Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hitchens, Christopher. "The Revenge of Karl Marx." THE ATLANTIC (April 2009).

Until comparatively recently, with the slight exception perhaps of certain pockets within the academy, it was a general tendency among educated people as well, even those of radical temper, to put their old volumes of Marx up on the shelf reserved for the phlogiston theory. Would we again need to consult Critique of the Gotha Program, or the celebrated attacks on Dühring and Lassalle? A few of us kept a bit of powder dry, just in case the times should turn dialectical again. One or two writers predicted that Marx’s relevance would be rediscovered: John Cassidy was arguably the most surprising of these in that one hardly expected, in the fall of 1997, an essay from the economic specialist of The New Yorker announcing that the co-author of the 1848 Communist Manifesto could turn out to be “the next” significant intellectual for those whose job it was to study the markets. James Ledbetter, himself an accomplished business journalist, has since produced an admirable Penguin edition of Marx’s journalism (most of the best, which was very good indeed, having been produced for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune). And Francis Wheen, who wrote a notable biography of Marx in 1999, has now published an anatomy of Capital (as I shall henceforth call it), which concludes with the opinion that Marx “could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century.” As I write this, every newspaper informs me of frantic efforts by merchants to unload onto the consumer, at almost any price, the vast surplus of unsold commodities that have accumulated since the credit crisis began to take hold. The phrase crisis of over-production, which I learned so many long winters ago in “agitational” meetings, recurs to my mind. On other pages, I learn that the pride of American capitalism has seized up and begun to rust, and that automobiles may cease even to be made in Detroit as a consequence of insane speculation in worthless paper “derivatives.” Did I not once read somewhere about the bitter struggle between finance capital and industrial capital? The lines of jobless and hungry begin to lengthen, and what more potent image of those lines do we possess than that of the “reserve army” of the unemployed—capital’s finest weapon in beating down the minimum wage and increasing the hours of the working week? A disturbance in a remote corner of the world market leads to chaos and panic at the very center of the system (and these symptoms are given a multiplier effect when the pangs begin at the center itself), and John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, doughty champions of capitalism at The Economist, admit straightforwardly in their book on the advantages of globalization that Marx, “as a prophet of the ‘universal interdependence of nations,’ as he called globalization … can still seem startlingly relevant … His description of globalization remains as sharp today as it was 150 years ago.” The falling rate of profit, the tendency to monopoly … how wrong could that old reading-room attendant have been? Not all of these ironies are at capitalism’s expense, or at least not in a way that can bring any smirk, however wintry, to the grizzled features of the old leftist. After all, who was predicting even 30 years ago that Russia and China would today be turbocharged capitalist systems, however discrepant in type? And the present crisis was actually triggered by a “subprime” attempt to transform low-income people into property owners, albeit indebted ones. . . . Read the rest here:

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