Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


Regaining Marxism

Ken Post
Basingstoke: Macmillan Press
0 333 65444 7
£45.00 hb
x + 393 pp.

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It is impossible to do full justice here to this monumental and ambitious book. However, the importance and significance of Post's work is not only reserved for sociologists and Marxists but for a much wider politically aware readership. This is made even more evident in the face of the current intellectual fad of obeisance to so- called postmodernism and poststructuralism and attacks on 'normal' sociological paradigms such as Marxist/conflict theory. The title 'Regaining Marxism' further encapsulates Post's unabashed objective in face of such developments of beginning the necessary intellectual labour for a reworking of Marxist theory 'through regaining it as a revolutionary doctrine and with it the cause of revolutionary socialism as a true liberatory force' (p.1).

Given the centrality of historical materialism in classical Marxist theory as a successor to enlightenment thought, Post posits the need to re-emphasize the key message of the latter that humans have the potential to become the active subjects of history rather than remaining subordinated elements in a system of power. Further to the more traditional Marxist consideration of most men and all women experiencing history as subordinated subjects, in keeping with more recent non-Marxist discussions of structure and agency, Post is concerned to look for human agents in history to give the latter, and hence subjects, meaning. Thus, in a novel departure from more standard Marxist analysis, Post invokes five inversions facilitating a general 'problem shift' in the reconstruction of Marxism. By such means the central position of class is de-privileged, along with the industrial proletariat associated with capitalism, thus enabling a shift to new Marxist readings by giving equal privilege of other bases of contemporary relevance such as race, gender and nation, traditionally seen as peripheral or superstructural phenomena. These are dealt with in some depth and with insight worthy of the very best of the numerous Marxist theorists he cites with excellent examples, drawn from Third World as well as advanced capitalist societies, to illustrate the intellectual power and adaptability of such analysis to present day capitalism and the global political economy.

A particularly commendable strength of Post's reformulation of Marxism is not only its historical and global sweep but its critical purchase in dealing at great length with the central Marxist problematic of consciousness. Post greatly extends and augments the classical Marxist concentration on class consciousness with discussions and examples of racial, gender and national consciousness. With respect to gender, for example, he properly acknowledges and draws on such feminist and Marxist theorists as Diane Elson, Joan Cocks and Christine Delphy, as well as the greatly neglected anthropologist Kathleen Gough. A clear demonstration that this sin of omission can no longer be excused is one debt we owe the author, and his schematic delineation of a reformed Marxist analysis of gender consciousness is an important astringent to the currently under-theorized sociology of women and the more confused and confusing offerings of postmodernists currently writing in this field.

In his impressive chapter on global reconstruction Post further emphasizes and enlarges upon the relevance of Marxist analysis of nationalism as an ideology and national consciousness in understanding its current resurgence on the world stage. Thus South Africa and apartheid, Latin America, China and Viet Nam all serve to illustrate and update the varied aspects of the realization and accumulation process in this century. In the course of this exposition he provides a very useful and germane critique of Wallerstein's politico-economic theory of the world system which is of central concern to all students of global and political modernization.

Otherwise one can only selectively pinpoint and marvel at the continuously enlightening range of topics and examples Post discusses with great erudition and no little wit (something alas missing from the writings of the vast majority of non-Marxists as well as Marxist sociologists alike). All of this work is suffused with expositions and critiques (heavily and fully footnoted) of the full range of the best contemporary Marxist and neo-Marxist theorists which will add a fillip to advanced sociological and political theory courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

In conclusion, Post's work is worthy of comparison with the best British Marxist tradition of scholarship represented by Tom Bottomore and Edward Thompson, despite not mentioning the former and being critical of the latter. In employing an apt simile of a clearing in a wood the author of this timely and important work not only helps the reader to see the intellectual wood for the trees but fulfills his hope that she/he has 'a regained Marxist map' (p334).

Aston University

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996