Marxist philosophy

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.

Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, for example, defined philosophy as "class struggle in theory", thus radically separating himself from those who claimed philosophers could adopt a "God's eye view" as a purely neutral judge.

Marxism and philosophy

The philosopher Étienne Balibar wrote in 1996 that "there is no Marxist philosophy and there never will be; on the other hand, Marx is more important for philosophy than ever before."[1] So even the existence of Marxist philosophy is debatable (the answer may depend on what is meant by "philosophy," a complicated question in itself). Balibar's remark is intended to explain the significance of the final line of Karl Marx's 11 Theses on Feuerbach (1845), which can be read as an epitaph for philosophy: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it".

If this claim (which Marx originally intended as a criticism of German Idealism and the more moderate Young Hegelians) is still more or less the case in the 21st century, as many Marxists would claim, then Marxist theory is in fact the practical continuation of the philosophical tradition, while much of philosophy is still politically irrelevant. Many critics, both philosophers outside Marxism and some Marxist philosophers, feel that this is too quick a dismissal of the post-Marxian philosophical tradition.

Much sophisticated and important thought has taken place after the writing of Marx and Engels; much or perhaps even all of it has been influenced, subtly or overtly, by Marxism. Simply dismissing all philosophy as sophistry might condemn Marxism to a simplistic empiricism or economism, crippling it in practice and making it comically simplistic at the level of theory.

Nonetheless, the force of Marx's opposition to Hegelian idealism and to any "philosophy" divorced from political practice remains powerful even to a contemporary reader. Marxist and Marx-influenced 20th century theory, such as (to name a few random examples) the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, the political writing of Antonio Gramsci, and the neo-Marxism of Fredric Jameson, must take Marx's condemnation of philosophy into account, but many such thinkers also feel a strong need to remedy the perceived theoretical problems with orthodox Marxism.

Such problems might include a too-simple economic determinism, an untenable theory of ideology as "false consciousness," or a simplistic model of state power rather than hegemony. So Marxist philosophy must continue to take account of advances in the theory of politics developed after Marx, but it must also be wary of a descent into theoreticism or the temptations of idealism.

Étienne Balibar claimed that if one philosopher could be called a "Marxist philosopher", that one would doubtlessly be Louis Althusser:

Althusser proposed a 'new definition' of philosophy as "class struggle in theory"... marxism had proper signification (and original "problematic") only insofar as it was the theory of the tendency towards communism, and in view of its realization. The criteria of acceptation or rejectal of a 'marxist' proposition was always the same, whether it was presented as 'epistemological' or as 'philosophical': it was in the act of rendering intelligible a communist policy, or not." (Ecrits pour Althusser, 1991, p.98).

However, "Althusser never ceased to put in question the images of communism that Marxist theory and ideology carried on: but he did it in the name of communism itself." Althusser thus criticized the evolutionist image which made of communism an ultimate stage of history, as well as the apocalyptic images which made it a "society of transparence", "without contradiction" nor ideology. Balibar observes that, in the end, Althusser enjoined the most sober definition of communism, exposed by Marx in The German Ideology: Communism is "not a state of the future, but the real movement which destroys the existing state of being.".

Karl Marx's philosophy

G.W.F. Hegel (by Sichling, after Sebbers)
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was an important figure in the development of Marxism.

There are endless interpretations of the "philosophy of Marx", from the interior of the Marxist movement as well as in its exterior. Although some have separated Marx's works between a "young Marx" (in particular the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844) and a "mature Marx" or also by separating it into purely philosophical works, economics works and political and historical interventions, Étienne Balibar (1993) has pointed out that Marx's works can be divided into "economic works" (Das Kapital, 1867), "philosophical works" and "historical works" (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the 1871 Civil War in France which concerned the Paris Commune and acclaimed it as the first "dictatorship of the proletariat", etc.)

Marx's philosophy is thus inextricably linked to his critique of political economy and to his historical interventions in the workers' movement, such as the 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program or The Communist Manifesto, written with Engels (who was observing the Chartist movement) a year before the Revolutions of 1848. Both after the defeat of the French socialist movement during Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's 1851 coup and then after the crushing of the 1871 Paris Commune, Marx's thought transformed itself.

Marxism's philosophical roots were thus commonly explained as derived from three sources: English political economy, French republicanism and radicalism, and German idealist philosophy. Although this "three sources" model is an oversimplification, it still has some measure of truth.

