Kailash Sreeneevasin posted a great quote from Lars Lih today:
When I look back at this period — when you could say that there was a mass movement, a Marxist mass movement that was genuinely alive — what was it that was alive? It was a sense of a world-historical mission, that the proletariat was “the Chosen People” — this metaphor was made many a time, that this group of people was going to bring the world to a final goal. So that’s what I’m wondering: Is this sense of a world-historic mission alive today, even among the Left? This is what I’m asking you: Is there a genuine sense of this group having a mission and a real sense that it is going to happen? That was the baby that the Left has thrown out, keeping the bathwater, which is very useful — Marx’s analysis of this, class analysis of all this stuff. The bathwater is great! But the baby seems dead or gone. Does this sense of world-historical mission exist and must it exist in order for the Left to be anything like what it was? And is there a way of making it happen if it doesn’t exist? You can’t artificially insist that people believe in a mission like this — or even make yourself do it, if the belief isn’t really there.
Lih is asking the right questions. Just fifty years ago, the quasi-Trot historian Isaac Deutscher was able to confidently assert that
Marxism is not an intellectual, aesthetic, or philosophical fashion, no matter what the fashion-mongers imagine. After having been infatuated with it for a season or two they may come and declare it to be obsolete. Marxism is a way of thinking, a generalization growing out of an immense historical development; and as long as this historic phase in which we live has not been left far behind us, the doctrine may prove to be mistaken on points of detail or secondary points, but in its essence nothing has deprived it, and nothing looks like depriving it, of its relevance, validity, and importance for the future. (“Marxism in Our Time,” 1965)
Who can say the same today? Already in his time, the gears had begun to grind to a halt. The corpse was already showing signs of rot. Yet this all seemed so trivial, so incidental compared with the momentum of history that first set Marxism in motion a century before, that it might still be attributed to the accidence of its appearance.
Today the corpse is decayed beyond recognition. In place of those eyes that once glimpsed the future, there are now empty sockets recessed into black. But this fact has so little sunk in that many still wander about, insisting that he is alive, that wondrous wunderkind — Subject of History. They just saw him, they swear! Any minute now, he’ll leap into action!
Yeah, keep on dreaming.