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Descent Into Discourse
The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History
Bryan Palmer
Temple University Press, 1990

"Critical theory is no substitute for historical materialism; language is not life." With this statement, Bryan Palmer enters the debate that is now transforming and disrupting a number of academic disciplines, including political science, women’s studies, and history. Focusing on the ways in which literary or critical theory is being promoted within the field of social history, he argues forcefully that the current reliance on poststructuralism—with its reification of discourse and avoidance of the structures of oppression and struggles of resistance—obscures the origins, meanings, and consequences of historical events and processes.

Palmer is concerned with the emergence of "language" as a central focus of intellectual work in the twentieth century. He locates the implosion of theory that moved structuralism in the direction of poststructuralism and deconstruction in what he calls the descent into discourse. Few historians who champion poststructuralist thought, according to Palmer, appreciate historical materialism’s capacity to address discourse meaningfully. Nor do many of the advocates of language within the field of social history have an adequate grounding in the theoretical making of the project they champion so ardently. Palmer roots his polemical challenge in an effort to "introduce historians more fully to the theoretical writing that many are alluding to and drawing from rather cavalierly."

Acknowledging that critical theory can contribute to an understanding of some aspects of the past, Palmer nevertheless argues for the centrality of materialism to the project of history. In specific discussions of how critical theory is constructing histories of politics, class, and gender, he traces the development of the descent into discourse within social history, mapping the limitations of recent revisionist texts. Much of this writing, he contends, is undertheorized and represents a problematic retreat from prior histories that attempted to address such material forces as economic structures, political power, and class struggle.

Descent into Discourse
 counters current intellectual fashion with an eloquent argument for the necessity to analyze and appreciate lived experience and the structures of subordination and power in any quest for historical meaning.

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Empire of the Periphery
Russia and the World System
Boris Kagarlitsky
Pluto Press, 2007

Leading writer Boris Kagarlitsky offers an ambitious account of 1000 years of Russian history. Encompassing all key periods in Russia's dramatic development, the book covers everything from early settlers, through medieval decline, Ivan the Terrible - the 'English Tsar', Peter the Great, the Crimean War and the rise of capitalism, the revolution, the Soviet period, finally ending with the return of capitalism after 1991.

Setting Russia within the context of the 'World System', as outlined by Wallerstein, this is a major work of historical Marxist theory that is set to become a future classic.


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A General Theory of Exploitation and Class
John E. Roemer
Harvard University Press, 1982

How can exploitation and even class division occur in socialist societies? The question is not merely embarrassing for Marxists and socialists. It is also a deep puzzle for economic theorists. In this original and powerful work, John Roemer proposes a general theory of exploitation which provides a game theoretic framework for expressing any conception of exploitation—feudal, capitalist, or socialist—in a standardized and explicit way, thus permitting a clear comparison of different ethical conceptions. As well as applying the general theory to an analysis of socialist society, Roemer uses it to contrast Marxian and neoclassical conceptions of exploitation. By placing the Marxian conception of exploitation in the context of a more general theory, Roemer provides fresh insights into classical questions, and resolves several old problems in Marxian economics.

The book also contains a formal theory of class formation. Once the behavior and institutional specifications of an economy are given, classes emerge endogenously in the model. In a major theorem Roemer relates the two key characteristics of a person in a given economy: his class position and his status as exploiter or exploited. Finally, he shows that the general theory of exploitation can be viewed as the formal translation into economic language of the theory of historical materialism. In its mathematical power and precision, its skillful use of general equilibrium and game theory, the book will become an important bridge between Marxist and neoclassical economics.


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History & Subjectivity
Roger Gottlieb
Temple University Press, 1987
"...rescues the probing spirit of Marx from the dead hand of Marx-ism. In this bold and argumentative book, Gottlieb joins other contemporary theorists in challenging the primacy of class and relations of production as keys to understanding our collective predicament. The result is an important contribution to left theory- both for its summation of the insights drawn from recent movements and for its provocative confrontation with the wisdom of the past." --Barbara Ehrenreich Can Marxism still serve the American left? History and Subjectivity answers this question by synthesizing the conflicting perspectives of traditional Marxism, Western and neo-Marxism, socialist-feminism, and various minority political movements into a comprehensive and original social theory. In the last seventy years, social change and the failure of leftist movements have made it necessary to transform Marxist theory. Undermined by its own theoretical success, traditional Marxism mistakenly assumed that Marx's understanding of competitive capitalism could be the model for theories of any society. Roger Gottlieb argues convincingly that the transformation of Marxist theory requires a fundamentally new understanding of social primacy. Gottlieb draws on resources from virtually all areas of contemporary radical social theory. This interdisciplinary approach results in a sweeping synthesis of existing Marxist thought and an original and compelling social theory. "Roger Gottlieb has written a very rich and often brilliant book.... [His] general thesis is developed, argued, and tested in the course of an impressive series of reconsiderations of debates in the Marxist tradition--impressive for the sheer breadth of the material mastered, as well as the critical acumen with which Gottlieb finds his way through the thicket of arguments and counter arguments. The result is an always lively, frequently exciting journey through the Marxist tradition, as well as a major contribution to the transformation which Marxism is currently undergoing." --Richard Schmitt "This is a serious and ambitious book. Its attempt to incorporate socialist feminism, and its interesting discussion of the American left are major strengths. It is a distinctive argument, framed within a personal sensibility, which should encourage wide response." --Marx W. Wartofsky

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A Marxist History of the World
From Neanderthals to Neoliberals
Neil Faulkner
Pluto Press, 2013

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A Radical History of the World
Neil Faulkner
Pluto Press, 2018

“Staggeringly ambitious.”―New Internationalist

“One of the finest historians on the left.”—John Newsinger, author, The Blood Never Dried

Rejecting the top-down approach of conventional history, Neil Faulkner contends that it is the mass action of ordinary people that drives the transformative events of our many histories. This is a history of power, abuse, and greed, but also one of liberation, progress, and solidarity.            
From the hunter-gatherers two million years ago to the ancient empires of Persia and China, and from the Russian Revolution to modern imperialism, humans have always struggled to create a better society than what came before. All over the world at numerous points in the past, a different way of life has become an absolute necessity, over and over again. This is a history of the humans in these struggles—the hominid and the hunter, the emperor and the slave, the dictator and the revolutionary.
Reading against the grain of mainstream histories, Neil Faulkner reveals that what happened in the past has never been predetermined. From antiquity to feudalism, and from fascism to our precarious political present, choices have always been numerous and complex, and the possible outcomes have ranged broadly between liberation and barbarism. His chapters include:
*Hunters and Farmers
*The First Class Societies
*Ancient Empires
*The Medieval World
*European Feudalism
*The First Wave of Bourgeois Revolutions
*Absolutist Europe and Capitalist Globalization
*The Rise of Industrial Capitalism
*The Revolutionary Wave
*The Great Depression and the Rise of Fascism
*World War and Cold War
*The New World Disorder
*Capitalism’s Greatest Crisis? The Early Twenty-First Century
In our fraught political present—as we face the loss of civil liberties and environmental protections, the rise of ethnonationalism, and the looming threat of nuclear war—we need the perspective of these histories now more than ever. The lesson of A Radical History of the World is that, if we created our past, we can also create a better future.  

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