On the other hand, Costanzo Preve (1990) has assigned four "masters" to Marx: Epicurus (to whom he dedicated his thesis, Difference of natural philosophy between Democritus and Epicurus, 1841) for his materialism and theory of clinamen which opened up a realm of liberty; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from which come his idea of egalitarian democracy; Adam Smith, from whom came the idea that the grounds of property is labour; and finally Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

"Vulgar Marxism" (or codified dialectical materialism) was seen as little other than a variety of economic determinism, with the alleged determination of the ideological superstructure by the economical infrastructure. This positivist reading, which mostly based itself on Engels' latter writings in an attempt to theorize "scientific socialism" (an expression coined by Engels) has been challenged by Marxist theorists, such as Lukacs, Gramsci, Althusser or, more recently, Étienne Balibar.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Marx developed a comprehensive, theoretical understanding of political reality early in his intellectual and activist career by means of a critical adoption and radicalization of the categories of 18th and 19th century German Idealist thought. Of particular importance is Hegel's appropriation of Aristotle's organicist and essentialist categories in the light of Kant's transcendental turn.[2]:30

Marx builds on four contributions Hegel makes to our philosophical understanding. They are: (1) the replacement of mechanism and atomism with Aristotelean categories of organicism and essentialism, (2) the idea that world history progresses through stages, (3) the difference between natural and historical (dialectical) change, and (4) the idea that dialectical change proceeds through contradictions in the thing itself.

(1) Aristotelian organicism and essentialism

(a) Hegel adopts the position that chance is not the basis of phenomena and that events are governed by laws.[2]:31 Some have falsely attributed to Hegel the position that phenomena are governed by transcendent, supersensible ideas that ground them. On the contrary, Hegel argues for the organic unity between universal and particular.[2]:31 Particulars are not mere token types of universals; rather, they relate to each other as a part relates to a whole. This latter has import for Marx's own conception of law and necessity.

(b) In rejecting the idea that laws merely describe or independently ground phenomena, Hegel revives the Aristotlean position that law or principle is something implicit in a thing, a potentiality which is not actual but which is in the process of becoming actual.[2]:31 This means that if we want to know the principle governing something, we have to observe its typical life-process and figure out its characteristic behavior. Observing an acorn on its own, we can never deduce that it is an oak tree. To figure out what the acorn is - and also what the oak tree is - we have to observe the line of development from one to the other.

(c) The phenomena of history arise from a whole with an essence which undergoes transformation of form and which has an end or telos.[2]:32 For Hegel, the essence of humanity is freedom, and the telos of that essence is the actualization of that freedom.[2]:32 Like Aristotle, Hegel believes the essence of a thing is revealed in the entire, typical process of development of that thing. Looked at purely formally, human society has a natural line of development in accordance with its essence just like any other living thing. This process of development appears as a succession of stages of world history.

(2) Stages of world history

Human history passes through several stages, in each of which is materialized a higher level of human consciousness of freedom.[2]:32 Each stage also has its own principle or law according to which it develops and lives in accordance with this freedom.[2]:32 Yet the law is not free-standing. It is delivered by means of the actions of men which spring from their needs, passions, and interests.[2]:32 Teleology, according to Hegel, is not opposed to the efficient causation provided by passion; on the contrary, the latter is the vehicle realizing the former.[2]:32 Hegel consistently lays more stress on passion than on the more historically specifiable interests of men.[2]:32 Marx will reverse this priority.[2]:32

(3) Difference between natural and historical change

Hegel distinguishes as Aristotle did not between the application of organic, essentialist categories to the realm of human history and the realm of organic nature.[2]:33 According to Hegel, human history strives toward perfectibility, but nature does not.[2]:34 Marx deepens and expands this idea into the claim that humankind itself can adapt society to its own purposes rather than adapting themselves to it.[2]:34

Natural and historical change, according to Hegel, have two different kinds of essences.[2]:34 Organic natural entities develop through a straightforward process, relatively simple to comprehend at least in outline.[2]:34 Historical development, however, is a more complex process.[2]:35 Its specific difference is its "dialectical" character.[2]:35 The process of natural development occurs in a relatively straight line from the germ to the fully realized being and back to the germ again. Some accident from the outside might come along to interrupt this process of development, but if left to its own devices, it proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner.

Society's historical development is internally more complex.[2]:35 The transaction from potentiality to actuality is mediated by consciousness and will.[2]:35 The essence realized in the development of human society is freedom, but freedom is precisely that ability to negate the smooth line of development and go off in novel, hitherto unforeseen directions. As humankind's essence reveals itself, that revelation is at the same time the subversion of itself. Spirit is constantly at war with itself.[2]:35 This appears as the contradictions constituting the essence of Spirit.

(4) Contradiction

In the development of a natural thing, there is by and large no contradiction between the process of development and the way that development must appear.[2]:36 So the transition from an acorn, to an oak, to an acorn again occurs in a relatively uninterrupted flow of the acorn back to itself again. When change in the essence takes place, as it does in the process of evolution, we can understand the change mostly in mechanical terms using principles of genetics and natural selection.

