Marxism and Radical History

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Bryan D. Palmer

Marxism was born in European history. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels elaborated the materialist concept of history out of engagements with German philosophy, French socialism, and British political economy. In the mid–nineteenth century historical materialism—the radical contention that the production and exchange of things necessary to the support of human life, the process through which wealth was created and distributed, was the root cause of social change and the political revolutions of the eighteenth century—stood much of the interpretation of the European past, embedded in Hegelian idealism, on its head. For Marx and Engels the mode of production was the motor of historical process. Its movement was impossible to understand outside of the necessary frictions and periodic clashes of a society divided into irreconcilable classes, primarily the new social strata, the bourgeois and the proletarian. From the time of its birth marxism was inexplicable outside of the transformations associated with the rise of capitalism, a social formation defined by an accumulative regime driven forward by the extraction of surplus associated with the wage system and production for profit. Capitalism and its histories of class formation and struggle figured centrally in marxist histories, although the materialist concept of history also was applied fruitfully to precapitalist modes of production, as evident in G. E. M. De Ste. Croix's challengingly imaginative and elaborately researched The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981).


The first marxist histories accentuated different analytic features of historical materialism. In his historical writings on France, for instance, Marx presented scathing indictments of the personnel of bourgeois power, exposing the contradictory nature of capitalist "progress" and of those, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, who would be called upon to lead its march. Such social histories were conscious assaults on the hypocrisies of bourgeois rule and parodies of the democratic order. Fueled by a partisan analysis relentless in its use of oppositional language, Marx meant to convey to all concerned the powerful class divisions at work in historical process. Marx also commented on the failures of proletarian organization in the Paris Commune, while Engels reached back into the German experience to outline the social upheavals of the German peasant wars. In their later works of political economy, Marx and Engels were equally passionate but less attuned to the place of political rule or the mobilization of class resistance. These histories, such as Marx's Capital (volume 1, 1867), outlined capital's original accumulations (by means of dispossessing a landed peasantry, divorcing small artisan producers from the means of production, and pillaging new colonial conquests) and its relentless appetite for surplus (manifested in extending the length of the working day, suppressing working-class collectivity, elaborating ever more intricate divisions of labor, and charting new technological innovation).

These and many other writings formed the theoretical foundation on which marxist histories rested for the next century and more. Within what might be called "the classical tradition," marxist histories were produced by intellectuals whose primary commitment was to the revolutionary movement. Their historical writing, seldom far removed from theoretical questions, was often a direct attempt to explore historical themes originally addressed by Marx or Engels. Thus Karl Kautsky, one of a small contingent developing the materialist concept of history in the late nineteenth century, produced a study of religion, The Origin of Christianity (1923), a staple of marxist critique in this period. Kautsky attempted to situate European and American agriculture in an 1899 publication, The Agrarian Question. His Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation (1897) returned directly to Engels's concern with the German peasant uprisings of the sixteenth century, as did Belfort Bax's The Peasants War in Germany, 1525–1526 (1899). Early writing on the Paris Commune included Lissagaray'sHistory of the Commune of 1871 (1886), translated from the French by Marx's daughter Eleanor Marx Aveling.

With the increasing importance of revolutionary activity, most especially in Russia and culminating in the October Revolution of 1917, marxist histories intersected directly with the perceived needs and understood accomplishments of proletarian insurrection. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899) was a massive study of the rural economy. An investigation of the tsarist countryside, the book aimed to outline how varied modes of production coexisted to produce a specific historically contextualized social formation and to develop from this research strategic directions for a workers' revolution in a setting of "combined and uneven capitalist development." This theme also set the stage for Leon Trotsky's magisterial three-volume narrative The History of the Russian Revolution (1932), probably historical materialism's most elegantly executed chronology of class revolt in the first fifty years of marxist historical production. Trotsky's text was preceded by Louise Bryant's memoir Six Red Months in Russia (1918) and John Reed's more chronologically focused and journalistically inclined Ten Days That Shook the World (1919).

