any other French département. Réunion also scores the highest in whisky consumption. The island imports pretty much everything and exports very little, except some sugar cane. Lifting the wealth tax was a win-win for the super-rich here, whether they are white or not. They kept their privilege, and it was hidden from the official figures. Power is sometimes very obvious here, but the material conditions that make power possible are often hidden. As a concept, poverty is used to put current struggles in context and connect different progressive moments. Everywhere is a function of class position, and the left has a hard struggle ahead to reorganise.

This is a corrected version of an article that appeared on the ACR site

The Autism Industrial Complex

Alicia Broderick’s book is reviewed by Ian Parker

This book grounds the emergence and possible radical responses to autism in political economy, and sets the groundwork for discussion among revolutionary Marxists about how they might engage with one of the new identities that both hinder and mobilise people to think critically about the nature of capitalism. Alicia Broderick’s 2022 The Autism Industrial Complex carries the ambitious subtitle ‘How Branding, Marketing, and Capital Investment Turned Autism into Big Business’. It promises a lot, building on a very interesting and well-received co-authored article published last year.

What it is

The book refuses to go down the rabbit-hole of asking what ‘autism’ really is, with a neat overview of the way that the category emerged pretty-well simultaneously in the 1940s in Nazi Germany and in the ‘democratic’ United States. You will find plenty of descriptions of what autism ‘is’ online. The descriptions seem certain and ‘scientific’. They are not. The phenomenon emerged at a certain point in time in a certain context; it is historical not biological.

There is a misstep at this point in the argument, though, with the claim that there was a fundamental difference between the Nazi State ‘ablenationalist’ agendas of Asperger and the free-market context of Leo Kanner’s work. There is a risk then that the Asperger studies, which were explicitly linked to brutal eugenic policies, are treated as quite different from Kanner’s descriptions of 11 children who were, he says, very ‘intelligent’. The similarities of context, both capitalist states, would help us to ask in a more thorough way the kind of questions Broderick is concern with.

One of the peculiar things about the book, and it is a limitation of the analysis, is that the argument is geared to exactly the kind of ideological context – that of the United States – that it intends to critique.

One example is in the attack on the branding and marketing activities of the behavioural scientists, and the role of ‘applied behavioural analysis’ in claiming to define, manage and even, perhaps, cure ‘autism’. The critique is, in most parts, correct, and Broderick is right to say that it could also have been cognitive-psychological or psychoanalytic approaches that played the same function. There is, as she shows, a hugely profitable industry in the ‘treatment’ and ‘prevention’ of autism, and all of that relies on marking out the category as significantly different from ‘normal people’.

However, she repeatedly puts the blame on what she calls the ‘plutocrats’ of the applied behavioural analysis organisations, as if there were some deliberate conscious manipulation of the population. This conspiratorial account is worst when she affirms the analysis of some critics of the so-called ‘Education Industrial Complex’ – Broderick is a professor of education – that there are ‘shadowy elites’ behind the complex. Come on, please.

This individualist motif is also present in the detailed and otherwise useful analysis of the kinds of ideological discourse that is used to frame ‘autism’. There is analysis of the themes of ‘hope’ and ‘fear’ and ‘science’ in the Autism Industrial Complex, but this is discussed in terms of who is pulling the strings, which rather misses the point, or, worse, leads into places we should be careful of treading into. The rhetoric of the Autism Industrial Complex is managed, Broderick says, by, wait for it’, ‘rhetors’. The danger here is that attention is displaced from the ideology to a search for those who are responsible for producing it. This is unnecessary and misleading.

If we really want a political-economic analysis of autism, we need to think about it as embedded in the kind of social relationships that capitalism replicates, not in a search for individuals who are engineering things to their own advantage, even if that profiting from autism is, indeed, part of the problem. What the book does quite well is to show us how definitions of autism have shifted since it was first named. The question, as Broderick says, is not what autism really is but what the label does.

There was an ‘epidemic’ of autism that gave rise to much fear and then promises of cure precisely because of the increase in funding of organisations charged with diagnosing it. We need to step aside from those kind of assumptions in order to be inclusive, not reinforce labels that mark people out and confine them in the identities that are generously marketed along with the labels.

