Book Review for April

TalkMarxist & Socialist

Join LibraryThing to post.

Book Review for April

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Mar 28, 2007, 1:39pm

With April coming up, I propose we select a book, hopefully one I already own, or one that won't cost too much, read it between now and April 21st and between April 21st and the 30th discuss it in this thread. It would probably be a good idea to write a review of it in our library, also. We can see what everyone thought in detail. During this same period, if people want to, let's select a book to do the same thing with in May.

What do you think?

Mar 28, 2007, 8:42pm

Great idea. I'm currently re-reading Capital, so hopefully we can pick something shorter so I can read both. But it's definitely a good idea.

Why don't you throw out the first suggestion!

Edited: Mar 29, 2007, 4:34pm

A cursory check of "Lenin" at yields two inexpensive books from which we could choose one to start. I have to confess, while having read biographies of Lenin, I've never read any of his thoughts, so I would like to start with Lenin.

The first option is Essential Works Of Lenin: "What is to be Done" and Other Writings by V. I. Lenin..

The second option is The State and Revolution by V. I. Lenin.

Either of these is okay with me. Remember, if I don't own it already I want it to cost less than $20 if possible.

Your play.

P.S. (edit) Amazon currently has a two-fer with Essential Works and The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky for $20+. This would be a good deal.

Mar 29, 2007, 5:06pm

All of those sound good.

The two that I'm leaning towards more is either The State and Revolution by Lenin or The Revolution Betrayed by Trotsky.

I also have Left-Wing Communism by Lenin sitting on my shelf that I havent read yet and it's short. I don't know if that would be an option for you.

I guess I'll leave it up to you to pick which ever one you want and I'll jump right now it.

Mar 29, 2007, 5:46pm

I too was leaning toward The State and Revolution, but Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed sounds good, too. I vote for either.

Mar 29, 2007, 7:53pm

Some of the other members may want to join in. Right now if you leave it up to me we will go with the Trotsky sO I can get the two-fer, but let's wait and then announce what we are going to read on Sunday, in case someone else wants to join in. Is that okay?

BTW, I am really interested in The State and Revolution so maybe we can plan on that for May.

Mar 29, 2007, 8:24pm

I just went to the library and got both The State and Revolution and The Revolution Betrayed so I'm up for either.

Sunday seems like a good time to pick one or the other.

Mar 29, 2007, 8:33pm

Sounds good; if no one else weighs in, then maybe on Sunday we can hold a terribly unscientific Internet coin toss to choose. ;-)

Apr 1, 2007, 11:32am

Okay, it's Sunday, April Fools Day, but since my local library has next to nothing by Lenin or Trotsky (I live in the 3rd most Republican county by % of population in the world) I am going to vote for The State and Revolution by V. I. Lenin.

Apr 1, 2007, 12:31pm

I second that vote!!!

Apr 1, 2007, 4:59pm

Third! Motion carried than...I guess. I am away from my home at the moment, but perhaps I can find a copy while on the road--I tend to find myself in a bookstore wherever I go.

Apr 1, 2007, 9:15pm

If you cannot find a copy, you can find one here:

If you can get yourself a copy I would suggest getting the International Publishers edition

Apr 2, 2007, 3:06am

Great idea Josh. I totally forgot about the Marxist Internet Archive. What a great resource! Thanks!

Apr 25, 2007, 6:20pm

In order to prepare myself for The State and Revolution I decided to read The Communist Manifesto. I finished it and my review can be found by going to the reviews for it.

May 2, 2007, 12:11pm

Has anyone finished The State and Revolution? I am about two-thirds through. I'm on the section covering Engels' critiques of state socialism/anarchism. I expect to finish today or tomorrow and will have a review posted by Friday. We need to nail down a book for May. That is if anyone is still interested in pursuing this.

I would like to hear other peoples thoughts on The State and Revolution aside from reviews with a goal of discussing it.

I'm still interested in The Revolution Betrayed.

May 4, 2007, 6:21pm

My review is out under the book title. Click on The State and Revolution to see it.

Edited: May 3, 2008, 3:49pm


I'm glad that you're reading State and Revolution.

