Socialism: Modern Hopes, Postmodern Shadows

Peter Beilharz. Handbook of Social Theory. Editor: George Ritzer & Barry Smart. 2001. Sage Publication.

Socialism, today, may seem to be part of the past; perhaps this is necessarily so. To begin to consider the arguments involved across various socialisms as social theory already means to begin to break up these firm, if imaginary distinctions between past, present and future. For if the socialist traditions often think back, they also necessarily reach forward. Socialism is one central trend in the critique of modernity, for socialism rests on the image of modernity as it is and as it might be. Its main strength has been its capacity to call out the critique of the present by comparing it with senses of pasts and distinct possible futures, or else by comparing innovative experiences in some times and places with more routine achievements elsewhere. Socialism thus functions as critique, via utopia; and at the end of the twentieth century we might conclude that it works better in this critical register than as a politics aimed at the possession of state power. Socialism is, as Zygmunt Bauman puts it, the counter-culture of modernity (Bauman, 1976, 1982). Into the millennium, the presence of socialism may be more discernible as a culture than as a politics. In this broader sense socialist argument replays various claims and counter-claims associated with modernity and critique via Romanticism and Enlightenment. Both rural and urban, modern and anti-modern, socialist theory remains the alter ego of capitalism (Beilharz, 1994b). Thus socialism runs parallel arguments to many of capitalism’s claims, including its obsession with economy and, into the middle of the twentieth century, with the state. Similarly socialism runs a dialogue of its own with America and Americanism as the putative model and future of modernity.

To begin, it is important to register two historical facts. First, socialism has a history, a plurality of traditions across place and time. Second, the fact that Marxism comes to dominate socialism does not mean that the two are identical. Socialism has a history; of which Marxism is a part. Socialism precedes, and postdates Marxism (see generally Sassoon, 1996). These facts raise other issues, such as the extraordinary power of local cultures, to the extent that, for example, some communist traditions remain far more deeply marked by local stories than by the grand narratives of Soviet Marxism (Beilharz, 1994a; Davidson, 1982; Tiersky, 1983; Touraine et al., 1987).

Socialism as a social theory coincides not only with the radical aspirations of the French Revolution but also with the earliest reactions against the Industrial Revolution. Arguably there are two streams of development. Socialist argument has a local, practical current which emerges into the 1830s and emphasizes cooperation, contrasting socialism to individualism and hoping for a maintenance of the older orders and habits against modernization (Bauman, 1982; Wright, 1986). It also has an intellectual, or middle-class stream which incorporates these local insights often into more ambitious schemes or hopes for the future. Robert Owen and Charles Fourier were earlier representatives of this intellectual stream, which really comes into its own with Marx, where for the first time the socialist project becomes a property dispute between warring intellectuals. Marxism in a sense abducts socialism, but especially after 1917, when the Bolsheviks pin the Marxist flag to their own attempt to seize power and construct the socialist order in the Soviet Union. Socialism consequently is identified with Marxism and with the Soviet and subsequent claimed socialist roads from China to Cuba and elsewhere into the Third World. Marxism thus becomes an ideology itself, and sacrifices its capacity to criticize the present.

Does this mean, however, that socialism can only ever be a negative or oppositional trend? The point for any consideration of socialism as social theory is that politics and critique do not get on well together, at least when it comes to state power. But this obsession with the state came late, discernibly into the interwar period of the twentieth century. Socialism is often identified with statism, but this is misleading. The earliest socialists like Owen and Fourier favoured the local level of analysis and viewed cooperation or self-management as crucial, and Marx follows them in this; even Marx’s greatest work, Capital itself, presents its theoretical object at the level of the capitalist factory, and the socialist regime of associated producers as its alternative. Early socialists worked more at the level of the exemplary politics of the commune than at the level of large-scale organization, and again Marx follows them in this, for he fails to bridge intellectually the gap between the individual factory and the globalized world-system. Local socialism thus historically coincides with the idea that small is beautiful, and thus reveals the power of its own romanticism or anti-modernism. For it is only with the work of Weber, Simmel and Durkheim in different ways that sociologists centre upon scale and complexity as irreversible features of modern social organization. Marx’s social theory is still guided by the spirit of Rousseau, in that problems of scale and complexity are largely withered away. This is exactly what motivates later turns to market socialism in Eastern Europe, and marketism, say, with the later work of Alec Nove: the recognition that markets deal better with scale than bureaucracies do (see, for example, Nove, 1983).

