Western Marxism

Last updated

Western Marxism is a current of Marxist theory arising from Western and Central Europe in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the ascent of Leninism. The term denotes a loose collection of theorists who advanced an interpretation of Marxism distinct from that codified by the Soviet Union. [1]

Contents

The Western Marxists placed more emphasis on Marxism's philosophical and sociological aspects, and the origins of Marx's thought in the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (for which reason it is sometimes called Hegelian Marxism) [2] and what they called the "Young Marx" (i.e. the more humanistic early works of Marx). Although some early figures such as György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci had been prominent in political activities, Western Marxism became primarily the reserve of academia especially after World War II. Prominent figures included Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer.

Since the 1960s, the concept has been closely associated with the New Left. While many of the Western Marxists were adherents of Marxist humanism, the term also encompasses their critics in the form of the structural Marxism of Louis Althusser. [2]

Terminology

The phrase "Western Marxism" was coined in 1953 by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. [3] [4] While it is often contrasted with the Marxism of the Soviet Union, Western Marxists have been divided in their opinion of it and other Marxist-Leninist states. [5]

History and distinctive elements

Although there have been many schools of Marxist thought that are sharply distinguished from Marxism–Leninism, such as Austromarxism or the Left Communism of Antonie Pannekoek, the theorists who downplay the primacy of economic analysis are considered Western Marxists, as they focus on areas such as culture, philosophy and art. [1]

György Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy, published in 1923, are the works that inaugurated Western Marxism. [1] In these books, Lukács and Korsch proffer a Marxism that emphasises the Hegelian components of Karl Marx's thought. Marxism is not simply a theory of political economy that improves on its bourgeois predecessors. Nor is it a scientific sociology, akin to the natural sciences. Marxism is primarily a critique, a self-conscious transformation of society. Marxism does not make philosophy obsolete, as vulgar Marxism believes; Marxism preserves the truths of philosophy until their revolutionary transformation into reality. [6]

While their work was greeted with hostility by the Third International, [7] [8] which saw Marxism as a universal science of history and nature, [6] this style of Marxism would be taken up by Germany's Frankfurt School in the 1930s. [1] The writings of Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, produced during this period but not published until much later, are also classified as belonging to Western Marxism. [1]

After World War 2, a number of thinkers such as Lucien Goldmann, Henri Lefebvre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre would constitute a French Western Marxism. [1]

Western Marxism often emphasises the importance of the study of culture, class consciousness and subjectivity for an adequate Marxist understanding of society. [1] Western Marxists have thus tended to stress Marx's theories of commodity fetishism, ideology and alienation [1] and have elaborated these with new concepts such as false consciousness, reification and cultural hegemony. [9]

Western Marxism also focuses on the works of the Young Marx, where his encounters with Hegel, the Young Hegelians and Feuerbach reveal what many Western Marxists see as the humanist philosophical core of Marxism. [9] However, the Structural Marxism of Louis Althusser, which attempts to purge Marxism of Hegelianism and humanism, has also been said to belong to Western Marxism, as has the anti-Hegelian Marxism of Galvano Della Volpe. [2]

Political commitments

Western Marxists have held a wide variety of political commitments: [5] Lukács and Gramsci were members of Soviet-aligned parties; Korsch, Marcuse and Debord were highly critical of Soviet communism and instead advocated council communism; Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Althusser and Lefebvre were, at different periods, supporters of the Soviet-aligned Communist Party of France, but all would later become disillusioned with it; Bloch lived in and supported the Eastern Bloc, but lost faith in Soviet Communism towards the end of his life. Maoism and Trotskyism also influenced Western Marxism. Nicos Poulantzas, a later Western Marxist, was an advocate for Eurocommunism.

List of Western Marxists

See also

Related Research Articles

Maurice Merleau-Ponty French phenomenological philosopher

Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. The constitution of meaning in human experience was his main interest and he wrote on perception, art, and politics. He was on the editorial board of Les Temps modernes, the leftist magazine established by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945.

Louis Althusser French political philosopher

Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy.

<i>Critique of Dialectical Reason</i> book

Critique of Dialectical Reason is a 1960 book by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the author further develops the existentialist Marxism he first expounded in his essay Search for a Method (1957). Critique of Dialectical Reason and Search for a Method were written as a common manuscript, with Sartre intending the former to logically precede the latter. Critique of Dialectical Reason was Sartre's second large-scale philosophical treatise, Being and Nothingness (1943) having been the first. The book has been seen by some as an abandonment of Sartre's original existentialism, while others have seen it as a continuation and elaboration of his earlier work. It was translated into English by Alan Sheridan-Smith.

