Western Marxism

Western Marxism is a body of various Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe, in contrast with philosophy in the Soviet Union. György Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy, first published in 1923, are often seen as the works that inaugurated this current of thought. The phrase "Western Marxism" was coined by Maurice Merleau-Ponty at a much later date, 1953.[1] Antonio Gramsci is also of great significance, though many of his writings were not translated into English until comparatively late, with "Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci" appearing in 1978.[2]

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 or Rosa Luxemburg - those 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 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.

British Cultural Studies

Usually seen as a separate current of thought from Western Marxism, the cultural studies that was developed by British academics in the 1960s shares some common conceptions of classes with Western Marxism. The work of theorists such as Raymond Williams addresses issues of culture that were dismissed by previous Marxists as unimportant, where 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 over valorized, holding a view of British Cultural Studies more in line with Post Modern thought.[3]

Political commitments

Western Marxists have held a wide variety of their political commitments: Lukács and Gramsci were 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, Althusser 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 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

See also


  1. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1973). Adventures of the Dialectic. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. pp. 30–59. ISBN 0-8101-0404-0.
  2. Hoare, ed. by Quintin (1978). Selections from the prison notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (5. pr ed.). New York: International Publishers. ISBN 0717802701.
  3. Stuart Hall, Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, Eds. (2001). "Encoding/Decoding". Media And Cultural Studies: Keyworks: 171. External link in |journal= (help)


External links

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