Book Forum: Leftism Reinvented by Stephanie Mudge

The political lesson for leftist sociologists is clear. Mudge’s account of the current erosion of Left parties’ capacity to speak for the voiceless in highly unequal capitalist democracies comes with an indictment of the detachment of the everyday practices of social science professionals from the business of party organization and mobilization. This distant, if not commodified, relationship that prevails today may be a source of anxiety, indignation, or alienation among progressive scholars. But it has had even earthlier detrimental impact on the lives of those “possessing nothing but their own labor-power” (Marx and Engels 2007:188). Should this indictment be read as just another cry out for a more reflexive sociology? Or is instead an invitation to engage, following Riley (2018:109), in the practical task of “overcoming the political isolation of the intelligentsia in advanced capitalism”? Rather than professional commitment to reflexive sociology, what is necessary is building new forms of mediation between intellectuals and the masses that allow for mutual transformation, “from practice to theory and from theory to practice” (p. 121). This is the same problem Hayek and their Mont Pellerin Society Fellows-–a sort of Neoliberal International (Jones 2014)-– once foresaw and worked relentlessly to overcome. It is concerned not so much with the scientific as with political methods for integrating knowledge and political engagement. Acknowledgement of the crucial role played by progressive experts in the neoliberalization of the Left is not enough. Breaking “the very separation of political life from social science that is characteristic of contemporary society” (Riley 2018:126) requires something more than great books like Leftism Reinvented. To start, it necessitates direct political engagement in the critique and transformation of the established cannon of professionalism and forms of knowledge production within the capitalist university. The task, in the end, is that of the reorganization of the progressive intelligentsia and its relinking with bottom-up processes of mass mobilization and party formation. Such has been, and will be, the historical project of social democracy.


Hayek, Friedrich August. 1949. “The intellectuals and socialism.” The University of Chicago Law Review 16(3):417-33.

Jones, Daniel Stedman. 2014. Masters of the universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the birth of neoliberal politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Marx, K., and F. Engels. 2007. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy – The Process of Capitalist Production: Cosimo Classics.

Mudge, Stephanie Lee. 2018. Leftism reinvented: Western parties from socialism to neoliberalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Riley, D. 2018. “Science and Politics. A Response to Burawoy, Heilbron, & Steinmetz.” Catalyst 2(1):88-132.


Review of Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented

By Jeff Stilley, University of Missouri


In 1934, Karl Polanyi wrote, “Either capitalism or democracy must go. Fascism is the solution of the deadlock which leaves capitalism untouched. The other solution is socialism. Capitalism goes, democracy remains.” Polanyi’s socialism is a topic of debate among scholars, but he clearly hoped social democratic reforms would transcend the double movement to permanently subordinate markets to democracy. This hope never panned out. Explaining why socialist parties moved first to Keynesianism, then to neoliberalism, is the subject of a remarkable new book from sociologist Stephanie Mudge.