For the Marxist—whether in the days of the nineteenth-century theorist Plekhanov, or of Lenin, Trotsky, or Zhdanov, Stalin’s murderous commissar—the function of criticism, as of literature, has been to promote the cause of political revolution. When this less than purely literary aim has periodically come to light in the past, it has tended to cause a certain amount of dismay among those to whom Marxism represents an intellectual system like any other. In our own time, though, dismay has been replaced with complacency. It is now possible for an avowed Marxist literary critic—the British academic, Terry Eagleton—to assign a primarily political function to literature without causing so much as a raised eyebrow.

Eagleton’s impunity reflects the special status that Marxism has achieved in the academy. Regarded as something entirely apart from Communism, Marxism stands,...


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