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Harry Shutt, 'The Trouble with Capitalism: An Enquiry into the Causes of Global Economic Failure' and The Invisible Committee, 'The Coming Insurrection, Semiotext'

The Trouble with Capitalism: An Enquiry into the Causes of Global Economic Failure, Zed Books, 2009; ISBN 978 1 848 134 22 5; £16.99. The Coming Insurrection, Semiotext(e), MIT Press, 2009; ISBN 9781584350804; £9.95

These two books offer criticisms of capitalism from very different perspectives.

Shutt, a left-leaning economist, argues that the ongoing crisis within capitalism has arisen from the growing redundancy of capital since the 1970s. With too much capital sloshing around, the rich have found it increasingly hard to find investments that can deliver the profits they expect, resorting to taking high risks that make the whole edifice increasingly fragile.

Shutt attacks the laissez-faire prospectus, showing that state power and collective wealth is increasingly being used to prop up capital while pretending that the aim is to roll back the frontiers of the state.

Originally published in 1998, this edition has a new foreword to bring it up to date with the current global financial shambles. As someone who knew little about economics, I found the book very useful as an introduction to how capitalism works and why it fails, but I felt it was not so strong on solutions.

Having concluded that maximisation of profit cannot remain the basis on which resources are allocated, Shutt considers how a more just system might look. His approach is essentially to tinker with the system we have, and to avoid, at all costs, a headlong crash of capitalism into the buffers. In contrast, in the second book reviewed here, this prospect is viewed with positive relish.

The Coming Insurrection presents a very different analysis, one that takes pretty much all of modern civilisation in its sights.

First published in France in 2007, it achieved some notoriety as the principal piece of evidence in an anti-terrorism case in France directed against nine activists arrested in November 2008 for allegedly sabotaging railway overhead electrical lines.

The book is an all-encompassing attack on the status quo, reminiscent in tone and content of the Situationist texts of the 1960s. According to the book, we are already living within a collapsing civilization. It’s useless waiting for a revolution, for the catastrophe is here and now. In this reality we have to choose sides, get organised, and make the most of every crisis in order to level power and reclaim authentic life.

The text abounds with profound and disturbing insights, but there is also a certain amount of pretentious, opaque nonsense. The dismissal of pacifism in two paragraphs is unconvincing, as is a revamped notion of the commune as the fundamental building block of revolutionary change.

All in all, I think it would be a mistake to read this as a prescription but rather as an intended intellectual shot-in-the-arm. It’s provocative, quirky, eye-opening material that should re-invigorate, and possibly infuriate, even the most jaded activist.

Topics: Economics