The Penguin edition of The State and Revolution comes in two parts:
Part I - Introduction by Robert Service. What a strange chance it is to read an intThe Penguin edition of The State and Revolution comes in two parts:
Part I - Introduction by Robert Service. What a strange chance it is to read an introduction to a book written to refute the contents. In the Penguin edition of The State and Revolution Mr. Service explains that this work is the product of a deranged mind whose disjointed, incomprehensible rant has little real value.
Lenin, he notes, often quotes Marx and Engels in the present tense, as if they were still alive; so for Lenin, at least in some metaphysical sense, they are ... uh ... were. Lenin has thereby come to see himself as the messiah of a Marxist religious utopia, with all the blood lust that leads to. Mr. Service describes Lenin as "crafty," "apoplectic," and "venomous," a maniacal aberration to the rational order of 1917.
The book itself was never meant for public consumption, says Mr. Service, and its "abstruse" writing is not accessible to ordinary people. He expands that later on, calling this "muddled and dangerous" book "virtually incomprehensible to all except those already well-versed in Marxism."
In claims such as that Lenin says revolution will be pleasant or that Lenin is a utopian mystic, Mr. Service resorts to the casual dishonesty that becomes the entitlement of those never held to account. Nevertheless, his introduction runs almost one-third the entire book, enough for Penguin to give its chapters pride of place atop the contents page. These imposing remarks will suffice no doubt to dissuade many readers from going any further.
Part II - The book itself. Lenin, in the short seven chapters of his book, rests the fate the entire revolution on a Marxist analysis of current events. If Marx's writing has no scientific basis, if it cannot in fact predict certain historical outcomes, then the revolution is doomed. That's how closely Lenin ties the two together. The unique importance of State and Revolution is that it gives readers a way to compare what Lenin advises with what actually happened.
It's precisely the analysis of current circumstances that the introduction said would be incomprehensible to all but the most skilled dialecticians, so a comment on the writing level is in order. In my opinion, the text indeed has a high level of difficultly, requiring nearly a high school education to understand. So, with certain exceptions, I cannot recommend this book to anyone under the age of 14.
Lenin's analysis can be understood by most readers, even those with no special familiarity with Marxist methodology. It is as clear as day how Lenin gets from A to B, and from chapter to chapter. The analysis is a discussion, not nuclear physics, and the average reader's ability to follow the logic of it largely depends on how well that reader can follow any line of reasoning.
As to the content, Lenin writes to emphasize specific parts of the Bolshevik Party program in light of what is about to happen. What is the Marxist basis of revolution, he asks, and what will that entail? As an historical document these chapters tell readers what the leadership thought was most important to stress to its members on the eve of revolution.
There is no such thing as a non-violent revolution, Lenin warns, and the result will not be democracy as such, for all states are defined by the suppression of one group or another. Nor does the revolution aim for communism as its direct outcome; it can only lay the ground for it, and for that, history has lessons.
At this point Lenin designates two enemies of revolution: anarchists and Marxist reformists. The latter, such as Karl Kautsky, are committed to capitalist imperialism on principle. The former are mistaken about what to do if a revolt meets with success. On that last point Lenin discusses the history of crushed revolutions to show what happened and how to avoid the same outcome.
Lenin's hostility toward anarchism and reformism will give offense to many on the modern-day left. Yet as history this book is not easily dismissed. The Russian Revolution has distinction as one of only two modern revolutions (the French Revolution was the other) in which one the parties to the conflict was completely annihilated. State and Revolution shows how this was accomplished, and why....more
Many good reviews of Capital I-III can be seen on Goodreads, but far fewer for Theories of Surplus Value; a few added remarks about this book may be iMany good reviews of Capital I-III can be seen on Goodreads, but far fewer for Theories of Surplus Value; a few added remarks about this book may be in order.
This edition, the Progress Publishers reprint of the Dietz Verlag version, comes in three volumes. The preface to volume I explains the need for a version of the book that follows Marx's original outline and contains all his notes. The original 1910 version, edited by Karl Kautsky, has generated controversy since its publication. The preface discusses this in some detail and reaches a rather bracing verdict:
The complete disregard of Marx's table of contents, the arbitrary and incorrect arrangement of the manuscript material, the objectivist titles which avoid the class essence of the conceptions criticised by Marx, the obscuring of the fundamental antithesis between Marx's economic teaching and the whole bourgeois political economy, the removal of a number of passages containing important theses of revolutionary Marxism, from which Kautsky more and more departed -- all this suggests that what we have here is not only gross violations of the elementary requirements of a scientific edition, but also the direct falsification of Marxism.
