For the past several decades Marxism has been passing through a severe crisis brought about by those of its followers who have transformed it into a conservative official ideology. Yet even at the time of its greatest spiritual poverty, Marxism produced a number of important thinkers: Lukacs, Bloch, Gramsci, Korsch, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm. True, the continuity of creative Marxism was maintained throughout that time almost solely by Marxists working—again an irony of history—in capitalist countries. It is as if the bourgeoisie wanted to prove once more Marx’s prediction that it would produce its own gravediggers!
There are now increasing signs of recovery from the disaster brought about by an almost schizoid split. I am referring to the Janus-faced attitude of numerous Marxists: radically critical toward capitalism, they were at the same time apologists for socialism. There are now indications that this split is disappearing because it is being increasingly understood that Marxism must be a critique of all existing societies. No matter how strange this may sound at first, Marxists ought to be radical critics of socialism.
The main chance for essential innovations in Marxism lies now, in my opinion, in analysis and critical evaluation of the sociopolitical practice which passes as socialism. For this, however, two preconditions are necessary. First, a relentless Marxist critique of Marxism and, second, the destruction of the most influential ideological-political myth of the twentieth century: the statist (Stalinist) myth of socialism.
In accordance with Marx’s forecast, a radical transformation of “prehistory” (class society) into the beginning of “real history” (classless society) was expected from the socialist revolution. Unfortunately, in the name and under the cover of socialism a society was created by Stalinists that bears all the essential marks of class society. Yet the myth of the socialist character of that society has been so powerful that many are still vainly trying to get an answer to an ill-posed question: how has this or that event, the invasion of Czechoslovakia for example, been possible in socialism?
The initial phase of the present day renaissance of Marxism might be characterized as a “Back to Marx Movement.” However, this phase has already lasted too long. The way out of the crisis cannot be found in the exegesis of Marx’s texts or in scholastic disputes over them. For a long time we have been confronted with problems that will remain insoluble unless we go beyond Marx, which, of course, does not mean without Marx. Those who continue to regard Marx’s thought as a monolith lack the intellectual equipment to become creative Marxists. Marx’s theory is not lacking in serious internal tensions and conflicts. One therefore often must distinguish that Marx who is reliable as a theoretical inspiration from that Marx who has already become part of the past. I would like to remind the reader of two critical conflicts in Marx’s theory and to express my preferences.…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.