The Spectre of Marx

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had signalled the advent of Marxism's darkest hour. It was not merely the failure of the revolutionary branch of Marxism, but also the beginning of the growing irrelevance and subsequent marginalisation of social democratic parties and trade unionism in the Western world. Not surprisingly, the 1990s readily invoked several ends of history. Yet, it was as early as 1993 that Jacques Derrida felt compelled to write Spectres of Marx to refute all Fukuyama-esque finality. But Derrida's was not a tangible, concrete Marx. It was a plurality many Marxes for many purposes, constantly reassessed in the light of circumstances. The idea was to resuscitate Marxian ideas and set them at play amidst the march or foundering of the fin de siecle apocalyptic triumphalism. While Spectres was nothing less than heresy for classical Marxists, Derrida took the honours for an attempt to resurrect Marx at the nadir of the latter's intellectual reputation.

Almost two decades have passed since Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man and Derrida's Spectres. Capitalism has suffered a number of jolts beginning around 1998 and culminating, so far, with the 2008 financial meltdown. Suddenly, Marx was back from the dead. In the autumn of 2008, The Times' headline screamed, "He's back!", signalling a resurgence of interest in Marx's critique of capitalist instability. While Das Kapital soared to the bestseller list in Germany, those suddenly taking an interest in Marx were not the hesitant and humiliated socialists, social democrats, left-wing academics, et al, but the likes of George Soros financiers and other market fundamentalists. Soros admitted as much to Marxist stalwart Eric Hobsbawm. If the global economic downturn signalled the arrival of Marx for the 21st century, what kind of Marx are we looking at? Almost 130 years after his death, is Marx acquiring sharp contours again, unlike Derrida's ghosts?

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