Yikes! How accurate is this? I'll take that up in a moment. More immediately, finding any version of this book took effort and much of what I located was costly. This was what I finally settled on. Capital IV, as Dietz Verlag subtitles it, is built from Marx's research notes. Most of the material has already been taken up in Capital I-III, so this is an easy read for anyone who finished those three tomes.
It's easy because it consists mostly of discussion, not theory; it's a bonus because Marx walks readers once again through the more intricate ideas in Capital. If Capital I-III can be called a dialectical development of the topic, this work may be considered the historical materialist side of that same development. Marx uses only non-socialist, bourgeois sources and follows a familiar pattern of quoting a certain author first, then developing his own ideas in the commentary that follows.
The value here lies in the more extended treatment he gives certain topics. At one point, for example, Marx poses the question: How can net revenue purchase the entire gross product of a certain year? Readers will remember this from the second and third volumes of Capital, but now he goes over it again in a different way. That significantly helped my understanding of Department I and Department II. Yes, I could have gone back over my highlighting, but Marx's discussion here was a far more efficient way to fix the big picture in my mind, and easier as well.
With reference to the remarks in the preface, I did come across two startling quotations in this first volume that fit the description of revolutionary, to say the least. One had no commentary by Marx. In neither case did the ideas feed directly into the technical discussion of capitalism in volumes I-III. I can see how Kautsky might have felt justified in leaving them out. On the other hand, the exact arrangement of the notes is crucial to seeing how Marx's methodology works. A chronological ordering of the discussion would make it impossible to see Marx in action.
The first volume of this work contains a 34-page preface and 380 pages of the source material, with an appendix, an index and footnotes taking up the remaining pages. I got so much out of these notes that I hope to take up the remaining two volumes. This book added greatly to my understanding of the first three volumes of Capital. ...more
At the end of this tale I felt as if I'd poisoned myself on a sickly-sweet delectation. The writers of Britain's upper class are known for reliably go At the end of this tale I felt as if I'd poisoned myself on a sickly-sweet delectation. The writers of Britain's upper class are known for reliably good prose and this book was billed, as its cover suggests, as a same-sex romance. What's not to like? So by the time I realized I'd been had it was too late and, mesmerized by some inborn attraction to abysses, I drifted, along with the book's characters, into literary perdition.
Brideshead Revisited appeared in 1944, its pages suffused by a warm, mystical glow. Consider the times: Naturalism was out, impressionism was in. Literary modernism and Heidegger's existentialism had taken the smart set by storm, and this tale of subjective experience reflects those two trends. They also account for the oddities in the narration that other Goodreads reviewers have noticed.
Among them is the endemic irrationality and brazen gaps in logic by which the characters switch suddenly from one identity to another. Within these pages psychological states shape people's lives and isolate them from the outside world. The author, Evelyn Waugh, then uses this impressionistic and experiential state to disparage non-conformity and guide his characters into a confused maze of self-abasement.
The first jolt was the open queerbaiting in which the gay protagonist, with no warning, goes straight and turns homophobic, salting the story with "fairy," "pansy," and "queer" in regard to his old friends. But before I could take offense, the story delved into further drawbacks of modern life: divorce, apostasy, skepticism, sex and so on. The author takes aim at the working class, too, writing with care to portray it in all two dimensions. His hostility, open in some passages, is disguised in others by cloying treacle such as -
I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. The poor have always been the favourites of God and His saints, but I believe that it is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included.
Don't be alarmed. The person who muses over that hates herself anyway. Eventually the touchstone of the story, self-loathing, bursts somewhat obscenely onto center stage. Nobody escapes it, and it's everyone's fate to enshrine it in Catholicism. That makes no sense; it's just Heidegger whispering in the author's ear. An essential confluence of love and hate merges into ambiguously ornate prose, making it all the easier to swallow. That's how I got sick.
The cold characters take us without benefit of a plot from the 1920's to the 1940's. Their studied self-absorption turns outside human affairs into natural forces to be gazed at, but little else. Tantalizing lines of thought begin, only to die away, and even the impressionistic style can't mask a certain tedium.
By the end little more than cruel commonplaces (God takes care of drunks and children) and well known urban legends (an inveterate reprobate converts on his deathbed) prop up the story. The extensive dialog runs out of fuel and falls into an impersonal register indistinguishable from the prose. The whole project inevitably descends to an unsavory level of sublime idiocy. Such is the author's repertoire.
The cultural effect of existentialism depends on the milieu, but Heidegger's influence can be seen even today. Its artistic output emphasizes feelings with no outside reference, an immediacy of experience devoid of past or future, and emotions detached from reality. Individuals are, in effect, trapped in their own minds. Thoughts spring from feelings and can go anywhere, so readers get a purring sensation of freedom. But those thoughts, historically, have a remarkable tendency to lead down a single path.
