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New Left Review I/184, November-December 1990


Ellen Meiksins Wood

Explaining Everything or Nothing?

Alan Carling accuses me of ‘everythingism’—that is, of believing that ‘you need a complete explanation of something before you can have any explanation of something.’ Do I really? I thought I was stating a rather more modest requirement, namely that a ‘paradigm’ like rcm, which claims to improve on, indeed to replace, ‘classical’ Marxism, ought to add more than it subtracts from existing explanations. It was, after all, not I who made extravagant claims for rcm, that ‘it is now only within the rational-choice context that some of the leading questions on the classical agenda of Marxist theory—historical explanation and the delineation of social form, the collective dynamics of class struggle, the evolution and evaluation of capitalism—can be fruitfully discussed.’ [1] Alan Carling, ‘Rational Choice Marxism’, nlr 160, November–December 1986, p. 55. If Carling now wants drastically to modify those claims, by effectively conceding my principal argument that all the important theoretical and empirical work needs to be done in advance of applying the rcm model, then that’s fine with me.

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