Academic journal article Capital & Class

Valuing the Value of Marx

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Valuing the Value of Marx

Article excerpt

George Henderson

Value in Marx: The Persistence of Value in a More-Than-Capitalist World, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2013; 208 pp: 9780816680955, 50.50 [pounds sterling] (hbk)

George Henderson's monograph is the latest addition to a steady stream of books designed to demonstrate the enduring relevance of Marx's thinking. Many of these publications are for aficionados--Fredric Jameson's Representing Capital (2011), for example--though not a few are targeted at general reader, a signal example being Terry Eagleton's Was Marx Right? (2011a). They appear at a time in which far more people are receptive to the name 'Marx' than might have been the case 25 years ago, a moment when actually-existing communism collapsed overnight, and free-market capitalism seemed to be the only game in town. Writing ten years later, in the wake of the fin-de-millennium anti-globalisation protests, Randy Martin asserted that 'capitalism's problems augur Marx's perpetual return' (2002: xix). Had these problems disappeared during the 1990s, arguably the first decade since Marx's death in which his ideas no longer seemed serviceable to a large number of erstwhile radicals? Certainly not. Ever present, they manifested spectacularly in 2008-9, leaving a myriad of major economies in recession, and saddled with huge debts as well as large unemployment rolls. Unsurprisingly, the financial crisis and its aftermath have reopened the age-old question of whose ideas get to count. The political economic instability and fragility defining the present moment has given Marx's writings, already rescued from a decade of relative obscurity by authors like Martin, an extended opportunity to return from exile so that a younger generation of analysts and activists might benefit from them.

In this case, only those already familiar with texts like Capital are the addressees. Readers new to Marxist ideas will find Henderson's book thoroughly opaque. The clue is in the subtitle 'The persistence of value in a more-than-capitalist world'. This might strike the newcomer as thoroughly banal: of course 'value' in its diverse forms persists in our currently more-than-capitalist conjuncture, and will persist in any future post-capitalist world. After all, humans are hermeneutic animals. We create, assign, exchange, debate and fight over meanings, over what things, relationships and people matter to us (and how). But this not the 'value' that Henderson is talking about, as seasoned readers of Marx will know. The reason his subtitle will pique their interest is that it has become an article of faith among Marxists going back a century or more that capitalism and value are like conjoined twins with shared vital organs. There's just no means of separating them without killing off both. For Henderson's subtitle to imply that value may have a life beyond and outside capitalism invites a reconsideration of what contemporary lessons we have (still) to learn from one of the 19th century's greatest thinkers. It challenges Terry Eagleton's view of Marxism, almost a shibboleth among devotees, that 'only by superannuating its opponent can it superannuate itself' (2011b: 6)-for the 'opponent' may live on even after capitalism is dead and buried.

Henderson is a geographer residing at the University of Minnesota and educated at Berkeley, where he encountered DickWalker (among others). A generation younger than the likes of David Harvey, he and his disciplinary peer group (including Don Mitchell and Andy Merrifield) have already done much to show geographers and other Marxists why space, nature, urbanism and landscape are key components of capitalism's hardware, not optional software nor mere 'inputs' to and 'outputs' of the accumulation process. (1) Yet no Anglophone geographer has yet, to my knowledge, proposed a new theory of value-either in Marx's sense of value or in the other senses highlighted by anthropologists, economists, sociologists, political philosophers or ethicists over the last hundred years or more. …

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