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Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth…

Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution Volume 2: The… (edition 1978)

by Leszek Kolakowski (Author), P. S. Falla (Translator)

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Title:Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution Volume 2: The Golden Age
Authors:Leszek Kolakowski (Author)
Other authors:P. S. Falla (Translator)
Info:Oxford University Press (1978), Edition: 1St Edition, 552 pages
Collections:Your library, Books
Tags:Books, History of Ideas, History, Leszek Kolakowski, Marxism & Utopian Thought, Philosophy

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Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution Volume 2: The Golden Age by Leszek Kolakowski



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Tough but Worth It: Although there is no biography in any volume of this work, I was able to find out a little about its author, Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, from an encyclopedia, which describes him as a Marxist revisionist. After being expelled from the Communist Party, he left Poland and began working on his three-volume 'handbook' of Marxism: "Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origin, Growth, and Dissolution," which was completed in the 1970s.

This volume - the second in the series - traces the development of the doctrine after the deaths of its founders, Marx and Engels. The period covered by this volume roughly corresponds to that of the Second International, from the late nineteenth century through the First World War and Russian Revolution. The first part of this volume is a series of biographies of major figures of European socialism at that time, including Kautsky, Luxemburg, Berstein, Jaures, Labriola and others. The last few chapters consist of an overview of post-Decembrist Russian socialism, covering Herzen, Chernyshevsky and the Russian Marxists. The final chapter considers the Russian Revolution and the transformation of Bolshevism from a theory of the state to a state ideology.

Kolakowski's basic premiss is that the period of the Second International represented the 'golden age' of Marxism - the period during which a solid base of Marxist theory existed, but there was no sterile dogma enforced on Marxists. Throughout the course of this work, Kolakowski emphasizes that the Marxist doctrine could be (and was) interpreted in various different (and often contradictory) ways by different people. This relative freedom of interpretation was one of the chief features of this period in the development of the Marxist doctrine, which was largely lost with the development of Stalinism.

Kolakowski's purpose in this work is to trace the history of a doctrine, and as a result all three volumes of "Main Currents of Marxism" are quite heavy on philosophy. Although this isn't exactly surprising - since Kolakowski is himself a philosopher - I picked up this work out of an historical interest in Marxism and found myself somewhat unprepared for its philosophical aspects. It made for tough and occasionally frustrating reading for me, since I don't have an extensive background in philosophy.

Due to the huge amount of material that Kolakowski covers in this volume, he is often forced to skim over some of this material relatively quickly. In many chapters, this only increases the difficulty that beginners will have in assimilating the philosophical discussion. An additional result is that many of his conclusions seems more general and sweeping than the prior discussion would justify. One annoying example is his seemingly out-of-hand condemnation of most anti-Bolshevik movements in the Russian Revolution as hopeless utopianism, with minimal discussion of the actual programs of these movements. The edition that I read was also marred by the series flaw of some 30 missing pages towards the end of the book (479 - 510). I don't know how common this is, but if possible it may be a good idea to make sure those pages are there before purchasing. A final complaint is that I would have liked Kolakowski to say at least one word about Marxism in America, a subject that is not mentioned in this volume.

All in all, "Main Currents of Marxism" is a tough read, especially for those who aren't philosophically inclined. In the end, however, those who make it through will be rewarded with extensive knowledge of the development of Marxism and the various forms it took in the golden age that followed its founders' deaths and preceded the advent of Stalinism.

I. Marxism and the Second International
II. German Orthodoxy: Karl Kautsky
III. Rosa Luxemburg and the Revolutionary Left
IV. Bernstein and Revisionism
V. Jean Jaures: Marxism as a Soteriology
VI. Paul Lafarge: A Hedonist Marxism
VII. Georges Sorel: A Jansenist Marxism
VIII. Antonio Labriola: An Attempt at an Open Orthodoxy
IX. Ludwik Krzywicki: Marxism as an Instrument of Sociology
X. Kazimierz Kelles-Kraus: A Polish Brand of Orthodoxy
XI. Stanislaw Brzozowski: Marxism as Historical Subjectivism
XII. Austro-Marxists, Kantians in the Marxist Movement, Ethical Socialism
XIII. The Beginnings of Russian Marxism
XIV. Plekhanov and the Codification of Marxism
XV. Marxism in Russia Before the Rise of the Bolsheviks
XVI. The Rise of Lenin
XVII. Philosophy and Politics in the Bolshevik Movement
XVIII. The Fortunes of Leninism: From a Theory of the State to a State Ideology ( )
2 vote daschaich | Jul 17, 2006 |
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