The Real Karl Marx by John Gray | The New York Review of Books

The Real Karl Marx by John Gray | The New York Review of Books

A thoughtful and informed review of Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, by Jonathan Sperber, a study that puts Marx back in the epoch and amid the controversies in which he lived. According to Gray (the reviewer),
Marx understood the anarchic vitality of capitalism earlier and better than probably anyone else. But the vision of the future he imbibed from positivism, and shared with the other Victorian prophet he faces in Highgate Cemetery [Herbert Spencer], in which industrial societies stand on the brink of a scientific civilization in which the religions and conflicts of the past will fade way, is rationally groundless—

I wonder what the late Eric Hobsbawm would have thought of this book. In the essays collected in How to Change the World, he seems to have reached some of the same conclusions, but with a great difference: Hobsbawm was not very interested in an academic study of Marx and Marxism, but rather in "changing the world", trying to make it better — more equal, more fair, more liveable — which has been and continues to be the great project of those who have called themselves Marxists. Of course Marx alone cannot be taken as a guide for action in a world he never knew, our world of jet planes and Internet and a massive shift of political power away from Europe and toward the BRICS. But reading him can sure stimulate our thinking, the new thinking we need today.


Dirk van ouhuys said...

Would that were so, but it seems to me that the primary goals of those who call themselves Marxist include at least as much holding onto power, besting their opponents for the mere sake of winning the struggle, not to mention internecine vendettas. Of course, in this respect, they are not worse that other isms.

gef said...

Perhaps that's what Marx had in mind when he said (repeatedly) "I am not a Marxist."