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.

In order to rise to the challenge of presenting an overview of "Theories and Debates following Marx," we have, first, made use of distinctions and definitions that are widely familiar and accepted, including at an international level. Secondly, we have tried to relate systematic/thematic distinctions to chronological/historical periods.

Therefore we have distinguished three major groups or periods within the entirety of theories and debates: (1) "Classical Marxism" (also called "Traditional Marxism"), (2) "Western and Heterodox Marxism" and (3) "Re-engagement with Marx since the 1960s." A fourth section provides an overview of instances in which links between a Marx-based critique and other theories and critiques of society have emerged.

This distinction allows for an initial, proximate orientation and is rendered more precise through further distinction within each of the four fields. We provide a brief account of the theoretical current and aspect of the larger debate under debate. Where a historical periodisation makes sense, we state when the theories and debates in question emerged or reached their climax or period of substantial significance. In some cases, we provide helpful links, although it should not be assumed that they always lead to the most important or relevant texts, books or websites.

Naturally, such overviews must posit limits and make use of "labels" whenever developments and periods, asynchronicities and overlay predominate. While such limits and attempts at categorisation are, as it were, themselves part of the debates they are intended to structure, they can nevertheless provide orientation and opportunities for first engagement with the issue within the complex field of "critique following Marx."

Classical Marxism

The theories and debates considered to be "classical Marxism" are those that were already being discussed during the lifetimes of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in the period of early socialism and within the socialist labour movement, particularly within its organisations and political parties. The term "classical Marxism" is used here to specify a certain temporal and logical field; it does not reflect a value judgement.

Western and Heterodox Marxism

The origin of the current within the debate on Marx that would later be known as "Western Marxism" can be traced back as far as the period during which World War One and the Russian Revolution were being worked through theoretically. In part, Western Marxism was a critical response to the beginnings of Marxism's "nationalisation," as well as to Marxism-Leninism, in the Soviet Union.

"Re-engagement with Marx" since the 1960s

The "re-engagements of Marx" that occurred after the Second World War, mainly (though not only) in the West, are associated with the societal decampment and rupture of the late  1960s – student movements, civil rights struggles, the "New Left." "1968" was followed by the "red decade" of the 1970s, which ended, at least in the history of the German Federal Republic, with the "German Autumn." Since the rupture associated with the signum of 1968, there has not been a comparable sea change within post-Marx theory and debate.

Links between Marxism and Other Theories and Critiques

The three major historical and thematic/systematic categories we have employed to describe "theory and debate following Marx" fail to do justice to certain debates.