Marx Goes to the Market

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Review of 'Marx's Revenge', Meghnad Desai, Verso £19

This book is a testimony to the intellectual capitulation of a section of the left to neoliberalism. Meghnad (now Lord) Desai was once sympathetic to Marxism. Now he is an admirer of globalisation. This book is a sustained defence of capitalism against the global anti-capitalist movement.

For Desai, capitalism is wealth-producing and innovative. Multinationals are to be championed. Capitalism is capable of redressing not just global poverty, but also environmental degradation and Third World debt. The problem with the IMF and also the World Bank is that they are too embroiled with the system of nation states, whereas, he argues, the WTO is a truly democratic institution.

His central tenet is that equality and prosperity are opposites. The more equal a society is, the poorer it is. You wouldn't be surprised to learn of Desai's sympathy for the neoliberal guru Hayek. This is a profoundly cheery and complacent picture of the modern world.

The one twist in this otherwise predictable apology for capitalism is the draping of Marx in the clothes of capital. Marx was opposed to increased state control. He was also so, says Desai, pro-market. A discussion of Marx's labour theory of value concludes that capital after all must make a contribution to surplus value so Marx got it wrong. Indeed, a social partnership between workers and employers is the way forward, as workers have an interest in the profitability of their employers because unprofitable businesses sack workers.

For Desai, Marx and Lenin grasped that capitalism in its early years was progressive and would continue until it was unable to expand any further. He argues therefore that the 'boom' of the 1990s following the fall of the Berlin Wall proves that any talk of replacing capitalism remains 'premature' for Marxists.

The account of the Russian Revolution is the usual stuff about a ruthless Lenninist machine stifling dissent. That Lenin led to Stalinism is blithely accepted and the Trotskyist tradition's powerful critique of this is brushed aside as 'too convienent'.

Many have recreated Marx in their own ideological image. But it would take major plastic surgery to accept this Desai's Marx.