Queering Autism

There is useful discussion toward the end of the book about how the arguments around autism intersect with LGTBQI+ movements, and what the implications are of the identity, along with the ‘treatments’ and ‘prevention’ developments, being sold to those who are labelled as well as their families. There are shifts now from pathologizing autism – the main concern of this book – to embracing it, with the inclusion agenda also serving to reinforce the idea that this historical phenomenon is a biological bedrock abnormality.

Resisting the Autism Industrial Complex, for Broderick, means not only challenging the way the label is branded and sold, and what a juicy investment opportunity it is for big players in the diagnosis and management markets, but also how those who are subject to the label may themselves escape and organise themselves. Taking a cue from neurotypical and ‘neuroqueer’ initiatives, that radical activity of escape and organisation comes not only from reclaiming what ‘autism’ is, but also from opening the way to questioning what it has become, how it functions, what the label and identity does to people.

The kind of resources the left should be arguing for should not lock people all the more tightly into pathology, but enable us all to rethink what is pathological about a political-economic system that divides those who are good workers from those who work differently. Creative labour, as far as revolutionary Marxists are concerned, comes in many different forms, most of which are excluded from the matrix of the kind of workplace that is geared to the production of surplus value.

Broderick returns time and again through the book to the point that the main problem with autism is not autism as such but capitalism. The Autism Industrial Complex, for her, is now a necessary part of neoliberal capitalism. So, it is an urgent task now to not only acknowledge the claims of people who embrace the label to live their lives against and outside the Autism Industrial Complex, but also to create the kinds of spaces – including in our organisations – in which the label can be questioned and even refused.

Just as queer politics disturbs taken-for-granted ideological common-sense categories of gender and sexuality, so a queer twist on autism may enable new alliances between those who separated into ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, recognising that we all suffer in our own usually private way from the way that capitalism demeans and divides us.

This review appeared first on the ACR site

Booker Prize Books 2022

Ian Parker has some reading recommendations from the Booker Prize for your holidays

The Booker Prize process has seen some rocky times since it began in 1969, ranging from controversies over the composition of the panel to hissy-fits by authors imagining they should have won it. The scope of the entrants has expanded over the years, and that, along with a greater sensitivity to various dimensions of oppression, has given rise to some interesting long and short lists. This year’s crop gives us some good interesting work, books that raise political questions from different contexts in an interesting way.

The prize is now supposed to be ‘international’ in scope, though still listing only books published in the English language. This year we have five books from the United States, two of which explicitly tackle racism, and one of which tries to take a long view of the history of racism in the US. There are two books from Ireland, one of which is concerned with colonisation. There are two books from further afield, one from Sri Lanka and one from Zimbabwe. There is a continental European book written by a US author, and there are three home-grown English books. So, some openings, and some restrictions.

The short list

This is my order of preference from the short list, and I’ll try to give you an idea what you are letting yourself in for without unnecessary plot spoilers, and I’ll try to be clear about what I liked and didn’t like. These may be idiosyncratic choices by the panel, of course, and you may well like the look of some of the books I was less keen on, but here goes.

Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Sevens Moons of Maali Almeida is a real book; long, well-structured, a compelling ghost-perspective on a time of many deaths in Sri Lanka. I’m not into supernatural stuff, but this works, having been written and rewritten for different audiences, now with some explanation of what the different local and international players are in Sri Lanka. It is by turns horrific and funny. At times it seems to be too balanced, throwing a plague on all parties, but it has its soul in the right place, raising questions about the role of a gay photo-journalist in times of war, and what hopes for redemption there might be for those who collude and those who resist.

Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker is a disconcerting and downright weird tale of someone, we don’t know their age or who they live with, though they seem young, or when it is set, or where they live – though we guess it is somewhere up north of England. Garner is an old hand at mystic stuff written for young adults, and I’ve avoided his work up to now. At some point characters bleed out from a comic the main character is reading, and there is a chase through mirrors out of this world and back into it again. It is cryptic but intriguing, and I really liked it, thinking about it a lot afterwards and wondering about what it was supposed to mean.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory is set in Zimbabwe, a surreal satire on the Mugabe regime that is configured as a cast of animals, with dogs, the ‘defenders’ as the shock troops of the state. The word ‘tholukuthi’ appears again and again scattered into the text as if at random. I found that very irritating. It means something like ‘and so we see’ or ‘you find that’, and the phrase has become a trademark of the book. The corrupt viciousness of Mugabe is captured well, and no opportunity for scorn at him or his successors is lost. We have a window into the history of anti-colonial struggle that eventually, and unsatisfyingly, in my opinion, tries to end more hopefully than Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book it deliberately alludes to more than once.

Percival Everett’s The Trees conjures up the world of benighted white hillbillies in the US, and they are made to seem all the more backward and ridiculous viewed from the perspective of some black cops brought in to solve some bizarre murders. The plot builds and the deaths accumulate. I liked this a lot, but puzzled over where it was going. This is about slavery and its aftermath, about society haunted by its past, and the failure to acknowledge and resolve racist trauma. And then, perhaps this was inevitable, there is no resolution at all. Unkindly, perhaps, I felt that the author had a great idea, and started writing and then didn’t know how to click things into place. 

Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William is based in the US, musing on the nature of character and relationships, and eventually successfully draws us into the little lives it describes. It is also often annoying, too-cutely written from the perspective of someone who is barely aware of what they are tangled in, written so well that one suspects that the writer herself is as naïve as the first-person viewpoint character they inhabit. None of the characters are really likeable, and there is a quasi-reflexive aspect to the book that is also annoying, but finally it works out, with threads surprisingly tied together.

Claire Keegan’s Small Things like These is very slight, a novella. It’s not bad, but it’s too brief, set in Ireland in the aftermath of the Magdalen laundries scandal, with an afterword about the thousands of young pregnant unmarried women confined and exploited by nuns. The writing is fluid and – like her Foster which was made into a film as The Quiet Girl – it homes in on family life, in this case contrasting that with what is going on behind the convent walls. It sets the scene well, but does not pull together, leaving us rather hanging, wondering about what all this might mean for the characters and for the society that allowed this to happen.

The long list

Some of these lower down in the top thirteen are very good, and I would bump some of them up into the short list, while some of them are so-so. For the moment, let’s just take these seven that did not make it into the short list. Again, roughly in order of preference, here they are.

Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho patches together in a really neat way the queer lives of a network of women – mainly literary types and mostly very rich – who disturb given categories of gender and sexuality from the middle of the nineteenth century to the 1930s. Many of them idealise ancient Greece, and ‘Sappho’ here is a potent signifier, exciting and inspiring them to live way beyond what they are told they should be. This is fiction and history, beautifully written and exhaustively researched, with a detailed account after the end of the book telling us what was adapted from what.

Maddie Mortimer’s Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is a weirdly-formatted book, and that’s something that disrupts the text – words are compressed, split, and wound round each other, and images complement the narrative. This makes it difficult to read on an e-book, and I converted it into simple text to read. The typographical image work is actually unnecessary, and that makes it feel overworked. But this debut novel is a surprisingly engaging moving story of a family ravaged in different ways by cancer told in fragments; the family fragments and we watch them fall apart.

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Case Study is, at times, very funny, crafted as a kind of elaborate spoof of the life of a radical psychiatrist – it’s clearly based on R D Laing, with that character appearing at other points to give some Zelig-style real-feel to the book. It rattles along through the voice of a relative of a patient out to outwit the shrink and revealing something weird about herself in the process. At some farcical moments I pictured it as a song-spattered Dennis Potter TV series. There is nicely-observed stuff about people pretending to be clients of therapy, as well as ‘untherapists’ critical of their own institution, and unwittingly getting drawn into what they think they are setting themselves against. It’s a good long joke.

Leila Mottley’s Nightcrawling is a painful journey with a young black woman in Oakland. This debut novel just about escapes cynical charges that this is poverty-porn, and it hits some predictable buttons around the contradictions of sex-work and the intersection of racism and sexism among the exploited and oppressed. It feels at moments like different kinds of sexual lifestyle are pasted in, playing to an audience. There is good stuff here clearly schooled from creative writing class, with lows and highs, moments of desperation and then heart-warming bonding, and some legal tension and police violence. Written from the heart, but formulaic.

