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Marxism is a political and social movement as well as a critique of capitalism. It presents an analysis of society, its problems and a solution. Its works were written by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Let us understand how do Marx and Engels interpret literature. Marx’s major contribution was to the development of its ideas. Engels, on the other hand, contributed ideas and popularized Marxism. Marx and Engels announced a system in Communist Manifesto as Communism based on their ideas. They opposed the domination of one class over another and imagined a classless society.
The Marxist theory originated in the mid-nineteenth century and its development and systematization became possible in the 1920s after the October Revolution of 1917.
In the consequence of the revolution, the ‘socialist realism’ emerged as a literary tradition which focuses on the struggle of the socio-economic condition of the working class in relation to the suppressive power structure.
Marxism’s influence is not limited to the socialist realism of Soviet Russia only, it also glimpses in the works of eminent writers such as Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Bertolt Brecht.
Marxism analyzes society in terms of class struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Marx’s Communist Manifesto explains the historical background that led to the development of modern capitalist society wherein the bourgeois (ruling class) exploits the proletariat (working class).
Marx gives the solution to social problems as a classless society whose development is theoretically based on the development of each individual. Marxism aims at achieving this goal through the revolutionary process, through the annihilation of the capitalist system.
Marxist literary criticism holds the view that a writer’s work is shaped by social institutions and prevailing discourse of his time. It does not regard writers as autonomous individuals. Marxist approach interprets a work of art by putting it into its historical context and analyses conflicts of historical forces and social classes.
The Marxist approach is based on ‘dialectical materialism’. The term was coined by German Marxist Joseph Dietzgen in 1887. This concept focuses on the material conditions of society. It emphasizes matter as the fundamental basis of nature. It, thus emphasizes that consciousness is determined by social existence.
Marx viewed that material conditions have contradictions. These contradictions are what Marxism resolves. The concept is inspired by Hegelian dialectics. Marx’s dialectics differs from Hegel’s in a way that Marx’s focus is on material while Hegel sees contradictions in ideas. Hegel holds the view that consciousness determines social existence.