The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • Andrew Arato
Reference work entry


The term ‘Marxism’ is much overused today: the category is deemed applicable by all sides of political divides unable to agree on anything else. No taxonomic sense, however, can be given to the conceptual chaos behind the wide variety of identifications. Only the historical reasons can be explored in the present context. Here Marxism will signify a tradition combining two related, originally nineteenth-century, intellectual complexes: (1) a particular, philosophically materialist, comprehensive world view seeking to give a unified, this-worldly explanation to all dimensions of human existence and (2) a ‘theory of movement’ (R. Koselleck) oriented to the struggles of the industrial working class designed to accelerate historical time, to help bring a (logically, normatively or historically) necessary future closer to the present by ‘linking theory and practice’. Both of these complexes are derived from the philosophy of history (or one of the philosophies of history) of Karl Marx, but the founder had little interest in working out a general Weltanschauung. In this respect Friedrich Engels was, in works such as Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science and the posthumous Dialectics of Nature, the founder of Marxism. Those who look back to the original work of Marx as against the tradition founded by Engels should be identified by the adjective ‘Marxian’, as in Marxian philosophy, economics, social theory or anthropology, etc. Nevertheless Marx’s relation to Marxism is too complex to allow a neat division between the two. As Lukacs first demonstrated in 1923, Engels’s interpretation of Marx’s oeuvre in the sense of a generalized worldview and a unified science missed the actual philosophical depth of the latter’s theory of history, social theory and critique of political economy. The cost was the elimination, misunderstanding or de-emphasis of fundamental concepts like alienation, reification, fetishism, praxis, subject, etc. Nevertheless, the great power and influence of Engels’s synthesis came from Marx’s own marriage of science and philosophy of history, bringing together the intellectual prestige of enlightenment with the motivating power of the concepts of romanticism. In another respect as well, Marx, despite having supposedly declared that he was not a ‘Marxist’, contributed to the foundations of Marxism. He did interpret his own thought in all of its phases as providing a theory of movement based on a philosophy of history whose major concepts included (typically) historical stage, transition, revolution and progress. The specific content of this theory was meant to be both an interpretation of the meaning of the movement of the industrial working class, and contribution to its enlightenment. No doubt, Marx understood scientific communism or socialism not only as the diagnosis of the crisis of this time, but also as its resolution in anticipation and acceleration of a desired future. This future was conceived in different ways in his various works, but always involved the abolition of differentiated economic and political institutions and the creation of conscious, planned, collective control over economic life as well as direct, democratic participation in all ‘political’ processes. It is important to note on the one hand that Marx’s views of the transition to such a condition were heterogeneous and at different times involved authoritarian étatistic forms (Communist Manifesto), the direct democratic (Civil Wars in France) and even parliamentary democratic forms (various addresses, and possibly Class Struggles in France as well as The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte). Common to all these forms on the other hand was the postulate of the abolition of the division of state and civil society, i.e. an independent civil society with its mediating institutions. The plurality of forms of transition worked out by Marx points to the different politics of later Marxisms, the underlying hostility between civil society and the state strengthening the logic of all the politically significant varieties.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Arato
    • 1
  1. 1.