Marx: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions Book 28) Kindle Edition
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ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
"I always recommend that undergraduates should read Singer's book to get an overview. I find it a very useful introduction: succinct and sophisticated."- Professor Diana Coole, University of California, Irvine
"[An] excellent brief presentation of Marx and his teachings, written with clarity and conciseness; up-to-date in its sources, dispassionate in its approach to [Marx] and balanced in its assessment."- Peter McConville, University of San Francisco
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
About the Author
Peter Singer is Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, a position that he now combines with the position of Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. An Australian, in 2012 he was made a Companion to the Order of Australia,
his country's highest civilian honor. His books include Animal Liberation (1975; Bodley Head, 2015), Practical Ethics (1979; CUP, 2011), The Life You Can Save (Picador, 2010), and The Most Good You Can Do (Yale University Press, 2015).
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B003N19DQU
- Publisher : OUP Oxford (October 12, 2000)
- Publication date : October 12, 2000
- Language : English
- File size : 888 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 124 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Fortunately, this is not the case with this book on Marx. It's been a while since I've read it, and so my memory of the exact format is a bit fuzzy, but the organization was well-done, with a good deal of the book talking about Marx' life as well as the historical context within which his philosophies developed. There is also adequate introductory coverage of Marxist ideology, and although the book as a whole is brief, these things are all presented in a way that it didn't feel choppy or like there were huge gaps in my understanding of the topic's basics.
To end, the author did a great job both in selection of needed information as well as how that information was organized and presented. It's short but more than adequate in its coverage of its intended topic, and this allows for multiple reads of it to be done in a relatively short period of time, enriching the reader's understanding of the basics before delving deeper into the topic. This book was a fantastic introductory piece to Karl Marx and his works and philosophies (love them, hate them or anything in between), and I highly recommend it not only as reading material but also, as the title says, an example for how other books in this series should be organized and written, no matter the topic.
Singer appreciates the decency of Marx's indignation on behalf of those who suffered through 19th century industrial poverty, and the insightfulness of some of Marx's observations about socioeconomic structures -- but he also criticizes the sloppy assumptions Marx drew from these bases, and the false claims that he had discovered scientific 'truths' about human society. Singer also wrestles with the role of Marx's ideas in subsequent political movements that showed no concern for the basic human freedom whose ultimate (and purportedly inevitable) expansion lay at the center of Marx's ambitious and oddly Hegelian worldview.
I am not a Marx scholar, and have only read Marx's major writings piecemeal (mostly as a college student at The New School). This much had left me feeling as though I had missed something -- but not eager to delve into the thousands of pages of Marx that I hadn't yet read (or the reams of subsequently written criticism). I think for readers who have been exposed to Marx, and would like to understand the larger context of his work, Singer has done a good job here of painting that larger picture. This essay introduces the key themes, underpinnings, and criticisms of an important and influential yet tragically flawed philosopher.
Overall: helpful, thought provoking, and enjoyable.
Notwithstanding, Singer's Marx is a very good introduction. After a brief biographical sketch of Marx--which dispels the myth of his living and dying in penury, by the way--Singer examines his early flirtation with Hegelianism, his reflections on alienation and history, and his political economy. It's in his discussion of the last two topics that Singer excels. I've found no better text for introducing concepts such as "species being" and "labor theory of value" to my undergraduate students. Singer returns to Marx's understanding of human nature and it's relationship to alienating modes of production in his final chapter, "Assessment," and concludes that human nature probably isn't as pliable as Marx supposed. But it's also clear that Singer is sympathetic with Marx's critique of capitalism.
A good introduction for absolute newcomers to Marx--which, these days, is probably everyone under 30.
Top reviews from other countries
My teenage romance with Marxism didn’t last too long and suffered numerous blows as I discovered not its power to transform but, disappointingly, its consistent failure. And when I later became president of the Students’ Union at a small college in Sussex I was appalled at the sanctimonious reverence Marx was paid. The primary example of this happened not at the National Conference but at an (ironically) exclusive and somewhat secretive gathering of three Students’ Union presidents at Sussex University. Our host, the Sussex Uni president, asked us to be seated. He then proceeded to unveil, by pulling down on a little fluffy cord, a red velvet curtain, behind which were revealed portraits first of Marx, then Lenin, and finally the then General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov. Once this ceremony was complete he opened the meeting. It was both strangely religious and hopelessly sad.
But that kind of obsequious nonsense was the least of it. The philosophy itself was problematic. Apart from his impressive, often accurate view of the past, Marx’s vision for future revolution and collective ownership had already obviously failed in the terrifyingly authoritarian regimes that claimed him as their founder. Even George Orwell said – somewhere in Homage to Catalonia – that he only saw communism work once, and then only for about three weeks, after which the usual egotistical impulse for status reasserted itself. One set of status/power/money lovers had been replaced by another set who soon began to act like those they replaced.
The Significance of Marx
Marx and Engels felt they had discovered a scientific assessment of social progress akin to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The parallel is oddly appropriate for many Christians: we may agree with much of what both Darwin and Marx observed, but may also have considerable doubts about the projections they made based on the observation.
And so to Peter Singer’s highly readable, Marx, A Very Short Introduction. He asks, ‘Can anyone now think about society without reference to Marx’s insights into the links between economic and intellectual life? Marx’s ideas brought about modern sociology, transformed the study of history, and profoundly affected philosophy, literature, and the arts. In this sense of the term – admittedly a very loose sense – we are all Marxists now.’ (3)
Hegel, History, and God
There were a number of points at which the thinking of others encouraged Marx to see religion as ultimately negative (for Marx this inevitably meant Christianity). In describing Hegel and the young Hegelians who influenced Marx Singer writes, ‘The goal of history became the liberation of humanity; but this could not be achieved until the religious illusion had been overcome.’ (22) Of course! Singer has unintentionally sent us back to a conversation in Eden in Genesis 3. And later, ‘theology is a kind of misdirected anthropology. What we believe of God is really true of ourselves. Thus humanity can regain its essence, which in religion it has lost.’ (23) And in an inevitable statement of absolute naturalism, ‘Thought does not precede existence, existence precedes thought.’ (24) Christians love the fact that in the beginning was thought and word, and all creation came into existence as a result of thought and word. But Marx only saw the way religion created compliance rather than progress.
