Political Marxism

Political Marxism (PM) is a strand of Marxist theory that places history at the centre of its analysis.

PM was developed as a reaction against ahistorical models of Marxist analysis in the debate on the origins of capitalism. The PM critique brought social agency and class conflict to the center of Marxism. In this context, Robert Brenner and Ellen Wood founded PM as a distinct approach to rehistoricise and repoliticise the Marxist project. It was a movement away from structuralist and timeless accounts towards historical specificity as contested process and lived praxis. This research programme has since expanded across the social sciences to include the fields of history, political theory, political economy, sociology, international relations and international political economy.[1]

The term Political Marxism itself was coined during the Brenner Debate of the late 1970s as a criticism of the work of Brenner by the French Marxist historian Guy Bois. Bois distinguished Brenner's 'political Marxism' from 'economic Marxism'.[2] As such, the label 'Political Marxism' has not always been accepted by the scholars to whom it has been applied.[3][4]

Researchers linked with PM today include Benno Teschke,[5] Hannes Lacher [6] and George Comninel.[7]


  1. Political Marxism and the Social Sciences
  2. 'Against the Neo-Malthusian Orthodoxy', in The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, ed. by Trevor Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, Past and Present Publications (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 107–18 (pp. 115–16) [repr. from Past & Present, 79 (1978), pp. 60-69]. 'Brenner's Marxism is "political Marxism"—in reaction to the wave of economistic tendencies in contemporary historiography. As the role of the class struggle is widely underestimated, so he injects strong doses of it into his own historical interpretation. I do not question the motivation behind such a reaction, but rather the summary and purely ideological manner in which it is implemented. It amounts to a voluntarist vision of history in which the class struggle is divorced from all other objective contingencies and, in the first place, from such laws of development as may be peculiar to a specific mode of production.
  3. David McNally, "Ellen Meiksins Wood obituary" The Guardian.
  4. Alex Callinicos, 'Marxism loses a passionate champion', Socialist Review, 410 (February 2016).
  5. See: Benno Teschke (2003). The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations. London and New York: Verso.
  6. See: Hannes Lacher (2006). Beyond Globalization: Capitalism, Territoriality and the International Relations of Modernity. London and New York: Routledge.
  7. See: Comninel, G. (2000) English Feudalism and the Origins of Capitalism. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 27 (4), pp. 1– 53
    Comninel, G (1990 [1987]) Rethinking the French Revolution. London and New York: Verso.

Further reading

  • By Robert Brenner:
(1976) 'Agrarian Class Structures and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe'. Past & Present, 70, (February 1976), pp. 30-75.
(1977) 'The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism'. New Left Review, I/104. pp. 25-92.
(1995 [1982]) 'The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism' in Aston, T.H. and C.H.E. Philpin (eds.) The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 213-327. Originally published (1982). ’The Agrarian Roots of European Capitalism’, Past & Present, 97, November, pp. 16-113.
  • By Ellen Meiksins Wood:
(1991) The Pristine Culture of Capitalism: An Historical Essay on Old Regimes and Modern States. London and New York: Verso.
(1995) Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
(2002 [1999]) The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View. London and New York: Verso.
(2008) Citizens to Lords. A Social History of Western Political Thought From Antiquity to the Middle Ages. London and New York: Verso.
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