The economic crisis that began with the financial meltdown in the US spreading rapidly across the world has, of course, also led to an upsurge of struggle.
We have seen revolutions that have toppled dictators, general strikes that have brought down governments, and occupations of factories and workplaces. Such complex political situations require all activists, from the most seasoned to the most fledgling, to have a clear analysis and an understanding of how to relate to the struggle.
John Molyneux is, most recently, the author of Anarchism: A Marxist Critique and Will the Revolution be Televised? A Marxist Analysis of the Media. His latest offering is an introduction to Marxist philosophy.
He aims to cover the most fundamental philosophical ideas for those at the beginning of their discovery of Marxism.
In 13 chapters Molyneux covers topics such as alienation, exploitation, class struggle and human nature. He also covers the common criticisms of Marxism, the Marxist approach to religion, whether or not Marxism is deterministic and how Marxists should approach morality. One of the parts I found most satisfying was the explanation of some of Marx's more abstract and difficult ideas, such as dialectics and historical materialism.
In the final section Molyneux provides a critical explanation of the ideas of later Marxists, the Hungarian Georg Lukács, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and French philosopher Louis Althusser. But he doesn't just stop with the philosophers of old. He also takes on contemporary theorists Michael Hardt, Toni Negri, Slavoj Zizek and theorist of the "precariat" Guy Standing. But central to all these arguments is the importance of philosophy connecting with activists who are attempting to change the world.
The book is aimed primarily at students or others who have recently encountered Marxism and want to gain a basic understanding of Marxist philosophy. Having said that, more veteran activists can still learn something from the clarity with which Molyneux expresses Marx's ideas. Even the most difficult ideas are gone through logically, with step by step explanations. It is a breath of fresh air from the academic descriptions most of us as students have to trawl through.
Ideas are continually related back to what can be seen in the world today with references to the Arab revolutions and the war in Afghanistan to name but two.
By the end of the book we are left feeling more confident not only in understanding Marxist ideas but also in looking at the world from a Marxist perspective and applying things like the dialectic or historical materialism to the political situations we find ourselves in. This is the perfect introduction on which a more in-depth understanding can be built. As Engels said at Marx's graveside (a quote that the book begins with), "Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion." After reading this book it is not difficult to see why.
The Point is to Change It is published by Bookmarks £7