What is Marxism Part 2: Marxism after Marx

The post describes the many Marxism’s after Marx. It’s long so the introduction lists the contents of the post. There is a mixure of theory and history.

Marxism after Marx historically and geographically – David McLellan

In Marxism after Marx, David McLellan has written the most comprehensive description of the various Marxism that came after Marx. This includes:

1. The German Social Democrats

  • Friedrich Engles
  • revisionist controversy
  • The radicals
  • Austro-Marxism

2. Russian Marxism

  • Origins of Russian Marxism
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Vladimir Lenin
  • Russian Marxism in the 1920s
  • Stalinism
  • Post-Stalin Communism

3. European Marxism between the wars

  • Georg Lukács
  • Karl Korsch
  • Council Communism
  • Antonio Gramsci

4. China and Third World

  • The Making of the Chinese Revolution
  • Maoism in Power
  • Latin America
  • Marxism and Underdevelopment

5. Contemporary Marxism in Europe and the US

  • The Frankfurt School
  • Existential Marxism
  • Italian Marxism
  • Structural Marxism
  • British Marxism
  • US Marxism
  • Postmodern Marxism

Libertarian Marxism tenancies

  • Rosa Luxemberg
  • Council Communists
  • G.I.K. Group of International Communists
  • Socialism or Barbarism
  • Letterist and Situationist International
  • Early Hegalian Marxism
  • Frankfurt School
  • Johnson Forest Tendency
  • Raya Dunayevskaya
  • CLR James
  • Amadeo Bordiga
  • Operaismo or Workerism
  • Autonomia
  • Autonomist Marxism
  • post-’68ers German Marxists
  • Open Marxism


Others Marxisms

  • Political Marxism
  • Praxis Marxism
  • Two Marxisms – Scientific Marxism and Critical Marxism


Marxism after Marx historically and geographically – David McLellan

I have used the framework from David McLellan’s book Marxism After Marx for this section.

1. The German Social Democrats

Friedrich Engles worked and supported Marx, they co-authored The Communist Manifesto. After Marx’s death, Engels edited and published the second and third volumes of Capital. Engles published the Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1845 and the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in 1884. Following Marx’s death, Engles continued working on several areas include applying knowledge from science to how he viewed the world, historical materialism, and the state. [1]

The revisionist controversy resulted from a crisis of Marxism in the 1890s, which was caused by a recovery of capitalism. Its main proponent was Eduard Bernstein who challenged the Marxist materialist theory of history as too determinist. He also challenged Marx’s theory of value, class conflict, and polarisation (working-class impoverishment vs wealth concentration). The revisionists argued that there could be a gradual transformation into socialism. [2]

The radicals were a pressure group within the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) from the early 1900s. They were mostly outsiders between the SPD and more radical movements. The two insiders were Franz Mehring and Karl Liebknecht. Mehring was a journalist who used historical materialism to analyse society and the SPD. Lieknecht was an anti-war SPD deputy (a member of parliament). The outsiders include Alexander Parvus/Israel Helphand, Antonie Pannekoek, Karl Radek, and Rosa Luxemburg Luxemburg wrote a strong critique of Bernstein’s focus on social reforms and disregarding revolution and capitalist breakdown. She also critiques Bernstein in the fields of economics, sociology, and politics. Luxemburg advocated spontaneity and the mass strike over the ‘vanguard party’. Arguably her great work was The Accumulation of Capital where “she argued that capitalism needs to constantly expand into non-capitalist areas in order to access new supply sources, markets for surplus value and reservoirs of labor.” [3]

From 1906 the conservative trade unions and SPD executive made life difficult from the radicals. They became a stronger political force in the SPD during the war with their focus on the mass strike and imperialism. Opposition to the war resulted in a split in the SPD, with the left radicals (now called the Spartacists) and the oppositional centralists were expelled. The Independent German Socialist Party (USDP) was formed and included a broad range on the left from the left radicals to Bernstein. The Spartacus League published on opposition to the war, the cause of the war was imperialist rivalry between capitalist classes in different countries and the need for mass strikes. The Spartacus League had minimal impact on the USDP and formed the Communist Party of Germany in 1919 made up of small and isolated groups. Large street demonstrations in January 1919 – not organised or supported by the League – gave the government an excuse to crush the weak left radicals. [4]

Austro-Marxism was a “Marxist theoretical current, led by Victor Adler, Otto Bauer, Karl Renner, and Max Adler, members of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria in Austria-Hungary and the First Austrian Republic (1918–1934). It is known for its theory of nationality and nationalism, and its attempt to conciliate it with socialism in the imperial context.” [5]

2. Russian Marxism

The Origins of Russian Marxism were in a country that only emancipated serfs in 1861 and was an underdeveloped capitalist agrarian society. The most radical revolutionary movement was called the Populists and had a powerful connection to the Russian people. It had two schools of thought: those that believed in the self-emancipation of the people by peaceful propaganda, and those the believed in attacking the autocracy through terrorist acts. Marx’s ideas arrived in the 1880s and most agreed with the sociological analysis and critique of society but not the materialist outlook or belief in proletarian revolution. The first group of Russian Marxists, Group for the Emancipation of Labour, formed in 1883. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was formed in 1898. [6]

Leon Trotsky was a “Soviet revolutionary, Marxist theorist and politician whose particular strain of Marxist thought is known as Trotskyism. Trotsky took part in the 1917 October Revolution, immediately becoming a leader within the Communist Party. He was one of the seven members of the first Politburo. He was a prominent figure in the early People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army. After the rise of Joseph Stalin, Trotsky was removed from his positions and eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in February 1929. He spent the rest of his life in exile and was assassinated in 1940 in Mexico City by Ramón Mercader, a Soviet agent. Trotsky’s ideas developed the basis of Trotskyism, a prime school of Marxist thought that opposes the theories of Stalinism.” [7]

McLellan identified two parts to Trotsky’s social and economic analysis of contemporary Russia: the socio-economic theory of combined and uneven development, and permanent revolution. [8]

Vladimir Lenin was a “Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia and then the wider Soviet Union became a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Ideologically a communist, he developed a variant of Marxism known as Leninism.” [9]

McLellan describes the five significant contributions by Lenin: the Party, revolution, Imperialism, the national question or national self-determination, and philosophy. [10]

Russian Marxism in the 1920s focused on how to develop an industrialised socialist economy in a backwards peasant country. The first economic measures in 1917 were relatively moderate: selective nationalisation, eight hour working day, redistribution of nationalised land (Decree on Land) and some workers control.

In 1918 Lenin brought in ‘state capitalism’. This involved a centralisation of the control of the economy by increased labour discipline, wages incentives and managerial authority. There was also a compromise with larger financial interests so the attack on capitalism was suspended.

The start of the Russian civil war in the summer of 1918 made state capitalism ineffective. To survive the Russian government brought in ‘War Communism’. This included the huge increase of nationalisations of all large scale enterprises, runaway inflation causes the government to requisition supplies from the peasants, when the civil war ended demobilised soldiers took on urgent industrial tasks.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in 1921 and was a move back to a more market-oriented approach between agriculture and industry. Peasants could keep a fixed amount of their surplus to sell. Small scale enterprises were denationalised.

