I was standing on a beach in Siberia when this book was recommended to me. The wavelets of a small artificial ocean made by damming the river Ob were splashing on the sand, and I was wondering out loud about the roots of the Soviet passion for making grand modifications to nature. She was right. I did need to read Kolakowski. His 'Main Currents of Marxism' translated by PS Falla is not only a monumental intellectual history of Marxist thought; it is also one of the world's grandest, most thoroughgoing intellectual demolition jobs. For nearly pages, the author clambers over the edifice of his subject like an indefatigable spider, laying his charges.
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Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Falla Translator. From philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, one of the giants of twentieth-century intellectual history, comes this highly infuential study of Marxism. Written in exile, this 'prophetic work' presents, according to the Library of Congress, 'the most lucid and comprehensive history of the origins, structure, and posthumous development of the system of thought that had the greatest From philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, one of the giants of twentieth-century intellectual history, comes this highly infuential study of Marxism.
Written in exile, this 'prophetic work' presents, according to the Library of Congress, 'the most lucid and comprehensive history of the origins, structure, and posthumous development of the system of thought that had the greatest impact on the twentieth century'. Kolakowski traces the intellectual foundations of Marxist thought from Plotonius through Lenin, Lukacs, Sartre and Mao. He reveals Marxism to be 'the greatest fantasy of our century In a brilliant coda, he examines the collapse of international Communism in light of the last tumultuous decades.
Main Currents of Marxism remains the indispensable book in its field. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published November 9th by W. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 5. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Main Currents of Marxism , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Main Currents of Marxism. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4.
Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Dec 28, Szplug rated it it was amazing. Indeed, capitalism itself was deemed a crucial and irreplaceable component of this historical inevitability, a necessary system that rapidly increased the technological level and material composition of society and yet was riven by contradictions, social and economical, that would result in the proletariat becoming conscious of its historical identity and overthrowing the decadent capitalist-liberal order, replacing it with a communist panacea.
Man, no longer alienated from the objects of his labour and achieving the symbiosis of subject and object in himself and nature, would work purely for the joy of working, of creating that which needed to be created, doing that which needed to be done; and eventually the very superstructure of government and state would melt away, redundant anachronisms from the prehistoric travails of a now enlightened race.
With the God of the Christians under assault from all sides, here was a rational religion that could be embraced with the fervor of the true believer, all the while backed by the impressive edifice of evidentiary support generated by the towering intellect of Marx and the deft and nuanced calculations of Engels.
Leszek Kolakowski, a former professor of philosophy from Poland, began working on The Founders , the first book of his omnibus Main Currents of Marxism , after being dismissed from the University of Warsaw in , prior to his acclaimed academic career in England and the United States. In dense pages he outlines the philosophical lineage that led through Neoplatonism, Empiricism and Idealism to Hegel - the prime influence on Marx's thought - and then explicates all of the main thrusts and tenets of Marx and Engels vast philosophical output.
It is not so much a history of these men or their times, but that of their thought. Towards the end Kolakowski performs an exegesis that postulates how the rather nebulous political underpinnings of Marxism would allow an adherent to steer the socialist ship towards a despotic berth; that its reliance on Hegelian dialectic and the negation of negations would allow future scholars to create their own symbiosis of the Marxist tenets, taking them in unanticipated - but entirely foreseeable - and disastrous directions.
The Founders is erudite, penetrating, and brilliant - in addition to thoroughly covering the output of Marx and Engels, it includes perhaps the best explanation of Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit that I have come across. It is a tome to be digested slowly, and parts of it are fairly heavy going - I'll be needing a break between books in order to let Kolakowski's analysis settle - but it is indispensable for those who wish to know more about the intellectual structure and origins of one of the most important and influential political philosophies of the twentieth century.
View 2 comments. Jan 10, Adam Gurri rated it it was amazing. How can I begin to review a book like this? The reviewer of the last edition put out noted that the book is pages, but written by anyone else it would have been ten times as long. And that is exactly right. This books is encyclopedic in the volume of information it conveys, and yet it strings it all together so that you're following more or less chronologically, enriching each period as you go with greater and greater knowledge of all the key players.
This is a book about the history of Marx How can I begin to review a book like this? This is a book about the history of Marxist doctrine, from its pre-history which Kolakowski traces all the way back to ideas in Plotinus and the neo-Platonists right on down to when the first edition of the book came out in Though he continually stresses that he is interested only in the variations of the doctrine, the connection between political ideas and political practice is particularly hard to disentangle in this case, especially once Lenin and Stalin and the USSR enter the picture quite late in the book, I might add!
Among the book's many virtues is covering in outline the history of several political movements, as a result of this connection. Really, I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who wishes to understand the history of the 20th century.
It won't give you that history, but it will fill in one of the most important background components of that history, and in richer detail than you would think possible for a single book. I personally feel as though a great deal has been brought into sharp focus that had remained just in my peripheral vision for years.
Of course, a book on Marxism is not for everyone. Though I got a great deal out of it, I admit I'm relieved to finally be able to be able to move on to the next book. Leszek Kolakowski was to the study of Marxism what Gibbon was to the study of the Roman Empire, what Darwin was to the study of evolutionary biology, and what Einstein was to the study of general relativity. Main Currents of Marxism is a brilliant, dazzling, monumental work, which shows how Marxism came about, from what philosophical schools it was spawned, the nature and impact of concomitant theories of socialism and socialist philosophy, and how Marxism and socialism fared when put into actio Leszek Kolakowski was to the study of Marxism what Gibbon was to the study of the Roman Empire, what Darwin was to the study of evolutionary biology, and what Einstein was to the study of general relativity.
