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Logic as a Positive Science
Logic as a Positive Science
by Galvano Della Volpe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.43

5.0 out of 5 stars A devastating Marxist critique of the Hegelian dialectic, 17 April 2014
Della Volpe's most famous acolyte, Lucio Colletti, is best known today for eventually taking rightward turn in the late 1970s culminating in him joining Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia Party. That has, unfortunately, made it easy for critics to dismiss his work as irredeemably compromised. Della Volpe's work is less easily dismissed, but even less read than Colletti's. This is a shame, since 'Logic as a Positive Science' must count as one of the most impressive works of Marxist philosophy ever written. In the book della Volpe seeks to diagnose precisely why Hegelian dialectics are incompatible with scientific knowledge, taking his cues from Marx's 1843 Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of the State. Essentially, the book is a thoroughgoing philosophical elaboration of Marx's critique, seeking to identify Marx's notion of 'determinate abstraction' as a final overcoming of all forms of aprioristic reasoning. Della Volpe demonstrates that Hegel offers an ever more dogmatic Platonism than Plato himself, unable to account for the knowledge generated by sensibility and the intellect. The upshot is that the so-called 'general laws' developed by dialectical materialists are a reversion to a pre-critical form of aprioristic metaphysics, hence explaining the curious ambivalence of the 'knowledge content' of said 'laws' (quantity-quality, negation of the negation, etc.) with respect to the natural sciences. Today, Hegelian-Marxism and dialectical materialism are all the rage. Yet I have yet to see any advocate of this philosophy provide a serious rejoinder to della Volpe.

The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s
The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s
by Richard Wolin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 23.29

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A history of French Maoism through the prism of the 'new philosophers', 16 July 2011
Richard Wolin's history of French Maoism attempts to fulfills a much needed role in explaining a curious political phenomenon of the 1970s. Wolin recuperates the movement by claiming to find the positive, unintended consequences of French Maoism in moving away from Marxist ideas of revolution and class struggle towards a liberal political modality wherein the rights of the oppressed and marginalized are defended. French Maoism's foolishness is recognized as a positive mediator between the nasty Jacobin-authoritarian political world pre-68 and the rebellious, libertarian world of resistance and recognition struggles he identifies with good liberal practice today.

This may already indicate something of the problem with the book. For whilst ostensibly a defense of the 68 generation (and of the Maoists as a part of that history), the sympathies do not in fact extend very far. At best the French Maoist organizations were a necessary evil, only redeemed by their later move away from revolutionism and their renunciation of past commitments. As such Wolin's supposedly sympathetic take on French Maoism adds up to little more that a reading of its history through the prism of the 'new philosophers', most of them once belonging to its most adventurist outfit, the Gauche Proletarienne. Their détournement on how political militancy transforms into authoritarianism and/or fascism is a motif recycled throughout the book.

Similarly, the 'new philosopher'/cold-warrior trope of how Marxism is just a form of religious hysteria is forced upon the reader at every possible occasion. Marxists are "delusional", gripped by "religious fervour", "true believers", intellectually immolating themselves under "servile reverence", and so on. What's more, the attribution of dogmatic passions to the 68 militants is conversely supplemented by an almost total absence of discussion of their theoretical positions. Given the centrality of Louis Althusser for French Maoism - which Wolin is quick to acknowledge himself - Althusser is painted as such a gross caricature it is hard not to think Wolin simply never bothered to read much about him (the book's bibliography would seem to suggest as much). Althusser was a "devout communist who revered Stalinism as the movement's glorious pinnacle." (p.118) (Incidentally, intellectual character assassination by roughshod association is something of a trademark for Wolin, who has previously tried to make the unconvincing case that Hans-Georg Gadamer's quietism in 1930s Germany amounted to outright Nazism).

Now, it is possible to argue that there are implicit Stalinist tendencies in Althusser's thought, but to attribute Althusser as revering Stalinism, and to thereby to imply that French Maoism influenced by Althusser was Maoist for its rejection of Krushev's humanist oriented de-Stalinization, makes no sense of why students' enamored by voluntarism would turn to Maoism. The lack of sympathy for his subject means that Wolin is generally unable to understand his subjects, who are just portrayed as youthful loons with psychological complexes about not being born working class - the cheap shots at the sons and daughters of the bourgeoise turning to Marxism are relentless.

