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on 17 January 2018
What a book sort of book your never going to read , 2 pages in hooked . Made for reading and puts not only the subject but the world into perspective
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on 1 October 2013
I really enjoyed reading this book, as Eagleton provides a solid review of Marxism. He uses a variety of sources from Marx's various works and is able to go into quite some depth into the practical side of Marxism, something I have yet to see from any other Marxist writer. The chapters are the right length to provide clarity on the issue being addressed but not as to waffle on and on. However, anybody who considers themselves to be already knowledgeable on the subject will find this book quite useless; for people who have only heard what they learnt in History class, this book is for you.
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on 6 June 2017
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on 13 June 2015
In his Preface to Why Marx Was Right, Terry Eagleton states that the book 'had its origin in a single, striking thought: What if all the most familiar objections to Marx's work are mistaken?' (ix). But there was still the question of how to proceed, because such a topic could easily expand into a monstrous project of explication and rebuttal. So, with this mind, Eagleton decided to take 'ten of the most standard criticisms of Marx...and...refute them one by one' (x). What follows, then, is an insightful and idiosyncratic account of Marx's work and Eagleton's own interpretation of Marxism as a whole. It also doubles as the 'clear, [and] accessible introduction' (ibid) Eagleton wanted it to be, for it's the perfect gateway for 'those unfamiliar with...[Marx's] work' (ibid). But, most importantly of all, it adds a little common sense and humour to a subject that's been pilfered by the arcane world of academia, a world completely detached from the proletariat it (theoretically) yearns to emancipate. And this approach, contrary to the methods of his tenured colleagues, illuminates Eagleton's finest gift - explaining Marx to the inquisitive layman.

So what are, in Eagleton's view, the top ten criticisms aimed at Marx? In order, we have the idea that Marxism is: 1) irrelevant in the post-industrial societies of the West; 2) given to bloodshed and grey tyranny; 3) a shackling form of historical determinism; 4) based on a credulous and naive dream of utopia; 5) built on a monochromatic and rigid idea of economic determinism; 6) mired in insentient materialism; 7) based on an outdated conception of class; 8) carried out by violent advocates of revolution and armed insurrection; 9) geared to state-driven dictatorships; 10) being sidelined by new political movements and discourses, such as environmentalism, feminism, gay rights, etc, etc. So these, in short, are the various myths and inaccuracies Eagleton casually dismantles in the next two-hundred-and-fifty pages. But, as the book's title makes clear, the numerous outcomes have been decided well in advance.

There can be no doubt that, as Eagleton mentions, 'Marxists want nothing more than to stop being Marxists' (p.1). In fact, that 'there is a life after Marxism is the whole point of Marxism' (p.2), because only by 'superannuating its opponent can it superannuate itself' (ibid). Unfortunately, though, the capitalist mode of production doesn't work like that. But why is this? Well, because capitalism will always 'behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so' (p.8). And then there's the dialectical aspect of capitalism to contend with. How do we begin to explain something that is both good and bad at the same time? The contradiction present in this once oppositional relationship was not lost on Marx. And it's certainly not lost on Eagleton, who echoes Marx's words in The Communist Manifesto and Capital when he says that although capitalism 'brings in its wake new possibilities of emancipation' (p.45) it 'also arrives coated in blood' (ibid). So what, or where, are the alternatives? Eagleton discusses the various proposals that have been put forward to counteract this perennially immovable system but they all carry the pong of fantasy. And this reiterates the point recently made by Benjamin Kunkel in Utopia or Bust: 'Marxism seems better prepared to interpret the world than to change it'. And Eagleton is guilty of this pernicious drift in Marxist thought, as he has no original blueprint for change in a post-emancipated world. This is a major failing. As a diagnostician, he is wonderful at detailing the crimes of capital, but he falters at putting forward his own alternative. He advocates socialism, certainly, but just how would he go about it? That is the great unanswered question.