The historical process, however, never attempts to preserve an essence in the first place.[2]:36 Rather, it develops an essence through successive forms.[2]:36 This means that at any moment on the path of historical change, there is a contradiction between what exists and what is in the process of coming-to-be.[2]:36 The realization of a natural thing like a tree is a process that by and large points back toward itself: every step of the process takes place in order to reproduce the genus. In the historical process, however, what exists, what is actual, is imperfect.[2]:37 It is inimical to the potential. What is trying to come into existence - freedom - inherently negates everything preceding it and everything existing, since no actual existing human institution can possibly embody pure human freedom. So the actual is both itself and its opposite (as potential).[2]:37 And this potential (freedom) is never inert but constantly exerts an impulse toward change.[2]:37

Rupture with German idealism and the Young Hegelians

Marx did not study directly with Hegel, but after Hegel died Marx studied under one of Hegel's pupils, Bruno Bauer, a leader of the circle of Young Hegelians to whom Marx attached himself. However, Marx and Engels came to disagree with Bruno Bauer and the rest of the Young Hegelians about socialism and also about the usage of Hegel's dialectic. Having achieved his thesis on the Difference of natural philosophy between Democritus and Epicurus in 1841, the young Marx progressively broke away with the Prussian university and its teachings impregnated by German Idealism (Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel).

Along with Engels, who observed the Chartist movement in the United Kingdom, he cut away with the environment in which he grew up and encountered the proletariat in France and Germany. He then wrote a scathing criticism of the Young Hegelians in two books, The Holy Family (1845), and The German Ideology (1845), in which he criticized not only Bauer but also Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own (1844), considered as one of the founding book of individualist anarchism. Max Stirner claimed that all ideals were inherently alienating, and that replacing God with Humanity, as did Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity (1841), was not sufficient. According to Stirner, any ideals, God, Humanity, the Nation, or even the Revolution alienated the "Ego". Marx also criticized Proudhon, who had become famous with his cry "Property is theft!", in The Poverty of Philosophy (1845).

Marx's early writings are thus a response towards Hegel, German Idealism and a break with the rest of the Young Hegelians. Marx, "stood Hegel on his head," in his own view of his role, by turning the idealistic dialectic into a materialistic one, in proposing that material circumstances shape ideas, instead of the other way around. In this, Marx was following the lead of Feuerbach. His theory of alienation, developed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (published in 1932), inspired itself from Feuerbach's critique of the alienation of Man in God through the objectivation of all his inherent characteristics (thus man projected on God all qualities which are in fact man's own quality which defines the "human nature").

But Marx also criticized Feuerbach for being insufficiently materialistic, as Stirner himself had pointed out, and explained that the alienation described by the Young Hegelians was in fact the result of the structure of the economy itself. Furthermore, he criticized Feuerbach's conception of human nature in his sixth thesis on Feuerbach as an abstract "kind" which incarnated itself in each singular individual: "Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man (menschliche Wesen, human nature). But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations."

Thereupon, instead of founding itself on the singular, concrete individual subject, as did classic philosophy, including contractualism (Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau) but also political economy, Marx began with the totality of social relations: labour, language and all which constitute our human existence. He claimed that individualism was the result of commodity fetishism or alienation. Some critics have claimed that meant that Marx enforced a strict social determinism which destroyed the possibility of free will.

Criticisms of human rights

In the same way, following Babeuf, considered as one of the founder of communism during the French Revolution, he criticized the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as a "bourgeois declaration" of the rights of the "egoistic individual", ultimately based on the "right to private property", which economism deduced from its own implicit "philosophy of the subject", which asserts the preeminence of an individual and universal subject over social relations. On the other hand, Marx also criticized Bentham's utilitarianism.

Alongside Freud, Nietzsche, and Durkheim, Marx thus takes a place amongst the 19th century philosophers who criticized this pre-eminence of the subject and its consciousness.[3] Instead, Marx saw consciousness as political. According to Marx, the recognition of these individual rights was the result of the universal extension of market relations to all of society and to all of the world, first through the primitive accumulation of capital (including the first period of European colonialism) and then through the globalization of the capitalist sphere. Such individual rights were the symmetric of the "right for the labourer" to "freely" sell his labor force on the marketplace through juridical contracts, and worked in the same time as an ideological means to discompose the collective grouping of producers required by the Industrial Revolution: thus, in the same time that the Industrial Era requires masses to concentrate themselves in factories and in cities, the individualist, "bourgeois" ideology separated themselves as competing homo economicus.

