By Judy Cox
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Who the Hell is Karl Marx? And What Are His Theories All About?

This article is over 3 years, 10 months old
Issue 456

Do we need another book on Marx? Many recently published books deal with Marx’s approach to history, to economics, to ecology and to the family in innovative and exciting ways. Having read this book, the answer is a definite yes.

We need books that present Marx and his ideas to new readers, and which remind all readers of the depth of the tradition in which we stand and its capacity to explain and contest the challenges we face.

This book is a general introduction to Marx’s life, ideas and political activism. Manus McGrogan successfully weaves the disparate strands of philosophy, economic, history and biography together in a narrative that is accessible without losing any depth of analysis.

‘Who the hell is Karl Marx’ presents all the key events in Marx’s life, giving a vivid sense of his involvement in the aftermath of the insurgency in Cologne in 1848, his life as a political refugee in Paris, Brussels and London, and his close engagement with the British working class movement.

Through these experiences, young Marx evolved from radical liberal to democrat and socialist and communist. In later years, the insurgent Paris Commune of 1871 had a huge impact on Marx’s conception of workers’ power.

Marx also interacted with the important radical and socialist thinkers of his time ,and these interactions shaped the development of his theoretical approach. Marxism was never a finished project: Marx reacted to scientific and political theories, such as those developed by Charles Darwin, throughout his life.

The role played by Jenny Marx in all these events is prominent in the book; a refreshing change from most Marx biographies which tend to portray her as a long-suffering, wronged wife rather than a socialist in her own right.

Marxism developed through a series of collaborations, with Jenny, Frederick Engels and a host of other radical activists and philosophers, including the Utopian Socialists whose contribution to Marxist thought is given proper prominence.

The book explains the origins and importance of all key aspects of Marxist thought: historical materialism, the labour theory of value, capitalism and crisis, and how a communist society could be organised.

By reasserting the centrality of Marx’s thought, the author provides many useful quotes and arguments that we need to challenge capitalism today. We can contest the ideas generated by the ruling class through all the powerful means at their disposal through our self-organisation.

The emancipation of the working-class was and remains at the centre of Marxist theory and practice.

Marxism was born out of a collective response to capitalism, through both struggle and ideas. Even as capitalism was establishing itself, it was fiercely contested by Marx and Engels, and by tens of thousands of working-class men and women who repeatedly organised and fought back.

There was a massive increase in Marxism after the economic disasters of 2008. We are now in the grip of another crisis born out of the drive for profit and competition inherent within capitalism that should again create an interest in Marxism and alternatives to capitalism. This book is a timely reminder of what we are fighting for and why.

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