The revolutionary movement stimulated marxist research and bore rich fruit in the pre–World War I period. Subjects barely touched upon by the founders of historical materialism emerged out of the new global capitalism orchestrated by monopoly and threateningly powerful imperialist rivalries. Rudolf Hilferding's Finance Capital (1910) and Otto Bauer's The Nationalities Question and Social Democracy (1907) were both published, like Lenin's book, before their authors reached the age of thirty. They prefigured the concerns of Rosa Luxemburg, whose writings addressed the new regime of capital accumulation and accentuated the role of colonies. Luxemburg's politics breathed a vibrant internationalism and a particular resistance to national parochialism.

But troubling signs as well showed up on the marxist horizon in 1914. The fracturing of the Second International, the working-class organization of marxism at the time of World War I, suggested the powerful challenges to orthodoxy that emerged in this period, detailed in the French marxist Georges Haupt's Socialism and the Great War: The Collapse of the Second International (1972) and in Carl Schorske's German Social Democracy, 1905–1917: The Development of the Great Schism (1955). The Russian Revolution failed to spread to the advanced capitalist economies of the West, and the ground receptive to Stalinist containments was being tilled. One seed was the rise of the international Left Opposition, grouped around Trotsky and later organized in the Fourth International. The scant serious historical self-reflection on marxist theory and history produced in these years, such as Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (1937), emanated from this dissident quarter. The Stalinist Comintern of the interwar years was notable for its mechanical practices and routinization of theory. As Perry Anderson argued in Considerations on Western Marxism (1976), the interwar years and beyond largely saw the relinquishment of historical, economic, and political themes in marxist intellectual production and the replacement of marxist activists at the writing center of historical materialism by university-based scholars of the left. The center of gravity of continental European marxism, in Anderson's metaphor, turned toward philosophy. Certainly the major marxist thought in this period was cultivated among a layer of what Luxemburg and Kautsky dubbed Kathedersozialisten, professorial socialists. From György Lukács to Jean-Paul Sartre, class consciousness was written about more as an aesthetic possibility than as a combative historical process.

Nevertheless, some marxist histories produced in the post-1920 period continued to conjoin the social and the political within a grounding in economic life. Much of this writing was produced by Communist Party (CP) intellectuals, among them the Russian émigré turned English journalist Theodore Rothstein, who wrote From Chartism to Labourism (1929), an important early account of the history of the British working-class movement. Something of a combination of Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth, and Engels, Jürgen Kuczynski authored a multivolume set of short histories of labor conditions in Germany, France, and Great Britain that prefigured, in its range of concerns and attention to periodization, the later approach of Eric J. Hobsbawm. But perhaps the most important marxist history in these interwar years was sustained by two British CP figures, Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr. Dobb returned to the themes of Capital in his Studies in the Development of Capitalism (1947). Torr, in a series of largely party-circulated and often inaccessible publications, many of which were short educational or agitational pieces, stimulated interest and concern about the working class and its movements among a cohort of historians whose formative political years were spent in the struggles for colonial independence, the popular front organizations and cultural milieu of the late 1930s, the battle to defeat fascism both politically and militarily, and the postwar campaigns for peace and nuclear disarmament.


From the mid-century nursery of marxist history's perhaps most celebrated collectivity, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) Historians Group, emerged a contingent of historians later known simply as "the British Marxists." Among others, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Victor Kiernan, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Edward P. Thompson, Dorothy Thompson, John Saville, and a precocious Raphael Samuel, the future founder of History Workshop Journal, literally were schooled in historical research in this informal but highly influential CPGB Historians Group. With economic history as the base, this contingent produced an eclectically rich superstructure of social histories. Individuals associated with this CP historiography of the 1940s and 1950s eventually dominated entire fields of social history and left their interpretive mark on generations of scholarship.