Along this road stands Waugh, who uses the Church to justify the work of his own dark, misanthropic ideation. His account of upper class life is, of course, meant only for mass consumption, as the fraudulent nature of the protagonist's painting career hints. The cynicism of this deeply reactionary and nihilistic exposition pawns off the supposed despair of introspection as literary gold.
Waugh's own later misgivings about this work highlight the problem. The use of existential motifs to express feelings in a purely subjective way sooner or later links feelings of affection with feelings of revulsion. The result, when it enters the public arena, feeds the kind of emotionalism normally associated with fascist propaganda. If I had known beforehand this writer was using it here to more or less the same effect I might have spared myself the bilious aftertaste of this foul contrivance. ...more
What readers will think about this book depends on what they already know. I thought it was okay; it's not that it didn't read well so much as how I'v What readers will think about this book depends on what they already know. I thought it was okay; it's not that it didn't read well so much as how I've come to regard the Central Intelligence Agency. The book's unfortunate subtitle, "How the CIA played America," smacks of a conspiracy theory although it is the result of careful and often original research. Without the citations, it comes in at about 250 pages with a useful section of black and white photographs in the middle.
Most people are aware of the CIA's activities on behalf of the United States which have included the overthrow of countless governments. This author, Hugh Wilford, avoids that established subject to focus on the agency's role in propagating ideals that promote American values. Here he looks at how this was done during the Cold War, the battle against Soviet communism. His findings will enlighten, even fascinate, readers unfamiliar with that part of its mission. So my own rating is not meant as a blanket recommendation for all readers.
Our author looks at the CIA's infiltration of several movements from the end of World World II on. Besides labor, the agency was active in other areas, including women's rights, civil rights, the intelligentsia, cultural foundations, the student movement and broadcast journalism. He traces the influence of the CIA on each, ends his examination at the right time (1967) and concludes with comments about the present day (2007) role of the CIA.
The level of detail and research is solid, but the book's weakness is its point of view. Wilford speaks as a believer in American values criticizing others who act on those same values. He tells us what has gone wrong with the CIA in the past and where it may be going off track today, as with its heavy presence on college campuses and its disturbing freedom from its former legal accountability. But the author cannot put the pieces together into a big picture that would help us figure out what to think or do about what we've read.
The author's point of view has its reflection among those caught up in the CIA's underwriting of civic organizations. The agency, it turns out, often had little reason to try to control the message because the groups it infiltrated shared its values anyway.
One might expect this of some of the movements he mentions; but again and again, he shows, members of the "anti-communist left," the liberal establishment, act as active and complicit players in the dissemination of CIA-sponsored propaganda. At some point readers must wonder what the common glue is holding these seemingly disparate ideologies together, and for that they get an answer: "American values" in the sense of the United States as a capitalist social democracy.
What else strikes the reader, sooner or later, is the elite nature of all the compromised groups, even well known ones such as the NAACP and the AFL-CIO, not a one of which concerns itself with the ordinary Americans within its ken. Yale, Harvard and Park Avenue begin to look as if they were the exclusive nexus of American political and social activism. Activities and individuals falling outside this realm attract the attention of the CIA and our author only insofar as they represent the radical fringes of American society.
Because he cannot separate himself from this worldview, Wilford cannot pose the obvious question: By what reasoning is the identity of American values with capitalism and social democracy justified? Today, with the CIA part of an inconceivably vast intelligence and security apparatus, questions of just what constitutes a threat to the United States, which ideas or actions might be considered subversive and who gets to decide are completely absent from both the mass media and most public discourse. The insinuation that this problem has somehow already been settled has led to a dangerous lowering of the American public's consciousness on the issue.
The author does not see that point and does not raise it as an issue for readers to ponder. As a result, this apparent self-censorship largely prevents his book from doing what one might reasonably expect to help readers make sense of the the CIA's current role on the world stage. This lost opportunity detracts from an otherwise revealing work.
Have you ever wondered how the birth of the first workers' state affected Marxist thought within that very state? It's a thought game, you might say: Have you ever wondered how the birth of the first workers' state affected Marxist thought within that very state? It's a thought game, you might say: Okay, here's your people's state; now you figure out how to apply Marx to it.
The first years of the Soviet Union are a blank space for historians as much as the general public. Once the Left Opposition was liquidated in the 1930's every trace of their existence was airbrushed from accounts of those early years - in the West, due to the influence of Stalinism as much as in the USSR itself. The original development of Marxism was forgotten along with it or reworked along political lines.