Marx's critique of the ideology of the human rights thus departs from the counterrevolutionary critique by Edmund Burke, who dismissed the "rights of Man" in favour of the "rights of the individual": it is not grounded on an opposition to the Enlightenment's universalism and humanist project on behalf of the right of tradition, as in Burke's case, but rather on the claim that the ideology of economism and the ideology of the human rights are the reverse sides of the same coin. However, as Étienne Balibar puts it, "the accent put on those contradictions can not not ring out on the signification of 'human rights', since these therefore appears both as the language in which exploitation masks itself and as the one in which the exploited class struggle express itself: more than a truth or an illusion, it is therefore a stake".[4] Das Kapital ironizes on the "pompous catalogue of the human rights" in comparison to the "modest Magna Charta of a day work limited by law":

The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class... It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity "labour-power" face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no "free agent," that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him "so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited." For "protection" against "the serpent of their agonies," the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death. In place of the pompous catalogue of the "inalienable rights of man" comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear "when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins. Quantum mutatus ab illo![How changed from what he/it was!]"[5]

But the communist revolution does not end with the negation of individual liberty and equality ("collectivism"[6]), but with the "negation of the negation": "individual property" in the capitalist regime is in fact the "expropriation of the immediate producers." "Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent laboring-individual with the conditions of his labor, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labor of others, i.e., on wage-labor... The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labor of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on co-operation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.[7]

Criticisms of Ludwig Feuerbach

What distinguished Marx from Feuerbach was his view of Feuerbach's humanism as excessively abstract, and so no less ahistorical and idealist than what it purported to replace, namely the reified notion of God found in institutional Christianity that legitimized the repressive power of the Prussian state. Instead, Marx aspired to give ontological priority to what he called the "real life process" of real human beings, as he and Engels said in The German Ideology (1846):

In direct contrast to German philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this, their real existence, their thinking, and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.

Also, in his Theses on Feuerbach (1845), in which the young Marx broke with Feuerbach's idealism, he writes that "the philosophers have only described the world, in various ways, the point is to change it," and his materialist approach allows for and empowers such change. This opposition between various subjective interpretations given by philosophers, which may be, in a sense, compared with Weltanschauung designed to legitimize the current state of affairs, and effective transformation of the world through praxis, which combines theory and practice in a materialist way, is what distinguish "Marxist philosophers" with the rest of philosophers.

Indeed, Marx's break with German Idealism involves a new definition of philosophy; Louis Althusser, founder of "Structural Marxism" in the 1960s, would define it as "class struggle in theory". Marx's movement away from university philosophy and towards the workers' movement is thus inextricably linked to his rupture with his earlier writings, which pushed Marxist commentators to speak of a "young Marx" and a "mature Marx", although the nature of this cut poses problems.

A year before the Revolutions of 1848, Marx and Engels thus wrote The Communist Manifesto, which was prepared to an imminent revolution, and ended with the famous cry: "Proletarians of all countries, unite!". However, Marx's thought changed again following Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte's December 2, 1851 coup, which put an end to the French Second Republic and created the Second Empire which would last until the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.

Marx thereby modified his theory of alienation exposed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and would later arrive to his theory of commodity fetishism, exposed in the first chapter of the first book of Das Kapital (1867). This abandonment of the early theory of alienation would be amply discussed, and several Marxist theorists, including Marxist humanists such as the Praxis School, would return to it. Others, such as Althusser, would claim that the "epistemological break" between the "young Marx" and the "mature Marx" was such that no comparisons could be done between both works, marking a shift to a "scientific theory" of society.

In 1844-5, when Marx was starting to settle his account with Hegel and the Young Hegelians in his writings, he critiqued the Young Hegelians for limiting the horizon of their critique to religion and not taking up the critique of the state and civil society as paramount. Indeed, in 1844, by the look of Marx's writings in that period (most famous of which is the "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844", a text that most explicitly elaborated his theory of alienation), Marx's thinking could have taken at least three possible courses: the study of law, religion, and the state; the study of natural philosophy; and the study of political economy.

He chose the last as the predominant focus of his studies for the rest of his life, largely on account of his previous experience as the editor of the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung on whose pages he fought for freedom of expression against Prussian censorship and made a rather idealist, legal defense for the Moselle peasants' customary right of collecting wood in the forest (this right was at the point of being criminalized and privatized by the state). It was Marx's inability to penetrate beneath the legal and polemical surface of the latter issue to its materialist, economic, and social roots that prompted him to critically study political economy.

Historical materialism

Marx summarized the materialistic aspect of his theory of history, otherwise known as historical materialism (this term was coined by Engels and popularised by Karl Kautsky and Georgi Plekhanov), in the 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

In this brief popularization of his ideas, Marx emphasized that social development sprang from the inherent contradictions within material life and the social superstructure. This notion is often understood as a simple historical narrative: primitive communism had developed into slave states. Slave states had developed into feudal societies. Those societies in turn became capitalist states, and those states would be overthrown by the self-conscious portion of their working-class, or proletariat, creating the conditions for socialism and, ultimately, a higher form of communism than that with which the whole process began. Marx illustrated his ideas most prominently by the development of capitalism from feudalism, and by the prediction of the development of socialism from capitalism.

