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Terry Eagleton writes:
Even the most erudite students of Marxism, however, will find themselves learning from these essays. It is, for example, part of the stock-in-trade of historical materialism that Marx broke decisively with the various utopian socialists who surrounded him. (One of them believed that in an ideal world the sea would turn into lemonade. Marx would probably have preferred Riesling.) Hobsbawm, by contrast, insists on Marx’s substantial debt to these thinkers, who ranged from ‘the penetratingly visionary to the psychically unhinged’. He is clear about the fragmentary nature of Marx’s political writings, and rightly insists that the word ‘dictatorship’ in the phrase ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, used by Marx to describe the Paris Commune, means nothing like what it means today. Revolution was to be seen not simply as a sudden transfer of power but as the prelude to a lengthy, complex, unpredictable period of transition. From the late 1850s onwards, Marx did not consider any such seizure of power either imminent or probable. Much as he cheered on the Paris Commune, he expected little from it. Nor was revolution to be simplemindedly opposed to reform, of which Marx was a persistent champion. As Hobsbawm might have added, there have been some relatively bloodless revolutions and some spectacularly bloody processes of social reform.