Main Currents of Marxism is a brilliant, dazzling, monumental work, which shows how Marxism came about, from what philosophical schools it was spawned, the nature and impact of concomitant theories of socialism and socialist philosophy, and how Marxism and socialism fared when put into action as government policy in the former Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact states, and China.
If the book were merely a philosophical survey of the works of Marx and Engels, along with a discussion of the sociopolitical impact of Marxism and its attendant philosophies, dayenu. But it is so much more. Main Currents of Marxism was produced by a writer and thinker who was at the peak of his powers, and who generously shared his gifts to augment scholarship, philosophical studies, and historical analysis.
In writing his magnum opus, Kolakowski also helped readers, thinkers, and policymakers figure out how so much of the human race fell prey to Marxism, Marxian thought, and socialist beliefs. While it may be rhetorically effective to call the Administration a bunch of Marxists or socialists, intellectually speaking, the practice is misguided and the appellations are utterly inaccurate.
By contrast, the various philosophers and political leaders who get skewered by Kolakowski—in the non-histrionic, but utterly powerful manner in which he skewered them—deserved and deserve the excoriations they got at his hands.
People like Ernst Bloch, and Herbert Marcuse deserve to have been mocked and ridiculed. The mind reels. Of his native Poland, and its struggles, Kolakowski writes eloquently, and his descriptions of the tragicomic existence of the Warsaw Pact countries and China under communism are must-reads.
I try to refrain from exaggeration, but this is one of the best books I have ever read. Marxism brought about human depredation on a vast and almost unimaginable scale. View 1 comment.
Jan 23, Mike rated it it was amazing Shelves: philosophy , history , political-theory. I am not exaggerating when I state that this may very well be one of the best books I have ever read. Indeed, I am tempted to re-rate previous works I have placed within the five star category as it almost seems a disservice to Kolakowski's impressive does that even capture it?
This three volume masterpiece is not for those interested in a brief synopsis of the subject matter. Instead, it is a laborious, meticulous, most detailed account of the economic, political, and philosophical syste I am not exaggerating when I state that this may very well be one of the best books I have ever read.
Instead, it is a laborious, meticulous, most detailed account of the economic, political, and philosophical system initiated in the halls of the British Museum Reading Room by Karl Marx.
Each volume that Kolakowski disseminates has its place and its purpose. In linear fashion, he takes us through the thoughts and background of the "founders", then on to the "golden age" prior to the October Revolution , and finally to the "breakdown" as embodied by the most well known atrocities of communism carried out by the Bolsheviks and others flying the banner of Marx. Without rewriting the book - I would like to point out some crucial components of his thesis as best I can.
First and foremost, while not laying the blame for all that was done in his name at Marx's feet, Koloakowski does as fantastic job of tracing the kernel of 20th century communism, and especially Leninism theory to the notion of "scientific socialism" which infused many with the deistic belief that they had found the magic potion of all of human history and that their aims and policies were that of historical necessity.
Secondly, Koloakowski puts forth a passionate and brilliant expose by which he not only places Stalinism as an outgrowth of Leninism but as its rightful heir. One would be hard pressed to separate the two as somehow counter-posed to one another after reading volume two. Indeed, I have never read such a crisp, logical, and absolute synopsis dedicated to exposing that, as Trotsky himself prophesied in , Bolshevism itself was rotten to the core going back to the very foundation of the party itself.
The countless examples of not only Lenin, but also Trotsky celebrating the stifling and dismantling of democracy both outside and within the party are a tough but necessary read for any who believe that all was fine from ''23 and only went wrong with Stalin's consolidation of power.
Indeed, Kolakowski, with both wit and brilliancy, diligently takes apart the mythology of those who idealize the ascension of the Bolsheviks and forces one to ask - how exactly was Stalinism different from Leninism is any tangible form.
Furthermore, while most difficult for any who sympathizes with Trotsky, it is important to note that the Lev Davidovich of post had little in common with the man who presided of the Pretrograd Soviet in both and Again, it would be hard to wrap of pages in a review of this format. Suffice to say, whether you are interested in philosophy, the history of Marxism, Russian history, or any aspect of a theory that hed sway over millions, many of which whom longed for a more just society while participating in its exact opposite, I would encourage you to read this book.
Hopefully it will not produce cynicism, but will certainly temper any sympathy for the crushing of the democratic spirit. If anything is proved by this work, it is a twofold truth that there is no secret code unlocking the mystery of all of human history and that no utopia will be brought about when its designers are soiled in the blood of tyranny.
Sep 23, Paul Crider rated it it was amazing Shelves: philosophy , miscellaneous-non-fiction , politics , socialism-leftism. This big book deserves a big review, but I ain't got it in me. Of course occasionally I would reach a chapter or section about some particularly boring intellectual, but these were rare.
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Martin Jay, Leszek Kolakowski. Translated by P. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Most users should sign in with their email address.
Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown
It was first published in Polish in Paris in , with the English translation appearing in Other reviewers were more critical of his treatment of the Frankfurt School. He describes Marxism as "the greatest fantasy of the twentieth century", a dream of a perfect society which became a foundation for "a monstrous edifice of lies, exploitation and oppression. It also discusses Austromarxism. He also discusses the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.