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on 25 December 2006
Wolff provides a masterful summary of Marxist thought in this short and to the point book. The Marxist take on religion, politics and economics are all well handled, and the book ends with Wolff expressing succinctly his own view of Marxist thought. The book begins with biographical facts about Marx, his early thought, his relationship with Engels, the First International, his view of religion, his criticism of capitalism, and his proposals for a communist society that might replace it.

The book itself is a short and accessible paperback written in an easy style. Fuller puts Marx in context well without getting too involved or detailed. This book is a brilliant introduction. Recommended highly.
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on 14 September 2006
It is a rare thing to find a book about philosophy that manages to convey the key arguments without becoming stuck purely in the basic or banal and yet manages to remain eminently readable. Wolff has achieved this holy grail in this snappily written litle book. Any student doing a course in political philosophy would do well to start here as Wolff's explainations of such areas as historical materialism, base and superstructure, and alienation are absolutely first class. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this book is that for something so short Wolff still manages to give a very original answer to the question he set himself and us.
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on 9 March 2003
This is one of the most interesting and useful books there is on Marx. It has everything in to help with a number of A-Levels and University degrees. I used it not only in my Russian Units of History A-level, but also for a large chunk of my Phiolosophy of Religion coursework. The book will hold your attention and gets to the point quickly. For the first time reader of Marx this will give you a stepping stone with simply, yet detailed information on what Marx was trying to tell us.
In the present climate of a new war it can give a new insight into what the world should really strive for!
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on 30 November 2013
tHIS IS A MARVELLOUS BOOK BY A FIRST RANK SCHOLAR. I bought it as a gift for a friend . I have my own copy
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on 16 March 2004
This really gets across a picture of what a great thinker Marx was - by going into brief but detailed accounts of his companions' thoughts and rivals' beliefs, helping the reader to grasp why he opposed capitalist ideals. It encouraged me to read the Communist Manifesto, which Karl Marx was mainly responsible for.
A sensible look at faults in current systems and support for a system widely seen as an irrational and disfunctional method. A perfect blend of philosophy and economics.
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on 4 September 2009
A virus has been haunting the world for 150 years - the virus of Marxism. It mutates at incredible speed and can assume the weirdest shapes. (Indeed, many of the mutant forms bear only the faintest resemblance to the original virus.) It can cause serious damage to individual and public health. Some researchers believe that it is deadly in any form. Even in our times of economic recovery, social regeneration and global well-being (yes, we can!), the risk that somebody you know and love gets infected with the virus of Marxism is surprisingly high. If a person in your vicinity has expressed any doubt lately about the progress of our society towards a bigger-better-brighter future; if they have shown signs of profound disorientation such as mentioning the name of Marx in public or even (god forbid) reading a book BY Marx - then by all means you must act at once! The virus can quickly become resilient to even the most ruthless therapy methods.

Now, at last, here is a message of hope: the Oxford University Press is proud to present what is sure to become one of the leading anti-Marx antidotes on the market. Disguised as a friendly guide, it is targeted to victims of the virus in its earlier stage of infection, when the chances of eliminating it are higher. The book's attractive qualities include: a thin constitution, making it seem oh-so-easy to learn everything you need to know about Marx in one afternoon; a slick red cover with a super-cool version of the iconic picture of the bearded madman (chicks will be impressed when you walk by with this book under your arm!); accessible language that makes the reader feel at ease with his/her own virus (motto: "I too have felt the need to read Marx"); just the right amount of "critical" thinking to give the faint impression of a pro-Marx (god forbid) reading of Marx.