Moving on, and without sounding like a stroppy teenager, Eagleton begins to explore the ways in which capitalism is propped up by ideology. As Eagleton remarks, 'Human beings...are political animals by their very nature' (p.82), and it's this political jockeying for supremacy which has caused no end of trouble, because the way humans 'produce their material existence has so far involved exploitation and inequality' (ibid). Here, then, we see the birth of those political systems which look to quell the tumultuous array of opposing forces and their 'resulting conflicts' (ibid). Marx, however, clearly understood how such frameworks could be abused by the rich and powerful for their own benefit. Yes, massive inroads were made by the multifarious working-class movements fighting for universal suffrage, but this ability to vote was merely an illusion of freedom, and one which only served to mask the 'real inequalities of wealth and class' (p.103). And this, with a few modifications, is the rut Eagleton thinks we're still in. Does the realisation of this democratic impotence explain the political apathy prevailing today? There can be no doubt that many people feel any trip to the ballot box is a vote for mediocrity. Furthermore, they distrust a process that provides a mandate for the ruling elites to carve up parliament and play politics with people's futures. Yet Marx, in one of his more dialectical moods, still supported 'reformist measures such as the extension of the franchise' (p.192), because the realistic alternatives were bleak. As he saw it, the working-class vote, for all its failings, was the easiest way of destroying the oligopolistic stranglehold of the ruling classes - to misuse it, or discard its power, was an utter waste.

Yet, as Eagleton says, 'There seems to be something in humanity which will not bow meekly to the insolence of power' (p.100), whether it's been elected or not. And it's this idea, this ever-lasting optimism, which underpins everything in Eagleton's book. History may've been a tale of 'scarcity, hard labour, violence and exploitation' (p.111-2), but it doesn't have to continue in that way. Eagleton is right when he says that 'Marx's work is all about human enjoyment' (p.126). To some, this may seem like a bizarre thought; to others, it will strike a note of truth. By detailing the pitfalls of the capitalist mode of production, and by making an exhaustive inventory of its exploitative methods, Marx showed how wealth was (is) created in such abundance. But once these means of production passed into the hands of the associated producers, they would no longer be making wealth and leisure for the few but for the many - and here the greedy urge to accumulate capital ends. This may seem a bit utopian, but Eagleton is quick to note that the Marxist alternative will never eradicate 'road accidents, wretchedly bad novels, lethal jealousies, [and] overweening ambitions' (p.101). Nevertheless, it can, by excising the structural scarcity built into capital's self-propagation, remove the root cause of all the 'violence, fear, greed, anxiety, possessiveness, domination and deadly antagonism' (p.92) that blights the modern world. Only then will the key issues begin to be addressed. Whether the reader finds Eagleton's argument persuasive is up to them, but it's hard not to drawn in by its simplistic and hopeful message.

