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In Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left I explore the history and contradictions of a political current, left social democracy, through the biography of one of its most distinguished voices. As genre, tragic drama or tragicomedy would fit the bill, for this was a battle of idealism against brute structures of power. Valiantly, as individuals and in organized bodies, the socialists aimed to vanquish and overcome capitalism but in the process found themselves sucked in or suborned; the red flag ended up on the mantelpiece if not the fire.Learn more about Karl Polanyi at the Columbia University Press website.
What director understands this history better than Ken Loach? His nose for amateur talent could lead him to cast Jeremy Corbyn in the lead role. In outlook and temperament the (current) British Labour Party leader resembles Polanyi more closely than any prominent individual. On second thoughts, Polanyi’s role demands a skilled ironist. His character was maverick and richly wrinkled. He was a Christian who never worshipped God, a modernist who immersed himself in study of the ancient world, and an ardent supporter of the peasant’s cause who chose only to inhabit sprawling cities. He was in love with a Bolshevik while spurning Bolshevism, a life-long social democrat who disparaged the social-democratic orthodoxy, and a liberal who charged classical liberalism with full responsibility for the collapse of its dreams. He was a humanist and yet a staunch defender of Stalin’s regime in Russia. In his correspondence he can appear moralistic, even straitlaced, but he was an eager reader of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and his favourite Shakespeare poem was the unreservedly lustful Sonnet 129.
Polanyi wrote brilliantly—in The Yale Review—on Hamlet, his most cherished Shakespeare play. It would be appropriate if he were played by one of the best ever Hamlets, Mark...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Karl Polanyi.
My Book, The Movie: Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left.