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.
The Western Marxists placed more emphasis on Marxism's 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" (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 the 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.
The phrase "Western Marxism" was coined in 1953 by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 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.
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.
György Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy, published in 1923, are the works that inaugurated Western Marxism. 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.
While their work was greeted with hostility by the Third International, which saw Marxism as a universal science of history and nature, this style of Marxism would be taken up by Germany's Frankfurt School in the 1930s. 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.
Western Marxism often emphasises the importance of the study of culture, class consciousness and subjectivity for an adequate Marxist understanding of society. Western Marxists have thus tended to stress Marx's theories of commodity fetishism, ideology and alienation and have elaborated these with new concepts such as false consciousness, reification and cultural hegemony.
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. 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.
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. Nicos Poulantzas, a later Western Marxist, was an advocate for Eurocommunism.
20th-century philosophy saw the development of a number of new philosophical schools—including logical positivism, analytic philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism, and poststructuralism. In terms of the eras of philosophy, it is usually labelled as contemporary philosophy (succeeding modern philosophy, which runs roughly from the time of René Descartes until the late 19th to early 20th centuries).
As with other academic disciplines, philosophy increasingly became professionalized in the twentieth century, and a split emerged between philosophers who considered themselves part of either the "analytic" or "Continental" traditions. However, there have been disputes regarding both the terminology and the reasons behind the divide, as well as philosophers who see themselves as bridging the divide, such as process philosophy advocates and neopragmatists. In addition, philosophy in the twentieth century became increasingly technical and harder for lay people to read.
The publication of Edmund Husserl's Logical Investigations (1900–1) and Bertrand Russell's The Principles of Mathematics (1903) is considered to mark the beginning of 20th-century philosophy.Australian philosophy
Australian philosophy refers to the philosophical tradition of the people of Australia and of its citizens abroad.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.Continental philosophy
Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism (and its antecedents, such as the thought of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.It is difficult to identify non-trivial claims that would be common to all the preceding philosophical movements. The term continental philosophy, like analytic philosophy, lacks clear definition and may mark merely a family resemblance across disparate philosophical views. Simon Glendinning has suggested that the term was originally more pejorative than descriptive, functioning as a label for types of western philosophy rejected or disliked by analytic philosophers. Nonetheless, Michael E. Rosen has ventured to identify common themes that typically characterize continental philosophy.
First, continental philosophers generally reject the view that the natural sciences are the only or most accurate way of understanding natural phenomena. This contrasts with many analytic philosophers who consider their inquiries as continuous with, or subordinate to, those of the natural sciences. Continental philosophers often argue that science depends upon a "pre-theoretical substrate of experience" (a version of Kantian conditions of possible experience or the phenomenological "lifeworld") and that scientific methods are inadequate to fully understand such conditions of intelligibility.
Second, continental philosophy usually considers these conditions of possible experience as variable: determined at least partly by factors such as context, space and time, language, culture, or history. Thus continental philosophy tends toward historicism (or historicity). Where analytic philosophy tends to treat philosophy in terms of discrete problems, capable of being analyzed apart from their historical origins (much as scientists consider the history of science inessential to scientific inquiry), continental philosophy typically suggests that "philosophical argument cannot be divorced from the textual and contextual conditions of its historical emergence".
Third, continental philosophy typically holds that human agency can change these conditions of possible experience: "if human experience is a contingent creation, then it can be recreated in other ways". Thus continental philosophers tend to take a strong interest in the unity of theory and practice, and often see their philosophical inquiries as closely related to personal, moral, or political transformation. This tendency is very clear in the Marxist tradition ("philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it"), but is also central in existentialism and post-structuralism.
A final characteristic trait of continental philosophy is an emphasis on metaphilosophy. In the wake of the development and success of the natural sciences, continental philosophers have often sought to redefine the method and nature of philosophy. In some cases (such as German idealism or phenomenology), this manifests as a renovation of the traditional view that philosophy is the first, foundational, a priori science. In other cases (such as hermeneutics, critical theory, or structuralism), it is held that philosophy investigates a domain that is irreducibly cultural or practical. And some continental philosophers (such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the later Heidegger, or Derrida) doubt whether any conception of philosophy can coherently achieve its stated goals.Ultimately, the foregoing themes derive from a broadly Kantian thesis that knowledge, experience, and reality are bound and shaped by conditions best understood through philosophical reflection rather than exclusively empirical inquiry.Cosmology (philosophy)
Philosophical cosmology, philosophy of cosmology or philosophy of cosmos is a discipline directed to the philosophical contemplation of the universe as a totality, and to its conceptual foundations. It draws on several branches of philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of physics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, and on the fundamental theories of physics. The term cosmology was used at least as early as 1730, by German philosopher Christian Wolff, in Cosmologia Generalis.Danish philosophy
Danish philosophy has a long tradition as part of Western philosophy.