I think that many Marxists today are very far from the conception of paradise that you (rightly) criticize in both Marx and Lenin. I can't speak for the Maoists and the Stalinists, but there are plenty of people out there who don't subscribe to either ideology.

Speaking for myself, I am not interested in paradise on earth. There are some weird passages in State and Revolution where Lenin imagines that when socialism arrives (paraphrasing) everybody will be able to do everything. I see that sort of stuff spouted by Stalinists a lot, and there are many (Marxist and otherwise) people I respect who subscribe to some variation of this idea, that working class democracy will liberate everybody and solve all of society's ills.

I don't think that's the case, and in this sense I agree with Lenin. A working class revolution, based on direct democracy in the workplace, will destroy capitalism. That's all it's going to do. It's not going to bring about paradise on earth. There will still be a state, and it will still be repressive, and it will still need to be fought. You will still have the same people in your workplace, and they're not going to change. The only proposition that's being made is to get rid of the criminal inefficiency and waste of capitalism, and to expropriate the people who profit off it.

To me, all the arguments circulating about how socialism "failed" are claptrap deriving from the fiction that socialism was somehow achieved in 1917, 1949, 1959, 1999 (Chavez) or whatever. That's not what Lenin said in this book. He argues, correctly, that a worker's state will not be socialism after the revolution. To take power it would necessarily have to function as a state, and thus it would be repressive. It would, however, by virtue of worker's democracy (and for no other reason) be -less- repressive.

He was wrong about the "withering away". A repressive state cannot be expected to wither away - it must be fought.

You might be interested in Rosa Luxemberg. She criticized many of the same things you perceive in Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Your proposal that there is a basic human nature that cannot be altered and that capitalist society is a maximally optimal, anti-authoritarian and democratic expression of that human nature is something I reject completely. But that is a different conversation.

May 3, 2008, 4:15pm

Asquonk, forgive me, but I will read your comment in a moment, but SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH LT, TIM, if you're out there. The date stamp on message #16 is flaky. It should be May, 03, 2007. Not today. It certainly isn't past 6 pm anywhere in the US, yet.

Edited: May 3, 2008, 5:49pm

Asquonk, in #17 , you said, "Your proposal that there is a basic human nature that cannot be altered and that capitalist society is a maximally optimal, anti-authoritarian and democratic expression of that human nature is something I reject completely. But that is a different conversation."

I'm afraid you may have somehow overread what I've said. Also, unbeknownst to you, there has been a year go by of political chatter here on LT since I wrote that review. Which I still stand by, by the way. I've learned a lot.

First, you are absolutely right when you say I believe in a human nature that cannot be altered. This puts me at odds with any scheme that requires social education devised, implemented, and dictated from above. I will admit attitudes can be changed by social education, but these changes come when people, people not governments, understand the old attitudes are not working any more. However, a world of just us, a prerequisite to the kind of communism Marx and Lenin advocate will never be. As long as there is an us, there must be a them. Self-identification in humans is not driven by selecting traits one admires, as much as it comes from rejecting traits one does not possess oneself. White racists don't identify as much with their whiteness as much as thy do their non-blackness. Look at the history of communism in Russia. There was never a period, at least until the state became so ineffective and inefficient at meeting the needs of the people that it was nearly dead (say from Andropov forward), that the state was identifying its enemies and dealing with them. Revolutions tend to eat their young and that's what happened from Lenin through Stalin, and into Kruschev's time. Us and Them. To reach the promised land we must eliminate them. And the thems just keep on a-comin'.

If, somehow, I led you to believe my position on capitalism as "... a maximally optimal, anti-authoritarian and democratic expression of that human nature", you must have somehow misread me. I do not believe that human beings can create ANY system whether of economics or governance that is "maximally optimal" and I certainly don't believe it will ever lead to "an anti-authoritarian ...".

Capitalism is by its very nature authoritarian and un-democratic. That's why 1) getting it right is impossible and 2) it must be regulated rather than allowed to run wild or, by the same token, thrown over for something else. I see a few successful Social Democracies (or are they Democratic Socialists) that work just fine, mostly in the homogeneous Western European Far North, but nothing beyond that at the moment. I personally prefer we move in that direction. However, being America, I would prefer everyone, or nearly everyone develop a consensus for this before we dictate it. Believe me, four more years of Reaganomics and we'll be all pushing for it.

