I think the cover and title of this book are a bit misleading. The book certainly doesn't contain any blueprint for 'changing the world'. What it does contain is a collection of essays written between 1956 and 2009, most never previously published before in English, many considerably extended, that provide a history of both Marx and Marxism.
The book is divided into two sections. Part 1 is entitled 'Marx and Engels' and consists of 'Marx Today', 'Marx, Engels and pre-Marxian Socialism', 'Marx, Engels and Politics', 'On Engels' The Condition of the Working Class', 'On the Communist Manifesto', 'Discovering the Grundrisse', 'Marx on pre-Capitalist Formations' and 'The Fortunes of Marx's and Engels' Writings'.
Part 2 - 'Marxism' - includes 'Dr Marx and the Victorian Critics', 'The Influence of Marxism 1880-1914', 'In the Era of Anti-fascism 1929-45', 'Gramsci', 'The Reception of Gramsci', 'The Influence of Marxism 1945-83', 'Marxism in Recession 1983-2000' and finally 'Marx and Labour: the Long Century'.
I have to admit I found some of the essays pretty hard work. 'The Fortunes of Marx's and Engels' Writings' looks at the publication histories of the works, how they have developed (for example, the MEGA or 'Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe' projects), the changing fates of the works in relation to the rise and fall of communist states and parties. A bit dry.
But, on the other hand, the second essay, 'Marx, Engels and pre-Marxian Socialism', is a fascinating contextualisation of the thoughts of Marx and Engels. Generally, as Hobsbawm points out, 'the origins can be found in French socialism, German philosophy and British political economy' (P34). Looking at these in some detail well illustrates the foundations of Marx's and Engels' thoughts.
The second section I found generally much more interesting. The essay 'In the Era of Anti-fascism 1929-45' considers how the growth of Marxism in the 'Age of Catastrophe' was a response to the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. As Hobsbawm says 'The radicalisation of intellectuals in the 1930s was rooted in a response to the traumatic crisis of capitalism in the early years of this decade' (P266) and '...the threat of fascism was far more than merely political...If fascism stamped out Marx, it equally stamped out Voltaire and John Stuart Mill.' (P268)
The two essays on Gramsci are also fascinating, partly because of the ideas themselves but also as an illustration of the way Marx's ideas can be developed, extended and modified. And, in the same way that Marx's ideas have spread, the developments of those ideas might also be propagated.
In 'The Influence of Marxism 1945-83', Hobsbawm charts the intellectual impact of Marxism. As he says, 'There are not many thinkers whose name alone suggests major transformations of the human intellectual universe. Marx is among them, together with such figures as Newton, Darwin and Freud.' (P347)
This was a period that saw huge increases in secondary and university education, the radical movements of the 1960s, the synthesis of Marxist ideas with structuralism, psychoanalysis, existentialism (think Althusser, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, the Frankfurt School et al). But this explosion of Marxian theory perhaps held within it the seeds of it's own destruction. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of radical neo-liberal economics, post-modern relativism are all considered in 'Marxism in Recession 1983-2000'.
The final section brings things almost right up-to-date. If Marxism has been discredited, so too has capitalism in its latest crisis. Hobsbawm suggests that '[s]ince the 1980s it has been evident that the socialists...were left without their traditional alternative to capitalism...But the believers in the 1973-2008 reductio ad absurdum of market society are also left helpless. A systematic alternative system may not be on the horizon, but the possibility of a disintegration, even a collapse, of the existing system is no longer to be ruled out.' (P418)
Hobsbawm points out that we have not reached 'The End of History
'. Marxist-based analyses can still be productive and are still being produced - think of David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital
. It is becoming increasingly clear that capitalism as it is currently constituted is not sustainable, in all senses of the word. As such, Hobsbawm's book serves as a timely reminder of the history, the depth and sophistication of Marx's analyses and perhaps provides a pointer to the future of Marxist inspired thought and action.
Interestingly, a young Egyptian protester in Tahrir Square, interviewed by Jeremy Paxman a couple of days ago, claimed she was a 'revolutionary socialist'...