Economic Injustice and its Cure
When Marx came on to his views of economic injustice we find some of his arguments compelling but his solutions naive. When pointing out that driving wages down to as close as is necessary to merely keep workers alive, while keeping for themselves a significant amount of the value the workers create, Marx is highlighting a genuine manipulation of human resources. (33) Sure. We need just laws, and we ought to have them. But Marx asserted ‘the solution is the abolition of wages, alienated labour, and private property in one blow. In a word, communism.’ (36) and claimed, ‘Communism…is the genuine resolution of the antagonism between man and nature and between man and man…It is the riddle of history solved and knows itself as this solution.’ Singer adds, ‘One might expect that Marx would go on to explain in some detail what communism would be like. He does not – in fact nowhere in his writings does he give more than sketchy suggestions on this subject.’ (37)
Marx and Engels consistently preached for a kind of millennial era of liberation, freedom from oppression, and peace among men. In one sense, the very best motivations of the communist vision are a kind of echo of genuine Christianity, but with man, not God, at the centre. In fact it’s difficult to imagine the birth of Marxist philosophy in any but a Christian cultural environment, and a muscular 19th century Christianity at that. ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,’ could have been bellowed out by William Booth and the Salvation Army; could, in fact, have been written by Luke in the Book of Acts (see Acts 2.45 [i], and 4.34 [ii]).
Marx was also echoing a widely held Christian sentiment when he asserted that history has a definite goal; that of humanity reaching its greatest potential in an era of liberation and freedom. He probably didn’t realise how much a view of God’s sovereignty, of providence, and the millennial hope he carried in his thinking about the future. Singer brings us up to post-Christian speed: ‘Few historians…now see any goal in history. They do not explain history as the necessary path to anywhere. They explain it by showing how one set of events brought about another.’ (57)
Revolution and Transformation
Marx believed that Capitalism would force its own failure as workers would realise their exploitation, rise up, and redistribute wealth on a fair and equal basis. Private property would be abolished. The State would draw the allegiance of all men and the common good would be the goal of all. Absolutely wishful thinking. Singer: ‘According to Marx’s view of history, as the economic basis of society alters, so all consciousness alters. Greed, egoism, and envy are not ingrained forever in the character of human beings. They would disappear in a society in which private property and private means of production were replaced with communal property and socially organized means of production. We would lose our preoccupation with our private interests. Citizens of the new society would find their own happiness in working for the good of all. (81) Surely only the most inexperienced revolutionary could believe that? ‘It has been said that later in life Marx developed a less Utopian view of communism, but it is difficult to find much evidence of this.’ (83)
His view was so utopian in fact that he believed communism would become fully international in its reach, and therefore single nation-states would cease to exist, thus eradicating the impulse for war between nations. Armed forces would become a thing of the past. Cue not-the-only-dreamer, John Lennon. Actually though, while it’s certainly not imaginable now, it is nevertheless a hope that’s deeply embedded in the human psyche (we’re made in the image of God after all) and it echoes an idea worked out in Christian eschatology.
How do we assess Marx’s philosophy?
Singer: ‘More than a century after Marx made these predictions, most of them are so plainly mistaken that one can only wonder why anyone sympathetic to Marx would attempt to argue that his greatness lies in the scientific aspects of his work. Judged by the standards of Marx’s time, the gap between rich and poor has narrowed dramatically throughout the industrialized world…Real wages have risen. Factory workers today earn considerably more than they need in order to remain alive and reproducing…Capitalism has gone through several crises, but nowhere has it collapsed as a result of its alleged internal contradictions. Proletarian revolutions have broken out in the less developed nations [Marx predicted it would happen in the more developed ones]. (88) He supposed ‘that real wages would remain around subsistence level; in fact the increase in productivity has allowed real wages to rise.’ (91) The ‘conception of freedom Marx espoused contains within it a difficulty Marx never sufficiently appreciated, a difficulty which can be linked with the tragic mutation of Marx’s views into a prop for murderously authoritarian regimes. This is the problem of obtaining the co-operation of each individual in the joint endeavour of controlling our society.’ (92) ‘Marx never intended a communist society to force the individual to work against his or her own interests for the collective good.’ (97)
Marx’s view of human nature was hopelessly optimistic. The economic injustices he identified were not simply the result of capitalist systems (though those systems enabled them) but of fallen human nature, sinful nature. And even though today we can see improvement to human rights and progress in many areas, enacted in many laws, the fundamental problem of human sin is still wildly underestimated. This doesn’t let capitalism off the hook of course, let alone individuals greedy for their own advancement at the expense of others. In fact, those Christian leaders and pastors living in countries with ever-widening gaps between rich and poor need to develop a healthy desire and determination to work for a more just society. Nevertheless, the communism that was experienced in the twentieth century was never the utopia Marx dreamt of; that dream of equality only ever appeared in propaganda films. Equally unconvincing are the arguments that true Marxism has never been properly tried. The reason it never lasts longer than a few weeks is because the philosophy radically over-estimates the goodness of human nature. What is needed is a philosophy that (goes beyond philosophy and) gets into the heart and changes human nature, that leads to repentance from sin and faith in Christ, and produces an unwavering resolve for social justice. To put it in the words of the most famous prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’