Western Marxism

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Western Marxism is Marxist theory arising from Western and Central Europe in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the ascent of Leninism. Karl Marx had predicted that socialist revolution would be achieved first in the developed West and after the ascent of Marxist-Leninism in comparatively agrarian Russia, these academics attempted to explain this unanticipated event.

The Western Marxists placed more emphasis on philosophical and sociological aspects, and its origins in the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (for which reason it is sometimes called Hegelian Marxism) and what they called "Young Marx" (ie - 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 the academia; especially after the Second World War. Prominent figures included Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer.

Since the 1960s, the concept has been closely associated with the New Left and the focus on identity politics and the cultural domain, rather than economics and class struggle (this became especially prominent in the United States and the Western world). 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.

Terminology[edit]

The phrase "Western Marxism" was coined in 1953 by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.[1] While it is often contrasted with the Marxism of the Soviet Union, Western Marxists were often divided in their opinion of it and other Marxist-Leninist states.

Distinctive elements[edit]

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 concern themselves instead with abstract and philosophical areas of Marxism. In its earliest years, Western Marxism's most characteristic element was a stress on the Hegelian and humanist components of Marx's thought.

Western Marxism often emphasises the importance of the study of culture for an adequate Marxist understanding of society. Western Marxists have thus elaborated often-complex variations on the theories of ideology and superstructure, which are only thinly sketched in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves.[citation needed]

British cultural studies[edit]

Usually seen as a separate current of thought from Western Marxism, cultural studies, developed by British academics in the 1960s, shares some common conceptions of classes with Western Marxism.[citation needed] The work of theorists such as Raymond Williams addresses issues of culture that were dismissed by previous Marxists as unimportant. There, as Stuart Hall, who founded The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies with Williams, argues that the divisions between classes such as "consumer" and "producer" have been overvalorised and has a view of British cultural studies that is more in line with postmodern thought.[2]

Political commitments[edit]

Western Marxists have held a wide variety of political commitments: 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.

List of Western Marxists[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1973). Adventures of the Dialectic. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. pp. 30–59. ISBN 0-8101-0404-0. 
  2. ^ Stuart Hall, Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, Eds. (2001). "Encoding/Decoding". Media And Cultural Studies: Keyworks: 171.  External link in |journal= (help)

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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.
  • 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.

External links[edit]