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

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  217 ratings  ·  21 reviews
FROM PHILOSOPHER Leszek Kolakowski, one of the giants of twentieth-century intellectual history, comes this highly influential 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 ...more
Hardcover, 1284 pages
Published October 20th 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1977)
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We are witnesses and anticipators in momentous and complicated intellectual and moral processes, the combined effects of which cannot be foreseen.
-Leszek Kołakowski, epilogue

Last words are for fools who haven't said enough!
-Karl Marx, last words

Almost forty years after its original publication in English, Leszek Kołakowski's Main Currents of Marxism is still a dominating source in its field. Its aim in describing the historical development of what we call Marxism from its earliest precursors to
Review of the First Book of Three, The Founders:

It is easy to understand the allure of Marxism: at a time when Western Europe was groaning under the weight of social disparity, injustice, and poverty, when the few had so much and the rest so little, when an increase in the output of production meant a lowering of worker's wages and the regular capitalist cycles of boom and bust were wreaking havoc on national economies, Marx and Engels put forward a series of philosophical and economic works - s
Pejman Yousefzadeh
Leszek Kolakowski was to the study of Marxism what Gibbon was to the study of the Roman Empire, what Darwin was to the study of evolutionary biology, and what Einstein was to the study of general relativity. Main Currents of Marxism is a brilliant, dazzling, monumental work, which shows how Marxism came about, from what philosophical schools it was spawned, the nature and impact of concomitant theories of socialism and socialist philosophy, and how Marxism and socialism fared when put into actio ...more
I am not exaggerating when I state that this may very well be one of the best books I have ever read. Indeed, I am tempted to re-rate previous works I have placed within the five star category as it almost seems a disservice to Kolakowski's impressive (does that even capture it?) text.

This three volume masterpiece is not for those interested in a brief synopsis of the subject matter. Instead, it is a laborious, meticulous, most detailed account of the economic, political, and philosophical syste
The great value of this book is that despite its title it goes into many smaller currents of Marxist thought beyond the big ones of orthodox Social Democracy, Leninism, and Stalinism. The reason for the disjunction is that the book was originally issued in three volumes, each one being the size of a normal book. That amount of space gives you room to classify things as "Main Currents" that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do. I originally read this in its three volume form at a community colleg ...more
May 27, 2009 John marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Not for the faint of heart. This book summaries the antecedents, expressions of Marxism and Marxist thought in every variation imaginable, and they were legion. The writing is clear, lucid, but the content dense, and technical. Best read by those with at least some elementary knowledge of ancient and modern Western philosophy. I will also note that I have attempted to read this work several times over the last 30 years or so, and haven't succeded in completing all 1300 or so pages, but I've gott ...more
Conrad Johnson
Kolakowski reviews and summarizes the history of Marxism with as much nuance and precision to detail as Chopin dealt with music in his piano concertos. The author is a maestro of holistic interpretation while at the same time paying excruciating detail to references and influences that shaped, transformed, radicalized and pragmatically utilized Marxist philosophy from its very inception until the 1970's. I would be willing to bet that most people who call themselves Socialists or attack Socialis ...more
Nicholas Katopol
An intricately woven,dense and illuminating tome tracing the threads of the various elaborations, distortions, reworkings and mutations of not only Marxist thought but 'modern' socialism(s) (such as Owens, Fourier and Lassalle) more broadly.

I have a love/hate relationship with these intellectuals (and artists, in some cases) because I see a sweeping change which will burn away the current conceptions of the modern world, wealth, 'progress,' etc. but I also know that most of those dedicated to t
A brilliant history of Marxism, from its founders through the disintegration of Marxist thought in the early 1980s. Yes--- Marx is getting a second look here in an era of global economic meltdown, and that's a good thing, if only as an antidote to the free-market triumphalist vapourings of the last generation. But Kolakowski reminds us of what Marxism became in the 20th-century and how easily what began as a call for justice became a system that destroyed tens of millions of lives and left easte ...more
I can't give it a higher star rating because I haven't read all of it. In fact, I doubt anyone who wasn't paid to actually has. Not because it's not interesting, but because it's so exhaustive. Want to know how Gorbachev is the direct intellectual heir of Plotinus (c.204-270 AD)? Kolakowski will tell you.
Roy Whitman
This excellent survey work traces communism from the early days of the Communist Manifesto and the Paris Commune all the way down to Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam War. From Rosa Luxembourg to Leon Trotsky, from Gramsci to Castro, and from Marx, Engels to Lenin, this remains the definitive work on Marxism. The work is heavily theoretical, explaining all the ideas of every communist thinker that ever was, even touching on Marx's doctoral dissertation concerning Prometheus and Epicurus ...more
Boeiende inleiding tot het marxisme, maar nogal zwaar op de hand. Wel zeer breed opgevat
If I ever tackle this monumental work, it will be quite a task I'd be setting myself. However, I can foresee more likely using it as a reference. Kolalowski at first appears to be a bit too God-oriented for me, but he is pretty universally acknowledged to be a top-level scholar, and just scanning the Wiki article on him reveals the breadth of his interests (and knowledge), which might be comparable to one of my favorite intellectuals, Isaiah Berlin. So I guess I need to give him the benefit of t ...more
Main Currents in Marxism is a massive guide to Marxism and Marxist history. It's very readable. The author also gives information to help make sense of the dynamics of the various Marxist ideas, how these ideas varied, and the book itself is a valuable resource for major Marxist thinkers to people who are not as familiar as they could be. While this is a book where skipping sections is justifiable, this is the book I'd probably recommend to anybody looking to understand Marxism. (Aside from the ...more
Every theistic Marxist in the world should educate themselves with Kolakowski's works. I literally expect to be a religious yet critical person by reading his works. This books comprises his previously separated 3 volumes of The Founder, The Golden Age & the Decline of Marxism. Read Kolakowski and be a Refusenik Christian!
I can't read this entire book since it's a huge tome and deeply philosophical which isn't my forte. What I have read was extremely well written and interesting. This author seemed to have covered every possible thinker who influenced it. It might be the ultimate book on Marxism.
Aug 19, 2010 !Tæmbuŝu marked it as to-read
Shelves: economics
Zuri Linetsky
An amazing work. It deals with every major Marxist thinker, as well as articulating a detailed history of the theoretical lineage of Marxism.
Read this in Dutch. Interesting introduction to marxims, but a bit heavy. Broad scope.
i think this is the best book about Marx and Marxism.
Sep 25, 2012 Declan marked it as to-read
Shelves: eastern-europe
This could take a while.
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Aug 24, 2015
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Aug 23, 2015
David Greenberg
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Definitive or diffusive reading? 2 7 Jul 07, 2013 04:45PM  
  • The Opium of the Intellectuals
  • To the Finland Station
  • How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011
  • The Captive Mind
  • Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
  • Lineages of the Absolutist State
  • Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844/The Communist Manifesto
  • Reading Capital
  • The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View
  • Memoirs of a Revolutionary
  • The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea
  • Karl Marx: His Life and Environment
  • The Accumulation of Capital
  • The Revolution Betrayed
  • The Limits to Capital
  • Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature
  • Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century
  • The Philosophy of Marx
Distinguished Polish philosopher and historian of ideas. He is best known for his critical analysis of Marxist thought, especially his acclaimed three-volume history, Main Currents of Marxism.

More about Leszek Kołakowski...
Mini wykłady o maxi sprawach. Trzy serie Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions From Great Philosophers Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia and The Key to Heaven Metaphysical Horror Is God Happy? Selected Essays (Penguin Modern Classics)

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