Audrey Magee’s The Colony is set on a remote Irish island 1970s, and the intrusion of an English painter – symbolic violence – is interleaved with a sequence of sectarian killings in the North. There are some clunky explanatory facts about language and colonisation inserted through the research writing of a French visitor who, for his own complicated reasons, wants to save the language. Despite some nicely observed scenes, the real menace and violence seems always to be located on the side of the Irish, and so some kind of journalistic ‘balance’ ends up betraying whatever positive critical points that are being made.

Hernan Diaz’s Trust is structured around the conceit of ‘perspective’, with four different books in this book giving different viewpoints on the economic success of a US businessman centring on the 1929 Wall Street Crash, from which he benefits. There are more red herrings than solutions, and what is revealed in the fourth book – and that, and this is a heavy clue, is about the Wife – is not the most interesting answer to the most pressing questions that are raised and forgotten as we go through the thing. The book displaces attention from who labours to create wealth to who is creative enough to calculate and invest wisely.

Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth is a rather tiresomely padded-out family story about the life and crimes of the guy who killed Abraham Lincoln in a theatre. It is a mythic narrative of interest, maybe, to US-Americans, and I remember seeing images of John Wilkes Booth pop up in DC comics stories and puzzling as a kid then about what was going on. It is too long and, infuriatingly, much of the life and family is fabricated. You won’t learn much, except that the good guy in the story, Lincoln, was himself a dodgy character who hedged his bets on whether or not to actually end slavery, so I didn’t care so much when he meets his maker at Booth’s hands.

The top three

The books are pitched in very different ways to different readers, and perhaps it is stupid to rank them. Different styles make for real difficulty in imposing criteria. I have two criteria here that clash against each other. There needs to be a political sensitivity that makes me feel that I’m immersing myself in something of the real world and getting a different, progressive, vantage point on it; there should be critique. And there needs to be an enjoyable flow so that I feel that I am finding a way out of this world, stepping out into a quite different landscape, of the world and characters; there should be escape. 

So, bearing that in mind, if I had to choose, I would select the following as the top three from these thirteen listed books. First place to Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (which beautifully and horrifically combines escape with critique), so I agree with the final Booker panel verdict. Then, second, Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho (for progressive historical critique in absorbing vignettes). Then, third, Maddie Mortimer’s Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies (for taking us into some surreal places to examine our mortality). In different ways, these works of ‘fiction’ are also, as all good fiction should be, windows back on the real world.

This article appeared first on the ACR site

Edenfield: Mental health in crisis

Ian Parker reports on what has been revealed in the modern-day asylums

A protest bringing together around fifty people at very short notice took place outside Manchester Central Library on Thursday 29 September. This was following an undercover BBC investigation that revealed abuse inside the Edenfield Centre in north Manchester. This was widely reported in the local press and nationally. The undercover reporter was employed as a healthcare support worker, and covertly filmed patients being restrained, sworn at, humiliated and placed in seclusion.


There were banners from Unison and from the Manchester Users Network, from which Alan Hartman and Paul Reed spoke at the protest. The Tory MP Christian Wakeford (who jumped ship to join Labour after being elected) whose constituency includes Edenfield, also spoke, calling for a public inquiry.

The Manchester Central Library protest was organised by CHARM (Communities for Holistic Accessible Rights-based Mental health). CHARM was set up precisely to combat the attempts to condense mental health care in Manchester in a massive new facility in the north of the city. Park House Hospital in Crumpsall will not only imprison patients in a new unit which is cut off from the local community, but ‘treat’ patients from across Manchester.

With the push to outsourcing and competitive tendering that was ramped up by a Labour government, that also means that Park House will be competing to offer its services to other parts of the country. And so, patients will be wrenched away from their own communities and families, who will have, in many cases, to travel long distances to visit them.

