Marxism and social movements


Marxism, as a theory, grew out of social movement struggles and was intended to contribute to them, yet social movements research largely ignores or caricatures Marxism while much academic Marxism is heavily fixated on structure, failing to think systematically about collective agency. My thesis Building counter culture: the radical praxis of social movement milieux returned to the Marxist classics, the British Marxist historians and early Cultural Studies for resources to remedy this; since then I have been working and reworking the essay “Gramsci in Mayo: a Marxist perspective on social movements in Ireland”. A book chapter on social movements and culture from a western Marxist perspective is available here.

A long-term collaboration with Alf Gunvald Nilsen worked on a systematic Marxist account of social movements, which has recently been published as We make our own history: Marxism and social movements in the twilight of neoliberalism, now also published in Indian and South African editions. A video and transcript of the London book launch – at Historical Materialism with Colin Barker, Subir Sinha and Lesley Wood – is now online; the visuals aren’t great but the sound is good. Much the same can be said for my presentation at the Collège d’Etudes Mondiales for the ISA’s research committee on social movements, online here. The Dublin launch at Connolly Books – with John Bissett, Andrew Flood, Margaret Gillan and Fergal Finnegan – is audio only, perhaps just as well… You can also view a Prezi given to the European University Institute’s COSMOS research centre.

Alf and I have published a series of short pieces related to the book, looking at neoliberalism as a social movement from above (E-International Relations), social movements against neoliberalism (Discover Society), Marxism as a theory from and for social movements (Pluto Press blog), reasons for the argument that neoliberalism has entered its twilight phase (OpenDemocracy and Theorie und Praxis), resisting the pessimism that can only see structural juggernauts (Reflections on a Revolution), a 3-part series for Ceasefire discussing if we are in a revolutionary wave globally (here, here and here; see also this paper), and a 3-part series for Progress in Political Economy here, here and here). Meanwhile, a couple of talks Alf gave for a KwaZulu-Natal launch at Ike’s Books and for Rhodes’ UHURU centre went viral on

The book has been reviewed by Pete Dolack for Counterpunch and Systemic Disorder, by Chris Gunderson for Interface, by Bill Carroll for Socialist Studies, by Andrew Rowcroft for Marx and Philosophy, by Andreas Bieler on Trade Unions and Global Restructuring, by Andy Mathers in Social Movement Studies, and by Asbjørn Wahl for Radikalportal and Øyvind Hansen for tidsskriftet rødt (both in Norwegian) along with a range of book mentions (notably Mark Perryman in Socialist Unity) and a couple of hostile reviews (Sheila Cohen in Tribune, Chris Nineham in Counterfire) – to a certain kind of English old leftist if you say “social movement” it seems that you are automatically opposed to discussing working-class struggles, political organisation and so on. (Needless to say the book discusses both, but perhaps not in the way all comrades would like.) Rather wonderfully for those with a sense of the ironies of history, a Portuguese translation of Chris Nineham’s Trotskyist critique was carried by the website of…

At the same time a dialogue with Colin Barker led to a discussion about the weaknesses of academic social movement theory and ultimately (with Colin, Alf and John Krinsky) to the edited collection Marxism and social movements, which aims to demonstrate the “reality and power, the this-worldliness” of Marxist thinking in practice. This has been reviewed by Mark Bergfeld for the Oxford Left Review, by Andreas Bieler on his Trade Unions and Global Restructuring blog, by Arnab Chowdhury for the Asian Journal of Social Science, by Puneet Dhaliwal for Ceasefire, by Cherine Hussein for Peacebuilding, by Peyman Jafari for the Tijdschrift voor Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis (in English), by Karen McCallum for Human Geography, by Andreas Ytterstad for Radikalportal (in Norwegian), by Chris Gunderson for Social Movement Studies, by Christina Heatherton for Interface, by Leo Zeilig for the International Socialism Journal, and discussed in review essays by Stefan Berger for Moving the Social  and by Elaine Coburn for Socialist Studies. Other reviews exist behind paywalls (Michael Roberts for Mobilization) or only in hardcopy (Patrick Burke for the Centre for the Study of Democracy Bulletin, Dietmar Lange for Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung) – not to forget the inevitable SWP critique (Marnie Holborow in Irish Marxist Review).

Sample chapters from the book can be found online here (introduction), here (Alf), here (Elizabeth Humphrys and Colin Barker), here (Alf and me), and here (me). There is a podcast of a London meeting about the book with Colin Barker and Neil Davidson online here and a video of a debate between contributor Jeff Goodwin and methodological individualist James Jasper here. Marxism and social movements paperback