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Book review Philosophers pirouetting through a linguistic maze

Reading Marx
By Slavoj Zizek, Frank Ruda And Agon Hamza
(Polity: £14.99)

This demanding book will confront any reader unused to the abstruse terminology of modern philosophy with an intellectual assault course.

The intention of three leading Marxist philosophers is “to read and thus think with Marx as a contemporary.”

Recognising the present world hegemony of capitalism, doomed by its own inconsistencies but facing “no outer threats (a socialist bloc for example) … they can see everywhere a blatant regression to previous forms of domination … that for long seemed to have been invalidated by history.”

Maintaining that Marx’s economic analysis is today accepted even by some conservatives who reject the consequences that Marxists draw as fundamentally misguided, the authors set about reconstructing Marx for our era.

They believe that the classical Marxist precept of class war has been superseded by contemporary developments similar to the way that the suppositions of classical Newtonian physics have been radically questioned and transformed by quantum theories.
 

Zizek’s essay entitled Marx Reads Object-Oriented Ontology examines “assemblages — arrangements of different entities linked together to form a new whole.” These can serve varied political purposes.

Trump’s progress, for example, does not reflect an exclusive popular movement but an ‘assemblage’ of “anti-establishment protest rage, protection of the rich by lower taxes, fundamental Christian morality, racist patriotism etc.”

These elements can be reassembled and used by different forces, including the state, in organising socio-political forces, making for the possibility of change.

Like Zizek, Frank Ruda’s search for the “Real” behind the surface examines this ‘new’ world by analogy with Plato’s famous cave image, where man knows reality only through shadows on the cave prison wall.

In his study of “the worker” he recognises that capitalist economy uses and creates the worker, establishing a virtual and unquestioned perpetual, ‘natural’ world. Quoting Michael Heinrich, “the worker is not a ‘biologically given’ entity but a socially produced one.”
 

Agon Hamza’s contribution proposes “a return to Marx, by way of rethinking the labour theory of value and exploitation” central to Marx’s analysis.

Warning! These attempts to reshape classical Marxist ideas can leave the reader with a feeling of helplessness and, perhaps, a suspicion of philosophers pirouetting through a linguistic maze.

Marx should be given the last word — “philosophers have only interpreted the world … the point, however, is to change it.”

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