Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Francis Wheen - Marx's Das Kapital - A biography
Francis Wheen wrote one of the best books about the life of Karl Marx, an accessible, interesting and often funny look at the great man's life, ideas and activities. His latest book is much shorter, but nonetheless an interesting way of looking at what Wheen thinks is Marx's most important work.
Das Kapital was the culmination of Marx's life work. It's a sprawling, multi-volume look at the economics that underpin capitalist society, a prediction of what was to come and an examination of capitalism's impact on people's lives. Not simply in the realm of how the capitalists cut wages and keep and army of unemployed, but how the worker becomes alienated from his labour's product and thence from society. These complex ideas are brought to life by Wheen quoting Marx's florid and engaging prose - rescuing the real Marx from the dogmatic Stalinist language we might be more used to.
Wheen's enthusiasm for Marx (and Das Kapital) means that he feels the need to rescue the book from those Marxists (Lenin and Trotsky in particular) that Wheen thinks abused the tradition of Marxism, but these are the weakest sections of an otherwise interesting read.
Wheen concludes by pointing out how increasingly economists and commentators have found themselves drawn to some of the central points of Kapital - though unfortunately not it's revolutionary conclusions, and concludes that "Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance. He could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century". Let us hope so.