Hill's first book, Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1947), marked his communist commitments but was distanced from his actual area of academic specialization. He rewrote the social, intellectual, cultural, and political history of seventeenth-century England and its varied revolutions, both actual and threatening. Ensconced in the Oxford of All Souls College and Balliol, Hill did much to give marxist history impeccable academic credentials. Relishing the historical moment when his fellow citizens repudiated monarchy and actually took the head of a king, Hill was indefatigable in poring over the sources of his period. He was perhaps at his creative best in the company of the precursors of marxist revolt, the Levellers, Diggers, and Ranters, who confirmed for Hill that class resistance was more of a factor in preindustrial capitalist England than many had acknowledged. In The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (1972), Hill explored the imaginative ideas of social transformation that germinated in the first third of the seventeenth century and were released into public debate in the two decades following the revolution of property of 1640. Over the course of more than fifty years of writing, Hill produced a massive body of research on subjects as varied as images of the Antichrist, John Milton, radical pirates, Oliver Cromwell, the place of the church and various dissident sects, and the socioeconomic shift from Reformation to industrial revolution. Even those not enamored of marxism, such as Lawrence Stone, acknowledged that "the age of Puritan revolution" was regarded by the mid-1960s as "Hill's half-century" and that Hill was one of a few historians who had managed thoroughly to dominate a field.

E. P. Thompson's impact was different but no less significant. Thompson, whose training was originally more in literature than in history, entered the academic world in ways distinctly different from Hill's entry. The unfortunate climate of tightening anticommunism in post-1948 Britain ensured that a younger Thompson did not get the foothold in university life that Hill had established in the late 1930s and the 1940s. Working in adult education, Thompson was active in the post–World War II politics of communism, especially the peace movement of the early 1950s, and later in the 1950s he was decisively antagonistic to the CP hierarchy. Along with Saville, whose work focused on the economic history, institutions, and biography of nineteenth-century labor, Thompson led many historians out of the CP and into the beginnings of the New Left. Their shift preceded developments in the United States by a number of years and had a more disciplined relationship to marxism than the American campus-led upheavals of the mid-1960s. Thompson and Saville became the editors of the New Reasoner, an early journal of socialist humanism that published a number of importantly suggestive forays into the social history of nineteenth-century England.

At precisely this time Thompson wrote his first major book, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (1955), a pioneering and detailed exploration of Morris's marxism and the beginnings of organized socialist agitation in England in the 1880s. Thompson was also at work on The Making of the English Working Class (1964), which was originally conceived as an adult education primer on the history of the labor movement from 1790 to 1945. Led into the sources and complexities of class formation in England, he never got past the period leading up to Chartism, the subject on which his wife, Dorothy Thompson, wrote The Chartists (1984). His conceptualization of class as more than a static category of historical place, mechanically called into being by the dispossession of landed labor and the rise of the steam-powered factory, grew directly out of Thompson's understanding of Stalinism's distortions, both political and intellectual. His book was an engaged attempt to write working-class people and their consciousness of themselves, their aspirations, and their needs back into the history of the industrial revolution. Mainstream economic historians argued that historical progress was marked by rising standards of living measured out in calculations of the "mythical average" diet, wage rate, and housing stock. Certain marxist circles saw proletarianization as a "lawed" process in which working for wages necessarily produced a realization of the need for a working-class revolution directed by the vanguard party. Contradicting those positions, Thompson offered a rich tapestry of crowds and challenging ideas, midnight marches and purposeful machine breaking, radical artisans and the atrocities of child labor.

The fulcrum on which this presentation of experience's diversity balanced was resistance to the new amalgam of state power and the impersonal ordering of laboring life in the mills, factories, mines, and sweated outwork of early-nineteenth-century England. Thompson regarded the accomplishments of England's first workers as a "heroic culture." Polemical and passionate, he humanized history, and his tone was often irreverent and defiant of academic convention, stamping The Making of the English Working Class as perhaps the most influential radical social history produced in the last half of the twentieth century. Indeed a Thompsonian sensibility to class formation became an understood position within labor history by the 1970s and 1980s, and few histories of the working class in any national context written in the last two decades of the century did not engage with Thompson in some way.

