21 January 2010

The CU and The Prince

Once More, The Communist University!

The Communist University met yesterday evening in the first of our new series of “contact sessions”, which is called “Basics”. The dialogue was rich and the whole, well-attended occasion was very successful.

Next week’s session will be as follows: 
  • Date: 27 January 2010 (Wednesday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: Lecture Hall G05, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Vehicle access is from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: Selected chapters from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (downloadable in MS-Word format)
We now have a CU 2010 Draft Programme and a Jhb Central Branch 2010 Schedule.

Today's text, from Machiavelli's "The Prince", is the second in the "Basics" series of ten. For a quick overview of the entire series, please click here, and scroll down. In addition to these once-a-week main texts, there will be supplementary classic texts, and also educational items of a more current nature, such as selected newspaper articles.

In this “Basic” series, we can at this stage begin to stretch our historical perspective with Machiavelli. Like the communists of today, he cultivated “long experience in contemporary affairs and a continual study of antiquity”, as he says at the beginning.

Machiavelli’s “Prince” was written about 500 years ago, in Florence, Italy, and published in 1512. According to Karl Marx the sixteenth century was when bourgeois state power first arose on the earth, especially in the Netherlands and in England; but it was Italy that had the most developed political culture at that time.
Hence The Prince  appeared much earlier than the first writings on Political Economy such as those of Thomas HobbesWilliam Petty and Nicholas Barbon, which appeared between 1650 and 1700. Karl Marx was familiar with all of these, as well as with Machiavelli’s work.

Machiavelli’s work has been foundational for politicians through five centuries. Both Machiavelli and Marx were familiar with the politics of ancient Greece and Rome, and used this knowledge constantly in their writing.

Machiavelli was needing employment when he wrote this user-friendly text for Lorenzo di Piero De’ Medici (pictured above), a 20-year-old Florentine prince at the time, in the hope that this young prince would give Machiavelli a job as a consultant, or something of the sort. No job resulted for Machiavelli but what he left us as a result of this attempt was a set of “short texts” of very frank and still-useful political education, altogether not very different from a Communist University “Generic Course”.

The chapter in this selection of four that corresponds most closely to the politics of today is Chapter IX, “Concerning a Civil Principality”. All of them are very interesting and all contain advice that is still good after 500 years. The discussion should be about this advice. If people have not read the material, one chapter could be selected and read out loud. The chapters are very short, but powerful.

Machiavelli had a good basic understanding of class politics, which is perhaps why his works were put on the Pope’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) not long after his death.


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