Definitions of Marxism
In its most fundamental sense, the term `Marxism' refers to the system of thought created by Karl Marx (1818-83) which provides the main theoretical basis for modern socialism and communism. The term is often also taken to include the work of Marx's lifelong collaborator and friend, F. Engels. By extension, the term refers to the ideas of Marx's subsequent followers, derived from or based upon his work.
Marxism has had an unprecedented impact on modern life. It has been taken up by innumerable followers. It has developed into a movement of world-historical proportions. It has been adapted to new conditions, extended into new areas of enquiry, and developed in a variety of intellectual contexts. In the process a profusion of different forms of Marxism have emerged. There are distinctive traditions of Marxism in the Soviet Union, China, France, Germany and elsewhere, each containing a diversity of schools, tendencies and theories. Moreover, there have been numerous attempts to combine Marxism with other major schools of thought, giving rise to neo- Kantian, existentialist, psychoanalytic, structuralist, etc, interpretations of Marxism. Marxism remains a living body of thought, and new forms continue to emerge.
Thus, while a dictionary definition is relatively uncontroversial, problems arise when the attempt is made to be more specific. What did Marx really say? Who are his genuine followers? A number of different ways of answering these questions have been suggested; but none is without problems.
Marxism may be defined in terms of an essential core of social and economic theory. However, it resists such systematisation. `We do not regard Marx's theory as something complete and inviolable,' wrote Lenin, `on the contrary, we are convinced that . . . socialists must develop it in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life.' (Lenin 1899, 211-12)
Hence arises the attempt to specify Marxism in terms of its dialectical and materialist method. According to Lukács, for example, `orthodox Marxism is not the `belief' in this or that thesis . . . orthodoxy refers exclusively to method' (Lukács 1923, 1). Others have looked upon the active, political commitment of Marxism to the cause of the working class and to socialism as its defining feature.
However, Marxism is divided into different, often conflicting, tendencies and groups, none of which can unproblematically claim to be the sole `true' heirs of Marx. Some writers argue that there is no longer a single theory of Marxism and that we must talk instead of `Marxisms' in the plural. Others maintain that Marxism should be seen as a concrete and complex historical tradition which contains within it many different schools and theories. However, such views do not ultimately escape the problems of distinguishing between Marxism (or Marxisms) and non-Marxism. If anyone who calls
himself or is called a `Marxist' is regarded as ipso facto a Marxist, then the identity of Marxism becomes entirely arbitrary and subjective. Otherwise the problem remains. Historical Development
The term `Marxism' was first employed by Marx's opponents in the socialist movement during the 1870s and 1880s (Manale 1974). Neither Marx nor Engels used it. Indeed, Engels reports that Marx responded to its use by Lafargue by saying `all I know is that I am not a Marxist' (Engels to C. Schmidt, 5 Aug 1890). Towards the end of Engels' life, however, the term began to be used by the followers as well as opponents of Marx, and this usage rapidly gained acceptance.
Marx and Engels
Marx's first works had a primarily philosophical and political character. However, in his early years he developed a concern with economic questions. (Marx 1844) After settling in exile in London in 1849, Marx devoted most of his time to economic studies, culminating in the volumes and manuscripts of Capital (Marx 1867-94, Marx 1905-10). In these works he aims `to lay bare the economic law of motion...
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