Thompson next branched out in many directions, but most importantly for social history he produced a series of controversial, stimulating, and broadly researched essays on time and work discipline, the bread riot, and folkloric customs, such as charivari, or rough music, and the wife sale. Their completion was delayed by Thompson's physically exacting immersion in the campaign for nuclear disarmament in the late 1970s and 1980s. Eventually published in Customs in Common (1991), these studies refocused attention on the layered meanings of plebeian life in preindustrial capitalist settings. At pains to read the recorded histories of common experience against their often class-biased grain, Thompson discovered reservoirs of adaptation and forms of resistance that previous historians, including himself, had dismissed because they were reported with the nonchalance, even hostility, of "superior" classes. Thus the wife sale was less a brutal and misogynist practice of the degraded patriarchy of the lower classes, as depicted in Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and countless folkloric accounts, than it was a reciprocal recognition of the breakdown of a domestic union in an epoch that allowed the poor no access to divorce. If it bore the trappings of a patriarchal order, it nevertheless sustained mutual decision making and goodwill among laboring people that were statements of the human resources those people brought to the changing conditions of their times. Thompson indeed moved away from marxism as he finished his studies of eighteenth-century plebeian cultures. In his imaginative account of William Blake, commenced in the 1960s but not published until 1993, at which point Thompson was dying, he confessed that, while he thought himself a "Muggletonian marxist" in 1968, he had subsequently come to have less certainty about both halves of this coupling. His writing nevertheless sustained sensibilities and attachments, especially to the radical resistance to the abuses of property's power, that were not unrelated to the origins of Thompson's histories in communist scholarship in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Thompson's strengths as a historian were never in the realm of economic history, which he felt others in the Historians Group were more capable of developing. In pushing his studies back in time from the industrial revolution and the 1790s to the earlier eighteenth century and before, Thompson addressed popular culture during the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Marxist historians, led by Rodney Hilton, had in fact pioneered important studies of this transition, stimulating one of the most significant interpretive debates in the social and economic history of Europe. In Marx's writing the transition from feudalism to capitalism was posed ambivalently, placing accents first on the corrosive influence of mercantile activity and later on changing relations of production. Precisely because of that ambivalence, marxist histories debated the origins of capitalism, forcing mainstream historiography onto the terrain of marxist analysis. In the 1950s, in the first phase of this exchange, Paul Sweezy and Maurice Dobb adopted, respectively, the exchange and property-production positions. Their contentions led to series of essays in the American academic marxist journal, Science and Society, as well as a pivotal statement in the British publication Past and Present, a forum less tied to the Communist Party and more open to marxist-liberal dialogue.


The transition debate revived in the 1970s, witnessing significant marxist and nonmarxist interchange. Perry Anderson's Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974), which addressed state formation at the interface of Dobb, Sweezy, and an eclectic reading of nonmarxist historiography, prefaced this analytic cross-fertilization. But the critical challenge to marxist understandings of the transition came, by the 1970s, from neo-Malthusian scholarship that placed increasing emphasis on the demographically driven factors that influenced capitalism's emergence out of feudalism. Important reflections of that scholarship emerged in marxist social histories of family formation, of which the most compelling and elegant example in English was the two-volume statement by Wally Seccombe, A Millennium of Family Change: Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe (1992) and Weathering the Storm: Working-Class Families from the Industrial Revolution to the Fertility Decline (1993). In two highly influential articles responding to the new debate, Robert Brenner put forth, with panache and analytic sweep, a resolutely marxist presentation of agrarian class structure in preindustrial Europe, taking a critical approach to what he called neo-Smithian marxism. Brenner in turn stimulated responses from many quarters. Originally published in Past and Present between 1976 and 1982, they were collected by T. H. Aston and C. H. E. Philpin in The Brenner Debate (1985). Brenner became associated with a structural appreciation of the class and property relations school of marxist history in terms of this debate over the relationship of feudalism's dissolution and capitalism's rise. Ironically he later explored the mercantile and political sides of precapitalist experience in his powerfully detailed Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Confict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550–1653 (1993).

