Marxism & social movements: Dialogue to printed page

by · June 23, 2013


I’m excited to be able to say that I have a chapter contribution in the just released ‘Marxism and Social Movements’ book, which is part of the Historical Materialism book series. I’ve read a number of the contributions, and it a really exciting engagement between social movement theory and Marxist approaches to collective action.

On 22 May 2009, an online discussion group was set up for people interested in contributing to a book on the relationship between Marxism and social movements. While the editors — Laurence Cox, Colin Barker, John Krinsky and Alf Nilsen — had a firm sense of why the project was needed, the initial invitation was openly seeking engagement by potential authors on what the book should look like and what the key questions might be. They stated on the resultant discussion list that they wanted to develop a dialogue, out of which they hoped would come a book that was more than the sum of its parts. There were people on the list from a range of intellectual and political backgrounds, and from across different countries. Other potential authors were engaged with the editors outside the discussion group, as they made an effort to cast a net ‘far and wide’ across ‘many different forms of Marxism and scholarly approaches’.

Rather than simply receiving a call for papers and a deadline, we were asked ‘to think what kinds of things should be covered in such a collection, and how it should be structured’. Emails quickly arrived via the list – at times so dense with people’s thoughts on the project I couldn’t keep up. People raised everything from the failure of mainstream social movement research to consider class, to what we might mean by ‘subaltern groups’. People reflected on their own social movement experience and suggested readings were swapped. The important question of activist and academic knowledge was raised more than once, as was the problem of understanding the relationship of movements to wider social relations and capitalist totality. The question of why Marxism should take social movement theory seriously was always present.

The discussion group wound down over time, and abstracts and later chapters were sent to the editors. This week, after considerable work by the editors to bring together work from a diversity of people, places and movements, the book was published.

At the time the discussion group was set up, I had not even finished my Masters thesis. I put forward a chapter based on my research, looking at activist practices in the global justice movement in Australia. It is a reflection on Antonio Gramsci’s notion of organic intellectuals, and how that conception might find relevance in a contemporary movement. It was the first time I’d offered academic work for publication. I’m conscious therefore, that the open and encouraging space the editors created, gave me the confidence to put something forward — despite worries about being so ‘junior’ in the academic world. It is a real delight to be published in a book edited by people whose work and processes I respect. Not to mention being published alongside authors like Neil Davidson and David McNally, who are important to my PhD research.

The editors chose to publish the book with Brill, as there is a guarantee of a paperback edition (with Haymarket) 12 months after the hardcover as well as a version with Aakar books in India. The hardcover is expensive, so if you want to read these great essays immediately ask your university or local library to purchase a copy. In fact I urge you to do it, as the book is very good. The more affordable Haymarket paperback will be released next year.

For Australian readers, there will be a book launch at the Sydney Historical Materialism conference on July 27th. The conference is on 26 and 27 July at the Mechanics Institute (Pitt Street, Sydney), with a panel on ‘movements in an era of neoliberalism’. I hope to see many locals there.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. […] an edited volume, brought together by Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky and myself through a sustained dialogue with a large group of wonderful contributors. Spanning struggles on six continents over 150 […]

  2. […] I  have a chapter  in a new book Marxism and Social Movements (BRILL), edited by Laurence Cox, Colin Barker, John Krinsky and Alf Nilsen. Under the copyright arrangements, we are allowed to post a PDF of the chapter on our personal website, so I have made it available here. I’ve also written a little about my experience of being involved in the dialogue the editors commenced to develop the book here.  […]