Socialists from the beginning, then, are active in dispute as to whether socialism involves more progress or modernity or less. Some, like Saint-Simon, anticipate Durkheim in presuming that socialism will be modern or it will not be at all, presuming therefore in this that socialism is a state of affairs to be achieved rather than an ethic or an attitude. Marx’s own work indicates the shift from romanticism to modernism. Others dug in on different positions. Thus Ferdinand Tnnies’ incredibly influential defence of community, Gemeinschaft, versus association, or Gesellschaft, was a leading example of the romantic socialist case, where socialism was the opposite of everything that capitalism indicated—size, mobility, speed, rootlessness, restlessness, dirt, promiscuous sex, legalism, money and contract, and urban frenzy (Tnnies, [1887] 1974). Tnnies’ views in turn called out Durkheim’s modernist socialism in The Division of Labour in Society (1893) and in his Bordeaux lectures on socialism (1894-5), where Durkheim sends Rousseau and Tönnies back to the eighteenth century and insists instead that the idea of the whole Romantic personality be replaced by the expanded solidarity afforded by industrialism.

Today we forget that Durkheim and Tönnies were both socialists, and this is one reason why we fail sufficiently to think of socialism as a social theory. Perhaps the more explicitly recognized period dispute here was that between William Morris and Edward Bellamy, whose competing images of the socialist future clearly indicate corresponding critiques of the present and social theories appropriate to their understanding. Bellamy published his sleeper wakes novel, Looking Backward, in 1888. Constructed against the image of capitalist waste and disorganization, Bellamy posited the image of socialism as highly organized, without friction, and in effect militarized, nationalized, well-fed, fit and, to our eyes, grey (Bellamy, [1888] 1989). William Morris hit the roof at this philistine good news, and wrote in return ‘News from Nowhere,’ an explicitly rural, Thames Valley utopia where modernity was not celebrated but pushed away, small was beautiful and beauty was central to the quality of living, as Ruskin before him had insisted (Morris, [1890] 1962).

The history of socialisms since has worked this contradiction, among others, between the sense that the idea of socialism involved more modernity, or less. The significance of Marx’s work here emerges most fully, for it covers both aspects, a fact which his followers generally avoided. Marx offers at least five images of utopia. To track them is to witness Marx’s own embrace of modernity as industrialism, or his transition from green to grey. The Marx known to us in the English language from the 1960s was different to the Marx of the Soviets. The extraordinary efflorescence of Marxism into the 1970s involved a humanist phase, manoeuvred by the 1844 Manuscripts, followed by a structuralist moment led by Louis Althusser. But in the 1960s the Marx for today was deeply romantic in spirit, more in tune with Schiller’s lament for human fragmentation than Levi-Strauss’ science of the human mind. The great Marx of the period was the Marx set against alienation, implying a wholeness and authenticity which capitalism had destroyed, making it necessary to destroy the Destroyer in turn. The utopia implicit in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts was one of guild labour, where the medieval connotations denied the very idea of the division of labour. Marx put a Fourier spin on this in the famous passage in The German Ideology (1845), where the good society, playfully pictured, would involve hunting, herding, fishing and criticism—a horticultural life, not a smokestack in sight (Beilharz, 1992: 7-8). All this changes across the period that Marx leaves the green of the Rhine for the dirt of Dean Street and the British Museum. His subsequent images of utopia evoke automation, and the trade off between boredom and free time in the Grundrisse (1857-8), and the self-managed factory in the third volume of Capital. A fifth possible utopia is glimpsed in Marx’s correspondence with his Russian admirers into the 1870s, where Marx allows the dispensation that communal socialism might still be feasible in Russia (Beilharz, 1992: 11).

