The Rise of Millennial Socialism

The Rise of Millennial Socialism
AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Updating his 1976 triptych on the “Main Currents of Marxism” in 2005, the philosopher Leszek Kołakowski predicted that Marx himself would become “more and more what he already is: a chapter from a text book of the history of ideas, a figure that no longer evokes any emotions, simply the author of one of the ‘great books' of the 19th century – one of those books that very few bother to read but whose titles are known”.

That assumption seemed credible then. But one consequence of the financial crash of 2008 has been the intellectual rehabilitation of Marx. Outside academic precincts, his ideas have been slowly, if not wholly, exfoliated of their association with dictatorship and state-sponsored terror. Recent, if only partial, exonerations have been issued by the Economistand the New York Times, as well as by high-ranking superintendents of the neoliberal order, including Alan Greenspan and Francis Fukuyama.

Marx's revival is part of a growing interest in socialism and left-political theory, impelled by the crisis of capitalism and boosted by the new media that emerged during the Bush-Obama and Cameron-Clegg years. The most notable titles include n+1 (New York, 2004), Endnotes (Brighton, 2005), The New Inquiry (New York, 2009), and Salvage (London, 2015), while The Baffler was relaunched in 2009 and Dissent, founded in 1954, got a facelift in 2014. Rising above these, at least in style and format, is Jacobin, founded in Washington, DC in 2010, and Novara Media, which followed a year later in London.

Although presented in distinct registers, these journals and websites share certain characteristics. They express a loathing of the war on terror, and disaffection with the precariousness and austerity of millennial life. The London riots in 2010 and the student protests as well as the Occupy protests in 2011-12 were formative moments of dissent that produced new political imaginaries. Academics, writers, bloggers and journalist-activists began to describe post-capitalist futures, as well as contest hard-worn orthodoxies underpinning the left – n+1, for example, attacked the rhetorical stuffiness of traditions like postmodern-ism (the first issue concluded with the line: “it's time to say what you mean”), while Jacobin looked to the US Civil War (rather than 1789 or 1917) as the signal event of progressive politics.

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