Eagleton makes some very pertinent points and some very pointed quips. For instance, he is entirely correct when he notes how Marx's works were 'penned (unlike most of his disciples) with a meticulous attention to style' (p.123). He's also correct when he mentions that 'In its brief but bloody career, Marxism has involved a hideous amount of violence' (p.184). But Eagleton's at his sharpest when he's exposing the contradictions of capital. So, yes, the rule of capital may have provided 'a resolute opposition to political tyranny, a massive accumulation of wealth which brought with it the prospect of universal prosperity, respect for the individual, civil liberties, democratic rights, a truly international community and so on' (p.164), but still its continued to sully its potential as an 'emancipatory force' (ibid) by being a frequently 'catastrophic one' (ibid). Such passages are a frequent pleasure in this book. Anyhow, for those that worry about imbibing the words of a doctrinaire Marxist firebrand, Eagleton is nothing of the sort anymore. If anything, he comes across as a wise and frank raconteur, and one whose chatter is thankfully devoid of the Marxist fundamentalism that hampers the tomes of his Marxist chums. No, Eagleton is happy to the let the reader think for themselves and to 'select whatever ideas in...[Marx's] work seem most plausible' (p.52) and adapt them to their own ends. This approach is similar to that of David Harvey, who encourages this freedom of interpretation for two reasons: 1) to move away from a narrow and doctrinal Marxism and 2) to help Marxism adapt to the twenty-first century. Whether that project is a success remains to be seen, but Eagleton's book is a welcome base from which to start rebuilding.
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on 12 May 2012
Much has already been said in various reviews of this book of its relevence to students of philosophy, politics and economics, but I believe its greatest use will be to new students of sociology. Although explicity not designed as an analysis of Marxist sociology, this book will be of massive interest to budding sociologists, as it offers both a realist and humanist account of Marxist theory. Eagleton demonstrates that Marx combined both an analysis of structure (the social relations of production) and agency ("men make their own history")in a wide historical context. He also counters the misconception (often found in introductory sociology textbooks)that Marx was a rigid economic determinist and had no interest in anything other than class. This book is concerned with the very "core" of Marxist theorising, and is fun, informative and absolutely relevent to the present.
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on 22 February 2013
The most readable, well-informed and thought-provoking text on politics I have read for many years. Guaranteed to stimulate your brain, whether you start off as a sympathiser or not. Demonstrates Eagleton's lucid and engaging style to its best advantage. Highly recommended.
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on 15 January 2013
This book was much needed. The well-read Marxist will probably gain little additional knowledge from it. However, it is a fantastic and enjoyable read, funny, ironic and launching a devastating attack against many of Marx's critics. The book answers to ten of the most common critiques of Marxism. Those who unleash these critiques I am sure will be challenged if they read this book with an open mind. Ultimately, this could be a book for the general reader, the one who would be first helped by an introduction to Marxism and anybody who desires to read to further their limited knowledge of Marxism. I would still recommend reading The Communist Manifesto beforehand. Overall, pick it up.
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on 8 April 2013
In this pamphlet, Terry Eagleton refutes the most common political, ideological and philosophical arguments against Marx's Marxism, while giving his own view on the way of the world and mankind. His polemic diatribe is far less fanatical than the attacks of Marx's enemies. At least one of his propositions is truly revolutionary.

Marx's originality
Marx locked together two ideas: class struggle and production mode (capitalism), providing thereby a new scenario for historical change.
Classes are for Marx not reducible to economic factors. They are `social', not `economic', formations involving customs, traditions, institutions, sets of values and habits of thought, but also political phenomena like class struggle. The latter is fundamentally a battle for the surplus value.
The culture, laws and politics of a class society are bound up with the interests of the dominant social classes. The ruling material force in society is at the same time the ruling intellectual force.

Marx's human socialism
For T. Eagleton, Marx's social system `requires a skilled, educated, politically sophisticated populace, thriving civic institutions, a well-evolved technology, enlightened liberal traditions, the habit of democracy and enough leisure time for everyone. This was (is) not the vision of the powerful on this planet: `universal suffrage, free education, free speech or trade unions were won by popular struggle in the teeth of ferocious ruling-class resistance'.
For Marx, the `State' will not wither away, only the State as an instrument of violence. There will always be an administrative body with class-neutral functions, as well as a police force and prisons.
A most necessary general (and also Marxist) proposition is the public ownership of the media and a democratically elected management. `The world would be free of the situation in which a bunch of power crazed bullies dictate through their privately owned outlets what the public should believe'.

Human nature and utopias
In Marx's words, `change is not the opposite of human nature'. But, the historicist case `that it is only our history, not our nature. that makes what we are', is an extremely dangerous pipedream as history has shown. It is the dream of Antonio Gramsci and his `uomo nuovo'.
Crudely spoken, a pedophile remains a pedophile all his life, even when masquerading as a priest.
T. Eagleton's utopia of `organizing social life so that individuals are able to realize themselves in and through the self-realization of others', is nothing less than altruism, which is not only a biological dead end (G.C. Williams).
Human nature (R. Dawkins' selfish genes) explains ethnic and religious strife, racism, nationalism and tribalism in the struggle for power (survival). As Albert Camus regrets in `The Rebel', when the `Left' gets on the political forefront, the will to power takes the place of the will to justice.
In fact, T. Eagleton states himself about civilization: `at the root of our most lofty conceptions lie violence, scarcity, desire and aggression.' More, the powerful who ruled in the name of Marx committed brutal crimes against their populations; but far less than Christianity or capitalism.

