Western Marxism  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Western Marxism is a term used to describe a wide variety of Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe, in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union. While György Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy , first published in 1923, are often seen as the works which inaugurated this current, the phrase itself was coined much later by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Antonio Gramsci is also of great significance, though many of his writings were not translated into English until comparatively late. Western Marxists have commonly (but not exclusively) worked as professional academics; philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, literary critics, and so on.


Distinctive elements

Although there have been many schools of Marxism, such as Austromarxism or the Left Communism of Antonie Pannekoek or Rosa Luxemburg, that are sharply distinguished from Marxism-Leninism, the term "Western Marxism" is usually applied to Marxist theorists who downplay the primacy of economic analysis, concerning 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 Karl Marx's thought, but later forms of Western Marxism, such as Structural Marxism, have been just as strongly antihumanist.

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.

Political commitments

Western Marxists have varied in terms of political commitment: Lukács, Gramsci and Althusser (famous for his supposed "anti-humanism") were all members of Soviet-aligned parties; Karl Korsch was heavily critical of Soviet Marxism, advocating council communism and later becoming increasingly interested in anarchism; the theorists of The Frankfurt School tended towards political quietism, although Herbert Marcuse became known as the 'father of the New Left'; Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Lefebvre were, at different periods, supporters of the Communist Party of France, but all would later become disillusioned with it; Ernst Bloch lived in and supported the Soviet Union, but lost faith in it towards the end of his life. Maoism and Trotskyism also influenced Western Marxism.

Western Marxists

See also


  • Anderson, Perry. Considerations on Western Marxism. London: New Left Books, 1976.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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