Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Much Is Too Much?

By Benjamin Kunkel
London Review of Books

The deepest economic crisis in eighty years prompted a shallow revival of Marxism. During the panicky period between the failure of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the official end of the American recession in the summer of 2009, several mainstream journals, displaying a less than sincere mixture of broadmindedness and chagrin, hailed Marx as a neglected seer of capitalist crisis. The trendspotting Foreign Policy led the way, with a cover story on Marx for its Next Big Thing issue, enticing readers with a promise of star treatment: ‘Lights. Camera. Action. Das Kapital. Now.’

Though written by a socialist, Leo Panitch, the piece was typical of the general approach to Marx and Marxism. It bowed at a distance to the prophet of capitalism’s ever ‘more extensive and exhaustive crises’, and restated several basic articles of his thought: capitalism is inherently unstable; political activism is indispensable; and revolution offers the ultimate prize. This can’t have done much more than jog memories of the Communist Manifesto, the only one of Marx’s works cited by Panitch. The Manifesto remains an incandescent pamphlet, but the elements of a Marxian crisis theory, one never fully articulated by Marx himself, lie elsewhere, scattered throughout Theories of Surplus Value, the Grundrisse and above all the posthumous second and third volumes of Capital.

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