Marxism? Think one, two, many Marxes …

Viele Marx

"All I know is that I am not a Marxist," Karl Marx is reported to have said. He made this much quoted remark with a nod to the Marxist current developing in France at the time. We do not know what exactly Marx was distancing himself from. What is certain, however, is he could not have anticipated one thing: the extent to which, following his death, in his name, though in the form of an "ism," one of the most influential intellectual currents and political movements would spread across the entire globe – Marxism.

Over time, there would emerge hundreds of understandings, ways of thinking, theoretical and political currents and factions. Distinct from one another not only in terms of intellectual/theoretical and political/practical terms, they would also assume entirely different forms geographically and spatially, and undergo ruptures and divisions in the course of their development. Due to the variety of guises "Marxism" has historically assumed, it makes more sense to speak of Marxisms in the plural – or of theory and practice "following Marx."

In spite of all this variety and complexity, the focus was consistently upon the relationship between "theory" and "practice." This relationship, however, remains unclear and controversial to this day: does theory "following Marx" not strive to be a political practice in its own right? Is it "only" the necessary precondition for practice? Or can a sensible analysis and critique of social relations only emerge within a political practice? And what might the unity of theory and practice look like, when the unity within a "revolutionary practice," which Marx himself advocated and which still seemed possible during his day and during the era of the labour movement, has broken up during the 20th century?

In spite of all the difficulties and ambiguities inherent to the relationship between theory and practice, it seems sensible to present two distinct overviews: one of "theories and debates following Marx" and one of "political organisations and movements following Marx." Such a distinction must remain schematic, and there are both connections and inevitable overlaps. Moreover, neither of the two overviews can stake a claim to being exhaustive and complete, given the diversity and the global distribution of the forms of thinking and acting that build on Marx's critique. Nevertheless, such overviews can present a first orientation and an introduction.

Theories and Debates following Marx

The "following" in "Theories and Debates following Marx" does not refer only, and in a purely chronological sense, to the worldwide development that followed upon Marx's critique. It also points to a thematic development that takes Marx's critique as its starting point and has had to re-invent itself repeatedly, and to this day, be it as critique of religion or philosophy, of economics or politics, or as a comprehensive critique of bourgeois-capitalist society.

Parties and movements following Marx

"Theories and debates following Marx" provides an overview of a number of currents in social critique linked to the ideas of Karl Marx. It is, of course, very difficult to separate these currents from organised political praxis: even when Marx bade “farewell” to the Young Hegelians, he continued to refer to the group in his work and to the proletariat, in particular.