Quoting Marx Word for Word

Do you read Zero Hedge?  It is a feverish, uneasy mix of doom-saying, banker-bashing, end-of-the-world theorizing, and demands for a return to hard currency.  (It also speculates on markets.)  Here is a recent post containing all of those features. It cites and attaches an interesting note from a UBS analyst that suggests an “un-orthodox” monetary strategy.

Zero Hedge does not like monetary strategies.  Indeed, monetary strategies are, to Zero Hedge, something like the Executive Committee of the Bourgeoisie.  Or a garden path.  A divergence from all that is holy.  The death knell for the golden age of capitalism that zero hedge misses, which seems to be defined as, roughly, when a real man could make a f*cking buck.

But I will not argue monetary theory in this post.

The post interests me, as does the note from Magnus, for another reason.   Here is Zero Hedge’s prefatory language to their pull quote and attachment:

Lo and behold, suddenly the coolest thing among the post-sophist punditry is to bring up [embedded link to Roubini op ed, also blogged here] the name of Marx for this and for that, because, guess what –  he was right all along or something. Where were these same pundits when Marxist postulates were becoming apparent not only across the past year, but past century, we wonder.[…]. And yes, expect many more references to Marx by hollow econo-historians who bring nothing new to the table and merely stampede in where the herd has already boldly gone before.

I stand accused, though he’s probably not talking about me.  I believe Marx himself would admire the vitriolic spirit of Zero Hedge’s attack on its semi-allies, a technique Marx more or less created as a mode of political discourse.  (He would have been more specific in his targets, perhaps.  The Communist Manifesto, every student recalls, takes time out from the global revolution to castigate, inter alia, founders of societies for the preservation prevention of cruelty to animals.)  I sympathize with the anger.  To read an arch-capitalist like Rubini cite Marx, followed by policy proposals to substantiate the bourgeoisie, is a bit rich.  And this morning, in the FT, the pleasingly curmudgeonly-looking Samuel Brittan both pointed out that the financial world was having a Marx moment, and then promptly added to it.

Yes, Marx is being pressed into service by scoundrels.  And when not scoundrels, by those using him to save the current order, or their own bacon (hey, UBS!)  and most all of it is less than skin deep: citation posing as thought, a figure from history substituting for knowledge of it.

But some Marx is needed.  Not the Marx of “postulates”, or analysis of the first stage of industrialization, or Hegelian structural understanding of history.  Nor do we need the academic discourse of Marxism, housed in the state precincts where its been critiquing novels for 50 years.  Marx arrived, and Marx returns, at  the breakdown of the arguments the ruling class deploys to justify its status.  But what we need Marx for – by this I mean the example of Marx and not the historical Marx – is the next step.  The step the Marx-citers mocked in Zero Hedge won’t take.

By discarding the historical Marx, I don’t mean to ignore him.  The opposite: it is  important to remember the historical facts that birthed the Marxist discourse.  Marx did not appear in 1775 in France, cataloguing the abusive prerogatives of royalty against universal human rights.  He wrote in the mid-19C, when the political order was coalescing around the “rational” Bourgeoisie, with its interest in contracts, private property, commodities, and industry.  But Marx could not argue against rationality, for such would be to loose all moorings.  Instead he needed to develop a rational language that revealed, by critique of the bourgeoise rationality, the hidden (and genuine) content of same: exploitation.

The conditions of 2011 are not the conditions of c. 1850.  The analysis is not the same, and Marx’s prediction of a proletarian revolution is toothless.  Furthermore, the largest nation / second largest economy in the world is officially Marxist, and is ruled by a state which derives its legitimacy from provision for all of the workers, but looks nothing like what Marx might have expected.  (In truth, the US is vastly less “capitalistic” than, say, England in 1850.)  To quote Marx today is to dab on world historical seriousness, to induce a gasp in the minds of those who remember the Cold War.

Marx’s wild world of the cheap broadsheet is much like our blog world.  Yet, we search far and wide among the left for the next step, post-criticism.  We watch debates play out over “neo-liberalism”, with the anti’s having little to offer beyond vague hopes for the return of trade unionism.  Zero Hedge opts for scorn.  Other sites go for an anti-finance, save-the-real-capitalists tone, which surely flatters its readers as grouped among the latters.  The ne0-liberals opt to use costless web-space proposing Clintonian tweaks and expressing strong faith in monetary/ fiscal stimulus.

The urge to cite Marx, in short, is not yet accompanied by the relentless search for the “genuine content” of the ruling class’s self-justification at the end of the era of industrialization.  I don’t know what it will look like, either, this discourse.   But I think it starts with the future: how we started to imagine the future in the early days of industrialization  – capitalism being nothing more than an imagination of the future – and how we think of it now.

Zero Hedge can charge me being hollow, but I think the Marx-hunger is, in the best cases, real.  But it is very young.  A truly Marx-inspired product must confront  discredited neo-classical and Keynsian economic precepts, and fashion its own economics.  It must theorize the relation of a truly global workforce serving truly global capital.  It must acknowledge the massive growth in wealth that materially improved the world’s population since the dawn of the industrial system; and yet it must form a coherent demand for justice in the future world that finds the fissures in that system.  And it will write this work in a language that is born of, but not captured by, the present world.

It demands more than citing a dead German against downturn and injustice.  It is long, hard work.  But it is underway.


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