The base-superstructure and stadialist formulations in the 1859 preface took on canonical status in the subsequent development of orthodox Marxism, in particular in dialectical materialism (diamat, as it was known in the Soviet Union). They also gave way to a vulgar Marxism as plain economic determinism (or economism), which has been criticized by various Marxist theorists. "Vulgar Marxism" was seen as little other than a variety of economic determinism, with the alleged determination of the ideological superstructure by the economical infrastructure. However, this positivist reading, which mostly based itself on Engels' latter writings in an attempt to theorize "scientific socialism" (an expression coined by Engels) has been challenged by Marxist theorists, such as Antonio Gramsci or Althusser.

Some believe that Marx regarded them merely as a shorthand summary of his huge ongoing work-in-progress (which was only published posthumously over a hundred years later as Grundrisse). These sprawling, voluminous notebooks that Marx put together for his research on political economy, particularly those materials associated with the study of "primitive communism" and pre-capitalist communal production, in fact, show a more radical turning "Hegel on his head" than heretofore acknowledged by most mainstream Marxists and Marxiologists.

In lieu of the Enlightenment belief in historical progress and stages espoused by Hegel (often in a racist, Eurocentric manner, as in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History), Marx pursues in these research notes a decidedly empirical approach to analyzing historical changes and different modes of production, emphasizing without forcing them into a teleological paradigm the rich varieties of communal productions throughout the world and the critical importance of collective working-class antagonism in the development of capitalism.

Moreover, Marx's rejection of the necessity of bourgeois revolution and appreciation of the obschina, the communal land system, in Russia in his letter to Vera Zasulich; respect for the egalitarian culture of North African Muslim commoners found in his letters from Algeria; and sympathetic and searching investigation of the global commons and indigenous cultures and practices in his notebooks, including the Ethnological Notebooks that he kept during his last years, all point to a historical Marx who was continuously developing his ideas until his deathbed and does not fit into any pre-existing ideological straitjacket.

Differences within Marxist philosophy

Some varieties of Marxist philosophy are strongly influenced by Hegel, emphasizing totality and even teleology: for example, the work of Georg Lukács, whose influence extends to contemporary thinkers like Fredric Jameson. Others consider "totality" merely another version of Hegel's "spirit," and thus condemn it as a crippling, secret idealism.

Theodor Adorno, a leading philosopher of the Frankfurt School, who was strongly influenced by Hegel, tried to take a middle path between these extremes: Adorno contradicted Hegel's motto "the true is the whole" with his new version, "the whole is the false," but he wished to preserve critical theory as a negative, oppositional version of the utopia described by Hegel's "spirit." Adorno believed in totality and human potential as ends to be striven for, but not as certainties.

The status of humanism in Marxist thought has been quite contentious. Many Marxists, especially Hegelian Marxists and also those committed to political programs (such as many Communist Parties), have been strongly humanist. These humanist Marxists believe that Marxism describes the true potential of human beings, and that this potential can be fulfilled in collective freedom after the Communist revolution has removed capitalism's constraints and subjugations of humanity. A particular version of the humanism within the marxism is represented by the school of Lev Vygotsky and his school in theoretical psychology (Alexis Leontiev, Laszlo Garai[8]). The Praxis school based its theory on the writings of the young Marx, emphasizing the humanist and dialectical aspects thereof.

However, other Marxists, especially those influenced by Louis Althusser, are just as strongly anti-humanist. Anti-humanist Marxists believe that ideas like "humanity," "freedom," and "human potential" are pure ideology, or theoretical versions of the bourgeois economic order. They feel that such concepts can only condemn Marxism to theoretical self-contradictions which may also hurt it politically.

Key works and authors

See also


  1. ^ Étienne Balibar, 1993. La philosophie de Marx, La Découverte, Repères (English edition, The Philosophy of Marx. Verso, 1995)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Meikle, Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx, Open Court Publishing Company (1985).
  3. ^ See section on "The Individual and Society.""Émile Durkheim (1858—1917)".
  4. ^ Étienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx, 1993, p.74 original edition
  5. ^ Karl Marx, Das Kapital, chapter X, section 7
  6. ^ Louis Dumont argued that Marx represented exacerbated individualism instead of holism as the popular interpretation of Marxism as "collectivism" would have it
  7. ^ Karl Marx, Das Kapital, chapter XXXII, section 1
  8. ^ Interview with Laszlo Garai on the Activity Theory of Alexis Leontiev and his own Theory of Social Identity as referred to the meta-theory of Lev Vygotsky. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 50, no. 1, January–February 2012, pp. 50–64


  • Balibar, Étienne, The Philosophy of Marx. Verso, 1995 (French edition: La philosophie de Marx, La Découverte, Repères, 1991)
  • Bottomore, Thomas, ed.. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Blackwell, 1991.
Chinese Marxist philosophy

Chinese Marxist Philosophy is the philosophy of dialectical materialism that was introduced into China in the early 1900s and continues in the Chinese academia to the current day.

