The Guardian • Issue #2103

Worth reading – philosophy/ideas

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2103
Front cover Reader in Marxist Philosophy: From the Writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin

Plekhanov – Collected Works

Plekhanov (1856 - 1918) something of a footnote to communism. One of the first Russian Marxists, Plekhanov joined with fellow Marxists including Lenin, to form the newspaper Iskra, but went on to be on the wrong side of the Menshevik-Bolshevik divide. His earlier work is invaluable in understanding Marxist philosophy. Lenin said “It is impossible to become an intelligent and genuine communist without studying, precisely studying, all that Plekhanov has written on philosophy.” Often witty, and particularly good at explaining historical materialism and defending it from contemporary critics, Plekhanov’s selected works are also worth reading for his critique of anarchism, in ‘Anarchism or Socialism’ and elsewhere.

Available in free online versions, or second-hand.

Why not Socialism?

G A Cohen

In this small intelligent book, G A Cohen, analytic philosopher and Marxist, asks the title question and explores the answer through close study of an analogy between society and a camping trip. Writing it like this makes it sound inane – society isn’t a camping trip! However, Cohen works closely to show why socialist values should guide how we live and approach the people we have to share our town, country, and world with. A good gift for any open-minded non-socialists in your life.

Reader in Marxist Philosophy: From the Writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin

Howard Selsam & Harry Martel, editors

If we want to change the world, then first we must understand how the world works. This is the essence of Marxist philosophy. This book offers a clear introduction to the most central ideas of Marxist philosophy, and uses Marx, Engels and Lenin as springboards to that understanding. It is a philosophy  closely connected to practice. The book introduces and explains many ideas; logic, theory of knowledge, of history, and ethics. Importantly it opens up an appreciation of materialism; the idea that drives Marxist-Leninist theory.

The book is a vital launching pad to appreciating the vastness of Marxist philosophy.

(available at

History of Western Philosophy,

Bertrand Russell

If there’s a club for books with intimidating titles which are actually a breeze to read, History of Western Philosophy would be a founding member. Written off the back of lectures in 1945, this book has never been out of print since. It’s an accessible introduction to Western Philosophy, and a good place to start if you accept its limitations; these being that Russell doesn’t do justice to, or ignores, things he doesn’t understand, so this is not the book to go to if you want to be any the wiser about Nietzsche (who gets about a page worth of gossip), Marx, Sartre or Wittgenstein (all of whom he ignores).

Marxist Philosophy: A Popular Outline

V G Afanasyev

An understanding of dialectical materialism unlocks the world. Afanasyev’s book, in outlining the essence of Marxist theory, allows the reader to approach the big questions with a degree of authority and optimism.

Afanasyev explains dialectical materialism, how materialism proceeds from the premise that matter is primary, and that Marxism studies the world as it really is. He explains dialectics as it studies the material world in constant motion, development and change.

Marx famously said that philosophers had previously interpreted the world, but that the point is to change it. This book gives us some of the tools to do just that.

The Duty of Genius

Ray Monk

Speaking of Wittgenstein, a very good way to get started on his ideas is this award-winning 1991 biography.  Wittgenstein started off trying to make better propellers for planes, then moved to mathematics, and then philosophy, where he revolutionised logic and went on to change people’s minds about a range of topics, from ethics, art, and indeed how to do philosophy.

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