Notes on Marx Reloaded

The 2011 German documentary Marx Reloaded describes itself, in the words of its website, as a “cultural documentary that examines the relevance of German socialist and philosopher Karl Marx’s ideas for understanding the global economic and financial crisis of 2008—09.”

I had been excited to watch it, but when I did I was rather underwhelmed by what I saw. To be frank, I do not think it is a very good film. It consists almost exclusively of interview footage with marxist intellectuals (some of whom I admire greatly), interspersed with The Matrix-like footage. I normally like such creative approaches to more conventional traditional material, but I found this approach to be rather superficial. It was as though the director et al. were trying their hardest to make the material resonate more with a young audience they didn’t quite understand (and perhaps think of a bit too poorly). In what comes off as a somewhat desperate attempt to be “hip,” I feel the filmmakers’ greatly weakened their thesis.

The thesis itself — articulated most simply, that Marx’s thought is just as relevant to global capitalism today as it was 150 years ago — I could hardly agree with more. The way in which it is defended, nonetheless, I found rather weak. The film is quite liberal in its analysis; it is not thorough in its explanation of the inherently unstable and (self-)destructive tendencies of capital and the capitalist mode of production.

I got the impression watching the film that it had been created by someone rather new to marxism — although the writer and director, Jason Barker, is a well established scholar himself, teaching alongside Žižek, Butler, and Badiou, among others, at the European Graduate School. As a filmmaker and marxist myself, I cannot help but feel that it could be have been argued much more substantively and powerfully, if not as “hiply.”

Then again, at the end of the day, marxists are some of the toughest critics of all. Many say we’re our own toughest critic, but you can probably find a marxist who’s a bit tougher.

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For those interested, I took notes while watching the film. The following insightful quotes I found to be worthwhile:

(7:40)
“Marx is often accused for having this uncompromsing, brualizing, kind of impersonal thinking. And Bloch says, well, this is a result of Marx having to think like capitalism. So he says, just like the best detective has to think like a criminal…”
-Alberto Toscano

(11:28)
“With knowledge emerging as some central factor of wealth production, this classical logic of exploitation no longer works. So, for example, Bill Gates owns what Marx calls part of our general intellect, our symbolic substance, means of communication. And, it’s as if, in order for us to communicate among ourselves, we have to pay him rent. And, also, this I think changes the very definition of what is ‘proletariat’ today. Proletarian is no longer just the working class. It’s no longer typical. Even to be a little bit cynical, today, it’s almost as if most of the protests today—protests of the unemployed and so on—are, ironically, sustained by a demand, ‘Please, provide us with a job where we can be, at least in a normal way, exploited.’
-Slavoj Žižek

(23:18)
The animation here with the Žižek toy playing the cymbals would make a hilarious gif…

(25:20)
“The modern media, so to speak, colonize, partly create, partly colonize, partly mobilize, collective fantasies.”
-John Gray

(33:56)
At every point in its history, capitalism has been intertwined with state power.
-John Gray

(44:48)
A communist society would be a society where everyone would be allowed to dwell in his or her own stupidity.” Communism not as a utopia, but like a Brugel painting.
-Slavoj Žižek

(46:40)
Knowledge as a commodity is effectively an anti-capitalist commodity.
-Slavoj Žižek