Review in the Columbia Journal

The New Commune-ist Manifesto
Workers of the World, It Really Is Time to Unite

By Ernesto (Ernie) Raj Peshkov-Chow  

If Karl Marx were alive today, he would likely be broken hearted by what has been done in his name during the past century by various blood drenched Stalinist bureaucracies and despots, but he would still be critical of the human costs of capitalism and interested in the a non-violent social revolution that would put power in the hands of the workers. Or at least that’s what local veteran journalist and labour activist Gary Engler thinks, and he has used that thought to inspire a curious little book called The New Commune-ist Manifesto. In it, Engler brings back his semi-fictional (and richly multi-racial and multi-cultural, as evidenced by his name) avatar of the new Canadian working class, Ernesto (Ernie) Raj Peshkov-Chow, who narrated Engler’s earlier The Great Multi-Cultural North- A Canadian Primer.

Peshkov-Chow, a beer and hockey loving union activist who shares many life experiences and attitudes with Engler, is an engaging and eloquent character who manages to give the reader both a fresh and non-rhetorical account of a neo-Marxist analysis of economic history and a call to renewed organizing and action against Capitalism 3.0, the globalized system that has created an economy in which a full 90% of adults can plausibly be considered members of the wage dependent working class, and inequality and environmental collapse combine to make some form of revolution a necessity for human survival. Engler’s tone is consistently good humored and amiable, and he manages to make the case for a new, genuinely democratic and non-violent iteration of Marxism as a way forward for the vast majority of folks on the planet.

Written in collaboration with Al Engler, the author’s brother and Jean Rands, his sister in law, as well as son Yves Engler, all serious workers’ rights activists and intellectuals, The New Commune-ist Manifesto argues that with more and more people around the world belonging to the working class, and with capitalism-generated inequality and climate system collapse haunting and darkening future prospects, the time is ripe for a renewed effort to create a fairer and more environmentally sane future. As a vehicle for these vitally needed changes, Engler (and his often charming and witty persona Ernie) proposes a new decentralized, non-violent Marxism informed and chastened by the failures of 20th century Marxism but alive to the many analytic strengths of the tradition and ready to work primarily by educating and organizing more and more workers into coalitions to push for possible reforms under capitalism and gradually institute an economy built on local economic democracy within “communes” that could notionally range in size from neighborhoods to cities to nation states. The book makes a practical as well as ethical argument against earlier Leninist traditions of conspiratorial, undemocratic and violent top down party formations, suggesting that non-violent persuasion is the best way forward toward substantive social change, not only because violence is essentially undemocratic and corrupts the causes it serves but because the rulers of our new economic order outgun those of us who want radical change.

Engler uses his lighthearted creation to voice serious critiques of old style Marxism and thought provoking suggestions about how the best in the tradition can be salvaged and renewed. This is all to the good, and this second appearance of Ernie will be welcome for readers like me who loved Engler’s earlier book featuring this remarkable and charming polyglot figure. What is not clear is just who this book’s intended audience is. Is it aging veterans of the Marxist inflected left movements of the late 20th century, or previously un-politicized younger workers who might plausibly be hoped for as the ones to enact Ernie’s home grown and (some would say) naïve roadmap for a revolutionary future in Canada. The tone and content of the book sometimes seem to waver between material appropriate for these two possible groups of readers and that can make the experience of reading it a bit uneven. That said, this is an important book that I hope many Canadians will read and debate. Perhaps Engler and Ernie will produce a short form of this book in pamphlet or PDF format for use in organizing drives inspired by the book. At the very least, this is a book that should inspire some useful conversations among activists and some renewed dedication to the visions of a better world that first brought so many of us to be attracted to Marxism. All, in all, Engler has done us all a favor with this book. Read it yourself and discuss it with your friends and comrades. - Tom Sandborn

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