Marxist philosophy was initially imported into China between 1900 and 1930, in translations from German, Russian and Japanese. The Chinese translator of the Origin of Species, Ma Junwu, was also the first one who introduced Marxism into China. For Ma, evolutionism and Marxism are the secrets of social development. This was before the formal dialectical materialism of the Communist Party, in which many independent radical intellectuals embraced Marxism. Many of them would later join the Party. Chinese Dialectical Materialism began to be formalized during the 1930s, under the influence of Mitin's New Philosophy. In the late 1930s, Chairman Mao Zedong would begin to develop his own sinified version of Dialectical Materialism that was independent of the Soviet Philosophy. Maoist Dialectics remained the dominant paradigm into the 1970s, and most debates were on technical questions of dialectical ontology. In the 1980s the Dengist reforms led to a large-scale translation and influence of works of Western Marxism and Marxist Humanism.

Critical theory

Critical theory is the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities. As a term, critical theory has two meanings with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and the second originated in literary criticism, whereby it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique; thus, the theorist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."In sociology and political philosophy, the term "Critical Theory" describes the Western Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. This use of the term requires proper noun capitalization, whereas "a critical theory" or "a critical social theory" may have similar elements of thought, but not stress its intellectual lineage specifically to the Frankfurt School. Frankfurt School critical theorists drew on the critical methods of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. Critical theory was established as a school of thought primarily by the Frankfurt School theoreticians Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Erich Fromm. Modern critical theory has additionally been influenced by György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as well as the second generation Frankfurt School scholars, notably Jürgen Habermas. In Habermas's work, critical theory transcended its theoretical roots in German idealism and progressed closer to American pragmatism. Concern for social "base and superstructure" is one of the remaining Marxist philosophical concepts in much of contemporary critical theory.Postmodern critical theory politicizes social problems "by situating them in historical and cultural contexts, to implicate themselves in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and to relativize their findings."

Cultural hegemony

In Marxist philosophy, cultural hegemony is the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the culture of that society—the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores—so that their imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm; the universally valid dominant ideology, which justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.In philosophy and in sociology, the term cultural hegemony has denotations and connotations derived from the Ancient Greek word ἡγεμονία (hegemonia) indicating leadership and rule. In politics, hegemony is the geopolitical method of indirect imperial dominance, with which the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states by the threat of intervention, an implied means of power, often soft power, rather than by direct military force, that is, invasion, occupation, and annexation.

Dictatorship of the proletariat

In Marxist philosophy, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a state of affairs in which the working class hold political power. Proletarian dictatorship is the intermediate stage between a capitalist economy and a communist economy, whereby the government nationalises ownership of the means of production from private to collective ownership. The socialist revolutionary Joseph Weydemeyer coined the term "dictatorship of the proletariat", which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels adopted to their philosophy and economics. The Paris Commune (1871), which controlled the capital city for two months, before being suppressed, was an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In Marxist philosophy, the term "Dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" is the antonym to "dictatorship of the proletariat".The term "dictatorship" indicates the retention of the state apparatus, but differs from individual dictatorship, the rule of one man. The term 'dictatorship of the proletariat implies the complete "socialization of the major means of production", the planning of material production in service to the social and economic needs of the population, such as the right to work, education, health and welfare services, public housing.

There are multiple popular trends for this political thought, all of which believe the state will be retained post-revolution for its enforcement capabilities:

Marxism–Leninism follows the ideas of Marxism and Leninism as interpreted by Vladimir Lenin's successor Joseph Stalin. It seeks to organise a vanguard party, as advocated by Marx, and to lead a proletarian uprising, to assume state power on behalf of the proletariat and to construct a single-party "socialist state" representing a dictatorship of the proletariat, governed through the process of democratic centralism, which Lenin described as "diversity in discussion, unity in action". Marxism–Leninism forms the official ideology of the ruling parties of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, and was the official ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from the late 1920's, and later of the other ruling parties making up the Eastern Bloc.

Libertarian Marxists criticize Marxism–Leninism for perceived differences from orthodox Marxism, opposing the Leninist principle of democratic centralism and the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of vanguardism. Along with Trotskyists, they also oppose the use of a one-party state which they view as inherently undemocratic, although Trotskyists are still Bolsheviks, subscribing to democratic centralism and soviet democracy, seeing their ideology as a more accurate interpretation of Leninism. Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist theorist, emphasized the role of the vanguard party as representative of the whole class, and the dictatorship of the proletariat as the entire proletariat's rule, characterizing the dictatorship of the proletariat as a concept meant to expand democracy rather than reduce it - as opposed to minority rule in the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.In The Road to Serfdom (1944), the neoliberal economist Friedrich Hayek wrote that the dictatorship of the proletariat likely would destroy personal freedom as completely as does an autocracy.