Marx, of course, denied utopia, but dealt in it every day of his life, again, necessarily so. For his purpose was to show, at first, that capitalism was a blot on the natural landscape, and then, later, that it was not the only possible way to organize modernity or industrialism. Marx’s social theory remains central not only because of its critical power and influence, but because of its capacity to contain this contradiction as it coincides with the progressive entrenchment of industrialism. The young Marx, like Owen and Fourier, can still imagine that industrialism is reversible. By Capital (1867), the realization has changed; already in The Communist Manifesto (1848) this other modernist stream is apparent, that the real challenge is to harness the forces of production to popular need. But there are other transformations across Marx’s work as well. One is powerfully apparent in the 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, where Marx makes plain his substitution of political economy for the earlier, Hegelian curiosity about civil society. This is a landmark in the history of Marxism, for it indicates plainly that henceforth Marxism’s concern is within political economy itself. Marx and subsequent Marxists became the wizards of economic analysis, predicting capitalist breakdown, falling profit rates and inevitable proletarian revolution. This logical turn away from politics or culture within Marxism was not to be remedied until the later appearance of Antonio Gramsci. Culture and politics became epiphenomenal, within Marxism, the result of economics rather than realms in their own right. Socialism became a result of capitalism, as classes had their interests inscribed into them by the structural relationship of exploitation between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Marxists spent their lives trying to work out why the proletariat failed to live up to these projections, rather than wondering about the logic or interests of the projectors themselves. As later critics such as Castoriadis and Baudrillard would put it, Marxists were neither historical nor materialist and were not revolutionary but messianic; they had succumbed to their own mirrors of production (Baudrillard, 1975; Castoriadis, 1987).

Marxisms proliferated after Marx, not least with the political success of the Bolsheviks. The diversity of Marxisms did not generally acknowledge the diversity in Marx’s own work, partly because it was unknown, and remained so until the Marx renaissance of the 1960s. Marx’s influence touched his contemporaries, but Marxism did not take off as a political force until its institutionalization by the German Social Democrats closer to the turn of the century. Certainly Marx influenced those with whom he came into creative contact, such as William Morris, though the content of Morris’ socialism, sometimes referred to as his Marxism, was also thoroughly local. Romantic and technologically sensitive by turns, Morris was made to look like Marx because both insisted on the necessity of revolution. But revolution was not the property of Marxism, even if gradualism or enthusiasm for reform was the more common attitude among English socialists.

Marxism emerged as the ideology and theory of the first mass political party, the German Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD became widely known as a kind of counter-society or state within the Prussian state. Its greatest strength also proved to be its greatest weakness; its ghetto-nature made it vulnerable to the Nazis on their road to power after 1933, and its own messianism fed into the fatalistic slogan of the German Communists, ‘first Hitler, then us.’ Marx’s legacy had left unresolved the exact question of how socialism would emerge. Would it automatically follow the collapse of socialism? Would it, instead, be the conscious result of self-organized activity? Or would it, as the 1859 Preface implied, involve some combination of these, where the correct economic conjuncture would call out the appropriate political intervention? Marx’s inattention to the theory of politics left the question of the party unresolved, or absent. Marx’s party, like Rosa Luxemburg’s, looked like the whole working class. Only classes did not act, as such, so that political representation became necessary. Modernity caught Marx napping, together with Rousseau. The Bolsheviks closed this political hiatus by inserting themselves into it as the combat, vanguard party. The German Social Democrats set out practically to make another culture, working in general on the sense of maturational reformism—sooner or later, socialism would come, whether out of crisis or a gradual growing over, whether by electoral means or collapse.

The larger political legacy of Marxism left a dual possibility, reform or revolution. In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels had sketched out a ten-point, minimum programme of reforms; yet their tougher stance, outlined by Marx in the penultimate chapter of Capital, clearly indicated that socialism would arrive through revolutionary apocalypse. The German Social Democrats grew apart on the basis of this split. Some, like Eduard Bernstein, came to view socialism as a project of citizenship to be achieved by civilizing capitalism. Others, like Karl Kautsky, were happy to combine revolutionary rhetoric with reformist activity, while others again, such as Rosa Luxemburg, wanted to adjust reformist reality to fit revolutionary theory (Beilharz, 1992).