Speakers from CHARM included Paul Baker, a long-standing activist in radical mental health politics, and Anandi Ramamurthy, an activist whose daughter is in one of the north Manchester institutions. There were workers from mental health services in Manchester who were wary about speaking at the protest, but were there in solidarity. They spoke privately to members of the crowd about receiving emails from Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust to employees after the story broke. Emails first referred to ‘alleged abuse’ – and this is after the video evidence was shared widely on social media – and then employees were told to refer any press inquiries to managers.


This is the disaster of privatisation and containment in large central units that destroys the best hopes of community care in mental health. It is part of the package of top-down unaccountable health care that leads to the kind of abuses that have occurred at Edenfield. The BBC undercover investigation shows a little of what is going on, but there needs to be a response that puts the blame not only on hard-pressed staff who are inducted into a regime of abuse that takes short-cuts, but on the kind of neoliberal austerity capitalism that sets the managerial rules that lead to this abuse. The short-cuts are made for financial reasons, and cuts to services are now at the heart of capitalism.

This is a protest that raises broader issues about the nature of this wretched economic system that makes us sick and then punishes us further when we have broken under the strain. Actively supporting the CHARM protest, and present at the Central Library were supporters of Asylum Magazine for radical mental health, a collective of activists inside and outside the mental health system that have exposed such abuses over many years. Supporters of the Red Clinic also participated before their own public meeting later that evening. This is a struggle for mental health that must, of necessity, also be anti-capitalist.

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Communists in the Clinic

Ian Parker reports on the progress of the Red Clinic and the role of communism for its workers and supporters

We all know well the toll that capitalism takes on our lives, and the physical and mental strain that exploitation and oppression involves. Distress intensifies in times of austerity, with isolation of people from each other giving new actual and virtual twists on alienation at work, and for those excluded from the workplace. Capitalism is bad for your mental health.

Whether or not everything would be hunky-dory when we have overthrown capitalism is a moot point, and anyway we cannot wait, so what should communists involved in the field of mental health do now, and how should they think about their role and aims? One answer has just been given by Dorotea Pospihalj of the Red Clinic, an avowedly internationalist collective of therapists committed to providing accessible treatment who define themselves as communist.

Free associations

This recent thought-through answer in the online paper For a Communist Clinic is conceptualised using specific theoretical resources; it is psychoanalytic, which not all radical mental health practice is nor should be, and Dorotea’s paper is aligned with the work of the old Maoist philosopher Alain Badiou. For Badiou, the ‘communist hypothesis’ is about an always open possibility that we enact through a range of events that will include the domains of politics, of course, and science, art and love, the last of which frames much clinical work whether it is psychoanalytic or not.

This does not mean that communists in the clinic attempt to indoctrinate, nor even subtly suggest that their patients become communists, but there are aspects of the ‘free association’ that is possible in the clinic that chimes with the kind of ‘free association’ that we struggle for in the field of political economy. As Dorotea Pospihalj points out, there are psychoanalysts of the right as well as of the left, and she draws on her own experiences of political activism in Slovenia – she is based in Ljubljana – to show how some bizarre political choices can be made by therapists who think they are ‘radical’.

There is a sometimes jokey recent webcast with Dorotea, who stood as a candidate for the ecosocialist Left party in recent elections in Slovenia, available on the Psy-Fi Psychology and Theory show, and another Psy-Fi episode is about similar initiatives in Brazil with Christian Dunker and myself; we can see here how important an internationalist perspective and organisation is to the Red Clinic, and to anything that pretends to be ‘communist’ in clinical work. We not only learn from each other’s quite different experiences as we talk and act in solidarity with each other, but we are able to break out of the national peculiarities and limits of our own national traditions. We need to break out of those limits in our therapeutic work and in our conceptualisation of what it is we are doing.

The politics of truth

What underscores communism in the clinic in conditions of capitalism – and who can say whether this kind of clinic will actually be necessary under communism – is a politics of truth combined with theoretical reflection. This argument, again drawing on the work of Alain Badiou, is something that is actually familiar to revolutionaries outside the clinic; we bring our analytic understanding of the nature of capitalism to bear on our politics and we know that we must speak the truth to power. We are beset by lies in this society, and our political activity is grounded in truth; speaking truth to others and speaking truth to ourselves about what we are doing.