Socialism in One Country was implemented in 1928/9 by Joseph Stalin, following the failed revolutions in Europe. Russia strengthened itself internally through rapid industrialisation and mass collectivisation of agriculture. Following years of crisis and war, it was promoted as a policy of economic progress. It harnessed nationalistic sentiments so people felt proud of Russias economic independence. [11]

Stalinism was the political regime of Joseph Stalin in Russia from the 1920s until he died in 1953. He introduced a five-year plan in 1928/29 to rapidly increase industralisation and the large scale collectivisation of agriculture. These policies and shortages of food resulted in millions of deaths. Stalin also conducted political purges in the late 1930s and large scale murder of political opponents. Stalin’s theoretical contributions include Socialism in One Country, The History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks): Short Course), ‘revolution from above’ – the introduction of the different economic policies. [12]

Post-Stalin Communism in Russia did little to develop Marxist ideas. There were advances in Eastern Europe. In Poland, a government economics advisor Oskar Lange advocated the “use of market pricing tools in socialist systems and providing a model of market socialism.” Leszek Kołakowski wrote several essays critiquing Marxism. Adam Schaff wrote about integrating linguistics into Marxism, alienation, and the slow rate it takes to abolish the state and social institutions under Socialism. In Czechoslovakia, a loosening of Russia’s influences “led the Czechs to rejuvenate their Marxism by drawing on their long democratic and cultural tradition, a process that culminated in the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968.” Ota Sik described the importance of market relations under socialism and giving worker collectives plenty of autonomy – planning was important but needed feedback from producers. Karel Kosik reinterpreted Marx’s work with a focus on human consciousness. Yugoslavian Marxists were critical of the Soviet Union since 1948 about its bureaucracy, the state, the Leninist party. Yugoslavia saw a revival of Marxist humanist philosophy. [13]

3. European Marxism between the wars

Georg Lukács was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, literary historian and critic. He used the philosophy of Hegel to conceptualise the problems of his time. In History and Class Consciousness he wrote on class consciousness, reification and totality. Later he wrote about Leninism and vanguard-party revolution. He was a supporter and then critic of Stalin. Lukács was supportive of Rosa Luxemburg and workers’ councils. [14]

Karl Korsch was a German Marxist theoretician and political philosopher. He believed the 1918-20 German revolution had failed because of a lack of ideological preparation and leadership of the working class. He supported workers’ councils and focused his research and writing how to build an alternative economic system. He published Marxism and Philosophy in 1923, which attempted to understand the evolution of Marxist theory by applying Marx’s and Hegel’s ideas to Marxism. He identified three phases of Marxism: from Marx to 1848, 1848 to 1900, 1900 onwards. [15]

Council Communism was inspired by the Soviets or workers’ councils during 1917-23 in Russia. Council Communists rejected parliamentary institutions, trade unions and the Leninist party form and vanguardism. They were active in Europe in the 1920s and included Antonie Pannekoek, Georg Lukács, Karl Korsch, Rose Luxemburg, Herman Gorter and Otto Ruhle. [16]

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician. He was critical of the economic determinism of traditional Marxism so is considered a key neo-Marxist (see neo-Marxism sections at bottom of post). McLellan divides his life into four periods. Up to 1918, he developed his critique of Marxism and was a member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). From 1919-20, he was a leader in the Factory Councils movement in Turin and editor of its newspaper. From 1921-26 he was one of the leaders of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI). From 1926-37 (until his death) he was a prisoner and wrote his major theoretical contribution, the Prison Notebooks. McLellan identifies the main themes of the Prison Notebooks to be: the extended role assigned to intellectuals, the importance of the concept of hegemony, which led to different strategies for revolution in the West and East. [17]

“Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies. The bourgeoisie, in Gramsci’s view, develops a hegemonic culture using ideology rather than violence, economic force, or coercion. Hegemonic culture propagates its own values and norms so that they become the ‘common sense’ values of all and thus maintain the status quo. Hegemonic power is therefore used to maintain consent to the capitalist order, rather than coercive power using force to maintain order. This cultural hegemony is produced and reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions that form the superstructure.” [18]

4. China and Third World

The Making of the Chinese Revolution – the Communist Party of China or CCP was founded in 1921. It formed an alliance with the Kuomintang or KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) which then the KMT broke in 1927 and CCP members were targeted and killed. The Communists retreated to the countryside and set up local bases. This is when Mao Zedong recognised the central role of peasants in the revolution as they had more progressive political and economic aims than the workers. In the early 1930s, the KMT made several attempts to encircle the Communists to defeat them. The KMT’s fifth encirclement campaign in 1933 was successful leading to the Communist’s Long March of 6000 miles in 1934 for twelve months to set up a secure base in northwest China. Following this Mao became the undisputed leader of the party. Communist power in China expanded between 1935-49, first with a United Front with the KMT to resist the Japanese invasion. This was followed by the Chinese Civil War 1945-49 with the Communist victory over the KMT. [19]

McLellan describes Mao’s major contribution to the theory and practice of Marxism was his ideas on “guerilla tactics and the strategy to be adopted in a lengthy struggle against a militarily superior opponent.” Mao gave the CCP a philosophical basis in the form of two essays: On Practice and On Contradiction. [20]

Maoism in Power – The Chinese Communist Party inherited a ruined economy and a threat of famine in the cities. With a well-organised party infrastructure, support from the Soviet Union and the goodwill of the Chinese people several financial measures were introduced to fairly distribute tax and bring inflation under control. Large capitalist businesses were nationalised and smaller businesses were left alone. The party introduced the Land Law in 1950, which guaranteed each individual at the age of 16 their own land holding of about one hectare. This involved the execution of hundreds of thousands of landlords. Since 1953, China has organised its society through a series of social and economic development initiatives called Five Year Plans.

Maoism was focused on the Party and the peasantry. The ‘proletariat’ became a reference to proletarian moral qualities that could be presented to the masses as a norm of true collectivist behaviour. Maoism substituted the proletariat with the Party because the peasantry were not ‘sufficiently socialist’, which resulted in the authoritarian nature of the Party. Officially the Party adopted Lenin’s democratic centralism but the highly hierarchical nature of the Party resulted in it being more centralism than democracy. Freedom of discussion was allowed but once a decision was made, everyone had to obey. Mao introduced the ‘mass line’, of consulting the masses and then interpreting their responses within the Marxism-Leninism framework, and then implementing the resulting policies. Government decision making was made at the top of the Party, not through state departments. There was a lot of secrecy about how decisions were made. Mao was not a dictator and had to play other leaders in the party off against each other.

The Hundred Flower Campaign started in 1956 when the Party encouraged people to share their opinions about the communist regime. This was followed by Mao repressing those that were critical of the regime. The Cultural Revolution was a mass campaign that began in 1966 to remove the ‘Rightists’ or capitalists from China and to re-establish the importance of Mao’s thinking. There were problems with the roll out of the campaign – resistance to it and supportive groups splitting into factions and fighting each other. The army had to step in frequently. The Cultural Revolution ended in 1969 with an expanded Central Committee, the majority were new, and a new constitution.

