In Marxism and America: New appraisals, an accomplished group of scholars reconsiders the relationship of the history, political culture, and political economy of the United States to the theoretical tradition derived from Karl Marx. A dozen essays (an introduction and eleven chapters) offer fresh considerations arcing from the nineteenth century, when Marx wrote for American newspapers, to the present, when a millennial socialism has emerged inspired by the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Contributors take up topics ranging from memory of the Civil War to feminist debates over sexuality and pornography. Along the way, they clarify the relationship of race and democracy, the promise and perils of the American political tradition, and the prospects for class politics in the twenty-first century. Marxism and America sheds new light on old questions, helping to explain why socialism has been so difficult to establish in the United States even as it has exerted a notable influence in American thought.
Marxism and history
How are we to understand the nature of historical knowledge? The way that
historians traditionally have answered this question has come under sustained attack since the 1980s in the wake of what has become known as the
‘cultural’ or ‘linguistic turn’. This shift in perspective can be understood as
a reaction to two developments. Negatively, as Bonnell and Hunt have
argued, the old positivistic assumption about the nature of history – that it
consisted in the accumulation of facts collected by diligent historians – came
increasingly to be
Although Marxism and even anarchism are sometimes treated as if they
are simply varieties of socialism, we consider that they have
sufficiently distinctive characteristics to warrant separate treatment.
Starting with Marxism, we examine Marx’s theories of history,
economics and politics before discussing the controversies within
Marx-inspired political organisations in the
better that the core of classical Marxism was its theory of human self-emancipation; few were better able or more willing, none the less, to critique the obstacles to self-emancipation, the footholds for authoritarianism within the very same tradition; and fewer still understood that Marxism needed to negotiate articles of conciliation (not surrender) with liberalism if all those obstacles were to be overcome.
A popular and democratic Marxism
‘The principle of self-emancipation’, wrote Geras in 1971, ‘is central, not incidental, to historical materialism.’ Armed
newer theoretical positions that developed both out of and in opposition to Marxism.
Elite social groups occupied, until relatively recently, a disproportionate share of the historical record. This was, no doubt, partly the product of the class orientation of historians, but it was also because such elite groups’ ideas, attitudes and beliefs were much more fully documented than those of other social groups. The study of popular culture, as expressed in customs, songs and festival could and indeed was seen as a corrective to this bias. 4 What, it might be asked
A. J. Muste, Louis Budenz, and an “American approach” before the Popular Front
celebratory terms of The Cultural Front . Still, the question of the meaning of the Americanist theory and culture of the Popular Front era could use more nuance and complexity. For one, efforts to Americanize Marxism and reimagine American national identity as working-class predated both the CP’s Popular Front of 1934–1935 and the CIO by around ten years. Second, in some hands, the “American approach”—as they called it—did indeed devolve into nationalism. In others, it offered an interpretation of the world that centered and validated working-class American experiences
W. E. B. Du Bois and Oliver Cromwell Cox as democratic theorists
Paul M. Heideman
The intellectual history of American Marxism’s engagement with race has gone through several distinct and contradictory phases. During the years in which Marxist movements had their greatest impact on American society (roughly from the turn of the twentieth century until the postwar years), race was a question that was debated ceaselessly and in detail. As Philip Foner noted, in the pre-war Socialist Party, “apart from the question of the farmers’ role in the Socialist Party, the Negro question was the most widely debated issue in American socialist circles
The United States appears to be in living contradiction to Marxism. American capitalism represents the world’s most developed and unfettered version of capitalism. It displays all the features of the system described and analyzed by Marx, with its outrageous inequality, its mass of unemployed and underemployed workers (Marx’s “reserve army of labor”), its repeated and often deep crises, and its drive overseas leading to one war after another. But the United States has a political culture overwhelmingly dedicated to capitalism’s survival and expansion. And its
In this chapter we situate the post-Soviet school of critical Marxism, from which our work arises, in the contemporary Russian intellectual milieu. Despite the collapse of the USSR, and the incursion of Western social sciences into Russia, the topic of Marxism remains very widely discussed in Russia.
Indeed, Marxist works have been appearing with increasing frequency in the twenty-first century. Moreover, they appear regularly even in mainstream academic journals such as Voprosy filosofii
Journeying through Marxism
This book is the unlikely product of two people who somehow managed
to collaborate across what was historically a yawning sectarian chasm:
one with a Trotskyist formation (Norman Geras) and one with a Maoist
one (myself ). This by no means exhausts the possible incompatibilities
between someone with a long and prolific academic career, and someone
with a truncated one; a dedicated political philosopher, and a disciplinary floater between history, political economy and sociology. And yet,
close friends from undergraduate days in the