The centenary of the Russian Revolution has opened in an appropriately explosive fashion, with Donald Trump’s first raft of vile executive orders provoking international protest on a gargantuan scale. It is fair to say that tensions are high, and widespread anger is the order of the day.

There are at least a quarter of a million words in the English language – although some estimates suggest a far higher number – perhaps a million or more (according to the Global Language Monitor, January 2014 and the more recent Google/Harvard Study). Whatever the true figure might be, it is clear that English has more words than any other European language. This is the result of its peculiar historical evolution.

The age of Shakespeare was also the age of Machiavelli. That brilliant Italian philosopher was the man who first explained that the conquest and maintenance of political power has nothing to do with morality. The state itself is organised violence, and the seizure of state power can only be brought about by violent means. Moralists have given the Italian philosopher a very hard time, but history has shown that his analysis was basically sound.

The England of Shakespeare, like the Spain of Cervantes, was in the throes of a great social and economic revolution. This was a very turbulent and painful change, which thrust a large number of people into poverty and created in the towns a large class of dispossessed lumpenproletarian elements: beggars, thieves, whores, deserters and the like, who rubbed shoulders with the sons of impoverished aristocrats and defrocked priests to create an endless reserve of characters for Shakespeare's plays.

Shakespeare transformed English literature, reaching heights that before were unheard-of and which have not been reached subsequently. Like a blazing meteorite he shot across the firmament and cast a glorious light on an entire period in our history. His impact on world literature was arguably greater than any other writer. His works have been translated into every language. For centuries after his death his star has not dimmed but shines as brightly as on the first day.

In an article on World War I, Lenin once remarked that, “Capitalist society is and has always been horror without end.” In discussing the early development of capitalism in his classic, Capital, Marx said that upon its arrival in history “capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” In the same book, Marx stated that, “Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” In the very same chapter, Marx compares the capitalists’ drive for surplus labor to a “werewolf’s hunger.”

Marxism often defines itself as scientific socialism. That would make it an applied science with a specifically political purpose. For example, when Engels delivered Marx's funeral oration, he said that Marx was above all a revolutionary. But a basic premise of Marx's outlook was that revolution could only succeed if based on an understanding of the processes at work in society as a whole.

The publication in English of The Man Who Loved Dogs by the Cuban author, Leonardo Padura is a major literary and political event. I read this remarkable novel when it came out in Spanish and it made a profound impression on me. I had intended to write a review then, but was prevented from doing it by a combination of circumstances. With the greatest pleasure I will now rectify this omission.

On 31 July Gore Vidal died at his home in Los Angeles from complications arising from pneumonia. He was 86 and had been ill for some time. As I was away on holiday at the time, I did not find out about this till later. The comrades in charge of Marxist.com decided to republish an article I had written in July 2002 with the title The decline and fall of the American empire, based on a television interview with the American writer.

The effects of the capitalist crisis are being felt at every level of society. As reported in a Time magazine article in April, this also includes the preservation of historical sites. As the cash-strapped European states race to cut public spending and slash budgets, the historical achievements of mankind crumble under paltry allotments for cultural preservation.

The artist’s task is not merely to mirror reality in an unthinking way but to impart a special meaning and feeling to what is being depicted: “The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason,” wrote Leonardo, “is like a mirror which copies everything placed in front of it without being conscious of their existence.” [part 1]

The true genius of Leonardo has only really begun to be understood in our own times. Yet surprisingly little is known about his life and person. But in the beginning he was severely disadvantaged.The known facts about his life are simply stated. Born in 1452 in the little Tuscan town of Vinci in the hills above the Arno, Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a lawyer. He never knew who his mother was, though she nursed him as a baby. [part 1]

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