Periodically I get a. irritated; b. furious; and c. depressed – usually in that order – by the legions of people willing to talk, give lectures, write books, organize events, start splinter parties and even try to politically organize by means of a technique which consists in taking the most basic things Karl Marx ever said, getting rid of the context that gave them their dialectical meaning and then turning them into excessively blunt instruments that always come down to some variation on “socially necessary labor time, surplus value, falling rate of profit, the bourgeoisie exploiting the workers.” One of history’s greatest philosophers and the one who, by far, had the most to say about social relations in a world dominated by economics, is routinely transformed into the author of a kind of phrase-book whose elements can be blurted out more or less at random on any occasion. The world view that results is crude and schematic, dominated by the factory which only figures marginally in contemporary Euro-American life (and please don’t fuck with me on this statement, not only have I worked in factories but I have also made efforts to visit and study lots of factories on several continents) and apparently ruled even to this day by Englishmen in black top hats smoking cigars and counting pieces of gold at night in their stone houses on the hill. What’s sadly absent from such a stripped-down and nostalgic discourse is most of the world, science, advanced technology, finance, education, transport, communications, consumption, aesthetics, party politics, welfare, corporate interest-groups, lobbying, and advertising, not to mention organizational forms, psychology, religion, the study of human motivations, war, law, criminality, deviance, drugs, the neo-imperial state, the infinite varieties of sex and sexuality, nature, cultivation, architecture, linguistic difference, ecological thinking, the role of ritual and art in shaping collective aspirations, the forms and constraints of individualization, etc etc etc – in short, all the aspects of human existence in society which Marx, at his best, was able to thread into each other and present as elements of a dynamic equilibrium subject to crises in which organized groups could possibly intervene, in order to wrest the measure of value away from its current masters and open up new spaces of existence in which far more subtle and generous forms of human creation and interaction might take place.
Fortunately Marx has also had, not just followers, rote apprentices and quasi-religious devotees, but also perceptive and reflective admirers who continuously extended his methods into the new realms that have opened up with the continuous unfolding of history, whether it’s Gramsci, Benjamin, Polanyi, Lefebvre, Fanon, Guattari or in this case David Harvey, here in fabulously fine form, giving you a one hour and ten minute insight into the lifetime he has spent extending Marx’s dialectical understanding into the contemporary patterns of humankind’s occupation and transformation of planet Earth. For a short review of David’s latest book, The Enigma of Capital, and an outline of certain attempts to go further with the same way of thinking, see my article “Fault Lines & Subduction Zones: The Slow-Motion Crisis of Global Capital,” here.