Wendy Brown in Dissent:
An intelligent left today can neither live within nor without Marx’s thought. As former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis reminds us, Marxism today is most useful when it is “erratic,” irreverent, non-doctrinaire. This means that effective political challenges to contemporary capitalism, not to mention other orders of injustice or peril (from racism to climate change), must revise, resist, and supplement Marx. Consider, in this regard, four Marxist arguments:
1. Capital organizes everything in the modern world, and capital is derived from exploited labor.
The first half of this teaching remains profound and important. Marx’s materialism was flawed and overstated, but this doesn’t negate his essential claim that human beings are unique as producers of their existence, and hence as producers of their history and world. Moreover, a mode of production such as capitalism, more than merely ruling, creates everything in its own image, including us. This insight is vital in the “post-productive” era of finance capital. How else to understand financialization’s transformation of both the character and aims of states and NGOs, universities and corporations, start-ups and social life? How else to fathom how humans themselves have become what the philosopher Michel Feher calls “bits of credit-seeking capital”—whether as middle-schoolers building résumés or as left magazine editors courting Facebook “likes”? Or to comprehend why new apps that are free to users and unprofitable may be valued by speculative investors in the tens of millions? Or to understand how the fates of (formerly) sovereign democracies like Greece have come to rest on their bond and credit ratings, which in turn depend on global financial institutions and the finance ministers of other nations? More than monetizing everything, finance capital has transformed the very nature and measure of value, thus reconfiguring states, firms, and non-profits as well as human aspirations, human conduct, and even human anxiety. Marx did not anticipate this chapter of capitalism, but he provided us with essential tools for apprehending its power to shape the world and its subjects.
The second half of this teaching—exploited labor as the source of all value—is less helpful today.