Neo-Marxists is an ideology that based upon and advances on the basic tenants of Marxist theory. It reflects the growing divergences that have emerged in Marxism. The doctrine focuses on the contemporary debates of Marxism and the application of its fundamental tenants of analysis and identification of new forms of domination and conflicts that have emerged in the present world.
Marxism is an ideological system within socialism that developed out of, and drew inspiration from, the writings of Karl Marx (1818–83). The ideology was developed only after Marx’s death, through attempts Marxism made by Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky, and Georgie Plekhanov. However, Marxism doesn’t just comprise exclusively of all the ideological thoughts belonging to Karl Marx. Instead, it a rich tradition of social through which is dynamic and evolving with significant possibilities.
The core of Marxism is a study of historical phenomenon focused on the capitalist system, its critical analysis and the study of the class conflict between the two contending classes, which he classified as bourgeoisie and proletariats. Some significant elements of the philosophical keystone of this study are the theory of historical materialism, the economic determinism that is based on his belief that economic factors are the ultimate determining force in that influences historical development. The study of this has been developed into a collaborate framework in Marx and Engels refer to as the ‘scientific socialism.'
According to Karl Marx, historical development progresses in a dialectical manner through the internal contradictions within each mode of production or economic system. The historical materialism thus is the study of the production process that explained historical developments. As mentioned earlier, for Marx analysis the society through the prism of economic determinism. He believed that the modes of production and exchange were the most significant factors that produced social changes and revolution. The few who own the factors of production and the corresponding relationship that emerges through it produces different classes. These classes are always in conflict with each other.
According to Karl Marx, Class conflict is an integral part of historical materialism. As the elucidated in the beginning phase of the Communists Manifesto, ‘the history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggles.’ (Marx, 1848) Since capitalism is the most technologically advanced of class societies, and their class conflict with the proletariats will produce a proletarian revolution. Since no other contending class is in opposition to the proletariats, this will create a classless, communist society where no class will have the exclusive control of all means of production (Heywood, 2000).
Marxism’s political impact has largely been related to its ability to inspire and guide the twentieth-century communist movement. It has provided an alternative to the capitalist mode of production for the newly emerging nation-states. The intellectual attraction of Marxism includes the understanding it offers of all aspects of the social and political elements in the society. It is broad in its scope and includes almost aspect of the society in its study. Politically, it has focused on the exploitation and oppression that the dominant system of capitalism produced and hence it finds a great appeal among the disadvantaged section of society who is suffering from this inequality.
However, the ideology seems to have lost its charm in the late twentieth century. To some extent, this was the result of the knowledge about the tyrannical and dictatorial features of communist regimes themselves, which were traced back to Marx’s ideas and assumptions. The crisis of Marxism, however, intensified as the result of the collapse of communism in the Eastern European countries during 1989-91. The disintegration of Soviet Union was the most devastating blow to the Marxist ideology. Thus, Marxism as a world-historical force appears to have gone extinct. However, the understanding of Marxism, which has now developed divorced from its interpretation in Leninism and Stalinism, might help in reinventing and a renewed study in the field.
By the late 1970s, several Marxist scholars had concluded that classical Marxism was in the process of crisis, and they found it hard to use it as a tool with which to analyze modern society. The relationship between base and superstructure was contested. This has produced some research that argued that rather than the complete dependency of Superstructure and base; there exists a kind of interdependency between the two.
The increasing discourse in the ideological understanding of Marxism has been produced due to the increasing influence of Frankfurt School. The work produced in Frankfurt School cannot be divorced from the growing debates over what constitutes Marxism, or the scope of a theory designed with a practical intent, to criticize and subvert domination in all its forms. Whereas the major Marxists thinkers of the 1920s like Korsch, Lukacs, and Gramsci were all part of politics; Frankfurt School, on the contrary, had no formal political affiliation (McLellan, 2007, p. 283). Formed in 1923 as the Institute of Social Research had been the refuge for those scholars who had immigrated to the United States after the rise of Hitler in Germany. After, the Nazis downfall the school was reestablished later in 1950’s as the Frankfurt School.
The scholarly works produced by this school cannot be classified under a single framework as these scholars drew inspiration from a wide field of research including that of Anthropology, economics, fine arts, music, philosophy, psychology, political science, etc. The common theme that portrayed through all their works, however, was their hostility towards capitalist system as well as their growing delusion about the experiment of communism in the Soviet Union. Thus, the varied work produced through the Frankfurt school has been compiled together as, ‘critical theory’ (Gauba, 2003, p.37). Its prominent scholars include thinkers like, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Jurgen Habermas etc. They tried to develop a critical perspective in the discussion of all social practices and different ideological doctrine.
The critical theory can be understood as elucidated by David Held as, ‘They tried to develop a critical perspective in the discussion of all social practices, a perspective which is preoccupied with the critique of ideology - of systematically distorted accounts of reality which attempt to conceal and legitimate asymmetrical power relations. They are concerned with the way in which social interest, conflicts and contradictions are expressed in thought, and how they are produced and reproduced in systems of domination. Through an examination of these systems, they hoped to enhance awareness of the roots of domination, undermine ideologies and help to compel changes in consciousness and action.’(Bottomore, 1991, p. 209)
Contemporary school of Marxism has developed in two directions: humanist and scientific. The humanist branch of neo-Marxists is influenced by and is focused on the work of Young Marx. The ‘Young’ Marx stressed on the link between communism and human emancipation, the dominant theme of alienated of labor that characterized the capitalist system. Here, the work of Herbert Spencer gains significance as he portrays the condition of alienation in the capitalist society that has reduced the human being to a ‘one-dimensional man’. Through his work, he has focused on the trying to understand the continued existence of capitalism and how it enslaves the individual through it. According to him, has very efficiently manipulated the gowning discontent and isolation suffered by the individual and through effective use of means of communication have instead created all those desires and wants that can be instantly satisfied. Thus, the individual remains enslaved in the system due to new wants and desires manufactured through it.
Scientific turn of neo-Marxism instead focuses on the scientific and explanatory character of Marxist ideology. The work of Louis Althusser has proved significant as it challenges the humanist elements of Marxism and instead asserts the superstructure and base exists in the relationship that is interdependent rather than one of dependency. According to him, it is the superstructure and the various elements that are a part of it like family, schools etc. and the manner in which these institutions are organized and structured in the capitalist system have played an important role in maintaining the longevity of the system.
There is a number of criticisms that can be made of the arguments and doctrines produced by the Frankfurt school. The most significant of which has been introduced through the writings of the second generation of critical theorists, most especially by Habermas, who has developed his ideas in a framework, which substantially differs from that of Horkheimer, Adorno or Marcuse. Through his work he has further probed into the philosophical foundations of critical theory, attempting to explicate its presuppositions about rationality and the 'good society' and has recast it in an account of the developmental possibilities in a capitalist society (Habermas 1968, 1973). There are many other works that have tried to criticize the critical theory and various augments. However, the critical theory is still been developed. It heralds movements that have tried to develop the doctrine of Marxism in accordance with the socio-cultural changes that have occurred since its earlier conception. It has provided us with advancement as well as an alternative understanding of the dominant Marxist doctrine in accordance with the changing reality. It isn’t complete and one needs to celebrate all that has managed to produce.
Bottomore, T., Harris, L., Kiernan, V.G. and Miliband, R., 1991. Marxist Thought (p. 134). Blackwell Publishers.
Gauba, O.P., 2003. An introduction to political theory. Macmillan.
Heywood, A., 2000. Key concepts in politics. Macmillan.
McLellan, D., 2007. Marxism after Marx. Palgrave Macmillan.
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