Frankfurt School A school of social theory and critical philosophy associated with the Institute for Social Research, at Goethe University Frankfurt

The Frankfurt School is a school of social theory and critical philosophy associated with the Institute for Social Research, at Goethe University Frankfurt. Founded in the Weimar Republic (1918–33), during the European interwar period (1918–39), the Frankfurt School comprised intellectuals, academics, and political dissidents who were ill-fitted to the contemporary socio-economic systems of the 1930s. The Frankfurt theorists proposed that social theory was inadequate for explaining the turbulent political factionalism and reactionary politics occurring in ostensibly liberal capitalist societies in the 20th century. Critical of capitalism and of Marxism–Leninism as philosophically inflexible systems of social organisation, the School's critical theory research indicated alternative paths to realising the social development of a society and a nation.

Karl Korsch German politician

Karl Korsch was a German Marxist theoretician. Along with György Lukács, Korsch is considered to be one of the major figures responsible for laying the groundwork for Western Marxism in the 1920s.

Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. "Praxis" may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Francis Bacon, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others. It has meaning in the political, educational, spiritual and medical realms.

Lucio Colletti was an Italian Western Marxist philosopher. Colletti started to be known outside Italy because of a long interview that Marxist historian Perry Anderson published in the New Left Review in 1974.

Philosophy in the Soviet Union

Philosophy in the Soviet Union was officially confined to Marxist–Leninist thinking, which theoretically was the basis of objective and ultimate philosophical truth. During the 1920s and 1930s, other tendencies of Russian thought were repressed. Joseph Stalin enacted a decree in 1931 identifying dialectical materialism with Marxism–Leninism, making it the official philosophy which would be enforced in all Communist states and, through the Comintern, in most Communist parties. Following the traditional use in the Second International, opponents would be labeled as "revisionists".

Marxist aesthetics theory of aesthetics based on, or derived from, the theories of Karl Marx

Marxist aesthetics is a theory of aesthetics based on, or derived from, the theories of Karl Marx. It involves a dialectical and materialist, or dialectical materialist, approach to the application of Marxism to the cultural sphere, specifically areas related to taste such as art, beauty, and so forth. Marxists believe that economic and social conditions, and especially the class relations that derive from them, affect every aspect of an individual's life, from religious beliefs to legal systems to cultural frameworks. From one classic Marxist point of view, the role of art is not only to represent such conditions truthfully, but also to seek to improve them ; however, this is a contentious interpretation of the limited but significant writing by Marx and Engels on art and especially on aesthetics. For instance, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, who greatly influenced the art of the early Soviet Union, followed the secular humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach more than he followed Marx.

<i>Louis Althusser and the Traditions of French Marxism</i> book by William S. Lewis

Louis Althusser and the Traditions of French Marxism is a 2005 book about the French philosopher Louis Althusser by William S. Lewis. The book received positive reviews. Lewis was complimented for his inclusion of translated documents of the French Communist Party.

<i>Search for a Method</i>

Search for a Method or The Problem of Method is a 1957 essay by Jean-Paul Sartre, in which he attempts to reconcile Marxism with existentialism. The first version of the essay was published in the Polish journal Twórczość; an adapted version appeared later that year in Les Temps modernes, and later served as an introduction for Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason. Sartre argues that existentialism and Marxism are compatible, even complementary, even though Marxism's materialism and determinism might seem to contradict the abstraction and radical freedom of existentialism.

Marxist schools of thought

Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that frames capitalism through a paradigm of exploitation, analyzes class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. While it originates from the works of 19th century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Marxism has had several different schools of thought.

<i>Main Currents of Marxism</i> Book

Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origins, Growth and Dissolution is a work about Marxism by the political philosopher Leszek Kołakowski. Its three volumes in English are: 1: The Founders, II: The Golden Age, and III: The Breakdown. It was first published in Polish in Paris in 1976, with the English translation appearing in 1978. In 2005, Main Currents of Marxism was republished in a one volume edition, with a new preface and epilogue by Kołakowski. The work was intended to be a "handbook" on Marxism by Kołakowski, who was once an orthodox Marxist but ultimately rejected Marxism. Despite his critical stand toward Marxism, Kołakowski endorsed the philosopher György Lukács's interpretation of Karl Marx.

Marxist humanism school of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marxs earlier writings, esp. the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 on alienation, as opposed to his later works, concerned with a structural conception of capitalist society

Marxist humanism is an international body of thought and political action rooted in an interpretation of the works of Karl Marx. The tendency was born in the 1940s and reached a degree of prominence in the 1950's and 1960's before being largely outshined by the anti-humanist Marxism of Louis Althusser.

Reification (Marxism)

In Marxism, reification is the process by which social relations are perceived as inherent attributes of the people involved in them, or attributes of some product of the relation, such as a traded commodity.

