- Paperback: 472 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 2Rev e. edition (25 Mar. 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691070687
- ISBN-13: 978-0691070681
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 3 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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- #156 in Books > Society, Politics & Philosophy > Government & Politics > Political Science & Ideology > Socialism
- #335 in Books > Society, Politics & Philosophy > Government & Politics > Political Science & Ideology > Communism & Marxism
- #565 in Books > History > Other Historical Subjects > Theory & Methods
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Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (Princeton Paperbacks) Paperback – 25 Mar 2001
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Winner of the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize
"Cohen's blend of sound scholarship and acute philosophical reasoning has produced a work with which anyone seriously interested in understanding Marx must come to terms."--Peter Singer, New York Review of Books
"A clear, definite, and well-reasoned interpretation of what the theory really is. . . . Admirably argued and generally exhilarating."--Anthony Quinton, The Times Literary Supplement
"[Karl Marx's Theory of History] is an ambitious and impressive work. . . . Cohen writes with limpidity, verve, and honesty."--William H. Shaw, American Historical Review
From the Back Cover
"An admirable and formidable book."--E. J. Hobsbawm
"Every sentence has the feel of having been deeply thought through over a long period of time."--Gareth Stedman Jones
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Inside This Book(Learn More)
LENIN SAID that the 'three sources and component parts' of historical materialism were German philosophy, British political economy, and French socialism. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Top Customer Reviews
The version of historical materialism Cohen defends, and which he convincingly demonstrates to be that held by Marx, is a form of technological determinism. Forms of society rise and fall, on this view, according to the level of development of the productive forces they possess. Adopting functional explanation, Cohen argues that the superstructure (the legal and political order of any class society) is as it is in order to support the relations of production (the way in which owners and producers relate to one another and the forces of production). The relations of production are as they are in order to promote the development of the productive forces. In other words, what drives the historical process according to Cohen, is the constant development of the productive forces.
As his critics have argued, how can we claim that there is constant development of the productive forces across societies when the historical record shows many instances of productive stagnation and even regression? Cohen argues, however, that there is no more than a tendency for the productive forces to develop.Read more ›
I felt this book should have made far clearer the fact that Tsarist Russia was a hugely wealthy empire; providing in abundance all the natural/mineral resources, raw materials, plus the vast hard-working population that a modern industrial power needs. It could have explained that in 1917, an accident of history placed the Bolsheviks in charge of that empire, when the long suffering Russian people finally refused to endure any more of the Tsar's incompetence. This small, incredibly fortunate group of determined young 'Socialist' idealists, set out to build the 'perfect' paradise world; whatever the initial costs and sacrifice.
Sadly, decade's of privation and misery followed; as these idealists cruelly bullyed and hectored their people, in mismanaged attempts to 'prove' that their fantasies would become reality. Rather than the long-winded, convoluted excuses the author provides, he could merely have explained that fifty/sixty years later, it was obvious to any impartial observer that the communist experiment had failed; and radical changes were urgently needed if the decaying system was not to collapse completely.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Nonetheless, Cohen's book remains a model of clarity, depth, and ruthlessly honest exposition that shows up the places where it runs into problems. It contains must that is salvageable, not least an interpretation of what it is for the economic to be "primary" in terms of a theory of functional explanation, on which the ideological superstructure and the state are explained in part in terms of their functionality for the economic base, and revolutionary social change due to "fettering" of the productive forces understood in terms of dysfunctionality. People who like their Marx fuzzy and obscure enough to avoid intelligible criticism (Althusserians, for example) have never liked this book, but if Marxism _as a theory_ has a future in the wake of collapse of the Marxism _as a movement_, Cohen here set the standard for what that theory should look like in procedure and rigor if not necessarily in its substanative claims. Serious study of Marx's theory of history starts here.
Cohen is a supporter of "the primary of productive forces" (the word primacy here being used to avoid the label of being a determinist or vulgar marxist) and argues to uphold the base-superstructure metaphor which Marx set forth in the 1859 preface to the Contribution to Political Economy. In a nutshell, the metaphor basically said that the base of all society is the economic structure, where everything else (legal and political institutions, for example) rise as a superstructure on this base. The implication is that the most influential thing in society is indeed our economic system. The further implication here, and surely what Marx was trying to say, is that capitalism is the defining aspect of everything and essentially the primarily determining entity in society.
GA Cohen upholds this metaphor by first scouring the 1859 preface, then other Marx works and finally arguing for the legitimacy of the "primary of productive forces" himself. His arguments are concise and powerful. If you are a serious student of Marxism, the read is basically mandatory and helps break the illusion that there is really one theory of Marxism and thats it. Cohen's interpertation of Marx tends to be the one that most people identify Marx with themselves and also tends to paint Marxism as cold and determinist (despite his attempts to keep away from the dreaded title).
However, if you are going to read this, be sure to read Althusser, Williams and Lukacs. These are the other three major points on the debate and reading them will give you a rounded perspective on the entire thing. I tend not to agree with Cohen (though that doesn't show in my rating) and think that if you read a lot of Marx, you can see he himself differing from Cohen. The famous 11th statement in his Thesis of Feurbach sums it all up:
"The philosophers have only interperted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."
Cohen's views on the economic base's primacy doesn't leave much room for this statement to be anything other than a hollow statement.
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