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Lenin's theory of imperialism: a defence of its relevance in the 21st century
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All rights reserved. The interviewers in Politics and Letters , of course, take a sharp line, looking at contradictions and silences in Keywords. However, they acknowledge Keywords as a vital contribution, noting:. The intellectual effect of the kind of work initiated by Keywords could be regarded as akin to that of the Marxist critique of political economy — the demonstration that ideas and categories which are deemed universal and timeless are in fact eminently changeable and timebound.
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- The construction and contradictions of identity;
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Keywords was originally planned as part of Culture and Society but the publishers felt it was too long. The City and the Country shows that ideas of nature and environment often fail to reflect the social construction of ecological concepts and issues. These could be seen as marking a successful hegemonic project, a new left thinking that has become, at least in the UK, a left common sense, to some extent. Williams dominates political discourse on the left even though his name may be forgotten. I have no idea if the new and most left-wing leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, reads Williams, but he often sounds as if he does.
Williams seems to reject both a mechanistic Marxist politics that rejects culture, and culturalist politics that forgets class and economics. While the English Marxist historian E. Williams also puts emphasis on a democratic and participatory form of left politics. Williams was, as noted, a keen early advocate of an ecological dimension to socialism. During the s the Communist Party of Great Britain was torn apart by a conflict between Eurocommunists and more traditional members, with the Party eventually dissolving in The Communist Party has had a strong intellectual influence on the wider UK left.
Williams was not a participant in the conflict within the CPGB in the s, having left the Party during the Second World War, however his work provides an insight into the conflict. Like the Eurocommunists, Raymond Williams stressed the need to engage with culture and new social movements, however he was keen that such engagements did not replace working class solidarity and activism. In summary, to my mind, and as is shown by this pioneering book, his thinking was neither consistently rigorous or original, but he helped challenge both a particular form of rigid Marxism and an elitist approach to culture.
In doing so he opened up ideological space for the British left in , which in its diversity notes both class politics and ecology as well as the importance of structural change in ownership and debates around identity and intersectionality.
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Was Raymond Williams the Welsh Althusser? Not really, but he contributed to some vital changes in the left political landscape in Wales and England, and we can still gain from close study of his words. And in contrast to Althusser, he had read Marx. Christian Fuchs seems to be unhappy about describing culture etc. I think that I have some understanding of his position. I would suggest that he ponder the following considerations.
I have spent my adult life as an experimental bio-medical scientist. And during this time I have often thought about the social structure and function of the social, scientific activity. It is clear to me that yes, indeed, the scientific project is part of the superstructure of capitalism; there is endless evidence of this. However, it is also and equally clear that the social, scientific project has an internal momentum of its own. This latter is heavily influenced and indeed, controlled by the capitalist state. Nonetheless, the internal momentum of science is present and thus a permanent tension exists between scientific knowledge and the needs, demands and limitations of capitalist state control of scientific activity.
Identity and anti-essentialism
There are some obvious, current examples; climate science describes how reality is, but capitalism cannot cope with that reality, so capitalism closes its eyes and ears. Another example is genetically modified crop plants and animals. There are legitimate concerns about the science involved, but the real major problem with this field is the social problems that it would clearly instigate.
It would destroy what is left of peasant or self-sufficiency in agriculture, that is in food supply for millions of people. I would argue that the position of culture is exactly similar.
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Capitalism NEEDS science and technical development for its functioning, for the reproduction of capitalism. But tries to keep the social, scientific project within bounds acceptable to the capitalist state. Equally, capitalism needs human culture, suitably perverted as is science, for its maintenance, for the continued reproduction of capitalism.
But culture, like science, has a momentum of its own within the limitations of capitalist society. I will be interested to hear any responses. Your email address will not be published. Email me when others comment on this review. You can also subscribe without commenting. You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in settings.
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Reviewed by Derek Wall. Comment on this review 2 comments so far View comments. A former International … More. However, they acknowledge Keywords as a vital contribution, noting: The intellectual effect of the kind of work initiated by Keywords could be regarded as akin to that of the Marxist critique of political economy — the demonstration that ideas and categories which are deemed universal and timeless are in fact eminently changeable and timebound.
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