Because of the essentially (as in necessary) chaotic nature of social systems, and because of the limitations of humans in our personal blueprints, I see Communism in the same way I see Reaganomics: looks good on paper, just ignores a few fatal flaws as inconveniences. Thus, mental masturbation, feels good, but misses the essentials of the real thing.

I had a teacher tell me once that if in a multi-part math question you get the first part wrong, there is no way in hell you are going to answer correctly the overall problem.

In the study of any chaotic system, it is requisite that one's initial conditions be correctly identified and accounted for. Otherwise, the system one is studying will not be the system one wishes to study. Without a complete and correct set of proper initial conditions (impossible to obtain) planning things as complex as economies cannot be done. Communism began to go astray before it left the commune.

True social change is an organic process, not something that can be directed or dictated. All we can do is hold on, keep our heads up, and take the opportunities as they occur.

May 4, 2008, 4:59am

Well, if one defines the free market or "unfettered" capitalism as being worse to live under than the Social Democracies, I'm definitely in agreement with you. But I would take issue with the notion that the Social Democracies are running fine. France today is a case in point.

Perhaps I could ask you a question this way. If you don't think the Social Democracies are optimal, what changes would you like to see happen, how would you propose achieving those changes, and how would you attempt to ensure that those changes stick?

If people bring about change, and capitalism is bad, do you think that private property should be abolished? I imagine you wouldn't. But if you don't see it that way, are social environments under capitalist society, and the social change that leads to improvements in Social Democracy (or less regulated versions of capitalism) "organic" or "chaotic", or are they heavily mediated and controlled? Keeping in mind that some 80% of the media in the US is owned by a handful of companies . . .

I don't think that Stalinism is the road to resolving the problems in Social Democracies, which seems to be the type of Communism you are working with (which, incidentally, is different from Marx's own idea). But one problem with viewing the Social Democracies in isolation (with the parliamentary strategies which that implies) is that their economies are integrated with the US. If you look at it from the perspective of "well, things are going well over there" then that would suggest that we could change a few things over here (in the US) and improve the situation. Unfortunately, despite the mass movements of the Civil Rights Era, things are worse.

Aug 6, 2008, 5:28pm

Everyone here might enjoy reading, and then discussing, The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited, by the late Alec Nove. In this book he addressed some of the questions you have raised.

Edited: Aug 7, 2008, 10:08pm

(Hmm. I bought that last month, but could not remember why it was on my 'Wish List'. Not especially easy to find....)

Aug 12, 2008, 3:31pm

I think all those old Marxist classics are very important, especially in order to understand the era of the great Marxists in a historical sense. But there are some non marxist authors that contribute to a materialist out look.

Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel are materialist in outlook I think.

Sep 8, 2008, 6:03am

One form or another of materialism, as an explanatory tool for understanding historical change, was not uncommon among thinkers before (and after) Marx.

Geography was one favorite, building on the obvious fact that it is harder to build a civilization in non-temperate climates.

If you read Macaulay on why England escaped having an absolutist state, and thus could evolve towards liberty, you will find a materialist explanation. The Founding Fathers of the United States were very frank about the importance of contending "factions" (classes and class fractions) in determining political outcomes.

Like all great thinkers, Marx and Engels did a lot of synthesizing of the best thinking of the times before them. (They owed a large debt to the left Jacobins, for example.) They themselves acknowledged this.

But they alone proposed the forces-of-production/relations of production/state-corresponding-to-those-relations which distinguishes Marxism from other materialisms.

And since the productive forces grow over time (in their theory), with corresponding violent effects on the structures they support, their theory -- unlike other materialist theories -- tends to point strongly towards the possibility of (eventual) social and political revolution in current society. This, I think, tended to limit its popularity among academics, many of whom depended on salaries paid by the existing order.

And then, because historical materialism became associated with Marxism and revolution, the whole idea tended to become rather off-limits.

However, for understanding the world today, it is indispensable.