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Evans: Confessions of a Teenage Marxist

Guest Column: Gavin Evans As the world lurches into an economic and social crisis that threatens the political stability of the the current global order, I can’t help thinking how I might have relished this moment in my misguided youth, when I imagined that capitalism, with its inherent injustices, was riddled with structural contradictions that would cause its collapse in the face of the triumphant march of the organized working class, the midwife of a new world order of rationality, equality and human progress and dignity. Like most of my peers, I outgrew the Marxist shibboleths of my youth in the last few years of my activist career in South Africa — the end of apartheid, which allowed for a revolutionary remaking of South African society, coincided with the end of the Cold War and the triumph of capitalist globalization. It would have taken epic leaps of fanatical faith to imagine that a centrally-planned command economy represented a viable alternative model; it’s failures were palpable and inescapable. So many of us quietly (sometimes noisily) renounced the illusions of our youth, embracing the sort of reformist social democratic outlook we had once despised with post-adolescent venom.

Still, even then, I never doubted for a moment that while we had been wrong about socialism, we had not been entirely wrong about capitalism: it could raise many people out of poverty and develop spectacular productive capacity where none had existed before, its creativity and ability to innovate were breathtaking, and, of course, it was the only game in town. And yet it also reinforced and deepened social inequality, and its free market was never going to take care of the basic needs of majority in society. The market was not going to feed and house the poor or provide the education and health systems that made for a stable society. Unregulated, capitalism was also prone to lurch from boom to bust, not least because of its fundamental inequalities. Capitalism was, to borrow from Churchill, the worst form of economic system except for all the others that had been tried.

With capitalism having once again revealed its flaws in the spectacular global financial meltdown of the past six months, and the Depression into which it appears to have plunged, I asked my good friend Gavin Evans, who recently lost his own web site to a technological glitch, to reflect on his own political and intellectual journey through Marxism, in light of the, uh, current crisis. (I haven’t used that phrase in about two decades…)

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