Perhaps the most influential Danish philosopher was Søren Kierkegaard, the creator of Christian existentialism, which inspired the philosophical movement of Existentialism. Kierkegaard had a few Danish followers, including Harald Høffding, who later in his life moved on to join the movement of positivism. Among Kierkegaard's other followers include Jean-Paul Sartre who was impressed with Kierkegaard's views on the individual, and Rollo May, who helped create humanistic psychology.Early modern philosophy
Early modern philosophy (also classical modern philosophy) is a period in the history of philosophy at the beginning or overlapping with the period known as modern philosophy.György Lukács
György Lukács (also Georg Lukács; born György Bernát Löwinger; 13 April 1885 – 4 June 1971) 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.
As a literary critic Lukács was especially influential, because of his theoretical developments of realism and of the novel as a literary genre. In 1919, he was appointed the Hungarian Minister of Culture of the government of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic (March–August 1919).Lukács has been described as the preeminent Marxist intellectual of the Stalinist era, though assessing his legacy can be difficult as Lukács seemed both to support Stalinism as the embodiment of Marxist thought, and yet also to champion a return to pre-Stalinist Marxism.History and Class Consciousness
History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (German: Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein – Studien über marxistische Dialektik) 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.
The book helped to create Western Marxism and is the work for which Lukács is best known. Some of Lukács's pronouncements in History and Class Consciousness have become famous. Nevertheless, it was condemned in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and Lukács later repudiated its ideas, and came to believe that in it he had confused Hegel's concept of alienation with that of Marx. It has been suggested that the concept of reification as employed in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) shows the strong influence of History and Class Consciousness, though such a relationship remains disputed.Karl Korsch
Karl Korsch (German: [kɔɐ̯ʃ]; August 15, 1886 – October 21, 1961) 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.List of years in philosophy
The following entries cover events related to the study of philosophy which occurred in the listed year or century.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.Perry Anderson
Francis Rory Peregrine "Perry" Anderson (born 11 September 1938) is a British intellectual and essayist. His work ranges across historical sociology, intellectual history, and cultural analysis. What unites them is Anderson's preoccupation with Western Marxism. Anderson is perhaps best known as the moving force behind the New Left Review. He is Professor of History and Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Anderson has written many books, most recently The Antinomies of Gramsci and The H-Word: The Peripeteia of Hegemony, both published in 2017. He is the brother of political scientist Benedict Anderson (1936–2015).Philosophy of film
The philosophy of film is a branch of aesthetics within the discipline of philosophy that seeks to understand the most basic questions regarding film. Philosophy of film has significant overlap with film theory, a branch of film studies.Praxis School
The Praxis school was a Marxist humanist philosophical movement, whose members were influenced by Western Marxism. It originated in Zagreb and Belgrade in the SFR Yugoslavia, during the 1960s.
Prominent figures among the school's founders include Gajo Petrović and Milan Kangrga of Zagreb and Mihailo Marković of Belgrade. From 1964 to 1974 they published the Marxist journal Praxis, which was renowned as one of the leading international journals in Marxist theory. The group also organized the widely popular Korčula Summer School in the island of Korčula.Telos (journal)
Telos is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal established in May 1968 to provide the New Left with a coherent theoretical perspective. It sought to expand the Husserlian diagnosis of "the crisis of European sciences" to prefigure a particular program of social reconstruction relevant for the United States. In order to avoid the high level of abstraction typical of Husserlian phenomenology, the journal began introducing the ideas of Western Marxism and of the critical theory of the Frankfurt School.With the disintegration of the New Left and the gradual integration of what remained of the American Left within the Democratic Party, Telos became increasingly critical of the Left in general. It subsequently undertook a reevaluation of 20th century intellectual history, focusing primarily on forgotten and repressed authors and ideas, beginning with Carl Schmitt and American populism. Eventually the journal rejected the traditional divisions between Left and Right as a legitimating mechanism for new class domination and an occlusion of new, post-Fordist political conflicts. This led to a reevaluation of the primacy of culture and to efforts to understand the dynamics of cultural disintegration and reintegration as a precondition for the constitution of that autonomous individuality critical theory had always identified as the telos of Western civilization.The journal is published by Telos Press Publishing and the editor-in-chief is Russell Berman (Stanford University). It is affiliated with the Telos Institute, which hosts annual conferences of which the proceedings are often published in Telos.Turkish philosophy
Turkish philosophy has long been affected by Islam and the country's proximity to Greece and ancient Greek philosophy.Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin (; German: [ˈvaltɐ ˈbɛnjamiːn]; 15 July 1892 – 26 September 1940) was a German Jewish philosopher, cultural critic and essayist. An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and historical materialism. He was associated with the Frankfurt School, and also maintained formative friendships with thinkers such as playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem. He was also related by law to German political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt through her first marriage to Benjamin's cousin, Günther Anders.
Among Benjamin's best known works are the essays "The Task of the Translator" (1923), "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (1940). His major work as a literary critic included essays on Baudelaire, Goethe, Kafka, Kraus, Leskov, Proust, Walser, and translation theory. He also made major translations into German of the Tableaux Parisiens section of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and parts of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. In 1940, at the age of 48, Benjamin committed suicide at Portbou on the French–Spanish border while attempting to escape from invading Nazi forces. Though popular acclaim eluded him during his life, the decades following his death won his work posthumous renown.Western Marxism (book)
Western Marxism is a 1986 book about Western Marxism by the Brazilian critic and sociologist José Guilherme Merquior.