By Simon Assaf
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Introducing Marxism

This article is over 10 years, 7 months old
Issue 384

This book is a great little introduction to Marxist theories. The authors use illustrations and text to explain concepts such as historical materialism and the dialectic but without crude oversimplification – very handy if you have to prepare for an emergency meeting on Marx’s ideas.

The guide is part of the “Introducing…series”. The publishers Icon have churned out some 83 titles, with more in the pipeline, at a reasonable 6.99 pounds. Among them are introductions to the hard stuff, such as Particle Physics and Quantum Theory, as well as some things you might already know such as the philosophy of Slavoj Zizek, Hegel and Keynes.

Although growing in popularity, the format of the graphic novel has never taken off here as it has in France, where it holds a special place in literature. This is partly because there is a stigma around the “comic” but also because high quality teen writing is well established in English.

Nevertheless, they have a place, and the medium lends itself well to illustrating complex, usually scientific, questions. There are of course inevitable difficulties in explaining Marxism, especially after Marx, and here the guide goes off the rails sometime around 1917.

Rupert Woodfin and Oscar Zarate brush over Rosa Luxemburg, ignore her ideas on reform and revolution, the mass strike and her contribution to economics. They give the same treatment to other important Marxist thinkers such as Nikolai Bukharin. Although Antonio Gramsci gets good coverage, his ideas are used as an introduction to obscure academic Marxists.

Trotsky gets a mention because he opposed Stalin but his contributions on combined and uneven development are ignored. There are also only two pages on “third world” Marxism. Whatever criticism we have of the ideas of Mao and Che Guevara, they deserved some space due to their influence on millions of people.

Instead the second half of the guide is devoted to obscure and arguably non Marxist thinkers such as the Frankfurt School, postmodernists and poststructuralists. These ideas are not uninteresting, but they are out of place here. Buy the book, read only the first half.

Introducing Marxism, Rupert Woodfin and Oscar Zarate, Icon Books, £6.99 pounds (GB).

Available at Bookmarks, the Socialist bookshop.

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