Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Study Guide

Joseph A. Schumpeter

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Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy | Part 1, Prologue : The Marxian Doctrine (Prologue) | Summary



Joseph A. Schumpeter begins Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942) by praising the "greatness" of the ideas of Karl Marx (1818–83), noting that the longevity of Marx's legacy is a sure mark of this "greatness." He notes further that the "last twenty years" have witnessed a "most interesting" revival of Marx's ideas. One such revival was occurring in the Soviet Union, although Schumpeter thinks the Soviet form was not particularly close to Marx's actual teaching. The revival of Marx's ideas in the United States, however, is more difficult to explain because there had been only "superficial" Marxist influence in the U.S. labor movement. In light of this revival, Schumpeter sets out to explain in Part 1 what exactly this Marxist message means.


The Part 1 Prologue justifies Schumpeter's decision to begin his book with a discussion of Karl Marx. Schumpeter's tone might be surprising to a reader expecting a more dry, textbook-style approach. But his conversational, sometimes humorous tone, peppered as it is with references to "the religion of humble Galileans" and the like, recurs throughout the book. Schumpeter identifies in this Prologue two major reasons for studying Marx. First, the longevity and "vitality" of Marx's ideas mean they have a real power in the world and must be taken seriously. Second, Schumpeter wishes to explain what exactly Marx believed to Americans who may be unfamiliar (because, he says, there had been very little Marxist ideology in American politics until recently).

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