Chinese Marxism was more focused on human and moral factors – the superstructure – compared to the Soviet Union that was more focused on economics and production – the base. Mao believed that ‘class’ was a subjective concept that was determined by a person’s attitude rather than their social origins.

McLellan describes Maoism as a “synthesis of Leninism and China’s economic backwardness with the addition of certain traditional Chinese ideas.” It retains the key Marxist concepts of “class analysis, working-class leadership, the idea of history moving through stages, and a social theory infused by the concepts of dialectical materialism and contradiction.”

He lists the central ideas of Maoism as

  • China aimed to develop the agricultural sector in harmony with the industrial sector.
  • to follow the Marxist doctrine of the proletariat, then it was necessary to develop a proletariat or social consciousness into the peasantry.
  • Mao’s ideas on guerrilla war, developed in the 1930s, involved the active engagement of the peasantry and had wide-spread influence in less developed countries.
  • Maoism encourages “emphasis on thrift and devotion to the common good.”

Marxists in other Asian countries attempted socio-economic analyses of their societies to develop strategies to gain power. These countries included Vietnam, North Korea, Kampuchea (Cambodia), Japan, India, Indonesia. Asian Marxism has mostly been Marxist-Leninist and violent with the used of guerrilla warfare. Asian Marxism was more focused on the superstructure and consciousness. [21]

Latin America was first introduced to Marxist Communism in the 1920s. It was seen to be protecting the interests of the small numbers of industrial proletariat resulting in the masses being influenced by populist or corporatists ideas such as Peronism. Communist parties were more focused on defending a specific interest group rather than following the Marxist-Leninist route. Alternative versions of Marxism follow on from Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui, who adapted Marxist to national circumstances, especially in relation to the indigenous struggle.

The Cuban revolution 1953-58, lead by Castro, took inspiration from traditional national liberation struggles against Spain and the US, and did not originate from the working class or the Communist Party. The working class did support the rebels, and the Communist Party also supported the rebels once it became clear they would be successful. The Cuban government declared itself socialist when it set up a new revolutionary party (PRS) in 1961. The new government introduced nationalist and agrarian cooperative policies resulting in boycotts from the US and the Cuban bourgeoise emigrating to the US. This combined with the failed US-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs, resulted in Cuban politics becoming more radical.

McLellan explains that violent revolution was rejected by Communist parties in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. This was supported by the Soviet Union because it wanted to improve diplomatic and commercial relations with these countries.

The revolutionary guerrilla approach of Che Guevara and Regis Debray was based on the Cuban revolution and can be contrasted with the orthodox communist in Latin America, who advocated the classical Marxist process of stages. For them, Latin America needed a ‘democratic’ revolution, followed by a socialist revolution. Therefore, communists should engage in parliamentary and electoral activities.

Liberation theology was developed in the 1950/60s by Marxist Christians and focused on “social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples”. It was most significant in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Brazil. [22]

Marxism and Underdevelopment relate to the neo-Marxist theories of imperialism and underdevelopment (For more on neo-Marxism, see the section at bottom of post). Marx wrote about Colonisation, specifically of the British in India. Lenin wrote about Imperialism, and Trotsky had his theory of combined and uneven development. Luxemburg wrote about capitalism’s need to constantly expand into non-capitalist places to find more resources, markets for good and more workers. Imperialism is generally seen as a necessary development of capitalist economies that need raw materials, to find foreign places to invest in, and to find markets for commercial products.

The key neo-Marxist text on underdevelopment is Paul Baran’s The Political Economy of Growth, which “expanded on the ideas of Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky by linking them with the claim that the development of the West was directly at the expense of the less developed economies.”

Other underdevelopment theorists included Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein. [23]

5. Contemporary Marxism in Europe and the US

The Frankfurt School was associated with the Institute for Social Research, which was founded in 1923. The rise of Hitler resulted in the emigration of the Institute’s members (most were Jews) to New Year to re-establish in 1936. Max Horkheimer became Director in 1930, resulting in the ideas the Frankfurt School is well known for. Members of the Institute reject Social Democrat reformism and the doctrines of Soviet Union communism. Members re-examined Marxist thought, focusing on the cultural superstructure of capitalist society.

Horkheimer and his collaborator Theodor Adorno were inspired by the Council Communists from the 1920s such as Korsh and Lukács (see above). The Frankfurt School attempted to integrate non-Marxist disciplines such as psychoanalysis. They were influenced by idealist philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Kant, and by ‘irrationalism’ thinkers such as Nietzsche, Dilthey, and Bergson. They saw this irrationality as a “protest against the abstract uniformity that increasingly oppressed the individual in advanced capitalist society.”

McLellan describes how they saw the importance of the economy in capitalist society but failed to integrate their work in economics into their analysis of society as a whole. They did not have a specific programme for social change but did have a commitment to proletariat struggle and valued the importance of praxis. They saw their work as to clarify the opposing forces in society, to raise class consciousness of the exploited and provide them with a weapon in their struggle for emancipation.

Critical Theory is the “reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities to reveal and challenge power structures. It argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors. Critical theory has origins in sociology and also in literary criticism.” [24] . Critical Theory was inspired by the Western philosophical tradition especially the Enlightenment.

The Frankfurt school broadened their critique of capitalist society by adding the insights from psychoanalysis (the study of the unconsciousness mind), especially the work of Freud. They also analysed the spread of mass culture and the nature and development of authority. Wilhelm Reich showed the Marxism and psychoanalysis were compatible and that life was regulated by the ‘pleasure principle’ and limited by the ‘reality principle’. So the ruling class, use the reality principle to maintain their power – capitalist society is presented and accepted by many as the norm and unchangeable.

There were several theorists involved in the Frankfurt School, see a list here. McLellan notes Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas as making the most significant contributions.

Erich Fromm combined Marxism and psychoanalysis and was focused on the “emotional conflict produced by social interaction than in any theory of instincts” – so how individuals relate to the world. His key theme was how people’s feelings of powerless and loneliness are caused by being unable to live an “authentic, spontaneous life under contemporary political and economic arrangements”, which was the basis of authoritarianism.

The Frankfurt School’s analysis of Fascism focused on the “psychosocial mechanism of authority and violence at the expense of detailed examination of economic substructure.” They saw and direct link between capitalism and Fascism – capitalist economies evolved towards monopolies and liberalism evolved towards totalitarianism. Franz Neumann wrote about Nazism that it was a monopolistic economy and a command economy, ‘Totalitarian Monopoly capitalism’. There was still the profit motive and it needed totalitarian political power to support it, so the same people benefited, those who benefited from old monopoly capitalism.

