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Richard Wolff gives a brief world survey of Marxism

Richard Wolff gives a brief world survey of Marxism

I wanted to do a brief, bold, and highly incomplete
survey of what Marxism has done already in the way of shaping modern culture, influencing
modern ways of thought. It’s a much more pervasive and deeply ingrained way of thinking
than many people recognize, and to that end I want to do this brief survey. Some of the
names I’m going to mention to you are known very well, others are almost unknown. It’s
the breadth, the depth, the range of people whose work is influenced by Marxism that I
want to underscore. And I’m going do this by geography and by history. One of the first places that took up Marx’s
work with great excitement—and that might be understandable since Marx was originally
a German—was in Austria—a German-speaking part of the world—in Vienna. And there were
interesting people. Rudolf Hilferding, one of the great theorists of finance; the first
one to systematically subject finance capitalism to a thoroughgoing analysis. His work has
been influential in the last hundred years after he wrote it. Rudolf Hilferding, he worked
together with others. The Adler brothers, who developed the whole strain of Marxist
thinking called Austro-Marxism, and they did it at the turn of the 19th century in Vienna
where there was a very close collection of intellectuals who picked up this Marxian thinking.
They didn’t agree with all of it, but they were shaped by it. And I might mention just
one, so you get a sense of how Marxism has percolated through our system. Sigmund Freud
was active in Vienna at that time and these intellectual circles overlapped with him as
they did with Rudolf Carnap, with a whole new school of philosophy. In Russia, it’s a little bit better known.
Marxists were very important, got real excited about Marx’s work within 10-15 years after
Marx died. Here’s four names just I could pick out of many. Two you know real well:
Lenin—the first leader of the Marxist revolution in Russia—Trotsky—his close ally and friend.
The two of them, Lenin and Trotsky, being giants in their own writings, taking Marxism
further but also being practitioners of the revolution to carry a system of capitalism
into a new and different system—at least to make the effort. But here are two other
Russians who were deeply influenced by Marxism: Maxim Gorky, perhaps the greatest novelist
of the revolutionary time in Russia who produced a kind of working people’s novel that has
had influence across the world. And here’s another named Sergei Eisenstein, the developer
of the modern movie, the modern film, the modern cinema. His influence on all movies
and cinema since is of the profoundest sort. He too, heavily influenced by Marxism. Back in Germany—the generation that comes
after Marx—Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg. Let me say a word about Rosa Luxemburg. She
became the greatest woman Marxist of her time. She brought questions of Marxism to the condition
of women, but she also brought them to some of the most profound analyses of capitalist
economics that we have to this day. You will find her statues and her name on many of the
squares in the middle of Berlin to this day as the Germans honor the extraordinary contribution
she made before she was assassinated by right-wing military in 1919. Here’s another name: Berthold
Brecht, the greatest dramatist, arguably, of the 20th century; a Marxist who developed
new styles of theater, how to write plays, how to present them, how to make them grab
an audience. Likewise, in Germany, a group—the Frankfurt School—Marxists associated with
the University of Frankfurt in that big city in Germany. Here’s three names: Walter Benjamin,
Herbert Marcuse who eventually came to the United States, and Theodor Adorno, also affected
by Marxism in Germany growing up. A natural scientist who came to America and became quite
famous, Albert Einstein, who, in 1949, wrote a very famous article called “The Need for
Socialism”—an idea he got from his influence from Marxism. Then in Hungary, Georg Lukács
and the critique of modern consciousness—how a capitalist economy shapes the way people
think about themselves and their close friends and their intimate relationships. In Italy, a spectacular Marxist achievement
in the work of Antonio Gramsci, a leader of the Italian Communist Party—the great enemy
of the fascists who took over in Italy. He developed a critique of culture in his prison
notebooks—because he was imprisoned by the fascists—that has shaped modern culture
ever since. In France, we have an enormous influence on
Marxism. The entire surrealist tradition—Andre Breton, Rene Magritte—all the great names
of surrealism one way or another directly or indirectly shaped by Marxism which they
were students of. Names that you do know: Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the greatest philosopher
