Marxist literary criticism

Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing
• Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political
literary criticism based on socialist and dialectic theoEconomy (1859)
ries. Marxist criticism views literary works as reflections
• Das Kapital or Capital (1867)
of the social institutions from which they originate. According to Marxists, even literature itself is a social institution and has a specific ideological function, based on The first publication Communist Manifesto (1848) argues
the background and ideology of the author.
that ‘the history of all hitherto existing societies is the his[2]
The English literary critic and cultural theorist, Terry Ea- tory of class struggle’. As class struggle is the engine
room of history, to understand the course of history, one
gleton, defines Marxist criticism this way:
must analyse the class relations that typify different historical epochs, the antagonisms and forms of class strugMarxist criticism is not merely a 'sociology of
gle embodied in such class relations. This involves the
literature', concerned with how novels get pubdevelopment of class consciousness and follows the revolished and whether they mention the working
lutionary movements that challenge the dominant classes.
class. Its aim is to explain the literary work
It extends to rating the success of these revolutions in demore fully; and this means a sensitive attention
veloping new modes of production and forms of social
to its forms, styles and meanings. But it also
means grasping those forms, styles and meanIn contrast to the Manifesto, Preface to the Contribution
ings as the product of a particular history.[1]
to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), and Capital (1867) focus on the unfolding logic of a system,
The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can in- rather than class struggle. These provide an alternaclude an assessment of the political 'tendency' of a lit- tive account of historical development and emphasize
erary work, determining whether its social content or its the self-destructive contradictions and law of motion of
literary form are 'progressive'. It also includes analyzing specific modes of production.[4] The Preface argues that
the class constructs demonstrated in the literature.
society’s economic organization consists of a distinctive
pattern of forces and relations of productions. From
this foundation arises a complex political and ideological
1 History
superstructure,[5] where economic development impacts
upon societal progress.
Karl Marx's studies have provided a basis for much in
socialist theory and research. Marxism aims to revolutionize the concept of work through creating a classless society built on control and ownership of the means
of production. Marx believed that Economic Determinism, Dialectical Materialism and Class Struggle were the
three principles that explained his theories. The Bourgeois (Dominant class who control and own the means
of production) and Proletariat (Subordinate class: Don’t
own and control the means of production) were the only
two classes who engaged in hostile interaction to achieve
class consciousness. Marx believed that all past history
is a struggle between hostile and competing economic
classes in state of change. Marx and Friedrich Engels
collaborated to produce a range of publications based on
capitalism, class struggles and socialist movements.

Capital was more concerned with the genesis and dynamic of capitalism. As Mclellan (1971) states, ‘it
refers to class struggle mainly in the context of the
struggle between capital and labour, within capitalism,
rather than over its suppression’.[6] Capital was less concerned with forecasting how capitalism would be overthrown, than considering how it had developed and how
it functioned.[7] The key to understanding this logic was
the ‘commodity’ form of social relations – a form that was
most fully developed only in capitalism.

2 Ideologies

It is through the theories of class struggle, politics and
economics that Marxist literary criticism emerged. The
These theories and ideologies can be found within three thought behind Marxist Criticism is that works of literapublished works:
ture are mere products of history that can be analyzed by
looking at the social and material conditions in which they
• The Communist Manifesto
were constructed.[8] Marx’s Capital states that 'the mode

• Siegal. Great Britain. 124 Although Marx and Friedrich Engels detailed theories [6] As quoted in D Mclellan. http://www. J. Macmillan Press. Macmillan Press. II: since 1500. 3rd ed. These ideas guided both liter. Key Sociological Thinkers. London. p. 67 of Socialism in the mid-nineteenth The event instigated a change in belief around socialist theory. p. ‘Introduction to Modern Literary Theory’. the social situation of the author determines the types of characters that will develop. p.W Duiker & J Spielvogel. http://www. The Thought of Karl Marx. 24 [5] D Mclellan. political. p. and intellectual life process. While these ideals developed. Great Britain. 73 tematized. viewed 15 March 2011. The greatest impetus for this standardization came after the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia. London. Thomson Higher Education. II: since 1500. • Mclellan. vol.[10] where works focused on the lives of the different classes.kristisiegel. The Age of Capital. Marxism also greatly influenced many Western writers. Simone de Beauvoir. W & Spielvogel.[11] K Siegel ary creation and official literary criticism in the Soviet [12] K Siegel Union. it was not [7] I McIntosh. 4 Writers influenced by Marxist criticism In addition to being the guiding principle behind most literary works in communist and socialist Russia.htm • Stones. 3rd ed. EJ. but on the contrary their social being. p. and much of this type of reflection is evident in their writings of the time. Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1975. 1997. Berkeley. Marx’s theories intertwined expertly with the emerging ideologies of the new • Eagleton. Thus. In the years since then.kristisiegel.2 8 of production of material life determines altogether the social. Macmillan Press. com/theory. The Thought of Karl Marx. Classical Sociological Theory: A Reader. K. socialist realism was accepted as the highest [9] K Siegel form of literature – a theory based on an art movement [10] K Siegel that depicted and glorified the proletariat’s struggle towards societal progress. 1971. Berkeley. Belmont. vol. 1998. R. that determines their consciousness. p. the beliefs of some Marxist schools regarding literary theory have been modified to acknowledge that literary creation is a result of 7 References both subjective inspiration and the objective influence of • Duiker. 1971.' Put simply. D.htm [9] ideals in government and society. London. 2008.[11] This system of belief relies tory. 3 The Development of Marxist criticism EXTERNAL LINKS 6 Notes [1] T Eagleton. 42 [4] R Stones. U of California P. New York. [8] K Siegel. The Essential World Histhe writer’s surroundings. London. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being. the political ideas displayed and the economical statements developed in the text. and Bertold Brecht were deeply influenced by Marxist and socialist theories of the day. The Essential World History. Thomson Higher on the social classes as well as the economic and politiEducation. ‘Introduction to Modern Literary Theory’. 1998. • McIntosh. Edinburgh University Press. Eduntil the 1920s that Marxist Literary Theory was sysinburgh University Press. Macmillan Press. 1997. Jean-Paul Sartre. Richard Wright. 1976. I. 1976 [2] Quoted Marx . Key Sociological Thinkers. cal development of society. viewed 15 March 2011. 8 External links • Marx and Engels on Literature and Art • The Georg Lukacs Internet Archive . Marxism and Literary Criticism. U of California P.[12] 5 See also • Cultural Marxism • Marxist aesthetics • Literature and Revolution • Hobsbawm. Russian movement and spread throughout the world. T. Marxism and Literary Criticism. Belmont. Claude McKay. 2008. 428 [3] D Mclellan. Classical Sociological Theory: A Reader.

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