Clint Jones, Socialism and Democracy

Review of The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretations

The role of Marx today is an open-ended question because many theor- ists have begun to treat capitalism as if it is dying or already dead. McKenzie Wark, for instance, posits that capitalism is indeed dead and we are faced with something worse for which traditional Marxism may not be the best approach for dealing with the future. She argues that Marx is still relevant but his role is diminished by the loss of his primary adversary in the form of traditional capitalism. Other theorists have written about the near future as if capitalism cannot, or will not, survive long enough to completely destroy the planet and postulate a Marxian revolution but one retrofitted for a future that does not require Marxism to make sense of the post-capital- ist world. These various theories and theorists have made it more important and pressing to consider the relevance of Marxism in the current socio-political climate, and Marcello Musto has put together an excellent volume for delving into Marx making it possible to see in a new light the necessity of Marxist theory to the near future – perhaps especially given the situation of capitalism today. We continue to read and extrapolate from Marx today precisely because the form of capitalism Marx wrote about continues to re-present itself, changing and adapting to historical developments.
Marcello Musto’s The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpret- ations is not a typical engagement with Marx’s ideas. This book pro- vides readers with what they need to reassess the importance of Marx to our present and near-future socio-political circumstances while still providing the necessary historical and theoretical frame- works for understanding Marx both in his own time as well as our
own. The selected articles are not arranged around a historical pro- gression of ideas. Musto has chosen to allow the authors to focus on key ideas and concepts relevant to any serious discussion of Marxism today. The topics range from the central to the newly devel- oped and the historical is “baked in” to the presentation of the material in each contributor’s analysis of the concept in question. The end result is an excellent telling of Marx’s story while clearly analyzing critical misunderstandings as well as general faults of interpretation in Marxist scholarship.
Each contributor to the volume is a leading voice in Marxist scho- larship and their individual contributions focus on their area of exper- tise. Contributors include Alex Callinicos writing on class struggle, Heather Brown on gender equality, Michael Löwy on revolution, and Robin Small on education, to name but a few among a stellar list of authors. The 22 contributions range from what are capitalism, com- munism, and the various Marxisms that exist today to questions of pol- itical organization, migration, and the role of labor as well as delving into gender relations, globalization, and technology, among other topics.
While each chapter is worthy of close analysis there are a few that stand out for their relevance to the focus of the book – key concepts and new interpretations. For instance, Marcel van der Linden, focusing on the concept of the proletariat, raises serious concerns about how Marx developed an understanding of the revolutionary class. His analysis begins with a short history of the concept of the proletariat before breaking down Marx’s own understanding of this idea as well as its place in the broader framework of communism developed by Marx. Van der Linden pays special attention to the lumpenproletariat and chattel slaves, arguing that Marx failed to fully appreciate the role and relevance of these groups to capitalism. This raises serious ques- tions about Marx’s labor theory of value and, more importantly, leads to the conclusion that Marx’s concept of the proletariat is too exclusionary to be useful either to a proper understanding of the pro- letariat’s relationship to communism or to a practical application of the idea to class struggle today. Van der Linden concludes by arguing that what Marxism needs is a completely new conceptualization of the proletariat.
While the proletariat is central to an understanding of Marx, indeed to any understanding of Marxist struggle, John Bellamy Foster’s contribution focuses on a more recent development in Marxist studies – ecosocialism. Foster provides both a historical frame- work for the concept in Marx’s own works as well as tracing the
development of modern ecosocialism through the latter half of the twentieth century. He does so without burdening the reader with mere reproductions of his own work on the subject; instead, he describes how modern ecosocialism has developed out of close re- examinations of Marx’s works as well as parallel developments in modern applications of Green Theory to Marxism. The end result is both a rich history of the ecosocialist movement and a provocative reconsideration of the importance of Marx to environmental move- ments today. This is especially important in Foster’s recognition of the revolutionary possibilities that exist in environmental movements in the Global South. Though the connections are not made explicit by the authors or by Musto, it is important to recognize that Foster’s con- tribution is made more salient for new and experienced readers of Marx because of contributions like Van der Linden’s.
Though the contributions are not arranged historically or even clustered together thematically it is impossible to read the volume without encountering the crucial interconnectivity of the chapters and their relevance to deepening a reader’s understanding of Marx, especially in a modern context. There is little overlap or redundancy throughout the volume, and it provides a clear picture of Marx’s life, thoughts, and works. Each chapter begins by laying out the historical context for the concept being addressed. This is followed by an expli- cation of the concept’s historical place in Marx’s work and in the Marxist tradition. This sets up an engagement with potential new developments of ideas or new questions that need to be addressed in a twenty-first-century context. This construction of the book ensures that both beginners and those already familiar with Marx will find it useful and full of possibilities since each chapter is an invitation to consider Marx rather than a definitive statement regard- ing Marxism.
Challenging traditional ideas and interpretations of Marx, The Marx Revival contributes to the current critical discourses surrounding the decline of capitalism by arguing that Marx continues to be relevant to such discussions. Musto offers, through multiple chapters, a re- examination of rights and liberties in a bourgeois sense as compared to the abstraction of those rights and liberties from free markets and state capitalism. The goal of such an analysis is to extrapolate the exact means of democratic control necessary to “decommodify” life under capitalism in order to produce the conditions for the actual and eventual end of capitalism. This approach stands in stark contrast to the mainstream interpretations of capitalism and Marxism that dom- inate political discourse today.
The Marx Revival is not simply celebratory of Marx, Marxism, or Marxist ideas. The volume challenges us to think carefully about how we inherit Marx and what will be necessary for a successful Marxism to go forward. This makes the revival of Marxism not just a jubilee but a revision, a re-awakening – indeed, for some, an awa- kening – to the continued revolutionary prospects of the Marxist project.

Published in:

Socialism and Democracy

Date Published

25 June, 2021


Clint Jones