This book is a collection of essays delivered as presentations at 'The Idea of Communism' conference held by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in March 2009.
There are a total of fifteen papers:
The Idea of Communism - Alain Badiou
To Present Oneself to the Present. The Communist Hypothesis: a Possible Hypothesis for Philosophy, an Impossible Name for Politics? - Judith Balso
The Leftist Hypothesis: Communism in the Age of Terror - Bruno Bosteels
The Second Time as Farce... Historical Pragmatics and the Untimely Present - Susan Buck-Morss
Adikia: On Communism and Rights - Costas Douzinas
Communism: Lear or Gonzalo? - Terry Eagleton
'Communism of the Intellect, Communism of the Will' - Peter Hallward
The Common in Communism - Michael Hardt
Communism, the Word - Jean-Luc Nancy
Communism: Some thoughts on the Concept and Practice - Antonio Negri
Communists Without Communism? - Jacques Rancière
Did the Cultural Revolution End Communism? Eight Remarks on Philosophy and Politics Today - Alessandro Russo
The Politics of Abstraction: Communism and Philosophy - Alberto Toscano
Weak Communism? - Gianni Vattimo
How to Begin From the Beginning - Slavoj Zizek
So, I think you can probably deduce from the titles that these essays really are part of a serious philosophical debate around the concept of 'communism'. Inevitably linking to Marx and Engels but in no way constrained simply to Marxism, the essays broaden out the central concept in some surprising ways. However, overall, these essays are clearly aimed at philosophers and thus, as a 'common reader' I found many of them extremely hard work.
Saying that, some are genuinely thought-provoking. Douzinas' 'On Communism and Rights' is an interesting discussion of the way in which 'rights' (human etc) have been subverted/inverted to become pretty much the opposite of what they purport to be.
Michael Hardt's essay 'The Common in Communism' on the ways in which the 'commons' (i.e. 'common property' in a digital age) and 'property' are changing is not only interesting but directly relevant to current technological developments.
The other essay that I found particularly interesting - and surprisingly intelligible - was 'How to Begin From the Beginning' by Zizek. Here, Zizek also looks at the role of the 'commons' but links this with a process of 'proletarianization'. For example:
'The ongoing enclosure of the commons concerns the relations of people to the objective conditions of their life-process, as well as relations between people: the commons are privatized at the expense of the proletarianized majority.' (P214)
'In 'post-modern' capitalism, the market is invading new spheres which were hitherto considered the privileged domain of the State, from education to prisons and security. When 'immaterial' work (education, therapy, etc.) is celebrated as the kind of work which directly produces social relations, one should not forget what this means within a commodity-economy: that the new domains, hitherto excluded from the market, are now commodified - when in trouble, we no longer talk to a friend but pay a psychiatrist or counsellor to take care of the problem; not parents but paid babysitters or educators take care of children, etc. We are thus in the midst of a new process of the privatization of the social, of establishing new enclosures.' (P224)
The concept of 'proletarianization' I found particularly interesting. It seems that, with the new technologies appearing in more developed countries (not just 'The West'), new classes are emerging but, suggests Zizek, these are:
'precisely not classes but three fractions of the working class: intellectual labourers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts (unemployed, or living in slums and other interstices of the public space).' (P226)
And that certainly coincides with my personal experiences over the last few years.
So, yes, there is some very interesting and novel stuff here. But these are philosophical essays and, as such, demand a fairly high degree of specialised knowledge. As an 'ordinary reader', I found much of it, er, let's say 'challenging.' But still occasionally rewarding. :-)