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Reviewed by:
  • The Actuality of Communism
  • Santiago Zabala (bio)
Bruno Bosteels, The Actuality of Communism (London: Verso, 2011), 304 pp.

It is difficult to know what is going on in contemporary philosophy. Very few books manage to present and articulate an ongoing koiné—a common language, problem, or trend of thought. As Bosteels points out in his introduction to this book, there have been a number of important conferences on the idea of communism since 2009, attended by distinguished philosophers (including Étienne Balibar, Susan Buck-Mors, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Žižek, Toni Negri, Michael Hardt, Alain Badiou, and Gianni Vattimo) who have been discussing whether communism can become “actual” again. But what does actuality mean in this context? First, it is important to distinguish between communism and Marxism. Broadly speaking, while the former would be a system in which everyone was equal within the various differences that constitute our social functions, the latter is what Lenin called the “ABC of communism”—but, as Bosteels explains, things are not so simple anymore.

Hardt, Vattimo, and Žižek, in particular, argue that communism today cannot be defined simply in relation to its historical meanings but must be reinvented or interpreted in such a way as to escape its “metaphysical” connotations—that is, those meanings that are conditioned by the party oligarchy. Hence Bosteels’s emphasis, throughout this book, on how all those who are rethinking communism today have distanced themselves from existing leftist and socialist parties. [End Page 137] If communism is still a valuable alternative to capitalism (and so long as the contemporary Chinese model, which is still too metaphysical, is not followed), that is because of the horizon it discloses. As a horizon, communism becomes “actual once again: a complete switch in perspective, or a radical ideological turnabout, as a result of which capitalism no longer appears as the only game in town.” But what does this horizon imply practically?

The only politician whom Bosteels praises is the vice president of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, who justifies communism “as if it were the most natural thing in the world.” Linera has not only helped President Evo Morales to undertake the nationalization of Bolivian natural resources, against foreign corporate exploitation and in favor of native Indian control; he has also begun to decentralize the state bureaucratic system in a way that history does not associate with communism. Having had the good fortune to attend a talk last year that Linera gave at the sixth International Forum of Philosophy in Venezuela, I can say that in this book Bosteels offers an outstanding summary of this great politician’s philosophy. The actuality of communism is in the hands not only of Western academic philosophers but also of practical and philosophical politicians such as Linera.

Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala, Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies Professor at the University of Barcelona, is the author of The Remains of Being: Hermeneutic Ontology after Metaphysics; The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy: A Study of Ernst Tugendhat; and (with Gianni Vattimo) Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx. He has edited several books by or on Vattimo and one, The Future of Religion, cowritten by Vattimo and Richard Rorty.



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pp. 137-138
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