Good news from Germany, where sales of Marx have gone up 300% in recent months. One publisher has seen sales of Das Kapital rise eightfold. While this hardly means the Red Flag is about to be raised over the Reichstag once more (and more’s the pity), it does speak volumes about the extent of the crisis, and the fact that people are looking for answers. Certainly there is no more effective critic of capitalism, and no-one more ruthless at exposing the flaws of its boom and bust nature, or the effects of the relentless, restless search for profit that led to the extravagant financial speculation that has led us to where we are today.
So what use is Marx today? It is no good those of us on the left smugly saying see, we told you so, trotting (so to speak) out the usual quotes from Marx and leaving it at that. Marxism is a tool for analysing and changing society, not a set of sacred texts to genuflect before. The left likes to think it has a clear understanding of how we got where we are, but answers are proving harder to find. The parliamentary left everywhere is proving as useless as we might expect. So, as I wrote in one of my first entries, is the European Congress of Trade Unions. Isolated statements are popping up here and there, and Mark McGregor flagged up a very sensible statement from the President of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament here that stressed the need to use governments’ powers to protect those on lower incomes and stimulate the real economy, including through the use of selective credit to encourage sustainable investment and job creation. This is the type of thinking we need from the radical left, creative and practical and focused always on concrete goals but with a longer term vision.
In Ireland, north and south, the left should be arguing for the state to focus its resources not on propping up the banks and their shareholders, but on beneficial investment – in houses especially, and in job creation. The Thatcherite mantras of the inefficiency of the state and EU competition rules have been cited by too many even on the left for too long against the state taking over or creating industries. These arguments look very hollow at the present time, when the power of the state could not be clearer, and the reality of the dependence on capitalism using the state to its benefit is equally clear. In southern Ireland, the consequence of an economy with an insufficient native industrial base is clear in a budget designed not for its own people but for foreign countries, while on Channel 4 news today a former chairman of a bank was pointing out that the UK lacked the export trade that enabled the Japanese to climb out of the collapse of their banking system in the 1990s. If we are seeing the return of Keynesianism as has been suggested, investment must go to the real economy, to real and productive jobs, not more call centres, and empty headquarters that transfer profits out of the country. It is time that not only the revolutionary, but the social democratic left found its voice, and spoke with confidence.
There is an assumption among many that the current crisis will lead inevitably to a swing to the left. This is not necessarily the case. On the contrary, we can see in the southern budget the swing to the right, while New Labour ministers have begun the rush to scapegoat immigrants. Left politicans, trade unions, political parties all have a responsibility here. We on the left must redouble our efforts to ensure that it is us and not the likes of the BNP that benefit.
Update: The Times has this piece discussing the renewed interest in Marx, which includes comments from Eric Hobsbawm, Martin Jacques, and various ex-Trotskyists and Alexi Sayle, an ex-Maoist.
Update 2: Eric Hobsbawm on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme here
Extra Marx: From The Guardian