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New Left Review I/202, November-December 1993

Erik Olin Wright

Class Analysis, History and Emancipation

In both the popular press and the scholarly media we hear a lot about the crisis of Marxism, even of its death. Frequently the collapse of regimes ruled by Communist parties is equated with the collapse of Marxism as a social theory. However, while there is unquestionably a historical linkage between Marxism and capital-c Communism, they are not interchangeable. Marxism is a tradition of social theory, albeit a social theory that has been deeply embedded in efforts to change the world. What is more, it is a tradition of social theory within which it is possible to do social science—that is, identify real causal mechanisms and understand their consequences. Capital-c Communism, on the other hand, is a particular form of social organization, characterized by the eradication or marginalization of private ownership of productive resources and high levels of centralization of political and economic power under the control of relatively authoritarian political apparatuses, the party and the state. Such parties and states used Marxism as a legitimating ideology, but neither the collapse of those regimes, nor their failure to live up to the normative ideals of Marxism are, in and of themselves, proofs of the bankruptcy of Marxism as a tradition of social-scientific practice.

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Erik Olin Wright, ‘Class Analysis, History and Emancipation’, NLR I/202: £3

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