Up to a fairly recent time it was the case that all good books on Marx were hostile, or at most neutral. Correlatively, all the books that espoused Marx's views did so in a way that could only dissuade the reader who approached Marx with the same canons of scholarship and argument that he would apply to any other writer. What is called for is a blend of charity and scepticism. When choosing between interpretations of equal textual plausibility, priority should be given to the reading that makes best substantive sense or fits best with what Marx writes elsewhere. Yet charity stops here, for once one has arrived at an idea of what Marx was trying to say, his views should be evaluated according to the usual criteria of consistency, fertility and veracity. To extend charity from interpretation to evaluation was, and still largely is, a pervasive defect in writings on Marx by Marxists. It has led to Ptolemaic Marxism of various kinds, embodied in such phrases as 'determination in the long run', 'relative autonomy', 'tendential laws' and the like. To withhold charity even from interpretation has, of course, been the symmetric error of anti-Marxist writings, often perpetrated by ex-Marxist writers such as Karl Wittfogel.
LRB 18 March 1982 | PDF Download