The open letter to the SACP from Tim Cohen  Time for Communist Party to make a contribution in Business Day on Monday has evoked an impassioned critique from Jeff Guy and continues the debate over socialism and free markets.

With permission here are a few extracts.

“There were several aspects of Marxism I found attractive: its ability to present a holistic and complete explanation not only for society as it exists, but also the way it unfolds. In that turbulent era, when apartheid was in its death throes — with states of emergency, detentions without trial, state clampdowns and endless protests — this holistic and complete explanation was like manna from heaven. I loved the way Marxism drove deep into the economic heart of the machine in fabulously intricate search for a science of society.”

“More immediately, Marxism was the door through which we as privileged students could enter the heady politics of the day, finding a common cause with black students in an era where the pull of Black Consciousness was declining and the push of Congress politics was coming to the fore. It was a time of horror and loss, but it was also vital and exciting. It was fabulous to feel part of a grand force for social change. I graduated with what was called a Bachelor of Arts, but actually what I got was a Bachelor of Marxism.”

“Over the years, I gradually lost my faith. It wasn’t just the failure of the Soviet system, although that was obviously part of it. It wasn’t just that communist governments were almost indistinguishable from suppressive autocracies.”

“It was something much more devastating: observable facts turned out more and more at odds with the grand theory. The more you knew about the theory, the more obvious the distinction between fact and theory became. Marxist theory, it turns out, is not only wrong but diametrically wrong. It’s not only not true; it’s the precise opposite of truth.”

“So here is my invitation: please join us in the world. The real world. The world in which people live, and not some twisted fantasy world of a German romantic who lived a century and a half ago.”

“It’s a fabulous, inventive, creative, rich, fun place. It has all the freedom your party promises but never delivers. By all means, bring your sense of social righteousness and the commitment to build a better world. But please, stop pretending you have an “intellectual” contribution to make to the ANC.”

“Social structures are not the mechanical box you claim they are. They are much more complicated and diverse than the strictures determined by your failed theories.”

“You are, literally, history.”