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A Second Wind From the Third World

John MacKenzie argues there is life yet in Marxist analysis if not in its practice then for examining the process of imperial rule and its transformation.

Looking back over the contributions to History Today's 'Death of Marxism' debate, it is striking that so many false polarities have been summoned up to bolster positions: Marxism or nationalism as tools of historical analysis; Marxist system versus conservative neo-radical pragmatism; Gramscian cultural history 'owing relatively little' to traditional Marxist approaches; 'macroscopic Marxism' or 'microscopic Namierism'; holism versus particularism, lumping and splitting. That these are false polarities becomes apparent when you turn to the great mass of Marxist writings associated with imperialism and the Third World.

Equally striking has been the predominant Eurocentrism of the various articles. The one which purported to say something about European imperialism rightly contrasted the variations in 'metropolitan' and 'peripheral' focus, but failed to produce any examples of the latter, presumably in the belief that they fall outside the Marxist tradition. The relationship between Marxism and imperialism seems to lead the commentator inexorably to the grand systems, the global explanations which are but one segment of the Marxist tradition. It is of course one of the most prominent parts, the part on which vast quantities of ink have been spilt in the twentieth century, the means by which the very word 'imperialism' developed the pejorative overtones which have made it such a difficult concept for historians to use.

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