Dominant ideology

In Marxist philosophy, the term dominant ideology denotes the attitudes, beliefs, values, and morals shared by the majority of the people in a given society. As a mechanism of social control, the dominant ideology frames how the majority of the population thinks about the nature of society, their place in society, and their connection to a social class.In The German Ideology (1845), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said that "The ideas of the ruling class are, in any age, the ruling ideas" applied to every social class in service to the interests of the ruling class. Hence, in the revolutionary practice, the slogan: "The dominant ideology is the ideology of the dominant class" summarises its function as a revolutionary basis.In a capitalist, bourgeois society, Marxist revolutionary praxis seeks to achieve the social and political circumstances that render the ruling class as politically illegitimate, as such, it is requisite for the successful deposition of the capitalist system of production. Then, the ideology of the working class achieves and establishes social, political, and economic dominance, so that the proletariat (the urban working class and the peasantry) can assume power (political and economic) as the dominant class of the society.In non-Marxist theory, the dominant ideology means the values, beliefs, and morals shared by the social majority, which frames how most of the populace think about their society, and so, to the extent that it does, it may serve the interests of the ruling class; therefore, the extent to which a dominant ideology effectively dominates collective societal thought has declined during the modern era.

Economic determinism

Economic determinism is a socioeconomic theory that economic relationships (such as being an owner or capitalist, or being a worker or proletarian) are the foundation upon which all other societal and political arrangements in society are based. The theory stresses that societies are divided into competing economic classes whose relative political power is determined by the nature of the economic system. In the version associated with Karl Marx, the emphasis is on the proletariat who are considered to be locked in a class struggle with the capitalist class, which will eventually end with the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the gradual development of socialism. Marxist thinkers have dismissed plain and unilateral economic determinism as a form of "vulgar Marxism", or "economism", nowhere included in Marx's works.

In the writing of American history the term is associated with historian Charles A. Beard (1874–1948), who was not a Marxist but who emphasized the long-term political contest between bankers and business interest on the one hand, and agrarian interests on the other.

Jia Gaojian

Jia Gaojian (simplified Chinese: 贾高建; traditional Chinese: 賈高建; pinyin: Jiǎ Gāojiàn; born May 1959) is the current director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, an organ under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, a position in which he has served since January 2013. Jia is the superintendent of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China and a professor and doctoral advisor at the same institution. He is also the vice president of the China Historical Materialism Society. Gao's primary research areas include Marxist philosophy and social philosophy.

Kuroda Kan'ichi

Kuroda Kan'ichi (黒田 寛一, October 20, 1927 – June 26, 2006) was a 20th-century Japanese philosopher and social theorist. Born in Fuchū, Tokyo as the son of a doctor, he began studying Marxist philosophy at the age of twenty, in 1947, following the defeat of Japan and the subsequent U.S. occupation of Japan. At this time the workers movement in Japan was quite strong, but very influenced by pro-Soviet politics. Kuroda began studying closely works by prominent Japanese philosophers, among them Umemoto Katsumi, Kakehashi Akihide and Uno Kōzō.

In 1956, following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Kuroda joined Kurihara Tōichi in forming the first Trotskyist organization in Japanese history. Kuroda criticised the mechanical "materialism" that was prevalent in the orthodox Marxism, and instead developed a philosophical theory of "Materialist Subjectivity".

In 1959, Kuroda became the Chairman of the Japan Revolutionary Communist League. He wrote over fifty books published both in Japan and other countries on such subjects as Marxist philosophy, the analysis of Soviet society, Japanese cultural history, theory and praxis of organization building, and contemporary politics.

From 1963, Kuroda was the central theoretical figure in the Japan Revolutionary Communist League (Revolutionary Marxist Faction), remaining active in the group until retiring late in life.

List of Chinese philosophers

This article is a list of Chinese philosophers.


Marxian is a term generally used to refer to things related to Karl Marx other than Marxism. It can refer to:

Marxian economics

Marxist philosophy

Marxist historiography

Marxist historiography, or historical materialist historiography, is a school of historiography influenced by Marxism. The chief tenets of Marxist historiography are the centrality of social class and economic constraints in determining historical outcomes.

Marxist historiography has made contributions to the history of the working class, oppressed nationalities, and the methodology of history from below. The chief problematic aspect of Marxist historiography has been an argument on the nature of history as determined or dialectical; this can also be stated as the relative importance of subjective and objective factors in creating outcomes.

Marxist history is generally deterministic: it posits a direction of history, towards an end state of history as classless human society. Marxist historiography, that is, the writing of Marxist history in line with the given historiographical principles, is generally seen as a tool. Its aim is to bring those oppressed by history to self-consciousness, and to arm them with tactics and strategies from history: it is both a historical and a liberatory project.

Historians who use Marxist methodology, but disagree with the mainstream of Marxism, often describe themselves as marxist historians (with a lowercase M). Methods from Marxist historiography, such as class analysis, can be divorced from the liberatory intent of Marxist historiography; such practitioners often refer to their work as marxian or Marxian.

