Did the 2008 recession shake up the global capitalist system enough to cause a resurgence in people’s interest in Marxist-socialist thought? According to a recent CBC report, this might well be what is happening. Despite the fact that the Occupy movement, which was a heavy user of Marxist rhetoric, has faded from the media’s focus, the report describes Marxism’s “vital signs” as “stronger than ever”. Record sales of Marx’s Das Kapital have been recently reported in Germany and there are signs that the Marxist publications are gaining popularity.
Google searches for “Socialism” spiked at the end of 2009, but then quickly dropped to a rate that was only slightly higher than then 2005-2009 period. One possible interpretation is that as the economy recovered, people who questioned whether their lives could be different when things were bad rekindled their love for capitalism when things became comparatively better.
Currently, evidence from Google searches doesn’t appear to support the idea that Marxism is gaining popularity among the masses. In fact, both the terms “marxism” and “communism” have been searched less frequently in the period after the the 2008 recession than the period between 2005-2008.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of capitalism in China undoubtedly has given Marx’s ideas a bad reputation. From what I can see in North America, Marx’s ideas mainly survive in the academic world (e.g. “historical materialism”). For most academics (or at least the one’s I’ve listened to), however, the works of Marx provide a perspective, a toolbox of concepts, to understand how society under capitalism works. The bulk of the time is spent understanding and criticizing rather than applying and doing. It is understood that Marx himself didn’t have a good plan of how to transition into a better world and that the downfall of China and the Soviet Union had more to do with what Marx didn’t say (he ran out of time because he died) than what he said.
If Marx’s ideas are to become useful for society (and there is definitely an argument to be made that it is not worth the effort), there will need to be a significant amount of un-learning that needs to be done.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I wouldn’t count it arriving too soon.