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New Left Review I/152, July-August 1985


Ronald Aronson

Historical Materialism, Answer to Marxism’s Crisis

Has any period since Marx’s death been marked by weaker conviction among Marxists than our own? Doubts and doubters have been with us for as long as Marxism itself, but those of today no longer face a compelling politicaltheoretical field of force, dominated by an individual, movement, party, state or indeed, a general faith in the forward march of humanity. ‘We live in a time,’ writes Stanley Aronowitz, ‘when all the old assumptions about politics and history appear enfeebled. Throughout Western industrial societies, both of the capitalist and state socialist types, the theory and practice of workers, intellectuals, women and ecologists have, in different ways, questioned the adequacy of Marxism as a theory of the past and present and as a guide to the future.’ [1] The Crisis in Historical Materialism, New York 1981, p.3. Aronowitz presents the most committed and sustained exploration that has yet been done of the theoretical and cultural dimensions of the crisis, grounded in the political economy. Although I remain far more convinced than he does about historical materialism’s contemporaneity and unifying power, his work is an indispensable startingpoint. In the past, Marxists were able to dismiss the doubters by pointing to their alleged class origins, or they could confidently modulate from theory to practice by pointing to trends of history showing the progress of socialism. But today, as Aronowitz’s own work reflects, the Marxist mood has lost assurance and become uncertain.

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