This article explores two related questions. First, why has Marxist social theory been in sharp decline? Second, is Marxism still of value as a source of explanatory insights in the contemporary period? The author addresses the first question in terms of Marxism's decline as a specific resource in the study of China and as a general mode of analysis within social science and he provides a number of interconnected reasons, based primarily in the sociology of knowledge. These reasons for decline allow the argument to be made that Marxism still has something to offer because none of the reasons necessarily entails that Marxist concepts need lack explanatory relevance. This leads into the second question where the author explores how the realist movement in philosophy has been used by Marxists to provide an analytical underpinning that is compatible with Marx's work and where the author also discusses some aspects of contemporary China in terms of Marxist ways of thinking. These are then placed in an international context. The argument is part of a wider project to develop an applied philosophy of area studies.