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Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown Hardcover – November 7, 2005

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From scattered previous editions, this volume unites the author's opus on Marxism, which he wrote in the 1970s. Kolakowski is a historian of philosophy and treats Marxism as such; that is, he does not address the history of Marxist movements, parties, and leaders. For those interested in Marxist doctrine, Kolakowski dissects it within a chronological framework, laying out its antecedents in Hegelian philosophy and varieties of socialism current in the 1830s and 1840s. Conceding Karl Marx's originality in formulating his precepts, seminally in The German Ideology (1846), Kolakowski subjects them to withering analysis, especially in their relation to Marx's claim to have discovered a science of human history. There is no mistaking Kolakowski for a Marxist, but his grasp of the interrelationship of Marxian concepts from alienated labor to historical materialism to revisionism is complete. Kolakowski also understands Marxism's propensity for schismatic development, justifying the author's description of this history as a handbook of the principal Marxist theoreticians. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


His three volume dissection of Marxism is considered the definitive work on the subject. -- Sarah Lyall, New York Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1284 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (November 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060546
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 2.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #985,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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106 of 115 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding description and analysis of the history of Marxism as a philosophic enterprise and doctrine. Kolakowski's goal is a fair and lucid history of Marxism as an intellectual enterprise. This is a highly ambitious undertaking requiring familiarity with a huge range of writers and thinkers, ranging from famous figures like Marx and Hegel to obscure 19th and 20th century ideologues. Kolakowski also appears to be remarkably well versed in the secondary literature on Marxism as well. The breadth and depth of scholarship is remarkable and is matched by Kolakowski's lucid exposition. Considerably credit has to be given to the translator, PS Falla, for the fluent English. Main Currents is divided into 3 volumes, the first covering the origins of Marxism and Marx himself, the second devoted to the apogee of Marxist thought, and the last to history of Marxism since the Russian revolution.

Kolokowski begins in an apparently surprising place; the Neoplatonism of the Classical world. He points out that some of of the themes implicit in Marx have very deep roots. The ideas of man alienating aspects of his essence and then being restored to completion in a dramatic and catastrophic event are ancient. Kolakowski traces these ideas and the accompanying aspects of eschatology and soteriology through major philosophers and theologians of both the Classical and Medieval period into the end of the 18th century. He then moves to a brilliant description of the Hegelian - Idealist tradition that forms the immediate background of Marx's work.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jan Doxrud on January 6, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First of all, Leszek Ko³akowski was a superb intellectual, philosopher and historian of ideas. After the Second World War he devoted himself to marxism, but after visiting Moscow he left stalinism and became a revisionist marxist. Stalinism as a subreligion within a religion (Marxism) condemned the heretic, no schism was allowed. Ko³akowski was expelled from the Polish United Workers' Party.
Now, lets go to the book that made Ko³akowski famous. The purpose of the book in the words of Ko³akowski: "to understand Marx's basic thoughts as answers to questions that have long excercised the minds of philosophers, but at the same time to comprehend them in their uniqueness both as emanations of Marx's genius and as phenomena of a particular age." Ko³akowski did not write a history of Western philosophy to understand Marx, but as he said "a brief account of the questions in regard to which Marxism can be described as constituting a new step in the development of European philosophy." Therefore Ko³akowski does a real genealogy of marxism, you can not study Martxism as an isolated ideology. "The phrase Marxism before Marx has no meaning, but Marx's thought would be emptied of its content if it were not considered in the setting of European culltural history as a whole..." Thus, Ko³akowski begin analysing the origins of dialectitic BRIEFLY (but not lacking of depth) Plotinus, Saint Augustine and the contingency of human existence, the concept of the "One" before and after Christianity and how can men can reach non duality or the union with the One, which in the followers of Plato is in one way and in christianity (influenced by Plato) in another way.
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77 of 99 people found the following review helpful By J. Pintar on April 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
While a new single-volume edition of Kolakowski's Main Currents is most welcome, re-reading it, I cannot but feel it will be of interest only to the most ardent Marxologists (and perhaps the occasional trawler for spirited anti-communist quips).

The work is certainly not a good place to look for an introduction to Marx or Marxist thought. For those purposes, it is far too expansive, and dwells on topics and thinkers that have been rendered largely philosophically irrelevant over the decades since its completion. As a philosophical assessment of Marx's own work, it is neither particularly innovative, nor particularly astute, however eloquently written. To get a good sense of Marx's philosophical thought, it would be considerably wiser even for a novice to invest the time it would take to make one's way through Kolakowski's 400-odd pages of the first volume into reading an equal amount of the primary literature.

On the other hand, in spite of its length, the book's treatment of many Marxists, especially in the third volume, is essentially superficial, and therefore of little use to an advanced reader. For someone who has, for instance, a desire to deepen one's knowledge of Ernst Bloch, Kolakowski's witty and biting short chapter may be amusing, but hardly enlightening.

Finally, as a previous review notes, the English translation is pleasurably readable. However, what it does not convey is precisely the charming unevenness of the original. Over the time of writing the Main Currents, Kolakowski moved from being a slightly reluctant true believer to being a vitriolic apostate, and this shift is reflected in the tones of the original.
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