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Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  179 ratings  ·  17 reviews
Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that with the collapse of Communism the theoretical project of Marxism and its critique of capitalism is more timely and important than ever. In this book she sets out to renew the critical program of historical materialism by redefining its basic concepts and its theory of history in original and imaginative ways, using them to identify the spec ...more
Paperback, 316 pages
Published September 3rd 1995 by Cambridge University Press (first published March 9th 1995)
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Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Green eggs and ham. Bonnie and Clyde. Laurel and Hardy.

Some things are so inseparable you can't think of one without the other. For a long time, democracy and capitalism have at least implicitly shared the same connection. Ellen Meiksins Wood is here to disabuse you of that notion.

Written at the "end of history," when the collapse of communism and the end of Cold War left capitalism unchallenged and democracy the self-evident telos of human governmental organization, Meiksins Wood's Democracy Ag
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Full disclosure: my inner white old man loves his good old orthodox Marxist bashing of all sorts of post-modern theories. I know how progressive and liberating and inclusive much of this identity stuff really is (especially for the nonwhite old men) but if the latter is not theoretically grounded in some kind of materialist framework, it’s rubbish and most likely, politically speaking, supportive of rainbow capitalism, glass ceiling ‘feminism’ and, eventually, hollowed out liberal democracy whic ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The paradoxical argument here is that the collapse of communism (in its actually existing form that is) has made marxism more important and more necessary than ever, mainly because it is one of the few if not the only mode of critical thought that can accommodate the idea of capitalism. Wood's argument is that other contemporary approaches can critique elements of capitalism and its culture but only marxism can get to grips with both the idea and the practice of capitalism. She is right, and she ...more
Well it certainly renewed historical materialism for me.

Deserves an actual fleshed-out review I can't provide right now, but suffice to say for now that Ellen Meiksins Wood is underappreciated. Simultaneously unwaveringly marxist and intellectually courageous, not much to say on economic minutiae but all the more on the historic specificity of economic paradigms, their causality and their ideological imprints. Brought to life "civil society" more than any other decent historian I'd hitherto rea
Peter Harrison
Feb 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, marx
The first part of this book is a magnificent re-statement of the relevance and usefulness of historical materialism as an analytical tool. Drawing much inspiration from the work of EP Thompson, Meiksins Wood critiques determinist and structural versions of Marxism. She emphasises instead how historical materialism provides a toolkit for social and historical analysis rather than a rigid straitjacket within which the evidence must be made to fit.

Meiksins Wood stresses the importance of class stru
A little bit uneven. The sections about class and the polemics against structural Marxism are interesting and thoughtful. Meiksins Wood's defense of Marxism against Weber is especially well constructed, and her novel defense of Greek Democracy is interesting and thought provoking, and forms a substantial contrast to liberal democracy.

The sections polemicizing against post-Marxism and post-modernism strike me as weak, as does her belief--stated but not well defended--that capitalism is capable of
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
From what I understood the central thesis of this book is that the overarching determinant in social and economic is capitalism and that overthrowing it and replacing it with socialism is about extending existing concepts of democracy to all walks of life.
She argues that current conceptions of democracy and capitalism are either not accurate enough to be useful or do not go far enough in their descriptions and analysis.
In particular when it come to capitalism she argues that most historians and
Jason Schulman
Dec 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just as great as it was in its first edition over 20 years ago. If you have an interest in Marxist thought and want to read one of Wood's books, start with this one! ...more
Camilo Ruiz Tassinari
An impressive book. One of the most brilliant defences of a complex and undogmatic Marxism I've encountered lately. The two chapters on capitalist vs ancient democracy are excellent. ...more
Liam Kennedy
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wood puts the historical back into historical materialism.

She sets the scene like so - by the 1990s, when the book came out, leftist and liberal scholars alike had given up on proper historical analysis and come to see capitalism as an predetermined stage in human development. The right took capitalism as the last stage - “the end of history” – the left took capitalism as a step towards socialism, but both were following the same rigid model.

Wood is having none of that. In part one of the book
João Vítor
Considero um livro de grande valor para a discussão que a autora se propõe: a democracia vs. capitalismo. O primeiro bloco de ensaios da autora é belíssimo. Wood desenvolve uma linha argumentativa enriquecida pelas categorias marxianas e também de expoentes humanistas na compreensão das problemáticas do mundo moderno (apelando também, como todo e toda autora de grande calibre, às boas polêmicas e debates).

Entretanto, tenho minhas ressalvas com relação às essencialidades do sistema capitalista p
Thomas Andrew
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is like leftist brain bleach for anyone who looks at our world's decaying ecological state, rising far-right extremism, and decaying standards of life across the Western world.

Ellen Meiksins Woods clearly and brilliantly makes her case for a reinvigoration of historical materialism which lies at the core of Marxist theory. But putting past incarnations of Marxist theory and it developments over the years, she firmly courses the intellectual and political failings of the left over the p
Brian Doering
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The second half of this really nails it's titular assertion. Capitalism, by definition at least, pretends to make the economic sphere autonomous from the political. As such, it is neutral in terms of all identities - race, gender, sexuality...etc. There is no built-in interest in emancipation for identity and this is, in part, why the people must, while not voiding those particularities of identity, rally into the class distinctions (the underlying unifying terms of the masses). ...more
Eurethius Péllitièr
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Incredibly dense theory but part II picks up. Difficult to accept chapter 9s blindspot but pretty good
Aug 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because the title resembled the one I had picked for my Philosophy dissertation but with not much hope of it being interesting, and was pleasantly surprised. It is smart, edgy and well written.

Meiksins Wood asks an interesting question: what happened to the concept of democracy? How did we end up using the same name both for a system where every citizen participated and public officers were chosen by draw and for one where public officers are chosen and then virtually execu
Bruce Foster
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Re-started it.
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Ellen Meiksins Wood FRSC (April 12, 1942 – January 14, 2016) was an American-Canadian Marxist historian and scholar. From 1967 to 1996, she taught political science at Glendon College, York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

With Robert Brenner, Ellen Meiksins Wood articulated the foundations of Political Marxism, a strand of Marxist theory that places history at the centre of its analysis. I

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