Echoes of Western Marxism

Image: Eugenio Barboza


In Brazil, historically, we have never had a Marxist theoretical culture present in the largest political party formations

“These boys know Marx, Noiz knows hunger, so clench your fists, smile and never go back to your broken hand and empty mind” (Emicida).

The quote above from the musician and artistic producer Emicida is well known as he tells us about the “quebradas” of Brazil. It is worth noting that very recently I was at a meeting of young militants from a left-wing party and at some point I found myself confronted by the phrase from the famous “rap”.

Ignorance of the old Marx, or his recognition as just any member of the academic bibliographic records, led us to this intriguing, but understandable situation in which the Marxism that, at some point, was the basis of the critical debate of capitalist society, is now seen as a mere page of academic knowledge.

I make this brief introduction to try to shed light, or at least discuss more openly, how Marxism arrived at this moment, to a condition so far from the noisiest stage and for which Marx himself made so much effort: the capitalist everyday life to be transformed from the working class. For this brief debate, I will use two useful authors to deal with this academic equidistance that Marxism assumed not only in Brazil, but in the world, I refer to the works of Perry Anderson and Domenico Losurdo on what they call “Western Marxism”. .

“Western Marxism” has a distinct understanding in the authors in question. Initially, for Perry Anderson, it is a generational conception, whose framework in four basic aspects establish a gradual differentiation and condition of social expression of historical Marxism. A first element refers to the spatial or geographical outline of the establishment of Marxism: the original authors (Marx and Engels) developed their thinking from central Europe (England, France, Germany), identifying in the social dispute and in the organization of workers' movements located there the first expression of the anti-capitalist struggle.

Marx and Engels participated in the organization of the first Socialist International and defined the political and economic field of social dispute. The second generation, initially organized around the so-called Second International, already has a distinct geographic profile, mainly the Russian socialist movement attracts the core of thinkers to Eastern Europe and part of Asia. For Losurdo, this movement would originate what he calls “Eastern Marxism”. Finally, the generation that originated “Western Marxism” presents a new displacement towards the European center and the USA.

The second aspect, which would define the strongest condition of Anderson's notion, refers to the performance pattern and party ties. Second-generation Marxists (Kautsky, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Hilferding, Bukharin, Otto Bauer, among others) were fully incorporated into party disputes and mass movement action. These authors were prominent party leaders and a considerable portion of their formulations took place in the intimate interaction between the development of Marxian theory, with an enormous capacity for creative and critical formulation, and the action of revolutionary social movements. Domenico Losurdo will observe that this creative and critical capacity integrated into party movements and mass social struggles will continue in the so-called “Eastern Marxism” and more specifically in that set of confrontations that will be observed in anti-colonial struggles, especially the Asian revolutions (China and Vietnam ).

Third-generation Marxian authors show a growing distance from party intervention and revolutionary mass movements. The reasons given for this were very varied and to a large extent still requires further research. Four points seem to be relevant and are highlighted by Anderson: the advance of fascism from the 1930s onwards, imposing high levels of repression and partisan disorganization, which affected the very participation and partisan political militancy of the authors of Western Marxism; second, resulting from the forces of action of Stalinism and its influence on the Communist Parties, purging or defining limits for the action of a party intelligentsia. As Anderson points out, Marxian intellectuals such as Sartre, Althusser, Della Volpe, Lukács and others had to act and theoretically produce a Marxism far from party disputes, however much many of them sought to act individually and isolatedly in social movements, as in the case of Sartre, for example.

A third important aspect refers to the partial cultural co-option by bourgeois university institutions of a significant portion of these authors. From here, Marxism becomes institutionalized as part of academic logic, incorporating itself into the schematism of “the total cultural configuration within” capitalist societies. It should be said that this phenomenon also reached the western peripheral formations of capitalism, in the Brazilian case in particular, both the repression of the years of the military dictatorship, and later the distance of the intelligentsia in relation to the main leftist parties, established a centrally university Marxism, with a low capacity for interpreting the social totality and for militant intervention, despite the previous history of the presence of Marxist intellectuals, both militants and expressive formulators, it is worth briefly mentioning the cases of Mario Pedrosa, Caio Prado Jr, Moniz Bandeira, Ruy Mauro Marini, Theotônio dos Santos, Florestan Fernandes, Vânia Bambirra, Leandro Konder, Nelson Werneck, Jacob Gorender and others who were present in different political-party organizations from the Communist Party of Brazil to organizations such as Política Operária (POLOP).

Ultimately but centrally, Western Marxism "was subjected to a broader historical censor: the nearly fifty-year gulf between socialist thought and the soil of popular revolution." This last aspect seems to us to be key to the more recent understanding of the distancing and lesser reflection of Marxism in relation to the workers' movements in their various specificities. Lenin had already observed that if, on the one hand, “there is no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory”, on the other hand, he also draws attention to the fact that “without a revolutionary mass movement, there will be no revolutionary theory either”.

This double interaction, very typical of Marx's own analysis, shows us how much the social withdrawal of a certain intellectuality from the mass movement is deleterious for the development of an adequate proposition for social interaction, but an almost inevitability when one observes the historical movements of the last fifty years in central capitalism and even differently in forms of peripheral capitalism such as Brazil.

The historical difference between “classical Marxism” and “Western Marxism” would also be conditioned by the theoretical fields of each branch. In the first case, a greater concern with the political and economic interpretation of capitalism and, in the second, a strong return to method analysis, centered on different philosophical versions, not only Hegelian, but also Schelling, Kant and Spinoza. As both authors reviewed here treat well, the configurations of innovations and contributions have not ceased from one form to another of Marxism, forming a broad fundamental cultural spectrum for the treatment of capitalist modernity, even if the conditions of social confrontation have changed profoundly, mainly in the nations of central imperialism, either because of hegemony factors, treated by Gramsci, or by ideological aspects, treated by Althusser, or even by factors of coexistence between peripheral and central societies, as observed by the authors of the Latin American dependency theory.

The echoes of “Western Marxism”, therefore, expressively reach the Brazilian periphery, and the rather incoherent speech of the political militant who repeats the famous rap well reflects the distance of Marxism from social struggles and the contradictions of the castling in the form of only one academic discipline. In the Brazilian case, historically, we have never had a Marxist theoretical culture present in the largest political party formations, but this seems to have worsened a lot in recent years and to break, both bringing the new generations closer to the classic formulations of Marxism, and defining an agenda for the interpretation of capitalism Brazilians from the theoretical assumptions of Marxism are fundamental, but this will only happen if it is in line with the construction of an anti-capitalist mass movement and with enough radical energies to boost the development of a theory of overcoming the current system of human exploitation and social inequality , tasks that still require party organization and broad social mobilization.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Agenda of debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependence (Pakatatu).



Perry Anderson. Considerations on Western Marxism; In the tracks of historical materialism. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

Domenico Losurdo. Western Marxism. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

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