Like Brenner, Hobsbawm produced wide-ranging marxist histories difficult to pigeonhole. One of his earliest writings was an analytic tour de force of direct relevance to the transition debate. In a two-part Past and Present (1954) article that attempted to address the crisis of the seventeenth century, Hobsbawm explored why the industrial revolution did not proceed directly from the contradictions of sixteenth-century feudalism but stalled for a century, albeit in ways that provided the primitive accumulations necessary for capital's future explosive growth. A cosmopolitan intellect who, unlike most other communist historians, did not break from the CPGB in 1956, Hobsbawm was at home in many countries. His work was driven by an internationalism and a range that established him as an authority on bandits and primitive rebels, peasant revolts, the labor aristocracy, the new unionism of the late nineteenth century, and virtually all aspects of the histories of socialism. In his later years he turned increasingly to the production of sweeping syntheses of European and world history that gave comprehensive accounts of the modern world from the eighteenth century forward. Two collections of essays, Labouring Men (1964) and Workers: Worlds of Labor (1984), comprise something of a guidebook to the concerns of the social history of the working class as it developed from the 1960s to the 1980s. A fine critic and connoisseur of jazz as well as a regular commentator on public events, Hobsbawm was marxist history's Renaissance man.

Indeed the range of the British Marxist historians was striking. Kiernan wrote histories of imperialism and orientalism and treatments of Shakespeare and the romantics. Marxist historians, unlike their mainstream counterparts, rarely confined themselves to a resolutely narrow area of specialization. (Hill was something of an exception.) No other national culture produced a body of marxist historians of comparable range and depth. Hobsbawm, for instance, collaborated with George Rudé, whose histories of crowds and popular revolt in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France and England linked him to the impressive marxist historians of the French Revolution, headed by Albert Soboul.


The class content of the world's most decisive bourgeois revolution, the French transformation unleashed with the events of 1789, had long been a staple of radical socialist thought. François-Alphonse Aulard, Jean-Joseph Jaurès, and Albert Mathiez wrote histories of the economic determinations of this broadly social revolution, and Georges Lefebvre's important studies, including The Coming of the French Revolution, 1789 (1947) and The Great Fear of 1789 (1973), were illustrative of the social histories of the popular classes that began seriously in the 1940s and 1950s. As a chronicler of the urban menu peuple (petty people), Soboul wrote first of the Parisian sansculottes and eventually offered a comprehensive two-volume study, The French Revolution, 1787–1799 (1974). Soboul and others in France rarely moved out of the focused appreciation of their specific subject matter. The detailed researches of Lefebvre and Soboul stimulated an evocative historical narrative that meshed well with national pride, producing the irony of a marxist interpretation of a bourgeois revolution attaining the status, for a time, of an "official" history within a bourgeois society.

Of course other marxist histories existed in France. Among them were some internationally acclaimed works of labor history, including studies by two influential women scholars, Rolande Trempé's Les mineurs de Carmaux (1971) and Michelle Perrot's Workers on Strike: France, 1871–1890 (1987); studies of popular iconography, such as Maurice Agulhon's Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789–1880 (1981); and rich tapestries of local experience, of which John Merriman's The Red City: Limoges and the French Nineteenth Century (1985), is a prime example. But if French marxists produced invaluable and influential works, their interpretive marxist eggs were generally concentrated in one basket. When new trends of historiography challenged the social analysis of the French Revolution, it was relatively easy for a focused mainstream criticism to appear successful in breaking the lot. In the 1980s and 1990s a revived antimarxist historiography of the French Revolution largely displaced the class-based analysis associated with Soboul. The British Marxists have been somewhat more resilient precisely because their collective and collaborative work has been wide-ranging.


