The return of the "grand narrative"
Date Written: 2016-06-01
Publisher: World Socialist Web Site
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX19515
Throughout the world, a rising tide of social struggle is upending the proclamations by anti-Marxist intellectuals that the "grand narratives" of working-class struggle and socialist revolution have been superseded.
Capitalism weathered these storms thanks to the betrayals of Stalinism, Social Democracy and the trade unions, which allowed it to survive and restabilize in subsequent decades.
Reacting to these events with fear and demoralization, broad sections of the intelligentsia turned violently against Marxism. While blaming the working class for the betrayals of its leadership, this shift was motivated above all by fear of the working class itself. Witnessing the prospect of revolution, they cast aside their left pretensions and fled into the arms of the ruling class.
This process found perhaps its clearest expression in France, where it was associated with theoretical conceptions that came to be known as postmodernism. The basic premise of this philosophical and political tendency was that the great wave of revolutionary struggles initiated by the Russian Revolution of October 1917 belonged to a past epoch that had now been superseded.
The meaning of the term "postmodernism" was summed up by Jean-François Lyotard in his 1979 book, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. The postmodernists adopted an "incredulity toward metanarratives," Lyotard wrote. "The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal."
the postmodern theoreticians -- and the broader upper middle class social layer whose interests they articulated -- rejected the idea that society is divided into classes; that the state is an instrument of class rule; that it is possible to understand the objective logic of social and economic development; that capitalism is leading mankind to catastrophe; and that it is the task of the working class, led by a revolutionary party, to overthrow this bankrupt social order on a world scale and lay the foundations of a society based on equality.
Despite the proclamations of the anti-Marxist theoreticians that Marxism is dead and buried, a new generation of youth, students and workers are living the "grand narrative" of economic breakdown, social polarization, war and dictatorship.