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This article is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

The Greatest Fantasy Andrew Louth

Marxism has been one of the most pervasive, and most successful, movements in the last century and a half. As a political movement it has conquered two great empires - a large part of the surface of the globe - and does not appear to have exhausted its energies. But it is more than a political movement; as a philisophy or world view, it has had immense influence, not only in the realms of thought where it originated, in philosophy, economics and the study of society, but in literature, literary criticism, and music, and even theology. Its influence is met with at almost every turn in many contexts - as a kind of set of mind, or group of premises or a handy collection of axioms. In this book, Leszek Kolakowski, one-time Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw, examines the whole phenomenon: its origins, the thought of Karl Marx, its blossoming in the period of the Second International, and its attaining the status of an orthodoxy as the ideology of the Communist States that followed in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

In some ways it reads like a History of Dogma: antecedents are determined, the thought of the founding fathers is examined, and the fate of those ideas is traced through history. Indeed, the analogy is even closer, for we seem to find in Marxism's second century something not unlike the phenomenon of gnosticism in the second century of Christianity. Whatever ...

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