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Marxism and history : twenty years of South African Marxist studies.

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This thesis attempts to contextualize the emergence and development of South African Marxist studies in terms of political and economic changes in South Africa, the influence of overseas Marxist and related theories and internal and external historiographical developments. The early Marxist approach was constituted by the climate of political repression and economic growth in South Africa during the 1960's, by its antagonism to the dominant liberal analyses of the country, and by the presence of indigenous Marxist theories of liberation. The unstable theoretical foundations of this approach prompted a critique and reassessment, which led to the coalescence of a stable Marxist paradigm and the start of the second phase of Marxist studies. The debate on the nature of the state that characterized this second phase was informed by the rival Marxist political theories of Nicos Poulantzas and the West German Staatsableitung school, and proved to be largely inconclusive. However, under circumstances of a resurgence of resistance and economic decline in South Africa, the late-1970's debate focussed attention squarely upon the revolutionary potential of the black working class. The heightening of struggle and a growing awareness of crisis formed the basis for the 1980's shift away from the reductionism and instrumentalism of the earlier literature. Continuing research on the state highlighted issues of strategy, the spaces for struggle opened up by the restructuring of the state and capital, and the degree of state autonomy. The political and economic gains made by the oppressed also combined with the influence of elements of British Marxist historiography and a reaction to the 'structuralism' of the 1970's to produce Marxist social history, emphasizing subjective human agency and 'history from below'. The social historical perspective dominates Marxist studies in the 1980's, and has influenced both the tradition of Marxist Africanism, focussing on pre-colonial African social formations, and the related approach to agrarian history. It is argued in the . conclusion that recent calls for a synthesis of structuralist Marxism and social history within South African Marxist studies take for granted the dualist appearance of Marxism and fails to reflect upon Marxism's essentially monistic presupposition.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1988.


Communism--South Africa., Theses--History.