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Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult (Spectre) Paperback – March 7, 2011
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"The value of this book lies in its accessibility. . . . Key points are presented quickly, clearly and in a language that is comprehensible. [This] is the perfect book for liberals and leftists who want to move beyond superficial criticism of bad policies and greedy corporate executives and toward a structural critique of capitalism and imperialism." Indypendent (April 6, 2011)
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I fight for equal opportunity, not equal results. I am the Tea Party. I am America. I read this outstanding collection of socialist justification and glorification to know what my enemies -- and the true Enemy of the State -- are thinking. And how they justify their ridiculous, and self-serving philosophy.
God Bless America, and God Bless the Constitution of the United States.
Capital and Its Discontents is a superb compilation of interviews with radical theorists from various academic backgrounds. 'Against the Grain's' Sasha Lilley does an excellent job conducting the interviews, and the book offers readers a glimpse into the thought-provoking analysis currently offered by the Left.
The book is divided into three parts: (Part I) Empire, Neoliberalism, Crisis; (Part II) Commodification, Enclosure, and the Contradictions of Capitalism; and (Part III) Alternatives? Ellen Meiksin Woods, David Harvey, Leo Panitch, Doug Henwood, David McNally, Sam Gindin, Greg Albo, John Bellamy Foster, Jason W. Moore, Gillian Hart, Ursula Huws, Vivek Chibber, Mike Davis, Tariq Ali, John Sanbonmatsu, Noam Chomsky, and Andrej Grubacic - all of whom are easily identifiable as being among the leading progressive intellectuals today - are featured in the book. Understandably, most of the interviews focus on the topic of capitalist economic crises and neoliberalism's role therein, and the aforementioned interviewees offer a plurality of interesting perspectives on the issue. However, the interviews I found most illuminating were those of Vivek Chibber, who discussed National Capitalist developmentalism in the Third World; John Sanbonmatsu, who describes the damage postmodernism has had on the Left; and David McNally, who offered a concise, yet highly informative, analysis of the global economic crisis.
Despite my disagreements with a few of the views expressed in the book - e.g., Ellen Meiksin Woods's persistent conflation of the market with capitalism - I nevertheless highly recommend Capital and Its Discontents to anyone interested in learning about imperialism, capitalism, and ecology from a contemporary Marxian and anarchist perspective.
Indeed, some of us have heard them on programs like KPFA's Against the Grain (ATG). But with the publication of this book, edited by ATG host Sasha Lilley and largely drawn from her interviews, many more will have the chance to absorb these crucial arguments. 'Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult' is by no means comprehensive (nor does it claim to be), but it does offer a fine selection of the left's most lucid thinking, principally around questions of political economy.
The value of this book lies in its accessibility. Because each short chapter is a conversation between Lilley and her guest, key points are presented quickly, clearly and in a language that is comprehensible. In this sense, 'Capital and Its Discontents' is the perfect book for liberals and leftists who want to move beyond superficial criticism of bad policies and greedy corporate executives and toward a structural critique of capitalism and imperialism. It's also the perfect book for those who don't have the time or inclination to pore over everything published by these 17 contributors, but want to gain a general sense of what the left intelligentsia is up to.
The book is arranged into three sections: "Empire, Neoliberalism, Crisis"; "Commodification, Enclosure, and the Contradictions of Capitalism"; and "Alternatives?" I won't describe every interview, but it's fair to say that there isn't a weak one in the bunch. The first section begins with a solid one-two punch of Ellen Meiksins Wood and David Harvey, with the former tackling basic questions like the nature of historical capitalism and forms of empire and the latter tracing the rise of neoliberalism. Subsequent contributors situate the 2008 financial crisis within a broader crisis of capitalism that has its roots in a decades-long repression of wages, the vast expansion of debt (household and commercial) and the spectacular growth of the financial sector. The lesson here is that the current problems of capitalism are not the result of mismanagement -- they have a long history arising from the inherent contradictions of a system based upon ceaseless growth and the relentless pursuit of profits above all else.
Section two explores what Lilley, in her substantial introduction, suggests is a unifying theme of the book: capital's drive to commodify all aspects of our lives. John Bellamy Foster and Jason W. Moore describe what this means from an ecological standpoint, and Ursula Huws explains how the commodification of unpaid, mostly female, domestic labor provides the underpinnings of the modern service sector. Contributors to section three consider alternatives to the current order and touch on the complex history of state-led "national capitalism," the legacy of the Soviet Union, the New Left's relationship to postmodernism and anarchist visions of how to organize society.
The question of "Alternatives?" is a major one, and Lilley often concludes an interview by asking how we can rebuild the left into a force capable of challenging capital. Though responses vary, they all emphasize the need to educate people with a systemic critique of capitalism and the need to build left unity. 'Capital and Its Discontents' is itself a major contribution toward that first goal and explicitly argues that we move toward the second through renewed cooperation between anarchists and socialists, a notion that I second. But how we get there, and how we shape our discontent into an effective anti-capitalist movement, is the biggest question of all.