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Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis

“For anyone who cares about historical necessity, the crisis of capitalism, and our fate.” – Rachel Kushner
After the financial crash and the Great Recession, the media rediscovered Karl Marx, socialist theory, and the very idea that capitalism can be questioned.

But in spite of the publicity, the main paths of contemporary critical thought have gone unexplored outside of the academy. Benjamin Kunkel’s Utopia or Bust leads readers—whether politically committed or simply curious—through the most important critical theory today. Written with the wit and verve of Kunkel’s best-selling novel, Indecision, this introduction to contemporary Leftist thinkers engages with the revolutionary philosophy of Slavoj Žižek, the economic analyses of David Graeber and David Harvey, and the cultural diagnoses of Fredric Jameson. Discussing the ongoing crisis of capitalism in light of ideas of full employment, debt forgiveness, and “fictitious capital,” Utopia or Bust is a tour through the world of Marxist thought and an examination of the basis of Western society today.

Reviews

  • “Playful and unfailingly lucid...the book is one of the most enjoyable pieces of Marxist criticism in many years.”
  • “Rigorous and unapologetically Marxist.”
  • “The new sensation of literary New York.”
  • “Kunkel and his fellow co-founders of literary journal n+1 have recently been identified as members of a new generation of ‘public intellectuals.'”
  • “Benjamin Kunkel has pursued a lonely and taxing crash course in Marxist thought, the results of which, set forth here, are nimble, clear, and brave. He dedicates the book to anyone who can use it, which I’ll take a step further: it’s for anyone who cares about historical necessity, the crisis of capitalism, and our fate.”
  • “It’s wonderful to see Benjamin Kunkel turn his considerable talents from the business of novelwriting to these political essays—models of the genre, with plenty to offer to both newcomers to and veterans of radical thought.”
  • “Benjamin Kunkel, aside from having mastered the voice of bemused neuroticism in Indecision, has one of the most interesting minds around.”
  • “Those looking for alternatives, explanations, and a critical map of where Leftist thought stands in our current neoliberal age will find Utopia or Bust a must-read.”
  • “Six elegantly turned essays on contemporary Marxist thinkers”
  • “Kunkel follows his cult novel with this primer on the big names on radical reading lists, from Karl Marx to Slovenian thinker Slavoj Zizek”

Blog

  • Tariq Ali on "the triumph of finance" and the politics of Thatcher and Blair

    Economically, the country is far from the visions of recovery and renewal promised by the Coalition and its media retinue. If anything, conditions are getting worse for the majority, while markets remain volatile. Underlying this trend is a continuing engrossment of wealth and privileges enjoyed by the rich. As pointed out by countless observers, while the earnings of the average employed person are either static or declining, the salaries and bonus options of the 1 per cent continue to rise. In this extract from The Extreme Centre, Tariq Ali critiques the politics of Thatcher and Blair.

    The origins of the new politics are firmly rooted in Thatcher’s response to Britain’s decline. Unemployment was ruthlessly held above three million for ten years, enabling the Conservatives to push though a programme of social re-engineering – deploying state resources to crush the unions and initiate the privatization of public utilities and housing, in hopes of creating a nation of ‘property-owners and shareholders’ – that transformed the country.1 The defence industry was ring-fenced while the rest of manufacturing was handed a collective death warrant. The defeat of the miners’ strike obliterated any possibility of resistance by the trade-union leaders and the rank and file. The triumph of finance capital was now complete. The decline of large parts of the country continued apace, and in turn, the country became increasingly restive.

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  • "Political leaders within the 1% promise to reduce inequality just before they gain power, but then increase it" - Danny Dorling

    Growing income and wealth inequality is recognised as the greatest social threat of our times. The top 1 per cent contribute to rising inequality, not just by taking more and more, but by suggesting that such greed is justifiable and using their enormous wealth to promote that concept. In this extract from Inequality and the 1%, Danny Dorling argues that there will always be a top 1 per cent, but there can be more or less inequality.


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  • "Who will protect, provide, shelter, build?" - James Meek on the questions that should be at the heart of the election, but are not being asked

    For a century, left and right in Britain believed in universal access to education, health and housing. The Thatcher era changed everything. As the political parties battle it out, is there any alternative to the privatisation, breakup and foreign takeover of vital services? James Meek, author of Orwell Prize shortlisted book Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else, answers these questions for the Guardian.


    It was Margaret Thatcher who destroyed the idea of council housing. Photograph: Leon Morris/Getty Images

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