What is the definition of Marxist literature? What does he say about literature? How does he criticize literature?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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You have posted an interesting group of questions here because you ask for the definition of Marxist literature, but then you request how Marx himself felt about the dealings of literature and the criticism of said literature. In short, Marxist literature is simply literature written to espouse the theory of Marxism.

The simple definition of Marxist literature would be any work of writing that caters to the economic and political philosophy of Marx that the struggle between the classes continues under capitalism and, therefore, all peoples should work for a classless society instead. Marxist literature always supports the working class of any nation. This literature would be based on the progressive theories of Karl Marx who lived in the 19th century and who classified citizens into two groups: the working class (who Marx supported) and the ruling class (that Marx was generally against).

Marxist literature is also against most forms of profit which Marx believed was the true “exploitation of labor.” Marxist literature thinks profit is “surplus value” that is used to support only the ruling class or the capitalists. Marxist literature supports the great value there is in laboring and will always suggest that people labor as part of their work. Because they are always laboring, the working class will always be in a constant struggle. This is also reflected in Marxist literature. There is a mantra that should be found in all forms of Marxist literature which is none other than the following found in Marx’s The Communist Manifesto:

Working men of all countries, unite!

Now, what did Marx himself think about literature and why would he be against certain forms of literature? Well, considering his own desire to study philosophy and literature and his subsequent writings, Marx felt that literature should only be used to promote the ideals of a classless society. He would certainly be against the opposite reasoning for literature to be distributed: to promote capitalism. In this regard, Marx would certainly feel that literature espousing his political and economic theories would be considered just labor and worthy of praise. Marx would also feel that literature espousing capitalism would be considered unjust labor and worth of major criticism.

In conclusion, it is important to note that the literature espousing Marxism (or Marxist literature) is the kind most supported by communist countries, such as the former USSR. Any government that is in league with either communism and/or socialism will be very familiar with the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

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amagyamfuagyamfi1 | eNotes Newbie

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Apart from the formalistic, traditional, psychological, mythological and archetypal approaches that are used to analyze literary texts, other ideologies such as feminism, structuralism, and lesbianism among others have also been adopted to give literature a broader scope. In light of the above, I will use this essay to discuss the Marxist theory, its relation to literature and how they criticize literature. The Marxist approach happens to be one of the ideologies that cannot be overlooked by students and critics of literature. In this paragraph; I seek to give a brief history of the Marxist ideology. Marxist has a long and complicated history. Although it is thought of as a twentieth century phenomenon, it has its proponents as Karl Heinrich Marx (German philosopher and economist) and Friedrich Engels (political economist). Dialectical materialism is the theoretical foundation of Marxism while Communist is their theoretical practice. Marxists believe that socialism and communism are the best ways to go. This is because communism is based on a classless society, and has equal opportunities for all; as opposed to the capitalist societies that encourage class societies (lower class, middle class upper class) and emphasize individual opportunity. A Marxist reading, in contrast would focus on the ways in which the psychological problems are produced by the material or historical realities within which the family operates, hence, I will explain Marxism and literature in this section. For Marxism, literature does not exist in some timeless aesthetic realm as an object to be passively contemplated upon. Instead, like all cultural manifestations, it is a product of the socio- economic and hence, ideological conditions of the time and place in which it was written, whether or not the author’s intentions were so. This is due to the fact that, human beings themselves are products of their socioeconomic and ideological environment. Marxists see literature as either being repressive or helpful; hence, it should be emphatically clear that not all ideologies are equally productive or desirable. It is also assumed that authors cannot help but create works that embody ideology in some form. Undesirable ideologies promote repressive political agendas and make them acceptable and those in power find their way through this, hence, pass themselves as natural ways of seeing the world instead of acknowledging themselves as ideologies. When we are being entertained, our guard is down, so to speak, and we are especially vulnerable to ideological programing. Marxists are of the view that literature should use that medium to condemn bad issues in the society. People had a renewed interest in the Marxist approach because they believed the formalist approach was only restricted to the text itself but did not consider the social milieu the text was coming from; every issue discussed in the text has a social backing. Hence, the Marxists criticize literature using certain parameters and I will use this paragraph to explain them. Marxism seeks to analyze a text with reference to its economical, historical, political and religious ideas, as opposed to the formalistic approach which emphasizes a close reading of a text itself. Marxist critics have difficulty with the form of a text but stress on content because they have to relate the text to the class, race and sex in which it was written. Hence, they put society and literature on the same scale or between history and appreciation or art. Marxists agree that every literary work can reflect the age of its composition to some extent but the fiction formed without the benefit of the Marxist principles can never show true social wholeness or meaningfulness. They say this because they claim social themes are important in dealing with literature. On a whole, Marxist calls for an utopia in all communities and this can only be attained when there is a revolution, when a ruler gains control over his or her citizens and when non-communist are destroyed for only the government to control and distribute production. I think the Marxist ideology should be adopted by all societies because it helps breach the gap between the rich and the poor and so everyone tends to own the society, hence, a more comfortable and harmonious living condition is enjoyed by all and sundry. Yet, it should be streamlined to avoid dictatorship because it can also cause an unstable and tensed atmosphere.

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