Vulgar Marxism

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Vulgar Marxism is a particular "belief that one can directly access the real conditions of history" and is sometimes referred to as reflection theory.[1] In 1998, Robert M. Young stated: "The defining feature of Marxist approaches to the history of science is that the history of scientific ideas, of research priorities, of concepts of nature and of the parameters of discoveries are all rooted in historical forces which are, in the last instance, socio-economic. [...] There are variations in how literally this is taken [...] There is a continuum of positions." He thus defines "economism or vulgar Marxism" as "the most orthodox [position which] provides one-to-one correlations between the socio-economic base and the intellectual superstructure."[2][3]

Walter Benjamin in Theses on the Philosophy of History described the Gotha Programme's "defin[ition] [of] labor as “the source of all wealth and all culture”" as a "vulgar-Marxist concept of what labor is, [which] does not bother to ask the question of how its products affect workers". The Gotha programme to Benjamin "wishes to perceive only the progression of the exploitation of nature, not the regression of society." Benjamin contrasted "technocratic" vulgar Marxism with Marx's response to the focus of the Gotha programme "that human being, who owned no other property aside from his labor-power, “must be the slave of other human beings[...]”"[4]

Paul Mattick saw "incorporation of bourgeois economic ideas into the framework of Marxism" by "the proponents of 'Marxist economics' [sic]." To Mattick, this occurred when "classical economy degenerated into vulgar economy" and "marginal utility theory", which "could be regarded as a universal and therefore neutral principle" was "deemed the more desirable" than "Marx's derivation of prices from labor-time values". He saw the resultant Marxism which followed "'economic laws' [sic] that could be appreciated by friend and foe alike" as "vulgar Marxism".[5] In contrast, McKenzie Wark in Four Cheers For Vulgar Marxism!!!! suggested that "as Marxism became a creature of the academy" the accusation of vulgar Marxism arose to "cordon off respectable approaches to knowledge" which were outside academia. Wark detected the deployment of "the insult “vulgar Marxist!” [sic]" as an allegation by George Lukacs and Karl Korsch against Russian Machism, and by Louis Althusser, and by E. P. Thompson against Althusser. Wark in wrote that the allegation entailed a dismissal of "too much attention to specialized knowledge such as the sciences" and a disdain for the "lack a sense of the central role of philosophy". Wark praised Donna Haraway who "knows her biological science first-hand" as a vulgar Marxist, and noted A. Bogdanov who saw "the nexus of labor-techne-nature to be primary" to be "vulgar in a [...] different sense to the cartoon of economistic, deterministic, reductionist vulgar Marxism".[6]

John Phillips of National University of Singapore states that Julia Kristeva understands "vulgar Marxism" to be synonymous with "vulgar sociologism", a view that "characterises ideology in terms of a superstructure determined by an economic/historical base (base and superstructure) [sic]."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dino Felluga. "Modules on Marx: On Ideology. Introductory Guide to Critical Theory". Purdue University.
  2. ^ Policy Futures in Education, Volume 3, Number 1, 2005. Transmodernism, Marxism and Social Change: some implications for teacher education Mike Cole, Bishop Grosseteste College, Lincoln, United Kingdom
  3. ^ Young, R.M. (1998) Marxism and the History of Science The Human Nature Review.
  4. ^ Theses on the Philosophy of History Translation: 2005 Dennis Redmond
  5. ^ Mattick, Paul (1983). "Marxism. Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie?".
  6. ^ Wark, McKenzie (25 April 2014). "Four Cheers for Vulgar Marxism!!!!". Public Seminar. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
  7. ^ Julia Kristeva, "The System and the Speaking Subject"