The Frankfurt School made a large contribution to aesthetics or the philosophy of art The focus on culture was reinforced by how the US had achieved conformism through the spread of mass culture, instead of repression. Similar to Fascism, the difference between the private and public worlds had been broken down by creating needs in people to ‘support a particular system of domination’. They were critical of mass culture because it was forced on people and not created by them, serving the interests of domination. [25]

Existentialist Marxism developed in France following the Second World War. It was influenced by Hegel and the publishing of Marx’s early writings. The war had challenged the analytical rationalism of French philosophy. There was interest in Hegel’s philosophy of history, alienation, dialectic and consciousness concepts. Alexandre Kojeve and Jean Hyppolite lectured on Hegel in the 1930s and were very influential on the existential thinkers.

The radical interpretation of Hegel and incorporation of Marx’s early writings were in opposition to the Stalin controlled French Communist Party. The Communist Party held a conservative position in French politics and its philosophy was limited to Stalin’s laws of dialectical materialism. Many of the Marxist thinkers started in the Communist Party and were thrown out for their new thinking. The new perspectives showed that an alternative Marxism was possible. The concepts of alienation and praxis were recovered that had been lost under Stalinism. Marx’s ideas around alienation were felt to be particularly relevant to the complex, highly developed societies that were developing. French social theorists were also reading earlier ‘Western Marxist‘ theorists such as Lukacs, Korsch and the Frankfurt School (see sections above).

Henri Lefebvre was a humanist and saw the idea of praxis as a dialectical relationship between man and nature. Lefebvre most important work was Everyday Life in the Modern World, where he looked at alienation in everyday life.

McLellan describes Jean-Paul Sartre’s work as the best example of combining existentialism and Marxism. He protested on how modern technology treated men as things, wrote about freedom being the core of human existence, was critical of Stalin’s’ description of materialism and was supportive of a workers Party to achieve freedom. McLellan describes how Sartre combined sociology and psychology into a framework of genuine dialectical Marxism. He wrote about the dialectic, comparing ‘dogmatic dialectic’ with ‘critical dialectic’. He wrote about how the social relations of individuals emerged in relation to scarcity.

Two further French revisions of Marxism in the late 1950s and early 1960s were the theorists of the ‘New Working Class’ influenced by the Frankfurt School and Lefebvre: the magazine Arguments (1956–1962), and Socialisme ou Barbarie. Arguments explore Marx’s ideas on philosophy, how to apply the concept of alienation to a society that valued leisure as much as work, and the “cultural superstructure as much as politics or economics. The Arguments group were Kostas Axelow, Fougeyrollas, Morin and Chatelet. Socialisme ou Barbarie was made up of ex-Trotskyist writers, such as Claude Lefort and Cornelius Castoriadis, who analysed the problems of modern bureaucratization. André Gorz and Serge Mallet reassessed class struggle in Western countries. [26]

Italian Marxism since the 1950s has developed in several ways. From the Italian Communist Party in the 1950s/60s, Della Volpe and his followers rejected Hegelian interpretations of Marxism. They focused on philosophy, and methodology or scientific over sociology and economics. He was critical of idealism and Gramsci. We wrote about aesthetics and developed a materialist of aesthetics. Lucio Colletti was also critical of Hegelian idealism, instead advocating scientific materialism. He also valued the concept of alienation. Sebastiano Timpanaro focused on materialism and rejected combining Marxist materialism with psychoanalysis or structuralism.

McLellan writes “more recently, writers such as Badaloni and Lusurdo have produced innovating working, the former using Marx and Gramsci to produce a radical theory of democracy, the latter building on his critical history of liberal thought and practice to reformulate Marx’s political theory.”

McLellan describes the autonomista movement which formed by rejected the Communist Party (PCI) and Trade Union bureaucracy. It reframed workers to be powerful instead of passive, when not betrayed by their leaders as in the summer of 1968. Mario Tronti and others were strongly critical of the “orthodoxy of development of forces of production through determined stages and the gradualism of the PCI.” The argued that the growth of service jobs meant that the “regime of the factory had been extended to society as a whole with the proletarianisation of whole swathes of white-collar workers.” Antonio Negri expanded this to develop a theory of history where instead of the profit motive being the ‘motor force of capitalism’, it was class struggle: “Fordism was designed to overcome the resistance to capital of skilled workers and artisans; but the organized resistance of factory labour to capital led to technological innovation which permitted it to restructure labour away from factories (or overseas) into flexible, part-time, service sectors.” This would result in unwaged and Third World workers building resistance internationally: “with the arrival of immaterial labour and mass intellectuality, the time would soon be ripe for workers to revolt in such a manner as to rupture the self-reproduction of capital and liberate work from it.” [27] (see more on Italian Marxism – Operaismo or Workerism, Autonomia, Autonomist Marxismlist – in libertarian Marxism tenancies)

Structural Marxism developed in France in the mid-1960s. The major thinker is the French philosopher Louis Althusser, who rejected humanist Marxism of Lukács, Sartre and Gramsci, which saw men as the ‘subjects of history’; and the economic focus of traditional dialectical materialism. Structural Marxism identifies Marxism as a science that examines objective structures. The Structural Marxists were seeking an alternative to the base-and-superstructure model that gave equal weight to economic, political and ideological ‘structures’. These were called ‘structural instances’ or ‘regional structures’ and combined to form a ‘social formation’ that related to a mode of production.

Althusser believed that Marx’s work had a scientific conception of history but there were theoretical gaps. Althusser was trying to identify what Marxist philosophy was. He rejected the humanism in Marx’s early work and saw an ‘epistemological break’ between young Marx and mature Marx. He saw Marx’s early work as focusing on alienation, species being and the ‘ideological problematic of the subject’. Marx’s later work resulted in the development of a science. Althusser stated that ‘history is a process without a subject or a goal’.

Althusser argued that each instance or level develops at different rates and times. Althusser described how this complex and uneven relationship between the instances related to each other at a specific time a ‘conjuncture’. He rejected the idea that there was a simple relationship between ‘social forces’ and ‘relations of production’, or between base and superstructure.

Althusser in his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, identified Repressive State Apparatuses (RPAs) and Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) such as trade unions, churches and schools. He described the ISAs as important sites of class struggle.

Nicos Poulantzas applied Althusser’s ideas to the state and classes. He argued against the orthodox communist view that that state is the direct servant of the capitalist or ruling class, with individuals in specific positions of power. Instead, the institutions of the state operate to ensure capitalism continues and to reproduce capitalist society as a whole. [28]

British Marxism began in 1881 with the Social Democratic Federation, set up to promote Chartist ideas, sharing Marx’s ideas. The Independent Labour Party forming in 1893 did not promote Marxism, revolution and class confrontation, instead favouring a gradualist approach to socialism. In the early twentieth century, there were three main Marxist organisation in Britain: British Socialist Party, Socialist Labour Party, and Workers’ Socialist Federation.

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) formed in 1920. This did not form from a split in the main social democratic party like in Europe, so attempted to affiliate to the Labour Party but was rejected. The CPGB was encouraged to operate as the left-wing of the Labour Party following The United Front as instructed by Moscow. McLellan states that the CPGB made little progress in the 1930s, although did attract several intellectuals. McLellan describes Christopher Caudwell as the only original pre-war British Marxist but he died young in the Spanish Civil War.

