- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (September 8, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415395917
- ISBN-13: 978-0415395915
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
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After Socialism: Reconstructing Critical Social Thought 1st Edition
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About the Author
Gabriel Kolko is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto. He is the author of thirteen influential books, including Anatomy of War, Century of War and Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace.
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There is no Marxism without Hegelian dialecticism, observes Kolko, which doesn't exist in the real world. "The result of trying to employ Hegel was utter confusion and mystery wrapped around a cause and sense of injustice that was really quite simple and, had it remained that way, would have appealed to more people and retained their commitment for far longer...[Socialist goals should] have been far simpler and more easily expressed and defended, but socialism from its inception was hobbled with an incomprehensible Marxist method and mysticism...Analytically, it [should have been] far less determinist and far more useful in a world full of unpredictable surprises and changes...Faith, in large part to confront its obscurity and inconsistencies, thereby became integral to Marx's entire system." These are just some of the unscientific, confusing traits in Marxism, writes Kolko.
Kolko dwells on nineteenth and early twentieth century thinkers, which he characterizes as an optimistic age that believed in progress and the betterment, indeed the perfectibility, of the human condition. Kolko places Marx in a historical context as a part and product of changing fashions that included Fabians, liberal nationalism, anti-industrialism, mysticism, religious theory, phrenology, Christians, spiritualists, feminists, dress reform advocates, "and many more who were intensely obsessed by ideas they believed [were] certain...Romanticism and a faith in pseudo-science explain dimensions of this mood...What all these doctrines most shared in common...was generosity and faith - thinkers wished to be good and they believed that most people would follow them."
Kolko says Marx referred to his thought as communist to distinguish it from this larger socialist movement. The goals and the reasons for them that socialists, including Marx, held were laudable; thusly Kolko assails the illusory analytic framework of Marx's social economic theory: Marxism was a less formidable challenge to capitalism than might have emerged in the absence of its relative significant organizational strength. Indeed says Kolko, with their explosive growth through the late nineteenth century, the socialist parties abandoned and compromised their principles and theoretical capacity in favor of the organizational strength that sought power for its own sake, along with all its baggage.
Kolko examines in detail the catastrophic eventuality of the World War in 1914, and its deleterious affects on the socialist movement, the human psyche, and the world. There would have been no Bolshevism, writes Kolko, without the German Social Democratic Party's nationalist support of the world war. Thusly, says Kolko, there would have been no repressive, autocratic socialist model to further tarnish the socialist ideal.
Marxism, says Kolko, avers economic and thusly social laws - positivistic, deterministic, and mechanistic - that unfold inexorably; and it is practically a matter of awaiting the expropriation of the expropriators by the proletariat, the workers. Unfortunately, he says, this determinism and these unvarying laws don't exist in a real world subject to contingency, unpredictability, especially wars, more recently serious ecological challenges, human greed and capriciousness.
Marxism is penurious in its predictive character, says Kolko, a trait by which the advantageousness of a social theory should be judged. Marxism's indecipherability makes impossible the application of its principles to the colossal modern challenges, says Kolko. It follows with almost mathematical precision that Marxism thusly has no principles. With unparalleled capacity for nuance, Kolko explains the distortion of the past-historical, and present, role of the proletariat.
Kolko shows that Marxism provides no useful analytic tools or framework to understand, and thusly to respond, to: collusion of capitalists to maintain their privileges, state intervention in the economy, war, ethnic nationalism, religious fanaticism, racism, opportunism, and massive population migration, of salient significance even in Marx's time. That these factors exist outside the unyielding laws of Marxist economic theory are monumental errors, according to Kolko.
Ambition of leaders, always a political problem, was one also in the socialist movement, as Kolko shows. These leaders and their ambitions manipulated the socialist movement and Marxist economic theory to serve too often nefarious ends. The consequent authoritarianism was another spike in the coffin of the socialist movement, and also became the cause of others.
Capitalists think if they refute socialism they thereby prove the superiority of capitalism. One should not think that Kolko's rejection of socialism is ipso facto his affirmation of capitalism. On the contrary, here as in the rest of his opus, Kolko is stern and exhaustive in the seriousness with which he inventories the problems that capitalism visits on the world. Socialist and capitalist theory are not two poles, elucidates Kolko, but only two peculiar economic models, both of which have, for reasons some common, some different, produced cataclysm.
Kolko's book is flawed with several blemishes such as suspect assertions, particularly questionable economic and mathematical ratios and equivalences and their relative extrapolation over varying time lags. Kolko indulges a slight repetitiveness that is however, more strength than weakness, in that it captures nuance and comprehensiveness more than it indicates a lack of imagination. Kolko's thought veers on eurocentrism. Mao is underrepresented. These flaws aren't worth dwelling on in the context of the magnitude of Kolko's vision and exegesis. Lenin gets in-depth treatment. What Kolko lacks on the occasional scientific lapse in proof - which standard especially in economics is often anyway more subjective - he makes up for in profundity and the deep-felt humanity of a trenchant scholar.
At this historical juncture, writes Kolko, our false and failed starts are less dangerous to our survival than apathy and the status quo. It is on us to effect change; else momentum will carry toward its inexorable end. Kolko's prescriptions are foremost, universal demilitarization and disarmament. He recommends taxing the rich to fund prodigal public spending.
After Socialism is about thinking about the human condition, its problems and their potential solutions. With only a few miscues, every sentence is chock full of insight, and deep, yet subtle, analysis. Kolko's repeated explicit and implicit allusions to the problems we face, and their threat to the survival of the species and planet, along with his austere reasonableness, border on the artistic only because they're more precisely scientific. After Socialism is thusly a contribution to the process of thinking and clarity that Kolko also designates as remedies to our social ills. It thereby is a contribution to humanity.
He begins by attacking the optimism of western materialism, particularly that of the 19th century,especially socialism, rooted in the belief in discoverable laws of social and historical motion. The comprehension of such laws would make it possible to develop the means to master our own destiny. In what other belief can one root ANY materialist optimism?
Kolko urges the following:
1) to address problems in more tightly empirical bite-size portions.
2) to be better intellectuals than in the past. He means, of course, that we should be the intellectual that he --and I -- take HIM to be? He does a fair if cursory job of running down the left's intellectual failures, but leaves begging two obvious questions: 1) WHY have we been such bad intellectuals, which leads to the second: 2) WHY will we be any better? I believe that this oversight is intentional: He would speak to hope but is unable to think of a single answer to those questions that does so.
Kolko is proceeding from an ethos like that of the ancient German religion, which even my reddest days I have always admired. The gods and heroes of Valhalla or Asgard are condemned to fall in battle before the forces of disorder, chaos and unreason -- EVIL -- with no thought of surrender. But even futile resistance, however brief, needs a plan. Kolko is not helpful.