The SPD turned Marxism into catechism so that its rank and file members would have the revolutionary science at its fingertips. Marxist dogma insisted that the two basic classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, would dichotomize until the vast majority of the working masses would bump off the capitalists. The ‘Bernstein Controversy’ over reform versus revolution involved two distinct issues; one, whether reformism was to be preferred, and two, whether Marxism must be revised in order to register this political recognition theoretically (Beilharz, 1992; Steger, 1996,1997). Was Marxisma set of axioms, beyond challenge, or was it a method of analysis open to necessary revision? The process in which Marxism became an ideology also involved its consolidation into scholastics. This is one of the clearest of historical cases in which a social theory intended to help explain and even change the world becomes an impediment to these processes. Marxism became, especially in the hands of Kantsky, a general theory of social evolution where each mode of production emerged triumphantly out of its precedent. Kautsky set these formulae out in The Class Struggle (1895), an unrepentantly modernist text, where all that is missing from capitalism’s industrial achievement is the crown of socialization. Kautsky therefore set out to prove that all would become proletarians, peasants included, before the bourgeoisie could simply be shown the door. At the same time, it was Kautsky who insisted that left to their own resources, the workers would never achieve more than trade union or economistic consciousness, so they would always need good theoretical leaders like himself. Lenin agreed, and built an ideology on this view in What is to Be Done (1902). Kautsky eventually came to the opposite conclusion after 1917, like Bernstein, arguing that history could not be forced.

In effect Bernstein and Kautsky formed a long-term intellectual alliance, as Bernstein continued the Marxian impulse of reforms in the ten-point programme while Kautsky carried on the revolutionary rhetoric of Capital. Bernstein’s position was closer to the ethics of Kantianism or new liberalism, while Kautsky’s sociology shifted in the direction of a Weberian Marxism in his 1930 magnum opus, The Materialist Conception of History.

Max Weber had taken sides with Bernstein, however, in preferring revision as the normal attitude for social science and theory. Kautsky, for his part, agreed with Weber that specialization was our fate, and therefore that modernity would overdetermine socialism rather than the other way around. Lenin’s utopia, best formally revealed in State and Revolution (1916) still sought a new world characterized by simplicity rather than adjusting to complexity, something of a contradiction given the driving modernism which otherwise characterizes his work. When it comes to Bolshevism and the massive shadow which it casts over the twentieth century, it is Lenin who is dominant as actor but Trotsky who is the imposing theorist. What was Bolshevism, as a social theory? Like other streams of socialism, Bolshevism is plural and its paths were many, though Lenin and Trotsky still stand out, together with Bukharin, to Lenin’s right and Preobrazhensky, to Trotsky’s left. Lenin’s theoretical writing is more occasional, and less systematic than Trotsky’s. Lenin in a sense combines Luxemburg’s desire to radicalize practice with a kind of pragmatism which values political expediency above all else. Unlike Luxemburg, Lenin was always a Jacobin, for whom one wise man was worth a hundred fools. His ultra utopia in State and Revolution combines the putative libertarianism of ‘all cooks can govern’ with the grim insistence that the practical model for socialism would be the post office. This futuristic or modernizing scenario stands in contrast to Lenin’s other views of the prospect of socialism, which tend to be populist and rural or at least based upon the idea that Soviet socialism will remain agrarian and not only industrial. Lenin dreamed of extending direct democracy into Soviet experience, but the challenges of modernization without democracy became overwhelming (Arnason, 1993; Beilharz, 1992). While his final utopia looked more distinctly Maoist, accommodating Russian agrarian realities rather than forcing them, Lenin’s high Bolshevik utopia was something more like the image of German capitalism, symbolized by Americanism ascendant. Like Trotsky, Lenin’s belief that the success of the Russian Revolution depended on the German Revolution was not merely strategic, or even economic; Lenin viewed the ‘organized capitalism’ analysed by Hilferding to be the basic model for Soviet modernization (Beilharz, 1992: 24). Lenin’s model of socialism as modernity was something like capitalism without democracy, or with the lure of an impossible, direct democracy held over it by the Bolsheviks. Its political logic remains populist, in that it pits the people against their exploiters and renders the alternative exploiters—the Bolsheviks—invisible in the process.

