Marxist humanism

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Marxist humanism[1] is a branch of Marxism that primarily focuses on Marx's earlier writings, especially the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which Marx espoused his theory of alienation, as opposed to his later works, which are considered to be concerned more with his structural conception of capitalist society. The Praxis School, which called for radical social change in Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia in the 1960s, was one such Marxist humanist movement.

Marxist humanism was opposed by the "antihumanism" of Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, who described it as a revisionist movement.


The term "Marxist humanism" at the notion of alienation remains a part of Marx's philosophy. Teodor Shanin[2] and Raya Dunayevskaya go further, asserting that not only is alienation present in the late Marx, but that there is no split between the young Marx and mature Marx.

The early Marx, influenced by Feuerbach's humanistic inversion of Hegelian idealism, articulated a concept of species-being, according to which man's essential nature is that of a free producer, freely reproducing their own conditions of life. However, under capitalism individuals are alienated from their productive activity insofar as they are compelled to sell their labor-power as a commodity to a capitalist; their sensuous life-activity, or labor, thus appears to them as something objective, a commodity to be bought and sold like any other. Thus, to overcome alienation and allow humankind to realize its species-being, the wage-labor system must be transcended, and the separation of the laborer from the means of labor abolished.


The most potent criticism of Marxist Humanism has come from within the Marxist movement. Louis Althusser, the French Structuralist Marxist, criticises Marxist Humanists for not recognising the dichotomy between 'Young Marx' and 'Mature Marx'. Althusser believes Marx's thought to be marked by a radical epistemological break. For Althusser, the humanism of Marx's early writings — influenced by Hegel and Feuerbach — is fundamentally incongruous with the "scientific", structure-concerned theory found in Marx's mature works such as Das Kapital. Of the Marxist Humanist's reliance on the 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Althusser writes, "We do not publish our own drafts, that is, our own mistakes, but we do sometimes publish other people's" (cited in Gregory Elliot's "introduction: In the Mirror of Machiavelli" an introduction for Althusser's "Machiavelli and us", p. xi).

Humanists argue that ‘Marxism’ developed lopsidedly because Marx's early works were unknown until after the orthodox ideas were in vogue — the Manuscripts of 1844 were published only in 1932 — and to understand his latter works properly it is necessary to understand Marx's philosophical foundations. However, Althusser does not defend orthodox Marxism's economic reductionism and determinism; instead, he develops his own theories of ideological hegemony and conditioning within class societies, through the concept of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) and interpellation which constitutes the subject.

Marxist humanists

Notable thinkers associated with Marxist humanism include:

  • György Lukács (1885-1971) Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic.
  • Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) was a German Marxist philosopher.
  • John Lewis (philosopher) (1889-1976) British Unitarian minister and Marxist philosopher.
  • Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) an Italian writer, politician, political philosopher, and linguist.[3]
  • Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher.
  • Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) German philosopher and sociologist, and a member of the Frankfurt School.
  • Erich Fromm (1900-1980) internationally renowned social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher.
  • C. L. R. James (1901-1989) Afro-Trinidadian journalist, socialist theorist and writer.
  • Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) was a French sociologist, intellectual and philosopher who was generally considered a Neo-Marxist.
  • Günther Anders (1902-1992) was a Jewish philosopher and journalist who developed a philosophical anthropology for the age of technology.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.
  • Salvador Allende (1908-1973) Former President of Chile.
  • Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987) founder of the philosophy of Marxist Humanism in the United States of America.
  • Christopher Hill (historian) (1912-2003) English Marxist historian.
  • Lucien Goldmann (1913-1970) French philosopher and sociologist of Jewish-Romanian origin.
  • Paulo Freire (1921-1997) Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical pedagogy.
  • André Gorz (1923-2007) Austrian and French social philosopher.
  • E. P. Thompson (1924-1993) English historian, socialist and peace campaigner.
  • Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) Psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and author from Martinique.
  • Ivan Sviták (1925-1994) Czech social critic and aesthetic theorist.
  • Karel Kosík (1926-2003) Czech philosopher, synthesized phenomenology and humanistic Marxism.
  • Wang Ruoshui (1926-2002) Chinese journalist and philosopher.
  • John Berger (b. 1926) English art critic, novelist, painter and author.
  • Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009) Polish philosopher and historian of ideas.
  • Che Guevara (1928-1967) Argentine revolutionary, physician, author, intellectual, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist.[3]
  • David McReynolds (b. 1929) American democratic socialist and pacifist activist.
  • Frankfurt School (1930s onwards) The Frankfurt School is a school of neo-Marxist critical theory, social research, and philosophy.
  • Marshall Berman (1940-2013) American Marxist Humanist writer and philosopher.
  • Peter McLaren (b. 1948) one of the leading architects of critical pedagogy.
  • News and Letters Committees (1950s onwards) is a small, revolutionary-socialist organization in the United States. It is the world's most prominent Marxist-Humanist organization.
  • Lewis Gordon (b. 1962) Black American philosopher.
  • Nigel Gibson British & American philosopher
  • Praxis School (1960s and 1970s) Marxist humanist philosophical movement. It originated in Zagreb and Belgrade in the SFR Yugoslavia.

See also


Further reading

  • Novack, George. Humanism and Socialism. First ed. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973. Without ISBN

External links