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Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that, with the collapse of Com- munism, the theoretical project of Marxism and its critique of capitalism is more timely and important. Historian and political thinker Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that theories of “ postmodern” fragmentation, “difference,” and con-tingency. Ellen Meiksins Wood. · Rating details · 94 ratings · 9 reviews. This study argues that understanding Marxism and its critique of capitalism is more important.

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This colours the interaction between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ which elleh envisaged not as a rigid hierarchical relationship but as an interaction, something to be analysed in a specific historical woood rather than assumed to fit a pattern. Will rated it liked it Sep 25, While women continue meikeins be oppressed compared to men, the development of capitalism has tended to weaken patriarchal relations. Giving up transhistorical interpretations of historical materialism might seem to be a loss for Marxism, but Wood insists that it is not.

It is a late and localised product of very specific historical conditions’ p – and on that basis offer a more defined and coherent socialist critique. Rethinking base and superstructure. There’s one aspect of all this which is relevant to our debate, so I’ll come back to it later; otherwise, I’ll leave that there – except to say that I agree with EMW.

Democracy became more formal than substantial, with a citizenry of atomized individuals.

Democracy Against Capitalism by Ellen Meiksins Wood | : Books

Current intellectual fashions of the left which emphasize ‘post-modern’ fragmentation, ‘difference’, contingency and the ‘politics But modern society is enormously informed by the ideas generated throughout the Enlightenment – ideas which the participants in the French revolution, for example, certainly believed themselves to be influenced by, and which Marx, for example, was clearly influenced by and in a certain sense the inheritor of.

Like all her work, democrqcy The Retreat from Class, it is a political book whose theoretical explorations aim to provide weapons for ideological struggle against capitalism.

She quotes Thompson rejecting ‘that contempt of the people, of their hopelessly corrupted state, of their vulgarity and credulity by comparison with an educated minority,’ and ‘a formalist Marxism [he means the Althusserians] which makes the whole people, including the whole working class, mere carriers of the structures of a corrupt ideology.


It redefines historical materialism’s basic concepts and theory of history to specifically identify capitalism as a system of social relations and political power.

Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism – Ellen Meiksins Wood – Google Books

Collapsing capitalism into ‘the market’ robs us of a serious analysis of capitalism, and treats it, in effect, as natural in Adam Smith’s words, natural human ‘truck, barter and exchange’. Account Options Sign in.

Guy Abrahami rated it it was amazing May 25, The Foundations of Athenian Democracy, she explains that the peasant-citizen of Athens produced an unprecedented historical formation, one which had the profound social implication of some balance of power between rich and poor. I know there are other areas of her thought I haven’t gone into here which are informing this debate.

Western agaainst civilisation emerged in a period in which this democratic impulse was at work at all levels of society. If the emergence of capitalism is regarded as some kind of teleological inevitability which is the view she is opposingand history is ‘read forwards’ with each step seen as the unfolding of an immanent process, it is true. See the current issue. The other argument is less relevant to the overall discussion here, so I’ll deal with it only briefly.

She does not use the term ‘merchant capital’ at all, nor discuss it, though it is hardly an obscure category in Marxist theory, including theories of global capitalist development. Of course it is true that the bourgeoisie, from very early on if not the outset, had an ambiguous eellen contradictory relationship to the democratic impulse which revolutions bring with them.

Lists with This Book. But a range of more specific conclusions, I think, could be drawn. The democracy of the French and other revolutions was ellenn because they democrscy ‘bourgeois revolutions’; rather, it was the result of the fact that they were not. The paradoxical argument here is that the collapse of communism in its actually existing form that is has made marxism more important and more necessary than ever, mainly because it is one of the few if not the only mode of critical thought that can accommodate the idea of capitalism.


There were slaves; but the woox form of production was peasant and artisan, and these citizens were, collectively, the state. Wood served on the editorial committee of the British journal New Left Review between and I think the point here is that while the capitalist property owners and their ideologues had a limited and self-interested concept of democracy, there were other democratic advocates around whose championing of the ideals of universal human emancipation can’t be reduced to the ‘needs’ of the capitalist class.

Wood received a B. Most capitalist societies throughout the history of capitalism have required pretty intensive state coercion to guarantee the extraction of surplus value. The specificity of capitalism that Wood stresses in her interpretation of historical materialism is also the basis of her analysis cspitalism democracy and how it came to be meiisins with capitalism. She now resides in England. Somewhat frustratingly, she does not spell out very specific political consequences.

Renewing Historical Materialism

The struggle against capitalism will continue as long as capitalism does, and sharpened ideological weapons are more essential than ever. Nevertheless, despite bitter opposition, political participation was extended first to all free white men, then to all men and finally to all citizens.

There was no such thing as ‘bourgeois revolution’, either in England or elsewhere, if by this is meant ‘capitalist democrracy.

Radicals have often pointed out the limitations of capitalist democracy and that of ancient Greece. Essentially, it is a detailed defence of the historical theory of EP Caapitalism against Anderson and Althusseriansor at least of her own take on his work. Drawing on her book Peasant, Citizen and Slave: As a result radical thought has shifted onto the terrain of ‘identity’ politics, losing sight of a wider analysis of the impact of class.

One of the most brilliant defences of a complex and undogmatic Marxism I’ve encountered lately.

In her concern to identity the uniqueness of capitalism, I think Wood might be in danger of conflating other distinct phenomena.