Marxist humanism

Marxist humanism[1] is an international body of thought and political action rooted in an interpretation of the works of Karl Marx. The tendency was born in the 1940s and reached a degree of prominence in the 1950s and 1960s before being largely outshined by the anti-humanist Marxism of Louis Althusser.[2]

Marxist humanism is an investigation into "what human nature consists of and what sort of society would be most conductive to human thriving"[2] from a critical perspective rooted in Marxist philosophy. Marxist humanists argue that Marx himself was concerned with investigating similar questions.[3] As such, contrary to the interpretations of Marx rooted in structuralist Marxism, Marxist humanists argue that Marx's work, rather than being an outright rejection, was an extension or transcendence of enlightenment humanism, extending humanist critique into the realm of human organization rather than limiting it to the critique of religion.[4]


Marxist humanism holds that Marx maintained his notion of alienation first laid out in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 until his death in 1883. Teodor Shanin[5] and Raya Dunayevskaya go further, asserting that not only is alienation present in the late Marx, but that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between the "young Marx" and "mature Marx".

Philosopher Wang Roushui summarized the essence of Marxist humanism in his essay "A Defense of Humanism":

Whatever humanism may be, it has as its common principle, in simple terms, human value. The various humanisms may differ greatly in their interpretations of human value, but...such differences are merely as between one humanism and another....Marx often used the expression "human value" in an approving sense, and it is certainly not exclusively bourgeois jargon. Historically, humanism played not merely an antifeudal role, but also an anti-capitalist one; hence it cannot be said that humanism can never be other than bourgeois ideology. Marx did indeed criticize the humanism of [Ludwig] Feuerbach, but far from utterly denying humanism, he brought it to a higher stage of development. Marx and Feuerbach both placed many in the highest position and recognized no essence higher than man's. But Feuerbach only opposed ideological illusions of superhuman forces, whereas Marx went further and opposed all the actual social relations that degraded man to the status of nonhuman. Marx was able to reach this revolutionary conclusion because he grasped actual man, social man....The humanism we advocate is again Marxist humanism and no other. The noun "humanism" expresses its genetic link with historical humanism; the adjective "Marxist" expresses its difference from other humanism.[6]

The early Marx, influenced by Feuerbach's humanistic inversion of Hegelian idealism, articulated a concept of species-being, according to which man's essential nature is that of a free producer, freely reproducing their own conditions of life. However, under capitalism individuals are alienated from their productive activity insofar as they are compelled to sell their labor-power as a commodity to a capitalist; their sensuous life-activity, or labor, thus appears to them as something objective, a commodity to be bought and sold like any other. Thus, to overcome alienation and allow humankind to realize its species-being, the wage-labor system must be transcended, and the separation of the laborer from the means of labor abolished.


Marxist humanism has been quite controversial even within Marxist circles. Famously, Louis Althusser, the French Structuralist Marxist, criticised Marxist Humanists for not recognizing what he considered to be the fundamental dichotomy between the theory of the 'Young Marx' and 'Mature Marx'. Althusser believed Marx's thought to be marked by a radical epistemological break, to have occurred some time in-between the publication of the Holy Family and the drafting of the German Ideology. For Althusser, the humanism of Marx's early writings—influenced by Hegel and Feuerbach—is fundamentally incongruous with the "scientific", structure-concerned theory he argued were to be found in Marx's later works such as Das Kapital.

Althusser was quite critical of what he perceived to be a reliance among Marxist humanists on Marx's 1844 Manuscripts. Marxist humanists, however, strongly dispute this. Marxist humanist activist Lilia D. Monzó states that "Marxist-Humanism... considers the totality of Marx’s works, recognizing that his early work in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, was profoundly humanist and led to and embeds his later works, including Capital."[7] Additionally, they point out that the groundwork for Marxist humanist ideas was worked out by Georg Lukacs in his work History and Class Consciousness, published nine years before Marx's 1844 Manuscripts were available.

Marxist humanists

Notable thinkers associated with Marxist humanism include:

  • György Lukács (1885–1971) Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic.
  • Raya Dunayevskaya (1910–1987) founder of the philosophy of Marxist Humanism in the United States of America.
  • News and Letters Committees (1950s onwards) is a small, revolutionary-socialist organization in the United States founded by Dunayevskaya.[8]
  • Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) Psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary, and author from Martinique.
  • Karel Kosík (1926–2003) Czech philosopher who wrote on topics such as phenomenology and dialectics from a Marxist humanist perspective.
  • Lucien Goldmann (1913–1970) French philosopher and sociologist of Jewish-Romanian origin.
  • Erich Fromm (1900–1980) internationally renowned social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher.
  • Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) was a German Marxist philosopher.
  • Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) an Italian writer, politician, political philosopher, and linguist.[9]
  • 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.
  • C. L. R. James (1901–1989) Afro-Trinidadian journalist, socialist theorist and writer.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.
  • Marshall Berman (1940–2013) American Marxist Humanist writer and philosopher. Author of All That Is Solid Melts into Air.
  • Praxis School (1960s and 1970s) Marxist humanist philosophical movement. It originated in Zagreb and Belgrade in the SFR Yugoslavia.
  • E. P. Thompson (1924–1993) English historian, socialist and peace campaigner.
  • Andrew Kliman Marxist economist and philosopher.
  • Kevin B. Anderson (b. 1948) American social theorist and activist.
  • David Harvey (b. 1935) American economic geographer, pioneer of Marxist geography [10]
  • Henri Lefebvre (1901–1991) French sociologist, intellectual and philosopher generally considered to be a Neo-Marxist.
  • Franklin Rosemont (1943–2009) American writer, artist, historian, and activist.[11]
  • Salvador Allende (1908–1973) Former President of Chile.
  • Christopher Hill (historian) (1912–2003) English Marxist historian.
  • Paulo Freire (1921–1997) Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical pedagogy.
  • André Gorz (1923–2007) Austrian and French social philosopher.
  • Ivan Sviták (1925–1994) Czech social critic and aesthetic theorist.
  • Wang Ruoshui (1926–2002) Chinese journalist and philosopher.
  • John Berger (1926–2017) English art critic, novelist, painter and author.
  • Leszek Kołakowski (1927–2009) Polish philosopher and historian of ideas. Kołakowski broke with Marxism after the Polish 1968 political crisis forced him out of Poland.
  • David McReynolds (1929–2018) 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.
  • Peter McLaren (b. 1948) one of the leading architects of critical pedagogy.
  • Rodolfo Mondolfo (1877–1976) Italian Marxist philosopher and historian of Ancient Greek philosophy.
  • Lewis Gordon (b. 1962) Black American philosopher.
  • Nigel Gibson British & American philosopher
  • John Lewis (philosopher) (1889–1976) British Unitarian minister and Marxist philosopher.

See also


  1. "Marxist Humanism and the 'New Left': An index to the writings and biographies of Marxist-Humanist writers", Marxists Internet Archive
  2. Alderson, David (2017). For Humanism. United States of America: Pluto Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780745336145.
  3. "Marx at the Millennium, Chapter 3". Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  4. "Why we need Marxist-Humanism now". Pluto Press. 2017-02-17. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  5. Theodor Shanin on
  6. Ruoshui, Wang (1985). A Defense Of Humanism. Contemporary Chinese Thought 16 (3):71–88.
  7. "Women of Color and Indigeneity: A Revolutionary Subject". IMHO Journal. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  9. Embodiment and Agency, by Sue Campbell & Letitia Meynell, Penn State Press, 2009, ISBN 0-271-03522-6, p. 243

Further reading

  • Novack, George. Humanism and Socialism. First ed. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973. Without ISBN
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