In the lucid style and engaging manner that have become his trademark, Robert L. Heilbroner explains and explores the central elements of Marxist thought: the meaning of a "dialectical" philosophy, the usefulness and problems of a " materialist" interpretation" of history, the power of Marx's "socioanalytic" penetration of capitalism, and the hopes and disconcerting problems involved in a commitment to socialism. Scholarly without being academic, searching without assuming a prior knowledge of the subject, Dr. Heilbroner enables us to appreciate the greatness of Mark while avoiding an uncritical stance toward his work.
The title is not meant to suggest still another balance-sheet of Marxism's pros and cons - the "take it or leave it" approach; rather, it reflects economist Heilbroner's (New School for Social Research) attitude toward his subject: he's both for and against. One reason why Heilbroner is so prolific is that he writes short books, and his intention here is to convey the basic elements of Marxism to general readers without making it ridiculous. He does this in only 137 pages by keeping to a general level and concentrating on Marx's main methods and insights. Comparing Marx to Plato and Freud, Heilbroner explains that Marx tried to see through social phenomena to underlying patterns and meanings. By concentrating on history and on the inherent tensions by which social institutions are sustained - the famous "contradictions," on which Heilbroner is very good - Marx saw flux where others saw static, timeless "reality." But Marx also saw the act of understanding the world as part of the effort to change it, and it is here that Heilbroner confronts the authoritarian legacy of Marxism and defines his own position. Socialism, within Marx's perspective, must be seen as a qualitatively different type of society from capitalism (just as capitalism is from feudalism); the upshot is that we don't know exactly what it would be like. But Marxists, Heilbroner notes, are running around with blueprints incorporating ways of thinking from the bourgeois epoch which fail to transcend it - and, indeed, often seek only to negate it by attacking democratic values. Though Heilbroner ventures to speculate that Marx's socialism would be something akin to a religious community, he prefers to take Marx's methods and insights - though he presents their unresolved problems every step of the way - and reject the blueprints. An intellectual's approach to Marxism, maybe, but simplification without either vacuity or demagoguery is unusual in this genre. Easily the most contemporary popular introduction to Marx, and probably the best. (Kirkus Reviews)