‘Karl Marx’ reviewed by Christian Fuchs

Karl Marx

Allen Lane, London, 2016. 768pp., £35 hb
ISBN 9780713999044

Reviewed by Christian Fuchs

About the reviewer

Christian Fuchs (Christian.fuchs@uti.at) is Professor at the University of Westminster. He is …


Gareth Stedman Jones’ Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion is an almost 800 page biography of Marx. Stedman Jones tries to bring together an analysis of Marx’s life and works. The book is organised in twelve chapters: Chapter 1 discusses Marx’s family background and the political situation in the Rhineland, where he grew up. Chapter 2 focuses on Marx’s time in school and at university and his engagement to Jenny von Westphalen. Chapter 3 discusses Marx’s time in Berlin, including the influence of Hegel’s works on Marx. Chapter 4 analyses Bruno Bauer’s impact on Marx as well as Marx’s work for the Rheinische Zeitung. Chapter 5 is about Marx’s contributions to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. Chapter 6 outlines aspects of Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, his friendship with Engels, Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England, as well as Marx and Engel’s joint works, The Holy Family and The German Ideology. Chapter 7 gives attention to Marx’s critique of Proudhon and Proudhonists such as Karl Grün. Chapter 8 analyses Marx’s life and works at the time of the 1848 revolutions. The discussion of the making of The Communist Manifesto is spread over chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 9 is about Marx’s early years in London during the 1850s. Chapter 10 engages with The Grundrisse and A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Both chapter 10 and 11 deal with the making of Capital. Chapter 11 is also about Marx’s relation to Ferdinand Lassalle, the International Working Men’s Association, the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the conflict with Bakunin in the International. Chapter 12 focuses on Capital’s second volume, European socialism in the 1870s and 1880s, Marx’s interests in the 1870s, and his death.

Thus far, there have been mixed reactions to Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. Mark Mazower (2016) praises the book in the The Financial Times for showing that ‘Marx will remain the outstanding example of how to overcome the fragmentation of modern social thought and think about the world as a whole for the sake of its betterment’. The Guardian in its typical anti-Corbyn manner argues that the book shows that because of ‘his repeated estrangement of potential allies for no apparent reason, Marx would surely have felt at home in today’s Labour party’ (Bullough 2016). In a similar vein, Peter Hain (2016), who served as a minister and Leader of the House of Commons under Tony Blair, writes in the Blairite magazine, Progress, that Stedman Jones’ biography reminds us that at the time of Corbyn, ‘Marxism is now playing a bigger role in British politics than it has for decades – despite the fact that throughout history societies shaped by Marxists so abjectly failed to deliver prosperity, democracy, freedom or equality’. The Economist (2016) argues that the book shows that ‘Marx’s reputation (at least in some quarters) as an unrivalled economist-philosopher is wide of the mark’. The Times writes that Stedman Jones shows that ‘the real Marx was an anxious, sickly, flawed human being, who often reversed himself and never even finished his masterpiece, Das Kapital’ (Sandbrook 2016). Ferdinand Mount (2016) argues in The Times Literary Supplement that Stedman Jones disassembles ‘the doctrine [of Marxism] without dismissing the thinker, cutting the wires that link the two with all the delicacy of a bomb disposal expert’. Liberal philosopher John Gray (2016) concludes that the Stedman Jones shows that the ‘strength of Marx’s thought lies in his analysis of capitalism itself’ and that his ‘visions of a post-capitalist society were illusions’.

These examples show that Stedman Jones, who once was a member of New Left Review’s editorial group, invites right-wingers of all shades to dismiss Marx as well as Marx-inspired politics and theory. On the Left, there is no agreement on how to assess this intellectual biography. Alex Callinicos (2016) writes that Stedman Jones tries ‘to cut Marx down to size’ and that his ‘treatment of Marx’s critique of political economy does not meet the standards of contemporary scholarship’. Terrell Carver (2016) formulates points of criticism, but also argues that the book is a ‘masterly instance of intellectual biography, sure to be the standard work on the subject in any language’.

The book is certainly informative in respect to Marx’s life. Stedman Jones also makes a new theoretical contribution by discussing the role of the village community in Marx’s works in the 1870s (section 11.6). The question of communism and the village community was of particular importance in Marx’s answers to Vera Zasulich’s letter that are relevant for understanding the possibility of the Russian Revolution.