Soviet and Chinese historiography in this period was largely formulaic and made few breakthroughs of an innovative sort in the realm of European social history. Because its purpose was to serve the Marxist-Leninist state, it tended to be polemical in nature, railing against inaccuracies and misinterpretations that routinely appeared in Western historical writing. On the whole marxist historians in the postrevolutionary states produced official Marxist-Leninist histories that served well the orthodoxies of the Communist Party. As a consequence social histories like those generated by the dissident communists in Great Britain did not appear in China or the Soviet Union, and accounts of the Russian Revolution, of necessity reproducing a specific Stalinist version of historical process, never broke out of mechanical molds. Among the most useful products were anthologies of documents, such as Y. V. Kovalev's An Anthology of Chartist Literature (1956). In a rare synthetic statement by an East German historian, Andreas Dorpalen presented an analytic sweep across centuries of the central European past in German History in Marxist Perspective: The East German Approach (1985).

Useful social histories of specific countries and the major left-wing upheavals associated with them are abundant. For Austria the divergent approaches to the history of socialism characteristic of the 1950s, when political history was more in vogue, and the 1990s, when social history's ascendance was a decade old, are evident in two texts: Joseph Buttinger's In the Twilight of Socialism: A History of the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria (1953) and Helmut Gruber's Red Vienna: Experiment in Working-Class Culture, 1919–1934 (1991). The history of European socialism is the subject of Donald Sassoon's massive study, One Hundred Years of Socialism: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century (1996). Specific episodic struggles, such as the Spanish Civil War, have also received extensive treatment. Pierre Broué and Émile Témime's The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (1972), a Marxist-Trotksyist overview, is heavily institutional and political in its treatment, while Burnett Bolloten's The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution (1991) is unparalleled in its detail. The most succinct marxist account of the events in Spain in the 1930s, Felix Morrow's Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain (1936) is a product of Trotskyist perspectives. In her appreciation of gender, anarchism, and popular culture, Temma Kaplan, in Anarchists of Andalusia, 1868–1903 (1977) and Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso's Barcelona (1992), captures something of the concerns of social history in the 1980s and 1990s by giving attention to women, the representational realm, and sociopolitical mobilizations of resistance.


Kaplan's gendered approach exposed the long-standing presence of what Claire LaVigna called in her title "The Marxist Ambivalence toward Women" (1978). While the "woman question" was indeed addressed in marxist histories and movements, it was subordinate to more class-based priorities, as suggested in Barbara Taylor's exploration of the importance of gender in early utopian socialism and the demise of its centrality with the rise of the "scientific" school associated with Marx and Engels. But marxist explorations of the woman question seldom moved much beyond Engels's The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), which is overly reliant on the nonmarxist anthropology of Lewis H. Morgan. Not until so-called second wave feminism, one sustaining feature of which was the broad-ranging marxist approach in Simone de Beauvoir's pathbreaking The Second Sex (1949), did a revived socialist feminism produce histories sensitive to the complexities of women's experiences. Sheila Rowbotham was a major voice in this undertaking. Her A Century of Women: The History of Women in Britain and the United States in the Twentieth Century (1997) is a detailed look at women's place in twentieth-century Britain and the United States, a history of inequality in the political, economic, and social realms that produced struggles for the vote, equal pay, and reproductive rights.


Marxism's intersection with social history thus has been wide-ranging and highly influential, if at times constricting in what it seemed able to address. It has nevertheless actually charted particular spheres of study, such as important realms of the debate over the nature and meaning of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. In other areas, most obviously labor history but also particular chronological periods and topics, such as the English revolutions of the seventeenth century or the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century, marxist histories achieved, for a time at least, interpretive hegemony. The concerns of marxist histories always have been a fusion of the economic, the political, and the sociocultural. Hill, for example, believed that all history was intellectual history, but this did not prevent him from writing on matters that blurred distinctions between the material and the cultural, a crossover that produced or at least illuminated the social. It is inconceivable that European social history from the Renaissance to the modern period could have developed historiographically without the insights of marxist perspectives.

