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New Left Review I/164, July-August 1987

Andrew Gamble

Class Politics and Radical Democracy

Ellen Meiksins Wood’s recent book, The Retreat From Class, is a formidable and trenchant attack upon the arguments of what she calls the New True Socialists. [1] Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Retreat from Class, Verso, London 1986. Marx applied the label ‘True Socialists’ to those he accused of having fallen victim to the illusion that socialism was ‘a question of the “most reasonable” social order’ rather than ‘the needs of a particular class and a particular time’. Socialism no longer had anything to do with the struggle of one class against another but with advancing the cause of ‘Truth’, ‘Human Nature’, and ‘Man in General’. Real cleavages were interpreted as conceptual cleavages. Concepts had the power to make or destroy the world. Wood identifies the new true Socialists of the 1980s as a disparate group of intellectuals, many of them with a past in Althusserianism or Maoism, sometimes both. They belong to no single party or faction, but they share a common view of class and socialist strategy. Wood concentrates on those who are on the political right of this current and who have done most to develop the theoretical arguments underpinning it. But she sees the current as a very broad one, embracing journals such as Marxism Today and the New Statesman and becoming increasingly influential in the Labour Party and the British Communist Party, as well as among left-of-centre intellectuals.

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