McLellan describes how after 1956 several varieties of Marxism developed in Britain following the different forms of Communism that developing in the world – Soviet, Chinese, Cuban. The New Left formed with the New Left Review as its main publication.

The CPGB remained small and focused on trying to push the Labour Party leftwards, which was not a revolutionary programme. McLellan states that the revolutionary left in Britain has become “synonymous with Trotskyism.”. The largest group being the Socialist Workers’ Party (formally International Socialists), also the International Marxist Group. (I will write future posts on the history and current British Left).

McLellan describes the key thinkers of British Marxism. Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn wrote controversially about Britain’s bourgeois revolutions and why Britain didn’t develop in a ‘normal way’. There is also an older generation such as Edward Thompson, and John Saville. Marxist historians focused on “detailed, empirical, narrative history ‘from below'”, including Gordon Childe, Maurice Dobb, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm.

McLellan describes how Anderson, through the New Left Review was aiming to assimilate European Marxism to the ‘perceived insular backwardness of British culture.” Anderson focused more on institutions, with a more abstract analysis that aimed to provide a “comprehensive theory of the modern bourgeois state as it evolved in the West.” Those at the New Left Review briefly engaged with Althusser’s structural marxism. McLellan describes a clear debate between theoreticians and a “more native empirical approach.”

In the field of literature and culture broadly, Raymond Williams was the main figure and “produced a libertarian version of Marxism which emphasised the cultural possibilities for social change and the capacity for individuals and groups to modify their conditions of existence.”. Terry Eagleton is a well known Marxist critic of Williams. The view that culture and ideology as the sites of domination and resistance came from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, run by Stuart Hall. It focused on “ideological struggle around politics and institutions” with Gramsci being the main influence.

McLellan describes British political economy as one of the major areas of Marxist thought. This includes debates of the “labour theory of value, the relations of value to price, and the falling rate of profit.” Rowthron wrote an analysis of the influence of British institutions on the British economy. Then Armstrong, Glyn and Harrison wrote about the importance of overaccumulation in explaining the crises of the 1970s.

There was much analysis of the Soviet Union. Trotsky described it as a ‘degenerated workers state.’ Tony Cliff described the Soviet Union as ‘bureaucratic state capitalism’ – the Soviet bureaucracy controlled the economy and the state, another form of an exploiting class. Hillel Ticktin  and the people around the journal Critique did a detailed analysis of the workings of the Soviet Union so were not surprised by its collapse.

The Miliband–Poulantzas debate between Ralph Miliband who viewed the “British state as an instrument serving the interests of the bourgeoisie since it was dominated by them through a network of interpersonal relations”, and Nicos Poulantzas, a structural Marxist, who saw the capitalist state as a system that functioned independently of the ‘mindset of the ruling class’. Bob Jessop then wrote about the transition from the Keynesian welfare state under ‘Fordism‘ – “mass production, mass consumption, and massive semi-skilled labour” to ‘post-Fordism‘ where “permanent innovation and labour flexibility in an increasingly globalised economy means the subordination of welfare to the discipline of the labour market.” Jessop has written extensively about the state and combines European structuralist and British agency approaches that make up British Marxist divisions. [29]

Marxism in the United States started with Joseph Wydemeyer who set up the unsuccessful American Workers’ League in New York City in 1856. The First International had limited influence in the US. By 1872 there were several sections, with Frederick Sorge as secretary. In 1876 the Socialist Party of North America (SLP) was formed with limited success. There was an increase in trade union activity in the 1880s resulting in the formation of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Knights of Labor. They campaigned for an eight-hour day and worked with the new Independent Labor Party. Daniel De Leon was the leading spokesman for the SLP and an uncompromising Marxist. De Leon rejected the American Federation of Labor philosophy of non-political trade unionism. The SLP split in 1899 when a large number left to set up the Socialist Party, which was more supportive of the trade unions. De Leon was part of founding the International Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905, a proletarian and revolutionary trade union. The IWW evolved along syndicalist lines with a belief in direct action and sabotage. This was in opposition to Marxists so De Leon was ejected in 1908.

The Socialist Party (SP) membership grew to over one hundred thousand by 1912. It President, Eugene Debs got almost one million votes in the 1912 presidential election. The SP was not strongly influenced by Marx according to McLellan, being ideological broad. It had three main tendencies: “a right-wing led by Victor Berger and composed of the municipal reformers of the Mid-West; a centre based on the Eastern seaboard, and led by Morris Hillquit who had left the SLP in 1899; and the left, drawing its strength from the West and led by Debs.” McLellan describes the years before the First World War as a time of a ‘lyrical left’, where socialists ideas combined with many art forms. The war resulted in the repression of socialists that opposed it.

Following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 and the formation of the Third International in 1919, a number left the SL to for the Communist Party (CP). A Community Labour Party also formed of mainly native Americans. They had limited success in engaging with electoral and trade union politics. The CP had splits in the 1920s related to positions on the Soviet Union. Followers of Trotsky were expelled and formed two groups: the Workers’ Party (later the Independent Socialist League); and the Socialist Workers’ Party. There was also the independently radical American Workers’ Party founded in 1934. During the 1930s the CP made gains and the SP declined. The SLP remained small. The CP become influential in the new Confederation of Industrial Organisations (CIO) and had almost one hundred thousand members by 1943. After the Second World War, the economic boom and McCarthyism resulted in a decline of the CP and Marxism in general until 1960.

The revival of Marxism took a different form in the radicalism from the early 1960s in the form of the New Left in response to the Vietnam War and increasing understanding of the levels of widespread poverty and misery of workers. There was also the civil rights movement in the south that raised the suffering of people of colour. The feminism movement grew in response to the conformist, patriarchal society of the 1950s. The Old Left rejected the New Lefts humanism, moralism, individualism, idealism and its positions that were more linked with anarchism than the ‘class-based social and political analyses of Marxism.’

The New Left had a student base, the main organisation was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) (originally Students’ League for Industrial Democracy). The SDS started with agitation for more student power in universities. The SDS developed a “New Working Class’ theory: “students were being trained in knowledge factories to fit the bureaucratic demands of advanced capitalism in which they would be as exploited and alienated as the industrial proletariat of the nineteenth century but at the same time possess a radical consciousness of that situation that would enable them to resist it more effectively.”

C. Wright Mills was very influential on the New Left with the book The Power Elite which describes the relationships and class alliances among the US political, military, and economic elites. He rejected the idea that the working class of advanced capitalist society is a historic agent. Erich Fromm’s work on alienation and Herbert Marcus’s Marxist humanism were influential on the New Left. The SDS evolved from reform, to resistance and then revolution as it was taken over by determined minorities to tackle more complex issues such as Imperialism.

The 1960s also saw a revival of the CP, the Trotskyists, the Maoists and all their youth wings. The most successful was the Trotskyist Young Socialist Alliance set up by the Socialist Workers’ Party. There was also the Johnson-Forest Tendency a radical left Marxist humanist group. The Progressive Labor Party was Marxist Leninist that aligned themselves with black nationalists such as the Black Panthers. At the 1969 SDS convention, the Progressive Labor Party gained control resulting in brief activities by guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Youth Movement and the Weather Underground. Following the decision to withdraw from Vietnam the left’s agitation declined.

