Marcel van der Linden and Karl Heinz Roth (eds.): Beyond Marx; Theorising the Global Labour Relations of the Twenty-First Century.

Author:Janssen, Jorn
Position:Book review

Marcel van der Linden and Karl Heinz Roth (eds.)

Beyond Marx; Theorising the Global Labour Relations of the Twenty-First Century, Brill: Leiden and Boston; Historical Materialism Book Series, Volume 56, 2013; 532 pp.: 9789004231244, 159 [euro]

In historical terms, 'Global Labour Relations of the Twenty-First Century' is undoubtedly a subject 'Beyond Marx': he died in 1883. The question raised for this collection of essays is, however, that of whether Marx's theoretical approach may reach further and help us understand relations of the present day. The editors pinpoint five issues on which Marx himself failed to understand the dynamics of capitalist development:

  1. He 'neglected studying the working class in favour of studying capital' (p. 9).

  2. He regarded the capitalist economy as being determined by 'natural laws' (p. 11).

  3. He isolated a particular segment of workers, 'the proletariat alone', as the 'revolutionary class' (p. 13).

  4. He perceived labour relations as typically confined to the nation state (pp. 13f.).

  5. His view of world development was distinctly Eurocentric (pp. 14 f.).

However, we may learn from shortcomings, and there are other aspects of Marx's politico-economic theory and methodology applicable to the present transformation of social, economic and political relations. This is what the book tries to explore.

The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 marked the end of the socialist state in the form of planned economies; and arguably, the financial crisis in 2008 heralded the end of capitalism. Both events prompted a stupendous rehabilitation of Karl Marx as one of the great analysts of the capitalist economy, sucked in by the vacuum left after the definite disintegration of the dominant neoliberal doctrine.

The first edition of this book was published in 2009 in German, as Uber Marx hinaus, Arbeitsgeschichte und Arbeitsbegriff in der Konfrontation mit den Arbeitsverhaltnissen des 21. Jahrhunderts (Verlag Assoziation A: Berlin). The German subtitle was even more explicit in emphasising the 'confrontation with the labour relations of the 21st century'. Although the 2014 English edition under review here appeared almost five years later, the book has not lost relevance and actuality at all. The neoliberal economic regime, which culminated on the eve of the global financial crisis, remains in limbo as a continuing threat to the world economy, or in waiting to be restored to its former lustre. It is against this background that...

To continue reading