Marx in 120 minutes — almost

November 17, 1993

A Rebel's Guide to Marx
By Mick Gonzalez
Bookmarks Publications 2006
57 pages (Available from <>)


Karl Marx is a notoriously difficult author: despite writing some of the most effective political tracts ever produced, his work is in places deeply obscure, bound up as it is with the work of great and obscure German philosophers such as Feuerbach and Hegel. So providing a clear and attractively written account of the entire span of Marx's life and work in a book that takes only a couple of hours or so to read is no easy task, and Mick Gonzalez — a member of the Socialist Worker platform in the Scottish Socialist Party — is to be congratulated for almost pulling it off. Gonzalez takes the reader through the adventures and travails of Marx's life while at the same time giving deft expositions of Marx's main philosophical, political and economic works.

Inevitably, though, there is a price to be paid for brevity, and I'll mention a couple of points where Gonzalez could have done better.

Gonzalez implies at some points that the goal of communism is the "liberation of human beings from labour". In fact, Marx would have vigorously rejected this description, as he describes communism as constituting a world in which "labour has become not merely a means of life but life's prime need".

Far from liberating human beings from labour, communism would allow human beings to labour freely for the first time in history. In other words, communism would liberate human beings from exploitative labour, but not from labour as such. This may just be a slip on Gonzalez's part, but the lack of clarity about the difference between labour in communist and capitalist societies does not inspire confidence.

Lack of clarity about the essence of capitalism emerges again when Gonzalez identifies the production of commodities for sale in a market as the root cause of capitalism's inner contradictions and shortcomings. This doesn't really go to the heart of the matter: as Marx and Engels were well aware, markets were a feature of feudal societies in Europe, long before the establishment of capitalist production relations anywhere. So Gonzalez fails to explain what is distinctive about specifically capitalist markets and his account of the nature of capitalism remains at a superficial level as a result.

No doubt the lack of clarity about the nature of feudalism, capitalism and communism partially explains the final chapter's predictable and ritual misdescription of the Soviet bloc states as governed by "the logic of capital".

From Green Left Weekly, July 19, 2006.
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