McLellan describes the growth of interest in Marxist theory in the 1960/70s, with many books and journals being published. These can be grouped into three broad areas: “the theories of the New Left about the nature of contemporary American society, the historiography of the United State from a Marxist standpoint, and, most importantly, the economic studies of American capitalism.” The 1980s saw a revival of American capitalism and interest in how to combine the market and socialism. There were two versions of market socialism: “maximisation and equal distribution of profit while the other centres on workers’ control of the means of production.” The 1980s also saw the development of Analytical Marxism or ‘rational choice’ Marxism: “this approach combines the rigorousness of contemporary Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy with a conception of society as consisting of self-interested individuals reminiscent of neoclassical economics.”

McLellan describes Fredric Jameson as the “most prominent American intellectual working within the Marxist tradition.” Jameson has produced and important account of postmodernism and Western Marxism. In his book, The Political Unconscious, his ‘basic theoretical work”, Jameson describes his Marxist approach to culture. He has also written about politics and class consciousness, ideology and utopia. McLellan describes how Jameson’s sources are wide-ranging and he writes in ‘broad sweep’ in a sort of ‘grand narrative that has gone our fashion. His later work has a focus on space as important for understanding the globalised world. Here he builds on the work of French Marxist Henri Lefebvre.

US Marxism has seen a lot of interest in globalisation and empire. McLellan describes three significant recent socio-economic developments: a high volume of activity on world financial markets; increase in, and increasingly integrated nature of world trade; globalisation is more than an economic process, it is the transformation and compression of time and space for all those who live in it. McLellan states that the “most globalised of all the accounts of globalisation is that of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri”, in the Empire series of books. For Ellen Meiksins Wood “globalisation is a response to the crisis of overcapacity and overproduction beginning in the 1970s. It is not concerned with free trade or integrating the world market.” For Wood, nothing has come close to replacing the nation-state and its importance for maintaining capitalism. The US reliance on other nation-states and economic decline have resulted in increasing militarism and wars without end.

When considering political economy, the two main questions fro Marxists are explaining the repeating US economic crises and is it in long-term decline. These questions have been considered by Robert Brenner, Giovanni Arrighi, and David Harvey. [30]

Postmodern Marxism (also known as post-Marxism) is described by McLellan as a ‘new mode of social production’ that emerged in the 1970s. He lists four contextual changes that took places in the 1970s that led to postmodernism: increasing impact of electronic communications; the change in the mode of economic production from Fordism to post-Fordism; the defeat of 1960s emancipatory forces by the neoliberalism of Thatcher and Reagan; and in philosophy, structuralism was influential, then the post-structuralists advocated ignoring claims to objectivity and truth.

McLellan describes postmodernism to be in strong opposition to a ‘metanarrative’ – “any view which aims to give a unified, consistent, and objective account of the world by unifying the different narratives in one overarching framework.” He describes how “postmodern thought rejects the legacy of the Enlightenment which attempts to ground its approach to the world ideas of universal applicability – common human nature, reason – which would reveal the way the world actually was. In postmodernism, by contrast, the emphasis is on diversification, particularity, and difference.” McLellan describes how postmodernism has little in common with Marxism. It is the opposite of classical Marxism, where the economic base influences the superstructure. Postmodernism merges everything into a vague cultural superstructure.

McLellan lists the key postmodernist thinkers: Jean-François Lyotard writing on narratives, knowledge, science; Michel Foucault who focused on the origins of psychiatry, modern prisons, history of sexuality, and the concepts of power and anti-system; Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari who wrote about Freud and orthodox psychoanalysis, with the concept of desire being central; Jacques Derrida who focuses on language and concept of difference.

McLellan describes how one of the main features of postmodernism is the focus on difference” “Classical Marxism offered a united front of opposition to capitalism based on the working class, many of the proponents of postmodernism have moved from the revolutionary hopes for global transformation of the 1960s to enthusiasm for single issues and the new social movements of, for example, feminists, ecologists, or anti-racists.”

McLellan describes the best example of the postmodernist approach to Marxism as the book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. They describe Marxism as on ’emancipatory discourse’ amongst many, that is compatible with feminism, anti-racism etc. The Gramsci concept of Hegemony is central.

The Marxists that have been critical of postmodernism include Fredric Jameson in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity; Jürgen Habermas; John Urry and Scott Lash; Terry Eagleton; Alex Callinicos. [31]

Seven Stages of Marxism

Gregory Claeys in Marx and Marxism divides Marxism into seven stages:

  1. Marx and Engels’ attempts to form a ‘Marx party’ following 1848.
  2. The growth and German Social Democracy and reformism up to 1914.
  3. The Russian Revolution, Lenin and dialectical materialism from 1917 to 1937.
  4. The Chinese Revolution of 1949.
  5. After 1945, Marxism-Leninism spreading through the Third World.
  6. 1950s to 1980s limited development of Marxism in command economics such as Russia. In parallel is a revival of interest in Marx, based on his early writings.
  7. The collapse of the Soviet Union 1989-91, followed by the transformation in China and Vietnam, extreme Stalinism in North Korea, and moderate versions in Cuba and Belarus.


Marxism after Marx – libertarian Marxism tenancies

This is based on this map on libcom.org. See here for a description of liberatarian socialism.

Rosa Luxemberg was a democratic socialist but critical of both ‘bourgeois democracy’ and the centralising tendencies of socialism. She valued international solidarity and the spontaneity of revolutionary action. She was a humanist because she believed in the human potential for social and political transformation. [33]

Council Communists see Council Communism above in McLellan section

G.I.K. Group of International Communists was a left communist dutch group in the 1920s that advocated council communism. It ideas we influenced by the Russia Revolution 1917 and the Germany Revolution 1918. [34]

Socialism or Barbarism (Socialisme ou Barbarie in French) was a French libertarian socialist group from 1948 to 1967. The name comes from Rosa Luxemburg. That had a journal of the same name. The dominant character was Cornelius Castoriadis. The group was critical of Leninism and the idea of a revolutionary party. They advocated workers’ councils.

Letterist and Situationist International – The Letterist International was a radical Paris based collective of artists and cultural theorists from 1952 to 1957. It was set up by Guy Debord after falling out with Isidore Isou’s Letterism group. They went on to join up with other groups to form the Situationist International

Situationist International – the Situationist International was a European organisation made up of avant-garde artists, intellectuals and political theorists from 1957 to 1972. It was based on libertarian or anti-authoritarian Marxism and art movements from the early twentieth century. They were influenced by early Hegelian Marxism (or Western Marxism), the Frankfurt School, Henri Lefebvre, council communist ideas and Socialism or Barbarism. Later they focused on revolutionary and political theory. They attempted to synthesize a broad range of theoretical disciplines to develop a comprehensive critique of twentieth-century capitalism. They agreed with the classical Marxism analysis of the capitalist mode of production, but it needed updating. They emphasised Marxist concepts such as alienation and commodity fetishism. They rejected the claims by advanced capitalism that technology innovation, higher standards of living and more leisure, could outweigh the negative social impacts on people’s everyday lives. A key situationist concept was ‘the spectacle’, a critique of advanced capitalism’s social relations through objects and consumption of commodities. Their way of counteracting the spectacle was through the construction of situations “moments of life deliberately constructed for the purpose of reawakening and pursuing authentic desires, experiencing the feelings of life and adventure, and the liberation of everyday life.” Their two key texts were The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord and The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem. These texts were very influential to the May 1968 insurrections in France.

