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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We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of these classes of the community. The main argument, throughout, is derived from her general theoretical priority, which is to assert the historical specificity of capitalism – ‘ By the time of the American Revolution democracy could no longer be opposed explicitly — but it could be redefined.

Strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in democratic theory agianst wants to read an interesting input from the left side of the field.

In her concern to identity the uniqueness of capitalism, I think Wood might be in danger of conflating other distinct phenomena. To abandon it in favour of ‘democratic revolution’ which seems to be the argument of the RDG and the CPGB – correct me if I’ve misunderstoodwithout a defining class character, does not seem to me a way forward.

Historical Materialism and the Specificity of Capitalism. EMW is right, I’m sure, that it’s significant that these revolutionaries saw the Roman republic as their model, not Athenian democracy.

Essentially, it is a detailed defence of the historical theory of EP Thompson against Anderson and Althusseriansor at least of her own take on his work. And I’ll forgive this oversimplification for her bold recentering of democracy outside of capitalism and its regrounding in much, much different terms as the current liberal democracy creates. What is the relationship between these demands – how should socialists relate to them? How did we end up using the same name both for a system where every citizen participated and public officers were chosen by draw and for one where public officers are chosen and then virtually execu I picked up this book because the title resembled the one I had picked for my Philosophy dissertation but with not much hope of it being interesting, and was pleasantly surprised.

Hence democracy, of a socially weak form, is characteristic of capitalism.

While the defeat of Stalinism might seem to make disagreements on the left about the meaning of Marxism less urgent, today the worldwide triumph of capitalism means not only social and economic barbarism, but worldwide ecological disaster. In time, it swept everything before it – because its imperative to increase labour productivity made czpitalism immensely more powerful and competitive than its rivals.

What distinguished Marx from the start of being a ‘Marxist’ was the merging of the young working class and communist movement with the traditions of revolutionary democracy, and we should beware of cutting Marxism adrift from this historical background.


She now resides in England. In essence, feudal relations became subject – in ddmocracy class struggle in which classes fought for their own immediate interests – to market imperatives.

Human liberation means freeing ourselves from this form of rule. This is not quite the same as non-capitalist forms of surplus appropriation; and Wood does recognise the need for state coercion, which she sees as the result of capitalism’s contradictions.

The rules of the game become invisible, and we are left with the assumption that capitalism is something which has been latent throughout history. One of the most brilliant defences of a complex and undogmatic Marxism I’ve encountered lately. It is also unique in the separation it creates between ‘economic’ and ‘political’ spheres. At the heart of all this is an argument that capitalism has narrowly defined democracy in the words of Eduardo Galeano, democracy is more than an electoral ritual and that a politics that takes democracy beyond those limits imposed by capitalism is essential to human liberation.

In fact the rules are determined by the social relations within each epoch, and there is no teleological drive towards capitalism. Other editions – View all Democracy Against Capitalism: It is imperative, however, that socialists not go back to a pre-New Left understanding of a universal politics, one which suppressed differences and subordinated all forms of oppression other than class.

Pre-capitalist class societies require, for the extraction of surplus from the direct producers, ‘extra economic’ means, such as the direct coercive power of the state. Capitalist transition was the result of the emerging dominance of market imperatives; revolutions like the French may well have been led by ‘the bourgeosie’, but only in the sense that these were not capitalists at all.

Her historical account is persuasive up to a point – and as I have said, I don’t know enough about European history in the period she is dealing with the fifteenth century or so to the eighteenth to comment in detail.

Democracy Against Capitalism

I am also reminded slightly tangentially of a recent Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Whitworth Art gallery which showed us the structure around objects rather the objects themselves. Kenan Malik, in his interesting book ‘The Meaning of Race’, traces how the Enlightenment project of human equality faced the contradiction of class inequality.

Private property, class exploitation and market imperatives do what the state used to do. 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.

Just a moment while we sign you in to your Goodreads account. First, they assume what needs to be explained. Clientelism, Interests, and Democratic Representation: The separation of economic from the political under capitalism means that modern democracy has been emptied of any ability to deliver emancipation.

Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism

On the basis of this, scientific racism emerged, justifying the biological inferiority of ‘races’. I’m not sure this is true, though. I don’t think she would deny this; but the precise political relevance of the Athenian model is never spelled demoxracy – and since the whole question of democracy is at least in some regard a debate about institutional forms, this seems an odd omission.


Thompson economic effect example existence explain exploitation extra-economic feudalism forces of production formal democracy freedom Greek historical materialism historical democraxy historical specificity human Ibid identities ideological imperatives industrial juridical liberal democracy logic Marx Marx’s means of production mechanism medieval mode of production modern objective oppression agwinst peasant pluralism polis political economy principle private property production relations productive forces property relations relations of production relationship Roman sense simply slavery slaves social form social relations socialist specificity of capitalism sphere status structural superstructure surplus extraction surplus labour technological capialism teleology theoretical Thompson tion tradition transformation unique Weber Western.

You can dismiss the idea of the French revolution or by implication many others since as ‘bourgeois’ in the sense that they helped the development emiksins, paved the way for, or whatever, capitalist development. The book is essentially a collection of essays, with some work put in to make them feel like a cohesive whole. But putting past incarnations of Marxist theory and it developments over the years, she firmly courses the intellectual and political failings of the left over the p This book is like leftist brain bleach for anyone who looks at our world’s decaying ecological state, rising far-right extremism, and decaying standards of life across the Western world.

Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism by Ellen Meiksins Wood

Guy Abrahami rated it it was amazing May 25, But she does not address the obvious objection to any attempt to use ancient Athens as any sort of model, inspiration or even merely suggestive historical point of departurewhich is that the Athenian polis was rather small and unpopulated compared to a modern state. This will enrich the socialist project — and is crucial to the success of both, since there is little chance of building a mass socialist movement today without taking very seriously issues of race, gender and sexuality.

But there is something counter-intuitive about much of it. Open Preview See a Problem? The left needs to assert this proper meaning of democracy – direct popular power – against capitalism.

Parliamentary rule, with its principles of limited government and separation of powers, excluded from citizenship everyone who did not own property.

The first part of this book is a magnificent re-statement of the relevance and usefulness of historical materialism as an analytical tool. The metaphor of a rainbow is often employed for such an inclusive politics, but this suggests pluralism.