by Anders Ramsay (2009)
In order to read Marx afresh, previous interpretations of Marx need to be corrected. In particular, that which sees money and credit as surface phenomena, based on Marx’s naturalistic understanding of value as being inherent in a commodity. This strand of Marxism overlooks the contemporary role played by credit in the reproduction of capital.
As it becomes increasingly clear that globalised capitalism cannot generate public welfare for all, the Left is once again putting the critique of capitalism on the table. Quite unavoidably, after decades of focusing on a liberal civil rights agenda primarily characterized by special issue and identity politics, reference is being made to the works of Karl Marx, or at least to his name. The rhetorical value of invoking Marx’s critique of capitalism has not lessened, despite the way in which during the greater part of the twentieth century he was associated with a sterile and dogmatic system of thought serving state and party dictatorships. Nowadays, it is common to hear that now that that Marxism is dead and buried, we are in a position to read what Marx really said with fresh eyes, unspoiled by the distortions to which many of his assertions were subjected. Marx can now, it is said, be emancipated from the stranglehold of Marxism (read: Marxism-Leninism) and of Marxists, allowing us to read Marx as we would any other social scientist or philosopher.
The question then is how we read Marx. Some examples of works discussed in the social sciences today, where Marx’s concepts are either employed or criticised, would be Jacques Derrida’s Spectres of Marx (a book which, if nothing else, has made it legitimate again to write about Marx), Antonio Negri’s and Michael Hardt’s two books Empire and Multitude, Manuel Castells’ trilogy on the emergence of a network society, and in Sweden, the journalist Andreas Malm’s När kapitalet tar till vapen (When capital takes up arms).1
However a quick survey of these works (which have had varying degrees of influence) reveals that much remains to be said regarding the various understandings of Marx they each can be said to reflect. Expressed very simply, they are not up-to-date. Present-day research on Marx provides insight extending far beyond the prevailing understanding of him, even as expressed in these recent works. This claim is particularly true of those texts that deal explicitly with Marx’s critique of political economy (that is, Capital and related texts). Whether the authors above criticise Marx (Castells), deconstruct him (Derrida), praise him (Hardt and Negri, though this appears to have no particular implications for their own analysis), or claim to develop Marxist theory further (Malm), they nevertheless adhere, basically without exception, to a traditional interpretation of Marx. Similarly, many branches of the Left seem largely content with simply giving a wink to “Marxism” as it is generally agreed upon, without going beyond notions of a neoliberal conspiracy of financial capitalism against the welfare state (hardly Marxist ideas). It is striking the extent to which the understanding of Marx’s works, both in the mainstream of today’s critical social sciences and within Leftist debate, remains at a level far below the one found even two or three decades ago, when the reception of Marx in the academic world was becoming far stronger than it had ever been before. Clearly, something has been lost that needs to be regained.