Dan's Reviews > Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism

Marx's Revenge by Meghnad Desai
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's review
Oct 29, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010

first, let's explain the four stars... for about two years now, i've been half-heartedly trying to give myself some basic understanding of economic history. it's not the sort of thing that comes easy to me - in fact, the experience has lead me to believe i may be slightly dyslexic (for real!) - but i think it's been a worthwhile endeavor. and as a basic history of economics - the kind that begins with adam smith and ends with globalization - marx's revenge is about as lucid as it gets. don't get me wrong - portions of it still went over my head. but i've come to believe that a book on economics that doesn't occasionally leap past my head is almost certainly dumbing shit down in a major way.

though desai's book is clear and informative, it is certainly not neutral. it not only has a clear agenda - it has a really weird clear agenda. if i'm grasping the thesis correctly, desai essentially argues that:

* almost all of history's so-called "marxists" have read him insufficiently and misinterpreted many of his ideas (fair enough).
* the marx of the communist manifesto is a lot different than the marx who decided to devote three gigantic volumes to the history of capitalism (i'll take desai's word for it).
* the project of globalization was well under way in the early 20th century, but was interrupted by two disastrous world wars implemented by state apparatuses influenced by a variety of economic isolationisms, with varying agendas (things get weirder here).
* marx believed that capitalism would only end when it had exhausted its ability to adapt and innovate, and our current late/globalized/neoliberal/reagan/thatcher capitalism has proven that it is still vital (maybe, but i find this point depressing).
* therefore, being that the communist experiments of the 20th century proved problematic, marx's real influence is yet to come (but don't hold your breath, because desai doesn't say much about how).

got all that? as you might imagine, it's kind of tough to determine where the author stands in relation to all of this. he's obviously sympathetic to marx in a unique sort of way. he's also extremely skeptical of state power at certain points (particularly during his confusing pseudo-critique of keynes). add to that skepticism an underlying affection for markets and he can sound libertarian from time to time as well. but he also seems to think that if capitalism confronts a truly catastrophic crisis, marx may still be the key a truly revolutionary society (if read thoroughly).

i'm not sure i grasped all of the finer points of this book. and i'm certainly not sold on a lot of its pro-market bullet points (if that's even what he intends them to be). but i don't read books to have my own biases parroted back at me. marx's revenge is a remarkably argued polemic... regardless of whether or not i buy into it.
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message 5: by Camille (new) - added it

Camille oh god, this looks like one of those things i should read but my brain is not smart enough.

i am gonna be ambitious and put it on my to-read list. one never knows. but in the meantime, thank you for breaking it down here.

message 4: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan it's a weird book. but it's not *quite* as complicated as other economic history type stuff i've glanced over. a lot easier than actually reading marx, for better or worse, imo. and, um, duh!, you're totally "smart enough" to get through it, of course.

the dude's kinda sorta pro-free-market kinda annoyed me, and it would have been nice to read a counter-argument alongside it. he makes the recessions and inflation of the late 70's seem like they inevitably lead to thatcher and reagan. i find that tough to swallow, obviously.

message 3: by Camille (last edited Jan 01, 2011 01:39AM) (new) - added it

Camille This talk might be helpful. http://bit.ly/gpewhZ
It's David Harvey, Meghnad Desai, and Leo Panitch in 2008 discussing the relevance of Marxism.
I always appreciate David Harvey's very thorough knowledge of Marxism. He's read Capital like a trillion times.

message 2: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan thanks! i'll definitely listen to this later this week. harvey's breif history of neoliberalism was also useful and informative. and i think my political sympathies ultimately lie closer to him than desai.

one of these days i'm gonna pair capital with that class he has on youtube. one of these days... sigh...

message 1: by Camille (new) - added it

Camille Dan wrote: "thanks! i'll definitely listen to this later this week. harvey's breif history of neoliberalism was also useful and informative. and i think my political sympathies ultimately lie closer to him tha..."

my friend and i were supposed to do that capital class, but she is a PhD student so i think she ended up doing it with her other cool grad student friends. maybe we could organize a group?

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