Equally important, marxist approaches highlighted for all historians—conservatives, radicals, feminists, and liberals—significant themes in the historical process. Those themes include the relationships of economic life and social being; the appreciation of large-scale socioeconomic transformation and the making of class, gender, and national-ethnic identities; and the importance of "totality" in historical process and the reciprocity of mercantile, landed, protoindustrial, and capitalist relations in the emergence of the modern world. Indeed marxist histories stimulated and enlivened social history, assuring it a measure of intellectual tenacity by forcing reconsiderations and new appreciations of large issues. State formation, the subject of a stimulating synthetic statement by Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer that bridged the medieval and the modern, is one such area that marxist approaches have reinvigorated. It is impossible to think of social history in the 1990s, for instance, without acknowledging the weight of Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, not so much because of the persuasiveness of its research and argument, which have been contested, but rather because of its tone, vision, and sensibilities. This feel for a new kind of history, which became the enduring attraction of "the social," was not the monopoly of the marxists, but they contributed mightily toward it. Consequently marxist histories affected the changing balance of historical thought as much as they grew out of the material circumstances and internal debates, polemics, and ruptures of the marxist movement itself.

The marxist movement was never a monolith, and sociopolitical and intellectual histories of marxism in the European past mark an evolution of uncommon diversity. The major early political studies of the marxist First and Second Internationals, including A. Müller Lehning's The International Association, 1855–1859: A Contribution to the Preliminary History of the First International (1938) and James Joll's The Second International, 1889–1914 (1974), were later complemented by national surveys and specific accounts of particular countries in restricted chronological periods, many written by nonmarxists. Among these Tony Judt's Marxism and the French Left: Studies in Labour and Politics in France, 1830–1981 (1986) is notable for its breadth, and Gerald H. Meaker's The Revolutionary Left in Spain, 1914–1923 (1974) sets the stage well for an appreciation of the momentous conflicts of the civil war of the 1930s. The Italian communist experience proved fertile ground for a marxist engagement with the national question, especially acute in a country economically, socially, culturally, and politically fractured. The "southern question" preoccupied major marxist thinkers, such as Antonio Labriola and Antonio Gramsci.

Germany's unique politics of Nazism stimulated significant marxist engagements, such as those of Tim Mason, in which social histories of class intersect with the politics of a disturbing defeat of the left and open out into histories of class acquiescence and subterranean resistance. British communism's eclectic origins in religious dissent, the autodidact Labour Colleges, the meeting of Lib-Lab consciousness, Fabianism, trade unionism, and the mythological power of the Russian Revolution have been appreciated by marxist historians, such as Raphael Samuel and Stuart Macintyre, while marxist explorations of various aspects of the Labour Party have sustained important intellectual engagements. The peculiarities of Scandinavian socialism have generated equal interest. In the nation-states won to marxism out of the dissolutions of World War II and through the contradictory "liberations" of Joseph Stalin's Red Army, marxism as a social movement was suffocated at its potential birth, leaving it deformed and awaiting its overthrowers, the most illustrious of whom would appear, to Western eyes, to be Lech Walesa and Poland's labor movement Solidarność (Solidarity).

No unity congeals this ongoing relation of social change and the dissenting tradition, but it is impossible to consider European history without addressing the marxist presence. No sooner had communism fallen in 1989, with marxism proclaimed dead and history and ideology supposedly at their end, than marxist ideas and movements began to reemerge out of the seeming wasteland of Stalinist decay. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, marxist thought and communist political organizations were down but certainly not out. The ills of capitalism—increasing economic inequality and its manifold oppressions and destabilizing violence—remained very much in evidence, especially in the new, wildly erratic, and wartorn frontier of acquisitive individualism's market economies, Russia and its former eastern European satellites.

Marxist histories, as the site of new understandings of the social and as the lived experience of mobilizations attempting to transform society and politics, have greatly influenced European history. Their intellectual, cultural, economic, and social meanings have been profound, and, although their future at the turn of the century was perhaps more clouded than at any time in the previous hundred years, they have remained a force to reckon with.

See alsoCapitalism and Commercialization; Communism (volume 2);Social Class; Working Classes; Collective Action; Revolutions; Labor History: Strikes and Unions (volume 3).


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