On The Reception of Western Marxism

Been looking into the reception of the Frankfurt School and Western Marxism in the English speaking world. I am doing this to try to ascertain where and how what I think of as the core tenets of the predominant interpretation of Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical theory were formed and how they developed. 

I see these core tenets as the following:

  • Horkheimer and Adorno  focused on culture rather than economics or politics
  • Horkheimer and Adorno had a derivative Lukacsian and humanist interpretation of Marx that eliminated praxis
  • Horkheimer and Adorno jettisoned this interpretation of Marx for a transhistorical theory of instrumental reason in Dialectic of Enlightenment
  • Adorno’s pessimistic and one-dimensional social theory of the totally administered world marked the end of western marxism.

I will save the reconstruction of the development of these views for the book.

Here I just want to jot down how important the context of the reception of Western Marxism and the Frankfurt School were (and still are) for their reception in the English speaking world. As I now see it, Western Marxism was a category of contestation between factions within the New Left. The reception of the Frankfurt School happened within this process of contestation. Neither of these factions were particularly focused on Adorno and Horkheimer. Rather they were interested in advocating for different Marxist lineages, which they thought offered pertinent perspectives on the questions of social analysis, organization, and strategy. Those who developed the views that became the predominant reception of Western Marxism – Colletti – were opposed by people – including Paul Piccone, Paul Breines and others – who  developed an interpretation of Western Marxism as a lineage that began with Lukacs’s notion of praxis and his critique of reified culture and ended with Marcuse, which they argued should be the basis for social analysis, organization and strategy.  Adorno and Horkheimer’s work was interpreted within this context with Therborn and Jay mirroring Colletti’s perspective and Russell Jacoby and James Schmidt opposing this perspective. Yet by the mid-70s Telos was changing course. Piccone was moving post-left and Habermas was becoming more influential in the anglosphere. Anderson’s Considerations on Western Marxism marks the last point of this process of contestation, with Piccone and Breines writing a scathing review of the book in Telos and Jay defending it. Several years later Jay’s Marxism and Totality would mirror Anderson’s analysis of Western Marxism and Adorno and Horkheimer. So too would Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action. Despite Jacoby’s Dialectic of Defeat the predominant reception of Western Marxism and Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical theory was set. It lives on in the recent history of the Frankfurt School by Jeffries, the justificatory narratives of the development of the generations of the Frankfurt School, and the recent attempts to revive a Lukacsian critical theory. But the history behind the category of Western Marxism and Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical theory has been lost. So to has any realization of how this history shaped and distorted the interpretation of Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical theory to the point where the core tenets of the predominant reception are repeated even though they do not hold up. Western Marxism then needs to be historized in this context and a new reading of critical theory has to be developed. 

My book will contribute to such a new reading. It will go against the grain of this predominant reception by focusing on the role of Adorno and Horkheimer’s distinct interpretation of Marx and their critical social theory of fetishistic social domination and showing how subsequent generations of overlooked critical theorists drew on and developed these aspects of Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical theory. 

Advertisement

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s