Early Hegalian Marxism – see Georg Lukács and Karl Korsch sections above. There is also Evgeny Pashukanis and I.I. Rubin

Frankfurt School, see McLellan section above

Johnson-Forest Tendency formed in the 1940s within US Trotskyism. The founders were CLR James (Johnson), Raya Dunayevskaya (Forest) and Grace Lee. They wrote a critique of the Soviet Union as a capitalist society, referring to it as ‘state-capitalism’. They were influenced by Humanist Marxism, Hegel, Marx and Lenin, having split from Trotskyism by 1948. In 1950 the published State Capitalism and World Revolution. Splits in the Johnson-Forest Tendency led to new groups Correspondence Publishing Committee 1951-62 and Facing Reality 1962-70.

Raya Dunayevskaya 1910 – 1987 was a Russian who moved to the US and was the founder of Marxist Humanism there. She was also known as Rae Spiegel and the pseudonym Freddie Forest. After splitting from Johnson-Forest Tendency she founded the organisation News and Letters Committees and the Marxist-Humanist newspaper, News & Letters.

CLR James 1901-89 was a Trinidadian historian, journalist and socialist, who wrote under the name J. R. Johnson. He wrote about the history of the Communist International and the Haitian revolution. He moved to Britain in 1932 from Trinidad. Then moved to the US from 1940, where he set up the Johnson-Forest Tendency, he was deported in 1952. He described himself as a Leninist but rejected the vanguard party. Instead, he advocated supporting black nationalist movements.

Amadeo Bordiga 1889-1970, was an Italian Marxist, a founder of the Communist Party of Italy, leader of Communist International (Comintern) and International Communist Party. Following World War 2 he moved to a left communist position. Bordiga developed theories on Stalinism, democracy, the united front, and communism. He inspired several ‘Bordiga groups’ in Italy and France.

Operaismo or Workerism developed in Italy in the early 1960s and emphasises the importance of the working class. It developed in factories as workers were struggling for better wages, working conditions and hours, in the two main left-wing parties PCI (Communist) and PSI (Socialist). Activists were conducting ‘worker inquiries’, analysing the work environment and opportunities for struggle from the worker’s point of view. There was a split in Workerism, with some such a Negri and Bologna rejecting the conservative trade unions and left political parties, who were seen as disciplinary institutions that kept workers in their weak position within capitalism. Others such as Tronti and Asor Rosa returned to the PCI and its associated union confederation Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL). This led to a new practice of self-organised labour representation outside the traditional trade unions. They were influenced by the Johnson Forest Tendency in the US and Socialisme ou Barbarie in France. The movement included several journals Quaderni Rossi (“Red Notebooks”, 1961–5), along with its successor Classe Operaia (“Working Class”, 1963–6). There was a series of strikes and occupations of factories by workers and universities by students during the 1960s. The movement was at its height in 1969-70 during the ‘Hot Autumn‘, when there were a series of large strikes in factories in Northern Italy. [35]

Autonomia (Operaia) or Autonomist is the name given for the new youth and student movements that emerged in the early 1970s. The movement was never unified and was made up of changing organisations and shifting alliances in a decentralised network. It was extra-parliamentary and came from the factory, educational and community struggles and included second wave feminism concerns – today this is known as social reproduction theory and was pioneered by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James. This movement had expanded its critique of capitalism to include all aspects of life, from the struggle in the industrial factory, including occupations, sabotage and strikes, to ‘the social factory‘ and cities where thousands of buildings were squatted between 1969–1975. This social movement gathered around free radio stations and publications in several cities in Italy in the 1970s. The key thinkers and writers included: Antonio Negri, Sergio Bologna, Romano Alquati, Oreste Scalzone, and Franco Piperno. Influential political groups included Potere Operaio from 1967 to 1973 when it merged with the broader movement and Lotta Continua from 1969 to 1976. 1977 saw large demonstrations and the occupations of universities in response to the killing of a Lotta Continua member by police. From 1979 the movement was repressed by the Italian state, which accused it of supporting and protecting the armed Red Brigades. This resulted in thousands of movement activists being arrested or fleeing the country. There is no evidence of a direct link between the Autonomia movement and the Red Brigades. A revival of the movement started in the mid-1980s with the second wave of social centre occupations. [36]

Autonomist Marxism can be described as the theoretical work based on the Operaismo/Workerism and the Autonomia/Autonomist movements described above. A key observation made by Mario Tronti in Lenin in England is the ‘Copernican Inversion’, where he argues that capitalist development of the production process follows working-class struggle instead of going first. Workers are not dependent on capitalism for their existence, they existed before capitalism. Capitalism is dependent on workers, which shows its weakness. The second insight of autonomist Marxism is that it is labour struggles that drive technological development in the production process as capitalists react to worker demands and resistance. For example, workers go on strike and win some demands. In response, capitalists restructure the production process to their advantage making it more difficult for workers to repeat their successes. This links to the concept of class composition and decomposition. When the capitalists change the production process to their advantage and the worker’s disadvantage, this decomposes the workers’ power. The workers then have to find new ways to exert their interests, recompose their power by finding new tactics to interfere with the production process. If they are successful then this will lead to the capitalists restructuring the production process again, starting a new cycle.

Autonomist Marxists argue that the working class can force changes to the way the capitalist system is organised independently from the state, political parties and trade unions. Autonomist Marxists focus on self-organised activities away from traditional left institutions. It promotes “everyday working-class resistance to capitalism, such as absenteeism, slow working, socialization in the workplace, sabotage, and other subversive activities.” [37]

Autonomist Marxists see class struggle as fundamental. And they have a broader definition of the working class than other Marxists. They include manual and office workers, also the unwaged (students, unemployed, homeworkers) who do not normally get trade union representation. Also important are the concepts ‘immaterial labour‘, and the ‘worker inquiry‘ process. They emphasised the Marxist perspective that modern society’s wealth is produced by the collective work of the working class, but very little of this is shared with workers in their wages. Feminist autonomists such as Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Silvia Federici describe the amount of unwaged (but paid indirectly through the male worker’s wage) female labour in capitalist society.

