Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 11, 2014

Reading Richard Seymour in the Age of Austerity

Filed under: economics,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 11:48 am
Strategies of Resistance

Reading Richard Seymour in the Age of Austerity

by LOUIS PROYECT

Dating back to the overthrow of Salvador Allende, financial austerity has been the watchword of the capitalist class. Frederick Hayek supplanted John Maynard Keynes in the ideological driver’s seat, as the free market became sacrosanct. Adding to the neoliberal momentum, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused Karl Marx to lose his official status for a third of mankind. Despite the hiccup of interest in Karl Marx following the 2007 financial meltdown and rueful reflections by Francis Fukuyama that it might not be the end of history after all, the mantra of balanced budgets and eliminating “waste” was taken up by politicians and pundits alike. To paraphrase W.H. Auden, we seem to be living through an Age of Austerity.

As perhaps the first study to take these issues head-on, Richard Seymour’s “Against Austerity” is a must-read primer for old hands in the class struggle and newcomers alike. Leaving aside the merits of his arguments—and they are plentiful—Seymour would be worth reading if for no other reason than his elegant and witty style. At the risk of inflating the young man’s ego, I regard him as the most compelling prose stylist on the left since Alexander Cockburn in his heyday and Christopher Hitchens before he turned into Mr. Hyde. Also, unlike most people who write for leftwing publishing houses, Seymour has a brash but self-effacing manner that is as refreshing as a cold beer on a sweltering summer night. From the book’s preface:

There is also a certain familiar use of esoteric political theory and rococo ornamentation that some readers will find off-putting. I hope so anyway. Those readers would be far better off reading something else. (Or, alternatively, stay and have your middlebrow sensibilities challenged.) This book comes with swearing and unapologetic intellectual swagger.

I imagine you’re scanning this page while still in the bookshop calculating whether you’d be willing to be seen reading this book on the train. If the above appeals to you, you’re probably a bit ‘wrong’ in some way, but I welcome you. If it doesn’t, then make your way the holy apotheosis of bookshops that is the ’3 for 2′ section. And buy yet more inconsequential shit with which to line your shelf of good intentions.

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8 Comments »

  1. I’m glad you selected out the important points of this book, Louis, so I don’t have to waste my time or money. The use of weak Keynesian policies to increase demand and overconsumption may have a short term effect but it will not resurrect our failed over-consuming economy. There is no base to stimulate and little credit or equity to float another bubble. Most people are in hock up to their ears, including students, will never pay off their house, if they own one and it’s worth less than they paid for it , on top of all this their wages are falling. None of these things will change if the Gov squirts a few trillion inflationary dollars into the mix. The big profits are made today in the Financial Casinos that produce nothing but extreme risk and yet Seymour calls it “productive”.

    Seymour’s embracing of electoral politics, under our corrupt system, is confused and reformist and offers little but more of the same and no, you cannot apply pressure to the Ruling Class through politics, especially not through our completely captured system.

    Finally Seymour’s quaint notions about direct democracy and the power of the student movement in Quebec have been superseded by recent events. The students are back on the streets again because the leader they helped to elect has turned and is stabbing them with the austerity dagger she promised not to wield and he wants us to trust politicians to lead the Class struggle. .

    Comment by PeteM — April 11, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

  2. Pete, where did you pick up your ultraleft politics? The Spartacist League? Avakian’s cult?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 11, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

  3. Not sure why you suck up to this Keynesian SWP moron. He has no time for you despite it all. He does not respect your capitulations. Perhaps if you started calling yourself the repentant marxist you’d get more change.

    Comment by davidellis987 — April 11, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

  4. David, you and Pete should launch the Sixth International.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 11, 2014 @ 10:40 pm

  5. The use of weak Keynesian policies to increase demand and overconsumption may have a short term effect but it will not resurrect our failed over-consuming economy.
    —-

    Like it or not most people like consumption, big TV’s and cars. Most especially in the poorest areas of the world – they want more, not less. Living in a stapled together shanty made of scrap wood and sheet metal from the local dump sucks.

    If you can’t incorporate the desire for consumption into a political worldview it’s fine, but you won’t win any type of political gains.

    Also, consumption YOY in the U.S. has been on a declining trend line for years as has capacity utilization.

    And finally, the mainstream ruling class fixation and support for global warming policy is targeted to restrict the growth in the developing world.

    Comment by jeff — April 13, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

  6. From your article: It has to be coupled with coercion, even if the force being deployed is by no means extrajudicial.

    Remember it is much easier to check criminal records now, and any stain will knock you out of a job or even a student loan. Everything is computerized and online.

    You can’t get a K-12 teaching job with an arrest record of any type, period. (not a conviction, an arrest)

    Meanwhile I know people who were arrested repeatedly in 60’s protests who never were checked out in their subsequent professional lives and are happily retired. That would not happen to a young person today.

    It’s well studied that people change their behavior when they are being watched, and this is the principle type of coercion we live under.

    Comment by jeff — April 13, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  7. principal

    Comment by jeff — April 13, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

  8. What is the point of writing a book about austerity which affects hundreds of thousands of people under 25, including people with disabilities and learning difficulties and those who are maybe not that up on political issues but are looking for answers and ways to become involved in the political struggle, and then effectively turning around and tellling them all to fuck off because they don’t sit on their arses all day and read abstruse political texts like he does. He is essentially saying he wrote this book for his high brow friends and people who agree with him, and also maybe to annoy those people who dare to call his intellectual pronouncements into question. He clearly has a lot of personal issues to deal with. It’s a pity.

    Comment by Viktor Nechaev — April 14, 2014 @ 12:29 pm


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