Radical Sociology

By J. David Colfax; Jack L. Roach | Go to book overview
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The Crisis in Marxist Sociology *

NORMAN BIRNBAUM **

for Henri Lefebvre


INTRODUCTION

We confront a paradox. Never before has Marxism been so influential upon bourgeois sociology (which we may define as sociology as practiced by bourgeois professors who are not Marxists, in contra distinction to their—no less bourgeois—colleagues who are Marxists), never before has it been analyzed, criticized, and discussed so extensively. The utterly indefensible political restrictions which inhibited the development of a Marxist sociology (or, indeed, of critical Marxist thought in general) in the state socialist societies are beginning to weaken. An international Marxist discussion, ranging from London, Paris, Frankfort and Milan to Zagreb, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw (with interesting accompaniments in New York and Moscow) is in progress. Nevertheless, there is a crisis in Marxism and particularly in Marxist sociology: it is the crisis itself which renders the current discussion at once so agitated and so fruitful.

The notion of a crisis requires, in this case, explication. A doctrinal or theoretic crisis in a system of thought occurs when either of two sets of abstract conditions obtains. In one case the possibilities of internal development of a system exhaust themselves; the system's

____________________
*
Reprinted in abridged form from Social Research 35, No. 2 (Summer, 1968).
**
AUTHOR'S NOTE—I have established a number of limitations in this essay. In particular, I have made rather free use of shorthand expressions like "Marxist sociology" and "bourgeois sociology." I understand quite well that these are in fact shorthand, that the systems of thought at issue are complex and varied, that the two types of sociology interpenetrate, and that there are serious conflicts and great differences within each grouping as well as between them. A rather full bibliography will be found in my The Crisis of Industrial Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969).

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