To a certain degree, Stedman Jones tries to defend Marx against the assumption by particular Marxists (and Marx’s critics!) that Capital formulated a breakdown theory of capitalism. He maintains that this is not the case. But he interprets this fact as an inconsistency in Marx’s theory, arguing that the Grundrisse presented a theoretical formulation of capitalism’s inevitable collapse resulting from a falling rate of profit. It is a myth that the Grundrisse formulated an automatic collapse of capitalism. When Marx speaks of the end of capitalism in the Grundrisse, then it is in respect to how a communist society would look like in respect to leisure time, the end of labour, well-rounded individuality, etc. (Fuchs 2016, appendix 2).

Stedman Jones also assumes that Marx’s alleged breakdown theory in the Grundrisse was formulated due to a Hegelian influence and that he gave up this influence in Capital, which would have posed serious theoretical problems. It is yet another myth that there are non-Hegelian works by Marx. Capital is a profoundly dialectical book (Fuchs 2016), which already becomes evident in Volume 1’s first chapter, where Marx explains the dialectic of the commodity’s use-value, value and exchange-value. Applying Hegel’s dialectical logic does in no way have to mean, as Stedman Jones seems to assume, a deterministic concept of history. Marx was always a consistently dialectical thinker, which also means that he has a consistent concept of dialectical determination that excludes the assumption of an automatic functional breakdown. In a way, Stedman Jones tries to advance the Althusserian myth of a peculiar epistemological break in Marx’s work.

Stedman Jones’ argument goes one step further: he says that turning away from Hegel would have posed such theoretical difficulties for Marx that illness and intellectual stagnation would have been the consequence. Stedman Jones argues that Marx theoretically struggled to show the ‘terminal effects’ of the tendency of the profit rate to fall in Capital (537) and that he faced theoretical problems in explaining extended reproduction and circulation (538). These theoretical problems would have made him ill, which would have been a welcome excuse for not continuing the work on Capital: “What was less clear was whether the illness was the cause or effect of his difficulties in completing the book” (419). ‘For it was particularly the anxiety surrounding the attempt to write up his critique of political economy that appeared to bring on his illness’ (434). ‘It seems clear that it was not so much lack of physical exercise, but rather the need to confront theoretical difficulty that brought on headache attacks, insomnia and liver disease’ (537). ‘It cannot be denied that during the last decade of Karl’s life, he spent much of his time in pursuit of one health cure after another. But what this leaves out of account was the nightmare occasioned by Karl’s desire to substantiate a theory which, without the Hegelian props he had employed in the 1850s, was impossible to prove’ (537). Marx’ sicknesses ‘provided protective cover for postponement of the day of reckoning’ (538).

Marx wrote tens of thousands of pages during his lifetime, as evidenced by the 43 volumes of the German Marx-Engels-Werke. It is impertinent to argue that he was a procrastinating writer. Such a claim also downplays Marx’s actual health problems and the poverty and precariousness under which Marx and his family lived, which certainly had negative health impacts. Stedman Jones has not done his historical homework thoroughly enough: There is today evidence that indicates that Marx’s suffered from hidradenitis suppurativa, a very painful long-term skin disease (see Fuchs 2016, 10-11). The exact causes of the disease are still unknown, but it is certain that it does not have psychological causes. Stedman Jones gives an idealist interpretation of the history of how Marx wrote Capital.

That Marx analysed falling profit rates as a dialectic of tendency and countervailing tendencies was not a theoretical problem and not a departure from Hegelian logic, as Stedman Jones implies, but an expression of dialectical logic and the logic of dialectical determination. It is simply not true that ‘Karl’s critique of political economy had resulted in an inconclusive account of capitalist crisis’ (583). Marx’s theory of crisis and his works are not inconsistent.

Stedman Jones’ book is rather strong when it comes to the presentation of Marx’s personal and political life and weak when he interprets Marx’s theoretical works. For example, when he discusses the Grundrisse (chapter 10), there is no mentioning of the ‘Fragment on Machines’, the notion of the general intellect and aspects of the means of communication, although these are passages that are highly relevant today in respect to the role of knowledge work, computer technology and digital media in contemporary capitalism (Fuchs 2016).

The neglect of the relevance of Marx’s theory today and the reduction of Marx to a nineteenth century thinker is immanent in both Jonathan Sperber’s (2013) book Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life and Stedman Jones’ book. Sperber (2013) argues that attempts ‘to update Marx’ are ‘useless pastimes’, that ‘Marx’s life, his systems of thought, his political strivings and aspirations, belonged primarily to the nineteenth century’ (xviii), and that Marx is ‘a figure of the past’ (xix). In a comparative manner, Stedman Jones defines the aim of Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion as putting ‘Marx back in his nineteenth-century surroundings’ (5). Both thinkers want to limit Marx to the nineteenth century and to historicise him in a reductive manner.

