Review: The Philosophy of Marx

The Philosophy of Marx
The Philosophy of Marx by Étienne Balibar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a useful discussion of some aspects of Marx as a philosopher from a leading French academic on the subject. It isn’t I think however a comprehensive dissection of Marx’s philosophy. Nor is it an elementary introduction for someone who has no background in Marx’s thinking. It is a book which is probably best suited to someone who already has an understanding of the basics and is looking for a more in depth analysis of the philosophical elements of Marx, including how they impact his approach to politics, history, and economics.

There are some very insightful sections. In particular that on Time and Progress. This covers Marx’s use of dialectics and how a sense of motion pervades his thinking. Materialism for Marx is not something based on independent static material objects interacting with each through external links. Rather it is a question of dynamic processes organically linked together as an inherent part of their make up. There is a sense of progress in history, but rather than towards on ontological end point it is driven by the conflict of opposing forces. Nothing is predetermined.

Balibar proposes that there isn’t truly either a single consistent “philosophy of Marx” nor a “Marxist philosophy” which forms a unified whole with it. His analysis takes an approach similar to Althusser in reviewing the Marx’s writings themselves and showing the development in his thought. Balibar is less determined than Althusser to identify a single “epistemological break”, focusing rather on the process of growth and change.

The language is detailed and often unfortunately opaque. The need for a basic introduction to Marx’s thinking is probably better served by the first volume of Leszek Kolakowski’s “Main Currents of Marxism”, while Bertell Ollman’s “Dance of the Dialectic” is a good introduction to key concepts such as abstraction and contradiction.

Nevertheless this is a useful and interesting book from a key figure in the development of the structuralist study of Marx.

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