From Marx’s death until the October Revolution

The first Marxist parties and movements formed during Karl Marx’s lifetime in a period that extends from the publication of Anti-Dühring by Friedrich Engels (1877) until German social democracy drew up its Erfurt Program (1891).

This phase also witnessed the establishment of the Second International (1889), an association of workers’ organisations from various countries. Moreover, the period was marked by the spread of Marxism at the international level via popular works such as Engels’ manuscript Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. It also saw the canonisation of certain writings that brought together Marx and Engels’ school of thought and developed it into a more or less coherent worldview; however, this contradicted Marx’s own stance and thought. Clearly, in the run-up to the period stretching from 1914 to 1917, a considerably diverse number of currents existed at the international level that claimed Marx’s ideas for themselves.


The Social Democratic Party of Germany (from 1875)

Although the leading figures of the “Eisenach” tendency in German social democracy had already been influenced by Marx and Engels, during its initial developmental phase (from Anti-Dühring in 1877—1878 to the

“The Young” (early 1890s)

The Young refers to the second most significant left-wing oppositional current within German social democracy during this period. The group formed in the wake of Johann Most being expelled from the SPD (a left-wing opposition also formed from within Danish social democracy).

The orthodox centre (from the 1890s)

The coexistence of a fundamentally revolutionary manifesto and reform-minded realpolitik had already influenced the 1891 Erfurt Program.

Karl Kautsky was the leading protagonist within the SPD’s “orthodox centre” and largely shaped the socialist understanding of Marxism at the time with its determinist and “objectivist” traits.

Revisionist currents (from the 1890s)

In the late 1880s, the theorist Eduard Bernstein, who had been a friend of Engels, attempted to develop a critique of the supposed certainty and “laws” of economic development (progressive class polarisation, “impoverishment” and “collapse”).

Left-wing positions (from the 1890s)

Rosa Luxemburg also distinguished herself as a critic of Bernstein. Her stance during the 1900s, and not least in the wake of the mass strike debate, gained increasing political independence, including with regard to the “orthodox centre”.

Austro-Marxism (from the 1900s onwards)

Austro-Marxism refers to a bundle of theoretical approaches that were linked both in terms of people and politically to Austrian social democracy.

Austro-Marxism attempted to develop several aspects of Marxism and adapt it to the contemporary situation. For example, Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capital (1910) analysed contemporary processes of capitalist accumulation that went beyond those put forward in Marx’s Capital. See also the entry on Austro-Marxism in Theories and debates following Marx.



The Narodniks (late 19th century)

The Narodniks (“populists” – “or to the people”) were a revolutionary movement formed by the Russian intelligentsia in the late 19th century; the group looked to the peasantry for its support.

Emancipation of Labour (founded in 1883)

In 1883, representatives of the Narodnik movement founded Emancipation of Labour whilst in exile in Switzerland.

Legal Marxism

Although Legal Marxism was more of a theoretical current than a political one, in the Russian debate about Marx, its theories had political implications.

The Mensheviks versus the Bolsheviks (from 1903)

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was founded in 1898, but the party divided into two wings at the 1903 Congress in London. The Bolshevik (“majority”) wing associated with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin pushed the party towards a cadre organisation of professional revolutionaries.

General Jewish Labour Bund (GJLB)

In the Russian Empire, a Jewish workers’ movement took shape quite early because the parts of the “rayon” in which the Jewish population lived was also one of the first regions to undergo industrialisation.

Poale Zion

After the GJLB came out against Zionism in 1901, Zionist circles of socialist workers and intellectuals not only established themselves in Russia, but also in many other countries including the US, the UK and Austria-Hungary.


Westeuropa und Nordamerika

Impossibilism (late 19th and early 20th century)

In the late 19th century, the Western European workers’ movement was characterised by a contrast between reform-oriented forces on the one hand, and socialists who continued to hold on to their revolutionary programme on the other.


Guesdism refers to a politically significant current within the Section Française de l’International Ouvrière.

The Industrial Workers of the World

The Industrial Workers of the Word (IWW) was founded in 1905 in Chicago as a union uniting Marxist, syndicalist and anarchist elements.

De Leonism

Daniel De  Leon joined the Socialist Labor Party of America in 1890. During the period that followed, he increasingly defined its political course and this resulted in a decisive shift to the left.