What a strange concept of history it is that both Sperber and Stedman Jones advance. They see history as contained, fragmented and closed. As a result, they consider nineteenth century society as unrelated to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and do not make any attempt of practicing history not as the study of the past, but as the dialectic of the past, present and potential futures. Marx is for them therefore a thinker whose relevance is limited to the nineteenth century. But given that capitalism is not over and that history tends to repeat itself (although in unpredictable manner with emergent qualities), there are surely many aspects of Marx’s works that are relevant today.

Marx did not set out to write a theory of nineteenth century capitalism, but a critique of capitalism’s social form. It is quite obvious that capitalism and class continue to shape society in the twenty-first century. Capitalism and society develop in a dialectical manner, i.e. as a series of unpredictable sublations that to specific degrees preserve and eliminate economic being and at the same time produce new qualities. The interpretation of Marx should therefore follow the same dialectical development of continuity and discontinuity, theoretical foundations and dialectical applications to particular contexts. Twenty-first century capitalism is neither the same nor radically different from nineteenth century capitalism. Stedman Jones and Sperber’s historicising of Marx does however reduce his analysis to the nineteenth century. They interpret both Marx and society in a non-dialectic manner. We should not leave Marx to the reductionist historians. The point is to show how Marx’s times and writings inform the presence and how in a retroactive manner the presence informs the study of the past.

Stedman Jones’ book is an interesting work in respect to Marx’s life, but should be read cautiously in respect to Marx’s theory. Above all, it is a regrettable development that today there are British historians, who out-of-touch with the tradition of British Marxist historiography, seem to have set themselves the revisionist goal of arguing that Marx’s theory does not matter today and is only relevant for understanding the nineteenth century. Against this trend, it is important to advance critical theory in twenty-first century capitalism based on, inspired by and by dialectically developing Marx.

28 September 2016


  • Bullough, Oliver. 2016 Review of Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion The Guardian Online August 14, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/14/karl-marx-greatness-and-illusion-review-gareth-stedman-jones
  • Callinicos, Alex. 2016 Marx Deflated International Socialism Online September 27, 2016 http://isj.org.uk/marx-deflated/">http://isj.org.uk/marx-deflated/
  • Carver, Terrell. 2016 Review of Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion Marx & Philosophy Review of Books September 24, 2016 http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2016/2456
  • Fuchs, Christian. 2016 Reading Marx in the Information Age. A Media and Communication Studies Perspective on “Capital Volume 1” (New York: Routledge).
  • Gray, John. 2016 The Dialectical Man Literary Review August 2016 https://literaryreview.co.uk/the-dialectical-man
  • Hain, Peter 2016 Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion Progress Online September 12, 2016 http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2016/09/12/karl-marx-greatness-and-illusion/
  • Mazover, Mark. 2016 The Value of Karl Marx’s 19 Century Thinking in Today’s World Financial Times Online August 5, 2016 https://www.ft.com/content/04afaf98-57d3-11e6-9f70-badea1b336d4
  • Mount, Ferdinand. 2016 Leaving his Marks The Times Literary Supplement September 21, 2016 http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/leaving-his-marks/
  • Sandbrook, Dominic. 2016 The Myth of Marx The Sunday Times August 14, 2016.
  • Sperber, Jonathan. 2013 Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (New York: Liveright).
  • The Economist 2016 False Consciousness: The Value of Marx in the 21st Century The Economist Online August 27, 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21705665-value-marx-21st-century-false-consciousness


  1. Thanks to both Christian Fuchs and Alex Callinicos (see Callinicos’s comment in the Carver review of Steedman Jones, and link to his review) for two very interesting and insightful reviews.

    Callinicos recommends Sperber. Frankly, I don’t think there is much of an improvement. Again Sperber is very interesting for almost 400 pages, but becomes rather obtuse regarding Marx beyond 1848. Besides there is very little new in Sperber and Steedman Jones biographies. Both Sperber and Steedman Jones are particularly weak on Marx’s theory, history, philosophy and political economy. My recommendation is David McLellan’s Karl Marx: His Life and Thought.

