The Frankfurt School and the Early Neo-Marxism (Nov. 11)
Introductory Issues and Historical Overview
A) What is Neo-Marxian Theory? It attempts to reinterpret, update, or revise
Marx’s theoretical ideas so that they better explain recent developments in
B) Approaches within early Neo-Marxian (NM) theory.
a. NM theory began when Marx died. Covers the period from the 1890’s
to the 1940’s. There were at least 3 theoretical approaches developed
in that time period.
b. 1) Economic determinism. Was one of the 3 theoretical ideas
developed in that 50 year period. It is the assumption that the
economic system shapes all other aspects of society such as the
political system or the ideological system.
i. A) Its impact on Neo-Marxism? From about 1889 – 1914 is
when Economic determinism came about. How does this tie
into NM? The early Neo-Marxists who really were influenced
by ED saw the breakdown of capitalism as something that is
inevitable. The idea was that there were processes built into
the economic structure of capitalism would eventually lead to
the end of capitalism. Saw that it would self destruct because of
problems inherent to the capitalist society
ii. B) Its problematic interpretation of Marx.
1. Why Marx was NOT an Economic Determinist. Hegel
focused on the dialectic and idealism. Feuerbach talked
about materialism. Much more interested in the
economic aspects of society. Marx was influenced by
both Hegel and Feuerbach. He came up with dialectical
materialism. He put Hegel and Feuerbach’s interests
together and came up with Dialectical Materialism.
2. Marx saw material conditions as being the source of
problems in society. Capitalism involves inequality. So
he saw a lot of problems stemming from the economy
such as Capitalism. He argued that material conditions
are the source of problems in society but dialectical
relations are the answer to those problems in society.
Dialectical relationships (i.e. conflict between classes).
3. The emerging capitalist class clashing with feudalism
and capitalism was formed.
4. We need to consider the subjective (ideas and ideology)
and the objective (economic, material conditions).
5. Marx saw these dialectically, conflicts and
contradictions between the ideological and economic.
6. Marx was not an economic determinist. We need to look
at things dialectically and understand the importance of
ideology. c. 2) Hegelian Marxism
i. Reaction against the economic determinism of the earlier neo-
ii. Hegeliam Marxism borrows Hegel’s focus on ideas, ideology,
iii. HM was trying to restore the dialectic by considering both the
subjective and the objective aspects of society. What this
means then is that HM did not lose sight of the importance of
the economic, but they focused on the impact of the ideological.
iv. Focus on Antonio Gramsci. He was a good example of a HM.
d. 3) Critical Theory
i. It to was a reaction to economic determinism. Reaction against
the economic determinism of the very early neo-Marxists. The
critical theorists understood and stressed the dialectic. Also
stresses the importance of ideas and culture. Both emphasizing
ideas, ideology and culture. What’s unique about critical
theory? It saw reason and rationality as empowering. They
were concerned about how major social institutions in
capitalists society suppressed the empowering role of reason
and rationality. In particular they were concerned about the
mass media and schools. The mass media and schools do
reflect a lot of ideas and ideology and culture. The mass media
and schools were reflecting cultures that was preventing
people from understanding the need to move beyond
capitalism to something more equitable, to something more
just, something more democratic.
ii. Critical theory is associated with the Frankfurt School.
A biographical Sketch of Antonio Gramsci
A) Early Life
a. Gramsci was born in 1891 in Italy. He was apart of a very large family;
there were seven children in the family. They lived in poverty. Parents
didn’t have a lot of money. Father only had intermittent employment.
The mother was a seamstress but she didn’t make much money.
a. He was born with a malformation in his spine, when he grew up he
became a hunch back and stood barely 5 feet tall. He also suffered
from various internal disorders. Problems with his internal organs.
These problems caused a lot of problems for Gramsci, he came close
to death as a child and later in life they caused major problems.
a. His early schooling was interrupted because he had to leave school to
earn money for the family.
b. In 1911 he managed to win a scholarship for poor students to study at
the University of Turin in Italy. He soon discovered his scholarship money was not adequate to support himself. So he had little money
for food and housing. As a result, he was cold, living in horrible places,
and he was often malnourished. He didn’t have enough to eat to
sustain himself during his studies. So along with his health issues, he
had a lot of problems. By the time he was in his third year in
university he had become quite ill. He decided he was going to leave
University despite the fact that he was a very bright student. The
professors encouraged him to stay. But he didn’t. Something did come
out of his 3 years there. During his 3 years he became familiar with
radical political ideas. He became familiar with these ideas because a
number of his professors became linked to the socialist movement
and in addition he was learning about the ideas of Karl Marx.
