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Western Marxism


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Marxism

Antonio Gramsci (1891—1937) Italian political theorist and activist, co-founder and leader of the Italian Communist Party

György Lukács (1885—1971)

Walter Benjamin (1892—1940)

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A general category describing a sea change that occurred in the development of Marxism following the Russian Revolution in 1917. Scholars in Russia were expected to toe the party line and focus their energies on ensuring the success of the revolution at home. Meanwhile, scholars in the West found themselves cut off from developments in Russia and perplexed by the failure of their own countries to replicate events in the East. The failure was all the more perplexing because of the fact that according to Marxist doctrine, the socialist revolution should have occurred in the more highly industrialized countries of the West rather than the largely agrarian and still quite feudal Russia. Marx's faith in the inevitability of the socialist revolution had to be abandoned in the face of this defeat and that meant Marxism had to shift its focus and give thought to why the expected revolutions failed to occur. By the end of the Second World War, Western Marxism had become the almost exclusive preserve of the academy—whereas figures like Antonio Gramsci and György Lukàcs had been active in government, scholars like Walter Benjamin, and more especially Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were strictly academic. It also started to focus more on cultural rather than economic problems and it is for this reason also known as cultural Marxism. Today, the principal organ of Western Marxism is the British journal New Left Review; among its contributors are many of the most prominent figures in the field such as Perry Anderson, Terry Eagleton, and Fredric Jameson.

Further Reading:

P. Anderson Considerations on Western Marxism (1976).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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