Parties and movements following Marx

Foto: Soman CC BY-SA

"Theories and debates following Marx" provides an overview of a number of currents in social critique linked to the ideas of Karl Marx. It is, of course, very difficult to separate these currents from organised political praxis: even when Marx bade “farewell” to the Young Hegelians, he continued to refer to the group in his work and to the proletariat, in particular. Additionally, Marx not only rendered the proletariat the object of economic analyses, he even provided it with the character of a historical subject. Finally, as “politicians”, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were also involved in the labour movements’ founding years.

During the course of history, the parties and organisations that make up the labour movement have applied “their view of Marx” in different ways and in different places. Political conflicts and strategic changes of direction within the movement have generally been accompanied by debates about the “correct form of Marxism”. In fact, Marxism’s close relationship to the workers’ movement has become most apparent when theoretical approaches have developed sceptical views of the proletariat; for example, after 1945, some Marxist currents began questioning the validity of the working class as a revolutionary subject.

This text attempts to provide a rough overview of the parties and movements that came after, were linked to and have developed since Marx. Clearly then, similarities between this text and Theories and debates following Marx, are to be expected and form part of the “nature” of both works; neither text should be viewed as providing an exhaustive overview.

The parties and movements that are outlined in the following closely reflect developments in theoretical critique; however, overlap, phases, divisions and spin-offs have also occurred within these parties and movements themselves. This text is aimed at presenting the fundamental aspects of this global, diverse and continually changing form of praxis and the constant upheavals it has undergone. The overview starts with the early years of the labour movement before moving on to Marx’s lifetime. It then covers the first half of the 20th century with its mass organisations and parties that became the state. Finally, it discusses the comparatively marginal and often seemingly academic political movements that have existed between the post-war period and the present.

This overview is structured as a list or chronology; as such, the length of each entry has no bearing on the relevance, influence or substance of the party, organisation or movement in question.

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).

From the October Revolution to the Second World War

The first key point in the history of the parties and movements following Marx took place in 1917 with the October Revolution; it was followed, in 1919, by the founding of the Third (explicitly Communist) International in Moscow. These two events manifested the split between left-wing forces at the international level and resulted in the development of two main competing currents.

The period from 1945 to 1989

After the Second World War, the situation of the parties and movements that followed Marx changed fundamentally. 1956 marked an important turning point as the 20th Congress of the CPSU initiated a programme of “de-Stalinisation”; this partially delegitimised Soviet Marxism. 1968 was also crucial, as student and worker unrest occurred in many countries.

The period after 1989

The collapse of “real existing socialism” around 1989 and the final crisis of its legitimising ideological superstructure represented a huge turning point for the parties and movements following Marx. However, despite all of the (generally interest-driven) claims that Marxism was dead and buried, Marx remained on the agenda. This has occurred, because the inner-Marxist discussion and its critique of real socialism has existed for as long as real socialism.