Array of social movements, political parties, theoretical tendencies, and doctrines descending from Karl Marx’s writings in philosophy, political economy, and history; a doctrine that the United States spent much effort and money to oppose.

Karl Marx, who was born in 1818 and published his ideas during the 1860s, combined elements of German philosophy (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach), British political economy (Adam Smith and David Ricardo), and French socialism (Conte de Claude Henri de Rouvroy Saint-Simon and Pierre Joseph Proudhon) to form a coherent worldview that emphasized the inextricability of theory and practice in the struggle against capitalist exploitation. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways,” Marx said; “the point is to change it.” Nevertheless, it was only after the fall of the Paris commune in 1871—the first successful proletarian revolution—and the ensuing dispute between the followers of Marx and Frederich Engels (i.e., the social democrats) and the followers of Mikhail Bakunin (i.e., the anarchists), that the term marxism gained currency. Thereafter, the founders of the German and Russian social democratic parties codified marxism as the official doctrine of the working-class movement.

One controversy in the history of marxism merits particular attention. The debate in the Soviet Union between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, who foresaw the expansion of communism throughout the world that began with Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924 and ended with Trotsky’s expulsion in 1927 had its roots in the Soviet Union’s ambiguous position as a territorial expansionist state and the “fatherland of the international proletariat.” Whereas Stalin advocated “socialism in one country” (the idea that the Soviet Union could achieve socialism on its own), Trotsky advocated “world revolution” (the idea that the Soviet Union could not survive in the absence of revolutions in the West). Stalin’s accession to power led not only to the bureaucratization of the Soviet government but also to the calcification of Soviet political doctrine.

After World War II, the term western marxism came to designate a range of alternatives to Soviet marxism: the rediscovered Hegelian and humanist marxism of the interwar period (Georg Lukacs, Karl Korsch, and Antonio Gramsci); the existential marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in France; the critical theory of the Frankfurt School in Germany; and cultural studies in Great Britain. These schools of thought, which shared an aversion to the economic determinism, objectivism, and sci-entism of Soviet marxism, revived interest in Marx’s critique of alienation of workers and commodity fetishism (in which a commodity becomes so valued that the buyer develops a sense of love or devotion to it—the automobile, for example). Western marxism continues to exert considerable influence in European and American universities, especially in the domains of sociology, history, and literary studies.

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