Communist Hypotheses for the 21st Century [B] - Mireya Folch-Serra
The 20th century political model of the Soviet Union (1917-91) and China (1949-89) was mimicked in many parts of the world; it was based on one party, one leader. This communist experiment gave rise to all kinds of legends and attracted a bevy of detractors and eulogizers. But beyond and above the opinions that either supported or condemned the regimes’ repressive nature, a philosophical current whose relevance endures is at present the subject of lively debate. The communist hypotheses debated in contemporary discourse demonstrate the dynamism of a multidisciplinary approach that includes disciplines of the social sciences and humanities. We will examine and appraise new interpretations and critiques through readings that comprise a wide spectrum of political and philosophical positions. For example, the consequences of abandoning the idea of mass utopia in contemporary society (Susan Buck-Morss), the centrality of geographical space under capitalism (David Harvey), the connection between space, power and knowledge (Derek Gregory), the mass media and communication systems’ evolution and their impact on society (Gianni Vattimo), the practice of resisting capitalism (Antonio Negri), and the project to rescue ‘communism’ from its own disrepute (Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri). Also, Tariq Ali, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Terry Eagleton and Costas Douzinas discuss and contrast classical ideals such as “all things should be owned in common and to each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” with the necessity to reconfigure these concepts in a world of global capitalism marked by confusion and crisis. Rethinking and debating communist hypotheses is a momentous project but is also rousing and witty. In jest, Zizek beckons us all, “Do not be afraid, join us, come back! You’ve had your anti-communist fun, and you are pardoned for it—time to get serious once again!”
In this course we will consider the import of communist hypotheses at the dawn of the 21st century within the disciplinary limits of history, politics, philosophy and geography. We will engage a debate that refuses to come to an end by contextualizing and historicizing the thought and practice of communism.
Some course topics:
- The distortion of communist ideas by totalitarian regimes
- The Cold War (1945-1991) impact on the theory and practice of communism
- The role of ideology in global politics (capitalist and communist tyrannies)
- Communism as a philosophical idea
- The geography of capitalism
- Individualism, collectivism and the idea of the commons
- The politics of egalitarianism
- Modernity, memory and post-communism
REQUIREMENTS AND ASSIGNMENTS
This course is seminar-based, and hence reading and writing intensive. The required readings are intended to give you a basis for critique and discussion. Each of you is expected to give a seminar presentation based on class readings (choose anyone of the recommended books) and submit a summary in written form a week after the presentation of about 8 pages. This is worth 30% of the final grade. For the second presentation you will choose a real world example of communist practice and write 6 to 8 pages about its genesis, evolution and present state of affairs.
This presentation is also worth 30% of the grade. As above, you will provide a brief summary of your proposed subject and a brief rationalization of why you chose this particular example.
You are also expected to write one final paper of about 12 pages incorporating the knowledge gained through the course’s discussions and readings and your own opinions. This paper is worth 30% of the total grade. The remaining 10% is awarded for class participation and attendance.
Oral presentations are to be approximately 30 minutes in length to allow time for discussion. Select an aspect of a given text that intrigues you, and that will sustain further investigation. It is advisable to select a text from readings of the week and/or previous weeks. You might wish to raise questions at the end of your presentation to further class discussion.
Speak clearly, and slowly; the pace of an oral delivery, and the amount of eye contact a speaker has with an audience often determine the effectiveness of the presentation.
Peer Assessment of Seminar Presentations
All students will participate in the assessment of seminar presentations by making constructive comments (see attached form). Completed assessments are to be returned to the instructor on the day following the seminar. I will remove the names of assessors from the forms, and share class comments with the presenter.
FOR MAIN ESSAY—SOME QUESTIONS APPROXIMATING A METHOD
*Please note the schedule below is provisional. If discussion is productive we may carry over a topic from one week to another.
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