    Fuchs is exactly correct to contend that Marx did not set out to theorize 19th century capitalism, but capitalism as a social form. Thus, to regulate Marx to the 19th century is to already misunderstand both Marx’s philosophical or ontological endeavor, and hence historical materialism.

    Political economy emerges with the aim to understand and explain (and mend) noxious modes of distribution. Marx critiqued the Smithian view that anti-Mercantilist policy or increased competition would be capable of adequately addressing the issue. He rejected the Malthusian/Ricardian idea of iron law of wages, but was impressed with Ricardo’s chapter on Machinery, and appreciated James S. Mill’s institutional theory of income distribution.

    Marx’s critique of political economy contends that capitalism as a social form would always generate pathological modes of distribution. Inequality is inherent to capitalism as a social form, period. The fact that we have entered in the US, UK, France, Japan, and Germany levels of inequality approaching, at, and/or beyond previous historical levels of inequality suggests to many people that Marx’s theories my be of urgent relevance.

    Marx also picks up on a second strand of classical political economy, neglected by most classical theorists (including Smith, Ricardo, and Mill), namely theories of crisis. The pathological modes of distribution were contradictory to the hitchless system of simple and extended reproduction. Thus, reproduction of capitalism is hitchbound and crisis prone. James Stuart and Thomas Malthus had some insights, but Marx contended that his critique of classical theories of value and distribution suggested grander theories of crisis.

    Callinicos is exactly correct to say Marx does not have a theory of final collapse, but theories of recurring crisis, which provoke and potentially intensify inter-class and inner-class antagonisms.

    For Marx there is a symbiotic relationship between inequality, centralization of capital, and crisis!

    It is well know that Marx theorizes issues of underconsumption, falling rate of profits, overproduction and sectorial disproportionalities. But Marx’s development of money, fictitious capital, and credit in generating crisis is less well known.

    At the same time, Marx’s theories of crisis are unfinished and incomplete. But his notions of class struggle and centralization of capital are very well developed. The implications of these theories are massive for understanding instability and crisis today. Disproportionalities and overproduction were Marx’s emphasis, with FROP and underconsumption adding to the contradictions and tendencies toward crisis. But behind the tendencies toward disproportionalities and overproduction were money, fictitious capital, credit, and hoard formations.

    All of this is immensely relevant to understanding contemporary economic issues. It is truly a sad situation when two 19th century historians fail to understand the contemporary relevance in 700+ intellectual biographies.

  2. >What is genuinely problematic here is >that he sees this movement developing >“with the inexorability of a natural >process”.
    Professor Callinicos makes the above statement in his review.

    I want to challenge this rather common view, not to push a contrary view, but by way of clarifying my own unschooled views.
    It seems to me that historically, that is empirically, capitalism experiences severe crises and finds ways to overcome them. But in fact, I think that there is a pattern to this; the imperialists find new pastures for exploitation, they increase the exploitation of the currently exploited workers and they search for technological aids to employing less labour-power. The last is a pressure for lower profits and the first two are pressures for increased profits. In the long run, say measured in centuries, what is the likely trajectory? Well, new pastures are few; basically Russia and China and the capitalists of those countries are being obstinate. But even if they succumb, the planet is now all controlled by the imperialists.
    What of increased exploitation? Well, one can drive down the value of labour-power below the subsistence level because there are lots of other unemployed workers. But this has an historical limit. Capitalism has in the end to reproduce the working-class and a bit extra, for its own survival. It is true that technological progress, especially in the production of workers’ consumption commodities, would lower the value of labour-power and increase the profit rate. But this seems to me to be inadequate to solve the problem of increasing social unrest, because the spread of advanced technology would in the end be pressure for lower profit rates. Finally, technological advances have no intrinsic limit, but simple inspection shows that the historical decline in profit is not linear. This means that the profit rate will decline continuously, but will never reach zero.
    So, we have all this which it seems to me is ‘guaranteed’ to lead to social upheaval. In this sense, there is indeed “an inexorable pressure to social unrest” and thence either to a socialist revolution or to the destruction of the human species. The latter, because capitalism is destroying the natural environment at a steadily increasing rate and refuses to deal with this problem. By the time capitalism undertakes some significant action it will be too late. In addition, as imperialist capitalism feels more and more threatened the danger of destruction of the human species by nuclear war becomes very serious.
    So, in conclusion, it seems to my unschooled mind that there is inevitably increasing pressure for social resistance to counter capitalism’s increasing exploitation of the working class and the environment that must end in either a socialist revolution or the destruction of the human species.

