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Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown [Hardcover]

Leszek Kolakowski
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Oct 2005
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 idea that began in Promethean humanism and culminated in the monstrous tyranny of Stalinism'. 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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 1504 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co. (28 Oct 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060546
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 16.3 x 23.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 981,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"His three volume dissection of Marxism is considered the definitive work on the subject."

About the Author

The Polish-born Leszek Kolakowski was the first recipient of the million-dollar John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences. He lives in Oxford.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kolakowski`s "Magum opus' on Marxism 19 May 2009
"Main Currents" is comprised of three parts - "The Founders", 'The Golden Age" and "The Breakdown". The first part looks at both the antecedents ie Kant, Hegel, as well as the main protagonists - Marx and Engels. In some places, it is heavy going but if the reader can stick with it, the insights into philosophy underpinning Marxism are worthwhile. "The Golden Age" deals with the various contributions of Kautsky, Bernstein and other relatively less well known writers but at the heart of this part is the Russian contributors ie Plekhanov and Lenin, and here the examination turns from the analysis of the ideas to a straight examination of the Bolshevik and then Stalinist ideas in practise - perhaps not that original but still worth reading for the author`s insights - he was a Professor of Philosophy at Warsaw University into the 1960s. The final part covers the ideas of latterday contributors such as Marcuse and the Frankfurt School. The book pretty well finishes in the late 1960s in due part to the author`s belief that there was little more to say - the ideas of Marx et al had run their course and been found 'wanting in the balance' in their application in his country, then part of the Soviet bloc, and elsewhere. This is a book of real scholarship in its breadth and depth of the coverage of the Marxist ideal and is unlikely to be bettered.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kolakowski's banquet of ideas 4 Feb 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Leszek Kolakowski's three-volume behemoth is a bible for both the Marxist thinker and historian. Not only it one of the few comprehensive overviews of the many streams of thought which shaped the Marxist debate over 150 years, but it's impressively lucid and concise to boot. Kolakowski summarises the biography, theory and critique of each thinker with an intellectual rigour that creates the standard for histories of ideas.

One of the key selling points of the `Main Currents of Marxism', however, is the objectivity with which Kolakowski treats his material. Once a diligent communist, he gradually became disillusioned with the philosophy which underpinned Soviet Poland and to such an extent that he actively funded dissident groups to undermine the system. He even came to believe that that the `aberrations' of Karl Marx's original works - propagated by Stalin, Pol Pot and Ceausescu, for example - were actually credible end products of the grand mage's logic.

However, Kolakowski didn't abandon his intellectual heritage altogether, and this translates into his work. He examines each thinker, each diverse form of the philosophy, carefully, and without presuppositions. His conclusions about each theory are philosophical rather than moral, singling out contradictions and paradoxes rather than the thoughts that might have provided the intellectual foundation for various atrocities.

Granted, Kolakowski can only say so much in his analyses, since his overview summarises rather than studies. But as an introduction to particular strands of Marxist thought and the problems associated with them, the `Main Currents of Marxism' is unbeatable. Kolakowski's prose is as lively as it is erudite; the content as rich as it is varied.

A true feast!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unwieldy tome 18 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very scholarly in style. Ideal for a bookshelf and studying at a desk or table. Thought I'd read this in bed but its too unwieldy physically and in style, now I wish I'd bought the three volumes separately.
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