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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential New Edition Almost Sabotaged By Typos, 22 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure (Paperback)
Since I encountered the first edition of this book I have been eager to track down everything with John McMurtry's name on it.

Everything he has written is worth reading - not just the books but also the essays. (I would particularly recommend searching out a piece called "Fascism and Neo-conservatism - Is There a Difference?") Of his books, the two that really stood out in the past were the first edition of "Cancer Stage of Capitalism" and "Value Wars". The former seemed more all-embracing but the latter brought the story up to date for the post 9/11 world. (Indeed 9/11 was happening just as the latter was being written and McMurtry added on a fascinating prologue dealing with that event.) Ideally I wanted a re-write of the former book but with the new events detailed in the latter book added. And - what do you know? - Here it is!

In the Acknowledgement section McMurtry refers to the "very unusual" second edition. This is appropriate. What we have here is not simply the first edition with a few extras thrown in. There has been a major restructuring of the entire text. There is a new Preface and a new first chapter. And the original first chapter is now placed second. This latter item contains a reassessment of Marx who, although still considered to be one of the most penetrating critics of capitalism, is considered by McMurtry to have ironically overestimated the value of capitalist commodities by failing to connect with true life values.

In the Preface, McMurtry distinguishes between the customary concept of capital which is related to money and a new (or rather, an old) concept - "life capital" which has been obscured by the insistence that what's important is a matter of opinion. But this "life capital" is always presupposed and is indeed essential e.g. such matters as fresh air, clean water, nutritious food, full introduction to society's symbols, stimulating education etc. As in his book "Value Wars" McMurtry says that these two different concepts of capital are at war with each other. To put it as bluntly as possible:- money sequences pretend to serve life although they are in fact against life. This pretence is essentially where the concept of cancer comes in.

And in this new edition McMurtry takes great care to emphasise that the cancer stage of capitalism is not a metaphor but is an actual model of how capitalism works i.e. that just as cancer on the microbiological level involves fooling the body's immune system before gradually taking over the organism with parasitic cells, so cancer at the macro social level appropriates the jargon of societal health in order to disguise its true objective: the generation of monetary profit which subverts that health and ultimately destroys it.

One of the most astonishing new developments in this edition is McMurtry's assertion that even cancer on the microbiological level is a symptom of capitalism. He says that in the pre-capitalist world there was only one reported case of cancer - from Ancient Egypt. The rise of an epidemic of biological cancer in the capitalist world is not a coincidence. Capitalism depends on creating goods which are not only non-beneficial but create a state of dependence to initiate addiction. The most obvious case is with cigarettes. But food laced with addictive additives would be another case.

With so much to praise in this book it is a shame that it has been subjected to a plague of typos. It doesn't help that McMurtry has a dense prose style which takes a bit of getting used to. He has a special fondness for generating enormous subordinate clauses and at one point he gets lost inside one of those clauses and forgets to come out of to finish the sentence! Also, some of his sentence constructions seem unorthodox so that it is sometimes easy to feel there is a typo when it turns out to be an oddly turned phrase.

But the typos are definitely there. Sometimes they are clearly the result of a misused spell check e.g. "while" instead of "whole", "uniformed" instead of "uninformed".

And on page 108 we have another unfinished sentence without even the excuse of confusion generated by a subordinate clause:
"It is within these primary and conflicting structures that most of humanity for the last three decades."

That most of humanity....what? All of which just goes to show that there is simply no substitute for a living breathing proof reader. And I am tempted to dock a star for this but I feel the book is so important it easily merits the full five anyway.

I can only hope that Pluto Press come to their senses and, for their next reprint, subject this book to the decent proofreading this vital publication deserves.
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The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure
The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure by John McMurtry (Paperback - 20 July 2013)
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