Marxist philosophy of nature

There is no specific Marxist philosophy of nature, as Karl Marx didn't conceive of Nature as separate from Society. As the young Marx exposed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, labour transforms Nature which becomes the "inorganic body" of Man. In the same way, Marx's conception of "human nature" (Gattungswesen) is problematic, since he opposed himself to the traditional conception of an eternal human nature which remained the same in all places and times. Later, Friedrich Engels wrote the Dialectics of Nature (1883), in opposition to German Naturphilosophie. Marx and Engels' thought was then codified into "dialectical materialism", which is what is usually referred to when speaking of a "Marxist philosophy of nature". Such a doctrine was rejected by several Marxist philosophers, starting with Georg Lukács and Walter Benjamin.

Michael Banda

Michael Banda (1930 – 29 August 2014), born Michael Alexander Van Der Poorten, was a Sri Lankan socialist activist best known as the General Secretary of the British Workers Revolutionary Party.

Mrinal Sen

Mrinal Sen (also spelled Mrinal Shen; 14 May 1923 – 30 December 2018) was an Indian Bengali filmmaker based in Kolkata. He is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. Like the works of Ray and Ghatak, his cinema was known for its artistic depiction of social reality. Although the three directors shared a healthy rivalry, they were ardent admirers of each other's work, and in so doing, they charted the independent trajectory of parallel cinema, as a counterpoint to the mainstream fare of Hindi cinema in India. Sen was an ardent follower of Marxist philosophy.


Neo-Marxism encompasses 20th-century approaches that amend or extend Marxism and Marxist theory, typically by incorporating elements from other intellectual traditions such as critical theory, psychoanalysis, or existentialism (in the case of Jean-Paul Sartre).

An example of the syncretism in neo-Marxist theory is Erik Olin Wright's theory of contradictory class locations which incorporates Weberian sociology, critical criminology and anarchism. As with many uses of the prefix neo-, some theorists and groups designated as neo-Marxist have attempted to supplement the perceived deficiencies of orthodox Marxism or dialectical materialism. Many prominent neo-Marxists, such as Herbert Marcuse and other members of the Frankfurt School, have historically been sociologists and psychologists.

Neo-Marxism comes under the broader framework of the New Left. In a sociological sense, neo-Marxism adds Max Weber's broader understanding of social inequality such as status and power to Marxist philosophy. Examples of neo-Marxism include critical theory, analytical Marxism and French structural Marxism.

Pre-Marx socialists

While Marxism had a significant impact on socialist thought, pre-Marxist thinkers (before Marx wrote on the subject) have advocated socialism in forms both similar and in stark contrast to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' conception of socialism, advocating some form of collective ownership over large-scale production, worker-management within the workplace, or in some cases a form of planned economy.

Early socialist philosophers and political theorists:

Gerrard Winstanley, who founded the Diggers movement in the United Kingdom

Charles Fourier, French philosopher who propounded principles very similar to that of Marx

Louis Blanqui, French socialist and writer

Marcus Thrane, Norwegian socialist

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Genevan philosopher, writer and composer whose works influenced the French Revolution

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French politician writerRicardian socialist economists:

Thomas Hodgskin, English Ricardian socialist and free-market anarchist

Charles Hall

John Francis Bray

John Gray

William Thompson

Percy Ravenstone

Werner Sombart, German economist and sociologist of the Historical school of economics

James Mill

John Stuart Mill, classical political economist who came to advocate worker-cooperative socialismUtopian socialist thinkers:

Claude Henri de Saint-Simon

Wilhelm Weitling

Robert Owen

Edward Bellamy

Charles Fourier

Étienne Cabet

Structural Marxism

Structural Marxism is an approach to Marxist philosophy based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French philosopher Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside France during the 1970s. Other proponents of structural Marxism were the sociologist Nicos Poulantzas and the anthropologist Maurice Godelier. Many of Althusser's students broke with structural Marxism in the late 1960s and 1970s.


In philosophy and particularly political philosophy, theoreticism is the preference for theory over practice (or, more broadly, abstract knowledge over concrete action), or a philosophical position which would lead to such a preference.

The term is often used pejoratively. In Marxist philosophy, for instance, theoreticism is often identified as a political error, valorizing the efforts of academic Marxism over those of revolutionary struggle. Louis Althusser, for instance, criticized his own early work for theoreticism. In phenomenology, theoreticism would be something closer to the over-valuing of knowledge at the cost of losing a proper appreciation of experience. Martin Heidegger claimed this trend was begun by Plato, and that it continued in an "intensification and hardening of 'theoreticism', the drive toward technical and objectifying modes of knowledge and, with it, the oblivion of any more primordial or more reverential kind of existence."

Tran Duc Thao

Trần Đức Thảo (Từ Sơn, Bắc Ninh, 26 September 1917 – Paris, 24 April 1993) was a Vietnamese philosopher. His work (written primarily in French) attempted to unite phenomenology with Marxist philosophy. His work had some currency in France in the 1950s and 1960s, and was cited favorably by Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard and Louis Althusser.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.