Lenin’s response to various failures and setbacks was to introduce the New Economic Policy, which in 1921 recognized the status quo as the framework for future Soviet efforts. Trotsky, in contrast, accepted NEP with hesitance, for his model of socialism had always been industrialist and modernizing. Trotsky’s was a Faustian Bolshevism, one prepared even to risk life and limb for the thrill, the prospect of even glimpsing what men and technology could do. Trotsky hoped not merely to follow the Germans and Americans, but to outdo them, not least through developing enthusiasms for the principles of Taylorism and scientific management. Americanized Bolshevism—that was the way forward (Beilharz, 1992: 30). Anything is possible—this is the motivation; the rational mastery of nature, and thereby of humanity itself, this is the canvas. Trotsky’s impulse is a kind of developmental romanticism, where the frenzy of creation reaches out into the sublime.

The image of socialism in the Bolshevik tradition thus disperses across a spectrum, even if we consider Lenin and Trotsky alone, from a modest hope of feeding people on the one extreme to the project of endlessly reconstructing the world, on the other. The futurism of Trotsky embodies something of the productivism, or obsession with technology, which becomes characteristic of Marxism into the twentieth century. Socialism becomes a matter of harnessing the best of capitalist technology to what are claimed to be more benign ends. The line back to Marx is plain: if abundance is the practical precondition of socialism, then socialism becomes another way of doing capitalism, or at least another form of organising capitalist technology. The producer, or more specifically the proletarian, becomes not only the subject of history but also the citizen; and his incapacity to rule as well as to produce at the same time quietly keeps the Bolsheviks in the business of ‘polities.’

Russian radicals had long been divided into localists and westernizers; the distinction was by no means peculiar to Russia. British socialism, too, divided between those who sought more wilfully to return to or to extend the past, and those who sought to modernize it. The conflict between traditionalists and modernizers was acted out in various British sites, not least of them Fabianism. The Fabians became known into the 1930s as progressivists, reformers and statists, sometime apologists for authoritarian regimes or at least for the principles of social engineering which underpinned them. Fabianism began as an alternative life movement, caught up as various European socialisms were in the 1880s with vegetarianism, alternative dress and bicycling (Britain, 1982). Its substantive theoretical impulse came not only from John Stuart Mill and Owen but from Cobbett, Carlyle, Ruskin and indirectly Morris, for whom the old image of England’s green and pleasant land looked more interesting than the prospect of Coketown or the Satanic Mills. The opposition to modernity or civilization became major themes of social criticism across socialisms and kindred positions such as Distributism and Catholic ruralism. More recently, these kinds of issues have been pursued with regard to broader questions of British industrial culture and the residual presence of Romanticism even among the captains of industry (Wiener, 1985). British socialisms have long been more heavily influenced by medieval than modernizing claims and motifs, at least until Wilson and then Blair.

The strongest English variant of medievalism was Guild, or Gild socialism, associated with various theorists such as Sam Hobson and Orage and Penty and The New Age, but defended most ably by G.D.H. Cole, who took its legacy into Fabianism, where it was lost as statism triumphed with the Beveridge Report into the 1940s. The guild socialists viewed utopia as a coalescence of local unions modelled on the medieval guilds, autonomous and capable of holding together the moments of conception and execution or head and hand. The image of society involved would be based on direct democracy, only the producer would remain privileged; after all, Adam Smith’s jibe against trade unions was more accurately addressed to guilds, that they were conspiracies against the public, closed and traditionalistic in the absolute sense. Cole’s early hope was for the federation of these self-governing units, a veritable example of small is beautiful (Wright, 1979). Different local English lineages also claimed that the way back opened the way forward; the ethical or Christian socialism based on the idea of fellowship among men and stewardship of nature led by R.H. Tawney was a major contributor to the labourism associated with the British Labour Party into the 1930s (Wright, 1987).