The way this antidote acts is pretty straightforward: by kindly leading the reader through the slopes and slides of Marx's enormous body of work, the book ends up proving that: a) Marx was RIGHT regarding a series of rather obvious issues such as the deceptive nature of religion and the drudgeries of work and how nice it would be if society could develop into a utopia where consideration for your neighbour counted more than making a profit, etc; and b) Marx was WRONG when it comes to the very core of Marxist thinking, namely the idea that profits are made (exclusively) through the exploitation of your/my/everyone's labour (a hard pill to swallow, for sure). The anti-Marx arguments are cleverly saved till the end of the book. By the time the reader gets there, he/she is probably pretty convinced that Marx was a smart chap and had a whole lot of important insights about our society - and then WHAM!, it turns out that, well, the most important insight, the one that forced poor Marx to write three whole volumes in order to explain himself, this very point is nothing but a poorly-founded "claim"... Herein lies the genius of this little book. And exactly what devices does Mr. Wolff use in order to contradict Marx's "claim"? Subtlety is his greatest weapon. Instead of boring us with hard facts, Mr. Wolff carefully selects a number of effective expressions that lead the reader to agree that Marx's whole premise is false. "Claim" is obviously a favourite term, because it implies that Marx neither researched into his topic nor presented proof to sustain his views (never mind those three volumes of "Capital" and many more essays dealing with this matter). Other expressions include: "shaky", "not substantiated", "supposed", "Marx feels" (as opposed to thinks), "as Marx would have it". Mr. Wolff also spends an inordinate amount of pages discussing what Communism is supposed to look like, thus giving the (misleading) impression that Marx wrote more about Communism rather than Capitalism itself. Finally, the coup-de-grace is Mr. Wolff's reduction of Marx's opus "Capital" to a vast collection of "dry pages". Now if THIS isn't enough to make even the most well-intentioned Marxist wannabe give up the effort and move on to more interesting hobbies!

So: waste no more time, get your copy of the anti-Marx antidote NOW and protect yourself and all your loved ones from the virus of Marxism for once and for all! It's quick and safe and 100% guaranteed! (After all, it was put out by the prestigious Oxford University Press.) Marxism no more!!!

(But really, kid: If you've come this far that you are checking out books ABOUT Marx, why not READ MARX HIMSELF and find out first-hand what he had to say about life? All these apparently helpful introductions and "learn-about-so-and-so-in-90-minutes" guides are bound to produce their share of personal interpretations, thus preventing YOU from reaching your own conclusions. It's a bit like believing all the rumours about your neighbour Mr. Smith without actually having met the guy... In spite of all the bad press, Marx himself is a great read: he's smart and witty and he presents his arguments in a clear and understandable language. If you fear the thickness of his - thoroughly rewarding - "Capital", there are myriads of short essays in which he sums up his most important ideas - pardon, "claims". For example: "Wage Labour and Capital". It won't hurt you to give it a try. If you find out that you don't like it, there's always scuba-diving. And TV.)
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on 1 March 2008
I bought this book because I have also read Wolff's Introduction to Political Philosophy, which is far better.

The first issue I have is that Wolff does not bother to divorce Marx from the Communist states. The immediate link between Marx and the Communist states is a troublesome one for me and always cautions me towards any academic. Would we blame Jesus for the crusades? No. Why not? Because they were based on a complete corruption of his ideals and occurred long after his death. The same is applicable to Marx.

The second issue is that Wolff seems to be completely unaware of the meaning of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' which means the rule of the proletariat in the transition between capitalism and communism. Wolff does not draw a distinction between dictatorship of the proletariant (the emergence of the proletariat as the ruling class) and a dictatorship. In fact not only is a distinction not drawn they are clumped together in the absurd minefield of political philosophy.

Lastly, and related to this point, is that he alleges that the main theme of George Orwell's Animal Farm is criticism of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Orwell rightly criticizes the dictatorship of the Soviet Union but he does this in the context of the counter-revolution not in the dictatorship of the proletariat. Wolff further stresses it is an attack on Soviet communism but yet again does not make the distinction between the Communism of the Soviet Union and the system of soviet communism or council communism.

It is ironic that someone who is proclaiming the virtues of studying Marx is clearly lacking himself.
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VINE VOICEon 8 February 2010
The danger of providing a title with a question mark lies in the implicit suggestion the author will provide an answer. In doing so he will identify himself as for, against (in full or in part), or sitting on the fence. In this respect Wolff manages all three. He claims "his work is full of insight and illumination" (pro) but "Marx's grandest theories are not substantiated" (anti) and, of his theory of labour, "this is very clever but it doesn't really settle anything" (fence sitting). The same can be said of Wolff.

