Interest in economics and politics, indeed, in the trend and problems of social development in general, cannot be enlightened without an understanding--regardless of the conclusions drawn from it--of the ideas of Karl Marx. Ignorance of Marxism, or even indifference to it, is as inexcusable in the fields of social science and politics as ignorance of Newton and Darwin would be (to use a loose but adequate comparison) in the fields of physics and biology. The belief that Marxism has been outlived, or that it is irrelevant to events and problems of our day, or that it has failed in this or that or in all respects, is nowhere so widely held as in the United States. It would be more appropriate to hold that this belief itself, and in all its forms, has been outlived and is irrelevant to the need to know Marx's ideas.
Marx is unique among all the social thinkers of his time. If "his time" is extravagantly broadened to include the centuries that have marked the passage from the feudal world to the modern, his distinction is only enhanced. To the name of Marx, as to that of no one else in his field, are attached enduring interest, passion, controversy, and great political movements in almost every part of the world. This alone invites thoughtful consideration. But there is more.
The governments of some one-third of the world proclaim Marxism as their official doctrine and guide. The relations between these governments and the rest of the world form the principal axis of world politics today; and the kind of relations that are established largely determine the direction in which the axis revolves. To seek such relations without understanding the doctrine nominally avowed by the forces these governments represent is at best parochialism. The legitimacy of the communist governments' claim to Marxism is debatable. The claim of Marxism to be studied is not.
In the countries of the West outside the communist world, the political life and destiny of the most important countries-- the United States appears to be the outstanding exception--are decisively influenced by socialist movements which enjoy the allegiance of millions. Unlike the communist movement, the socialist movement today is not Marxist in name. Despite its substantially Marxist origins, contemporary European socialism has either disavowed Marxism or has significantly revised many of its ideas. The importance of this disavowal and revision cannot be disregarded. It does not follow that Marxism can be disregarded.
What Marxism means has been interpreted to the satisfac-