of mid-century French thinking, the developer of existentialism and many other strains of
modern thought. Louis Althusser, Jacque Derrida, Levi Strauss—for those of you who follow
the social sciences, these Marxists have been giants in shaping most of them one way or
another. In England, there were great economists who
were Marxists. Probably the most important—no, I’ll take that back, not “probably”—the
most important woman economist of the 20th century, a professor of economics at Cambridge
University in Britain, Joan Robinson. She was one who taught my generation of young
students of economics how there could be a Marxist approach. And her colleague at Cambridge
Maurice Dobb wrote books that have trained an entire generation of Marxist economists
to help understand what’s going on in capitalism. And of course, Europe is not the only place
since Marxism spread all over the world. Here in the United States, we had important Marxist
Paul Sweezy coming out of Harvard where he learned from Joseph Schumpeter, his teacher,
what the importance of the Marxist tradition was. And he taught again a generation of young
economists how to appreciate the insights of Karl Marx. Or a famous labor organizer
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who took the work of Marx and made herself one of the great leaders
of the labor movement in twentieth-century United States. Frederick Jameson, still teaching
at Duke University in the American South bringing a Marxist criticism to literature. Richard
Lewontin, biology professor at Harvard who tried to bring the Marxist insights into the
natural sciences. W. E B. Du Bois, the leading intellectual of African-American culture in
the 20th century and a close student of Marxism. Cornel West, who might well be considered
the next the inheritor of the Du Bois or the W. E. B. Du Bois tradition—mixing together
his philosophic interests, his theological interests, and his critique of racism. Our
friend Chris Hedges who frequently appears on this program and is a major spokesman for
Marxist-influenced thinking. And of course, in China where the tradition
of Mao—you know, all of its permutations—is also a testimony to how the Marxian tradition
extends beyond the Europe where it was born. In Asia, the Dutt family in India; Nâzim
Hikmet, one of the great poets in Turkey; Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Just to pick a few
of the people whose lives and work and massive influence on their countries and the world
are also in part debts to the Marxian tradition. Africa too, from Frantz Fanon in the north
analyzing capitalist imperialism and how it impacts the mentality—the literal brain
work—of the people subjected to it; all the way down to the southern tip, the African
National Congress in the South, in South Africa where Marxists were leaders in that movement
and throughout the struggles against apartheid; and finally to the middle of Africa where
people as different as Kwame Nkrumah the leader of independent Ghana and Amilcar Cabral, a
Marxist intellectual in the center of Africa made their contributions. And onto South America where Walter Rodney
and Eric Williams produced the greatest analyses of slavery and the slave trade that we still
have. Eugene Genovese picked up on that here in the United States and developed his signature
analyses of American slavery. In Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America, the influence
of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, of the Zapatistas in Mexico, politically not only their thinking
but also their practice. Marxism is a mixture of theory and practice. And let me end with
a couple of artists, groups of artists. In Chile, Pablo Neruda, one of the great poets
of an attempt to understand people’s suffering through the lens of a Marxist mentality which
he freely and openly acknowledged. And perhaps the greatest painters that Mexico ever produced—its
muralists—the incredible collection of Diego Rivera or Roscoe Siqueiros and the better-known
Frida Kahlo who together produced murals and paintings that have put Mexico in a remarkable
position as stimulating and inspiring a whole tradition of art. Look, folks, as capitalism encounters ever
greater criticism and opposition, the search for alternatives and for a better world will
open minds to socialism and from there to Marxism. From the socialism that wants to
improve, overcome the suffering of people under capitalism to a Marxism that argues
that system change is the necessary solution. Marxism has been there for a hundred and fifty
years. It’s not going away. It has its ups and downs, but like Mark Twain said when he
read an obituary of him in the newspaper, “Predictions of my death have been quite
exaggerated” and so it has been with Marxism. It’s a tradition that has moved some of
the greatest minds of the last hundred and fifty years. It has shaped our history far
more than those who don’t know it are willing to acknowledge or admit.

