6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An excellent introduction,
This review is from: Marx: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
If you're never going to have time to trawl through Capital and Grundrisse, then this book will give you a bluffer's guide in 100 pages. Well, not quite, but it does provide an excellent overview of Marx's life and works, and demolishes many of the myths extrapolated from the many mis-readings of his texts - explaining how much of his work is both more nuanced and sometimes less dogmatic than some popular perceptions would credit. He shows how Marx's critique of political economy has withstood the test of time - even if some of his predictions and his rather opaque summary of capitalism's successor remain less than convincing.
Written in 1980 (and revised in 2000), however, some of Singer's own assessments now begin to look premature. Taking issue with Marx's contention that the income gap between workers and capitalists would increase, with more independent producers swallowed up by a capitalist oligopoly, with workers wages barely covering subsistence, leading to capitalism collapsing under the weight of its contradictions, Singer argues that such predictions "are so plainly mistaken" that they are impossible to defend, with the income gap narrowing since Marx's time (though widening in the last decade of the 20th century), with real wages rising at the expense of profits, and capitalism suffering minor crises but no threat of collapse.
From the viewpoint of 2011, however, this seems more debatable. While it is true that inequality declined and social mobility increased in the years following Marx's death, this was largely due to the development of a social democratic movement, driven by the theories of men like L.T. Hobhouse, which sought to ameliorate the more rapacious extremes of capitalist development - if only to save capitalists from themselves. The reductions in inequality did not occur, therefore, as part of capitalist development, but despite it.
If you look at the social democratic interlude as an aberration, as the neoliberals do, rather than a natural part of the course of economic development, then Marx's predictions come into much sharper focus. As the welfare state has been dismantled by the demiurgy of market fundamentalism, so the capitalist project has been put back on track - with the result that real wages have stagnated, with the proceeds of growth defaulting to the capitalist class, resulting in an acceleration of inequality, pushing many more into virtual subsistence or, at least, debt-peonage as those profits have been recycled to workers not in wages but credit. As a result, the spectre of a collapse of the whole economic system rides abroad again, just as it did at the end of the 19th century, when Marx's influence presented such a threat to orthodoxy.
Perhaps the crisis that capitalism's inherent contradictions seemed to prefigure was not so much forestalled as postponed?
In any case, Marx's writings - out of favour for the 40 years of neoliberal hegemony - have seldom been more topical. This is a good place to start.