The Red Clinic is one of the sites for taking this work forward, but not the only site. Meetings about the Red Clinic have grappled with the role of particular models of therapy and our relation with treatment that is already available on the National Health Service. The NHS is a valuable resource, and anticipates in its form – free medical support at point of treatment for all – what we would hope for under communism. It is not for nothing that rabid right-wingers hate the NHS and want to privatise it, destroy it.

While we fight to defend the NHS we also mobilise to extend what is good about those services, increase participation of service users and make the treatment something that is empowering rather than demobilising, something that embeds support in social networks instead of increasing the isolation of people who are simply doled out antidepressants because that is cheaper and quicker. Here we need to link with other radical initiatives like the Free Psychotherapy Network and the recently formed campaign for universal access to counselling and psychotherapy.

Local and global

These initiatives need to be local as well as international. In Manchester, for example, the CHARM network that was set up to challenge attempts to concentrate mental health care in a large hospital in north Manchester has also been extending its links with activists and users of services to address questions of racism. The Red Clinic has been devoting energies to the struggle against racism and apartheid, with its practitioners supporting a group of clinicians in Palestine, and hosted an online discussion of work on ‘Mental Health in Palestine: Resisting Settler Colonial Partition’.

Communism is an opening to another world beyond capitalism, something that needs to be built now, and we know well from radical mental health initiatives around the world, whether that is in England and Wales or work in indigenous communities in Amazonia, that working class self-activity needs to be intimately linked with struggles against racism and sexism and other forms of oppression. The work in Brazil reflects on the process of listening as the core of progressive work, not immediately obviously communist, nor necessarily psychoanalytic, but congruent with what it is to be a communist in political activity.

For a communist clinic

There is a long history of radical therapy that has known, in its heart, that the capitalist system must be overthrown before the crisis in mental health services can really be resolved. The reflections on communism in the clinic pick up the threads of those debates. Meantime, we need to defend what services we have and build better ones, the kind of services that are democratic and open, and that facilitate the kind of free association that enables people to fight for communism.

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Communization future histories: Everything for Everyone

Ian Parker reviews interview accounts of the New York Commune 2052-2072 in M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s Everything for Everyone published this month by Common Notions

What will communism look like in practice, and how might it unfold and look back on how it came into being? This book is one attempt to turn the science fiction genre into something that connects the future with the present, and enable us to think about what we are doing now so as to better be able to struggle to build another world.

Some of this we already know, and the book helps elaborate elements of our histories of revolutionary struggle again, throwing new light upon it. Some of it is very new, with innovative reflection on what is missing in standard vanguard-led movements and what changes in the environment and technology will block us as we aim to replace commodity exchange as the alienating stand-in for human relationships under capitalism, replace it with something more human and ecological.


The book helpfully defines what it will mean to seize the means of production through insurrection – multiple insurrections in many different contexts in different parts of the world – and how that must involve the process of communization as the making present of connection between people in a way that is genuinely supportive and transformative. Key components of this process are, O’Brien and Abdelhabi tell us, the ‘assemblies’ in bringing people into conscious activity so that the ‘Commune’ becomes a reality. In this book the authors’ future selves are commissioned to interview participants in the process of overthrowing capitalism and building communes.

This is not a smooth fairy-tale about how people will rise up and exploitation will vanish. The contradictions and gaps are made quite explicit in the different cross-cutting interviews, and in some of the interviews it is clear that the participants either don’t know the whole story, or struggle as they speak to patch things together. And neither is this about a smooth transition. There are bloody battles, and hints that things are unfinished in some parts of the world; reference, for example to disastrous events in Australia and other ‘pockets of counterrevolution’.

More than this, the conditions in which insurrection and communization happen is driven by desperation, the kind of pressure that is already building up in dependent economies, including those who are subject to what some interviewees refer to as ‘what was China’. The breakdown of the economy through the arrogant greed of the super-rich escaping into space, and of the state through privatization of security forces is accompanied by a rise in sea-levels, disappearance under the water of swathes of land and the deaths of many people, and a grotesque degradation of ecology that the new world must now take pains to make sense of and repair.


