Capitalism Always Buries Its Undertakers

Capitalism Always Buries Its Undertakers
Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa via AP

In 2017, the Museum of Capitalism opened its doors in Oakland, California. According to its website, it is a place “dedicated to educating this generation and future generations about the history, philosophy, and legacy of capitalism… and preserving material evidence, art, and artefacts of capitalism.” Its works are the product of collaborations between writers, artists, economists, historians, and “non-specialists from all walks of life, including those with direct experience of capitalism.”

This might seem like an absurd endeavor, but the Museum of Capitalism is deadly serious, and part of the return of prognostications about capitalism’s future — on the page, on the screen, and in the street—in the decade since the financial crisis. According to the Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton, this is a telling trend. “You can tell that a capitalist system is in trouble when people start talking about capitalism,” he wrote in Why Marx Was Right. “It indicates that the system has ceased to be as natural as the air we breathe, and can be seen instead as the historically rather recent phenomenon that it is. … As a bout of dengue fever makes you newly aware of your body, so a new form of social life can be perceived for what it is when it begins to break down.”

The problem with Eagleton’s theory, however, is that people have been talking about capitalism—and predicting its downfall—ever since the word was coined in the 19th century. And yet here we still are, toiling under so-called capitalist oppression more than 150 years later. As Francesco Boldizzoni details in Foretelling the End Of Capitalism: Intellectual Misadventures Since Karl Marx, reports of capitalism’s demise have, time and again, been greatly exaggerated.

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