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All you wanted to know about Marxism but were afraid to ask; Marxism: For and Against, by Robert L. Heilbroner. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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Marxism seems rarely to evoke calm and objective analysis. You hesitate to bring the subject up in conversation because you can see it setting off tempers, and you figure there's a fair chance someone will get more than a little overbearing about it in one direction or the other.

Readers are rightly suspicious of discussions by writers they don't know; either the writer takes his stand at the outset, giving the reader a sense of hearing only half the story, or he doesn't, leaving the reader, who knows from experience that nearly everyone has a visceral feeling about the subject, to wonder what kind of concealed bias to watch out for.

Robert L. Heilbroner's latest book aims to put us at ease about the whole matter, beginning with its title -- "marxism: For and Against." That is his stand. he endorses some aspects of Marxist thought with uncommon strength, while others he deems mistakes or failures. There is no feeling of getting only half the story. And there is minimum concealed bias. Heilbroner is scrupulous about declaring his own opinions at every step.

And so the great value of this little book is that it enables the interested reader who hasn't the time to study Marx on his own (an avocation suited to those who have evenings free for about the next decade) to think and speak about Marxism with some of Heilbroner's own clarity and equanimity. To Heilbroner, Marx's importance lies not so much in his famous prognosis of a capitalist cataclysm as in his creation of "a mode of inquiry," a "combination of insight and method" that "permanently altered the manner in which reality would be perceived thereafter," and in this, Heilbroner says, his influence parallels that of Plato in philosophy and Freud in the analysis of the mind. The task of most of the book is to explain this "mode of inquiry" carefully and patiently, and without Marxist or anti-Marxist jargon.

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