While Tawney worried about compassion and mutual responsibility, and Cole echoed the early Marx’s enthusiasm for the autonomy of labour, others like the Webbs puzzled over waste and inefficiency. Beatrice and Sidney Webb began from positions closer to liberalism or cooperation, with the added sense of evolutionism associated with the work of Beatrice’s childhood tutor, Herbert Spencer. The idea of evolution alone—progress from lower forms to higher—plainly locates the Webbs on different terrain to that inhabited by the guildists. This point of their mentality was closer to Marx’s, that the development of society made progress possible. Only the Webbs’ image of utopia lacked the monomaniacal developmentalism of Trotsky; their hope was rather to service such a minimum of provision as might enable all to flourish in their interdependence (Beilharz, 1992). Revolutionaries have enjoyed the prospect of casting Fabianism as mere ‘gas and water socialism’; the problems of provision, of health, education and housing nevertheless remain fundamental. Socialism for the Webbs, then, consisted largely in practical terms of reorganizing the wealth that society already possessed. Social problems could be measured, their existence publicized and appropriate reforms enacted to see to their resolution. Social solidarity could be developed upon the emerging patterns of social evolution, so that, as in Durkheim’s view, each would depend on all the rest. All citizens, in this view, would have a place in the division of labour; the middle classes, tempted by their location and tradition to social parasitism, would also need to find their social vocation.

The opposition to social parasitism motivated various different kinds of socialism. Some, like Marx, viewed the bourgeoisie as implicitly parasitic, or without social function. Others, like Lenin, viewed aristocrats, fat capitalists or coupon-clippers as parasites; for the Webbs, it was middle-class folks lacking in social conscience who were parasites, at least until they took up the cause of reform. For others, like Lenin and Trotsky, again the kulaks or rich peasants became the enemy. And for socialists and radicals of anti-semitic bent, from Hilaire Belloc to Werner Sombart, it was finance-capital which was parasitic (Belloc, 1913; Sombart, [1911] 1951). Socialists had their distinct enemies, then, as well as their heroes, proletarian or mock-proletarian for the Bolsheviks, factory-inspectors for the Webbs, savants for Kautsky, scientists for Wells or Trotsky. But for Fabians the citizen would not be conceived as the proletarian, as in Bolshevism. Indeed, as the Webbs went on to suggest in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (1920), vocational electorates should be developed alongside geographical forms of representation in order fully to register the significance of work in political life (Beilharz, 1992: 62). The evident weakness in this, as in much else of socialist theory, is the failure to take seriously the private sphere and the gender consequences thereof. ‘Work,’ in this discourse as in most others, refers to paid public work, rather than to the labours of the home. Not that socialists failed to address domestic labour, which they did from Bebel through to Wells; only they continued to presume its gendered nature, themselves reflecting the traditionalism of patriarchy which itself violates the ethics of modernity and yet holds it up.

Fabianism in effect dissolved into the state, victim, like British liberalism, of its own success with the 1945-51 Labour Government. Fabianism had better articulated the common sense of the labour movement referred to historically as labourism, where the politics of socialism was constructed in terms of the defence and protection of workers and their families. Fabianism built upon labourism an infrastructure of research, organization and agitation, pushing an ethic which sought to tie together the gradual modernization of society and the solidarity imputed to its traditional forms. All this became fundamental to the postwar regimes of reconstruction, until they were washed away by the processes of crisis and globalization which ran through the 1970s to the 1990s.

