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Why Marx Was Right Paperback – April 24, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Terry Eagleton takes on some of the most common objections to Marxism and answers each in turn, in a clear, non-technical and often humorous way."—London Review of Books
(London Review of Books)

About the Author

Terry Eagleton is currently Distinguished Professor of English Literature at the University of Lancaster, England, and Professor of Cultural Theory at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He lives in Dublin.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300181531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300181531
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Now in its fifth year, with no end in sight, the current capitalist crisis will undoubtedly renew interest in capitalism's greatest critic. Yet, as Eagleton asks, "was ever a thinker so travestied?" Marx's thought is now so buried beneath layers of distortion that the very thought of Marx leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many left-liberals, who as a result can see no further than social democracy. It is this sad state of affairs that Eagleton seeks to remedy, by addressing ten common liberal misconceptions about Marx and socialism more generally.

Thus, while the book is entitled 'Why Marx was right', a better title would be 'Why Marx wasn't wrong', since Eagleton is squarely on the defensive in each chapter. This is a little disappointing, as the current economic crisis makes a positive case for Marx's analysis easier than ever. Yet Eagleton does not really discuss Marx's 'Capital' and his analysis of capitalism in any depth, meaning that the reader will not be given much of an introduction to Marxist thought at all. Instead, Eagleton is more interested in extricating Marx from the disasters of Stalinism and Maoism, and from the conception that Marxism is hopelessly utopian, teleological, anti-humanist, economically determinate, and violently insurrectionary. This type of defense constitutes chapters 2-6 and 8-9, and Eagleton acquits himself ably in the role of defense attorney.

The other major theme of the book (Ch. 1,7,10) consists of Eagleton arguing for the continued relevance of Marx today. Here, Eagleton argues at length for the obvious fact that class is more relevant than ever, despite capitalism's ability to obscure this fact.
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Format: Paperback
"I am out to present Marx's ideas as not perfect but plausible": this caution opens ten chapters which refute standard criticisms. Eagleton reminds us how Marx celebrated as well as condemned what capitalism had achieved to unleash its energies on the modern world: "the system breeds freedom as well as barbarism, emancipation along with enslavement. Capitalist society generates enormous wealth, but in a way that cannot help putting it beyond the reach of most citizens. Even so, that wealth can always be brought within reach. It can be disentangled from the acquisitive, individualist forms which bred it, invested in the community as a whole, and used to keep disagreeable work to the minimum. It can thus release men and women from the chains of economic necessity into a life where they are free to realize their creative potential. This is Marx's vision of communism." (59)

As this excerpt demonstrates, it will not convert the skeptics and it will not overturn the empire. It posits a humanist Marx devotedly, and how this vision would be realized may be as much a question for seminars as Christianity is in seminaries. How this lofty aspiration relates to our everyday world needs explanation, and Eagleton for an open-minded reader may provoke more than soothe, as he sets out I suspect to do. My review comes from neutral territory if any still exists for a reader approaching Marx. I am not a political insider, a trained economist, or a tenured radical, so my interest in this comes from a layman's need for an accessible, cogent interpretation. Eagleton's coming to Marx from lit-crit and not poli-sci: this needs emphasis, given some hasty generalizations, logical weaknesses, and underdeveloped sections of what attempts to be a précis.
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I'll admit upfront that I haven't' read much of Marx or Engels directly - only the assigned pages way back in the haze of college years, which reading I poorly understood at the time and has long since drained from consciousness. Rectifying this gap is one of those things - along with running a marathon and organizing my closet - that I've been meaning to do for quite some time, but somehow hasn't happened yet. Therefore, it is quite handy to have a single volume reference guide to address the most common criticisms of Marx.

Eagleton breaks up the book into ten chapters, each of which purports to address one common criticism of Marx. The actual division is perhaps my biggest criticism of the book. While each chapter header does indeed give common criticism, and one certainly can't accuse Eagleton of creating strawmen to knock down, he does tend to lump too much into each critique.

Chapter Six, for instance, begins, "Marx was a materialist.... He was brutally dismissive of religion, and regarded morality simply as a question of the end justifying the means.... There is an obvious route from this dreary, soulless vision of humanity to the atrocities of Stalin and other disciples of Marx." There are several different themes running through that critique - materialism, religion, morality, and atrocities of Marx's avowed followers. Certainly, such themes are all arguably related, but trying to address them all together makes it rather confusing to remember exactly what critique Eagleton is rebutting. Several times I found myself flipping back to the beginning of the chapter to refresh my memory. Also, it makes the book rather repetitive because many themes end up getting addressed in several sections.
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