Greatest Marxists redux

by Chris Bertram on November 12, 2003

Norman Geras has some further thoughts on the “greatest Marxists” question discussed below. Norm’s list set off a train of thinking last night as I noticed how many of the books he lists in his latest post are “meta-” studies: books agonizing about the Marxist method or about the history of Marxism by Marxists. Surely it can’t be right that the best examples of Marxist thought are not attempts to think about the world using the resources of Marxism, but rather Marxist books about Marxist thinking? Norm’s cricketing interests led him to mention C.L.R. James’s Beyond a Boundary , but the book by James that I most value is his study of the slave revolt in Haiti, The Black Jacobins—a work of history. So where are all the historians on our lists? E.P. Thompson, Albert Soboul, Christopher Hill et al? A striking and unwarranted omission by all of us.



Ophelia Benson 11.12.03 at 4:38 pm

Yeah and Isaac Deutscher, too. Though someone did mention him, I seem to recall – oh, now who was that – oh I know! I did!

And was roundly ignored, which tells me that Deutscher is forgotten, which if true is a terrible thing.


jacob 11.12.03 at 4:44 pm

Yeah, I left Thompson off my list simply because I forgot him, and I felt terrible for it after Josh pointed it out to me. Although within the context of only five Marxists, I’m not sure whom I would have removed to fit him.


josh 11.12.03 at 6:28 pm

Well, I seem to recall Conrad Barwa mentioning Halliday, Hobsbawm, Stedman Jones, Carr, and Robin Blackburn in the comments. Also, Ophelia (who so far as I know hasn’t submitted a list, but should …) may be happy to know that I’ve gotten a submission for Deutscher. I’ve also gotten one for Hobsbawm. And I’ve made up my own list of favourite Marxist historians, to be posted when all the results are in.


Lukas 11.12.03 at 8:55 pm

For his support of the concept of the economic substructure of society:

Jared Diamond


Doug Muir 11.12.03 at 10:41 pm

Louis Blanc.

His _History of Ten Years_ wasn’t just well-written history, it was well-written history with punch and bite and knees to the groin; Louis Philippe himself called it “a battering ram against loyalty” (to the monarchy of Louis Philippe, that is). Blanc’s _History of the Revolution of 1848_ is good history, good writing, and a fascinating insider account too, while his _History of the French Revolution_ was the canonical work on the subject for two generations, and (I’m told) is still widely read.

Now, you could argue that Louis Blanc wasn’t “Marxist”, since most of his political writings predated most of Marx’s. (His career as a political and economic theorist was pretty much done by 1850.) In fact, you could almost call Marx a “Blancist”; he borrowed from Blanc’s ideas heavily. Marx turned against Blanc after 1851, sure, but he never returned the intellectual silverware.

Blanc was a very good historical writer, and he was a historian who espoused (and whose writing was driven by) what are generally considered “Marxist” concepts. The fact that quite a few of these concepts predated Marx by a generation or more is hardly Blanc’s fault.

Doug M.


Classic Liberal 11.13.03 at 11:07 am

After you’ve finished compiling the list of greatest marxists, how about a list of the world’s tallest midgets?


Chris Bertram 11.13.03 at 11:16 am

Nah, I’ll pass on the midgets, I’m thinking of making one of the world’s most petty-minded trolls though.


Tom 11.13.03 at 7:22 pm

Others not mentioned:

Irving Howe, Max Schachtman. Youse are too Euro-centric by half.

And, if we included ex-Marxists who have been influential, you could include Irving Kristol & Tom Sowell.


Alex 11.13.03 at 7:38 pm

So why can’t Marxists write about Marxism? To paraphrase the master himself in the Theses on Feuerbach, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to interpret the interpretations.”


Classic Liberal 11.13.03 at 11:10 pm


you’re absolutely right. I am a “petty-minded troll” and I apologize. It was wrong for me to make a smartassed comment about the world’s greatest Marxists, just as it would be wrong for an atheist to go to a Christian weblog or a skeptic to go to an astrology blog to make snarky comments there.

I promise it won’t happen again.

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