Global capitalism is in a deep crisis. Austerity measures being used by governments across the world are exposing the barbarities of the system. The gap between the wealth of the ruling class and that of workers is rapidly increasing. Yet people across the world are demanding an alternative. In this context, understanding of the key ideas of Karl Marx is essential.
Kieran Allen's new book provides this in an impressively accessible way. It gives a Marxist explanation of the contradictions of capitalism, including complex issues such as alienation and the dominant ideology of the ruling class. All this is broken down and explained clearly, and Marx's ideas are placed in a contemporary context.
Allen explains that the current crisis is a consequence of a system driven to grab short-term profits. At times this can place the longer-term needs of the system in jeopardy, increasing the likelihood and severity of an economic crisis. In striving to protect profits, capitalists cut workers' wages, which leads to workers borrowing more to maintain their living standards. At the same time the banks strive for greater profits by lending more money than people can ever afford to pay back. This leads to huge levels of debt and paves the way for a crisis.
Allen places these developments in the context of deeper contradictions in the system - in particular the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall. This is a crucial feature of capitalism which Marx identified, the effects of which are very evident today.
By placing the role of class as central to capitalist society, Allen shows how exploitation is maintained, but also how it can be challenged.
Some influential academics - such as Eric Hobsbawm in his latest book, How to Change the World - accept that capitalism is a deeply flawed system, but argue that the Marxist alternative has failed. Hobsbawm's pessimism is based on illusions he had in the Soviet Union, a society marked by class divisions and subject to the competitive logic of the global system. Allen's book challenges this analysis, presenting the Marxist vision of a classless society where workers organise and collectively control the means of production as the only solution which can bring an end to oppression.
Such a society, he argues, can only be brought about through the revolutionary struggle of ordinary working people.
Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism is a fantastic place to start for students wanting to get a practical understanding of Marxism. It's also an important read for anyone wanting to understand the troubled world we live in today, and our alternative to it.