Bertell Ollman and Kevin B. Anderson. Karl Marx. The International Library of Essays in Classical Sociology. Ashgate Publishing, 2012.

And the reviews are in!

A rich and variegated sampler of Marxist bonbons! A distillation of the best that has been thought, done, and overthrown in this field!

Hey, Amazon, I didn’t really mean to give my own book five stars: since Karl Marx is 650 pages long and 11 pages are given over to my article, "Museum, Inc.: Inside the Global Art World (Over-the-Cliff Notes)," I recused myself from grading my own contribution, which constitutes one sixtieth of a the book (1/59.81 to be precise), so I awarded the book 4.916 stars and rounded it out to the nearest decimal—can I do that?

The modern capitalist concern is based inwardly above all on calculation. It requires for its survival a system of justice and an administration whose workings can be rationally calculated….

That’s a quote from Georg Lukács, “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” which is the chapter from History and Class Consciousness that’s reprinted in the anthology under discussion. Actually, it’s a quote from Max Weber, as quoted by Lukács, as quoted in the book under discussion, and anthology of the most important Marxist writings, contemporary and classical, in sociology—including David Harvey, C.L.R James, E.P. Thompson and Y. Truly.

So, does that merit five stars on Amazon, or even 4.916, adjusted for ego inflation? Absolutely, since the book does such a good job of showing the reader how to handle Amazon’s “open” review system, an

apocryphal sphere of ‘amateurs,’ who, in any case, are organized from above… The mentality of the public, which allegedly and actually favors the system of the culture industry, is part of the system, not an excuse for it…. [Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception."]

That was the plan all along:

We are trying to give readers (mostly graduate students) good examples of what this theory and this method—allowing for different interpretations of each—can help us understand in virtually every domain. [The editor, in private correspondence.]

Not simply, or even necessarily, to present the best that has been thought and done and overthrown, but the articles and extracts most likely to incite a graduate student to get up offa that thing and actually figure out how Marxist theory is, can, and should be applied in the Unreal World. So it’s not my article, you understand, it’s the connections that are supposed to occur between my article and others, or others' articles and the articles of others, yet. For instance: Adorno’s “apocryphal sphere of 'amateurs',” those who write, unpaid, for Amazon or the Huffington Post, are the subject, also, of an article by Martha E. Gimenez: “Self-Sourcing” How Corporations Get us to Work Without Pay!” Which reminds me...

My own article is placed right behind Adorno's and right ahead of an excerpt from Fredric Jameson’s “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” which the editors describe as “a still more contemporary moment in the development of culture under capitalism.” Come again, editors?  How is Postmodernism “more contemporary,” unless you agree from the outset that Postmodernism is Post-Everything-Else and therefore transforms everything else, which in turn raises an interesting problem,

where one side views the construction of ideology from the vantage point of the material and social conditions out of which it arises, and the other from the role played by the capitalist class in promoting it. [Bertell Ollman, "Putting Dialectics to Work: The Process of Abstraction in Marx’s Method."]

Too bad the editors didn’t include Eric Hobsbawm’s scathing critique of the very idea that High Modernist Art might have been socially determinant in any form or fashion: not to argue that culture is necessarily superstructural, but that a certain understanding of Culture is: I'm not saying that capitalism doesn't have a cultural logic, mind you, I'm asking if it's really to be found where Jameson thinks it lies:

By an amazing coincidence, the apologists of capital and the Ananiases of Marxism end up agreeing that a) Culture's not about the money; b) Resistance is futile; and c) The real production's always happening elsewhere, back at the Old University Department where the real work happens. [Paul Werner, "Museum, Inc.: Inside the Global Art World (Over-the-Cliff Notes)."]

Because the issue at hand marks a deeper one, which defines the unspoken limits of this broad-ranging, challenging, and deeply enriching anthology. To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, every anthology fails in what it leaves out, and in this case I would have thought an article on the relationship of Theory to Praxis (or Praxis alone) would have provided a nice conclusion. (For some reason, an excerpt from Sartre was dropped from the original plan; I’d like to believe it was something about engagement.)  

In the Bad Old Days the practice of Spetseedstvo (specialist-baiting or egghead-baiting) was particularly noxious, and nocive. Comrades in the Present Perfect should beware of the reverse: non-specialist-baiting. Between Freddy Jameson bopping around the University in his Big Apple cap and Paul Werner in his jacket and tie with a bunch of schoolchildren trailing along behind him at the Guggenheim there is a difference in degree, no doubt, and pun intended; but there's a difference, also, in how each one believes his work and the others’ affects the future. Or, to quote the editors once more,

Our overall purpose is to explain, to impress, and to inspire readers to undertake similar work in their area of special interest, whatever it is.

Everybody ready? Follow me!


- Paul Werner