CHALLENGES to Marxism today — the subject can be approached at various levels. For one, we might choose to concentrate on the post-Soviet theoretical assaults. But already we have had some encounters with these in seminars, in Liberation articles and in Fifth Congress documents. Moreover, the two core ideas in these attacks, namely, that democracy has triumphed and that the communists are finished for good, have been proved false in Russia itself. This has compelled the cheer-leaders of capitalism to bite dust and admit that things are not that simple.

Then there are challenges thrown up not by some theorists or ideologues, but by life itself. In the advanced capitalist countries there has been a marked decline in the relative importance of manufacturing industry and in the percentage of industrial workers; in developed as well as backward countries various non-class identities and conflicts such as those based on caste, religious/ethnic community etc. seem to dominate the scene; in a word, a lot has changed (in social structures and superstructures) since the times of Marx and even of Lenin. Thirdly, and in part as a reflection of the above changes, there is a plethora of “alternative” theories — old, new and renewed ones — which claim to dislodge mainstream Marxism from its pride of place. Here we shall be concerned with this third category of challenges. And that too, we shall have to be selective in dealing with the alternative theoretical trends or conceptual frameworks. For the present paper, we shall take up only the Trotskyite and Gramscian frameworks for a primary discussion while taking a quick look at the proponents of the so-called post-Marxist school.

Perhaps we owe you an explanation regarding this selection. The Soviet collapse is widely seen as a collapse of the Stalinist monolith. It has therefore accorded a new respectability to those of Stalin's contemporaries who put forward alternative visions within a broadly Marxist framework. This is particularly true for Leon Trotsky, by far the greatest intellectual and political stalwart after Lenin and Stalin. As for Antonio Gramsci, he was not an anti-Stalinist as such. But his political positions often differed from those of Stalin and Comintern, particularly around the time of the Sixth Congress (1928). More importantly, he has left behind a very distinctive analytical framework which has been espoused by a good many non-party leftist intellectuals all over the world. In our country, after Marx, Lenin and Mao, Gramsci is perhaps the greatest influence in leftist intellectual circles and has been the basic Inspiration behind subaltern historiography. It is precisely with his most zealous followers in mind that we include Gramsci in our discussion, although Gramsci himself never formed a theoretical trend or political school opposed to Marxism-Leninism.