Considerations on Western Marxism by Perry Anderson

By Perry Anderson

This synoptic essay considers the character and evolution of the Marxist concept that built in Western Europe, after the defeat of the proletarian rebellions within the West and the isolation of the Russian Revolution within the East within the early Twenties. It focuses quite at the paintings of Lukács, Korsch and Gramsci; Adorno, Marcuse and Benjamin; Sartre and Althusser; and Della Volpe and Colletti, including different figures inside of Western Marxism from 1920 to 1975. The theoretical creation of every of those thinkers is said at the same time to the sensible destiny of working-class struggles and to the cultural mutations of bourgeois idea of their time. The philosophical antecedents of a number of the university inside of this tradition—Lukácsian, Gramscian, Frankfurt, Sartrean, Althusserian and Della Volpean—are in comparison, and the explicit techniques in their respective platforms surveyed. The structural cohesion of 'Western Marxism', past the variety of its person thinkers, is then assessed, in a balance-sheet that contrasts its background with the culture of 'classical' Marxism that preceded it, and with the commanding difficulties on the way to confront any old materialism to be triumphant it.

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The first and most fundamental of its character­ istics has been the structural divorce of this Marxism from political practice. The organic unity of theory and practice realized in the classical generation of Marxists before the First World War, who performed an inseparably politico-intellectual function within their respective parties i n Eastern and Central Europe, was to be increasingly severed in the half-century from 1 9 1 8 to 1968, in Western Europe. The rupture between the two was not immediate or spontaneous, in the new generational and geographical context of Marxism after the First World War.

4 to make a direct theorization of the political practice of the P C F from outside it, in the series of essays entitled The Communists and Peace. 17 Naturally, no such 'excentric' unity of theory and practice proved possible. The Hungarian Revolt of 1 9 5 6 led Sartre to a spectacular break with the P C F, and he thereafter developed his theoretical work outside any organizational frame of refere,nce, as an individual philo­ sopher and publicist avowedly without contact with the masses. Meanwhile, in the Communist Party itself, the repercussions of the Twentieth Party Congress of the C P S U and the Hungarian Revolt had finally driven Lefebvre into active opposition, and in 1 9 5 8 he was expelled from it.

Biograph i cal ly, Lukacs was three years older than Bukharin, Korsch two years older. But what separated them from the pre-war generation of Marxists was that they came to revolutionary socialism much later; while Bukharin was already an active and tempered lieutenant of Lenin well before 1 9 1 4, they were first radicalized by the Great War and the mass upheavals which followed it, emerging as Marxists only after 1 9 1 8. Gramsci, on the other hand, was already a militant in the PSI on the eve of the First World War, but was still a young and immature one, whose inexperience led him to commit serious mistakes at its outset (when he came close to advocating Italian intervention in the holocaust, at a time when his party vigorously denounced it).

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