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Marxist philosophy

Work in philosophy which is strongly influenced by Marxist theory, or which is written by Marxists, can be called Marxist philosophy. The term does not indicate a strictly defined sub-field of philosophy, because the diverse influence of Marxist theory has extended into fields as diverse as aesthetics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, 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. Much of Marxist philosophy also subscribes to some form of weak social determinism, holding that individual subjects' choices and beliefs are strongly conditioned by the social conditions in which they exist.

The philosopher Étienne Balibar wrote in a 1993 introductory text that "there is no Marxist philosophy and there never will be; on the other hand, Marx is more important for philosophy than ever before." 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 eleven Theses on Feuerbach, 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 twenty-first 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 on 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. Twentieth-century Marxist and Marx-influenced theory, such as (to name a few examples at random) 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 or Communism. 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.

Table of contents
1 Key works and authors
2 Differences within Marxist philosophy
3 References

Key works and authors

Differences within Marxist philosophy

Some varieties of Marxist philosophy are strongly influenced by G.W.F. 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, 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 strived 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. 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.