The Marxist renaissance man David McNally–who is already a shit hot political economist and commentator on the Marx/Hegel relationship and philosopher of language–also proves himself to be an astute cultural theorist:
The problem with prevailing images of apocalyptic zombie capitalism, however, is that they have lost sight of its most subversive underside: the zombie laborer.
The zombie laborer emerged in Haiti, at one time the world’s largest slave colony, assuming its quintessential form during the period of American occupation (1915-34), when U.S. marines, wielding violence and terror, deployed forced labor to build roads and other infrastructure.
As I document in Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism, it was in modern Haiti that zombies acquired their unique meaning as the animated dead, mere flesh and bones, bereft of memory and identity, toiling on behalf of others. This view of the living dead, which entered the American culture industry in the 1930s and 1940s, carried a critical charge: the notion that capitalist society zombifies workers, reducing them to interchangeable beasts of burden, mere bodies for the expenditure of labor-time.
But the idea of the zombie as a living-dead laborer was displaced in American cultural production in the late 1960s by that of the ghoulish consumer. While this cultural shift can be bitingly satirical, as in George E. Romero’s 1978 zombie-film, Dawn of the Dead, the bulk of which takes place in a shopping mall to which the creatures are obsessively drawn, it replaces the zombie laborer with the manic consumer (of human flesh).
While images of insatiable flesh-eating can cleverly lampoon a late capitalism choking on its own excesses, these satires too readily lose sight of what the Haitian image of the undead grasped: that all this manic consumption is impossible without the millions of workers who feed the machinery of profit with their labor.
Read the rest over at Jacobin.