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Holding Fast to an Image of the Past
Explorations in the Marxist Tradition
Davidson discusses how Marxism can retain a sense of historical tradition without becoming fossilized.
In this wide-ranging book of essays, Deutscher prize-winning author Neil Davidson offers theoretical reinterpretations and appraisals of key thinkers and themes of interest to contemporary radicals. Throughout Davidson demonstrates the enduring explanatory power of the Marxist understanding of history. Topics include Adam Smith, Eric Hobsbawm, Antonio Gramsci, Naomi Klein, and Marx and Engels' views on the Scottish Highlands
  • "Neil Davidson’s essays on the work of other thinkers illuminate so many aspects of the Marxist tradition.  Everything he touches turns into something much more interesting than gold."
    —Professor Steve Edwards, The Open University

    "In this volume, Davidson provides an impressive survey of the Marxian and radical tradition—from precursors like Adam Smith through Gramsci, Hobsbawm, Deutscher and Benjamin to contemporary non-Marxists like Naomi Klein. Throughout he combines a clear political and theoretical perspective without any concessions to sectarianism and cant. For this alone, Holding Fast to an Image of the Past is a provocative contribution."
     —Charles Post, author The American Road to Capitalism: Studies in Class Structure, Economic Development and Political Conflict, 1620-1877 (Haymarket Books, 2012).

    "This is Neil Davidson at his very best. In a sparkling set of essays, Davidson offers a conceptually sophisticated and historically wide-ranging analysis of the work of classical and contemporary political thinkers. From a critical assessment of Tom Nairn on nationalism to his sympathetic reading of the messianic Marxism of Walter Benjamin, Davidson demonstrates the profound intellectual insights to be derived from a careful, open and non-dogmatic deployment of the theoretical resources of historical materialism. In terms of its depth of learning it stands comparison with Perry Anderson's Zone of Engagement. An essential read."
    —Satnam Virdee at University of Glasgow

    "Working from the best grounds of a now-classical materialism, with great interpretive breadth and rich historical learning, Neil Davidson offers astute and measured guidance through some main territories of contemporary Marxist and associated intellectual history. These essays on a variety of emblematic thinkers and books, some past and some present, carry the tradition of British Marxist historiography impressively forward. As Davidson reminds us, there's life in the old mole yet."
    —Geoff Eley Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History University of Michigan

    "Holding Fast to an Image of the Past is illuminating, authoritative and sometimes very funny. Neil Davidson extends here the distinctive project of reinterpretation which resulted in his extraordinary work How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions (Haymarket, 2012) The present essays range from sustained critical expositions of thinkers - most notably of Alasdair MacIntyre, Tom Nairn and Walter Benjamin - to questions of Scotland and Scottish national consciousness. Of these, perhaps the most outstanding are Marx and Engels on the Scottish Highlands and The Posthumous Adventures of Adam Smith. His arguments are invariably fresh and original, free of parochialism and enriched by wider international references. Offering a Marxist theory and historical sociology truly adequate for our time, this new collection fruitfully combines wide-ranging erudition with vivid vignettes.
    —Bridget Fowler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Glasgow.

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  • Understanding the British Election: An Interview with Neil Davidson

    With both the Labour Party and the Conservatives having launched their manifestos in recent days, Britain’s snap general election is gathering momentum. Jeremy Corbyn’s program has been widely described as Labour’s most radical and left-wing for decades; meanwhile, the Tories continue their sharp shift to the right under Theresa May. Added to this, Brexit and renewed calls for Scottish independence mean that the election is taking place in a context of profound change and uncertainty. Haymarket Books' Duncan Thomas interviewed Neil Davidson, British socialist and author of How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?, to glean some meaning from the madness.

    Credit: Loz Pycock

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Other books by Neil Davidson

  • As Radical as Reality Itself

    Davidson brilliantly argues the case that Marxism should be seen as a living, breathing, critically engaged tradition.
  • How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Abridged Edition)

    The globalized economy of the present is the result of political and social revolutions directed against pre-capitalist economic structures.
  • Nation-States

    Davidson argues that a Marxist understanding of the meaning of contemporary nation-states must begin from the inseparable connections between them.
  • We Cannot Escape History

    These essays focus on the two great themes of nation and revolution, and the third which links them: the state.