Social Scientist. v 19, no. 214-15 (Mar-April 1991) p. 79.

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Postmodernism, Postmarxism and the Question of Class

Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique, St Martin's Press, New York, 1990,207 pp.


Marxism has been the mpst important theory of the socialist movement for the last century-and-a-half. It has inspired and guided numerous struggles against inequality ahd exploitation throughout the world. But it has recently come under substantive criticism as unable to provide a strategic and theoretical guide to new contradictions and issues such as media and consumption as well as for the 'new* social movements struggling around issues of gender and sexuality, racial oppression, environmental degradation, and so on. Many of these have drawn on poststructuralism and postmodernism rather than marxism for inspiration and theoretical guidance. Indeed, postmodernism has come to refer to a new constellation of political issues in contrast with the traditional focus on the economy and state power on the one hand and prominence of the labour movement and the. working-class as the agent of socialist transformation on the other.

The debates over modernity ^nd postmodernity were initially formulated in post-world war two western Europe, particularly in France. The emergence of a current of philosophical thinking that came to be known as poststructuralism provided the theoretical underpinnings of the postmodern critique of the Englightenment project of human emancipation linked to scientific progress. For many of these critics, most notably Foucault in The Order of Things^ marxism was deeply implicated in this latter project, thereby falling prey to similar criticisms as those applied to 'the project of modernity* itself. What was most objectionable for these writers in marxism was, firstly, a philosophy of history that purported to view social change as a

* Working for his doctoral degree at the University of Columbia, USA.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1991

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