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New Left Review I/99, September-October 1976

Anthony Barnett

Raymond Williams and Marxism: A Rejoinder to Terry Eagleton

Revolutionaries have traditionally believed that there are three forms of class struggle. The first two are both relatively obvious: political mobilization and economic organization. But in addition to the political and economic struggles there is a third. Lenin, invoking the authority of Engels, called it ‘theoretical struggle’. But this was not a call directed to philosophers. The theory which he argued for was Marxism itself, the general theory of historical materialism. The struggle involved was its application, not only intellectually to the specific conditions of the day, but educationally, to the working class and its most able members: ‘training the masses in political consciousness and revolutionary activity’, ‘we can and must educate workers so as to be able to discuss these questions with them’. Today in the West, the masses—enfranchized, unionized, no longer working eleven-hour days—are surrounded by ‘education’ and ‘discussion’ in the mass media, not all of it always wrong. The third struggle, in advanced capitalist countries, now takes on a different form: alongside the duty of revolutionary theoretical clarification is the need to transform a political consciousness already heavily invested by the bourgeoisie. This struggle is a struggle for ‘culture’. One way of suggesting the contrast between Western capitalist democracies and the Tsarist autocracy in Russia might be that Lenin’s two classical conditions for revolution—‘Only when the “lower classes” do not want the old way, and when the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way—only then can revolution triumph’—have changed. The second clause still holds. But the first condition, in the West, should now read: ‘only when the “lower classes” want to go on in a new way’. In other words, until a majority of the working class actively desire socialism, they will continue to be willing to accept bourgeois solutions to the recurrent crises of capitalism, however temporarily acute.

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Anthony Barnett, ‘Raymond Williams and Marxism: A Rejoinder to Terry Eagleton’, NLR I/99: £3

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