This book recovers much of that lost history and reconstructs the actual currents of Marxist thought. Its author, Yehoshua Yakhot, a philosopher and party member during Krushchev's time, rejected Stalinism due, among other things, to its weak theoretical underpinnings. It was his connection with the establishment that gave him access to the material in this book and helped him piece together the trajectory of Marxist thought in the first years of the Soviet Union. He immigrated in 1975 and the book was published in 1981 in Russian. It has now been translated into English.
The work gives us an account of one of the major problems that emerged in this workers' state. A conflict between scientists and philosophers came about concerning the best way to apply dialectical materialism in the natural sciences. Just as it was reaching a resolution at the end of the 1920's, both sides in the dispute were blindsided by the struggle between Stalin and the Left Opposition.
The author gives readers a dialectical development of this dispute and its transformation into fodder for the politicization of philosophy. We know today the effect Stalinism had on Soviet science and culture, but the way philosophy was turned into the ideological basis for this politicization makes for fascinating reading and has contemporary relevance.
The detail with which the author unfolds the original dispute makes the book almost a crash course in dialectics, packed with thought-provoking points that eventually draw in Hegel and Spinoza. The densely packed writing keeps one's mind engaged at almost every paragraph or citation. Interestingly in this regard, the ongoing power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky receives little attention. Were philosophers and scientists so caught up in their discussion that they weren't seeing the bigger picture? Readers will find an answer for that in these pages.
The author ends with a note on the state of affairs in the USSR in the 1970's, a prescient observation about the enduring (and ultimately decisive) disconnect between the Soviet government and its people. Such a disconnect now finds its reflection in capitalist countries, the United States in particular.
The structure of the book is a bit choppy and the author sometimes doesn't handle the transitions as well as he might have. Aside from that, I strongly recommend this book for readers of history, philosophy and politics, for Marxists, and especially for those interested in dialects and materialism.
The story in this book, published in 1948, transcends its time and gives readers a plot of immediate relevance and a protagonist who never apologizes.The story in this book, published in 1948, transcends its time and gives readers a plot of immediate relevance and a protagonist who never apologizes. Especially satisfying is the ending Vidal restored in 1964. It fits the flow of the narrative and deprives the earlier ending of its mandatory homophobia, until recently the price paid for any literary or cinematic treatment of the subject.
The novelty of the book was once its characterization of a gay male who doesn't fit the image. The protagonist, Jim Willard, seems so well fitted to the fuller representation we've come to expect that only a few references reminded me that people such as gay athletes were once thought not to exist at all.
The book stands outside the confines of identity politics. We celebrate the folding of gays into straight molds, as with the recent Supreme Court ruling. Important as it is, it's a matter of fitting into existing straight institutions. But in this book, Jim's sexuality is everything and his relationships with straight males are his main problem. He could easily fit in with their lifestyle but becomes more and more hostile toward exactly the totems of straight domestic bliss so many gays now value.
The plot portrays Jim's growth from a 17-year-old teen to a 24-year old adult. The power of the story lies in its realistic portrayal of that change and reflects the actual experiences gay males commonly have as they struggle to fit sex and romance into their identities. I thought two things would bother me: the female hangers-on and the subject of prostitution, themes so shopworn that their presence in any movie or book put out in the past 25 years testifies to the impoverished minds of the authors. This book, however, handles those motifs deftly and does not allow them to define either the character or the story.
Jim is then the hero or the anti-hero, depending on your point of view. Either way, his character and the author's command of the subject make for an exceptionally well conceived and well executed narrative set off by intelligent, engaging prose. The book poses a problem peculiar to gay males so I can't vouch for its crossover appeal, but gays and gay-friendly readers have here a story that moves at a steady pace toward a thought-provoking conclusion....more
In Gone With the Wind a gripping tale of transformation and survival frames the most tightly written character in American literature against the backIn Gone With the Wind a gripping tale of transformation and survival frames the most tightly written character in American literature against the backdrop of the most defining event in American history. With simple realism and a linear narrative structure, the epic sweep follows the protagonist, Scarlett, through war and its aftermath and on to a fate as astonishing as the events the story describes. So many Goodreads readers have reviewed this book that I'll keep my comments to a few impressions.
The power of the novel stems from the author's superb storytelling. At some point very early in the book I realized I was reading a masterpiece. The author, Margaret Mitchell, does not allow the story to droop into gratuitous sentimentality, and to do this she writes in a perfect register and exercises masterful control over the material. She directs the expansive story arc with such shrewd execution that I can't recall a single boring page passing under my eye. The story combines evocative, exquisitely detailed narration with brilliant dialog. This strong exposition of language includes dialects that don't sound a single false note, words that drop into paragraphs so seamlessly it would make Flaubert want to learn English, and technique that delivers through every chapter.