Class consciousness

In political theory and particularly Marxism, class consciousness is the set of beliefs that a person holds regarding their social class or economic rank in society, the structure of their class, and their class interests. According to Karl Marx, it is an awareness that is key to sparking a revolution that would "create a dictatorship of the proletariat, transforming it from a wage-earning, property-less mass into the ruling class".

Marxist philosophy Philosophy influenced by Marxist political thought

Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory, or works written by Marxists. Marxist philosophy may be broadly divided into Western Marxism, which drew out of various sources, and the official philosophy in the Soviet Union, which enforced a rigid reading of Marx called dialectical materialism, in particular during the 1930s. Marxist philosophy is not a strictly defined sub-field of philosophy, because the diverse influence of Marxist theory has extended into fields as varied as aesthetics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, theoretical psychology and philosophy of science, as well as its obvious influence on political philosophy and the philosophy of history. The key characteristics of Marxism in philosophy are its materialism and its commitment to political practice as the end goal of all thought. The theory is also about the hustles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.

György Lukács Marxist philosopher and literary critic

György Lukács was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, aesthetician, literary historian, and critic. He was one of the founders of Western Marxism, an interpretive tradition that departed from the Marxist ideological orthodoxy of the Soviet Union. He developed the theory of reification, and contributed to Marxist theory with developments of Karl Marx's theory of class consciousness. He was also a philosopher of Leninism. He ideologically developed and organised Lenin's pragmatic revolutionary practices into the formal philosophy of vanguard-party revolution.

Dialectical materialism strand of Marxism

Dialectical materialism is a philosophy of science and nature developed in Europe and based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In contrast to the Hegelian dialectic, which emphasized the idealist observation that human experience is dependent on the mind's perceptions, Marxist dialectics emphasizes the importance of real-world conditions, in terms of class, labor, and socioeconomic interactions. Marx supposed that these material conditions contained contradictions which seek resolution in new forms of social organization.

<i>History and Class Consciousness</i> book by György Lukács

History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics is a 1923 book by the Hungarian philosopher György Lukács, in which the author re-emphasizes Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's influence on Karl Marx, analyses the concept of "class consciousness", and attempts a philosophical justification of Bolshevism.

References

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Jacoby, Russell (1991). "Western Marxism". In Bottomore, Tom; Harris, Laurence; Kiernan, V.G.; Miliband, Ralph (eds.). The Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second ed.). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 581. ISBN   0-631-16481-2.
  2. 1 2 3 Jay, Martin (1984). Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukacs to Habermas. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 3. ISBN   0-7456-0000-X.
  3. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1973). Adventures of the Dialectic . Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. pp. 30–59. ISBN   0-8101-0404-0.
  4. Jay, Martin (1984). Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukacs to Habermas. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 1. ISBN   0-7456-0000-X.
  5. 1 2 Jay, Martin (1984). Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukacs to Habermas. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 7-8. ISBN   0-7456-0000-X.
  6. 1 2 Jacoby, Russell (1991). "Western Marxism". In Bottomore, Tom; Harris, Laurence; Kiernan, V.G.; Miliband, Ralph (eds.). The Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second ed.). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 582. ISBN   0-631-16481-2.
  7. Kołakowski, Leszek (2005). Main Currents of Marxism. London: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 994–5. ISBN   978-0-393-32943-8.
  8. Kołakowski, Leszek (2005). Main Currents of Marxism. London: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 1034. ISBN   978-0-393-32943-8.
  9. 1 2 Jacoby, Russell (1991). "Western Marxism". In Bottomore, Tom; Harris, Laurence; Kiernan, V.G.; Miliband, Ralph (eds.). The Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second ed.). Blackwell Publishers Ltd. p. 583. ISBN   0-631-16481-2.

Bibliography

  • Anderson, Perry. Considerations on Western Marxism. London: New Left Books, 1976.
  • Bahr, Ehrhard (2008). Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism. University of California Press. ISBN   0520257952.
  • Fetscher, Iring. Marx and Marxism. New York: Herder and Herder, 1971.
  • Grahl, Bart, and Paul Piccone, eds. Towards a New Marxism. St. Louis: Telos Press, 1973.
  • Howard, Dick, and Karl E. Klare, eds. The Unknown Dimension: European Marxism Since Lenin. New York: Basic Books, 1972.
  • Jacoby, Russell, Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
  • Jay, Martin, Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukacs to Habermas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
  • Korsch, Karl. Marxism and Philosophy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.
  • Lukacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. London: Merlin, 1971.
  • McInnes, Neil. The Western Marxists. New York: Library Press, 1972.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Adventures of the Dialectic. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973.
  • Van der Linden, Marcel. Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. Leiden: Brill, 2007.