  3. I haven’t read Jones’s whole biography as yet but, inspired by the reviews, aim to do so.

    In my experience, every biographer of Marx – and there are more than a hundred of them (I haven’t read all of them) – has contributed something to understanding the man and his work. You can learn some new details and insights from each one.

    Yet there has never been a scientifically adequate and objective biography of Marx, even although (1) we now know (with the aid of Hal Draper’s and MEW’s chronologies, plus the MEGA2 dating of manuscripts) for practically every day of his life what Marx did, and did not do or say, and (2) around the world, enormous resources were poured into publishing his writings for more than a hundred years, not just by independent publishing houses, but also by political regimes that claimed to rule under his scientific guidance.

    The reason for the lack of a scientifically adequate biography, I suppose, is not merely the difficulty of the subject (you need to know a lot about 19th century intellectual literature, and about the nature of the theoretical/scientific issues dealt with by Marx), or the fact that Marx was a radical controversialist, but also (and especially) that each biographer has had his own “ideological axe to grind”.

    A partisan bias is necessarily a bad thing in itself, if the biographer clearly acknowledges his own commitments. After all, we all have our likes and dislikes, our sympathies and animosities, our predilections and pet hates etc. which can intrude in our writing. But the biographies become more problematic when the biographers pretend that “their Marx” is the “real Marx”, and no longer distinguish between their own engagement with Marx, and the historical reality of Marx’s life and work which exists quite independently of present-day concerns. Things get even worse when their biographical work becomes a sort of soapbox for intellectual propaganda.

    The peculiarity of Jones’s achievement is, that he does not just seek to return Marx to the authentic historical context in which Marx belongs, but at the same time evidently also wants to “settle accounts” with Marx according to his own biases. These impulses are not always compatible. I’m sure though we can learn something new from what Jones has done, even if we keep a critical distance from some of his interpretations.

  4. My apologies for a typo… I wrote ”A partisan bias is necessarily a bad thing in itself, if the biographer clearly acknowledges his own commitments.” That should have been: “A partisan bias is NOT necessarily a bad thing in itself, if the biographer clearly acknowledges his own commitments.”

  5. Now that I have gone through my own copy of Jones’s book (the cheaper Allen Lane edition), I feel disappointed by it. The book was certainly impeccably edited and structured by a team of editors into cork-dry, highbrow academic English, but the text has a “dead” feel to it, and in terms of content, it is very uneven in quality to say the least. Occasional flashes of analytical brilliance are interspersed with lengthy, dry and boring descriptions, of which the purpose is often wholly unclear. The five-page “prologue” inserted at the front of the book summarizes the author’s findings about Marx quite well, but it contains hardly any spectacular news.

    It looks like Jones had a “sort of idea” about the book he wanted to write, and tried to organize a collection of papers, details and points into a narrative, but that he could not really realize the book he envisaged himself, and so, others polished/restructured a fairly loose manuscript to reach a publishable state. Now the book is there – but it fails to satisfy, or meet the expectations that you might reasonably have for such a major effort. It is like he tried to stand on the shoulders of Marx, fell off, but continues to drone on condescendingly about “Karl”.

    The main problem of the book is, that it lacks a clear, thought-through thesis or research question about Marx which it seeks to answer, and a definite procedure for answering it. All that Jones really has to say about it, is that he was interested in the Marx who existed before the abomination of Marxism – although he simply disregards most of the history of Marxism and what it might mean.

    The aim of the book was to “restore” Marx, to the context of his own times and of his own contemporaries, cutting Marx down to size and showing that the man was a “product of his world” but also tried to “impress himself” on it (which provides Jones with license to sound off all kinds of evaluations of what Marx said and did). Yet, for the reader it is often more as though Jones is a taxidermist flogging a dead horse another time.

    The unanswered question is why, if Marx was such an intellectual failure and produced nothing much that is of lasting relevance, he was able to influence hundreds of millions of people and the state politics of numerous countries.

    The first effect of Jones’s approach is, that a well-structured and well-reasoned narrative is lacking – often it is unclear why Jones choses to take up particular topics, and why he lectures us about them (other than ideosyncratic interest), and why he just disregards other topics altogether. The chapters which form the main trunk of the book often seem more like separate essays that were later stuck together. Jones sees no need at all to defend his own contentious opinions about Marx and his times, as if the truth of his assessment is manifest and self-evident.