The first half deals with the American Civil War. Within this part the 80- or 90-page description of the war in Georgia, from the first fighting in Dalton to the point at which Scarlett finds herself floating above her own body, outclasses any account of war a reader is ever likely to encounter and lays out the most powerful anti-war statement imaginable. The second half deals with the peace that follows defeat, and here the reader learns just who these characters really turn out to be. Scarlett takes over where the war left off, and her personality drives the story.
The author doesn't sugarcoat anything about the South; the reactionary tone cannot be watered down without destroying the integrity of the book. On the other hand, besides the anti-war thread woven into the warp and woof of the first half, the story takes on an unabashedly feminist tone during the second half. This is one example of what makes the novel so hard to categorize. But if I had to narrow it down -- and I really shouldn't -- the success of the book depends on one and only one thing: Scarlett O'Hara herself. The permanent present in which she lives sets the stage for one of the more underrated motifs of the writing, the missed signals that confound intimacy among people and to which every reader can relate. I'll let other GR reviewers take this up in more detail, but suffice it to say that the characterization that rocks us through 1000 pages is unmatchable.
With such strengths this book easily qualifies as the Great American Novel, if there is such a thing. If you're from Georgia you cannot read this without an intense clutch of self-recognition. If you're from the South you'll know that your story has been told. But as the people within these pages move from a semi-feudal to an early capitalist mindset, nothing becomes more clear than the distinctive thoughts and actions by which all Americans are known. One way or another, Gone With the Wind will do you proud.
This book left me with divided feelings, but I recommend its well written story anyway. It’s an easy read that throws out lots of thought-provoking idThis book left me with divided feelings, but I recommend its well written story anyway. It’s an easy read that throws out lots of thought-provoking ideas. My hesitation isn’t about the writing, but about the trajectory, a satire with nothing funny about it. It ends on a reactionary note that sounds occasionally in the telling. People will say I misinterpret the story or that I mistake the part for the whole, but jokes about those of us who enjoy, as Pynchon puts it, dropping the soap in the shower, sound tiresomely derivative.
Readers encounter a postmodern detective story in which the heroine discovers, in the spirit of Ayn Rand, a government monopoly that usurped a right pertaining some centuries ago to some other agent. The rightful inheritors of that concession seem to have been in a conspiracy to get it back, hence the mystery. But, as the protagonist discovers, the bad guys have taken steps to wipe out any connection between the curious events in California and the now-forgotten institutions of the Holy Roman Empire.
It’s when those inheritors find themselves driven to the United States that idea of the wrongly dispossessed more clearly asserts itself. The protagonist eventually has to decide whether to join this fight. But so equivocal are the clues that she first has to figure out if she’s even sane anymore.
She knows something is wrong, but can’t put it together, and the story plays to the sense of Orwellian conspiracy that pervades society in one form or another. Oedipa, our protagonist, can’t be insane; she took none of the LSD everyone is hooked on, and only the idea of a conspiracy could indict her mental state. Could it even be real? Could the other obviously insane people be sane and she, the picture of domesticated good sense, be out of her mind instead?
What a great setup for an ending. But here the trajectory falters. Now, every thinking person understands the theme of disenfranchisement and knows about the utterly wasted potential of this country. But all this book does is channel the recognition of those facts down the blind alley of resignation. The ending leaves readers disoriented and despairing. Whatever is going on, the author seems to tell us, it’s too late to do anything about it, so we might as well lie back and enjoy it.
Readers will enjoy this book for its writing and Oedipa’s clever detective work. But it’s helpful to know going in not to expect any grand revelation or any viable path to a saving future. ...more
I read this to see what what's been called America's first same-sex novel sounded like, written as it was around 1870. The author, at the end, leavesI read this to see what what's been called America's first same-sex novel sounded like, written as it was around 1870. The author, at the end, leaves a bit of plausible deniability, but the story is frank enough in other places to earn the title.
What's interesting is that this isn't just a story of the two main characters. The story is a mystery with a little action thrown in, and it concerns everyone in a town in Pennsylvania. Like much of American literature at the time, it exudes the spirit of the nation captured by Walt Whitman, and the description of Pennsylvania makes you want to go back in time and live there.
This characterization of our self-presentation as analogous to a theatrical performance has a few interesting points to make, but the examples are datThis characterization of our self-presentation as analogous to a theatrical performance has a few interesting points to make, but the examples are dated and the social situations depicted often no longer occur or take place in a context of refinement not ordinarily encountered.