All that said, if one is happy to source their theoretical understanding elsewhere and read the book in the way one reads The Economist (i.e. by skimming off the ideological layering and extracting the raw factual information) then The Wind from the East is a useful text for scholars of the period.

What's Left?: How the Left Lost its Way: How Liberals Lost Their Way
What's Left?: How the Left Lost its Way: How Liberals Lost Their Way
by Nick Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

10 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An arts and crafts argument from the past, 28 Aug 2010
It's not surprising that this book has been a hit. Cohen is, if nothing else, a master of telling people what they want to hear and how they want to hear it. 'What's Left?' is a barnstorming romp of anti-intellectualism, which at its core has one seductive message: don't listen to intellectuals, their crafty arguments, their nebulous search for 'root causes', their 'totalitarian ideologies', and so on; rather, listen to what I am saying and just see if it strikes a chord in your heart. If it does, allow yourself to follow.

Cohen thus builds his argument out of actively warning his reader against arguments and by supplementing his own with just the right mix of World War II sentimentalism, nostalgia for past certainties, and violent disgust for atrocity to strike a chord with any reader who feels arguments for foreign intervention have become too complex. To allay their concerns, Cohen provides a simplistic narrative that hinges off given points of presumed moral clarity, and, in the lineage of much of the ex-Marxist left, concludes by affirming a sort of pseudo-leftism based entirely - minus any other considerations - around opposing tyranny.

Within these limited parameters his own worldview is left theoretically and politically barren. He is unable to understand why, to his professed chagrin, given the victory of the democratic, capitalist powers during the 20th century there has been no expansion in popular, democratic control of the economy. Likewise, he cannot explain the post Cold War decline of social democracy, or the growth of inequality and privilege around the world. He sets up a divide between the pro-union social democratic left (with which he identifies) and the 'totalitarian', Marxist left, and advocates simply ploughing on with supporting wage struggles and conditions struggles. But he is unable to understand that a broader impulse to change the world is necessary to underwrite the activities of unions, without which they remain in decline.

In sum, 'What's Left?' advocates simply a politics of negative liberty: the promotion of parliamentary democracy and human rights, and the struggle against the remaining tyrannical states around the world. The End of History will not be accomplished by fine speeches and ideas, apparently, but only by the rhetorical folk crafts of yesteryear.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2013 8:59 PM BST

Reclaiming Marx's 'Capital': A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (The Raya Dunayevskaya Series in Marxism and Humanism)
Reclaiming Marx's 'Capital': A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (The Raya Dunayevskaya Series in Marxism and Humanism)
by Andrew Kliman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.62

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force of Marxian economics, 28 Aug 2010
In 'Reclaiming Marx's "Capital"' Andrew Kliman sets himself no small task: to refute every argument against the logical inconsistency of Marx's 'Capital' advanced in the last century or so. Staggeringly, he appears to have accomplished his goal, knocking down one by one ALL of the alleged logical inconsistencies.

As suits his subject matter, Kliman's style is economical. He writes in steady, logical prose, which is a credit to him given that some of the errors of his rivals appear so glaring and remedial, that he could have easily resorted to ridicule at any point. Instead, he gives every rival 'correction' and refutation of Marx due consideration and presents the arguments carefully before knocking them down.

The book's focus is similarly razor sharp. Kliman never allows himself to get side tracked by any issue tangential to the question of Marx's logical inconsistency, other than brief remarks speculating on the ideological motivations underwriting resistance to the theory. As a standalone work this is surely a wise decision, in that it deprives the opposition of any extraneous asides to pick up and use against the book's core thesis.

What is now needed is for Kliman to write a companion piece to this book. Yes, he has demonstrated consistency. Now, surely, the task is to apply the same rigour in arguing why Marxian LTV best explains the capitalist, global economy, and the political implications of accepting this paradigm as opposed to its alternatives.

Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown
Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown
by Frank Furedi
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.00

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Elite theory redux, 17 Aug 2010
In 'Invitation to Terror' Frank Furedi forwards essentially a single thesis: that the War on Terror's politics of fear pushed by governments around the world does not result from a conscious deception in the service of power, state warmongering, and suchlike; but rather from the elite's own loss of self belief and a culture of uncertainty and anxiety. The loss of belief in question is the erosion in the belief in secularism, liberalism, and, more generally, 'Western values'. Thus, despite drawing different conclusions to the 'pro-war left' there is a certain similarity to it's analysis in Furedi's work. The self-hating elite is apparently under the same spell of decrepit belief in Western culture, and if adopting more stridency in standing up for Western values they would not need to peddle the politics of fear.

Whether you agree with his arguments' logic or assumptions, the problem is that the book never really develops it with any specificity. What is the 'political elite', and can all governments around the world be operating in the same fashion? What about non-Western governments who have adopted the same rhetoric? The War on Terror is never put into any form of geopolitical analysis. Furedi's analysis involves poring through official statements and British and American newspaper articles and drawing massively sweeping conclusions from this limited form of discourse analysis. The upshot is that the book is repetitive; when assertion is not substantiated, or at least theoretically deepened, it is simply repeated over and over again for effect.

The New Orientalists: Postmodern Representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard
The New Orientalists: Postmodern Representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard
by Ian Almond
Edition: Paperback
Price: 18.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The easiest term to bandy about recklessly, 16 Aug 2009
There is certainly something to Almond's article, but what is missing is any sense of why he chooses to pick upon the authors he lumps together as "postmodernists." Indeed, the problem is exemplified by his use of fictional authors from the 'East' such as Orhan Pamuk, to outright postmodernists such as Nietzche, to Lacanian Marxist Slavoj Zizek. It thus seems to be a sweeping accusation leveled across the board against Western theorists, that they haven't yet comes to terms with the necessity of realizing the insights of Said's critique of Orientalism. And yet, the evidence often seems sparse. Derrida and Zizek get it in the neck mostly for simply ignoring Islam or staying quiet on it. Whether the silence of Western critical theorists can be equated to the brutal colonial power-knowledge machine, you decide!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2011 4:10 PM GMT

Theory of the Subject
Theory of the Subject
by Alain Badiou
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.33

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the beginning there was Marx, 27 July 2009
This review is from: Theory of the Subject (Hardcover)
Theory of the Subject has long held the status as one of the most obscure and illusive of Alain Badiou's books in the English speaking world. Held up as an example of the abuse and misuse of mathematics by Alan Sokal, and generally considered only of interest to the Badiou scholar rummaging around to understand the pre-Being and Event career trajectory, it has been steadfastly ignored by even such enthusiastic acolytes as Slavoj Zizek.

But finally with the release of the book in translation we can now make our minds up for ourselves. As with all of Continuum's Badiou releases the first thing that strikes you is how beautifully presented the book is. Also, compared to Alberto Toscano's short introduction to Logics of Worlds, Bruno Bosteels has provided us with an extremely long and in depth introduction to the book. One one level this nicely summarises the content and relevance of the work; on another, you feel a little cheated that Bosteels feels the need to preempt the creative work of joining the dots between Theory and the later books yourself.

In regard to the book itself, it is utterly fascinating and illuminating - I might even be tempted to say necessary - to understand some of Badiou's later positions and seemingly obscure use of terminology such as the 'materialist dialectic.' Marx, Lenin, Mao, the questions of the Party and May 1968 all figure prominently alongside embryonic explorations of mathematics and in particular Cantor and set theory, which will lay the basis for the ontology of Being and Event. Significantly, this book is very helpful to understand the sometimes bizarre Platonism of Badiou's late career; the section on materialism clarifying how it is that Badiou can equate thought and matter as a One, in contrast to empiricist positing of matter as a simple One.

Indeed, this book is integrally tied to the later Logics of Worlds, so that, as Bosteels remarks, you can see his writings and philosophical explorations coming full circle from the mid 1970s to the present day. This is a revolutionary book, full of hard nosed commitment to social transformation and, in an Althusserian turn, making a big nod to the praxis of really existing Communist movements in the 20th century to provide the outlines of the Marxist evental sequence.

