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10 July 2010

Marxist Critique and the Economic Crisis

Here are a few videos that have been showing up on blogs recently (Ethnografix, Savage Minds, and Archive Fire - maybe others, I'm not sure). The first is an animated explanation by David Harvey of the current economic crisis using Marxist analysis.

The second is a performance (lecture isn't the right term) by Slavoj Zizek in which he also discusses the economic crisis as well as the environmental crisis and the war in Afghanistan using Marxist analysis.

Now, as I recently admitted on a post at Archive Fire, I have not engaged Marx as much as I probably should. I have read the Communist Manifesto, and I am familiar with Marxist critique, but do not consider myself a Marxist any more than I consider myself anything else. In any case, I have to say that I don't see a lot that's new in these two analyses - I agree with them completely and find the critique valuable, but I don't find them significantly different from any number of analyses that I have seen before. Also, neither one provides any suggestion of possible solutions or avenues for change (how does one fight a "system"?). This, I think, is because, while Marxist critique is still powerful and valuable, the Marxist solution (i.e. the telos of Communism) is not viable (and these two thinkers, at least, recognize that).

The reason is that (and please correct me if I'm wrong), in Marxist analysis, meaningful change cannot come from within the Capitalist "system" (Zizek states this explicitly, and I doubt the empirical validity of the claim). Change, therefore, requires the overthrow of the system. The problem is that massive change imposed from above never works - there are always feedbacks and complexities, which will interfere (more on this in an upcoming post). In most cases (looking historically), it ends up doing more harm than good.

So, to sum up, Marxism provides a valuable critique of capitalism, but fails when it comes to viable solutions. And just so I don't fall into the same pattern of offering critique without solution, I will just say that I think J.K. Gibson-Graham and others of their ilk offer a much more powerful analysis (built on Marxist critique, but not reducible to it) and more viable options for transforming the system.

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