The idea of the Russian Revolution was exhausted by the 1940s, being replaced in romantic Western imaginations by images of Chairman Mao or Che Guevara. Yet the image of October excited many earlier, including Shaw and in Italy the young Antonio Gramsci. The younger Gramsci was a council communist, taking up a position for the new proletarian, self-organized order, espousing a kind of social democratic syndicalism not unlike the view of G.D.H. Cole. Gramsci embraced the October Revolution as ‘The Revolution Against Capital,’ by which he referred both to the power of capital and to the fatalistic influence of Marx’s Capital. His view was that the Marxism of Kautsky and his Russian equivalent, Plekhanov, had become a deadweight on Marxists, who passively accepted Kautsky’s maxim that their job was to wait for the revolution. Gramsci insisted on extending the voluntaristic and democratic element in Marx, that which indicated that socialism was only possible as a result of the action of self-organized masses of men and women. Gramsci insisted that Marxism was a politics, and not just a political economy: a statement of will, and not only a recognition of constraint, and he was stubborn in this insistence until he was personally constrained within Mussolini’s prison walls, where he wrote the famous (if thematically scattered) Prison Notebooks. Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks reinstate the Marxian formula of the 1859 Preface, that people make history but not just as they choose. The Notebooks also reconfigure Marxist politics by placing Machiavelli at the fore, and conceptualizing the Italian Communist Party as the New Prince. More significantly, the Notebooks foreground culture, ideology and common sense as the practical field within which bourgeois societies ensure their self-reproduction. Hegemony, and not only force, ensures social coherence; socialism, conceived as the practical project of a new class alliance, or new historic bloc, therefore depends on the possibility of counter-hegemony (Davidson, 1978; Gramsci, 1971).

Gramsci was a revolutionary communist, who was subsequently reinvented as a culturalist predecessor of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. He was not only Italian, but more specifically Sardinian, a peripheral Marxist who understood uneven development without falling for the hypermodern cosmopolitanism of a Trotsky. Vital to his legacy is not only The Prison Notebooks (1971), but also The Southern Question (1926), where Gramsci opened the case that modernity would always ever be traditionalistic as well as progressive. Gramsci’s contemporary, often grouped with him and the German philosopher Karl Korsch in the retrospective category of ‘Western Marxism,’ was Georg Lukács. The Hungarian Marxist Lukács not only founded the later Budapest School after 1956, but also was a central voice in the formation of the Frankfurt School into the 1920s, for Lukács was the pioneer of a kind of Weberian Marxism, refracting together (as differently did Simmel) the themes of commodification (Marx) and instrumental reason (Weber) to develop the theme of reification (Lukács, [1923] 1971). The so-called Western Marxists therefore developed the political and cultural spheres of analysis which had been neglected since Marx’s call, that vision lay in the analysis of political economy rather than civil society. In the case of Lukács’ analysis, culture emerged only to show, by other means, the impossibility of socialism except at the hands of a magically endowed intellectual proletariat. The legacies of Gramsci and Lukács were either institutionalized or ignored by their respective communist parties. Korsch wrote one of the best books on Marx, Karl Marx, in 1936 before taking up American exile, where his influence was negligible except for the impact upon marginal local council communists such as Paul Mattick.

The critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, most notably Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse, migrated to America to escape Nazism. There they cultivated the anti-modern or at least anti-American thread of the German tradition, viewing American culture as either candy floss or televisual totalitarianism (Jay, 1973; Wiggershaus, 1994). The Frankfurt School, in common with Lukács, pursued a kind of aristocratic radicalism quite at odds with Gramsci’s curiosity about popular culture and folk wisdom. The trajectory of Critical Theory, in contrast, was influenced not only by the failure of socialist revolution in the West, but also by the outcome of Nazism in the Holocaust. ‘Western Marxism,’ so-called because of its guiding sense that Western cultures offered different challenges to those facing others like the Bolsheviks seeking socialism in the ‘East,’ was also deflated by those developments in the West, where the prospects of socialism gave way to the power of barbarism.