M. E. O’Brien is a queer activist and editor who, among other things, coordinated the New York City Trans Oral History Project and that experience of committed action research interviewing is evident in the structuring of these pieces. Eman Abelhadi is a Marxist feminist academic, researcher and activist in Palestine solidarity and Black Lives Matter, among other things coordinating the Muslim Alliance for Gender and Sexual Diversity for Queer Muslims. Both of them clearly know how to ground speculative fiction in everyday life. Knowing how interviews actually work, including some telling moments where things break down and must be resolved as comrades are thrown back in traumatic flashbacks to earlier times, really makes the book come alive.

There are moments when the personal trajectory of the authors who compile these interviews bleed from the frame into the text, as happens with every piece of research, and O’Brien and Abdelhadi make great efforts to be upfront about where they are coming from so we know better how to read what they gather together here for us. For example, there is attention to moments of ‘trauma’ as they are replicated in some of the interviews, and then to therapy as an inclusive open approach to support and ‘healing’.

In this future, for example, O’Brien has completed her psychoanalytic training, and she looks back from her future self on a world in which ideas from her profession are pretty well widespread in society, at least among these interviewees. Likewise with the knowing last interview with asexual agender Alkasi Sanchez who reflects on what might lie in store for professional academic Abdelhadi, with references to the universities dissolving into more open and democratic ‘knowledge production’. What the authors have to grapple with is not only the content of the revolutionary process, but the form of it, and how that form of struggle and new form of society will have consequences for how stories are listened to and what is done with them.

There is a risk, of course, that this book will itself be read as if it is an academic exercise or that it indulges its authors’ hopes for a progressive role of therapy in such a way as to psychologise political struggle. But then, it pulls back from these temptations and instead opens up a host of new worlds that will be the basis of an alternative to capitalism. At many points it is very strange, and at many points the accounts ring true.


This is all made all the more real, and then twisted into a more playful account of what revolution is, by the ways some of the younger interviewees, those who are unable to conceive of a society that is organised around commodities and the treating of people as commodities, react to some of the questions. Anarchist Emma Goldman did not have wanted to be part of a revolution that she could not dance in, and here we have activists who tell us how important dancing was for the revolutionary process itself.

As the Internet is enclosed, controlled and then breaks down, could it not be possible that alternative networks of dance barges might be constructed as the material basis of new forms of communication? And, if we are really going to rethink our relationship with nature as well as with each other, how might we acknowledge the sentient character of an alternative material infrastructure, one that is not merely treating the world as ‘environment’ but really thinking ecologically about what is around us? Then, how should we resist the temptation to romanticise the algae that might serve us, function as computer servers, the algae that dream about their own inner worlds when they are not embodying new forms of artificial intelligence?

Interviewees include ecological activists, Palestinian anti-racists who built the commune in the Levant, ex-sex-workers who now practice a kind of ‘skincraft’ that is therapeutic and enabling rather than exploitative, ex-academics and scientists who helped bring down the institutions that corrupted and commodified knowledge, and those who fought the New York Police Department and the US military before it eventually withdrew from the city. Those who live explain how they live, and those who died are acknowledged, remembered and honoured.

At moments the book breaks from what we know into something more surreal, and it is all the better for that. It is enjoyable and educative, thought-provoking. There are moments of awful realisation about how difficult this process of insurrection and communization will be, and moments of exhilaration at how the process must involve thinking differently, thinking about what we are unable to think about at present in this grim increasingly barbaric reality. But this is not science fiction as consolation, an escape into another world. It is a way of envisaging what might be brought about by us, and what we must do to get where we want to be.


This book does what it says on the tin, covering an impressive range of topics that will be of interest to revolutionaries of different kinds, whether revolutionary Marxists or not, keying into contemporary anti-capitalist politics in such a way as to resonate with many different kinds of reader. Interviewees in these future oral histories show us different standpoints on the nature of oppression and resistance, and possibilities of collectivising experience.

The authors will be discussing the book at an online event in September, and the threads of the debate and speculation about what is possible should be seized and spun by us so that this is not merely theoretical fiction, about the future, but helps us shape real practice now.

You can also read and comment on this review here