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Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton

Why Marx Was Right is Terry Eagleton’s attempt at making Karl Marx’s theory accessible to all and to provide socialists with some defences against common criticisms against Marxism. The book is structured in ten chapters, each of which dealing with one particular criticism:

- Marxism is irrelevant today

- Marxism in practise = mass murder

- Marx sees humans as simple tools of history and denies human freedom

- Marxist communism is a utopia

- Marx reduces everything to economics

- Marx was materialist and had no interest in spirituality

- The concept of class is outdated

- Marxists are in favour of violent revolution

- Marxism wants to establish an all-powerful state

- The most interesting political movemets have nothing to do with Marxism

Eagleton outlines these points of criticism and then uses his understanding of Marx’s writing to disarm his critics, in a language that is easily understandable. He explains both the fundamentals of Marx’s beliefs – the understanding of history as a progression of modes of production and class struggle – and more obscure details of the philosopher’s life and thought. Eagleton does not fail to concede points to Marx’s critics, but contextualises them and sheds new light on some well-known arguments.

Everyone who has expressed even a slight interest in socialism will have been confronted with the statement that “real existing socialism” has failed and that Stalinist violence was inevitable in a communist system. I found the chapter on why the accusation of “real existing socialism” is fraught particularly insightful. Other sections of the book less so. Occasionally Terry Eagleton’s response to alleged shortcomings of socialism was “capitalism does it even worse”, which might be true but is of course not a good argument in favour of Marxism. I have come about the criticism that, as Eagleton meets Marx’s adversaries on the basis of their objections, this book offers no room to explore other aspects of Marx and Engels’ writing, such as their anger, creativity, and humour. While I agree that these are missing from the pages of Why Marx Was Right it has to be said that this was clearly not the aim of the book. Rather, that could be a the premise for a second book: after having taken apart the anti-Marxists’ arguments, the next step could be to introduce them to the beauty of Marx’s thought and writing. I cannot join the discussion of misreading of Marx’s writing, being not far enough into my own study of his philosophy. But if the aim of this book is to introduce lay people Marx’s writing and to make socialism less of a bad word, I think Eagleton’s work is quite effective and successful.

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