[Marxism] Marx and motorcycles

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 7 12:29:43 MST 2012


http://ijms.nova.edu/Spring2010/IJMS_Artcl.Medovoi.html

International Journal of Motorcycle Studies
Volume 6, Issue 1: Spring 2010

Special Issue: Motorcycle--Beschleunigung und Rebellion?

Marx and McQueen: Racing against Communism in Fordist America
Leerom Medovoi

What does Karl Marx have to do with Steve McQueen?  Or to put the 
question in the context that concerns this essay, how might Marx 
clarify the postwar American obsession with motorcycles and 
speeding cars that McQueen embodied?  This is a question that 
might be approached in two distinct ways.  One would take Marx as 
the question’s subject: how, as a thinker, does Marx help us to 
understand the postwar culture of speed? The other takes Marx as 
the question’s object:  how did Marx’s historical legacy in the 
twentieth century lead us to McQueen? We will find the answer to 
both of these questions in an unlikely place: the American suburb.

On the one hand, the 1950s are aptly known as the so-called 
“golden age of capitalism,” a unique moment in the history of an 
economic system whose relations of power remain most poignantly 
theorized by Marx.  On the other hand, Marx also matters because 
Soviet communism claimed a line of descent from both his theories 
(instantiating the communist society he predicted) and his praxis 
(an outgrowth of his political activity as a communist).  Using 
Marx in a dialectical fashion, as both a thinker and a shorthand 
for communism’s historical impact, I will suggest that popular 
icons of youthful speed like Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, or Jack 
Kerouac, appealed so strongly in the postwar decades because they 
served as an antidote to anxious Cold War conceptions of America’s 
suburbs, which (as we shall see) many condemned as a 
crypto-communistic space of stasis, conformity, and subjection. 
Or, to put this even more simply, speed was American capitalism’s 
fetishistic answer to its own fear that it might be outstripped by 
communism.

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