Notes on: Marx, A Very Short Introduction

May 2, 2023

Today, I have finished reading Marx: A Very Short Introduction and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I purchased the 2018 edition, which even mentions hot topics such as the gig economy and its relation to Marx’s critique of capitalism.

On the other hand, the book falls short of defining capitalism itself as a contrast to communism. The author Peter Singer thoroughly describes Marx’s philosophical background in Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. Then, he examines the emergence of historical materialism in Marx’s work. Singer continues explaining Marx’s description and critique of capitalism and outlines what might have been communism under Marx. (while explaining that Marx was very sparse on how communism should be implemented) Singer immediately says here that Marx’s predictions about the imminent collapse of capitalism have been wrong.

He still takes the time in chapters 10 and 11 to highlight the relevance in Marx’s criticism of capitalism, how some aspects have become worse, but how in many other ways, absolutely speaking, many people have been lifted out of poverty.

I want to point out here that the lifting out of poverty and much more are tacitly described as achievements of capitalism. This capitalism is then not explained, not even as a contrast to communism. Capitalism is not a singular concept and exists in a variety of implementations. The German economy is often described as a Social Market Economy. It is still viewed as a capitalist order of the economy, even though it comes with socialist aspects.

China implements socialism with Chinese characteristics, but again, it hardly is socialism. According to Singer’s description of the Chinese economy in this book, it is a capitalist system that uses a thin veil of ideological Marxist thought.

When we want to establish a causal relationship between the improving world population’s living standards, do we have the ability to precisely pinpoint it to one economic order and its specific implementation? It was not laissez-faire that brought us to this point.

And indeed, when we look at the international fabric of trade relationships, tariffs, product regulations, currency exchange, economic subsidies, public grants, and immigration restrictions, we quickly see that we are far from a free-for-all world.

Therefore, if someone writes about the failings of communism and how the current system has done better, the reader will be well served with a better analysis of what the current system actually consists of. Granted, this would go beyond the scope of being a short introduction to Karl Marx.

I appreciated the wide variety of Marx-related topics that Singer touches upon. In this light, I thoroughly enjoyed this short introduction. I recommend this book to anyone who gets a little Marx-curious. The book has an informative Further Reading section, and it is easy to move on from there.

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