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For those who emerged from the political upheavals of the ‘New Left’ in the early 1970s, it has become at once more difficult and easier to be a Marxist. The difficulties are evident: numerical decline of the industrial working class as well as its depoliticization and domination by labor bureaucrats; the impossibility of deluding oneself about the heirs of 1917 and the kind of society they have instituted in the Soviet Union and its satellite states; and the seeming displacement of the axis of contradiction to the Third World, leaving only a vague cultural malaise at home that can be easily co-opted and ephemeral. The paradox is that precisely these difficulties make Marxism more attractive. Blocked in practical politics, Marxism offers a theory of the ‘essential’ course and agency of history. It defines the nature of revolution, condemning all reformism. The absence of an industrial proletariat leaves the political intellectual both a theoretical and a practical task: the empirical appearances must be interpreted critically in order to discover their essential structure; at the same time, these foundational structures must be translated into practical propositions whose aim is not simply reforms for their own sake but projects whose realization points to human possibilities beyond the immediate good they can bring.
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