Marx is Back!

April-May 2009, Marx is Back! / 1 de Mayo immigrant's march posters

Out of character for the city, there have been a number of lefty signs around. Some of my recent favorites are the two above. The one on the right is for a Mayday immigrant march. Notice that the flag in the hands of the native American is the United States as a tree with its roots in the shape of the rest of the world. The little plaque on the man’s chest reads both “Sise puede” and “Yes we can.” And the rally is meeting in Malcolm X Park, the unofficial name for Meridian Hill Park (Google Maps | Wikipedia).

I love the socialist conference poster. “Marx is back!” One may wonder where he ever went. I guess some people though that Marxism went into remission after the end of the Cold War. But everyone is on notice that he’s back now.

March 2008-May 2009, Newsweek, Foreign Policy and BusinessWeek, varying degrees of questioning capitalism

With Newsweek going beyond declaring us merely Keynesians now and portraying George Bush, Jr. in the style of Che Guevara, Foreign Policy putting Marx on the cover of their “Big Think” issue (“Why he matters now”), BusinessWeek making Ben Bernanke look like Lenin and including Henry Paulson in Stalinist Soviet style collages and Richard Posner titling his current book A Failure of Capitalism, things are feeling positively European.

But the return of Marx is more than just media camp. With respect to national security, Charles Krauthammer referred to the liberal internationalism of the Clinton years as a “holiday from history” (The Washington Post, 14 February 2003, p. A31). Robert Kagan is now referring to the post-1990s as The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Supposedly September 11, 2001 and the ensuing clash of civilizations has woken us up from our Fukuyam-esque ex-historical state. Similarly, we might refer to the phenomena of “Marx is Back” as the return of history to the economic sphere after 20 years of economic dreams (given that the current crisis has wiped out nearly 15 years of stock market value, it does seem as if it was all a dream). Just as September 11, 2001 broke the exclusive claim of liberal internationalism upon the thinking of the foreign policy establishment and showed that the future would be one of continuing world-historical ideological contention, so the holiday of political-economy that was the Washington Consensus has been knocked askew. The future of the economy will be one of political conflict.

But I kid myself. The legitimacy of capitalism within a given polity has nothing to do with the soundness of ideas and little to do with events. It is primarily a function of the Gini coefficient: the more money there is sloshing around in the upper social strata, the more inassailable the reputation of capitalism. And since that’s hardly going to change in the current crisis, I doubt that the Washington Consensus will emerge with anything more than a few fast forgotten slights.

In this regard the conservatism of the Obama administration should be noted. They are doing whatever they can to handle the current situation with as little enduring systematic change or publicity as possible. And I guess I’m in favor of this. While I may sympathize with dialectical materialism and Marx’s critique of the corruptions of capitalism, he was grossly wrong in his assessment of capitalism as ineluctably hell-bent-for-crisis. I’m essentially an advocate of Keynesian tinkering in a mostly stable system. And besides, alienation is a feature of capitalism, not a bug. The last thing I want is to be railroaded into a syndicate with a bunch of hippies. Those guys are fascists.

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