Structure, agency and the struggle for freedom
in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
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This chapter traces the ways in which a number of key Marxist theoreticians have attempted to marry the structural and agential aspects of Karl Marx's theory of history. It argues that neither the extremes of Louis Althusser's structuralism nor Jean-Paul Sartre's individualism were able to provide a defensible reinterpretation of historical materialism. The chapter argues that while Edward Thompson scored many direct hits against the schematism of structural history, his own positive alternative was ultimately unpersuasive. It suggests that the attempt to synthesise structure and subject into a Marxist theory of agency, suggested by Perry Anderson and present in the early work of Alasdair MacIntyre, and developed by Alex Callinicos, is the most powerful reinterpretation of historical materialism to date. The emergence of the modern anti-capitalist movement suggests that Marx was right to argue that the struggle for freedom can never be extinguished because it is written into our nature.


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