Red Plenty, which I’ve written about several times, is now available (Powells, Amazon) in a US paperback edition. It’s a fabulous book which should apply to a wide variety of CT readers – a mosaic novel that simultaneously speaks intelligently to the Soviet calculation debate, and has engaging characters. It’s beautifully written to boot – this bit, which I’ve quoted before, will give you some sense of how its more cerebral passages flow.
But Marx had drawn a nightmare picture of what happened to human life under capitalism, when everything was produced only in order to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded. Then the makers and the things made turned alike into commodities, and the motion of society turned into a kind of zombie dance, a grim cavorting whirl in which objects and people blurred together till the objects were half alive and the people were half dead. Stock-market prices acted back upon the world as if they were independent powers, requiring factories to be opened or closed, real human beings to work or rest, hurry or dawdle; and they, having given the transfusion that made the stock prices come alive, felt their flesh go cold and impersonal on them, mere mechanisms for chunking out the man-hours. Living money and dying humans, metal as tender as skin and skin as hard as metal, taking hands, and dancing round, and round, and round, with no way ever of stopping; the quickened and the deadened, whirling on. That was Marx’s description, anyway. And what would be the alternative? The consciously arranged alternative? A dance of another nature, Emil presumed. A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.
Finally, we’re going to do a Crooked Timber seminar on it in a few months. This should give plenty of opportunity to those of you who want to join the discussion to get your hands on a copy and read it.