In the meantime, German Social Democracy became historically institutionalized as a form of social management into the 1960s, as did labourism in Britain. The extraordinary extent of the postwar boom and the arrival of mass consumerism through the 1950s combined with the effects of the Cold War saw socialism lose impetus again until the 1960s, when critical theory and Western Marxism were revived or reconstructed especially by student radicals from Berkeley to the London School of Economics (the latter, founded by the Webbs). Radicalism rode the wave, perhaps especially in the United States. American socialisms are long of lineage and rich in variety, though they have often been marginalized within scholarship by academics with short memories. The famous question put by Sombart in 1906 was,Why is There no Socialism in the United States? ([1906] 1976), presuming that socialism was something necessarily to be measured by its presence or absence at the level of central state power, rather than within civil society or as a counter-current to modernity. Yet far from being a mere absence, socialism has a rich American history, from nineteenth-century Utopian experiment, through Bellamy and the Bellamy Clubs, to the Industrial Workers of the World and various intellectual permutations from Lewis Mumford to the pragmatism of Max Eastman and Richard Rorty. If the answer to Sombart’s question, rephrased as why was there not more socialism in the United States, was material abundance, then the real tease was yet to come, as more of that material abundance into the 1960s brought out the New Left with a vengeance. With Marcuse, Habermas, Gorz and Mallet, traffic increased both into English-speaking cultures and back to the centres as radicals struggled for equal rights and dreamed, still, of the end of alienation.

The Marx of the 1960s conjured up themes going back to alienation as well as commodification. Indeed, whether via Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964) or the newly translated Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts, the essential message provided by radical social theory often seemed singular: the world needed to be changed all at once, which in effect, given the power of capital and its culture, meant not at all. Other socialisms were eclipsed by Marxism, and Marxist humanism was scorned by the rising star of structuralism, which also established an image of structure or history as unshiftable (Dosse, 1997). Reformisms could easily be made to look feeble by armchair revolutionaries who claimed a radical distance from the Soviet experience but whose vocabularies were basically Bolshevik (Beilharz, 1987).

Marxism revived as a critical theory, perhaps for the last time before expiring, as State Theory (Frankel, 1983; Jessop, 1982). State Theory was often caught up with the idea that a theory of politics could be derived from the analysis of capital. Thus, again, was Gramsci rediscovered as a political theorist (Sassoon, 1987). Thus, for example, Laclau and Mouffe sought to use Gramsci as a way out of the impasse in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985). The sticking point in Gramsci remained that of Bolshevism, or Jacobinism; was the party still the key agent of social transformation, or was it merely a collective noun for the various related social movements which held it up?

The collapse of Marxism as the key presence within socialist social theory at this point came in at least two different forms. The first involved the rediscovery of methodological pluralism, in principle available in Weber but politically accessible through the work of Foucault. Foucault widely replaced Althusser, who had replaced Marx. Power was discovered to exist throughout modernity, and not only in economy. The second point of erosion involved the rediscovery or renegotiation of democracy, via liberalism as political theory in the re-emergence of social movements and the reappraisal of civil society (Arato and Cohen, 1992). On both these accounts, Marxism now appeared to be a regional theory rather than a general theory. The fact that liberalism could be seen as radical again gave a second chance to various non-Marxian socialist alternatives.

The general problem, inasmuch as it could be named, was now reidentified as the problem not of capitalism but of modernity. Working out of the Budapest School tradition of Weberian Marxism, Agnes Heller and Ferenc Feher identified the field of modernity as at least threefold, characterized by the differing logics or dynamics of capitalism, industrialism and democracy (Heller and Feher, 1983). This was, in effect, to return to one of the earliest socialist sensibilities, that socialism was less a state of affairs to be achieved upon the negation of private property than it was a restatement of the priority of the social against individualism. The striking locational difference was that, by the end of this century, socialism lived in the academy perhaps more than anywhere else, as its claims to being taken seriously as a culture of social theory had outgrown its street credentials as a practical politics. After all that has occurred in its name, socialism remains the kind of critique and utopia which it began as, diminished in its certainty just as its existence is warranted by what surrounds it, part of the past and thereby of our present. Formally speaking, socialism might be said to have returned to the civil societies and social movements which originally called it forth. For as socialists have declared that the core of their utopia is democracy, and not only equality, so have their ambitions returned to the horizons of social democracy and the radical liberal heritage which often informs it. If socialism began as the claim to pursue the ideals of the French Revolution, supporting the expansion of democracy against power or capitalism, then its Marxian claims to absolute difference may have been illusory. Socialism remains part of the critique of modernity; neither term seems possible without the other.