Other key autonomist Marxist thinkers and writers are Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Harry Cleaver, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Paulo Virno. There are a number o different strands of autonomist Marxism. There is ‘classic’ Operaismo/Workerism of Panzieri, Alquati, Tronti; post-operaismo of Negri, Virno, Lazzarato; autonomist feminism of Dalla Costa, James, Federici, Fortunati;, ‘American” autonomism’ of Harry Cleaver, George Caffentzis. [38]

post-’68ers German Marxists formed in the late 1960s. The main people included Helmut Reichelt, Hans Jurgen Krahl, and Johannes Agnoli. They were influenced by Council Communism, the early Hegelians, and the Frankfurt School.

Open Marxism is based on libertarian socialist critiques of left-wing political parties. It advocates and openness to praxis, combining theory and practice, and understanding history through an anti-positivist method, when studying the social world a scientific method can not be used. It is close to autonomism, somewhere between autonomism and ‘value form theory‘, which comes more from the Frankfurt School. The ‘open’ refers to a non-deterministic view of history, that history can’t be predicted, and that the unpredictability of class struggle is most significant. Open Marxism is influenced by council communism, anarchism, autonomism and situationalism. There have been several open Marxism journals Arguments (1958–1962), Common Sense (1987–1999) and The Commoner (2001–2012). There is the San Francisco-based working group Kapitalistate and the Conference of Socialist Economists journal Capital & Class. There is also the four-volume series titled Open Marxism. Open Marxism writers and theorists include John Holloway, Simon Clarke, Werner Bonefeld, Ana C Dinerstein, Richard Gunn, Kosmas Psychopedis, Adrian Wilding, Peter Burnham, Mike Rooke, Hans-Georg Backhaus, Helmut Reichelt, Johannes Agnoli, and Kostas Axelos. [39]


In Political Ideologies: An Introduction by Andrew Heywood (4th edition from 2007) he describes neo-Marxism as: “an updated and revised form of Marxism that rejects determinism, the primacy of economics and the privileged status of the proletariat.” Heywood argues that neo-Marxism was shaped by two factors: a re-examination of conventional class analysis due to the collapse of capitalism not happening as Marx predicted, and a rejection of the Russian Bolshevik model of orthodox communism. [40]

In Sociological Theory, George Ritzer and Jeffrey Stepnisky describe the following schools of thought forms part of the neo-Marxist tradition: Economic determinism, Hegelian Marxism, Critical Theory, neo-Marxian economic sociology, historically oriented Marxism, neo-Marxian spatial analysis, post-Marxist theory (Ritzer 2011). They all take Marx’s work as the starting point by go in several different directions.

Economic determinism was a limited theory that led to other forms of neo-Marxism developing. Hegalian Marxism by the work of Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács that rejected economic determinism and focused on human subjectivity. Critical Theory is described above. Neo-Marxist economic sociology aims to update Marxist economic sociology based on contemporary capitalist society. It looks at the relationship between capital and labour, and the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism. Historically oriented Marxism relates to the work of Immanuel Wallerstein and his world systems theory. Neo-Marxist spatial analysis is based on the work of Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja and David Harvey. Post-Marxist theory includes analytical Marxism and postmodern Marxian theory, see McLellan section above.

Others Marxisms

Political Marxism is focused on how capitalism came into being – the transition to capitalism. Also how to define capitalism: “nature of the system, the structural features that differentiate it from other modes of production, and its relationship to precapitalist (and potentially postcapitalist) social systems.”

Jonathan Joseph in Marxism and Social Theory describes Praxis Marxism, share a humanist perspective, value the importance of history, and are against the mechanical approach of orthodox Marxism. They focus on human subjectivity, class consciousness, class struggle and alienation. Joseph lists the praxis Marxists to be Gramsci, Lukacs, Korsch and Sartre. (Jonathan Joseph, Marxism and Social Theory p4 and CH4)

Two Marxisms

In 1980, Alvin Gouldner in The Two Marxism describes Scientific Marxism and Critical Marxism.

Michael Burawoy describes them:

“Scientific Marxism begins from a rational understanding of society that postulates the determinism of objective structures. It uncovers historical tendencies leading to socialism when conditions are ripe. Concepts reflect real mechanisms; politics are epiphenomenal; ideology is a distortion of the truth. Critical Marxism, on the other hand, starts out from the ubiquity of alienation obstructing the potential for human self- realization. It highlights human intervention against the obduracy of objective structures—history has no pre-ordained end, but is the product of collective mobilization. In the view of Critical Marxism, concepts exist to interpret social processes; politics is an arena for the realization of ultimate values; ideology is a moral force. In revolutionary times Critical Marxism and Scientific Marxism may form a contradictory unity, but in non-revolutionary times they more easily go their separate ways.” [41]



  1. Marxism After Marx, David McLellan, 2007, p9-14
  2. Marxism After Marx CH2
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_Luxemburg#The_Accumulation_of_Capital
  4. Marxism After Marx CH3
  5. Marxism After Marx CH4, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austromarxism
  6. Marxism After Marx CH5
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Trotsky
  8. Marxism After Marx CH6
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin
  10. Marxism After Marx CH7
  11. Marxism After Marx CH8
  12. Marxism After Marx CH9
  13. Marxism After Marx CH10
  14. Marxism After Marx CH11
  15. Marxism After Marx CH12
  16. Marxism After Marx CH13
  17. Marxism After Marx CH14
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci
  19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Communist_Revolution
  20. Marxism After Marx CH15
  21. Marxism After Marx CH16
  22. Marxism After Marx CH17
  23. Marxism After Marx CH18, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underdevelopment#Dependency_theory, https://www.ppesydney.net/three-theories-of-underdevelopment/
  24. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory
  25. Marxism After Marx CH19
  26. Marxism After Marx CH20
  27. Marxism After Marx CH21
  28. Marxism After Marx CH22, CH5 Understanding Marxism Geoff Boucher https://tuxdoc.com/download/understanding-marxism-geoff-boucher_pdf#download-require
  29. Marxism After Marx CH23
  30. Marxism After Marx CH24
  31. Marxism After Marx CH25
  32. CH6 Marx and Marxism, Gregory Claeys, 2018, CH6
  33. Rosa Luxemburg and the Struggle for Democratic Renewal, Jon Nixon, 2018, page iix-ix
  34. http://libcom.org/library/gik-introduction
  35. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workerism, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomism, https://medium.com/@sethwheeler/tronti-and-the-many-faces-of-autonomy-a111cced7bdf)
  36. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomia_Operaia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomism, https://medium.com/@sethwheeler/tronti-and-the-many-faces-of-autonomy-a111cced7bdf, Social Movements Key Concepts, Graeme Chesters and Ian Welsh, 2011, page 37)
  37. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomism#The_Marxist_Autonomist_theory
  38. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomism, https://culturepowerpolitics.org/2016/05/04/the-multitude-and-the-metropolis/, https://notesfrombelow.org/article/workers-inquiry-and-social-composition, Autonomy Capitalism, Class and Politics, David Eden, 2017, page 12-15
  39. https://marx.libcom.org/library/libertarian-marxist-tendency-map
  40. https://buildingarevolutionarymovement.org/2019/03/30/political-ideology-part-2/
  41. https://newleftreview.org/issues/II121/articles/michael-burawoy-a-tale-of-two-marxisms?pc=1264