Marxist Criticism Resources

Not sure how this educational nonsense got in here. You can have it.

Basic Introduction to Marxist Literary Theory

Purdue University’s overview of critical theory tends to emphasize the “cultural” side of Marx and others, perhaps not surprisingly. It’s a somewhat complicated but still decent introduction for a curious reader.

Anatoly Lunacharsky:

The first Commissar of Enlightenment in the Soviet Union, Lunacharsky wrote extensively on art and literature and the role of the critic, which makes the paucity of available English-language writings a crime against the public.

Theses on the Problems of Marxist Criticism

Incisive and concise comments on the mechanics of criticism. This is my ten commandments when I review anything.

On Pushkin as Critic

Though he’s addressing a single writer, it’s easy to extrapolate some of what he believes are basic tenets of the art of criticism and the role of the critic.

Mao Zedong:

Everyone knows and loves Mao, or at least should. The face that marks a thousand ironic kitsch mugs masks a revolutionary leader under whose guidance the Chinese Revolution refined and extended the revolutionary science of Marxism to new heights. Therefore, though Mao’s thoughts on culture are nowhere near his primary contribution to Marxist thought, his work on the subject, particularly during the Cultural Revolution and in the Yan’an Forums, is foundational to my writing about art.

Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art

In this famous speech, Mao discusses the two poles of revolutionary cultural criticism: the aesthetic and the political. Both form and content are to be unified, creating truly mass culture that will elevate the masses to their proper location in society. It’s a stirring work and one to which I return frequently.

Combat Liberalism

While this article discusses how members of revolutionary movements should conduct themselves as is not about criticism per se, it does drive home the importance of self-criticism. The critic, in order to sharpen their mind and art, must recognize that destructive liberal tendencies are internal as well as external. Reading this also encourages my discipline as a writer, which is good since laziness is one of a tiger’s chief vices.

On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People

This is another work that is not specifically directed at critics but rather addresses a whole raft of subjects from the PRC’s agricultural collectives to the persistence of class conflict under socialism. Again, however, it implores those who engage in “mental” labour to constantly remold and refine themselves, resisting the urge to wall themselves off in an Empyrean paradise of pure text and myth. Critics need to remember that their words take on material force and that political neutrality is a joke.

Vladimir Lenin:

Leader of the first triumphant socialist and world-historical revolution, Lenin’s influence on the development of Marxist thought and practice cannot be overstated. Though literature and culture are secondary concerns to him, these spheres of social life do not escape his notice, and many of his writings illuminate the nature of imperialism and capitalism in ways that a cultural critic cannot ignore.

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

This book-length piece is Lenin’s essential world tour of imperialist exploitation. It discusses the contradictions between imperialist and non-imperialist nations, finding the source of the then-current WWI in the tempests brewing over colonies. We continue to live in an imperialistic age, and this system, the final stage of capitalism before the advent of socialism, cannot be ignored when discussing culture industries.

Materialism and Empirio-Criticism

Another fairly lengthy text, this is nonetheless an indispensable journey into the depths of Marxist theory, and once one emerges from it one is never quite the same. It’s touching, what this book did to me. At the same time, it is not a text to be approached lightly, despite its numerous charms. Lenin is an engaging writer, especially when blistering his opponents with his precise and lively prose as he does here.

Walter Benjamin:

Benjamin was a premiere Marxist critic who wrote extensively on superstructural matters, especially culture. There is one piece in particular to which I return for basic guidance on art’s nature under capitalism.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

More to be added later. Hopefully, this will get you started.

Louis Althusser:

Important largely for his contributions to “structuralist Marxism,” Althusser is one of my main philosophical interests at this point, and I appreciate his efforts at promoting Marxism as a true theoretical science.

Notes on a Materialist Theatre

Lenin and Philosophy