Can Marx’s critique of capitalism really help us through crisis-ridden times? Jason Barker’s documentary, Marx Reloaded, poses this question before tracing, at breakneck speed, the contours of current debate among Marxist (and some non-Marxist) thinkers.
The film is a roll call of some of the heavyweights in Marxist philosophy. Antonio Negri discusses his thesis that immaterial labour and knowledge workers have displaced factory workers as the key agents of change in society, turning Marx “on his head”.
Slavoj Zizek argues that capitalism has shifted from creating wealth through production and the exploitation of labour to the creation of value through rent on the “commons” and argues that knowledge is an anti-capitalist commodity.
Other thinkers such as Nina Power, Jacques Rancière and Alberto Toscano take up key questions like: What is money? Does crisis play a destructive or a rehabilitative role in capitalism? Who can change society? Can communism save the planet? What would a post-capitalist society look like?
Yet the film skips from one big idea to another, making it difficult to get a handle on what the interviewees are trying to say and, indeed, what the disagreements are between them.
The documentary presents Marxist debates in a way that is often confused and partial – it’s definitely not a place any newcomer should come to grapple with Marx’s basic ideas. It focuses on Marxism as a contribution to a re-emerging set of ideas in the field of philosophy and makes a strong case that Marx provides a good starting point for discussing and debating the world today. But it doesn’t really engage with Marxism as a theory to inform political action or as a way to interpret the revolutions in North Africa or the rise of the Occupy movement. These developments, which evidently occurred after this documentary was filmed, are not discussed at all.
And then, just in case you start to think everyone is taking it all too seriously, the animation cuts in – a cartoon Trotsky takes Marx through a matrix of his own ideas, while Zizek appears as a wind-up, cymbal-crashing monkey.
Marx Reloaded concludes by suggesting that there is a renewed appeal in Marx because his work offers a clear alternative. What it really shows is that the debate about how to interpret the world and how to change it is very much alive today, especially at this moment when, as Zizek eloquently describes, “We are in deep shit and we know it.”
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