Capital &Class, Ahead of Print. This analysis starts off from the contemporary relevance of the theory of ‘the radicalism of tradition’, arguing that it presents a challenge to Marxism because Marxist work has not sufficiently attended to elements of a theory of worker subjectivity scattered in the critique of political economy. This theory is located on a lower level of abstraction than is commonly assumed and can be applied to subjective dynamics in labour militancy. However, this requires that some basic categories in Marx’s critique are reconsidered, especially those that do not seem immanent to the capitalist social formation, categories that appear, and have mostly been read, as the ahistorical ground on which properly social forms arise. Therefore, apparently ahistorical categories pertaining to use value and concrete labour’s use value for capital are explored to reconstruct a theory relating capital’s positing of labour to contemporary militancies that appropriate tradition. In contrast to the view of tradition as external to capital, the view advanced is that ‘reactionary radicalism’ relates to how capital, as totalizing social form, abstracts tradition. Furthermore, tradition is radicalized through a negative subjectivity inherent to the commodification of labour power and the real subsumption of labour; proletarian experience is a precondition of radicalized tradition.
Capital &Class, Ahead of Print. In this article, I consider what E. P. Thompson and Ellen Meiksins Wood have to say about the concept of a social formation and its significance for Marxism. I consider these thinkers together for two reasons. In the first place, the views of Meiksins Wood owe a great deal to her engagement with Thompson’s writings. In the second place, despite Meiksins Wood claim that she is simply following a lead provided by E. P. Thompson, there is a significant (though unacknowledged) difference between her views and his. Meiksins Wood departs from Thompson when she argues that the concept of a social formation ought to be excluded from the lexicon of Marxism. When discussing the concept of a social formation, both Thompson and Meiksins Wood attach importance to the ‘general illumination’ passage in the general introduction to Marx’s Grundrisse. However, they read this passage in very different ways. According to Thompson, this focal passage supports the view that the concept of a social formation is of fundamental importance for Marxist historians. This reading constitutes a challenge to Meiksins Wood’s view that the concept of a social formation is an Althusserian accretion which has a little significance for our understanding of the views of Marx and Marxism.