Andrew Gamble, David Marsh, and Tony Tant, eds. Marxism and Social Science. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999, 381 pp.

The first article in this edited collection (the authors are for the most part affiliated with universities in the United Kingdom) is entitled: “Why Bother with Marxism?” Andrew Gamble opens with the statement: “Marxism is widely perceived to be in crisis, and many believe the crisis is terminal. Marxism it is said has had a long run and now its energies are spent and its usefulness is long past. It is time to return Marx to the nineteenth century where he belongs.” The concluding article by David Marsh is entitled “Resurrecting Marxism” and opens with the questions addressed in the book. “How well is Marxism responding to this challenge? Is it still a coherent position? Is it still a relevant position?” The articles in between all make a case for the continuing relevance of Marxism within the social sciences.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains five articles that examine “the engagement of Marxism with other perspectives in social science: feminism, the new right, regulation theory, postmodernism” and Marxism as science (p. 7). The articles in the second part of the book explore the engagement of Marxism with substantive issues: social class, the state, the welfare state, culture, nationalism, democracy, ecology, globalisation, and communism. There is only one female contributor to this volume and she writes on feminism. Indeed one of the articles employs sexist language. There is no treatment, except in a cursory fashion, of the Marxist contribution to the literature on racism and ethnic conflicts. Given the authors’ focus on events in the former Soviet Union, as well as the politics of Eastern and Western European nations, ignoring the politics surrounding racism and ethnicity are curious omissions.

In the first part, each author begins with the writings of Marx and Engels (where relevant), and moves through the various treatments of the topic from the classical period to the contemporary. In the process, the authors demonstrate what was useful to retain for the present from the original classics, and how various themes were reworked by both political activists and Marxist theorists: especially Lenin, Trotsky, and Gramsci. I found the articles in the second part of the book more interesting and engaging. The authors seem to be on firmer and more common ground when they discuss particular topics like the state, Marxism’s engagement with poststructuralism and postmodernism, and globalisation. In these later chapters threads of continuity become visible, despite particular disagreements between authors (for example, regarding the contributions of postmodernism to Marxist theory). In the first part, authors adopt contradictory positions without acknowledging differing viewpoints across chapters, creating confusion for the reader. In particular, Glyn Daly’s “reading” of Laclau and Mouffe in Chapter 4 is in direct opposition to Andrew Gamble’s take on their work in the following chapter. These contradictory positions are addressed in the second part of the book; in the concluding chapter in particular.

This collection of articles could serve as an excellent textbook in an upper undergraduate or graduate course on theory. I agree with the authors on the continuing usefulness and relevance of Marxist theorising. Overall, the articles give a good overview of the writings of Marx and Marxists over the years on certain crucial topics. The authors are well versed in the debates stemming from the various perspectives, especially in the second part of the book. It is unfortunate that feminism is marginalised, even if it is the first topic treated in the book, and that racial inequality and ethnic conflicts are not given more place (they certainly merit a chapter). But issues of globalisation, the debate around postmodernism, ecology, and the state, nationalism and democracy are treated in considerable depth.

A major theme that emerges from the volume is the impact of the failed socialist experiment in the Soviet Union. Neil Robinson provides a very interesting overview of writings and theorising undertaken in the communist and post-communist eras. He views the collapse of the Soviet experiment as liberating in the sense of freeing Marxist theorising. “It is thus ironic that Marxist analysis of post-communism might actually be very healthy. The collapse of the communist state frees Marxists from the need continually to go over old and stale ground.” (p. 317) In particular, Robinson notes a fruitful exchange developing between Eastern European theorists and a younger generation of Western neo-Marxists not previously engaged in the old debates centred on the role of Soviet communism in Marxist theorising. Nevertheless, a central question is left unanswered in the volume as a whole. Despite the acknowledged importance of the Soviet experiment in the acceptance of Marxism within western social science, the main criticism and challenge that experiment has generated is ignored. That is, is it possible to bring about a socialism based on Marxist principles that avoids the human costs and suffering experienced within the Soviet Union and in China during the Cultural Revolution? There is only one brief reference to China in one article. Cuba is never mentioned in the entire book. These are critical omissions in a work whose authors argue for the continuing relevance of Marxism in the academy and for political activists. Nevertheless, as a whole the articles have much to commend them, especially for young scholars new to Marxism.

Alicja Muszynski
Department of Sociology
University of Waterloo

December 1999
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