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From The Socialist newspaper, 10 January 2008

Review

Marx's Das Kapital: a biography

Francis Wheen, published by Atlantic Books

This is a disappointing book. Francis Wheen's earlier biography is definitely worth a read and shows he has made a serious study of Marx's writings. But this only seems to be a rehash of parts of that, with a hastily-written catalogue of familiar lies and misrepresentation tacked on at the end.

This biography of Capital starts well, with some interesting background information showing how Marx wrote it over many tortuous years. Wheen's is quite an affectionate picture and he has clearly actually read a fair bit of what Marx wrote.

But when he comes on to the chapters on how Marx's ideas were taken up and developed he goes seriously off the rails.

Probably the worst bit is when, discussing the Russian Revolution, Wheen wrongly claims Lenin's role was to lay the basis for "a monstrous tyranny" - what Wheen refers to as "Communist Russia"... "where Lenin and then Stalin froze [Marxism] into a dogma."

Wheen drags Lenin's What is to be done? out of context and has clearly made little effort to examine what, or why, Lenin wrote what he did. Trotsky is merely mentioned in passing, although in a slightly more favourable light.

The book ends: "Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance. He could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century." That's true Francis but what Marx was after was for the working class to change society - not to get a place on a chat show.

At nearly 8 for 120 pages, it's not to be recommended.

Alison Hill

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In The Socialist 10 January 2008:

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Socialist Party review

Review: Marx's Das Kapital: a biography, by Francis Wheen


 

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