In the mid-sixties Marx's theories of alienation and ideology became popular. His materialistic version of religious belief claimed particular insights for the believers and false consciousness for the rest of society. His sacred texts claimed the economic structure determined the political and legal structure. His theory of economic development argued that history was of modes of production in slavery, feudalism, capitalism and communism, each having within it the seeds of its own destruction. Rodney Hilton spent some time in the 1970's trying to apply Marx's of societal transition to the Peasants Revolt of 1381 but was unable to substantiate Marx's myth. The failure to understand the past undermined claims to be able to determine the future.

Mythology is an integral part of Marx's thought. The mythology of class objectification, relations and the dictatorship of the proletariat are important ingredients in Marxist mythology. Marx argued that the purpose of philosophers was not just to understand the world but to change it. However, the world Marx envisaged was mythological and when it came to praxis, the mythology was exposed as false. The only direct proof of the validity of any theory is its practical application. Marxism in action did not concentrate on collapsing economic structures but sought authority from the seizure of political power and the application of policies of terror. Stalinism was not an aberration from Marx but its inevitable result.

Bakunin understood this when he argued that Marxist rule would be the replacement of one ruling class by another. As the old Russian joke puts it, "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Communism is the exact opposite". The expulsion of Bakunin from the First International reflected the conflict between the personalities. Bakunin wrote, "Mr. Marx does not believe in God, but he believes deeply in himself. His heart is filled not with love but with rancor. He has very little benevolence toward men and becomes just as furious, and infinitely more spiteful, than Mazzini when anyone dares question the omniscience of the divinity whom he adores, that is to say, Mr. Marx himself." This arrogance became the main characteristic of Marxist governments as leaders dispensed with Marx's fictional working class and replaced it with their own mythology.

Marx's theory was designed to replace traditional theology with his own materialistic religion. Woolf appears to sympathise stating of traditional theology that, " it is a constant source of wonderment to me that intelligent, educated people can bring themselves to believe any of this". His critique is equally applicable to Marxism. As with other religions it broke up into sects, each claiming possession of absolute truth, its priesthood fought amongst themselves and its heretics were excommunicated or killed. The all embracing theory of Marxists enabled them to explain everything as part of a gigantic conspiracy by liberal capitalism while praxis was equated with the will of the Party.

As Marx was committed to changing the world attempts to write off Communism in power as deviating from his intention are futile. Woolf attempts to deal with this problem by claiming "we value the work of the greatest philosophers for their power, rigour, depth, inventiveness, insight, originality, systematic vision.....Truth, or at least the whole truth, seems to be way down the list...single-minded pursuit of the truth is at the centre of all great philosophy. Yet the value of the resulting works does not depend on its having actually achieved this goal." This gives carte blanche to any philosophy, no matter how obnoxious or impracticable. In empirical terms Marxist societies floundered on untenable theory and unworkable practice. The pudding was inedible.

Marx's ultimate failure was misunderstanding human nature. His belief that humans expressed themselves in the productive process and changing the capitalist mode of production would release them from oppression to establish a society based on solidarity and fraternity was unreal. He failed to draw the right conclusions from the failure of previous socialist experiments. It is ironic that Marx thought the revolution would occur in Britain amongst a working class noted for its conservative, empirical, nature. Woolf's mentor was Gerald Cohen who applied analytical theory to Marxism, which was flavour of the month for a couple of decades. Like Cohen, Woolf appears not to have risen above the intellectual limitations of Marx's manifestly irrelevant theories.

The reason for reading Marx today is to remind ourselves of the philosophical habit, which started with Thales, of getting it wrong. It serves as a reminder of the gullibility of even the brightest people and their capacity for indulging in intellectual contortionism rather than admit their own failures. The book itself is easy to read but the bibliography limited and imbalanced. Marxists will find fault with Wolff's presentation, non-Marxists disappointed with its shallowness. Reading it without reference to its historical context diminishes its value. Three stars.
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