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December 1997 (Volume 49, Number 7)

Notes from the Editor

» Notes from the Editors
December 1997 (Volume 49, Number 7)

The New Yorker dated October 20-27 carries, along with a generous menu of futurology, a sensational article on the past and present. It is entitled “The Return of Karl Marx,” by John Cassidy, who is self-identified as an Oxford-educated friend of “a highly intelligent and levelheaded Englishman whose career has taken him…to a big Wall Street investment bank.” Visiting with his friend at the latter’s Long Island summer home during the early summer, the two discussed the economy and speculated on how long the current financial boom would last.

“To my surprise, he brought up Karl Marx. ‘The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more convinced I am that Marx was right,’ he said.

“I assumed he was joking.

“‘There is a Nobel Prize waiting for the economist who resurrects Marx and puts it all together,’ he continued, quite seriously. ‘I am absolutely convinced that Marx’s approach is the best way to look at capitalism.’

“I didn’t hide my astonishment. We had both studied economics during the early eighties at Oxford, where most of our teachers agreed with Keynes that Marx’s economic theories were ‘complicated hocus-pocus’ and Communism was an ‘insult to our intelligence.’…Nonetheless I decided that if my host, with all his experience of global finance, reckoned Marx had something worthwhile to say, perhaps it was time to take a look.”

So he did the rounds of second-hand bookstores and picked up what seems to have been a reasonably representative collection of Marx’s writing and took them along with him as reading matter on his August vacation.

The result is the New Yorker article mentioned above. Why do we call it “sensational”? There are two reasons, both necessary to an explanation. First, because the author comes to his subject with an open mind and makes no effort to slide over or qualify the favorable opinion his inquiries led him to. The final sentence of the article makes his position clear: “His [Marx's] books will be worth reading as long as capitalism endures.” Of how many authors can that honestly be said today? Second, the New Yorker had the courage to publish the article despite the obvious fact that it contradicts the all but unanimous conventional wisdom of the bourgeois media that Marx and Marxism died an ignominious death with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-90. Announcing the “return of Marx” so soon after that even required courage. If you doubt it, just try to imagine the editors of, say, the New York Times Sunday magazine having to decide whether or not to publish Cassidy’s article.

With respect to content, there is, not surprisingly, little in “The Return of Karl Marx” that is new or original. Cassidy speaks of the “failure of Communism” being a part of Marx’s legacy, but immediately adds that “this was not his primary interest…Marx was a student of capitalism, and that is how he should be judged.” Quite so. Compared to most latter-day commentators on Marx’s work, Cassidy is generally fair and accurate, a remarkable achievement in this day and age of debased and all too often shamefully dishonest ideological welfare. Obviously we disagree with some of what he says, but any one interested in improving, or just refreshing, his or her knowledge of what Marx and Marxism are all about could find a lot worse places to start then this New Yorker article. And if the implication of the title—that Marx is back and will be with us as long as we live in a capitalist society—is borne out by the course of history, the knowledge gained will be well worth having and adding to as opportunity offers and experience unfolds.

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