D) Political Activity
a. Two sets of issues
i. 1) Opposition to Capitalism.
ii. Gramsci’s older brother had become a socialist and his older
brother introduced him to radical political action. So Gramsci
became very concerned about the plight of the proletariat (the
working class) in Italy. And he became actively involved in
trying to resolve this and work toward the revolution that
Marx had predicted.
iii. In 1915 he joined the staff of a radical newspaper in Italy and
became a journalist. He wrote a lot of scathing political
commentaries directed towards capitalism. A few years after
that, something extraordinary happened. The Russian
Revolution happened in 1917 – we saw the end of capitalism in
Russia. This saw a significant impact on Gramsci and others
who had similar beliefs. There was growing hope that the
proletariat revolution that Marx predicted would spread to
other countries. Unfortunately in Italy the political situation
took a very different and unfortunate turn.
iv. 2) Opposition to Fascism
v. In 1922 emergence of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy
and repression by the regime.
vi. Fascism is an authoritarian and extreme right wing of
government. As a result fascist regimes expressed intolerance
and they practiced repression (try to put down forms of
vii. Mussolini’s fascist regime started cracking down on anyone
that was an enemy of the fascist regime such as capitalism and
E) Affair and Children
a. In 1923, Gramsci fell in love with Julia Schucht in Moscow.
b. Julia and Gramsci spent a few months together in Moscow and then
later she visited him in Italy. So they had in total seven months
together. These seven months were a very happy period in his life. This is one of the few happy months in his life. He did not marry Julia,
but they did end up having two children together. The second child is
one that Gramsci never got to see.
F) Leadership of the Communist Party of Italy.
a. He assumed the leadership of the communist party of Italy in 1924
and he remained the leader until 1926.
b. In 1926 there was further repression by Mussolini’s fascist regime
c. The members of the party became particularly concerned about
Gramsci as the leader and feared he would be targeted by the fascist
regime. They proposed he escape to Switzerland.
G) Arrest and Treatment after Arrest
a. In 1926, Gramsci along with a group of others were arrested by
Mussalini and his regime. They were accused of organizing an armed
insurrection against the regime. At that point Gramsci was put in
prison to await trial.
Missing Thursday November 21 and Monday November 25
A Historical Sketch of the Frankfurt School - Thursday November 28/13
A) The Institute for Social Research
a. Frankfurt School is a term used to describe a group of Neo Marxian
thinkers who were based at the University of Frankfurt in Germany in
b. As they were doing their work they were housed in the institute for
social research that was sponsored by the UoF.
c. Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodor Adorno – best
known members and most famous of the Neo-Marxian thinkers.
d. Horkheimer became the director of social research at UoF in 1930.
B) The Rise od Nazi Germany
a. The institute for Social Research was shut down by Hitler’s régime.
Hitler’s fascist regime.
b. Shut it down for two key reasons: 1) fascist regimes do not like left
learning Marxian ideas and 2) because many members of the
Frankfurt school were Jewish.
c. The Jewish decided it would be wise to get out of Nazi Germany. They
did end up leaving. Both Horkheimer and Marcuse went to the USA.
Adorno went to England and spent some time there before going to
the USA. C) Lives and Careers after leaving Germany
a. Max Horkheimer
i. Left Germany in 1934 and took a position at Columbia
University in NYC where the institute relocated.
ii. In 1940 after several years in the USA, Horkheimer (H) decided
to become an American citizen.
iii. Four years later in 1944 he published (with Adorno) “The
Dialectic of Enlightenment” in German (which was published in
English in 1972).
iv. By 1949 the war was over and in this year he returned to the
University of Frankfurt and the institute reopened there.
v. H continued on as the director of the institute until 1953.
vi. In 1953 he stepped down as director of the institute but
continued to teach at the University of Frankfurt and at the