One quote helps to illustrate well the tenor of the book, and incidentally, tells you why you need to read this:

"Precision put into the razor of the Marxist barber, mathematics is that unalterable blade which one ends up bleeding the pigs to death." (p. 210)

Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2: Being and Event II
Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2: Being and Event II
by Alain Badiou
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A spectacular phenomenon, 26 May 2009
After a long wait the English translation of the Logics of Worlds is available. And there is no doubt it was worth it. Although the subtitle 'Being and Event II' seems like a bit of a marketing gimmick, it at least makes clear that this is Badiou's first great book since B&E; maybe his last too.

Whereas B&E was a study of ontology and 'inconsistent multiplicity' the Logics of Worlds focuses on phenomenology, or as Badiou terms it: how things 'appear'. This means his use of mathematics is more arbitrary than in B&E. In 'volume I' the unfolding of his meta-ontology tracked the devastating consequences in the grounding and axiomisation of set-theory in the 19th/20th century; instead, in the Logics of Worlds the historicity of the mathematics is absent and Badiou simply seeks to utilize mathematical logic to explain how 'worlds' come to consist, or how order prevails in the phenomenological realm.

The most interesting shift is thus towards eternal logics: from the pseudo-Platonism of B&E to something close to a full-blown reworking of the Platonic forms here. Badiou also re-appropriates and contorts many philosophical terms and debates: negation becomes 'reversal' for instance.

The Logics of Worlds is a compelling and precarious endeavor, full of potential pitfalls and aporias. Yet what is truly refreshing is the intent of the book. Unlike so much of what passes as philosophy nowadays - popular whimsy, dry analytical textbooks, defeatist anti-philosophy; this is an adventurous and brave work of philosophy that takes many risks and is obviously the result of decades of thought and study.

In other words, like Being and Event the Logics of Worlds is as much a spectacular phenomenon as a book as it is a passage through to the higher realm of Ideas.

History of the Russian Revolution
History of the Russian Revolution
by Leon Trotsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: 22.99

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate history of the Russian Revolution, 5 May 2009
It is interesting that Orlando Figes' 'A Peoples Tragedy' has twenty two reviews on Amazon UK and yet Leon Trotsky's 'History of the Russian Revolution' only has two. Clearly people prefer the therapeutic message of Figes' that all popular movements end badly; better to accept your station in life and let your betters get on with the job! This work is however *the* masterpiece: an unrivaled and meticulous piece of historical documentation of the Russian Revolution that unpacks the power of that monumental event.

Trotsky's history intends from the start to tell the revolution as the first instance of the masses collectively determining their destiny; and this he accomplishes admirably. Whereas the trend nowadays is for telling the history of the revolution through biographies of key Bokshevik protagonists, Trotsky instead goes into meticulous detail on all the political groups and actors: soviets, Mensheviks, Kadets, the military etc. and webs an elaborate tapestry of the events, which makes a compelling case for the necessity and mass support for the Bolshevik October revolution when faced by clear counter-revolutionary movement.

This is an absolutely necessary read for anyone who wants to understand the birth of the 20th century's global, revolutionary movement and a classic repost to turncoat ex-Marxists and ex-Trotskyists who would prefer the masses never rise up and overturn monarchies and capitalism.

We live in deeply conservative societies nowadays; we need texts like Trotsky's to show the reason and power of communist thought in the 21st century.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 16, 2012 3:20 AM GMT

The Battle For China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution
The Battle For China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution
by Mobo Gao
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.49

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dubunks the revisionist histories, 20 Nov 2008
This is an important book. Mobo Gao recognizes the significance of the conservative revisionist histories of Mao as the 'ultimate monster' or 'Chinese Hitler.' He points out that far from being a counter-orthodoxy approach it actually represents the elite consensus in the contemporary CCP and Chinese upper classes. The strongest points he makes are that there is very little evidence for the new consensus on the supposed deaths caused by Mao and even less evidence that they are directly attributable to him, Mobo Gao defends the cultural revolution and by implication turns on the use of human rights discourse as an instrument of the neoliberal status quo. The most successful section of his book is the demolition of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's 'Mao: The Untold Story' which has by now been completely discredited by professional historians as a fantastical and ludicrous work of imagination. For all those wishing to understand the significance of Chinas battle for the past, this work is essential.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2012 2:32 PM BST

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