Author: Paul Blackledge

The recent emergence of global anti-capitalist and anti-war movements have created a space within which Marxism can flourish in a way as it has not been able to for a generation. This book shows that by disassociating Marxism from the legacy of Stalinism, Marxist historiography need not retreat before the criticisms from theorists and historians. It also shows that, once rid of this incubus, Marx's theory of history can be shown to be sophisticated, powerful and vibrant. The book argues that Marxism offers a unique basis to carry out a historical research, one that differentiates it from the twin failures of the traditional empiricist and the post-modernist approaches to historiography. It outlines Marx and Engels' theory of history and some of their attempts to actualise that approach in their historical studies. The book also offers a critical survey of debates on the application of Marx's concepts of 'mode of production' and 'relations of production' in an attempt to periodise history. Marxist debates on the perennial issue of structure and agency are considered in the book. Finally, the book discusses competing Marxist attempts to periodise the contemporary post-modern conjuncture, paying attention to the suggestion that the post-modern world is one that is characterised by the defeat of the socialist alternative to capitalism.

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Paul Blackledge

This chapter looks beyond the Stalinist caricature of historical materialism to the powerful methods of anti-Stalinist Marxism. A number of Marxist reviewers of Richard Evans's book made similar criticisms that his refusal to engage in a debate over the nature of the selection of evidence left his criticism of post-modernism fundamentally flawed. Victoria Bonnell and Lynn Hunt argued about Marxism. They argued that 'in the face of these intellectual trends and the collapse of communist systems in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Marxism as an interpretive and political paradigm has suffered a serious decline'. While Bonnell and Hunt rightly suggested that Marxism as a political and intellectual movement had suffered a number of setbacks since the 1970s, it would be a mistake to equate Marxism with the Soviet system.

in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
Paul Blackledge

This chapter outlines Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's theory of history and its relationship to their revolutionary political practice. In opposition to both Gerry Cohen and Steve Rigby, the chapter follows Draper's argument of Marx's revolutionary method. If Marx's revolutionary method is judged as a totality, rather than by decontextualised statements, then a much more powerful interpretation of historical materialism is possible. At its heart, historical materialism is a theory of historical change through the evolving contradictions between the forces and relations of production of various modes of production. Marx's discussion of capitalist development in India can best be understood within the context of his broader analysis of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Through this historical analysis of the rise of capitalism, Marx debunks one of the key myths of bourgeois economics: that consumers and producers meet in the marketplace as free and equal agents.

in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
From the Second to the Third International
Paul Blackledge

The Second International of socialist parties was the undoubted custodian of Marxist 'orthodoxy' from its formation in 1889 until its de facto collapse at the outbreak of the First World War. For the interpretation of historical materialism associated with the sophisticated Second International thinkers in their best works, Karl Kautsky was much more powerful that either Perry Anderson or Steve Rigby. Like Lucio Colletti, Anderson had interpreted the shift from Second to Third International Marxism as including a 'voluntaristic' break with 'fatalistim'. Colletti suggested the evolutionary interpretation of Marxism, which he likened unfavourably to the 'voluntarist' Marxism of the Third International, was born out of Friedrich Engels's crude systemisation of Marx's thought and reached its zenith in Kautsky's theory of history. Kautsky was the dominant intellectual within the Second International, while the works of Georgi Plekhanov and Antonio Labriola informed the best historiography produced by the succeeding generation of Marxists.

in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
Paul Blackledge

This chapter begins with an overview of the contribution of V. Gordon Childe, perhaps the twentieth century's most influential archaeologist, who was deeply influenced by Karl Marx. Marx had sketched humanity's prehistory as including, 'in broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production'. In addition to a discussion of Childe's work to an examination of later Marxist attempts, the chapter explains some of the historical processes analysed by Childe. It outlines some of the Marxist contributions to the explanation of the decline of classical antiquity, including the accounts of Perry Anderson, Chris Wickham and Ellen Wood. The chapter then discusses the debates on the nature of pre-capitalist peasant societies. It further discusses the debates on the transition from feudalism to capitalism generally, and the concept of bourgeois revolution specifically, particularly the contributions made to this literature by Anderson, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Thompson.

in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
Paul Blackledge

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.

in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
Marxism and post-modernity
Paul Blackledge

The statement made by Lukács in History and Class Consciousness, with which this chapter opens, suggests at least one sense in which there is a degree of continuity between the modern and post-modern worlds. The intellectuals in both modern and post-modern worlds tend to regard Marxism with ironic disdain. A good deal of the debate within Marxist circles on the nature of post-modernity centres on the contested interpretation of the undoubted defeats inflicts on the left and the workers' movement since the 1970s. Marx's democratic model of socialism is opposite to the statist model of socialism associated with both Stalinists and social democrats. Fredric Jameson is perhaps the most prominent and influential Marxist to have joined the legion of theorists who have engaged in the debate over the nature of post-modernism.

in Reflections on the Marxist theory of history
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Beyond Stalinism and social democracy?
Paul Blackledge

The British New Left emerged in 1956 as a response to a global ideological crisis that opened with Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech. This chapter argues that the earlier movement marked a fork in the road at which a plurality of leftist currents momentarily converged through an attempt to map a left that was independent both of Stalinism and social democracy. Stuart Hall suggests that the New Left 'attempted to define a "third" political space' between the polarities of the Cold War politics as embodied in the 'depressing experiences of both "actual existing socialism" and "actual existing social democracy"'. Beyond the impasse, the New Left's trajectory from a critique of Leninism through left-reformism and on towards Harold Wilson's Labour Party was not in any sense preordained. Indeed, voices within the New Left both criticised and pointed beyond this impasse.

in Against the grain