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Our Views of Marx

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I’m reading a quick book by Erich Fromm called Marx’s Concept of Man (1961) and I thought I would highlight this insight for everyone:

It is one of the peculiar ironies of history that there are no limits to the misunderstanding and distortion of theories, even in an age when there is unlimited access to the sources; there is no more drastic example of this phenomenon than what has happened to the theory of Karl Marx in the last few decades.  There is continuous reference to Mars and to Marxism in the press, in the speeches of politicians, in books and articles written by respectable social scientists and philosophers; yet with few exceptions, it seems that the politicians and newspapermen have never as much as glanced at a line written by Marx, and that the social scientists are satisfied with a minimal knowledge of Marx. Apparently they feel safe in acting as experts in this field, since nobody with power and status in the social-research empire challenges their ignorant statements.

How can it be, then, that Marx’s philosophy is so completely misunderstood and distorted into its opposite?  There are several reasons.  The first and most obvious one is ignorance.  It seems that these are matters which, not being taught at universities and hence not being subjects for examination, are “free” for everyone to think, talk, write about as he pleases, and without any knowledge…everyone feels entitled to talk about Marx without having read him, or at least, without having read enough to get an idea of his very complex, intricate, and subtle system of thought.

Another reason lies in the fact that…[w]hile Marx’s theory was a critique of capitalism, many of his adherents were so deeply imbued with the spirit of capitalism that they interpreted Marx’s thought in the economistic and materialistic categories that are prevalent in contemporary capitalism.  Indeed, while the Soviet Communists, as well as the reformist socialists, believed they were the enemies of capitalism, they conceived of communism-or socialism-in the spirit of capitalism.  For them, socialism is not a society humanly different from capitalism, but rather, a form of capitalism in which the working class has achieved higher status; it is, as Engels once remarked ironically, “the present-day society without its defects. [1]


  1. Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1966), 1, 5-6.

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