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Marx, money and the modern world - contents

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There are two moments in the first decade of the 21st century that will be etched sharply in the historical record for many years to come.

• On 11 September 2001 the attacks by Al-Qaeda terrorists, on the World Trade Centre made history turn on a diabolic course. The most right-wing administration America had seen since the Reagan years, took the opportunity presented to declare a permanent war on states and people’s considered hostile to US influence.

The turn to the ‘war on terror’ contained just as much hubris and triumphalism as the claim to universalism and the “open door” policies of previous years. But under the surface the new discourse expressed a sense of uncertainty and loss of superiority. The once frequent comparison amongst the political elite with Pearl Harbour died away as it became an uncomfortable reminder of American failure. Bogged down in two un-winnable imperial adventures; this was a very different America to the one that had emerged unchallenged in the capitalist world after just five years of fighting following the attack on the US navy by the Japanese air force in 1941.

• One of the memories that remain so striking about the days after 11 September is Bush’s request to “shop for America”, fearing the paralysis and inactivity sparked by the terrorist attacks would deepen US economic woes as it struggled out of recession. In retrospect this was another telling expression of the under-the-surface weakness and volatility of the US-led order. Almost exactly seven years later this would explode to the surface in the catastrophic financial collapse triggered by the bankruptcy of US investment Lehman Brothers on 15 September 2008. The biggest ever bank bail out failed to avert the most synchronised world recession ever.

If the 1990s was the decade of a great ascent and expansion of the capitalist world order under the auspices of US hegemony, then the last decade – and these two key turning points within it – has seen this project enter a new phase of crisis. How this crisis will unfold, which individuals, classes and states, will win in the struggle underway for the future of the system, is the pressing question of our time.

Answering it will mean going beneath the surface of events and looking for a deeper explanation of the mechanisms that govern today’s crisis-ridden system.

The starting point for the collection of articles presented here is that we can find the answers we need in the classical canon of Marxist political-economy.

Thus, this anthology seeks to do link together two things: the contradictions of the global economic system and the developing tensions and frictions in international relations with the rise of new global powers.

Marcus Lehner offers an outline of Karl Marx’s theories of money, banking and finance and shows how it can provide a compelling account of what caused the great financial crisis. Updating an earlier analysis written for the German Marxist journal Revolutionärer Marxismus he applies the theory to the American banking system.

Luke Cooper surveys the work of two recent high profile Marxist theories of imperialism developed by David Harvey and Alex Callinicos.

And Keith Spencer makes a case-study analysis of a ‘Great Power’ that was at the centre of the global financial whirlwind: Britain.

This is a special issue of the Marxist journal Fifth International.