Marx's Concept Of The Alternative To Capitalism, Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL, 2013; 241 pp: 9781608462759, 17 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
Living in Southern Europe during capitalist-imposed austerity made reading Peter Hudis's book feel even more relevant than it already is. That the left and working-class movements' weaknesses are due to the lack of a plausible alternative to free-market global capitalism would be an exaggeration. But this perceived lack is a major obstacle in going beyond protest, damage control or at best the most modest of proposals for ameliorating the worst effects of the present system. And if the need for an alternative is critical, even a matter of life or death for millions, and perhaps for the biosphere itself, an explicitly Marxist approach has been largely missing from the attempts to either practice or articulate a way out, even from those claiming to be moving towards a '21st-century socialism' in parts of Latin America. Here in Italy where I live, one could almost parody the famous old question about the USA and ask, 'Why is there no socialism in Europe?'
Peter Hudis, with patience and clear prose, if by a largely philosophical discussion, retraces Karl Marx's steps and shows us that Marx always knew what he wanted: a world in which nothing was not under the control of the individuals collectively making up human society, except for the inevitable contingencies that arise from being part of nature itself. Everything else becomes a source of oppression and exploitation; and in particular everything that is the product of human activity, should it become a force controlling the fate of living human beings. Under capitalism, such a reversal of subject-predicate relations (to use the phrase Hudis shows was at the centre of Marx's concerns from an early date), becomes simplified into the dominance of abstract labour as a form of social power. Not the actual, human, activity of labour, but the transformation of labour-power, the capacity to work, into an alien force, as an abstraction that is measured by socially necessary labour-time becomes the basis for the capitalist organisation of society. Through this dominance of abstract labour and the use of socially necessary labour time, measured by the average time that is socially necessary (now worldwide for the most part) to produce a commodity, labour is made to produce not primarily useful products to make life more enjoyable as a result of the...