    The second effect of Jones’s approach is that the book lacks a clear conclusion. In fact, there is no conclusion in the book at all, only an “epilogue” is inserted – as if you are supposed to have got the point by now, and don’t need to be told. The thrust of the epilogue is, that Marx’s own ideas were corrected and overtaken by subsequent research, and thus mostly went into the dustbin of history, and that the Marxists conveniently deleted the parts of Marx which did not fit with the ideological phantasm they later concocted about Marx.

    As a conservative historian, Jones shows no sympathy for “Karl” when he dissects Marx’s life, and he frequently puts Marx’s motivations in question. Jones is more concerned with “correcting” Marx, deftly or derisively demolishing myths and so on. Implicitly, his Marx is a Marx who started out as a romantic dreamer and hothead, a man who had no good ideas about how to live life and therefore bungled, who concerned himself with the wrong preoccupations and all kinds of dubious people, a man who wrote a lot of texts which either missed the point or were beside the point, suffered from chronic illnesses, and died in obscurity and poverty with nothing substantial to show for his malformed life.

    Occasionally Jones commits plain errors. For example, he suggests that in the 1880s, the German Social Democratic Party had become “Marxist”. But there is no historical evidence for that, except that a few Marxists did gain an important advisory and intellectual influence on the texts and resolutions of the party. How could it be otherwise, when the Marxists were few in number, most of Marx’s writings were not even accessible, and about a third of the German population was unschooled and illiterate.

    Jones’s treatment of the origins of Marxism as a creed is very superficial and brief, and then suddenly switches into a discussion of primitive communal property as a “19th century phantasm” (?). As regards the source material used by Jones for his biography, it is also disappointing. He consulted rather few of the existing biographies about Marx, and uses little of the more recent research on Marx. I don’t think Jones’s book will make a big dent in the research about Marx and Marxism. It is useful as a reference, only insofar as it sometimes provides more historical background for, and critical insight into what Marx said and did.

  6. Dear Professor Despain,

    You wrote above;

    The pathological modes of distribution were contradictory to the hitchless system of simple and extended reproduction. Thus, reproduction of capitalism is hitchbound and crisis prone.

    I am not a political economist and I have not previously come across the terms “hitchless” and “hitchbound”. Would you be so kind as to explain their meaning in this context, in simple non-technical terms.

    And thank you for drawing attention in this way;

    It is well know that Marx theorizes issues of underconsumption, falling rate of profits, overproduction and sectorial disproportionalities. But Marx’s development of money, fictitious capital, and credit in generating crisis is less well known.

    I will return directly to these topics and pay more attention. Thanks.

  7. Is it not within the bounds of historical research to consider an individual and their work within its own historical milieu and not subject that contextualization to the burdens of any number of derivative developments in his or her name? Fuchs’s complaint about historicising Marx is reminiscent of complaints from those who find it sacrilegious for scholars to broach the topic of the historical Jesus. I find it regrettable that Marxian scholarship must continue to confront orthodoxia as a point of contention. Marx himself would have found it disappointing at best to learn that his writings, let alone his biography, had become such objects of veneration.

  8. Gordon:
    There is a small list on Wikipedia under the entry Biographies_of_Karl_Marx
    The point is that such biographies are written for an ideological reason – to communicate to the public that “Marx is outdated”. And a more specific point is that Stedman Jones obviously has not very well read Marx’s theoretical writings and so fails in every respect on the theory-front. Questioning all of this is called critique of bourgeois ideology, not orthodoxy.

  9. It seems extraordinarily immoderate for an author to write a biography of nearly 800 pages to simply communicate that the subject matter is “outdated” and thus irrelevant. Your critique that the “book is rather strong when it comes to the presentation of Marx’s personal and political life and weak when he interprets Marx’s theoretical works” is a good one. I just don’t see how you then make the leap to Jones as a bourgeois ideologue whose motivations are disingenuous.

  10. I will be convinced Marx is irrelevant and outdated when academics stop dumping 600 page volumes on the market saying so. Who writes vast books today about his contemporaries like James Mill and Herbert Spencer?

  11. "I will be convinced Marx is irrelevant and outdated when academics stop dumping 600 page volumes on the market saying so. Who writes vast books today about his contemporaries like James Mill and Herbert Spencer? "

    Or, as Howard Zinn has Marx saying in "Marx in Soho":

    "I've been reading your newspapers …. They are all proclaiming that my ideas are dead! It's nothing new. These clowns have been saying this for more than a hundred years. Don't you wonder: Why is it necessary to declare me dead again and again?"

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