It might at first seem attractive to say things like “Marxism can’t explain everything and although it is useful in its particular domain it’s not enough to explain the experiences of xyz, etc.”—but there’s a few things that people forget or don’t realize when they say that.
First, people mistake Marxism for a specific set of conclusions. When we realize that certain issues like racial or national oppression cannot be strictly analyzed through the lens of some pre-existing categories within the Marxist “canon,” we may be tempted to say that Marxism has reached its limit here. I must insist in contrast that, while i certainly feel many of the conclusions typically associated with Marxism are correct, all of these conclusions could actually be wrong and Marxism would still be “true” in the sense that it is most fundamentally a revolutionary way of approaching problems and enacting social change.
Second, what is particularly insidious about the idea that Marxism “doesn’t apply” to this or that is the broader implication—which is quite consistent with postmodern theory in general—that different “domains” of life require us to use different approaches, different methodologies, different systems, etc. Wittgenstein, for example, was one of the people who most rigorously argued this, and he held that different domains of life were playing different “language games” which each had their own logic. One conclusion that follows from this is that no domain of social life is really poised to evaluate the validity of the others or appeal to universal truths. This can seem like a compelling line of reasoning, especially since it aligns with the dominant ideology of late capitalism. But it begins to fall apart when one realizes that, to even be able to distinguish where different domains of social life lie and what separates them requires a “global” logic by which you make the distinctions. Proponents of the notion that there can only be “local” theoretical and political systems tailored to the specific conditions of different “domains” do not at all escape appealing to universals; they simply leave the universal principles upon which they base their conclusion completely unsaid, which i feel is extremely dangerous. At least with the liberal humanists, although they simply assert universality from on-high and base their notion on the most vague of abstractions, you know what their assumptions are.
So the question is, what do you hold to be universal? Because without universality, the notion of specificity literally has no meaning.
What do i think? Well, i think Marxism as a theoretical and political practice does have boundaries, but it is able to evaluate where its own boundaries lie utilizing certain principles which are universal. To be precise materialist dialectics contain statements about the very nature of existence which are of necessity global. The fact that materialist dialectics are the product of a concrete practice—namely, taking the standpoint of proletariat in the realm of theory—does not jeopardize their universal “reach.” In fact, i would say that the proletariat, a force which occurs at the point where the various contradictions of society fuse, is particularly poised to access the universal.
Further, the boundaries of Marxism as assessed under the framework of materialist dialectics are larger than many people assume. Remember that Marx does not simply presuppose social class and then analyze society through that lens. Marxism is ultimately interested in the social formation as a whole and in particular in the transformation of that social whole. Marx arrives at the concept of social class as a result (not as the point of departure!) of the study of the social formation in its entirety (which is also why he really only began to concretely articulate the concept of class near the end of his life). So, Marxism is immediately relevant whenever we are talking about the revolutionary transformation of social life. And i am convinced that it remains the best tool for catalyzing revolutionary change there is. After all, it is not a coincidence that the most successful revolutionary movements around the globe have either been explicitly communist or have at least tried to appropriate certain elements of Marxism to suit their purposes.
Long story short, Marxism as a whole “package” may have limits, but they are broader than most people assume, and within Marxism there are universal principles, without which it is impossible to even distinguish what is specific.