This thought-provoking book is a must read (critically) for all those who want to understand human history and the world we live in.
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VINE VOICEon 9 September 2012
I was sympathetic to the ideas of Marxism as a student , but following the demise of the Soviet Union ,the subsequent discrediting of the socialist worldview and my own entry into the capitalist workplace,my opinions turned more right wing.However in middle age I have grown to dislike capitalism once again and the way it turns people into money grabbing,acquisitive, selfish clones."Why Marx Was Right" is a courageous attempt to make the writings of Marx fashionable again in a world which treats them mostly with scorn.Each chapter starts off with a little summary of common criticisms of Marx which the writer then goes on to debunk in a stylishly written ,often witty manner, although a lot of it was waffly. I must admit that I would have tended to agree with much of these criticisms prior to reading this book. Eagleton didnt really convince me of his arguments most of which seem to indicate that Marx was misunderstood,but I appreciated the attempt to create an alternative world view to the pro capitalist one that is hegemonic throughout the world today. We desperately need an alternative to capitalism,but all we get are ones that want more of it or ones that want to reform it slightly to make it more acceptable to poorer people (the majority). However I can understand why this is the case as capitalism is so entrenched on a global basis ,so well organised and so willing to use a wide panoply of forms of repression that it seems impossible to fight it regionally,nationally or globally.Defeatism is the order of the day. Eagleton's book gives back Marxism some of its credibility as a critique of capitalism,but doesnt really suggest how it can be applied to the world today. Surely only a global socialist revolution could succeed in todays world-any national revolutions would only lead to isolation of the country involved and more Communist dictatorships surrounded by a sea of hostility. Also I fail to be convinced that the "working class" are going to lead us into the future. This stratum of society are the least educated (most of them dont even know what Marxism is about),the poorest and they are happier following rather than leading, plus capitalism doesnt allow them to fight the system anyway with its repressive labour laws, mind controlling media ,threat of unemployment and blacklisting and culture of conformance. Also capitalism keeps the working class in a standard of living not quite bad enough to make them hostile to it and want to destroy it. So there are a lot of things in this book that I didnt agree with , but I think its important for Marxist ideas to be circulated more widely and its critique of capitalism made more broadly known -for the sake of democracy and pluralism if nothing else- as rapacious capitalist organisations and corporations seem to have no check on their operations any more and just leave ordinary people feeling helpless,powerless and leave them to succumb to their basest desires.
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on 6 December 2013
An excellent book from Eagleton. Easily accessible and with a pungent sense of humour( as Marx himself had in his books),it covers the different aspects of Marx's thought. It gives a new light to what socialism really means. The author enlightens the reader on the perils of capitalism and give them an exhaustive argumentation on how the capitalist society into which we live, needs a dramatic change, if we want to be rid of the injustices and inequalities brought upon us by capitalism. The author, as Marx and the good Engels themselves in their time, does not deny the need for society to pass through the stage of capitalism in order to maximize the amount of wealth needed to create the 'superstructure' or that high category of art, literature and science, which enables modern society to progress. However, Eagleton makes it clear that we need to move on, if the 'base', the productive forces that make possible to professors, artists, journalists and TV presenters ( although I am not quite sure about the last one) to work and give to us the culture that we so much enjoy.
Socialism, or communism if you prefer, is not egalitarian. Capitalism it is. It has taken us to a magnificent and unique level of equality: that of profit and money for the sake of it.
Eagleton might not have the depth of Eric Hobsbawn, when it comes to cast a light to some aspects on Marxist theories and analysis of Marx's literary production, although is a far more enjoyable reading than the dear professor's books.
Capitalism is not fair, especially when in half an hour time you have to dash off for a menial job paid with minimum wage....as it is the case for myself! I have the honour of seeing with my own eyes and feel with my own thick skin what exploitation means.
One last advice to the undoubtedly intelligent potential reader of this little, beautiful jewel created by the mind which has also given us very interesting insights into literary criticism: take a good look at the bibliography, as Eagleton cites very interesting sources.
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