The Marx Dictionary: A Review

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Since the death of Karl Marx in 1883, some have considered the work of Marx as an

obsolete contender in cultural thought. Either it is too focused on the economic over the

social, immovably 19th the validity of his compositions. Someone once said: “Marx is only for the Marxists1”. What

this essentially does is side-line Marx as a footnote in history books and attempts to neglect

his pertinent voice and role, then and now. Yet, there has been resurgences of interest in

Marx’s work decades and a centuries after his passing. What are the significant reasons for

such a resurrection? Why Marx? Why now?

The answer itself has been expressed so many ways that it almost seems contrived, but

the menacing state of affairs today is haunted not by a spectre, but a very real presence:

Capitalism. Although, now more than ever, we live in a society in which we desire more

consciousness, that same consciousness is under attack by those who would seek to

undermine the very persistent existence of ‘class warfare’. Albeit, the class categorization

(in the West) seems a bit more muddled (purposely so); to employ notions like

the ‘American Dream’, and or political slogans on a fictional collective statement: ‘Yes, We

Can!’ only exacerbates the fierce distance between the classes. What of those who cannot

obtain this spectre of the American Dream? Are they then resigned to be participators

in the American Nightmare, all the while demonized by the ‘benevolent’ bourgeois as

those inactive impoverished victims who made the choice to be underprivileged.

 

Or what of those, ‘Who can’t’? In fact, what are the pre-requisite criterion of this so-called

interpellation toward this revolutionary collective ‘Yes!’? No, today, more than ever, Marx’s

voice is one that must be heard. The asymmetry of the arguments against Marx are that

his opponents (current or otherwise) have solely relied upon characterizations of his work

and not his concepts in actuality. Take Marx’s notion of the redistribution of property which

thinkers such as American economist Milton Friedman, leveled as a form of coercion2

can only be seen as a form of coercion if someone has something to lose; which can only

work in a rights-based society. I do not interpret Marx demanding that there be one leader,

but rather implying there be many – this is if we are to take the revolution of the proletariat

seriously. In this new society then, redistribution is for all and not for a few. So, of course

the bourgeois would be angry because they would remove their identity, power, and assets.

They would be nothings in society. For me, this is the revolutionary space in the ideas

of Marx…it calls us back into a new kind of society we had hoped for all along. To be put

another way: “While Marxism stands for the destruction of the capitalist state, and has as its aim

the withering away of the state and all forms of institutionalised violence, Marxists not only support

the right of the working class to exercise a domination over the bourgeoisie, they actively fight for

that, since the dictatorship of the proletariat is the possible way to destroy bourgeois rule and open

the way to the disappearance of all classes, including the class of wage-slaves.

 

Marxism has its origins in the struggle for this perspective, in opposition to anarchism which seeks to undermine all

forms of authority and seeks destruction of the capitalist state without promoting and preparing the

working class for the seizure and holding of public political power3

 This is why Marx’s work must be approached with intent, we must visit and re-visit but not

without application. Hence, the entrance of such a necessary composition as this one, The

Marx Dictionary by Ian Fraser & -century, much too ideological and many other arguments against .”

 

The Marx Dictionary offers us an overview of one of the most pivotal thinkers of our time.

The authors over-extend themselves in attempting to make accessible terminology that, at

times, can seem quite verbose. In this though, it does mean that a comprehensive treatise

on each term ends up being the only pitfall of the book. But I would hope no one expects

such grandiose gestures as this is a dictionary, which is meant to punctuate the thoughts

themselves into digestible bites.

One main feature is that it does not focus on debate, as do other Marx Dictionaries. The

authors directly deal with Marx rather than Marxism. This also works as a great resource for

university students (or students of Marxist thought) who are starting into the work of Marx.

The alphabetic structure makes is extremely accessible and easy to navigate.

Another feature is the extensive nature of cross-referencing in and throughout the book

which is a great asset for any student writing a synopsis on the work of Marx or for the true

Marxist disciple. The cross-referencing alone would be enough to write another book on the

work of Marx.

 

The biographical aspects of the book set the foundational backdrop which precedes Marx

the person versus Marx the idea. This palatable distinction provides for us a landscape in

which we encounter the development of Marx’s opus (i.e., The Communist Manifesto).

His background and childhood illuminate to us a person dedicated to social change, hence

why we cannot responsibly marginalize his concepts as outmoded or without value. To

understand a person’s ideas, one must first understand the person. This book does just that.

It paints for us a much more comprehensive Marx, moreso, than a typical secondary-school

history book might.

As I have shared prior, the only letdown is the scarcity of depth in the terms themselves,

however, if one is truly interested in Marx and needs a place to start, this is a great point

from which to converge. I highly recommend this book.

Bibliography:

Avineri, S. (1968) The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx

McLellan, D. (1970) Marx before Marxism, chs. 3-6

 Löwy, M. (1970) La theorie de la revolution chez le jeune Marx

Ollman, B. (1971) Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, chs. 25-31

Read, J. (2003) The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present

 

Footnotes:

1

 http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/help/marxism.htm

2

 Friedrich Hayek (1944). The Road to Serfdom. University Of Chicago Press

3

 http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/help/marxism.htm

 

Here’s another review on the Dictionary: The Socialist Review

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