66 comments on “Richard Wolff gives a brief world survey of Marxism

  1. A quite contradictory collection. Trotzky and Kautsky, compared to Lenin, Mao, Du Bois, Che. Interestingly, even though all the last ones greatly appreciated Stalin, The Man of Steel himself wasnt mentioned, but atleast his comrade with the feather, Gorki was.

  2. i appreciate marx's critique of unbridled capitalism but many of those mentioned are devout zionists and that is disturbing. could we have a list of marxists who support Palestine?

  3. Oulanem  (poetic excerpts by Carl Marx 

    … I shall howl gigantic curses on mankind: 
    Ha! Eternity! She is an eternal grief ..

    Ourselves being clockwork, blindly mechanical, 
    Made to be the foul-calendars of Time and Space

    Having no purpose save to happen, to be ruined, 
    So that there shall be something to ruin …
    If there is a something which devours, 
    I'll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins- 

    The world which bulks between me and the Abyss 
    I will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.
    I'll throw my arms around its harsh reality: 
    Embracing me, the world will dumbly pass away, 

    And then sink down to utter nothingness, 
    Perished, with no existence – that would be really living! 


    Something like 100,000,000 corpses sounds like success to me.

  4. Why didn't Marx or any other socialists of his time foresee, or even guess at, the rise of fascism? A reactionary political force to defend the established capitalist order.

  5. As Marx famously said: "From each according intersectionality, to each according to their identity!"

  6. At the end of this long journey of all so many words, the flavor of Marxism that wins out time and again will have you goose stepping beneath a 5 meter portrait of a beloved leader whose public veneration will be obliged by all because no criticism of the same will be tolerated.

  7. Marxism is lucifrian or Victorian age. Marx are Evil…livE. Read books on Babylon mystery religion and you will see you are living in hell or worthlessness. Alice Bailey is the author of the electrify age. The age of evil. Helaina patrons lavataki and Adam wisoff. It's all Hinduism after they destroy the Aryan the God of technology.

  8. Some of these people are not remembered fondly. Ho Chi Minh for example committed unspeakable crimes against his own people. Read them if you dare. It's not pretty.

  9. Peterson fans will be creaming their pants listening to your listing of "cultural Marxists" start saying that they are all Jews and they will be delighted!

  10. Marxism and democracy are oxymorons. The State does not care about you, in any system. It needs to be decentralized as much as possible – not further consolidated in centralized governmental control by hierarchical bureaucrats who also do not care about you. The banks and the State are one in every system. Giving government more power doesn't change things for the better, changing the way money operates and moves on the planet does.

  11. 4:58 it's always fun when you see people bash socialism but say "i respect Albert Einstein". It's a "yaba daba doo" world. Or better, "i hate racism but i loves Charles Darwin"….

  12. Prof. Wolff, I was pleasantly surprised with the substantial degree of concord between you and Peter Schiff about the current direction of the economy. Can you please comment on where the Austrian Scool is juxtaposed between Keynesian and Marxian economics, if that's the correct way of lining them at all, thanks.

  13. I would add Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, after colonialism; who brought the African/Tanzania ujamaa traditional socialism to his new country; who led a peaceful transition post-colonialism, and who led a life of integrity; he's frequently overlooked when it comes to socialist leaders

  14. I thought Rosa was assassinated by SPD partisans… Technically "centre-left".
    But given their opinions and ideology at the time, I guess you could call them right wing…

  15. 2:27 Eww tf did they mention Trotsky for? Uphold Stalin not that psycho Trotsky. Also he and Lenin were never fucking friends. Trotsky literally opposed the Bolsheviks for their entire existence until right before the revolution popped off when he joined. Mans was an opportunist not a communist.

  16. Hopefully after future President Sanders implements social democracy and the foundations for socialism, him and the movement will increasingly use the word Marxism and focus more on workplace democracy. Once even some of his initial programs are put in place and the lives of the working class improve drastically, then I believe huge public support and an engaged activist base can push us to where this becomes possible.

