Towards a Radical Interpretation of the Present Crisis

by Ben Campbell on October 31, 2012

According to Fredric Jameson, one of the hallmarks of late capitalism is the loss of any sense of a cognitive map for understanding our present, that is, our location in the totality of things. As a result, we don’t know where we are going, with the left charging headlong in all directions at once, like some of the wild Occupy rampages through the financial district last fall – exciting but ultimately entropic.

It was, of course, Marx’s great contribution to realize that political economy provided that cognitive map for orienting the working class in their struggle. Yet today, we seem to have lost sight of it. In my experiences on the left, there is a collective lack of confidence in assessing our economic present. Everybody knows something is deeply wrong, yet nobody seems to possess the Ariadne’s thread leading out of here. We don’t know who to believe, and far too often nod our heads at contradictory notions. Something major obviously changed in 2008, and we appear to have entered a new, exciting yet terrifying, always indeterminate, stage of world history. Yet what exactly was it that happened, what exactly will it become, and how can we act so as to make it what we wish? These are still questions to which we have no collective answer, and indeed I have met only a few individuals who have coherent answers.

It is my belief that what is much needed on the left is an open yet rigorous discussion of radical political economics. For political economics is only useful to the extent it can change the world, and for a radical perspective it must therefore take hold of members of that struggle. A radical political economics consigned to the academy is not a radical political economics at all.

Thus, over the next several weeks (or more likely, months) I will be posting a series of reviews on the economic crisis, hopefully to stir some vigorous discussion and critique. I do not pretend to be an expert on these topics, and indeed one of the major reasons for doing this is to force myself to finally resolve some of the contradictions between the various interpretations that have influenced me over the last year or so.

Of course, I would very much appreciate help in this. If anyone would like to contribute reviews or related discussions, that would be much appreciated. Presently, I would appreciate suggestions of which authors to consider, particularly to draw out important points of disagreement. I plan on discussing at least Duménil and Levy, Kliman, Harvey and some non-Marxists I have read (e.g. Varoufakis).

This emphasis on political economy has been brought about by a couple of factors. First, I have come to realize that recent political disagreements can likely trace their way back to differing economic analyzes (or the lack of economic analysis altogether). Second, I was pleased to see that the Platypus Affiliated Society has organized a forum on just this topic in New York City. Despite the rather harsh criticisms leveled at Platypus by respectable members of the left, and despite my own concern over their seemingly quietest “pre-politics”, Platypus is to be commended for keeping alive such an invigorating and unsurpassed level of theoretical discourse amongst the contemporary left. Thus, if you’re in New York City, I would highly recommend making it out for this event on Nov. 14.

Previous post:

Next post: