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Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders - The Golden Age - The Breakdown Paperback – January 17, 2008
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Considered the definitive work on the subject" (The New York Times), Main Currents of Marxism is now in one paperback volume. "A monument of modern humanistic scholarship... It will surely not be superseded." New York Review of Books "Leszek Kolokowki is one of the world's greatest living political philosophers and historians of ideas... Norton have reissued his magnum opus, Main Currents of Marxism, in a handsome single volume." Timothy Garton Ash, Books of the Year, The Times Literary Supplement "...indispensable... an unmatched encyclopaedia of a major passage in Western intellectual history, but the enduring interest of this masterly volume does not come chiefly from the mass of useful information it provides. Instead, it lies in Kolokowski's devastating assessment of Marx's thought." John Gray, The Times Higher Education Supplement"
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By all appearances, the historical portions of the volume are even-handed and empathetic to a fault. The reader with libertarian tendencies and a basic understanding of mainstream economics will find it frustrating to endure long expositions of historical thought without any commentary pointing out fallacies that should be obvious from a modern standpoint. In fact, it is not until page 141 that we are treated to our first hint that the author harbors doubt of Marxism, and proper criticism does not appear until the final portion of the first book. The second book, while still fair and objective, improves upon this by placing commentary mostly at the end of each chapter.
My main motivation in reading this work was to understand why, despite the obvious failure of the Marxist political establishment, the extreme Left fringe still claims to represent the majority while presenting Marxist theory as if it were fact. Kołakowski succeeds in explaining this persistence with excruciating detail, but allow me briefly to summarize for the benefit of those for whom a close reading will not prove a worthwhile investment of time:
1. Marxism has a long and broad intellectual tradition. It traces its roots to ancient Western philosophy, and was the single most influential political philosophy worldwide for the better part of a century. It inspired a large number of political movements that were successful in the sense of rising to dominance at a national level. But before the end of the 20th century, it became abundantly clear that there was no existence proof of Marxism's ability to improve the condition of the average worker, and as a result it is now essentially absent from mainstream political thought.
2. Marxism as a doctrine is unfalsifiable in the sense that Marx did not set forth sufficient conditions for the abolition of private property to lead to an outcome that the majority prefers over that of capitalism. Thus, it is always possible to claim that none of the nominally Marxist regimes thus far represented "true" Marxism, although Kołakowski maintains that for every argument to the effect that such regimes violated Marx's doctrine there exists an equally compelling argument that they respected it.
3. Marxism presumes to avoid extinguishing individual freedom after placing all economic power in the hands of an enlightened (possibly democratic) central authority by asserting that this transformation will somehow, as if miraculously, align everyone's interests. Individual and collective goals will supposedly cease to conflict, and in the meantime many Marxists dismiss those who doubt the inevitability of this outcome as unqualified to represent the true interests of the people. With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see how this degenerates into garden-variety dictatorship should the anticipated miracle fail to occur.
In short, Marxism is not, nor will it ever be, logically defunct, but there are good reasons to be extremely skeptical of it. While debunking every possible interpretation of Marx would be utterly infeasible, Kołakowski manages the still Herculean task of crafting substantive (if not always convincing) philosophical rebuttals to every branch of Marxism that had come to any real influence in Europe.
Along with Hayek's much more straightforward "The Road to Serfdom," this is a work that anti-capitalists really should read. But few others will find what they learn from it to be worth the effort required.
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. The he examined interesting figures like Meister Eckhart and the dialectif of deification, Nicolas de Cusa and the coincidentia oppositorum, the Enlightenment, Rousseau, Hume, the Germans: Kant (Prussian), Fichte, Hegel (as you should know and important part of the book) and the Hegelian Left. Young Hegelians: Ludwig Feurbach (The essence of Christianity) and Moses Hess and his philosophy of action. Then starts the analysis of Marx writting (and Engel's) Marxism before and after the Russian "Revolution" (was it a Revolution?. Lev Trotsky, the marriage between Marxism-Leninsm-Stalinism. Also interesting the part about Antonio Gramsci, Györg Lukács and other "perhaps" less known: German Marxist theorist Karl Korsch (Marxism and Philosophy)and French philosopher and sociologist, Lucien Goldmann. The Frankfurt school is obviously included with some of their leading figures and former figures: Horckheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm. The book finish with Ernst Bloch and Marxism after De-Stalinization.
If you want to understand Marxism you should have this book in your room and combine it with the original works of the authors. This is more a philosophical work than a history book about marxism. You should have a philosophical basis to read some parts of the book. You can read a really good history book about marxism and communism, better than Robert Service's "Comrades", its called The Red Flag (David Priestland)