  17. I would absolutely have included the great Marxist African leader Thomas Sankara on that list. But great video!

  18. we dont need to ideolize one system of economy over another. each time merely apply humanist values and study outcomes and adjust. no need to buy into a system, which is bound to have faults and unintended consequences and whether you're interpreting the marxist scripture correctly.

  19. You forgot Stalin. Someone help me out here, Wolff never seems to talk about the historical catastrophes of Marxism – am I missing something?

  20. This is super cool, but there weren't any women of color mentioned. It's a major oversight. Claudia Jones, Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore – there are many.

  21. I'd actually say ya could easily double that list with one catagory expansion: Anarchism.

    Obviously anarchism predates Marx just as socialism predates both but anarchism actually had some influences on Marx including him borrowing the idea that "the liberation of the working class is the affair of the working class themselves" from Proudhon and Marx had a massive influence on the anarchist tradition.

    But massive mistake I hear ignorant ass anarchists and Marxists make is putting a line between the two and acting like they're completely different and mutually exclusive, despite Bakunin basically saying that he agreed with Marx on just about everything important and their disagreements mostly boil down to personal beef, semantics and a few details. But Bakunin was a Marxist for all intents and purposes, making essentially all anarchists in his tradition and the many traditions he informed Marxian at the very least. That's why it's so frustrating to hear some MLs say "anarchism has no theory" which is incorrect on it's face but anywhere that anarchism seems lacking it's usually because Marx already wrote it!

    Chris Hedges is a Christian-anarchist and Marxist, Noam Chomsky is an anarchist "with strong Marxist leanings", Howard Zinn is an anarchist and Marxist, the EZLN and forces in Rojava beautifully blend Marxist and anarchist thought and praxis. The bulk of the revolutions we've seen from the Paris Commune (applauded by both Bakunin and Marx, both saying it was their principals at work lol) to the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions to the Spartacus Uprising to the Spanish Civil War and many, many other revolutions and uprisings throughout the world. No matter how they ended up, they usually included Marxists and anarchists working side by side, as did most labor movements and communist parties. In many places like the US it was difficult to tell who was what because it really didn't matter and it was mostly a matter of emphasis on a few things here and there rather than any deep disagreement. They had the same goals and mostly advocated the same tactics so it only made sense to act as one. It wasn't until Lenin came along that we started to see that divide open back up again and keep on growing. And we've never seen the same success since.

    I definitely identify more with the anarchist tradition, but I am still a Marxist. Which is why I've taken to referring to myself as an autonomist. Confuses everyone so I don't have to worry about only confusing some.

  22. This guy is an idiot. I encourage any socialist to challenge me. Partial socialism isn't working in Europe what makes them think it would work here. Even China had to give up communism to make money and still to this don't offer and old people pensions unlike Japan who population is so aged that they cannot pay for everyone to live off the government's dime. Again, I challenge anyone to really debate me on the benefits of socialism. Socialism is a failure that makes everyone worse off in the end. It has never worked and it never will, meanwhile capitalism goes on producing planes, trains and automobiles. Everything you see around you was produced because of capitalism. What can you credit socialism for???? Food stamps, unemployment insurance. Yeah, I can live without that.

  23. I think a more proper survey of the effects of Marxism would be to measure the amount of people who died due to Marxism.

  24. I absolutely love Marxism! It killed more people than National Socialism ever managed to, so Marxism is obviously superior. Also, you need to do nothing, and you can feel instantly morally superior to other people. And if people don't agree with you, you just need to call them racist, and you already won the argument. Just great!

  25. The danger of seeing Marx as a "bleeding heart do-gooder" must be avoided: he was a scientist and his views are based on solid facts and logic. But I don't believe referring to him as a humanitarian is beside the point: he and Engels were much influenced by the appalling social outcomes of the Industrial Revolution, and it is axiomatic that any system that works optimally in the world must be, after all, a human system. That's why we hate fascism and neoliberalism, isn't it?

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