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New Left Review I/147, September-October 1984


Ellen Meiksins Wood

Marxism and the Course of History

There was a time, not very long ago, when one of the most serious and frequent criticisms levelled against Marxism was that it subscribed to a mechanical and simplistic view of history according to which all societies were predestined to go through a single, inexorable sequence of stages from primitive communism to slavery to feudalism, and finally to capitalism which would inevitably give way to socialism. What was at issue was not simply the value of Marxism as a theory of history and its alleged inability to account for the variety of historical patterns on display in the world, but also the viability of the socialist project itself. Since Marxism was so clearly wrong about the unilinear course of history, surely it was equally wrong about the inevitability—indeed, the possibility—of socialism.

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