This is What Karl Marx Says About Modernism

Karl Marx is a social, political and economic theorist whose bases are French political history, German philosophy, and English economics. In the following lines, we are giving you as much information about Marx’s contributions as possible and as succinctly as possible.

Karl Marx expounded the idea of the alienation of humans in a capitalist society. Hence, he saw the necessity of a proletarian revolution in order to effect social change.

Karl Marx brought the theories of surplus-value, inherent class conflict, the historical evolution from capitalism to socialism. Moreover, he assumes that communism is the way to achieve a classless society.

Other theorists like Walter Benjamin, Georg Lukacs, Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, etc. find the context of modernism in relation to Marxism. They often define modernism as the literature of crisis and Marx places crisis at the center of capitalist development.

Karl Marx sees the crises by their periodic return put the existence of the bourgeoisie in question. Even texts have been written which focus on the fear of crisis and longing for rejuvenation.

Much modernist writing takes the cyclical movement due more to natural than economic forces.

From the Marxist point of view, modernism grows out of the followings:

  • European loss of communal identity
  • Alienating capitalism
  • Constant industrial acceleration

The works of avant-garde artists were fuelled by the rise of urban living, the invention of the proletariat, and the bringing together of the human with the machine.

According to Fredrich Jameson, modernism is the middle part in a triad of cultural periods that begin with realism and end with postmodernism.

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Modernism can also be defined as social and economic upheavals caused by technological innovations, and the development of mass commodity culture.

Modernity in classical Marxism is a double-edged phenomenon in which capitalism and the rise of the bourgeoisie eliminated feudalism and brought enormously significant forms of communication, transportation, and product but also created a serially exploited proletariat which would eventually overthrow it.

Marx and Engels’ Manifesto may be viewed as the first of the many modernist proclamations of a radical break from the past. When modernist writers wrote about urban living they were affected by The Communist Manifesto. 

Karl Marx argues that capitalism actually thrives on disturbance, uncertainty, and the progress needed to break the stasis. The market economy recognizes no privileges or externalities but considers all commodities and competitors equally.

Many modernist artists elevated aesthetics above everything, including morality and money, and by condemning every day and the humdrum.

For Marx, modernity is a constant impulse to renewal engendered by the dynamics and crises of capitalism. Marx sees capitalism as driven to the creation and recreative destruction, renewal, innovation, and constant change.

Modernist writers focused on psychology, introspection and individual consciousness. Writers like James Joyce turned against forms of historical understanding, seeing greater meaning in the individual than in society.

George Lukacs argues that modernism involves a negation of history and modernism is profoundly anti-Marxist.

Bertolt Brecht argues that the purpose of art for Marx and Marxists was not to reflect social conditions but to attempt to change them.

Theodor Adorno claims that art and literature, particularly modernist art, could function as a kind of negative or contradictory criticism of society.

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Walter Benjamin believes, in a world of printing, duplication, and photography, artistic works have lost the ‘aura’ that their uniqueness once gave them.

Fredrich Jameson says that while modernist writers seem to sideline history, there are, in fact, dealing with it constantly, through their effort to transcend or contain it.



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