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The spectre of Marx looms large

As Bank of England governor Mervyn King warns that the UK is entering recession and the pound plunges, websites and newspapers around the world are noting that the ideas of Karl Marx have a new relevance.

Yesterday Marx’s iconic bearded face graced the front page of The Times, followed by four pages about the German refugee who eked out an impoverished existence in Soho when he arrived here on the run from the Prussian authorities. Under the headline, “He’s back”, The Times' newest leader writer and former Blair speechwriter, Philip Collins asks: “Could it be that Marx’s hour has come at last?”

The Times' idiot’s hop, skip and jump through Marx’s most famous book Capital is jaundiced and superficial, as one might expect. But at the same time, Collins is compelled to recognise that “Marx was on to something”, adding: “Capitalism wasn’t just nasty, it was doomed. It would collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions. A bit like Lehman Brothers.”

Collins in fact ignores Marx’s core analysis of what capitalism actually is and what makes the system tick. Marx showed that capitalism is a system of commodity production for exchange, and that money (and credit) arose on the basis of the exchange of goods.

Through vast research and an epic intellectual effort, he demonstrated that things only acquire value as a result of the power of living human beings – labour. From this basis, he analysed the historic evolution of capital and how the growth of credit was central in capital’s need constantly to expand. Marx explained the fundamental contradiction between private ownership for profit and the vast, socialised nature of the productive forces as the source of capitalism’s inherent tendency to crises.

What the renewed interest in Marxist ideas proves without doubt is that the financial crisis and its effects have brought a widespread distrust combined with huge anger about the system and the governments like that of Brown. So, for the ruling classes the race is on to find pseudo-Marxists who can discredit any thoughts of a revolutionary transition to a different system.

Enter the media’s favourite “radicals”, longstanding not so ex-Stalinists Martin Jacques and Professor Eric Hobsbawm – who provided the ideological rationale for New Labour in the late 1980s – closely followed by Frank Furedi, Mick Hume and Claire Fox, formerly leading lights in the dodgy Living Marxism magazine and now prominent within the so-called Institute of Ideas. Jacques, now visiting professor at Renmin University, Beijing, yearns for a return to Big Government (echoes of Stalin?) and social democracy while Fox looks forward to “a period of enforced austerity”.

Environment campaigner George Monbiot some time back outed the sinister way in which Fox and company have infiltrated the media and discussion circles. As Monbiot points out: “The LM network promote an extreme libertarian ideology – no restrictions on paedophilia, race hate etc. – and eulogise technologies like nuclear power, genetic engineering and human cloning.”

Clearly people like Fox have nothing to do with Marxist ideas and everything to do with promoting the interests of Big Oil, Big Pharma, and global agro-business. They are paraded in Murdoch’s newspapers (and on the BBC where Fox appears as an “expert” on the Moral Maze) to discredit Marxism and revolutionary ideas in general amongst students and young people looking for alternatives to the ideologies and stereotypes of the media and education system.

Corinna Lotz
Secretary, A World to Win
22 October 2008

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