Book Review of Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx by Chris Harman. [Reviewed by Martin Upchurch]

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Zombie Capitalism is used by Chris Harman to describe how global capitalism is dominated by the dead over the living. Zombie banks are kept alive by state funding even though the blood running through their veins has evaporated. The fate of the banking system has now spread to the whole economic system. ‘21st century capitalism as a whole is a zombie system, seemingly dead when it comes to achieving human goals and responding to human feelings, but capable of sudden spurts of activity that cause chaos all around’ (p. 12). Given Harman’s untimely death in November 2009 the book is very much a valediction, both as a statement of a particular tradition of Marxist political analysis, and as a tribute to his intellectual capacity, or as Larry Elliot of the Guardian recorded, ‘You knew he had done the reading and done the thinking. His arguments – even if you opposed them – had an elegant consistency about them’ (Elliott, 2009). Harman writes for the newcomer to Marxist economics as well as for the academic, and concrete examples of Marx’s theories are given to aid understanding. The book is written in accessible style, with an absence of equations.
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    http://wes.sagepub.com/  SocietyWork, Employment &  http://wes.sagepub.com/content/26/1/182The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0950017011426317 2012 26: 182 Work Employment Society  Martin Upchurch   Relevance of Marx Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the  Book review: Chris Harman, Published by:  http://www.sagepublications.com On behalf of:  British Sociological Association  can be found at: Work, Employment & Society  Additional services and information for http://wes.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:  http://wes.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions: http://wes.sagepub.com/content/26/1/182.refs.html Citations: by guest on November 17, 2013wes.sagepub.comDownloaded from by guest on November 17, 2013wes.sagepub.comDownloaded from    What is This? - Feb 17, 2012Version of Record >>  by guest on November 17, 2013wes.sagepub.comDownloaded from by guest on November 17, 2013wes.sagepub.comDownloaded from   182 Work, employment and society    26(1)  product parties and, instead, captures a culturally distinct model of female economic empowerment. Women, mainly from the Indian middle classes, meet in someone’s home each month to socialize and contribute a stipulated small sum of money to the kitty. Lots are drawn to determine which woman will receive all the money in the kitty; the winner then hosts the party for the following month. The authors argue that this model, as well as the product-based ‘party’, can be vehicles for change for women through relational mechanisms that create bonding and solidarity based on mutual support.A particular kind of gendered work performance is highlighted in this stimulating  book that focuses on the home as workplace. One shortcoming, however, is its failure to acknowledge that the home is increasingly the setting for a whole range of work and enterprise – corporate, professional, craft and semi-skilled for both men and women. For example, e-working at home is now common in many occupations, bringing flexibility  but often with ambiguous and blurred boundaries between paid work, family work and leisure, giving rise to the intensification and extension of work into what were formerly seen as private spaces for nurture and care. A stronger articulation of contemporary employment models and diverse work practices would have provided a more rounded context in which to situate the relevant empirical and theoretical debates. Chris Harman Zombie Capitalism :  Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx London: Bookmarks, 2009, £15 pbk, (ISBN: 9781905192533), 400 pp. Reviewed by Martin Upchurch ,  Middlesex University, UK   Zombie Capitalism  is used by Chris Harman to describe how global capitalism is domi-nated by the dead over the living. Zombie banks are kept alive by state funding even though the blood running through their veins has evaporated. The fate of the banking system has now spread to the whole economic system. ‘21st century capitalism as a whole is a zombie system, seemingly dead when it comes to achieving human goals and responding to human feelings, but capable of sudden spurts of activity that cause chaos all around’ (p. 12). Given Harman’s untimely death in November 2009 the book is very much a valediction, both as a statement of a particular tradition of Marxist political analysis, and as a tribute to his intellectual capacity, or as Larry Elliot of the Guardian  recorded, ‘You knew he had done the reading and done the thinking. His arguments – even if you opposed them – had an elegant consistency about them’ (Elliott, 2009).Harman writes for the newcomer to Marxist economics as well as for the academic, and concrete examples of Marx’s theories are given to aid understanding. The book is written in accessible style, with an absence of equations. A chapter is included, ‘Beyond Marx’, which introduces the concept of state capitalism from the International Socialist tradition. The essence of the argument is that in the former Soviet economies ‘the pur- pose of nationalised industry was to enable domestic accumulation to match that under-taken by foreign rivals so as to be able to survive successfully in economic and/or military by guest on November 17, 2013wes.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Book reviews 183 competition’ (p. 116). This position is controversial, and has been open to critique in other reviews. However, while it is not central to the book, those interested in the debate will find Harman’s re-statement of the theory invaluable.Harman then deals with the effects of imperialism and the state and constructs a con-temporary analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF). Marx’s srcinal theory predicted that as capital replaced labour in the production process the ratio of capital to labour over time would increase. As labour is the source of surplus value there would then follow a tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time, simply because the amount of necessary labour was falling in proportionate terms. Most importantly, Harman relates the theory to the post-war reality of western capitalism, providing theoretical analysis of the ‘long boom’ and its subsequent collapse. The permanent arms economy and the logic of imperialist competition in the Cold War era are given as the causal expla-nation for capitalism’s ‘golden age’. However, Harman enters controversial waters when he examines TRPF at the end of the golden age. Measuring TRPF is difficult, as orthodox accounting does not recognize rates of exploitation, the organic composition of capital or surplus value. So any proposition that the TRPF has been active is open to dispute. Argument also revolves around the ability of countervailing tendencies to negate the TRPF. Proxy measurements need to be used, and here Harman answers his critics by  presenting evidence in graphical and tabular form gathered from official data and the work of prominent Marxists. TRPF became a problem for capital from the late 1960s onwards, whereby the rush to accumulate was integrated into the drive for global market expansion. Globalization was both a product of, and response to, TRPF. Capital ‘burst through borders’ in a ‘great delusion’ (p. 255). The delusion was a belief that capitalism could continue to expand without crisis. What is pertinent in this analysis is that neo-liberalism became embedded in the process of accumulation. Neo-liberalism in this model is a core  feature of contemporary capitalism rather than a belligerent variant  . Social democracy is only able to accommodate itself to neo-liberalism and transform itself into a form of social liberalism.The final section focuses on debates on financialization. Harman departs from main-stream left thinking by downplaying the role of financial institutions in the crisis. He acknowledges the rise of finance but argues ‘the growth of finance was never something separate from what was happening to the core of the system, but was a product of its internationalization and the long drawn out slowdown in accumulation’ (p. 280). Further insights are given into the ‘limits of capital’ in terms of environmental destruction and climate change. The book ends with a call to revolt and reviews, perhaps too briefly, debates on formal and informal work, restructuring and organized labour, and deficien-cies of the ‘multitude’, autonomist and Third Way politics.Chris Harman abandoned his PhD in the late 1960s (under Ralph Miliband) in favour of full time political activism. In writing the book Harman was therefore conscious of the dual nature of his audience. On the one hand he was attempting to write a book on a technically difficult subject that can be understood by activists. He was also engaging with key debates on the left that require great intellectual judgement. He has managed to succeed, and the book will no doubt become a standard point of reference for those wish-ing to understand Marx’s economics and the contemporary crisis of capitalism.  by guest on November 17, 2013wes.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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