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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 theory of "Marxist Humanism"

The term "Marxist humanism" has as its foundation Marx's conception of the "alienation of the labourer" [2] as he advanced it in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 -- an alienation that is born of a capitalist system in which the worker no longer functions as (what Marx termed) a free being involved with free and associated labor.[3] And although many scholars consider late Marx less of a humanist than the Marx who wrote pre-Das Kapital (For Marx by Althusser),[4] as his later works are rather bereft of references to this alienation, others {for example David McLellan, Robert C. Tucker, George Brenkert[5]} argue that the notion of alienation remains a part of Marx's philosophy. Theodor Shanin[6]) and Raya Dunayevskaya go further, not only is alienation present in the late Marx, but that there is no split between the young Marx and mature Marx, but one Marx.

As is assumed under the very notion of alienation, there is a human who, when disenfranchised by his own labour, becomes less human — in fact, Marx says he becomes objectified. According to Marx, humans naturally produce for their own benefit; and, furthermore, he freely produces in association with other free beings. However, under a capitalist society the alienation of the means of production gives rise to "fettering" productive relations; there is a single capitalist employing an army of workers at wages just sufficient to provide for their mere subsistence. The worker becomes a slave. He is no longer a free productive being, but instead he absolutely must produce to simply meet his most basic needs. Multiple alienations are evident: from themselves, from the human being, from the object they produce, and the process of work itself. The stamp of Hegel is clear and unmistakable.

However, there is more to this. In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Marx writes: "A forcing-up of wages (disregarding all other difficulties, including the fact that it would only be by force, too, that the higher-wages, being an anomaly, could be maintained) would therefore be nothing but better payment for the slave, and would not conquer either for the worker or for labour their human status and dignity." It is here that Marx as a humanist is well evinced.

This quote is intended to convey that it is not the 12-hour work-day alone that enslaves man, forcing him to give his entire productive being -— his natural skills, or that which constitutes his essence as a man -— over to another. Rather, it is the very (philosophic) condition behind the capitalist structure that enslaves man. Basically, capitalism is not conducive to democracy on Marx's conception. On his conception, capitalism inherently gives rise to an elite bourgeoisie for whom the rest of society, the proletariat, must work. Insofar as this is the case, the proletarian himself will never be able to dictate the conditions of his work; they will always be determined by the capitalist himself. So even if the capitalist pays the worker higher wages than he himself incurs (from his profits made off the labourer's efforts), he still controls the terms of the worker's production.

Marx held that insofar as man only has his liberty to produce, and produce according to his own conceived ideas (e.g., he designs a very fancy shoe and wants to see this shoe materialize), capitalism, as a system, will be an eternal stymie to man's natural freedom.

This is Marx's humanism. Marxist Humanism is the political, or philosophic, association that assumes this as its premise.


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'. Of the Humanist's reliance on the 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Althusser wrote, "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). The Humanists contend 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. Althusser, however, did not defend orthodox Marxism's economic reductionism and determinism; instead, he developed his own theories regarding 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (b. 1927) Polish philosopher and historian of ideas.
  • 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 (b. 1940) 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.
  • Praxis School (1960s and 1970s) Marxist humanist philosophical movement. It originated in Zagreb and Belgrade in the SFR Yugoslavia.

See also


External links



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